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South Africa, Victoria Falls (Zambia) and Botswana

Safari Luxury
By Lee Moody
QTMagazine - September 2001

I'm relaxing and mesmerized while waiting for a herd of elephants to cross the road in front of our jeep.  In contrast to the horrible image of non-stop whirlwind tours depicted in the old movie, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," I am enjoying a perfect adventure at a civilized pace.  I'm on safari in Botswana as part of a luxury tour of Southern Africa organized by DavidTours [DavidTravel].  

At first, I was a little apprehensive about being part of a tour group.  After all, it was the first group tour that I had ever been on and I wasn't sure what to expect.  I was delighted to experience a deluxe and fun exploration of another culture and the incredible scenery of Africa.  Everything on the tour was choreographed to provide a perfect travel experience. While we experienced VIP treatment at all our destinations, the tour also provided connections with a wide spectrum of local residents who I probably would not have had the chance to meet if I were on my own. Plus, fantastic local guides were available 24 hours per day throughout the tour to help with any questions and ensure everything ran smoothly.  

Our trip began in Cape Town, South Africa over a week earlier.  Cape Town offers a gentle introduction for the first time traveler to Africa.  The city seems to be a blending of elements from all over the world making it feel familiar in an inimitable way. Parts of the city are very European with bits of Holland, England, and the Mediterranean thrown together.  Other parts feel very South Asian.  And yet, there are parts that seem to be uniquely African.  

The flight into Cape Town offers some of the most spectacular scenery available anywhere.  After clearing customs, we were delivered to our hotel, the five-star Table Bay Hotel in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area of the city.  We then had the first day to ourselves to refresh from the flight and explore the city at our own pace.  A great place to start discovering the city is right outside the hotel's door.  There is a large mall connected to the hotel with shops offering clothing at great prices, well made African crafts, and any necessities you might have forgotten to pack.  The waterfront area also has a variety of restaurants, an excellent aquarium, an IMAX theater, and more shops.  Soaring above the harbor is the majestic bulk of Table Mountain.  

The following day, we set out on an overview tour of the major sites of the city with a wonderful local guide.  One of the most poignant points of the day was a visit to Langa, the oldest township in the city.  While in Langa, we met some of the gay residents of the township for lunch at Lelapa, which offers home cooked buffets in a relaxed atmosphere.  Visiting a township is definitely an eye-opening experience.  The living conditions may seem shocking, but the people are full of hope for the future.

Over the next couple of days, we toured Cape Point with its dramatic cliffs high above the pounding surf, took a boat to watch seals, visited a local beach that is home to a large number of penguins, and enjoyed wine tasting at several vineyards.  South Africa has excellent wine at surprisingly moderate prices.  

We dined at two of the best restaurants in the Cape Town area, Rozenhof Restaurant and La Colombe Restaurant. Both dinners were arranged so that there were close to an equal number of tour members and guests from the local gay community.  This provided us with the opportunity to get some insights into both gay life in Cape Town and South African culture in general.  As an added bonus, the food was fantastic at both restaurants.  I particularly enjoyed the cheese soufflé and crispy roast duck at Rozenhof and the grilled medallions of springbok at La Colombe.  

Prior to dining at Rozenhof, we were invited to a cocktail party at the home of one of South Africa's noted architects and his partner, who had been a client on a previous DavidTours [DavidTravel] trip.  It was a great way to mingle with some of the members of the local gay community and a unique opportunity to be welcomed into our hosts' lives.  

After dinner each night, we had the rest of the evening free.  Cape Town has some lively bars and clubs and our new friends took pleasure in showing us around.  Most of the major bars and clubs were within a short walk of each other in Cape Town's gay village, just a quick cab ride away from our hotel.  The Bronx Action Bar seemed to attract a decent crowd every night.  Connected to Bronx are Angels and Detour, which are more oriented to clubbing.  

After a full four days and nights, it was time to say goodbye to the friends we had made in Cape Town and fly on to our next adventure at Victoria Falls.  On route, we were met by another extraordinary local guide who took over responsibility for us for the remainder of the tour.  As we arrived at the newly opened luxury Royal Livingstone Hotel on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia, the sun was setting over the river.  The view was so spectacular that we all quickly made our way down to the hotel's deck on the banks of the river and enjoyed cocktails while taking in the sights, including the baboons scampering around the grounds of the hotel.  

As night fell, we enjoyed an open-air dinner at the hotel's restaurant.  Adjourning to our rooms after dinner, we could hear elephants and hippopotamuses munching on the vegetation on the banks of the river.  We quickly realized that we had come to a very special place.  

