Day 6 (Oh No, That Can’t Be Good…)
So I feel really bad because for the past two mornings when we have received a wake up call, I have literally been picking up the phone, grunting to trigger the automated message and as soon as I heard it start I would slam the phone back onto the receiver. But this morning I must have been dreaming really heavily or just more out of it than normal because when we received the call I picked it up and forgot to say anything. After about ten seconds of dead silence I heard a meek….”hello?” from the other end. After I managed to push out a grunt a lady said, “I’m just calling to wake you up, have a good morning.” Oh….
I thought the wake up calls were automated but it turns out it’s the receptionist from up front. So for the past two days, I have been slamming the phone down in the middle of this woman’s kind good morning greetings…This is why the world hates Americans.
This morning we had to wake up at 5 o’clock so we could return to the Jabulani Elephant Sanctuary. Instead of just feeding and petting the elephants like yesterday, today we actually got to ride them. We got there before sunrise, filled out the forms, and got reintroduced to the elephants. They had Jabulani come back over and say hello to us. We got to feed him again and see the inside of his mouth. He also gave us a “shower” which consisted of him spraying us with his snot…lovely.
They had about five elephants all saddled up with just a blanket on it’s back with a little handle attached. Each elephant had a handler on top that would instruct the elephant on where to go. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, because they don’t use any type of punishment with the elephants and work solely on a positive reinforcement system the handlers had nothing with them except a baton looking stick that they would use to kind of just poke the animals if they stopped to eat for too long. Kind of like tapping someone on the shoulder.
Sarah and I were last in line and it paid off. They have a very well known alcoholic drink down here called Amarula. It’s kind of like our Captain Morgan or Jack Daniels. Its label has an elephant on the front and apparently that is the elephant that Sarah and I rode on top of. It was the biggest one of the herd.
So riding on elephants, with nothing but a blanket, is not exactly how I’d imagined it. Jordan (my girlfriend) has taken me before to ride an elephant but if I am remembering correctly that elephant had a saddle type thing on top of it. These elephants had stirrups we could put our feet in but for the most part you are just holding on to that little handle attached to the blanket for dear life. The elephants also walked rather quickly. And the way their body works is, you don’t really get bounced up and down like on a horse, instead you get swayed from side to side. And let me tell you, when an elephant is walking downhill or trotting to catch up with the other ones you feel like you are going to slide off at any moment and parish in the bush.
So like I said it was five elephants riding through the bush for about an hour. It was the cutest thing I’d ever seen…some of the elephants people were riding were mothers and their two/three year old babies didn’t want to be left behind. So even though the handlers were trying to shoo the baby elephants away before we left for our walk, the babies kind of just ran into the bush and acted like they were going away and then popped out later right beside us. They were following us the whole walk, just prancing along side the mothers.
For the most part, the five elephants followed one behind the other. But occasionally they would stop off at the side to grab a nice looking branch for a snack or stop to use the restroom. Well, we’ve decided our elephant is our spirit animal (or as my sister calls it- her patronus) because ours stopped about every five feet to eat large quantities of leaves and branches and then would have to trot quickly to catch up to the others. And after it was all caught up it would start doing this weird huffing noise like it was out of breath. We assured the elephant that we know the feels.
Their huffs sound like a very large motorboat starting up. It’s this extremely low rumble that you can feel vibrating throughout its whole body. Mom and Dad’s kept making that noise about every two minutes so my mom figured it was tired of carrying them. When she asked the guide what the noise meant he said it was their way of communicating, but we all knew the truth. It was done carrying them and was expressing its displeasure.
During the ride the sun was rising, which was beyond beautiful. We also saw plenty of giraffes and zebras and antelope.
We arrived back and after dismounting the elephants we were able to go stand next to Jabulani and, just like yesterday, take pictures with him. Jabulani begged me for food, by putting his trunk in my face and waving it around, and the guide said this was him remembering me from yesterday. Because when we had taken pictures yesterday we were also feeding them.
