Article by Elena del Valle and photos by Gary Cox
Carl met us at the Kapama Gate and we drove behind him to the camp where we would spend the next two nights. On our arrival, Elsie, his wife and camp co-manager, welcomed us with moist refresher towels. After a few minutes we followed our luggage across a quaint suspension bridge to our suite. We had arrived just in time for a quick bite and our first elephant back ride.
A short while later we met Rudolf Van Den Berg, the property’s talented chef who made us look forward to every meal. The day we left, Lente Roode, the enthusiastic conservationist behind Camp Jabulani, came to greet guests at the breakfast table.
At 4:30 p.m., we and six other guests met Paul, the elephant handler, who introduced us to the elephants and their grooms. He also shared information about the herd including their origin, behavior, what we should expect during the ride as well as dos and don’t. He invited us to touch Jabulani, the elephant who led the herd and for whom the camp was named.
We were surprised to discover parts of his skin were amazingly soft while others felt thick and coarse. I even had a chance to feed him. Apparently this made him friendly because the next thing I knew his trunk was two inches from my face and he was breathing on me. His breath was hot but it smelled alright and although I was a bit disconcerted by the proximity of such a large and unfamiliar animal, I stood my ground. At Paul’s suggestion, I blew into his trunk, and he moved it away.
Soon, we were on our way. Paul had invited me to ride on Jabulani with his groom, a personable young Zimbabwean who told me a little about Jabulani, his life as an elephant groom and his homeland during the hour long ride. We were at the head of the herd which moved, single file, at a surprisingly comfortable and sedate pace. From the height of Jabulani’s back (there was a saddle that made the ride cushy) the bush had a different look and feel from the ones I had experienced on bush walks and safari drives.
It seemed far away and at the same time as if we might see anything in the company of these gentle creatures. At sunset, we arrived at a lovely picnic spot where we dismounted to enjoy South African bubbly and snacks and share our thoughts on this newest experience and how special it had been. Click here to read more about Camp Jabulani.