buddy4344

Nothern Namibia - Etosha and beyond, a photographers tale

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@@buddy4344, the series of photos from Okondeka are so beautiful.

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@@buddy4344 the yellow water with giraffe reflections is a stunning photo

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Thank you very much for your report @@buddy4344, loved it! Brought back some great Etosha memories... Superb photography as well!!

 

Cheers,

 

Michel

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Thank you very much for your report @@buddy4344, loved it! Brought back some great Etosha memories... Superb photography as well!!

 

Cheers,

 

Michel

Thank you! More to come. Hopefully in the next few days. The holiday season is always so busy with no photo work. :)

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Great report and wonderful iamges, looking forward to the next chapter!

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Leaving Etosha

 

Sorry for the long delay, life gets in the way of getting to writing.

 

Etosha has been a blast, but now it’s time to leave Etosha and head west, then north on a trip to check out Himba settlements. Our original plan was to head south out of Okaukuejo and hit the main roads toward Kamanjab and over to Palmwag area for the night; however, at the last moment and based on some advice from others, we decided to head west within Etosha and depart via the Galton Gate.

 

We knew this part of the park was less visited and were told that because the game was not as habituated to humans/vehicles, the wildlife would be more skittish. While there were less vehicles, we didn’t really detect a large amount of difference in game behavior.

 

The paper maps of Etosha one can buy at the stores within Etosha do not provide map information for departing the west gate. In one of our two vehicles, we had the Tracks4Africa maps on the GPS and used this information to decide which waterholes to visit. This worked well.

Taking this path, we saw plenty of oryx (Can someone tell me why they are called oryx in Namibia, but Gemsbok in South Africa?), wildebeest, springbok and also zebra. Regarding zebra, we saw both the more common Burchell’s Zebra and the Hartmann Mountain Zebra. These latter animals were new for me this trip, so I really enjoyed photographing them.

 

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The drive to Galton Gate, as we expected, had much fewer vehicles, but we really enjoyed the drive. There were three or four really good waterholes along that drive, but there were also several waterholes that the GPS told us were dry and we did not even check those out as the Tracks4Africa was quite reliable.

 

The waterholes did leave a strong impression.

 

· One had lots of zebra and also a lot of vultures as well as some antelope. We could see giraffe in the distance and also a few lone (probably bull) elephants coming toward the waterhole. This waterhole allowed for some great zebra shots of both species.

 

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· At another waterhole, gemsbok were fighting while giraffe and zebra drank. This was fun to photograph

 

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· And last, but not least was the waterhole just below Dolomite. Here we spotted an elephant walking very fast toward the waterhole and were able to drive parallel to his path and take some really nice shots. We also had an oryx gallop past the waterhole for some action shots.

 

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Once at the Galton Gate, we stopped for a bio-break and took a few moments to photograph the beautiful Agama lizard on the wall there.

 

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The road to Kamanjab was not particularly quick and I don’t recall any special moments there. We re-fueled the vehicles and headed toward Palmwag and the Grootberg Lodge, where we planned to stay the night. This part of the drive was memorable as we traveled through several small villages and past some very scenic rock formations. I would have liked to have stopped to photograph more of this trip, but we were concerned that we needed to get to Grootberg Lodge well before sunset.

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Grootberg Lodge

 

Several clients over the years have voice interest in visiting and photographing indigenous peoples. On many of my trips to South Africa and to the Chobe, I've found great people, but know my clients want something less western in the experience, so I set out on this scouting trip to also visit a Himba settlement. I had read that there was one near Grootberg Lodge and a trip could be arranged, but back in August, I learned this settlement was to be displaced by the government in an effort to protect a wilderness area. Knowing this, I searched north of Palmwag for options and learned that I need to go to Sesfontein or further north. I wanted to check this out as I didn't want anything that was too commercial nor did I want to take folks to a 'people zoo'. I wanted somewhere that would allow the local settlement to be shown with dignity and even to elevate interest in supporting their goals.

 

Looking at the map, it became obvious that to go from Okaukuejo all the way to Sesfontein would be a long day of driving, so even though Grootberg Lodge no longer had Himba, I decided to book a night there before traveling further north. I had been told that the drive from the entrance up to the lodge was not for the faint of heart. I had learned that many park at the bottom of the mountain and get shuttled up. I was open to the latter idea ... but got more bold the more I drove in Namibia. Upon arrival, the gentleman at the base said I shouldn't have any problem as long as I was in low gear/4 wheel drive. He was right, but I took it nice and slow. Friends, let me tell you it is a steep drive to the top.