While we were busy taking pictures with the elephant, Dad was off chasing a warthog around the grounds. Dad kept taking the elephant food and tossing it at the warthog trying to gain its trust. He got pretty close, but alas did not get to cuddle or touch. Which I think is for the best.
When we got back to the lodge, Sarah gave her left over banana to one of the monkeys sitting outside our room. Well this was a terrible decision. As soon as the other monkeys saw that one of their own had a special treat they all started fighting over it. We heard them growling and snarling at each other for at least ten minutes before it carried off into the distance. The Bostaphs are not known for their decision-making skills.
Both Sarah and I took a nap out on our back porch by the pool since the sun was warm and breeze was cool. About an hour we later packed up to transfer to the Notten Bush Camp. Okay, so the roads have always been bad, wherever we have traveled so far in South Africa. But this time, it was the worst. Imagine sitting in a car crash simulator for about two hours and that is what our drive was like. Since the camp was only 2 hours north, our driver took almost all back roads, none of which were paved.
Along with being bounced around and thrust forwards and backwards for the whole drive, our driver would sporadically slam on the breaks in an effort to avoid hitting the cows and sheep wandering into the middle of the road. So fun.
Now, you know when you’re little and think that your parents are the purest people on the planet and would never deceive you, and never get anything wrong. LIES. ALL LIES. For this next part let me just quote my mother directly: “The Knotten Bush Camp has no electricity, limited hot water, and we will be staying in tents in the middle of the bush.”
Well, we pulled up to our “camp” and this shit had about 8 luxurious cabins, a Wi-Fi area, a mini gym, a swimming pool, a lovely dining area, and so on. I guess my mom had a communication error with the travel agent because she legit was just as surprised as we were.
Our camp is indeed in the middle of the bush, but it is deluxe. The only thing they don’t have is electric lights. We have to use kerosene lamps and flashlights at night to navigate our way around and to see in our rooms. The really cool thing about staying here is that unlike our last lodge this place does not have a fence around it. The whole game drive, Kruger National Park, has a fence around it to keep the poachers out. But our little lodge area where the guests stay does not. So literally if a lion felt like walking up to your porch, it could. If a Water buffalo wanted to come and eat out of the kitchen trashcan, it could. And this aspect alone is awesome.
The building structures of this site are much like the last, where all of the buildings except the bedrooms are just two walls and a roof. So the place where we eat dinner and lounge during the day, and even our back porches meet up directly with the grassland and are completely open. During dinner we saw hyenas walking by, and antelope, and even warthogs. Monkeys bang on our roof during the day, and even two doors down the occupants said that an elephant slept next to their bedroom and they could hear it snoring all night. They also said that while they were napping they woke up to a tapping on their door and it was a little monkey wanting to be let in. I’ll let you in buddy, just come find me tonight!
I was worried about how the actually safari drives were going to be because my mom said this park was much much larger, and less regulated. Meaning that they don’t have smooth driving paths and the animals don’t have specific locations that they tend to nest because the land is so big. But it ended up being the best drive we have done so far.
The jeeps here are just like the ones in the last game drive. What’s different is that they have these huge metal grates attached to the front of them so the drivers don’t really stick to the paths. They just go wherever they want. They run over trees and go across little streams, and maneuver through the bush however they choose. The drivers are a lot more knowledgeable and interact more with the passengers. Ours would pull over all the time to explain something to us, or let us ask questions, or to show us something interesting that normally we would have a hard time seeing on our own.
Literally two minutes after pulling out of our little campsite, we saw a mom and son leopard pair. The mom was sleeping in the tree and the baby was sun bathing on the ground. They had a carcass of something unrecognizable hanging from the top of the tree. We watched them for about five minutes before a pair of HUGE hyenas came trotting out of the bushes. I never realized how big they are, but their shoulders literally stood about three feet off the ground. The mother leopard did not like the hyenas getting too close to her son, so she growled at them and scared them off.
