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Botswana

Monday, August 29, 2016

Off to Cape Town and Botswana

Talk to any experienced African safari guide and they’ll no doubt tell you that Botswana is the best country on the continent for going on safari. Along with Namibia, Botswana is one of Africa’s least populated wildernesses. The country’s enviable conservation philosophy endorses low-volume, high-revenue tourism, and significant benefits for local communities who live amongst the wild animals. Unlike Kenya’s Maasai Mara or Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, which can often be overcrowded, head to Botswana and you’re not likely to see any fellow travelers out on game drives, walks, or boat rides. The Okavango Delta is a gigantic inland waterway, an island of green in an arid landscape. It’s home to large herds of elephants, some of the biggest lions in Africa, and enough variety of bird life to turn even the most dedicated big-mammal enthusiast into a bird lover. Tomorrow, Lisa and I are headed to Botswana on a 9-day safari with Abercrombie and Kent. We’ll be staying at four of their premier properties, Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp, Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero, and Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma. After a 2-year renovation, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp reopened on June 1st and is now considered the Sanctuary Retreats’ flagship property. 
 
Before Botswana, we’re spending a week in Cape Town to pen stories and research the lodging, food, wine, art, and biking in the region. I’ll be back the week of September 19th with many stories from our trip. In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where I’ll be posting photos and quick comments from our travels. Be well and keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/29/16 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, September 19, 2016

Abercrombie & Kent Week—The Diverse Terrain in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia

Having just returned from one on of the most memorable trips I’ve ever experienced, an 8-night journey with Abercrombie & Kent to Botswana, I get the added bonus of reliving cherished moments this week on my blog. Botswana was my 5th safari and by far the most diverse when it comes to terrain. Much of the trip revolved around water, which was a welcome relief to often jarring game drives on rutted roads. As soon as we arrived in the Okavango Delta, we were greeted with roads that were washed-out with water. That wasn’t a problem with our A&K guide, Kebby, who would drive though the streams like he was atop a duck boat, not a Toyota Land Cruiser. The maze of waterways dotted with palm trees on our first two nights at Stanley’s Camp reminded me of the Everglades. That is, until you spot a leopard up a tree or a giraffe in the distance. At the recently renovated Chief’s Camp (which I’ll report on later this week), we enjoyed meals while watching elephants and baboons cool off at the nearby watering hole. 

 
Chief’s Camp was also where we would take our first of many jaunts on the waterways, this time via a mokoro, a traditional form of canoe. A guide poled us through the tall grasses on a leisurely paddle during sunset, Botswana’s version of a gondola ride. The abundance of wildlife at Chobe National Park, our third stop, was mind-blowing, Best known for the largest population of elephants in the world, over 75,000, you peer out and see long parades of elephants, including countless babies. The magical boat ride on the Chobe River, which borders Botswana and Namibia, was so much fun, we asked to go on it two sunsets in a row. We watched as elephants swam across the deep river, joined by large herds of Cape Buffalo, crocodiles as still as sculpture, and all types of antelope. Leaving Botswana, we stopped on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls to watch the waters of the Zambezi River plunge down one of the widest waterfalls in the world, over a mile long. Then it was on to our last stop, Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, overlooking the Zambezi on the outskirts of Livingstone, Zambia. We would spend our final day canoeing the river near hippos, warthogs, crocs, and impala. All vivid memories I won’t soon forget. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/19/16 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Abercrombie & Kent Week—Our Wonderful Botswana Guide, Kebby Arabang

On safari, you have the choice of booking a lodge and going out on game drives with their respective guides or hiring a highly reputable tour operator like Abercrombie & Kent who will assign a private guide to your group for the duration of the trip. Obviously, there’s an extra cost involved, but if you’re splurging for this amazing opportunity, it’s important to do it right. Lodge guides I’ve had in the past have been hit or miss, depending on their knowledge of flora and fauna and communication skills in English. The guide A&K assigned to us on our travels to Botswana this past week was exceptional. 

