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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Africa Blog 3 - Salute Your Elephants At Camp Jabulani

The following is a 2-week long blogging event, where I recount the events of my trip to South Africa and Zambia, while still on the trip.  Movie stuff will return soon, but for now enjoy what I have to say about Africa:

Hey I'm back!  It's been a couple days, but I want to start by saying it's been a pretty surreal and unbelievable time.  Since arriving at Camp Jabulani, which is located in a Kruger National Park, in Mpumalanga (the north-eastern region of South Africa), I have seen many animals on a pretty consistent basis, ridden some of them, and have gotten very up close and personal with others.  All of that and nothing has bit me so far.  I've also seen plenty of monkeys and baboons, which can put some of that speculation, regarding these blogs, to rest, but just because I am currently in the bush, it does not mean I have counted out dangerous encounters with sharks.  I may be having the time of my life, but that doesn't mean I'm not keeping my eyes open.  With that in mind, let's get into it. (You can also find the previous blogs HERE)

It took a plane, a car, and a jeep ride to finally reach our current lodging, but Camp Jabulani is a pretty amazing place.  Along with the main lodge and various building around it, there are only six lodges for guests here.  Ours is pretty ridiculous, with its elaborate shower, private small pool, and large beds, with mosquito nets around them.  It doesn't hurt that there are plenty of birds, monkeys, and lizards always hanging around outside.  Basically, this is some pretty swanky living that my father and his travel agent have set up and I'm not going to complain.


 
Moving on, following a nice lunch (there is plenty I could say in regards to the different meals we have been having, but I'll save that for another post, maybe), we gathered at an open end of the camp site for elephant rides.  It is there that we met Tiger, a well-spoken gentlemen who is in charge of taking care of the elephants in the park.  Tiger and his men help raise and train the herd of elephants that live nearby, as they were all from mixed backgrounds or orphans at one time.  There are wild elephants roaming the fields as well, but there is a fine group that are friendly to all.

Following an introduction to the leader of these elephants, Jabulani, sharing the name of this camp, we were given a chance to feed him and interact a little, before saddling up on the different elephants and taking an afternoon ride.  After getting a feel for an elephant's trunk, we did saddle up.  For this elephant ride, I was able to ride on top of Jabulani, who would be leading the group.  Now to be clear, I'm not the biggest fan of riding on top of animals.  I've never been much of a horse riding fan and you can ask me sometime about my experience riding on a camel in Israel, back in 2008.  Actually, if I had blogged about my 20-day adventure to Israel, I could guarantee you that there would be an entire blog devoted to that camel ride, but I digress.  Riding on top of an elephant was a much more enjoyable experience.  Sure, it is a bumpy ride, but the animals were quite calm and very responsive to this small hike.



This afternoon elephant ride lasted for about an hour.  This parade included several large elephants and a few younger ones, amounting to about 12-14 elephants total.  Each elephant had a guide riding atop, with a passenger behind, with the exception of the younger elephants, who either had just a guide, or none at all, but would be following along.  During this ride we were able to observe most of the main wild life in the area.  This included zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, impalas, kudus, assorted birds, baboons, and others.  I was aware that this preserve contained all of the Big 5 (Elephant, Water Buffalo, Rhinoceros, Lion, and Leopard), but for now, seeing plenty of these other animals was pretty satisfying, given that we had just arrived that day.

To wrap up the elephant ride, once we hopped off the elephants, and by hop I mean carefully made our way off the large animal and walked down the specially built ramp, they all lined up and did a little show for everyone, which was entertaining to watch, as the sun set.  And with the sun setting, this led the first of many game drives or safari cruises, as they can be called.



The concept here is that our guide would load a few of us into the jeep and drive around the roads in the preserve, looking for animals to observe.  This can happen at any time a day.  The night sessions would of course involve low headlights and a large flashlight to look out into the distance, but it makes little difference to the animals, who either have night vision or rely on their other senses to get them around at night.  During this particular drive, our guide, Riaan, was able to point out a number of animals to my dad and I.  Many are ones already spotted on the elephant ride, but there were a couple special cases.  Most notable was a black mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in the world and one of the biggest threats to humans in Africa.  Amazingly, Riaan was able to spot this particular mamba up in a tree, with its head lodged inside a branch, attempting to get at something.  I didn't exactly want to get closer, but seeing a black mamba in action was a pretty cool sight to behold.

Now I am going to have to skip ahead, as the next day's events were in fact very surreal.  Following the previous night's game drive, sleeping, eating, and all that stuff, the next activity would be heading into the endangered species preserve, which is still within the national park, but home to some very specific animals.  Most notable are the cheetahs.  I should emphasize the fact that every time we drive somewhere, it is a game drive, so on our way to this exhibit, we did observe all that was around us, which included 2 Big 5 sightings - Water Buffalo and a Rhinoceros, among other animals along the way (we also saw some submerged Hippos!).  Once at this specific preserve though, we were among a whole new set of animals.

Making our way to the cheetahs, we were able to observe a feeding of the birds at what is called the "Vulture's Restaurant."  This involved a large amount of meat being dropped in an open area and then watching hundred of vultures, storks, and eagles descend on this food.  They fought for it, picked at all of it, and made tons of noise, which was a pretty killer site to see.  



Moving on, we eventually did arrive in the area of cheetahs.  Many were simply lounging around in their pen areas, near their water and food, but there were also several roaming around the large open fields, including some cubs.  It was already cool to see cheetahs moving around in Africa, but everything became amplified when we learned that going inside one caged area and actually getting up close to a cheetah was going to happen.  This was pretty cool.  We were allowed inside of an area with 2 tame cheetahs (Crunchy and Milky) and were able to get right up next to them and pet them for a time.  That is not really something I ever expected to do, so yeah, it was pretty thrilling.

After this ridiculous amount of cheetah activity, we were pretty much set to leave, but were first given the chance to see some wild dogs in action.  Once again, some meat was taken out and the dogs came after it.  They fought over the meat and ate it up, as vultures stood nearby, waiting to have their turn.  Following yet another interesting visual, we then headed out of this area and back towards camp, spotting more animals along the way.  This drive back turned into a bit of a surprise, as we were taken to a watering hole, where all the elephants were brought to for their afternoon bath.  I can imagine few things being more enjoyable than watching a herd of elephant playing around in water, getting into trunk battles, and rolling around in mud.



Skipping ahead to the night, we were able to ride the elephants once again, this time under the night sky, where we could both enjoy another nice ride and have a chance to lookout at the stars.  Following this ride, we were able to go into the pens, where many of the elephants (mostly the younger ones) are kept, and observe feeding time.  Of course, this also meant playing around with all of them, feeding them ourselves, and further strengthening the bond between man and elephant, just in case war emerges between man and pachyderm, and all we have is a minor bond created during a trip in South Africa.

And it is here that I am going to have to stop.  There is more to come, as a couple animals from the Big 5 have still yet to be spoken about in detail, but I can continue to say that this has been an incredible journey thus far, which is helped by the fact that everyone is very nice here.  Regardless of certain people providing a service to maintain a level of satisfaction, the attitudes are high, the other people on vacation are friendly folks, and the informative guides go a long way in helping us to appreciate all the sights we are seeing.  I see no reason why that wont continue.

Next Time:  That's Not A Lion, It's A Giraffe...Oh Wait, It Is A Lion


Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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