Posted from Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
When Andras Kiss popped up next to us at the tourism information center in Riversdale, none of us could have guessed the adventures we would experience as a result.
Andras, it turns out, is manager of tourism in the Hessequa Municipality. He was intrigued by us and our journey, but I think what motivated him to help us out was a genuine belief that his community had something to offer, and a genuine desire to promote tourism in the region.
From Riversdale we traveled east between the mountains and the coast, assisted here and there by a network of tourism representatives. On Thursday, Orian received a call from Larry in the tourism department of Plettenberg Bay. He promised us a place to stay when we arrived on Saturday.
"We have plans for you," he said. We were told to go to the Knysna Elephant Park, just off the highway before we reached Plettenberg Bay, where we were greeted by Greg Vogt.
"Are you here to book in?" he asked.
Quinn, not quite expecting this, stammered a bit.
"You're the group of cyclists, yes?" asked Greg.
"We were sort of expecting to camp out," said Quinn, still thrown off.
"Last night we slept under a bridge," explained Orian. But they had two rooms reserved for us.
By two, I mean about eight. We were shown to two suites with separate bedrooms and kitchens. But these weren't just any suites. They were the 'elephant rooms.' For in between the suites was a lounge area and down below was the indoor area where the elephants sleep.
We relaxed in semi-darkness in the lounge with a bottle of Elephant Wine, made from grapes pressed by Harry, one of Knysna's elephants, while 13 elephants settled in below us for the night.
The next day we bicycled among the elephants.
Elephants have poor eyesight, said Greg, so they are easily startled by approaching objects and rely on sound to communicate when approaching each other.
True to Greg's word, as we approached on our bikes, Harry noticed us and moved towards me, menacing. Just as I began to get nervous, some staffers came over to distract him.
Once placated by a truckload of hay, Harry and the others calmed down enough to move about them, even with bicycles, and a photo session ensued.
The Knysna Elephant Park is a rescue operation. Tame and orphaned elephants are kept on a 200 acre ranch where the public can view them.
"We actively find other elephants homes," said Greg. "These guys just finance that."
To be in the presence of an elephant is an overwhelming experience. Their sheer size unnerves you, but they are gentle and their intelligence is apparent, especially when they explore you or your bicycle with their trunk. They are otherworldly, and more than anything I was left with a sense of awe at these great creatures.