Botswana-born Kebby Arabang met us at the airport in Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta, and escorted us the next 9 days through the northern tier of the country and onward to Zimbabwe and Zambia. His knowledge of the outdoor world was encyclopedic. Kebby knew every mammal, every bird, every tree, even the planets in the sky above. But it was his genuine passion of the subject, seamless communication skills, infectious smile and sense of humor that made him one of the best guides I’ve ever met. I loved mimicking his Botswana accent, especially when he emphasized the letter r when naming the next exquisite bird like the lilac-breasted roller or southern carmine bee-eater. He took it in stride and laughed along with me, even when the joke lasted far too long. He’s also a talented photographer recently asked by a publisher on vacation to create a book from his work. One of my favorite parts of Kebby’s background is that he spent a year working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando. When people asked where the giraffes were, he would simply say “up the stairs and to the right.” Now Kebby’s the one reaching as high as those giraffes, climbing the ladder of success as he’s become one of the top guides in Botswana, arguably the best place on the planet for going on safari. I look forward to sending clients his way. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/20/16 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Abercrombie and Kent Week—Dining and Lodging at Our Four Sanctuary Retreats

We stayed at 4 different lodges in Botswana and Zambia, all with a distinct feel of their own and all perfectly situated in a pristine chunk of wilderness. Service was impeccable at all the lodges. Servers would greet you by your first name when presenting a rolled-up cool wash-cloth scented with mint, lemongrass, or lavender after each game drive. Dining went way beyond expectations, with fresh fruit in the morning followed by eggs and omelets anyway you like and thick lean bacon. All washed down with strong French-press coffee. Entrees at night included the local game, kudu, beef, fish, chicken, and good vegetarian choices like a tasty wild mushroom lasagna. Dinners were always served with a selection of quality South African wines. 

I did a walk-through of each our accommodations on video, so please press the links below to get a more intimate portrait. Our first lodge, Stanley’s felt remote, lost in the Okavango Delta. We passed one other vehicle in two days and that was from Sanctuary’s sister property, Baines. I loved dining under the stars and then sitting around the campfire afterwards. The recently remodeled Chief’s Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve deserves all the accolades it’s receiving, like a recent mention in London’s Sunday Times calling it the “the most luxurious safari camp in Africa." Rooms are spacious and ultra-sybaritic, with plunge pools, outdoor showers, and a huge deck to watch the baboons and elephants at the nearby watering hole. The contemporary art in the main lodge was stylish, not garish, and the masseuse, Tumi, won rave reviews from our crew. Chobe Chilwero overlooks the Chobe River and Namibia on the opposite shores. We savored the moment when we returned from a majestic cruise on the river to find a luxurious bubble bath waiting for us. Sussi and Chuma felt entirely authentic, especially after having lunch at the over-the-top Colonial outpost, the Victorian Fall Hotel. Built on an elevated walkway, all rooms overlook Zambia’s Zambezi River. One memory I won’t soon forget is downing a strong vodka tonic, thanks to my favorite bartender, Vincent, on the deck overlooking the river at sunset. A campfire was roaring, the reddish-pink sun was reflecting off the waters, and hippos were grunting in the background. This is the image I want to hold onto as long as possible, at least until I return to the continent. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/21/16 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Abercrombie and Kent Week—The Cherished Memories on Safari

Those close-up shots of leopards, lions, hippos, rhinos, elephants, and giraffes might have impressed my Facebook friends these past two weeks, but 5 years from now I won’t remember any of those animals. Okay, maybe that one rhino in the Okavango Delta we surprised who ran off in a blur. What I’ll remember is that marimba band playing solely for our group as we arrived for lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel; my guide, Kebby, clearly enunciating the name of that colorful bird, the lilac-breasted roller; waking up to French-pressed coffee at Stanley’s; all those glorious sunsets, especially the one overlooking the Zambezi on the deck of Sussi and Chuma; heading back to our room at Chobe Chilwero after a long day of game drives and boat rides to find that a bubble bath had been prepared; jumping with young children in hand at the Zambian village of Nakatindi; and all those wonderful stories we shared at dinner with our new friends. These are the special moments I’ll remember and inevitably the driving force behind another trip to Africa some 2 years from now when thoughts about taking that long international flight have faded. I yearn to return to that continent and its people more than any other destination. It’s my spiritual retreat where I feel most alive. I want to thank Abercrombie and Kent for the opportunity this time. 

I’m off to Bloomington, Indiana, for Parents Weekend at IU. I’ll be back on Tuesday with blogs about our trip to Cape Town. Have a great fall weekend and keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/23/16 at 04:00 AM
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Friday, October 28, 2016

Botswana, Villas in Europe, and Family Trips to New York in October ActiveTravels Newsletter

There was a moment on our second day of safari in Botswana where our guide, Kebby, spotted a leopard. We drove up to a leafless tree where this exquisite animal was perched on a branch, looking intently at the impalas nibbling on grass in the distance. We all grabbed our cameras and binoculars to take in the spectacular sight. After 15 minutes, I was ready to move on, but our guide stayed put. Giraffes passed by, an elephant came close to the land cruiser, startled to find us there, and the leopard moved to another branch. At last, the leopard jumped off the tree and sauntered away in the tall grass.

