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Curt Hodgson

Notes home from an escorted group safari




Today is day eleven at game lodges.  Each day we get up before daybreak.  Long sleeved shirt, sweat shirt, jacket, jeans, then bug spray.  Off to the community area for coffee, juice, and biscuits.  I take my anti-malaria pill.

As the sun rises the fifteen of us get into two four-wheel-drive Range Rovers, specially made for this game preserve.  Sometimes we travel on dirt roads, sometimes we go bush-bashing.  Sometimes we go up inclines that seem impossible.  Sometimes we drive through water several feet deep.  The Range Rovers can do it all.

Each game drive is different.  On the first one we drove upon two mating leopards.  Today we went to a vast prairie where there were hundreds of buffalo with a smattering of zebra and impala.  Then we drive a bit further where there are hundreds of baboon and some monkeys.  Drive a bit further, and a half dozen sable cross our path.  A couple of days ago we were in mokoros (like canoes) and were chased by a rhino.

Flying all around are birds of every species.  Eagles, vultures, egrets, road-runners, parrots, colorful birds I can't remember the name of.  

We stop for sundowners (or sunrisers).  Coffee and juice in the morning, beer and wine in the afternoon.  The backdrop varies:  sometimes a sunset, sometimes friendly giraffes.  We have already taken hundreds of photos of game, but now we try to get photos of ourselves, and our guides, with the Range Rovers and the backdrop of the day.

Some of the $500-per-person-per-day lodge fee goes for the equipment.  Some for the cabin.  Some for the food.  Some for the large staff.  (Here in Zimbabwe there are 130 staff mostly for us 15 guests). But mostly it is supply and demand.  This game preserve is about 100,000 acres exclusively for us 15 guests.

Our cabins are exquisite.  They are large with high ceilings.  Sometimes they just have screens open to the outside so we can hear the rhino's talking to each other all night long.  This one is air conditioned.  We have insect tents over us at night, though it is late winter here and I have yet to be bitten by a bug.  All have hot and cold showers ..... outside the cabin.... open to the natural environment.  The service here is friendly and impeccable.... laundry is picked up if left on the floor and returned clean and folded within a few hours.  Many of the dinners are like fine dining.

The staff speaks their native African language to each other but English to us.  We get native singing and dancing on departure night.  Very fun.

A special treat is when we find game that is eating.  The female lions do the hunting and the killing, but the males feed themselves first, then the females, then the cubs.  The wild dogs hunt in packs, eat, then regurgitate the meat for the pups.  The elephants eat and eat and eat, day and night, and twice now they have eaten right outside our cabin.

The animals know the game preserve is safe.  They are not afraid of the Range Rovers.  They let us drive right up to them, even the lion and the leopard.  They are "habituated" to them.

Altogether we have taken over 10,000 digital photographs.  Everyone has a sophisticated camera.  Of course, I plan to take credit for the ones that go on my wall.....:)

We fly our C-182's directly into primitive lodge airstrips.  On one landing there were giraffes on both side of the runway and some game passed just in front of me as I was landing.  No problem, just a little back pressure, up and over, with a long landing.  C-182's are so easy to fly.  We all get together the day before each flight and program our Garmin GPS's.  Without these, it would be very tough, but with them it is a piece of cake.

We have landed in South Africa and Botswana.  We tried to go to Zambia but it was too complex.  We dare not land in Zimbabwe (2008) with our planes so we took a ground transfer for an hour to get here.

We fly as a group, or we don't fly.  We were stuck due to IFR  weather one night, but after a day of watching the sky, we all flew out the next day, briefly IFR, which we all agreed to in advance.

Two doctors, three lawyers, a couple of businessmen, spouses, the Hanks Aero Adventures owners, and a mechanic.  Brother Jeff and I are the only two men sharing a plane and a cabin..... we have had two twin beds every time......:)  All of us get along well. No fights or major disagreements.

We have very little contact with the outside world.  The lodges use satellite phones when they have one.  They do not have internet access or fax machines.  Often they use generators for electricity.

There is no pollution and no nearby lights.  We are in late winter here, no rain or clouds.  There is high pressure every day.  So the stars and planets are incredible.  Scorpio and the Southern Cross.  The moon and the sun are on high beam.  The milky way is as vivid as I have ever seen it.

Tomorrow is the last game-drive day.  Then Wednesday we fly our little planes four hours back to Jo’burg (Johannesburg).  Then to London for a few hours where the brits will be easy to understand after two weeks of talking to African air traffic controllers.  Then back to the real world.

This place is South Texas with Jurassic Park mixed in.  It is indeed special.

But I am ready to get back to my herd.




August 2008

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