MONICA KOWALSKI - SAFARI TO ZIMBABWE AND BOTSWANA

On my recent safari, I experienced the wonders of Zimbabwe, and was able to return to one of my favorite places, Botswana. Our group of six traveled to a number of varied places, and we had most of the camps to ourselves!
We were a group of six'¦eventually. Four of us set off on the international non -stop flight from New York to
Johannesburg, and were so pleased to spend a night at the African Rock just outside of Johannesburg. It was a short
20-minute drive from the airport and a nice respite in the suburbs. Collette welcomed us with open arms and the property has a nice, cozy feel to it, with a lot of beautiful African artwork, sculptures and touches. We had a nice leisurely afternoon with some friends after the long flight and were treated to the most amaz ing dinner by Chef Christine that evening.

The next morning we were up early and eager to get into the Zimbabwean bush! We flew to the Victoria Falls airport where we met up with our other two friends, and without a hitch, our bush pilot was waiting for us to fly to Hwange National Park. We were greeted by none other than Nic Polenakis, and his welcoming committee - a pair of ostrich and a herd of zebra at the airstrip ! We headed towards o ur camp - Somalisa Acacia - where our 40- minute drive turned into a two -hour game drive. We saw kudu, ostrich, impala, sable, roan, giraffe, mongoose, baboons and vervet monkeys, owls, wild dog, and a buffalo herd that numbered around 800. The elephant t hat we saw here were literally by the hundreds. They drank daily from the plunge pools at camp! Another highlight was walking with Nic in search of lions. We followed their tracks and the roars. While we never did see them, it kept the adrenalin pumpin g! The camp itself was intimate with only four tents. They were quite spacious and had the most comfortable beds! Listening to the sounds at night was a treat! The food was delicious as well. We feasted on fresh locally-caught fish, delicious soups, ve getables and salads and a great barbecue on the last night! We had gained a couple of pounds by this point already.

After three nights we sadly said goodbye to Nic, and flew back to Victoria Falls and stayed for two nights at the Victoria Falls Hotel. It truly is a classic. The hotel beautifully displays its historical facets wherever you look and the view of the falls from the back patio is unmatched . Two nights at the hotel gave us an evening to relax on the Sunset Cruise on the Zambezi and a full day to tour the Falls with Esther and experience an elephant -back safari! The cruise was nice and we got some great shots of the local hippos and the sunset! The tour of the Falls was amazing. The Falls themselves had been impossible to imagine; they were truly awesome, especially with the water levels so high! Esther is so knowledgeable and gave us the complete history (and a predicted future) of the Falls. The elephant back safari was one of the highlights of the entire trip! You get to pet them, ride them and then feed them treats. Can you tell I love elephants?

From Victoria Falls Hotel, we were transferred by a mini -bus to Kasane airport. Along the way, at the border crossing, we were able to stretch our legs to break up the near -two-hour drive by getting our passports stamped. From Kasane airport our bush pilot escorted us on our flight to Duba Plains, one of the most remote camps in the northwest Okavango Delta. We arrived at the airstrip with Moses , our guide, waiting for us, a nd arrived at camp to the singing of the welcoming staff! We were briskly whisked off to the lunch table that overlooks the plains for a feast of Botswana beef, lots of fresh salads and warm 'bush' bread , which just added to our weight gain . On our evening game drive, our first encounter was with a pride of nine lions that were just starting their nightly hunt! After the first lioness took the lead, they followed each other, one by one, through the deep waters, stopping to look and listen after every few steps. The birding was quite good, and we saw many raptors, owls, and water birds in the area. Hippos were plenty, as were grazing animals , especially red lechwe , although the buffalo had already moved out of the area.

The next flight was into the Khwai area of Botswana, where we had our mobile camping experience! What good fun! Our guide Andrew greeted us at the airport, and we were presented with cool towels and drinks by the friendly staff at the campsite. W e quickly settled into our comfortable tents and were amazed at the fact that the staff had erected the entire camp in the afternoon the day before our arrival. Andrew took us on some great game drives where we saw a large herd of waterbuck, and one morning, a pride of seven lion s till feasting on a kill from the night before. On a late night game drive, we saw an African wildcat and two separate genets, plus a mother hippo and her baby grazing on the grass. Walking through the dead tree forest was a highlight, where we tracked so me hippo and some zebra, before encountering a bull elephant. From a safe distance, we watched the elephant eating his breakfast and then eventually meandered off. Another highlight was the mekoro ride. It is the most serene and beautiful outing. We watched as African Fish Eagles hunted for food, elephants browsed along the shoreline and fish made quick appearances at the surface of the water. Water lilies were in full bloom and plentiful, giving the jacanas new paths in which to search for food. Back at camp, Florence the chef, made the most incredible meals - soups, lasagna, chicken pot pie, and even the most incredible beef roast - all on the campfire. We still couldn't fathom that she baked us a cake on the campfire'¦but she assured us it was true. Regardless, we managed to put on a few more pounds.

The three nights in the Khwai passed quickly, and soon we were back on a charter flight, this time to Zarafa in the Selinda Reserve. David, the camp manager, and Foster, our guide, picked us up at the airstrip. It was about a 40 - minute drive to camp, however, it turned into a bit longer as a large herd of elephant were feeding and cooling themselves off along the lagoon. The 'African traffic jam' set us back about 20 minutes, but we didn' t mind. Soon we found ourselves in the lap of luxury! This camp is all about the special details and is a place to really decompress with their relaxed approach to safari. The tents are huge with a separate living area, a n oversized king bed, and a bathroom area complete with a fire pit, copper tub, shower, double vanity sinks and a separate toilet and outdoor shower. Also outside along the deck is your own plunge pool! The main lounge overlooks the lagoon, and at any given moment, you can look out and see hippos, or elephant nearly completely submerged with only their trunks up and doubling as snorkels, or monitor lizards swimming across the lagoon! The view is just stunning. David and Foster hosted a fun trip on their pontoon boat where we did some wine-tasting, the African way! We had so much fun we decided to go on the boat a second time! Once again, the food did not disappoint, and there was an abundance of delicious meals waiting for us every time we stepped into the main lounge. All of us barely managed to squeeze into our clothes towards the end of the trip! On our last night we were treated to a magical dinner out in the bush, complete with dozens of lanterns and a roaring fire . The entire staff was there to celebrate us, and likewise, we were there to celebrate them for all the wonderful things they did to make us feel so special. It was the perfect ending to a perfect safari!

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