 

About half way up, it dawned on me I would also have to drive DOWN this steep road the next day. That's a story for my next journal entry.

 

The folks at Grootberg where AMAZING. They needed to put us in a family chalet and, being 4 men, we needed them to bring an extra bed into one of the two rooms. No problem, it was done. The chalets and lodge are perched on the precipice of a long extinct volcano. The views were grand. The walkway to the room wasn't treacherous, but one did have to watch for the cliff edge and the rocks. The room was really nice and the lodge beautiful.

 

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We arrived at Grootberg just in time to join a game drive, but we immediately saw a problem. The 4 of us were photographers and the others were clearly 'sightseeing'. We knew we would both frustrate those folks and also be frustrated, so we requested a separate game drive vehicle. No problem and it was done. Let me be clear, the term 'game drive' really did not apply. This is a landscape drive with some wildlife. We saw a very few springbok, an oryx or two in the distance and on out return leg, we saw a few Hartmann Mountain Zebra. With that said, I wouldn't trade this 'game drive' for one full of wildlife. The scenery was amazing. I can only describe the plateau landscape as being as I would expect the surface of Mars. Red to burgundy red rock everywhere. Virtually no vegetation except a lone tree here and there. It's hard to imagine how any large animal could live up on that rock. The sterile environment had a tragic beauty.

 

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Then we got to the far edge of the mountain with a view of the valley below as well as other mountains. A perfect sunset view. A butter tree here and there on the edge, but otherwise a sheer cliff. I won't try to describe further, I will just let my photos show what we saw. The gin and tonic sundowners added to the end of a perfect day.

 

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I did enjoy the Hartmann Mountain Zebra in our path on our trip back to the lodge after sunset.

 

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Following the game drive, we sat down to a FEAST. The food was AMAZING. Maybe because the food at Etosha was so bad, or maybe this was that good, regardless, it was a wonderful way to end the night.

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Enjoying this especially as we are on our way in less than a week. I'm wondering if an SUV can make it to Grootberg or is there little point in trying and just accept a lift from the car park.

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Enjoying this especially as we are on our way in less than a week. I'm wondering if an SUV can make it to Grootberg or is there little point in trying and just accept a lift from the car park.

 

I'm glad you are enjoying this write-up. Doing this is letting me re-visit the trip in my mind.

 

While steep, an SUV should work fine. I was workers for the lodge go up and down the road in unloaded bakkie and those are pretty light weight on the back end.

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@@buddy4344 , both your words and your photos have brought back the beauty of what Grootberg Lodge is giving to their guests (and I hope also visitors). A said, the game drive, for wildlife, is nothing special. But the wildlife in that landscape, wow, amazing. In 2014 Zvezda and me were lucky to have the car for ourselves thus no problems with stopping wherever wished. The drive up ... well, I know about it, and also about the drive down, but I would (will) do it again without a second thought.

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@@buddy4344 - I am late to this one; absolutely amazed by your images (this is not photography it is art). I see that you sell prints but still these are way beyond my wildest dreams. I particularly like the 3 springbok in #41 (my favourite so far) and of course the male lion with giraffes, the lightning and of then the giraffe reflection in the sunset reflection. Beautiful.

 

It is also great to see a lot of information about driving and the various lodges as Namibia is on my (long) list of places to visit and would probably be a self drive as well.

 

kind regards

 

deano.

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@@buddy4344 Just re reading and looking at the pictures, amazing to compare your sights with ours.... two completely different parks almost! Okaukuejo and the variety of species and activity was so different and you can see why people rave about it if you go at the right time. One thing the doesn't change though is the food! Glad your opinion was similar if not quite so scathing as mine! Dave.

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@@Dave Williams, I agree. I have enjoyed your write up and have taken a few notes for future consideration, but we had two very different Namibia's.

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Posted (edited)

I apologize for the gap between my last post and this final post.

 

We had stopped at Grootberg Lodge because we thought the drive further north to Khowarib would have been too long. The next morning, we took a few photos of the beautiful view and then hit the road north. That drive northward didn't take as long as I had expected. Less than 3 hours; however along the drive we encountered giraffe

 

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and enjoyed seeing the landscape and were intrigued to see some of the Herero people walking along the size of the road. This is such a different place than where we come from in the United States

 

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It was interesting that many of the folks were carrying water and seemed to be a long way from either a water source or a village or home. It was a reminder to all of us how hard this lifestyle is and also how important water is to everyone in a parched land.

