Today was a real day of firsts. We had breakfast outside on the veranda at the lodge we were staying at and the monkeys were running around and trying to steal people’s food. There was this one monkey which jumped right on the table in front of this guy and he screamed like a complete girl and looked genuinely terrified, which I thought was tres amusant. The staff had a slingshot which they used to scare off the monkeys. Just one look at it and they were off like a shot, back into the trees.
We travelled back towards Tsitsikamma National Park and pulled in at the Elephant Sanctuary, The Crags on our way. We had heard some mixed reviews from people about this place. Some people had said it was amazing and they had had a wonderful experience there, and others had said they found it a bit depressing. Most of the people who hadn’t enjoyed it had already been on a safari and seen the animals in the wild. We have become savvy to this mistake, and we always leave things like safaris to the end of the holiday, because we know you can’t beat experiencing animals in their natural habitat. Anyway, it was an incredible experience.
There are two different packages you can do, one where you take a walk with the elephants and you get to learn all about them and feed them, and another, where you do all of those things and then get to ride an elephant at the end. We chose the option with the elephant ride, because how many people get to say they have ridden an elephant?!
We started off by taking a tour of the grounds and the guide showed us the area in which the elephants sleep (which is always open so they can come and go as they please), then we had a look at the space where the elephants get to roam around in the day. He said it wasn’t as big as they would like and there weren’t very many trees, so they took the elephants out into the bush on a regular basis so they could do all the things elephants like to do. All the elephants here had been rescued for one reason or another. Some of them didn’t have any tusks and some of them had had a portion of their trunks cut off (they assumed as a result of being stuck in snares).
We got to hold hands with the elephants and go on a walk with them. When I say hold hands, I mean my hand and the elephants trunk. The elephant I was walking with was the Matriarch, and she had no tusks, but her trunk was fully functioning. They walked a lot faster than I had expected and she ended up pushing me along because I was going too slowly so I had to speed up.
We walked through a bit of the bush and stopped in an area where the keepers explained about the elephants. We got to touch the elephants whilst the keepers explained about each individual elephant and told us loads of interesting information about them. One of the cool things I learned was that elephants cry when they are upset, angry and happy, just like humans do!
The elephant I was with kept sniffing my trainers, and I was convinced that my feet must smell or something. But the guy told me that they remember by smell and not by sight, so they spend a lot of time sniffing around new people, and that if I came back in 10 years-time, she would remember me.
We got to give them some food, and then the elephant I was with sneezed all over me. Yuck!!! I’m so glad I was wearing my sunglasses, because I got elephant snot all over them and I think I would have been blinded if I’d been hit in the eye [hilarious]. It was pretty icky, but then, how many people can say they have been sneezed on by an elephant?
We walked back to the area where they spend the day and we got to feed them all some pumpkin. I know elephants eat a lot, but I hadn’t really seen what that meant in action. They ate a whole massive bucket full of pumpkin when we got back and they were still after more! By the end of that I was completely covered in pumpkin and mud and elephant snot, but it was so worth it.
After that we got to have a ride on the elephants. This was a great experience and the guide who was on there with me explained even more about the elephants and how they had come to be here. Again, I was surprised at how fast they moved and you could really feel all their muscles working underneath the blanket we were sitting on. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it was going to be, and to be honest I have had worse journeys in cars!
All so soon, the experience was over and we were heading on our way. But not before purchasing something from the shop so we could further help the elephants. I now have a cute yellow enamel bowl with a pair of elephants on it, which I will be using to consume all of my food as soon as I get home.
After the elephant experience, it was on to the second experience of the day. Bungee jumping – eek! It was with Face Adrenaline at Bloukrans Bungy, which is a 216-metre-high bungee jump off of Bloukrans Pass bridge. It’s the world’s highest commercial bungee jump, and the highest jump from a bridge. It’s also the highest bridge in Africa. I have never done a bungee jump before, so I thought I might as well start out with the highest one.
It was me and 5 or 6 other guys, all of whom were German. We walked across a walkway underneath the bridge, and you could see beneath you the whole way down. Loads of people don’t even make it past that bit, so I was doing well so far. When you are up there, there are so many guys working the ropes and stuff, there are easily 10 of them up there. They play music when you are up there to keep you pepped up and to try and stave off any fear.
They put you in order and they strap your ankles up and get you ready for the jump. They check, check and re-check that you are strapped up properly and then it’s time to go. They are taking photos of you and filming you the whole time, so there is evidence of every part of your journey. They made a big show of checking my safety (I don’t know if this was because I was the only girl, but they definitely took longer over me than they did any of the others).
Because your ankles are strapped together, you have to hop to the edge of the jump platform supported by a couple of guys. Then you put your arms out to your sides like you are Christ the Redeemer and they count you down. 5,4,3,2,1 and jump. You have to bend your knees and push as hard and you can and jump out as far as possible. It’s the strangest feeling as you leap through the air, because at that moment you are completely weightless and your life is quite literally out of your hands. You free fall for 5 or 6 seconds, and you start to wonder if there is ever going to be tension on the cord as you plummet towards the bottom of the valley.
All of a sudden you feel the tension and you are on the recoil. You bounce up and down about 4 times, looking rather like a ragdoll, and then you hang there waiting for the guy to come and get you. You hang upside down for quite a while, spinning around, having no idea if anyone is coming to get you. Out of nowhere, a man’s butt appeared in my face and I was being pulled up into a seated position and being winched up.
When you get up there they unhook you and unstrap you and pull you up. My legs had gone all wobbly from the adrenaline and I could hardly walk when I got off. I’d gone completely weak at the knees! I would definitely do it again, it’s exhilarating and that moment of pure freedom and helplessness is worth its weight in gold; there is nothing else like it. I have some proper photos of my experience, but I can’t get to them at the moment – but rest assured I will be showing you them as soon as I can.