Into the Wild
Do you like elephants? Really like them? Then please, please try to go to Addo Elephant National Park and the Elephant Sanctuary in South Africa.
You'll see magnificent herds of wild elephants in the former, and get to touch and walk with the gentle giants in the latter. Yes, South Africa means a long trip, but it's worth it. And right now the local currency, the rand, is at an all-time low against the dollar, so you'll get a great value for your money.
King of the Jungle
My wife, daughter and I stayed in the Chrislin Lodge, which is right outside Addo, deep in the African bush. It's about an hour's drive from Port Elizabeth and eight hours from Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
We hired a tour guide from Crisscross Adventures, got in an open-air Land Rover early in the morning and drove into the huge park. Within 20 minutes, the guide spotted a lion. In a zoo, the king of the jungle is well fed and doesn't have to hunt or fight. In an actual jungle, life isn't so easy, as the scars of this aging big cat attest.
We came across our first elephant herd as the day warmed up. They weren't far from the road and we got within a few feet of them. You really can't believe it at first.
On Their Turf
One of the cool things about being in a game park is that it really hits you that you're on the elephants' turf. The pachyderms ignored us and went about their business.
Baby Elephant Walk
As the sun rose higher, we headed over to a watering hole, which attracted a lot of herds. The young elephants loved playing in the mud.
Elephant Fun Fact
One of the surprising things about elephants: Like whales, they appear to be able to communicate over long distances using extremely low decibels that are inaudible to humans.
Too Big to Fail
How can you tell if an elephant is horny? Take a close look at this big bull.
The Elephant Sanctuary is close to Plettenberg Bay, a resort town on the western end of South Africa's "Garden Route" (as in "the Garden of Eden") along the Indian Ocean coast heading toward Cape Town.
The Sanctuary rescues elephants in the wild from hunters, injury or captivity and gives them a home. The elephants are carefully trained to interact with visitors.
Getting the Feel of It
A group of about a dozen people at a time visit the elephants. You may stand next to one of them and can touch them as much as you want.
The biggest surprise was the feel of the hairs on their thick skin. Their eyelashes are soft, but the end of their long tails have hard bristles. The back of an elephant's huge ear is as smooth as a piece of rubber.
My new best friend.
The family portrait.
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An amazing trip to South Africa, where we got up close and personal with giants both wild and gentle