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Today Norm Goldman, Editor of sketchandtravel.com is pleased to have as our guest, Lesley Bellus, U.S. public relations representative for Wilderness Safaris, a tour operator with luxury safari camps throughout Southern Africa.

Thanks Lesley for participating in our interview.

Norm:

Lesley, please tell our readers something about yourself and how you became interested in African Safaris?

Lesley:

Norm, I have been in the public relations industry for more than 12 years and have represented various travel/tourism clients. I have always had an interest in Africa its history, culture, land and people.

I recently started my own PR agency and was fortunate enough to combine my career with one of my passions. I have had the terrific opportunity to work with Wilderness Safaris and recently visited many of the company's camps in Namibia and Botswana.

Norm:

What is meant by the term luxury safari camps and how do they differ from non-luxury camps?

Lesley:

Wilderness Safaris has three different types of camps premier, classic and vintage to provide various options for the traveler visiting Africa. No matter which type of camp guests choose, they are certain to receive an unforgettable experience an educational, explorative and fun opportunity to view some of the most wild and remote places of Africa. Below is an overview of Wilderness Safaris' camp classes:

***Premier Wilderness Camp: The most elegant accommodations, these camps combine luxury, superbly designed architecture and the warm comforts of home and personal service.

***Classic Wilderness Camp: These are generally tented camps, all offering superb facilities and accommodations.

***Vintage/Explorations Camp: Offer spacious tents with all amenities and comforts provided. These are best suited for guests who enjoy a simpler safari ambience.

Wilderness Safaris has camps throughout Southern Africa in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the Seychelles.

Norm:

Could you name and describe nine romantic African safaris within the areas you cover that would be of interest to those seeking a unique romantic getaway?

Lesley:

Norm, there are so many romantic safari options. Safaris provide an incredible opportunity to literally escape to untouched, wild, incredibly beautiful places in Africa. Discovering and reconnecting with your natural spirit is a wonderful romantic getaway.

Let me try to just narrow it down to eight romantic options:

***North Island (the Seychelles) - This is the romantic getaway par excellence, the perfect island retreat only you don't get much more exclusive than this, with only 11 villas on the entire island! Long walks on any of the four beaches at the four points of the compass a beautiful sala, swimming pool, stunning cuisine, and a spa, all combine to create barefoot luxury, North Island's central philosophy.

***Little Ongava - Arguably Namibia's most comfortable accommodation, exclusive without being indulgent, Little Ongava offers an extraordinary experience from which to focus your Etosha journey. This is an intimate and exclusive lodge, with only three spacious, private and luxurious suites each with its own plunge pool, en-suite bathroom, a sala, and outdoor al fresco shower. The dining and lounge area has a wonderful view of the waterhole below the camp and lends itself to relaxed, stylish dining under an African sky or under thatch.

***Kaya Mawa - Rated by Condé Nast Magazine as one of the planet's 10 most romantic destinations, Kaya Mawa is located on the south-western tip of Likoma Island in the far north-east of Lake Malawi, close to Mozambique. The island is covered with mango trees and ancient baobabs and encircled by glorious sandy beaches and rocky coves. Eight stone and teak-framed thatched cottages have a panoramic view of the lake and private terraces with direct access to the water. Each one has en-suite bathroom facilities, a four-poster bed, shower, and a sunken stone bathtub. There is a honeymoon chalet with incredible views tucked away on its own private island.

***Serra Cafema- This is for those wanting something completely different and other. One of the most remote camps in southern Africa, it is located in the extreme north-west of Namibia, and combines extreme desert scenery with the large Kunene River, creating a surreal experience. The honeymoon suite overlooks the river, and at the end of the camp truly feels like you're on the edge of beyond. The hammock on the deck is just right for relaxing in the heat of the day.

***Jao - The camp, located in Botswana's Okavango Delta, has nine spacious, beautiful tents (which were featured in Architectural Digest, March 2002), each individually handcrafted. These twin-bedded canvas and thatched rooms are situated beneath a canopy of shady trees and have en-suite facilities, as well as an outdoor shower. Built on raised decks, each has a private sala for afternoon siestas and offers wonderful views of the surrounding floodplains. Jao's outstanding cuisine is complemented by wines from an excellent wine cellar. It also has a salon where a wide range of massage therapies are offered.

