Elephants have long been one of my favourite animals with dogs (big dogs, not the small ones that can fit into purses or rolling bags – I mean real dogs, the ones who when they get in your lap they cover you and then the rest of the couch because that’s a real dog – and another story entirely) being number one. So when I was presented with the opportunity to go on an elephant ride, I jumped at it.
It was an early morning at the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve & Safari Park, but not too early for riding elephants.
I stood on a wooden deck overlooking a vast green valley surrounded by hills and watched as a trio of elephants, a mom, a dad and the baby (in that order) made their way to the deck slowly from a building in the distance. The anticipation nearly killed me. I wanted them to hurry up and be right in front of me so I could finally sit on one of Africa’s Big Five (the lion, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, and leopard round out the five).
It was a strange experience mounting the the elephant as it was similar to a horse only much, much, much wider and taller. Once seated on the padded saddle and holding on to a strap, we were off. Slowly, but we were off. Elephants only step with one foot at a time leaving the other three on the ground which is why it takes them so long to go anywhere but when they break into a run they can reach speeds up to 40km/hr which is not exactly Usain Bolt, but it’s surprisingly very close. The elephants did not run and that just meant that I got to enjoy the ride longer.
At a river bank the elephant stopped to get a drink of water and the guide allowed me to feed her. He gave me a slice of apple and I held it in my hand and felt the wet and slightly hairy trunk grab the slice of apple right out of my hand as she then put it into her mouth. A messy and unique experience.
I didn’t try and fight the movement of the elephant as I sat on its back because swaying back and forth as it stepped over fallen trees and trudged through creeks was part of the fun.
By the end of the ride my thighs were a bit sore and my hand was red from gripping the strap too tightly for fear of falling off – which of course did not happen – but that discomfort was temporary and the memory of riding this giant will last a lifetime.