Sunday, January 25, 2009

Among Elephants

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.


Oakhurst said...

Hey Nathan,

Sounds like you are off to a great start. No surprise that people are eager to meet adventurers like you five. You will make wonderful ambassadors of America.

Eric Anderson is curious about elephant scat. (Do they call it scat? Pies? Mounds? Piles?)

Lindsay said...

I am so jealous! It looks like an awesome time, those pics tell all. :)

cr said...

Your posts are amazing. So many questions!
How close were you guys to the elephants in that picture?
How far have you guys traveled, and how far are you averaging in a day?
How many days have you actually been going for?
I'm sure you have tons of other cool stories. I really liked the one with the kids.

Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

You and your surreal life! Sounds like you're having a blast... Good luck in your upcoming adventures!

~from Elise, btw

Betsy said...

Elephant stomped wine?!?!?! That is awesome. Color me jealous.

Nathan Hurst said...

- Elephant scat is not as large as one might expect, relative to the size of the elephant. However, it is everywhere. I didn't hear what they called it, though the phrase "watch out for land mines" may be appropriate.

- In the picture, we could have turned around and touched Harry. It was disarming to turn your back on such a huge creature. One of the baby elephants walked between us and the camera, pausing to explore each of us and our bikes with his trunk.

- We have been traveling 15 days now, with a mileage total of about 590, not too many per day because we've had so much to see and do, and because we've been getting fit.

- The wine was good. You might be able to get a hold of some if you email the Knysna Elephant Park:

Muffin said...

Hurst, seriously, try to get an elephant ride.

Jess said...

damnit, i wish there were some elephants in pdx! try and bring one back ok?

Anonymous said...

Nate, the rest of you... Just wanted to say how awesome I think this adventure is and I am enjoying the blog entries. At first I thought it was rather foolish and dangerous, but it's an experience of a lifetime and I wish I was there with you.

May the wind be at your backs and other cliches that would help you on your amazing journey.

Chris G