Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Parade of Elephants

This is not a tale of bunnies, but of something much bigger... Valentine's Day. And elephants. There were some of those, too. Kathy and I decided to treat our long weekend in February as a Valentine's Day getaway, and we chose Addo Elephant National Park as our destination. On our first day, though, we went to Kwantu Elephant Sanctuary, where whilst enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee, I discovered these rabbits.

After the coffee, and admiring just how cute rabbits can be, we were off to the main event: the elephants. It began with a show, during which four elephants demonstrated their comprehension of verbal instructions:
But, truth be told, we were not there to watch the elephants, but... to ride them! Seriously. Here I am just after securing my seat, with the help of Heward, my guide:

And, of course, my lovely wife, looking far more photogenic than I:

Riding an elephant feels much like a cartoon of an elephant walking, just rolling back and forth, loping along. It is a sensation more akin to what I might expect at sea rather than on land:

It just looks like fun, doesn't it?

Talk about the experience of a lifetime! Even just the short ride we took, watching the blesbok run by and admiring the view -all from the back of an elephant - felt absolutely exhilarating:Later, we got to feed them:

And then pose with them (can you see that one checking for more food in my hand?):

On our way to our lodge, Chrislin, we passed a field where we spotted this lonely elephant...

Except it was not so lonely:

It is rather remarkable to be driving along, look out, and see a parade of elephants! (That is the proper term.)

Our accommodation was quaint and comfortable, here graced by my beautiful wife:

Apparently, the owners built these themselves using techniques they had learned during their years working with traditional builders. Also, I should mention that the service at Chrislin was top rate. In fact, they did such a good job with the food our first night, that after eating out at a local restaurant our second night, we went back there for dinner our third and final night. And we were glad we did. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the staff were great, sometimes seeming to know just when we had a question and magically appearing to answer it...

Our second full day, we went on a guided game drive, along with two other folks: one from Germany and one from Colombia. (We ended up dining with the latter that evening and quite enjoyed his company. He was a very talkative but also very interesting microbiologist who teaches at the University of British Columbia.) We began our drive by spotting this kudu:

Here you can see it against the backdrop of the Park:

Soon after, we spotted this Cape buffalo:

Who was soon joined by a friend:

Later, we saw this pale chanting gosshawk:

And this dung beetle:

But, ultimately, Addo is about the elephants:

Of all ages and sizes:

Like this one nuzzling its mother:

Or this young bull, staring us down:

Of course, traffic was a bit tricky:

But we managed!

We did not get to see any lions, but we know they were there, somewhere...

This ostrich was fascinating to watch, the way it moved and the shapes it took as it shifted its head and neck:

And the zebras were, as always, cool:

Our guide, Brett, a South African, pronounced it "zeh-bruh", but here the last letter of the alphabet is "zed", not "zee". And, regardless of how you pronounce it, it is a notable moment when you realize how close they are:

We all had to pause and admire these flowers, especially our biologist companion:

We also saw warthogs, though none came as close as we would have liked:

Then, we came across these rather laid back red hartebeests:

And, lest you thought the dung beetle was merely a bug, I present evidence that they are among the park's most honored and respected residents:

Also, while in one sense the zebras were cool, in another, they were not. This poor young one had had enough of the heat! (It was ok, though. We saw it move later. Just in case you were worried.)
Another buffalo peaked out to examine us:

Our guide inspected some fresh remains;

And then we encountered some more elephants, who had their own way of dealing with the heat:

And who, like the zebras before them, were amazingly close:

To me, they look like they are smiling:

This little guy seemed particularly curious:

Note how little concerned they seem by our presence, almost as if they could squash us easily:

It is not as if they were so much bigger than our cars, or anything...

This forest buzzard appeared more regal to me than I would have expected from a bird called a "buzzard", which shows how much I know:

We could not see what this brown snake eagle was after, but it gave us quite a show:

This black-headed heron was fun to watch, in part because its throat vibrated almost constantly:

Another kudu, apparently making sure we were supposed to be there:

As was this rather muddy elephant:

How close was it? Take a look:

Then, one of the highlights... I spotted this:

It was apparently waiting for the watering hole to free up. I think of this as queues of the animal kingdom...

After the elephant left, it began to peak out. What was it? A black-backed jackal. They are rare enough that our guide got more excited than at any other time during the day:

If you look closely, you can see that it has a patch on its back that really looks like a small, rectangular, black and white blanket:

And speaking of patterned backs, here is a leopard tortoise:

And more red hartebeests:

A secretary bird (too far off, I know, but we were happy to see one at any distance):

The Park itself stretches far enough south that we even caught glimpses of the ocean:

And, of course, more elephants:

Another red hartebeest:

And a buffalo demonstrating the proper use of a mud hole:

Evening eventually forced us to head back to the lodge:

Where we spent another lovely evening and relaxing morning before we had to head home:

What better way could there be to spend Valentine's Day than having such an adventure with the love of my life?