Caprivi Strip, 2014 Part 29

by david on May 21, 2015

 Riding Elephants

The thought of getting up at 5:30 am for a non-hunting activity has always been disconcerting to me, and this morning was no exception. Not getting up was not an option either. My bride of 30 years wanted to go ride an elephant, so that is exactly what was going to happen. We made it to the lobby by 6:20 and onto the bus at the scheduled time of 6:30. The trip included a few more stops to pick up some other folks and lasted about 30 minutes in total. Our destination was the Stanley / Livingston game reserve and it boasted that all of the big 5 were residents. I somehow have my doubts that we would encounter all five, even though we would be riding one of them. Upon arrival, we were escorted to a huge fire pit and the warmth given off felt good against the crispness of the morning air. The range of temperatures in an African day never ceases to amaze me, and it was true this morning. It was downright hot yesterday evening, and this morning it was cold enough to cause a few shivers.

The fire pit was the gathering place where the head guide Paul was to give is the instructions for our “elephant back safari”. I grabbed a cup of coffee (I was still a few short from the dozen or so I need to function in the morning), and I pulled a chair up close enough to keep my toes plum toasty. He told us all of the elephants were found as orphans and hand-raised. They were either orphaned due to poaching or drought, neither of which is a pleasant prospect. He also brought up the Big 5 again and informed everyone he will be carrying a .375 to guarantee everyone’s safety. He was a master showman. With the safety talk given, it was time to mount the elephants. Our elephant’s mahout/handler name was Landau, and the elephant’s name was Laduna. They had been together since Laduna had arrived at the complex. Janice and I were led to an elevated platform, where we climbed to the top. We were able to climb right on the elephant. The saddle was actually quite comfortable and thick enough to our legs from being spread across the breadth of the elephant’s massive back. There was a strap to hold onto and stirrups for our feet. Getting on and situated was no problem whatsoever. Getting used to the elephant’s gate was something altogether different. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and only then did I realize that I had been holding my breath letting out little gasps of air complete with a grunt every time the elephant’s foot hit the ground.

Eventually, everyone was mounted up and we headed out into the reserve. It was meant to seem as if we were meandering about the park, but we were skillfully wound back and forth in front of a group of moving photographers, taking lots of pictures for a photo CD. Once I had finally adjusted to the gate, the ride was relatively pleasant and the sun was chasing away some of the early morning chill. We managed to see: zebra, warthog, impala, a lone waterbuck, and some Vervet monkeys, but the only member of the big 5 we saw was, in fact, the one we are sitting on. The ride ended up lasting for about 45 minutes and we actually covered a decent chunk of ground. All too soon, we were back at the loading platform to disembark and spend a little quality time with our elephant and her handler, had Laduna come over and lie down so we could feed and pet her. It was also a chance to take all the pictures we wanted. My favorite picture of the whole trip was the one I took of my wife’s smile while she is feeding Laduna. That smile was priceless.

Next came a big breakfast prepared over an open fire. There were bacon, sausage, eggs, any way you wanted them, and toast, all including the magical flavor of wood smoke making everything taste so much better. For the non-carnivorous, there was an assortment of fruit and vegetables. Add in some more hot coffee for me, and juice for everyone else, and all was good. The conversation I overheard at breakfast amazed me. Everyone was most excited about how many animals there were and his or her incredible luck. Once again, I was completely spoiled by being a hunter. I had seen more wildlife in one view than during the whole elephant back safari. Do not get me wrong – it was fun and I enjoyed myself, but knowing what I know, if that had been the most wildlife I had seen in Africa, I would have been truly disappointed.


The warmth of the fire pit felt good against the chill of the morning air.  The warmth of the fire pit felt good against the chill of the morning air.


Some of the breakfast items already being prepared.  Some of the breakfast items already being prepared.


The whole Veldsman family mounted upon their trusty steed...err.. pachyderm. The whole Veldsman family mounted upon their trusty steed…err.. pachyderm.


The view of an elephants backside from an elephants back. The view of an elephants backside from an elephants back.


Landau, Janice, and myself aboard Laduna. Landau, Janice, and myself aboard Laduna.


The most important smile of the whole trip.  The most important smile of the whole trip.


Landau and Laduna Landau and Laduna

Monday: Helicopter Ride

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