Equitours, Travelex and Botswana

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I booked a week-long horseback safari in Botswana from Equitours (Dubois, WY; 800/545-0019 or 307/455-3363, www.equitours.com) for Aug. 5-12, 2007. The land price was $2,450, and I used air mileage to upgrade a $2,000 round-trip coach fare to business class on Delta (Lexington, Kentucky, to Johannesburg, South Africa, via Atlanta, Georgia, and Dakar, Senegal).

Equitours strongly advises its clients to purchase travel insurance, as horseback touring has some extra risks inherent. This was my second trip with them, and both times I purchased insurance through the company they suggested, Travelex (Omaha, NE; 800/228-9792, www.travelex-insurance.com), covering both medical and trip-cancellation/interruption. Insurance for this safari cost me $126.

The ground operator was Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris, or LVHS (www.lvhsafaris.co.za; in the US, contact Equitours), based in the Mashatu Game Reserve in eastern Botswana.

The plan was to ride horses from camp to camp through the reserve, home to the largest herd of elephants in Southern Africa as well as leopards, lions, cheetahs, Cape buffalo and several varieties of antelope. We were to cover about 120 kilometers in seven days.

We had to prove our riding abilities the first day when our group of 10 riders was charged by a bull elephant in a dry riverbed. Following instructions from our two guides, we turned and galloped in the opposite direction.

Most of our animal encounters were more peaceful. My favorite was the herd of zebra that cantered with us for a few hundred yards on the fourth day out.

Every afternoon we rode into a new camp that the safari staff had set up. We handed our horses off to the grooms, who removed their tack, let them take a good roll in the sand and then rubbed them down.

We were fed a marvelous lunch cooked in iron kettles over an open fire (same method for the incredible dinners, which included breads, pasta, tortes and marinated meats). Later in the afternoon, we were occupied with a game walk or a drive in the Land Rover to a local village or viewing point.

Shortly before arriving in camp on the fourth day, an hour or so after the run with the zebras, we were cantering in a line at a pretty good pace when my horse, Rambo, stumbled badly on a front hoof while going down into a depression. He was sent airborne in a somersault, but I stayed in the saddle. He came down on top of me, cracking my helmet in two with his rump before he fell free past me. The helmet saved me from a concussion or worse, but I immediately knew I was hurt.

Someone caught Rambo (who was not injured). I took a few minutes to assess my state before I let anyone touch me, and when I got my breath and was confident that my neck, back and limbs felt okay, I let our guide help me move into the shade. I couldn’t walk due to pain in my left leg, and my left shoulder hurt badly.

LVHS owner Cor Carelson arrived shortly in a Land Rover after being called in by radio. They carried me to the vehicle and headed for camp and the truck which would take me to the nearest hospital, which was about 200 kilometers south in Polokwane, South Africa. Cor brought an LVHS employee, Sarah Watkins, who would be staying with me if I needed hospitalization.

At the hospital, it was determined that my leg pain was due to three separate fractures of my pelvis, fortunately closed and stable, and that my shoulder was severely dislocated and had a fracture. I also had five fractured ribs. No surgery would be necessary, but I would have to be immobilized for at least a short time.

I spent five days in the Limpopo Valley Medi-Clinic, finally getting to a point where I could walk despite the pain so that I could be discharged.

I had called Travelex from the hospital as soon as I was able to report the accident and they contacted me in South Africa several times on my mobile phone to check on my progress. Their representative was very personable and gave me advice as to what documentation I should get for filing my claim. Sarah stayed nearby so she could visit me as often as allowed.

LVHS arranged for me to be transported the 300 kilometers to Johannesburg after I was discharged so I could be positioned to fly home. I stayed near Johannesburg for a couple of days in the Emerald Guest House (Kempton Park, Gauteng, South Africa; phone +27 [0] 11 394 1148, www.emerald-guesthouse.co.za), where the proprietor, Nico Geldenhuys, was kind enough to bring my meals to my room unasked when he saw that it was painful for me to move around. Nico also sent one of his employees, Jane, to the airport to help me with my luggage as a further kindness.

The Emerald Guesthouse is a very reasonably priced, comfortable and convenient stopover point for flying in and out of O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. I paid about $65 per night, including breakfast, with free airport transfer.

After I got back to the States, I took my collection of South African medical bills and statements from LVHS and from my doctors here and sent them all to Travelex with my claim forms, which were awaiting me when I arrived. I submitted claims for all medical expenses (a total of only $1,300 for the entire five days!) and the time lost on my safari package. In 10 days, I received a check for everything I had submitted, about $2,300 — no questions or hassles.

After a horrendous accident that interrupted my dream safari and could have killed me, I had nothing but good experiences with the people around me. Cor and Louise Carelson, LVHS owners, could not have been more attentive and helpful. My babysitter Sarah, the nurses and doctors in Polokwane, a woman I met in the hospital who drove me around the city for three hours so I could pay my medical bills and even the wheelchair attendants in the airports all earned my deep gratitude for their help.

And for anyone interested in trying an LVHS safari, I’ll attest to the superb conditioning and training of their horses and the expertise of the guides and cooks.

This travel experience taught me that travel insurance and a positive attitude can make all the difference.

Rambo (at least, his name was on the package) later sent me a souvenir safari shirt and hat and an offer to come back and finish the safari at a discount, which I plan to do.

