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Let’s Talk About Elephants

Even though our time at Coral has come to an end, our time here in South Africa is far from over. As I mentioned all the way back in January, we have decided to stay past our official time with The Leap and do a two week road trip from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. We figured we were already here, so we might as well make the most of our travel visa!My mom flew into Durban to join us on our road trip on the 16th, where we spent the next day and a half letting her get used to the six-hour time difference. Though, being us, we did more than loll about using WiFi for the first time since January (to be fair, there was a bit of lying comatose on couches staring at the endless scroll that is Instagram). The very first day, we spent the morning at a shopping center not far from the guesthouse at which we were staying (Smith Cottages, highly recommend for Durban travelers). Emma and I were desperate for some new clothes that actually fit (turns out working beach, diving twice a day, and eating bad food really does wonders for your waistline), so we got to experience clothes shopping in the middle of load shedding. Load shedding is basically scheduled blackouts for various parts of a city, and it’s a very common occurrence all across South Africa. Stores will stay open, no big deal, you just have to be able to pay in cash. One shopping spree later, we donned our new clothes and decided to visit the Durban Botanical Gardens for the remainder of the afternoon. The Gardens are beautiful and a prime visiting location for families with young kids, so the place was full of barefooted children running amok. It was actually quite cute. The Orchid House was my favorite part, though. I’ve loved orchids for as long as I can remember, and though it was small, the House was full of beautiful and interesting species I had never seen before. We departed Durban on the 18th on a domestic flight bound for Port Elizabeth. Once there, we picked up our rental car (which was very exciting for us since we grow up learning to drive on the right side of the road and here they drive on the left) and spent the day buying provisions for the first big part of our journey: Addo Elephant National Park. But before we even got to the park, we made a half-day stop at Addo Cruises and Sand Sledding to do just that: a river cruise and sand sledding. Skipper Jeth took us 45 minutes upriver to the Alexandria sand dunes (which he says you can see from space), where we spent the morning hiking up sand dunes and sledding down them to the bottom (it requires zero skill and was much more pleasant than trying to sand board, let me tell you). For our final two runs, they push you down a 40 meter slope straight towards the river (which you hit) and then skip like a stone for a solid 15 meters before splashing down in the freezing water and swimming back to shore. Emma and I had an absolute blast, and we both highly recommend the experience for anyone traveling along the Garden Route in the future. One fresh change of clothes later, we were back in the car and on our way down the road to Addo Elephant National Park. It’s a public game reserve opened in 1931 to protect one of South Africa’s most endangered species, the African Elephant. The park currently houses over 600 of these magnificent animals, and in the two days we’ve been here, we estimate we’ve seen at least a hundred. You can drive yourself through the park, and every now and then you’ll just come across a herd gathered near a watering hole or making their way down the side of the dirt roads. We’ve seen primarily females with their adolescent and infant calves, and trust me when I say that there is nothing cuter on this planet than a baby elephant that is less than a year old. We’ve done two guided game drives in the park as well. The first (and my favorite by far) was the sunset safari. They take you out after the park has closed to the general public and the sun has set, and the driver searches through the bush with a torch looking for rarer animals. In the two hour time span, we saw three black-back jackals, several hares, a porcupine, a brown hyena, two black spotted hyenas, a barn owl, all the various antelope in the park, a buffalo, a couple herds of zebra, and two male lions. Turns out lions are very hardy sleepers, so we were able to draw right up next to them in the game driver. One of them woke up, yawned at us (quite impressive when you have a mouth full of fangs), and then flopped down onto his back with all four paws sticking straight up in the air (my dog at home does the same thing; it was very strange to see it happen out in the middle of South Africa). The second was a sunrise drive (wear warm clothes), and it was a very different experience. We didn’t see as many different species, but the lions were much more active. They were awake and moving around, rolling in the grass and scratching themselves on the thorn bushes (seriously, they act so much like my poodle I’m starting to think lions are either big dogs or my dog has some cat in it somewhere). We’re staying in a four-bed cabin inside the park, and I’m writing this post while sitting on our deck overlooking the park itself. There’s a watering hole just down the hill from us, and the chalets in front of the cabins can see the elephants when they wander past for a drink. It’s a remarkable little park that isn’t as well known or well-traveled as Kruger, so it’s very quiet and extraordinarily clean. Mom said today that she would absolutely come back and visit again sometime in the future, and honestly, I would, too.

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