 

Edited by buddy4344
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We arrived at Khowarib, our next stop about noon. Our initial plan was to photograph in and around the lodge that afternoon and then arrange to visit the Himba settlement near Sesfontein the next day. The lodge is very nice, with a main building and then tented chalets along the Hoanib River (which was just a trickle in October frame). The enm-suite out door bathroom for each chalet was quite unique. It was open to the sky, but surrounded by a wall of stones. Within the bathroom, mopane trees were growing. Yes, there were trees growing in the bathroom! Pretty cool. Sorry, no photos of this.

 

After a refreshing drink, we enquired about the Himba and a possible visit and learned that we could actually make this happen that very afternoon. This could put us ahead of schedule, so we asked the management to set things up. The arrangement included loading some 'gifts' of mealie maize into the transfer vehicle as payment for the trip. We all had beanbags for stabilizing our cameras that we had filled with riced maize and, as our photo trip was nearly over, offered this maize to subsidize the gifts to the settlement.

 

It's been a while, so here is where my memory gets a little blurry. We had a driver take us to the settlement, which was just about 10 km away and also had a translator come along. I cannon recall his name; however, he was raised Himba but converted to western customs and clothing when he was a teenager. When we asked about this, he told a story of how he grew up sleeping in a hut with his grandmother. They both slept naked and some nights were cold and the grandmother would cuddle up close to him. When he would go to school the following day, he was kidded by classmates because he had red ochre on his skin from his grandmother. He said this kidding and subsequent embarrassment led to him leaving the Himba lifestyle.

 

The Himba settlement is a small group of only 3 or 4 buildings. We had complete access to this small village, walking freely among the people. About a dozen Himba ladies came out and set up blankets with crafts in a semi-circle. There were no adult men and a lot of smaller children. While we respected the need for income, we really didn't come for souvenirs but rather to photograph. In spite of this, the Himba ladies sat in the circle unless we asked them to pose in a certain way. This is a tip. The ladies would pose any way we wanted, but without direction, they just sat. If you are a photographer, you need to do your homework before a visit and plan what types of shots you want. You literally need to take sample photos or storyboard out what you want. Luckily, I was somewhat prepared. Before going to Namibia, I had surfed on line for many images of the Himba as well as images of other indigenous peoples and powerful images of people from magazines like National Geographic. To inspire me, I had put these photos into clear plastic sleeves. This became invaluable as I was able to point to a photo and get the Himba to understand what I was wanting from a photo. With that said, I initially lost control of the setting. The first Himba lady that saw my images immediately took them from my hands and started looking at them and speaking loudly in Herero language. Quickly, others gathered around and started looking at my photos. They were excited and amazed. Then, something sort of special occurred. My translator laughed and said, 'This lady knows the woman in the photo. It is her cousin from Purros!", we all had to laugh at the coincidence.

 

 

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After a while, the novelty of my photos was accepted and then we were able to get to our photo session. This photo of a Himba girl beside the hut may be my favorite. Note the 'A E I O U' on the side of the mud structure. This was a ladies home, but apparently also the school. My translator told me that things are changing with the Himba and they recognize that to progress, the children need to learn western languages. When I initially took the photo, I didn't even notice the writing on the wall, but once I noted it, I was very pleased I took the photo.

 

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We were also offered a chance to go inside the chief's wife's home and take a few candid shots there. The lighting was difficult and, being a small room, a wide angle lens is needed, but this created a lifetime of memories.

 

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Outside of the huts, we took other portraits. After our photo shots, which took about an hour, some of our group bought a few souvenirs mostly as a courtesy and thank you to the Himba. Here are a few of those shots. BTW, As I recall, when the hair is forward on a young girl, that means she is single. Married women wear the hair behind the head. I am told women may be committed to a marriage at a very yound age, perhaps 6 or 8 years old, but that they will live with their family until puberty. I am also told that Himba men can have more than one wife. A dowry of cattle or goats is required to the family of the future wife. I will admit, I still know very little of this culture.

 

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To be honest, the visit was stressful for me. I thought I knew what to expect, but it was beyond my comprehension. Throughout the visit, I felt like the situation was out of control. I wanted to shoot these people with dignity and show the pride of who they were. I hope I have captured this, but, again, it was an experience that took me out of my normal element and challenged my skills. Now that I am home, I can't wait to re-visit the Himba. I better understand what I will be seeing and what homework I need to do prior to my visit. I know that these people are letting us into their lifestyle but don't necessarily know what we want; therefore, we cannot expect them to deliver. I need to study their culture. Learn what the day to day activities are and then have the Himba perform these daily activities while I capture those moments with my camera. This may allow me to go beyond portraits though I do like the portraits of these interesting people.