Oh! Fun fact: Hyenas eat everything, including the bones of their prey. When they poop, turtles eat their droppings to gather calcium.
We watched the mother leopard climb the tress to find a more comfortable spot and we watched the son sleep and pick up his head occasionally to see what we were doing.
Oh! Another fun fact: We were told that because these companies have been driving around for so long in the safaris, the animals don’t see the jeep and the people inside as threats. Mostly because they don’t separate the humans from the jeep, they literally just don’t see us or if they do they don’t recognize that we are human. But, if we were to stand up in the jeep, and the animals could see our two legs and they would instantly recognize that we are humans and run away.
Anyway, after we were done looking at the leopards we get about another half mile down the road and our jeep stops. The driver tries to restart it…nothing. Tries again…nothing. He kind of just sits there and goes…*shoulder shrug*…“we are out of gas”. Now I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but all game drives are done really early in the morning and at sunset. So here we are, watching the sunset, with no gas, our radios that communicate with the lodge weren’t working, the driver and tracker don’t have guns, and we are stuck…awesome.
The driver thought maybe because we were sitting at a weird angle that the gas had shifted to the back of the tank, so what did we do? Got out and pushed. We literally all helped push this vehicle until it was at an angle where it could start again. To our relief we got it to start! We got about another mile deeper into the bush and once again, the jeep cuts off. At this point, the sun was behind the horizon and our radios were still not working. The driver and tracker both tried to radio in that we were stuck and attempted to lift the hood to see if they could find a problem, but with no success.
After sitting there for about ten minutes the driver suggested we follow the path back to camp and get a new car. Now let me just remind you, its almost dark, no defense, and leopards and hyenas down the road. No thank you. After we all started resisting he said, well the path would take about 45 minutes to reach camp but if we cut through the bush we can be there in 10. Umm…what? At that point my mom sat down and said she would be waiting when we got back. The British honeymooners in our car said a firm but polite no thank you and my dad and I just stayed silent. Thankfully, the tracker volunteered as tribute and literally headed off into the bush by himself. I would have volunteered to honor the buddy system, but I also value my life. And eaten by hyena is not exactly how I’d want to go, even though it would totally be badass and my mom wouldn’t have to pay to have my body shipped back to the US.
He radio back to us about ten minutes later saying he was on the way with more gas. After we got refueled we continued our animal watching. I didn’t think we were going to see much after dark but we saw a pride of lions. It was three females and two little lion cubs.
My mom asked where the male lions were and the driver said hiding in the bush somewhere. Great. I scooted in a little closer to my dad…like he’d be able to do anything if a lion jumped into the jeep.
It was pitch black and every time the grass around us rustled we were sure it was the male lions coming for us. I really shouldn’t have watched Ghost in the Darkness before traveling to Africa. At one point we heard the males calling from somewhere in the distance for the other lions, and every call seemed to get a little closer.
After we had gotten our fill of watching the little lions we headed off to look for more wildlife when a man came over the radio and said that he had spotted two huge male lions walking about half a kilometer down the path. So our driver took off. When we spotted the lions they were walking towards where we had just been. Our driver was so ballsy. He kept driving right along side them so we could see them up close then would speed away and dart down the path as fast as he could and cut the lions off so that they would have to walk right past our jeep.
One of the lions had recently gotten in a fight and his huge canine was dangling from his mouth. We asked if they could tranquilize him and pull it but they said they let nature run its course unless it is an endangered species. The lions got tired mid-walk or maybe were just frustrated with us weaving in and out of them so they lied down and started grooming. We got to watch the whole thing from about 10 feet away. Every once in a while one of the lions would look directly up at us and my heart would stop until he went back to grooming. But at least this time the lions were on my dad’s side.
On the way back to the camp we saw a couple water buffalo but didn’t stop to look because apparently the spotlights make them very angry.
Once we were back we enjoyed dinner by the fire with all the other guests. And now we are headed to bed early tonight since we are so exhausted.