On the recommendation of a neighbour, we booked a 3 week Northern Experience Safari with JENMAN African Safaris. We spent 3 weeks exploring the highlights of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe! We also booked an extra week to visit Johannesburg and Cape Town. This was in July which is the dry season in the region. This means fewer bugs and mosquitoes and the animals congregate around the water holes making them easier to see. It was interesting to visit Soweto and the Apartheid Museum but I would not visit Johannesburg again. The climate is arid and there was not a lot to see. Cape Town was a delight. It has more history, shopping and wonderful restaurants. We visited the Cape of Good Hope and the wine country which is nicer than Napa Valley in California.
We left for the Northern Experience safari with our guide and two young German women. Later we would pick up 6 more Germans to complete the group at 10 plus the guide. There was a lot of driving on this trip. The driving was more than we had expected but we did not fully appreciate the road conditions since we had no experience to compare them with. You have to drive to see the good stuff – there is no way around it!
Chantel vid Linde was our guide. She was great! We had complete confidence in her abilities. She was completely knowledgeable about where we were going and what we would see. She knew her history, sights, animals, birds and plants. Whatever we asked her she had the answer. We felt she did a wonderful job keeping things moving and dealing with all the people on the trip. She is also a good cook and a lot of fun. The food was fresh and more than enough to eat. Since she shopped every other day there was always time to pick snacks and drinks. In most of South Africa and Namibia you can drink the water which was very convenient.
Garth: I happy that you had such a good time with Chantel on your Northern Experience Safari as she has been with us for about 5 years now and has always run excellent trips with clients coming back and insisting on having her again. As you mentioned she is a great asset to the company. I will let her know what you have said about her when she comes back from her next trip.
The scenery was breath taking. Most of the best sights we saw on the trip can only be seen if you are driving. There were not a lot of animals until we left the coast of Namibia so we were glad we drove south to north. The Namibian desserts were the highlight of the trip. The beauty was so serene and peaceful and we would hope to visit it again. We really enjoyed going to the world’s highest sand dunes at Sossusvlei and visiting the old lake Dead Vlei which was the best place for photography (contrasting white and red sands, blue sky and the black trees). The Namibian Naukluft National Park and the Kuiseb Canyon provide great scenery
The rest of our group joined us mid-way in Swakopmund which is the only real city we visited in the 3 week trip: good shopping, great restaurants, ATMs and the all-important internet cafes and even a movie theater. While 10 people in the van was tight it was not unpleasant once everyone got situated. We switched seats daily so no one was stuck in the middle seat for more than a day. There are a few things we were not happy with, primarily the windows. We cannot believe that the designer cannot figure how to have windows that open partially. We were either too hot (the windows were closed) or blasted by the wind (a window was open). We found this very annoying during our long drives as did the other travelers. We were also limited by having a small ice chest for drinks in the vehicle for 10 people. Next time we will bring our own.
Garth: Jim you are correct on this point and we are in the process of adding an additional sideward sliding window above our large game viewing windows. We got these upward/downward sliding windows put into our vehicles to maximize the game viewing and it was only after we made use of them that we found out that you either have them totally open or totally closed. We should have our whole fleet upgraded by the end of this season.
We began to see more animals once we left the coast and an incredible sand storm which was so strong we could not see anything outside the vehicle. Arriving at Etosha National Park we saw a lot of animals: a pride of lions (with their cubs), zebras, warthogs, giraffes, elephants and more then we can describe. It is an amazing national park and had the most diverse wildlife we saw on the entire trip. We went on several nature drives (you cannot get out of the vehicle) and at night we were locked in a campground with high fencing to keep the animals out and the people in.
From this point on, there was abundant wildlife everywhere. We left Etosha, replaced the windshield that was damaged in the sand storm, and went to Rundu on the banks of the Kavango River over looking Angola. It was one of the few places where we were able to freely interact with the local native population. At night we went on a sunset cruise and the guide took us over to Angola for a few photos.
We left Namibia for the western border of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. It was another real highlight of the trip. The vehicle got stuck in the sand and we all helped dig it out with help from some of the local children. The next day we went exploring the network of water pathways through thick vegetation in mokoros (traditional dugout canoes) and saw a herd of hippos which was very exciting. We were clearly happier to see them then they were to have us near them. They made sure we knew not to come any closer.
We had been carrying a large magnum of South Africa Champaign for 3 weeks and finally were able to open it to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary at the delightful Guma Lagoon Camp with our fellow travellers. From there we were off to Botswana and the Chobe National Park. There are plenty of animals to see especially herds of elephants. The evening cruise was very exciting as we saw hundreds of elephants and several hippos. The final highlight was going into Zambia and seeing the famous Victoria Falls. It was amazing to see and should not be missed.
Our traveling companions left and we had a day just to relax and take Chantel out to dinner to celebrate. We stayed an extra day and went to the Zimbabwe side of the falls. The view was even more spectacular and we spent 2 hours taking in the mile long falls. It is worth the additional cost and I cannot recommend it enough. We had a local guide associated with JENMAN Safaris so we felt very safe. A few final thoughts and warnings if you are going to take this trip: Bring books to read! We drove almost 3,000 miles in a month so you need something to do other than look out the window. A neck pillow is a must if you like to sleep in the car or cannot read in a moving vehicle. Binoculars are as important as a camera so you can get a better view of the wildlife. If the vehicle only has one small ice chest – splurge and buy one for yourself. It will to make sure your drinks are chilled and you won’t have to keep asking whoever is next to the chest to find something for you (which is usually at the bottom).
Garth: Yes this we have picked up being a problem (small ice chest) especially when there is a full group of 10 clients. We are experimenting with a cooler box that is a lot larger and would fit behind the drivers seat. Once we have perfected it we will have them fitted to all our vehicles.
If you see something you like as a souvenir – buy it. We saw things we liked and thought we could have bought them later but there are so few towns (especially in Namibia) that you will be a few hundred miles down the road and the gifts are completely different. The days are long and sometimes we would break camp before dawn. If this does not excite you then you might consider doing the upgraded version of the tour which puts you in a room and you will have an en suite bathroom, electricity and more privacy. Plus you don’t have to take down a tent but you still have to help load the vehicle daily. Invest in a light that you can wear on your head – a must for walking around at night. All said, it was a great trip on our Northern Experience Safari and we look forward to another safari in the near future.
By: Jim & Phyllis Conran, Orinda, California, USA