 

 

 

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I think you have done a fabulous job both technically and tastefully. Once again the power of monochrome demonstrated admirably.

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To me, this is the toughest form of photography ... and you executed it brilliantly!

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To me, this is the toughest form of photography ... and you executed it brilliantly!

 

Definitely not easy for me. I believe that I am much better at capturing the spirit of wildlife. Thanks for the compliment.

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I think you have done a fabulous job both technically and tastefully. Once again the power of monochrome demonstrated admirably.

 

My favorites are also the monochrome shots. Thanks for the comments.

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The final full day in the Kunene Region we planned a drive up the Hoanib River along the riverbed to see desert elephants. While our Landcruisers would do the job, we did not really know where to go nor what road conditions we would encounter, so we had the Khowarib Lodge arrange a private game drive vehicle for us. Khowarib is south of Sesfontein and the entry into the riverbed is slightly north of Sesfontein. This gave us the added treat of passing through town and seeing a few of the locals. All seemed very friendly and waved to us (except the cows).

 

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Technical difficulities led to a start slightly later than expected. Fairly early in the trip, we found elephants, but they were among tall grasses near small pools of water and not particularly photogenic. As we didn't know what was to come, we clicked away. I didn't even post process any of those images as there were so many nicer ones later in the trip.

 

This little 'tour' took us several hours as we progressed up the riverbed - Sometimes in deep valleys, sometimes in wide expanses. Sometimes in dry sand, sometimes along flowing water, sometimes among sheer rock cliffs. This trip was landscape eye candy. If we never saw any wildlife, the Hoanib River would still go in as a highlight on the trip. During the drive, we found quite a few elephants, giraffe and gemsbok. We also saw a few baboons and caught sight of a brown hyena running away from us. We spotted some lion prints in the sand, but lost his track and never saw the animal.

 

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This shot was from VERY FAR AWAY, through heat thermals and a big crop, but I loved the dusting bull

 

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We drove the riverbed all of the way until we came to a sign painted on a rock stating 'No Entry' and 'Entering Skeleton Coast'.

 

Probably the highlights were the giraffe running down the sand dunes and the elephants reaching high into the trees to pick flowers to eat. The drive definitely has a lot of bumpy sections and we were all quite tired as the trip reached it's in. Would I do it again? Already planning that part of the next trip. Overall a great final full day.

 

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Tomorrow morning we head south by southeast to Otjiwarongo for an overnight with a flight the next day.

 

 

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Well folks, I’ve enjoyed re-living my exploratory trip into northern Namibia, but this will be the last chapter to this report. The actual travel portion will be pretty simple. Basically, we left Khowarib and headed south to Otjiwarongo.

Along the way, we stopped a few times to photo zebras

 

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We also stopped to photograph some locals. For each we donated some of our remaining food supplies in appreciation for modeling for us.

 

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and also some large rock formations we had seen between Grootberg Lodge and Kamanjab.

 

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We stopped in Otjiwarongo to break up the driving time to Windhoek. In hindsight, the drive was short enough that we could have pushed on through, but I’m really glad we didn’t. Otjiwarongo had it’s moments.

 

We stayed at the Hadassa Guest House B&B. In walking into the lobby. I had selected this lodging because of superior reviews on Trip Advisor. Parking in front of the office and walking in, we were greeted with a gentleman saying in a French accent, “Hey, you were in Etosha last week. I recognize you and your vehicles. You had big lenses!” It was nice to see the owner had a sharp recollection of details and also liked nature. I told him why we had picked his guest house and he responded with “I hate to disappoint you, but those reviews were all about the previous owners. We just bought this place and took over managing less than a month ago.” My thoughts were immediately “Oh my, will the quality be as good as the reviews?” I asked his background. He and his wife and children were from the south of France. They had tired of the hassles of cities and the life they were in and decided to make a clean break and by a small hotel in, of all places, Otjiwarongo!

 

This may have been my worry, but my fellow travelers were more worried about food and asked the new proprietor about local restaurants. He noted a local Italian, a fast food place, maybe something else, but also noted that his wife was organizing the kitchen and they could serve us dinner as long as a plan was made early (as in right now). The Italian and fast food options did not sound like the Namibian experience, so we put our fate in the hands of new head of the kitchen.

