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Botswana (and Zimbabwe) and LX F and SA J

Botswana (and Zimbabwe) and LX F and SA J

Old Apr 17, 10, 4:27 pm
  #1  
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Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: here and there
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Posts: 3,151
Smile Botswana (and Zimbabwe) and LX F and SA J

Apologies for the factual nature of this report. It was either a short report, or no report!


My LH flight in "business" class (between brackets because it's just Y with the middle seat blocked) from London to Munich

was fine. Food was surprisingly good and the Easter chocolates a nice touch. Two FAs, an active polite and friendly

younger one and a morose older one. The Senator lounge (thanks to my *G card) was fine. Showers were spacious but other

than that it's rather unspectacular. Having said that, it's certainly better than most FRA lounges. Overall MUC was a far

more pleasant experience than the hellhole that is FRA, which I now actively try to avoid. I fly mainly to and through

Asia and arriving at FRA always makes me feel like I've entered a third world country.

No special line for business class passengers for my South African Airways flight to JNB. No champagne before take-off and

no offer to hang my jacket. Throughout the flight the service was acceptable (barely) but I didn't get a single smile from

any of the flight attendants (nor did anyone else). The IFE is pretty bad as is the selection. My TV screen wouldn't stay

up properly either. What was good was the amenity kit (great bag) and the seat. I slept nearly 7 hours on the full flat

bed, which is brilliant on a 10:30 flight, so overally I was quite pleased.

In JNB I used the Shongololo lounge which BA uses when its own lounge is closed. This was a pleasant surprise: a superb

lounge with excellent service, good food, great showers, and very nice decor, computers and reading materials. My flight

to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) was operated by Comair using a BA plane and was fine (I was in Y). Arrival in Zimbabwe was

the expected chaos but fairly soon my driver was taking me to the Victoria Falls hotel. This turned out to be excellent.

Sort of like an out-of-town Raffles hotel. The building is beautiful, the gardens well-manicured, and the views wonderful.

My room was perfectly acceptable although not exactly luxurious. Having said that, considering this was Zimbabwe, and

considering I was able to draw a perfect hot bath, access the internet through WIFI, while looking out over the Falls in

the distance, this left me without complaints. The buffet food in the restaurant was a bit expensive (US$30) but reasonably good, as was breakfast. The hotel has a 'private' track that you can walk down to the Falls. Overall I was very pleased with this hotel - it's very beautiful.

The next day my driver took me to Kasane, across the border in Botswana. Customs took all of 10 minutes (exiting Zim and

entering Bots) and the agents were polite and efficient. In Kasane I took a 12 seater Cessna to Savuti. Several large

elephants were obstructing the runway but they quickly ran off so we were able to land. My ranger for the next day was

there to pick me and take me to the camp, about 30 minutes away. This was just on the other side of the Savuti Channel, which recently filled up for the first time since 1982, and which we had to cross. When we arrived, the camp manager, the cook, and another ranger were singing a welcome song - it sounds corny but it wasn't. It was friendly, good-natured, and felt entirely natural and welcoming. Like in the other camps, I had great fun with the rangers and the rest of the staff.
The Camp, as all the camps I

stayed at on this trip, is owned and operated by &Beyond and called 'Savuti under Canvas' was pretty fabulous. Although

nominally you sleep in a tent, and there is of course no power or running water, everything is set up in such a way that

you experience small things like the hot water bucket that the staff prepare for you, or the fine linen on the excellent

mattress, or the battery powered lamps as real luxury - more so than what I normally experience in 5 star hotels. It's a

bit difficult to describe, but having someone prepare a fabulous meal for you under the stars, with good wines, is quite

the experience. It's 'camping' just like driving a Rolls Royce is 'transportation'.

The wildlife in Savuti was not as abundant as elsewhere but it is a beautiful area and it feels (and is!) very remote.

The next day I flew on a 6 seater Cessna and sat next to the pilot, which was very cool. I then spent two nights at Chobe

under Canvas, which was equally wonderful. How they manage to bake a cake that pefect in small Dutch oven is beyond me!

The game drives were spectacular, as was the boat trip on the floodplains of the Chobe river.

Next stop was Sandibe, maybe my favourite stay as it is located in the Okavango Delta which of course is a unique

fairy-tale world. The flight to Chitabe airstrip was an adventure in itself, as was the landing, where we had to avoid the

giraffes and ostriches on the runway. Rains had been very heavy in the weeks prior and the Landcruisers we used were

sometimes positively swimming through the watercourses we crossed. So much so that water was running into the car and

coming all the way up to the gearshift (I know as I was sitting in front and many times had to put my feet up on the

dashobard!). It was impressive, and felt like a great adventure.

The lodge was stunning, with gorgeous open dining and living spaces, wine on ice at all times and an open 'bar', an ice cold plunge pool, and wonderful views all round. The

rooms were spacious, beautifully decorated (very natural), with a great outdoor viewing platform. Having running water,

after the previous nights 'under canvas', felt like an amazing luxury. The food here was even better. Staff came out one

night to sing several songs and again this was a great experience. The game viewing was stunning, as was the scenery.