ELIZABETH MEREDITH

Lexington, KY

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I booked a week-long horseback safari in Botswana from Equitours (Dubois, WY; 800/545-0019 or 307/455-3363, www.equitours.com) for Aug. 5-12, 2007. The land price was $2,450, and I used air mileage to upgrade a $2,000 round-trip coach fare to business class on Delta (Lexington, Kentucky, to Johannesburg, South Africa, via Atlanta, Georgia, and Dakar, Senegal).

Equitours strongly advises its clients to purchase travel insurance, as horseback touring has some extra risks inherent. This was my second trip with them, and both times I purchased insurance through the company they suggested, Travelex (Omaha, NE; 800/228-9792, www.travelex-insurance.com), covering both medical and trip-cancellation/interruption. Insurance for this safari cost me $126.

The ground operator was Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris, or LVHS (www.lvhsafaris.co.za; in the US, contact Equitours), based in the Mashatu Game Reserve in eastern Botswana.

The plan was to ride horses from camp to camp through the reserve, home to the largest herd of elephants in Southern Africa as well as leopards, lions, cheetahs, Cape buffalo and several varieties of antelope. We were to cover about 120 kilometers in seven days.

We had to prove our riding abilities the first day when our group of 10 riders was charged by a bull elephant in a dry riverbed. Following instructions from our two guides, we turned and galloped in the opposite direction.

Most of our animal encounters were more peaceful. My favorite was the herd of zebra that cantered with us for a few hundred yards on the fourth day out.

Every afternoon we rode into a new camp that the safari staff had set up. We handed our horses off to the grooms, who removed their tack, let them take a good roll in the sand and then rubbed them down.

We were fed a marvelous lunch cooked in iron kettles over an open fire (same method for the incredible dinners, which included breads, pasta, tortes and marinated meats). Later in the afternoon, we were occupied with a game walk or a drive in the Land Rover to a local village or viewing point.

Shortly before arriving in camp on the fourth day, an hour or so after the run with the zebras, we were cantering in a line at a pretty good pace when my horse, Rambo, stumbled badly on a front hoof while going down into a depression. He was sent airborne in a somersault, but I stayed in the saddle. He came down on top of me, cracking my helmet in two with his rump before he fell free past me. The helmet saved me from a concussion or worse, but I immediately knew I was hurt.

Someone caught Rambo (who was not injured). I took a few minutes to assess my state before I let anyone touch me, and when I got my breath and was confident that my neck, back and limbs felt okay, I let our guide help me move into the shade. I couldn’t walk due to pain in my left leg, and my left shoulder hurt badly.

LVHS owner Cor Carelson arrived shortly in a Land Rover after being called in by radio. They carried me to the vehicle and headed for camp and the truck which would take me to the nearest hospital, which was about 200 kilometers south in Polokwane, South Africa. Cor brought an LVHS employee, Sarah Watkins, who would be staying with me if I needed hospitalization.

At the hospital, it was determined that my leg pain was due to three separate fractures of my pelvis, fortunately closed and stable, and that my shoulder was severely dislocated and had a fracture. I also had five fractured ribs. No surgery would be necessary, but I would have to be immobilized for at least a short time.

I spent five days in the Limpopo Valley Medi-Clinic, finally getting to a point where I could walk despite the pain so that I could be discharged.

I had called Travelex from the hospital as soon as I was able to report the accident and they contacted me in South Africa several times on my mobile phone to check on my progress. Their representative was very personable and gave me advice as to what documentation I should get for filing my claim. Sarah stayed nearby so she could visit me as often as allowed.

LVHS arranged for me to be transported the 300 kilometers to Johannesburg after I was discharged so I could be positioned to fly home. I stayed near Johannesburg for a couple of days in the Emerald Guest House (Kempton Park, Gauteng, South Africa; phone +27 [0] 11 394 1148, www.emerald-guesthouse.co.za), where the proprietor, Nico Geldenhuys, was kind enough to bring my meals to my room unasked when he saw that it was painful for me to move around. Nico also sent one of his employees, Jane, to the airport to help me with my luggage as a further kindness.

The Emerald Guesthouse is a very reasonably priced, comfortable and convenient stopover point for flying in and out of O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. I paid about $65 per night, including breakfast, with free airport transfer.

After I got back to the States, I took my collection of South African medical bills and statements from LVHS and from my doctors here and sent them all to Travelex with my claim forms, which were awaiting me when I arrived. I submitted claims for all medical expenses (a total of only $1,300 for the entire five days!) and the time lost on my safari package. In 10 days, I received a check for everything I had submitted, about $2,300 — no questions or hassles.

After a horrendous accident that interrupted my dream safari and could have killed me, I had nothing but good experiences with the people around me. Cor and Louise Carelson, LVHS owners, could not have been more attentive and helpful. My babysitter Sarah, the nurses and doctors in Polokwane, a woman I met in the hospital who drove me around the city for three hours so I could pay my medical bills and even the wheelchair attendants in the airports all earned my deep gratitude for their help.

And for anyone interested in trying an LVHS safari, I’ll attest to the superb conditioning and training of their horses and the expertise of the guides and cooks.

This travel experience taught me that travel insurance and a positive attitude can make all the difference.

Rambo (at least, his name was on the package) later sent me a souvenir safari shirt and hat and an offer to come back and finish the safari at a discount, which I plan to do.

ELIZABETH MEREDITH

Lexington, KY