 

We also asked if there was a local grocery and a local craft shop. Yes, to both and off we headed. Both were in the same shopping location, so this was easy. The local crafts were nice: carvings, jewelry, some cloth items. Several of the guys bought necklaces made of broken bits of ostrich shell. Meanwhile, I start looking through the Namibia landscape calendars they had there. To my surprise, the rock formation we had just photographed were featured in one of the calendars. I guess our ‘find’ wasn’t as unique as I had thought.

 

Did you catch that they were from France? That should have been a hint. It turns out, the wife had been to culinary school and was really into the ‘farm to table’ movement. She sourced everything locally except the dark chocolate in the dessert as she felt that Africa has not bested Belgium in that department. The appetizer was an amazing. The main course, (backstrap of eland accompanied with a pinotage) was to die for, the desert of warmed pears and dark chocolate was excellent. As we pushed back from this excellent final meal, the owner came out with a bottle of Amarula and 4 small glasses. Perfect ending.

The next day was a short drive south to drop off our vehicles, ride to the Windhoek airport and our connecting flights in Jo’burg to home.

 

All stories must come to and end and this is the end of this travel story.

 

It has been a great trip and I am eager to return to Namibia, but first, I visit the Kgalagadi Transfrontier in Feb. 2017 and May and June is a month of visiting lodges in Botswana and South Africa. Looks like 2018 before I get back to Namibia … but I will go back.

 

The Best of the Trip (in no particular order):

 

· Zebra in Etosha

· Etosha Pan

· Moringa (Halali) Waterhole at night

· Late Afternoons at the Okaukuejo Waterhole

· Okondeka Waterhole and predators

· Nebrownii and the ‘white ghost’ elephants

· Mornings at Goas Waterhole

· Western side of Etosha to Galton Gate

· Grootberg Lodge

· Khowarib Lodge

· The Himba (I need second chance to photograph them)

· The Hoanib Riverbed

· The overall landscape

· The overall wildlife

 

The not so good:

 

· Check in process at Etosha

· Power outages at both Halali and Okaukuejo

· Bad experience with other guests on shooting flash at waterholes at night (not the fault of the other guests, but misunderstanding of the protocol at the waterhole. More homework needed)

· Himba selling circle to sell trinkets/crafts (I don’t mind paying ‘modeling fee’, but would like to avoid this aspect of a visit to them)

· The long driving distances between locations (I know, it’s a big country)

 

I’m really having to dig deep to find very minor things wrong, yet, without blinking, I can rattle off all of the positives from this destination … and that is probably why (I repeat) I will go back!

 

Thanks to all of have taken the time to read and commented on this travel report and a special thanks for the patience as I know I was slow to write some of the chapters. I have already 'kicked off' my trip report on the Kgalagadi. That report can be found at this link.

 

I hope you will also follow that story and add comments.

 

Best Regards, Buddy Eleazer

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Excellent trip report and some incredibly good photography to illustrate it. Like you, I will return and will seek out those special places to stay such as Hadassa Guest house. For me though the next trip is a Far East cruise, got to keep my driver happy!! I'll be following Kgalagadi with huge interest though.

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Indeed an excellent trip report, both in words and in photos. It will be so hard to come even closer with my next trip report!

 

Thanks for the info about Hadassa. We have stayed there in 2014, apparently under previous owners. It was a nice place, and we have had dinner also.

We will stop for a night also this trip. Do you know if we need to book the dinner in advance?

 

And yes, you will be back. Once a year, is my average :) .

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Thanks for the info about Hadassa. We have stayed there in 2014, apparently under previous owners. It was a nice place, and we have had dinner also.

We will stop for a night also this trip. Do you know if we need to book the dinner in advance?

 

 

It is my understanding that at least a day in advance, if not more, is preferred as she works with local farms to know what is in season and what meats are available. Please tell the owners I said 'hello'. Enjoy your trip.

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For me though the next trip is a Far East cruise, got to keep my driver happy!! I'll be following Kgalagadi with huge interest though.

 

I had hoped to return in late 2017, but a few travelers had to cancel due to family. My 'other half' is also pressing me for a few alternate destinations later this year. The Far East may be a few years away for us as Susan has not bought into my ideas for that destination.

 

Another tease on the Kgalagadi trip report: I've already scheduled a return there for November!

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