Operator builds niche in southern Africa

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ATLANTA -- In the Shona language of Zimbabwe, mushinda means "personal attendant to the king" and harks back to the days when the nation was, indeed, a kingdom.

It has been a long time since a mushinda attended a king, but Judy Udwin, operator of Mushinda, the African adventure safari company based here, believes the name personifies its product: custom-designed, independent tours of southern Africa with an emphasis on luxury.

lions Of the 80 or so U.S. ground tour operators now sending clients to South Africa, this company claims to have an edge.

Its three founders are natives of the continent -- Judy and her husband, Leon, are from Zimbabwe, and Jonathan Dubovsky is South African -- with firsthand knowledge of the area and with agents living in southern Africa.

"We have agents on the ground in Cape Town and Harare (Zimbabwe) to make sure things go smoothly," Judy Udwin said. "This is not middle America."

Zimbabwe may not be middle America, but neither is it northern Africa, she was quick to point out. The only difficulty Mushinda has experienced lately is retrieving a camera one of its clients left on a bus, a job left to their ground agent, Udwin said.

"It's perfectly safe. If you look at the map, Uganda is way up to the north," she added, in reference to the recent murder of eight tourists in that country. "Anywhere they've had problems, it's to the north. I can't understand why tour operators send people there. Zimbabwe is in the south. They've had no problems."

With Judy Udwin's 20 years as a travel agent behind them, the Udwins and Dubovsky four years ago opened the Sophisticated Traveler, a high-end travel company running trips to various countries around the globe.

Mushinda is its southern Africa division and Judy's professed passion. "Everybody does Kenya and Tanzania," she said, explaining that she focused on Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana after taking friends back home to Zimbabwe and seeing their reactions. "We knew there was a need," she said.

At the turn of the millennium, she said she hopes to be sipping champagne in the Zimbabwe bush as part of Mushinda's 17-day Millennium Safari to the Heart of Africa.

The tour departs Dec. 19 and returns Jan. 5, in the interim taking in the sites of Cape Town; celebrating Christmas in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare; game viewing while based at a luxury safari lodge on the shores of Lake Kariba; flying up the Zambezi River over the gorge for a two-day visit to Victoria Falls, and celebrating the millennium at a luxury bush camp in the Hwange National Park.

The price is $8,250 per person, inclusive of air fare and all activities, meals and lodging. The trip is fully commissionable at 12% for both air and land.

The air is on South African Airlines, which departs from New York or Miami. Add-ons are available from most cities. Mushinda has also released a brochure with two sample, nonmillennium 15-day trips: the High Adventure Safari and the Luxury Safari.

The price for a custom safari ranges from $250 to $350 per day, and Mushinda pays a 12% commission on these bookings, as well. Both itineraries begin in the U.S. and spend three days touring in Cape Town and Cape Point, South Africa, before flying to Harare.

There guests will visit the Parliament buildings and art galleries, where they can purchase the works of well-known Shona artists.

Zimbabwe has an extensive network of parks and game reserves. On both tours, guests board private charter planes for low-altitude flights over grassy plains, teak forests and the mile-wide sheet of cascading water that is Victoria Falls.

Accommodations provide what Udwin calls "five-star service" in mostly small hotels, lodges and tented camps, holding between 12 and 18 people. "We custom-design our trips according to the client's needs and budget, but they are high-end," she said.

The High Adventure Safari includes a canoe trip on the Zambezi River, where the banks provide ample opportunities to view African wildlife. The Luxury Safari affords an extra day in South Africa to take in the Winelands tour and forgoes the canoe safari for game viewing along Lake Kariba, where a chartered plane sets its party down at an isolated strip on the shore.

With the air-conditioned Pumula Lodge as a base, guests can embark on a sightseeing cruise aboard a 46-foot boat or venture out on a game drive or game walk, accompanied by a certified ranger. Johannesburg is the gateway home for both tours as well as the millennium trip.

The High Adventure Safari price starts at $3,995 per person, double occupancy. The price of the Luxury Safari trip begins at $4,395 per person, double.

Air fare can be arranged but is not included in the price.

The costs for both sample tours include all accommodations, most meals, transfers, guides, park fees and taxes.

Mushinda
Phone: (800) 522-8093 or (404) 843-0046
Fax: (404) 843-2946
E-mail: [email protected]

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