After returning from an early evening game drive, our ranger and tracker stopped the car and set up a small 'bar', complete with several wines, snacks, fresh lemons and ice. I had what felt like the most surreal Gin & Tonic ever.

My last stay was at Xudum, perhaps the most luxurious lodge that &Beyond operates in Botswana. This was completely over the top, considering its extreme remoteness (a flight, a 4wd trip and then a 45 minute boat ride), but not at all in a distasteful way - the lodge is stunningly integrated into the surrounding scenery and the 'rooms' extremely luxurious, with a huge bathroom (with soaking tub overlooking the delta), rainshowers, outdoor lounge spaces, and a plunge pool outside. The public spaces were stunning too; beautifully decorated with all comforts you could want. They even had a fabulous espresso machine! Not very 'safari' perhaps, and in this sense it felt less adventurous than the camps or Sandibe, but it serves a different purpose, and it is located in a magical water-wonderland, and does allow one complete relaxation.

I was very impressed with &Beyond, from the drivers, to the excellent, genuinely friendly and interested/interesting

rangers, the wonderful food, the very high quality of the camps and resorts, to the way everything in my itinerary was

made to work seamlessly. The result was a very relaxing trip where I really did feel everything had been taken care of (I

normally arrange/book/do everything myself). &Beyond is not cheap (although I was able to take advantage of a 'buy 4

nights, get six' promotion and going in the shoulder season does make a big difference), but I would certainly recommend

it as a very solid option. In fact, I would say that in some respects the whole experience approached the quality level

that I have come to associate with Aman. I know this sounds unlikely, and it doesn't hold entirely, but I have to say I

did not want for anything and there were touches (like the way they set up the drinks in nowhere during our game drive) that always make me remember my stays at Aman properties fondly. The only suggestion for improvement would be that it would be nice to offer more types of activities: I did car safaris, boat trips and mkoro (canoe) trips (the one at Xudum was awesome, the one at Sandibe not really worth it), but would have loved to do a walking safari too, or be able to spend more time focusing not just on the big animals but also insects, birds, and the local flora. The main emphasis was always on the big five. You do have a lot of interaction with the rangers and they will very gladly help you to find what you want to see, but at Sandibe I was for example not able to organise a walking safari (I think there were not enough staff available at that time). I would have also liked to hear perhaps a short lecture or see a slide presentation in the evenings about an aspect of the local scenery or wildlife). My trip lasted 8 days so was short enough for this not to be an issue, but on a longer trip I would have probably felt it necessary to book a private trip or individual ranger to complement the other experiences on offer.

My return to Victoria Falls and from there to JNB was uneventful. In JNB I used the BA lounge which was tastefully decorated, but quickly moved on to the Virgin lounge (my first), which was excellent. Good showers, good food, good service, great decoration, great cocktails - what more do you want in a lounge. My flight on Swiss in first class was one of the best flights I've had, approaching the best Singapore Airlines flights in First Class, mainly as a result of the service. Boarding was annoying as there was no separate line and no separate gangway, but after that the service from the two older ladies was as good as it gets. Personable, friendly, polite and very efficient - and very sophisticated. I was impressed. Swiss do not offer Krug or Dom, nor caviar, nor suites, nor very good IFE. In these respects some other airlines are simply much better. However, I found the seat very, very comfortable, the food tasty and I appreciated the Swiss products, such as the cheese platter with interesting cheeses produced by small makers, the excellent Swiss wines and chocolate, and, as I said, the attentive service. I would fly Swiss first again in a hearbeat. Arrival into Zurich was great - I love this airport, one of the best in Europe, and the F lounge here is very good too with Perrier Jouet rose on ice (at 06:00 in the morning!) and a great spread of food. I didn't get to use the lounge much as the lounge ladies very kindly (even though I was on an award booking) changed my connecting flight from 12:00 to 07:00. I was personally escorted (a la Lufthansa in FRA) through customs and to the plan by Mercedes S class, which is of course always very cool. Again excellent service from the ground staff and on board my flight to London.

This was a fabulous trip - I would highly recommend anyone to visit Botswana. All people I met (not just in the lodges) were polite and friendly. The country is stunning and of course one of the safest and least corrupt in Africa. I'm booking my parents on a trip later this year and hope to return myself next year. Highly recommended!
Fliar is offline  
Old Apr 18, 10, 7:49 am
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Chicago, IL USA
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Thanks - enjoyed reading about your trip. We did a similar trip, but back in 1998. Your report brought back some great memories.
ORDinary guy is online now  
Old Apr 18, 10, 9:19 am
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
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Thanks for the report and great review of &beyond. Sounds like a quality outfit.

One day I will make it to Botswana.
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Old Apr 18, 10, 10:38 am
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
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I agree with your assessment of FRA, it cannot compare to MUC

Fantastic trip report, thanks for sharing!
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Old Apr 21, 10, 5:24 am
  #5  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: TSV, Australia
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thanks for writing.

I went to Zimbabwe and Botswana back in the late 90's. I can only imagine that Zimbabwe is a different place these days.
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