***River Club - There are very few destinations as romantic as The River Club and in fact, they even do weddings! Whether you are looking for a religious ceremony or a civil one they can put together something very easily just for you, be it on the main lawn over looking the river or on the white sands of the island in front of the lodge. The River Club is located in Zambia - the sunsets are truly magnificent and provide a spectacular backdrop, along with the Zambezi River to which each bedroom opens out.

***Vumbura Plains - Vumbura Plains, also in Botswana's Okavango Delta, overlooks a vast, attractive floodplain and the rooms are built under the shade of cool and shady trees. Each room has a large, very comfortable bedroom, a lounge, a "sala" and en-suite facilities with a shower, a flush toilet and an outdoor shower under the stars and has its own plunge pool.

***Kings Pool - Located in the Linyanti area of Botswana, the emphasis here is on the wildlife, particularly elephant in the dry season -there are literally hundreds of them. Highlights of this camp include the amazing sounds of the wildlife all around, as well as two hides. One is located at the western end of the camp, where guests can spend a siesta watching game come down to drink. The other is an underground hide, with the water at eye-level -seeing elephant feet and trunks almost within touching distance while safely inside is an experience that transcends that of an ordinary safari.

***Abu Camp-located in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, is the world-renowned and original elephant back safari camp. Offering truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to live among and view Africa from the perspective of an elephant herd, the camp is one of the most exclusive in Africa. Excitement abounds at this camp, where two elephant babies were recently born. The ultra-luxurious camp is full of excitement and guests staying at Abu have the unique treat to interact with the entire herd, including its newest arrivals.

Norm:

What could one expect to spend on one of these safaris and how long is their duration?

Lesley:

Again, as there are so many options on countries to visit and types of camps, it is hard to quote an exact amount. Also, the safaris can be customized for any length of time. It really does depend on where you want to go and how much you want to see, but I would recommend a 10- to 14-day trip at the very least. Firstly because of the travel factor, getting to Africa from the US or Canada involves a long flight, so you may as well make it worthwhile! An ideal trip would be three to four days in each place e.g., four days in Namibia, four to six in Botswana (but in two different places to get a feel of the Okavango Delta and then of the Linyanti area), ending off with two days at River Club. If you're going to Malawi, then spend a week there, ditto for North Island.

And, Norm, I can tell you from first-hand knowledge, the experiences guests will have on their safari are priceless!

Norm:

How does a safari differ from one area of Africa to the next?

Lesley:

As you can imagine, when visiting various parts of a vast continent, you can expect to experience many different things- different terrain, wildlife, activities, people, foods, etc.

The beauty of Africa is its diversity of scenery, wildlife, plants, mountains, deserts - you name it, Africa has all of it.

In southern Africa alone (we'll concentrate on this since this is where Wilderness Safaris operates) there's the stark beauty of the Namib Desert and the Skeleton Coast in the west. Hop over to the east coast and you have lush, verdant coastal vegetation, seas filled to the brim with marine life whale sharks, whales, dolphins, the list is endless! On the continent the variety is huge.

The water-world of the Okavango Delta, for example, or the grasslands and bushveld of the Kruger National Park, and the Linyanti areas of Botswana, the savanna of Hwange in Zimbabwe, and the incredible floodplains with broadleaf woodlands of the Busanga Plains in Zambia, Wilderness Safaris newest area. So a journey to Africa also is a journey through places that are so different and even within them there are incredible nuances in their scenic beauties and this is something that your guides will pick up on and bring to light for you.

Of course the lie of the land makes a difference to the wildlife you'll encounter there desert-adapted black rhino in Damaraland won't be found in Botswana for example! But then in the Okavango you'll see lechwe, while in Hwange you'll see more impala. Some places you'll see so many elephants, you won't believe your eyes, and in others you'll appreciate smaller critters tree hyrax, or Pel's Fishing Owl or suricates in the Kalahari!

Norm:

How safe are African Safaris?

Lesley:

Wilderness Safaris provides guests with very safe safari experiences. The safety of guests and their enjoyment of their travels is paramount. Wilderness Safaris and its employees have extensive experience.

There are not walls or electric fences around Wilderness Safaris camps. Animals do sometimes wander through the camps which is one of the amazing treats. Guests simply need to listen to their guide's instructions to ensure they are safe. There has never been a guest injured in any way who has obeyed the rules.

