South Africa: Day 14 (Addo Elephant National Park)

We ate breakfast at the Protea Marine Hotel, as suggested by Gcobisa's sister. It cost a little over $30 for the six of us, which was more than we generally spent on breakfast. But it was considered the polite thing to do, since we had been given a discounted room rate. 

It was our first breakfast buffet of the trip, and our kids were in heaven. I heard Adam say, "Now I know what it's like to swallow soft bacon." 

He also told us, "This restaurant is so fancy that they should have a guy in the corner playing the banjo."

Everyone else had the full breakfast, but I was plenty happy with the less expensive "cold breakfast":

You better believe I ate my money's worth in macadamia nuts and dried fruit. . . 

Steve and I loaded up the four kids and made the 1.5 hour bumpy drive to Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest national park in South Africa. It is one of the places we regretted skipping on our last trip. 

The park was formed in 1931 as a sanctuary to protect the remaining eleven elephants in the area. Addo Elephant National Park now has over 500 elephants and covers 650,000 acres of land and includes a 300,000-acre marine area. The park contains five of South Africa's seven biomes and is the only park in the world to house Africa's "Big 7" (elephant, rhinoceros, lion, buffalo, leopard, whale, and the great white shark) in their natural habitat. 

We made a quick stop at the gift shop and bought Giscard Collard's Bush Car Chat, which turned out to be an excellent purchase: 

Addo Elephant National Park was like a combination of I Spy and I'm Thinking of an Animal. . . but in real life. We drove around with our heads peered up against (and out of) the van windows, looking for animals to mark off of our charts. We really wished we had more than one pair of binoculars.

Something like Addo Elephant National Park in the United States would be a giant lawsuit waiting to happen. There were warnings about staying inside your vehicle. . . but nobody was actually there to enforce anything. I can't imagine the liability. 

We were especially excited to see a Dung Beetle. . . but we never found one: 

The kids did, however, get really good at distinguishing a kudu from an eland: 

The landscape reminded us a lot of Vernal, Utah

I love this picture. The kids were genuinely so excited to see the animals: 

They were even pleasant when we couldn't find any animals: 

Sometimes we drove quickly by the animals: 

And sometimes we stopped for a long time: 

Rachel took this great picture. . . zebras are clearly white with black stripes: 

After a couple of hours, some of the kids started to lose interest. But not Rachel. She was having all sorts of fun with that flip chart: 

She was being really funny, "Why did we pack jackets today? I'm sweatin' like a sinner at church!" We were actually relieved to be visiting South Africa during their cooler, winter temperatures. 

We were somewhat impressed with what we had seen, but we had really hoped to find an elephant or a lion or a dung beetle, so we kept driving around. But we mostly just saw lots of birds and lots of warthogs:

We were wondering if we should have paid to go on a guided safari, but then we spotted an elephant: 

And then we realized there were two elephants:

Then Steve yelled at us to look out the back window. The next two or three minutes were unreal. A small herd of elephants ran right towards our car:

Rachel took these unbelievable pictures from the back seat of the van: 

It was one of those experiences where Steve and I looked at each other in disbelief. . . this was really happening!

This last elephant made us a little nervous. He stopped, looked right at us like he was bothered, waved his trunk around at us, but then he finally turned back and kept going into the brush with the other elephants:

We could have flown straight home and been completely satisfied with our African experience. It was that thrilling. 

A guy in another car pulled over and told us there was a lion down the road. . . somewhere past the watering hole, around the corner, to the right, down the hill, and under the tree. . . We couldn't find it. 

But we did find more elephants: 

We even had time to pull out the flip chart: 

Rachel immediately asked, "Is that an extra trunk?"

Ummmm. . . yep. 

Steve about died laughing. He caught it on video. . . so I'm sure she will be teased for decades to come.

(It took her a while. . . but she finally figured out what it was.)

Elephants are amazing to watch. The way they move, they way they eat. . . pretty much everything about them.

Interesting elephant facts: 

An elephant spends most of its day (and night) eating. Very little of the food passing through an elephant is digested before it comes out the other end. As a result, an elephant needs to eat 150-200 kg of food a day and produces up to 100 kg of dung. 

Elephants spread seeds and fruit in their dung. 

Their "destructive" way of eating actually makes the brush grow thicker. 

Elephants drink about 100 liters of water every day. 

There are about 60,000 muscles in an elephant's trunk. 

African people have a tradition of respect for elephants and many believe they have magical powers. 

We sat inside our van watching these elephants for probably 15 minutes. By that time, a few other vehicles had congregated, so we decided we ought to move along and let someone else have the good view. 

And with that, we decided it was time to go. . . because it's always best to depart on a high note.

There is lodging available at Addo Elephant National Park, and if we were to go back again someday, I would want to spend at least one night sleeping in the park.

On our drive back to Port Elizabeth, I asked Steve to pull over so I could take this picture. But I should have taken it as a panorama. . . it was the largest cemetery I had ever seen:

Since we had been in the car for most of the day, we stopped at Hobie Beach to let the kids run around and play.

Here's my picture of Shark Rock Pier:

And here's the amazing one I found at portelizabethbuzz.com

Hobie Beach is picturesque and is best known for its surfing: 

But it sure was it windy. Hence the reason we packed our jackets:

There were a lot of comments that came out of Steve's mouth, including things like:

"I don't know why anyone would ever want to live in Port Elizabeth."

(Hmmm. . . maybe it's because they have miles and miles of pristine beaches. . . or maybe it's because of the scuba diving, surfing, kiteboarding, or world famous whale watching.)

"Every single time we come to Port Elizabeth, it's windy."

(That was especially funny to me. . . because you know, we've been to Port Elizabeth all of three times.)

"If we had to move to South Africa, this is the last place I would pick to live."

(Not true. . . but Steve clearly didn't like the wind.)

We went back to our hotel and met up with Derrick and Gcobisa, who had spent the day at the local mall. Derrick bought Gcobisa a pair of red Converse All Stars. Even though Gcobisa has small feet and wears kids' sizes, the shoes still cost $50 USD.

I was starting to get nervous about all of these great pictures we had taken on our trip that had been downloaded onto my computer, but weren't backed up anywhere. Since internet speeds were relatively decent at the hotel, I decided to pay for 24-hours of internet to get as many pictures as I could loaded onto my blog as a backup.

We hadn't ever really eaten a real lunch and the kids were starving. So Steve, Derrick, and the kids went to eat dinner at the hotel's buffet.

The cost was something like $20 per adult, so I decided to stay in our room and work on uploading pictures. Gcobisa stayed behind with me, so I could get her registered for a visa interview. There weren't any appointments available in Durban, where we had planned to have her interview, so we made the appointment for Johannesburg.

Steve texted me: You want to come.
Me: Are you sure? I just ate a bunch of crackers and half a pound of cheese.
Steve: Salad, fruit, rice, potatoes, lots of desserts.

So I went. The salad was lame. The fruit was picked over. The rice was served with curry. Menudo curry. (Menudo is cow stomach lining and has the most putrid smell ever.) None of the other entrees were the least bit appetizing. The desserts were gross.

I ate a small salad, a dry roll, and pushed the rest of my food around on my plate. . . All I could think about was how good the salads and pizza had been at Charlie's Pizza and Pasta the night before. Lesson learned. Always, always, always, walk around and check out the buffet before you pay twenty bucks to eat.

But you know. . . you win some, you lose some. And the elephant experience was definitely a win.


Mindy said...

That's incredible! I totally had the theme music from Jurrasic Park playing in my head as I scrolled through the elephant pictures :)

Kayli said...

extra trunk!!!! ha ha ha!