November 18, 2015
I set my phone alarm for 5:00A this morning to be in the hotel lobby by 5:40A. Our optional excursion is a rhinoceros game drive in Livingstone Private Game Reserve about 25 minutes outside of Victoria Falls. I am going on this game drive with Dana and Barbara and we are very excited. We have been told we have an 85% chance of seeing, at least, one rhino. This will complete my viewings of “The Big Five” as they say here in Africa.
The ride to the game reserve was in an open jeep on a main road. The sunrise was beautiful but through most of the drive my eyes were closed because of the wind. I was freezing and wished I had worn my hoodie. I couldn’t wait to get off the main road and into the game reserve park because, I knew, we would slow down, so the wind wouldn’t feel as cold. Just as we entered the park we saw baboons. They crossed the dirt road right in front of us and skittishly took off. Then we saw five radiant zebras. They were feeding off the dry grass just a few feet on either side of our jeep. It was great seeing these animals up so close. You got a much clearer sense of how striking their alternating white and black stripes are throughout their coat. So beautiful.
We also saw some impala, kudu and egrets but the pinnacle moment was when we encountered a “crush” of five rhinos. There were three adults and two babies. The babies were amazingly adorable. Our guide said the adults were two females and a male. We pulled the jeep right into the area where they were and our driver shut off the engine. There we sat, for at least a half hour or more, spellbound as these creatures walked around. They came so close to the jeep that you could reach out and touch them. Their eyes are mere slits just barely open but they would walk up to the jeep, lifting their heads and opening their eyes wider to get a good look at us. All three of us got some great pics and I took some awesome videos, as well.
I was amazed that regardless of however close they came to our jeep, I never felt threatened. There was a moment that one of the females felt the male was getting too close to her young. She grunted and butted horns with the male.
The sun was shining bright and I was finally feeling warm. There were two stone water troughs permanently placed and the rhinos would mosey on over there for a drink. I also got some great pics of the mother nursing her baby. So cool.
The time on this excursion was limited because our guide needed to drive us to the spot where we would start our elephant-back safari. Sadly, we drove away from the rhinos. As we continued on, I wondered if we would see any more. We did see a herd of elands. The driver took another road that brought us right behind them and as we drove up from behind they all took off running. It was so cool to see them in motion. Beautiful, regal-looking antelopes.
We drove back to the main road and soon, thereafter, we could see the coral where everyone was mounting the elephants. Our elephant-back safari was to last one hour and then we would be served breakfast. Kathryn, Aryn, Judy, Nora and Donna were already on their elephants when Dana, Barbara and I arrived.
As I waited my turn to step up onto the elevated mounting stand, I was paired up with a very friendly woman from England. Her name was Susan. She had asked if I would take pictures of her and email them to her since her husband had forgotten their camera back at the hotel. All the elephants were trained from birth to be mounted by humans. They were all teenagers as after that age they would be released to the wild as they were no longer considered safe for tourists to ride. Susan and my elephant’s name was Deka. He was 16-years-old. Susan sat in the back, me in the middle and in front of me was our guide Benjamin. He was a local.
Susan was very nervous about riding the elephant. At first, I was a bit uneasy sitting up so high and feeling unsteady at the same time. Fortunately, there were stirrups and once I was able to get my feet secured I had a better sense of balance and was able to relax. Still, I held on fast to the horn of the saddle. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of just how wobbly this ride would feel. I kept remembering our camel ride along the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt and the unbalanced strides of my camel. Right away, I felt the elephant ride was much more stable. As my ride continued, I felt comfortable enough to free my hands from the harness to take some photos and videos. Susan could not get over the fact that I was holding on to nothing while taking pictures. I was, however, extra careful to keep a tight grip on my camera so I wouldn’t drop it.
Our guide, Benjamin, was very informative and shared a lot of information about the elephant’s training, what they were fed and so forth. I asked if I could pet the top of Deka’s head and he said: “Sure, go head.” Deka’s skin was so dry and rough. Benjamin told me to feel behind the elephants ears. I did and I was amazed how soft and smooth they were – like finely-polished leather. That part of their skin was also extremely cool to the touch. Very interesting.
We mostly saw birds and impala but the experience of riding an elephant was exciting enough. We did pass by a crocodile laying in the grass. About three quarters of the way into the ride our guide pointed out some vultures. They were gathered together, high up in a tree. We knew that vultures would often lead you to a cat. So our caravan of elephants began to head toward the vultures. As we walked there was a main guide in front of everyone walking along side a cameraman. I couldn’t believe these two men felt safe walking through the grass on their own. Especially past the crocodile and now we were searching for a cat (who is able to jump up to six meters to attack). You couldn’t pay me enough to be walking down in that grass, especially when we spotted a lioness lying in the shade beside her kill (an impala). Wow! How cool was this to be on the back of an elephant and watching a lion just a few meters away. The lioness got up and slowly walked around for a bit. I think she was getting nervous seeing all these elephants. The guides had the elephants stop and we all watched the lioness for a while.
After the ride, our guide motioned for our elephant to kneel down so we could come and sit on his leg and feed it the little pellets. Deka whisked his trunk over to my hand and took all the pellets up into the nostrils of his trunk. He then reached the end of his trunk around into his mouth and ate all the pellets. Benjamin gave me another handful of pellets and Deku’s trunk took those quickly as well. This went on four times while Susan took pictures of me feeding Deku. It was so cool.
After this, we walked over to a table that was selling large sheets of paper made out of elephant dung. Printed on the paper was an elephant footprint and they were each marked to identify which elephant the foot print belonged to. The souvenir was $20 and I opted out because I really wanted the CD of the photos the professional photographer had captured during our elephant-back safari. Next we all gathered into a large roof-covered areas with tables. There was a buffet breakfast prepared for us and by now I was starving. There was fruit, yogurt, sausage, seasoned ground beef, dry cereal along with coffee, juice, milk and water. Just outside the canopy was a grill and a man frying up eggs. The food was delicious and as we ate a video was played of our experience with the elephants.
After breakfast we all boarded a white minibus and everyone was delivered back to their hotel. Aryn, Judy, Kathryn, Dana, Barbara, Donna and I, of course, were taken to the Sprayview Hotel. We hung out in the lobby until a new driver arrived at 10:45A to take us to our next optional excursion: a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls! I was so excited!