I was on for safari for three weeks and never felt anything but 100% safe the entire time.

Norm:

Before embarking on an African Safari, how should one prepare himself or herself?

Lesley:

First rule of a safari is that you never know what you're going to see. So be prepared for anything, expect the unexpected! But Wilderness Safaris also aims to exceed your expectations.

Aside from visas, tickets, passports, money and a great sense of adventure& here's a general list of what to bring to start with: (Remember, it's not complete, you'll get a more comprehensive one when you book, and also remember that there are often luggage weight restrictions if you're flying on small aircraft.)

ˇ Good quality sunglasses - preferably polarized. Tinted fashion glasses are not good in strong light.
ˇ Sun hat
ˇ Good walking shoes (running/tennis shoes are fine)
ˇ Warm Anorak or Parka and scarf / gloves for the cold winter months (May to September)
ˇ Light rain gear for summer months (late November to April)
ˇ Camera equipment and plenty of film
ˇ Binoculars
ˇ Malaria tablets (if applicable)
ˇ Insect repellent e.g. Tabard, Rid, Jungle Juice, etc
ˇ Waterproof/dustproof bags/cover for your cameras
ˇ Extra memory cards and batteries for digital cameras - you will want to take tons of photos!

Norm:

How easy or difficult is it to travel to one of these safaris from USA, Europe and Canada?

Lesley:

It is really quite simple to travel to Africa these days. Major commercial carriers, such as South African Airways, British Airways have daily flights to Africa from major U.S., Canadian and European cities. Once in Africa, various charter flights take guests between camps and countries.

Norm:

What differentiates one safari tour company from another and how does one go about check out these various companies?

Lesley:

There are many safari companies in Africa and a vast array of areas to choose from. The key to a successful African safari is to ensure that the company you choose is truly capable of providing what you are looking for in terms of the reserves in which the lodges and camps are situated, the wildlife viewing opportunities, the design and style of the camps and most importantly the knowledge and quality of the guides and staff.

Wilderness Safaris' camps are located in incredible wild places. These magnificent areas, far off the beaten tourist tracks of Africa, represent a way of reconnecting with our primeval nature and spirit that often gets trapped in our busy everyday lives. The locations and the feeling of being in true, prime and remote wilderness areas means everything to Wilderness Safaris. And the way their staff hosts its guests enhances the physical beauty and spirit of these pristine areas. Norm, I can tell you that nowhere else on any of my journeys have I ever met such passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated people.

Norm:

Could you describe to our readers a typical day on an African Safari?

Lesley:

Be prepared to wake up early - the animals do (most mornings between 5 - 6 a.m.)! Wilderness Safaris is not a package holiday or a mindless vacation. It is also not just a Big Five holiday - meaning that while guest may see the Big Five (i.e., lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant) in many of areas, that is not the main aim. The experience is educational and interactive.

During my visit, depending on what camp I was experiencing, we started with an early morning activity to see and experience our surroundings, we then returned to camp for brunch, followed by an afternoon siesta, then it was tea time and off for the afternoon/early evening activity. We then headed back to camp for dinner and, often times experienced a night game drive.

The days' activities, depending on what countries you visit and at what time of year, are endless and include things such as elephant back safari, day/night game drives, walking safaris, boating activities, mountain hikes, hot air balloon rides, sand dune climbs and the list goes on and on. After a day filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, imagine closing your eyes and hearing the amazing sound of lions calling in the distance as you doze off to rest up for the next adventure-filled day.

Norm:

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

Lesley:

Regardless of my professional connection with Wilderness Safaris, I believe everyone should experience Africa at least once in their lifetime. It offers a life-changing experience from the sights, sounds and scents to the warmth of the people to the passion that is felt on so many levels during one's visit Africa gets in your blood; it becomes a part of you. There is not a day that goes by that I do not daydream (sometimes only for a moment, sometimes longer) about my African experiences. Wilderness Safaris touts that their journeys change people's lives. I am living proof!

Thanks again for participating in our interview.

My pleasure. Norm, Wilderness Safaris journeys can be booked through various operators. If viewers at your site would like to learn more, they can contact:

Mike Haines, President
Safari & Company
173 King St. East
Toronto, ON M5A 1J4 Canada
T: (416) 507-9871

Email: mike@safariandco.com
Website: http://www.safariandco.com
Or they can email me at lesley@belluspr.com

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