The next day was one of the fullest and most exhilarating days of the trip.  In the morning, we walked along the edge of the falls while sprays of mist drenched the ponchos that were provided for us. We were then transported to the top of Batoka Gorge, where we climbed down to the river's edge for a hair-raising jet boat ride through the rapids.  After our thrill-a-minute ride, a helicopter met us on the bank of the river for an awe-inspiring aerial view of the falls.  Upon landing, we were then whisked off to a sunset cocktail cruise aboard the African Queen.  It would be hard to imagine a more spectacular day of events.  

Departing Victoria Falls the next day, we flew back to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Some of the members of our group went on to visit Soweto, one of the largest townships in South Africa.  I opted to go directly to our fashionable hotel, The Grace, in Rosebank, one of Johannesburg's exclusive suburbs, to relax and do a little shopping in the stylish shops near the hotel.  The staff at The Grace was more than happy to wrap all my purchases in bubble-wrap to safeguard them for the rest of the trip.  

Our evening in Johannesburg began with a dinner with members of the local gay and lesbian community at the Singing Fig Restaurant.  After enjoying the great food and fabulous South African wines, our new local friends took us out to some of Johannesburg's lively nightspots.  At The Heartland, a sprawling complex of bars, it seemed that everyone wanted to buy us a drink.  Our friends also managed to get us into one of the more popular clubs, Therapy, where several members of our group danced the night away.  

The next morning, much to early for some who had enjoyed the previous night a little too much, we boarded a restored World War II era DC-3 for our flight to Mashatu Game Reserve, the largest private game reserve in Africa, located in Botswana.  Landing in Botswana, we realized we were now in the Africa that we had all dreamed about.  As we started our journey to the main camp aboard our open-air jeeps, there was nothing around us except for the vastness of the woodland savannah through which we were traveling.  I think everyone felt a little like Meryl Streep in "Out of Africa".  

Main Camp was like an oasis in this landscape.  The rooms were simple but comfortable and camp offered everything that you needed including air conditioning and heating in the guest rooms, an open-air bar overlooking a watering hole and a swimming pool where you could cool down if the weather was hot.  Since we were visiting in winter, however, heat was not a problem we had to deal with.  

Each morning and evening while at Mashatu, we went on safari drives in open-air jeeps. We never knew which animals we would see, so everyone was excited for the opportunity to go out on the next drive.  At one point our jeep would be surrounded by a herd of elephants, at the next we would be spotting the more elusive cheetahs and leopards.  We had very successful sightings and saw most of the animals that inhabit the area including wildebeests, impalas, kudus, elands, steenboks, baboons, jackals, hyenas, warthogs, zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, and ostriches.  The most exciting part of the experience was getting within 10-15 feet of all the animals, with nothing between them and us.  As Mashatu is a private game reserve, our jeeps were able to go off-road and take us close to the action.

During the evening game drives, all our tour group's jeeps would meet for sundowners, cocktails imbibed as the sun is setting.  After the sun sank down over the horizon, we would climb back aboard the jeeps to view the nocturnal activities of the animals.  It was quite startling to round a corner and come face to face with elephants in the dark.  But afterwards at camp, a cocktail and dinner around an open fire put us back at ease.  There were also some delightful surprises that I won't spoil in case you find yourself there one day.

The final four days of our trip were spent at the opulent Palace of the Lost City in Sun City, South Africa.  During our transfer to Sun City we were provided with gourmet box lunches in custom made wooden boxes.  Once we arrived, the attentive staff at The Palace booked massages for us to pamper us before our journey home.  And the magical setting of the Palace was a perfect place to relax.  We also took advantage of the Palace's close proximity to Pilanesberg National Park to go on one more safari drive to see a few of the animals not resident at Mashatu.  Unfortunately, far too soon it seemed, the time had come to say goodbye to friends we had made while on the tour and to Africa.  

One of the goals of David Rubin, the founder of DavidTours [DavidTravel], is to bring joy, fun, friendship, and understanding into people's lives through travel.  His South African tour certainly fulfilled that goal for me personally.  I made a number of friendships with both members of our tour group and with South Africans that I hope stay strong.  And I definitely had a lot of fun and adventure along the way, while gaining an understanding for cultures and countries that were new to me.  Best of all, there was no reason to forgo luxurious accommodations and services while doing so.  The next opportunity I have to join a DavidTours[DavidTravel] group tour, I'll know there is nothing to be apprehensive about.


Safari Luxury - VIDEO CLIP of Safari Experience, including a kill we witnessed.  
(To enjoy this video, you must have a RealPlayer.)
QTMagazine - September 2001
By Lee Moody and Serge Gojkovich.  Edited by Vincent Tamariz.

We wish to thank QTMagazine for this exceptional video and
permitting us to copy it on our site.

 

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