Addo Elephant National Park and J Bay

Published: September 2nd 2012
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For our 5thday of the Cape to Addo tour, the major activity was the Addo Elephant National Park. This is a giant national park that was initially developed in 1931 to provide a sanctuary for the 11 remaining elephants in their natural habitat. The elephant population had dwindled in this area because of poachers and farmers (who were trying to protect their farms from being trampled by Elephants). Over the years since it has started, the national park has grown in size, now boasting that they are home to the “Big 7” – elephants, hippos, buffalo, lion, leopard, whale, and great white shark. The elephants have also thrived, and the population is now over 450. This is a major highlight of this trip, both in advertising and in reality. After enjoying breakfast and coffee with a spectacular view, we said good-bye to our farm house and we headed out to Addo.

In the morning, we had the option of doing an open-air jeep game drive (for an additional cost) or a game drive with our own guides in our travel vans. Roy, Yi Jiun, and I decided to skip the additional cost option and stick with our own guides. That ended up being a good decision for two reasons. First, Martin is known as the “elephant whisperer”, as he has a knack for finding elephants at just the right time. Second, it was a chilly morning and the people who chose to do the open air tour were freezing (although they said it was very cool). We spotted our first elephants from a distance, and we excitedly took blurry photos on maximum zoom having no idea of the amazing elephant experience that was in our near future.

The first animals that we saw up close were zebras, warthogs, and kudu (antelope). All were exciting, but I was particularly enchanted by the zebras. When you get the chance to see them up close, you can tell how beautiful and graceful they are. Plus, you can appreciate their unique camouflage, because when they are all together you can’t tell where one ends and another one begins. I also learned that zebra babies are born as tall as their moms, so that the mom can stand in front of the baby and predators can’t tell that there is a baby
Our photographer hard at workOur photographer hard at workOur photographer hard at work

Note: Yi Jiun had the best camera, so she was our official photographer. She took many of the photos that follow, and she is really talented. I was lucky to share this with her!
nearby. I think that’s awesome, and we got to observe that in real life. Check out the picture of the zebra with 8 legs.

Our first up close elephant sighting was also thrilling. Martin could see a few elephants in the distance, and he could tell by the way that they were walking where they would be crossing the road. All we had to do was drive to that spot and wait, and sure enough a small elephant family came walking right in front of our car. Amazing! This is also where we could view an elephant pooping up close and personal. Gross, but cool. Later we would see one peeing, giving us a new perspective on the saying “hung like an elephant”.

After our 2-hour morning game drive, we went back to the entrance where we met up with those of us who decided to do the jeep tour. Although shivering, they said it was also amazing. We all had a quick lunch, and then we headed back out to do another 3 hour game drive, which would take us all the way through the park to an exit on the other side. This is when we got really, really lucky. The morning had been cold and overcast, but the sun came out when we were eating lunch. So, when we were back in the park for the second drive, many many many elephants all got hot and started to head to the biggest watering hole at about the same time. And we were basically ahead of them! When we got to the watering hole, there were 4-5 elephants in the water, and by the time we were done probably 40-50 elephants had come. Since we had the elephant whisperer with us, he knew to drive a little distance from the rest of the cars, planting us right in the spot where they would be walking by. For me, this experience was more thrilling than the bungee jump… My heart was pounding so fast, I could stop grinning, and my face was flushed with enthusiasm. I could have watched the elephants for hours and never gotten bored. But, alas, we had to keep moving because there were other places to go and things to see. Before we left the park, we saw more elephants, more zebra, and just as we were about to exit we spotted a buffalo. He was really old and alone, and our guides think that he was cast out of his group because he couldn’t keep up anymore. I’m glad that we got to spot him. As we left the park, I could feel the glow of seeing wild elephants in their natural habitat in Africa. I didn’t think that I would ever have that experience, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Next up, we drove to Jeffery’s Bay, or J-Bay to the locals. Everything has a nickname. Port Elizabeth = PE. Jeffery’s Bay = J Bay. Cape Town = the Cape or CT. Johannesburg = Jo-burg. So, we drove to J Bay, where we basically just went to our accommodation. Luckily, our accommodation was really cool and beautiful. We were back on the coast, and our “backpackers” was made up of several houses, each of which looked out on the water. J Bay is known for its surfing, and this backpackers would be, I imagine, a surfers paradise. All you need to do is walk out of your room, and you can ride the waves all morning. Then, when you are finished for the day, you can come back for drinks and camaraderie around a fire. For me, not a surfer, this was the perfect place to snuggle into an oversized armchair and look out over the water. I read and tried (unsuccessfully) to connect to the internet. It was awesome.

J Bay was also unique because it’s the first place where I could sense the security. I had felt safe throughout the entire trip, and I felt safe at this location. But, there is security all around. There are often security guards in parking lots, and there were many security guards at the farm. At first we didn’t know if they were supposed to be protecting us or the farm, but we later learned that there was one guard who just walked between the places where we were staying all night. At our lodging in J Bay, they directed us to only walk to the left, because to the right is more deserted and “things can happen”. There were gates to get into and out of all of the different houses. And, since we were staying at a different house, I walked back to our room in the dark, and I observed 3 security guards on the street. There are a lot of disparities in South Africa, and while driving around you can find the most amazing beautiful beach front vacation homes a few kilometers from a “township” where people’s homes are erected from large sheets of hard plastic. I am privileged to this amazing, life changing, vacation, but I am “guarded” from some of the other parts of South Africa. This hasn’t been something that has been talked about much, but it’s something that I could feel more in J Bay. I hope to continue to learn about and reflect on this element of South Africa throughout the rest of my time here.

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