 
We must have looked at him for at least an hour, a ridiculous amount of time for some one as impatient as me, always thinking of my next activity, deadline, or goal to achieve. But to truly be in the present, clearing your mind of all extraneous thought and worries and simply stare at a leopard, that is really a moment to savor. In fact, it's the essence of authentic travel. A chance to share a precious moment with loved ones far away from the seemingly endless responsibilities of modern-day lives. Afterwards, I thanked Kebby for staying with the leopard. He noted that it's often the time he’ll see a kill, when he stays with one predator like a leopard or lion for a long period of time.
 
Take time to pause in your travels this upcoming year, whether it's over a glass of wine at a vineyard, at the beach with a good thick book, in front of a wonderful work of art, or staring at a leopard in the bush. Be sure to build downtime into your itinerary and not just check off sight after sight. Travel is not a contest but necessary time to nurture an often weary body and soul. The vast wilderness of Botswana's Okavango Delta, our main feature in this month’s ActiveTravels newsletter, is the perfect place to replenish the well. We also discuss some alternatives to hotels in US and European cities as well as the Caribbean; an outfitter who specializes in grandparent's trips to New York; a Quick Escape to the home of Halloween, Salem; and a reminder to always check in before your next flight.
 
Enjoy reading and, as always, happy travels!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/28/16 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, The Magical Sunsets of the Okavango Delta

There were so many highlights of our 9-day trip with Abercrombie & Kent to Botswana and Zambia in September that it’s hard to pick one day. I loved watching the elephants swim across the Chobe River on the Namibian border, spending an hour with a leopard on a tree in the Okavango Delta, surprising a rhino after an early morning drive, meeting Jabu, a massive African elephant who helps locals overcome their fear of wild animals, canoeing past hippos on the Zambezi River, watching the pounding waters of Victoria Falls plunge to the bottom of the chasm from the Zimbabwean side, and listening to our wonderful guide, Kebby, describe each and every bird like the brightly colored lilac-breasted roller and the southern carmine bee-eater.  

But most of all, I loved each and every sunset, a massive orb of fiery red, orange, and yellow sun that sets the bush aglow before darkness descends. There are few things in life as magical as a sunset in Africa. Late afternoon on our third day of the trip we were picked up at Chief’s Camp and treated to a mokoro ride. In a traditional canoe, a guide poled us through the tall grasses on a leisurely paddle, Botswana’s version of a gondola ride. The sun started to set and the tall reeds surrounding us were aglow. When the paddle ended, we celebrated the last embers of light on land, vodka tonic in hand nibbling on meaty biltong. That’s as close to perfection as it gets in the world of travel. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/03/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 10, 2017

Unsung Mexican Beach Destinations, Sedona, and Lisbon Hotels in ActiveTravels Feb 2017 Newsletter

We just booked a cruise for a couple headed to Antarctica in January of 2018. That comes on the heels of a safari booking for Botswana in September 2018. You might think that these folks are crazy to book so far in advance. In fact, they’re smart since they want to knock off destinations on their wish list and know that there’s only a limited supply of cruises headed to Antarctica, a small number of safari lodges in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. There’s been such a surge of traffic to well-known destinations of late that Barcelona and Rome are both considering limits this year to the amount of people entering the city each day. And I can’t tell you how many people we could not help last summer when they came calling to find lodging in Iceland at the last minute. The country was essentially sold out. Give us enough advance notice and we can make your dreams a reality, with far better flights and lodging options. 

Having missed connections in Miami, Heathrow, LAX and a slew of other cities, I’m always excited to see new direct flights like the Emirates flight from Newark to Athens that started this month. Delta is now flying direct from Boston to Montego Bay starting on February 25th. Direct flights have opened both coasts of Mexico to a number of new beachfront locales. That’s our main feature in the February newsletter. We also pick our favorite hotels in another popular locale, Lisbon, take a quick escape to Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona, and describe how Flightfox can work magic with your airline miles. Have a look! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/10/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

AmaWaterways Announces Chance to See the Gorillas of Rwanda

We’re already big fans of AmaWaterways’ cruises to Africa, like the Discover Africa itinerary that starts in Cape Town before boarding the 28-passenger Zambezi Queen on Botswana’s Chobe River, where you watch the elephants and crocs swim across the river while sipping sundowners on the pool deck. Then it’s off to Vic Falls for the grand finale. Now AmaWaterways is upping the ante, announcing a new 4-day post-cruise extension to Rwanda. Guests will experience Kigali and Volcanoes National Park, home to rare mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. Cape Town, Botswana, Vic Falls, and now Rwanda. Quite the African combo! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/26/17 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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