Elizabeth and Elephants

When we woke up this morning we were in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Once again we had to be up bright and early as we were due to leave for our tour at 8.15am. Today we were going to the Addo Elephant National Park, which is the third largest conservation park in South Africa, next to the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The hour-long coach ride to the park took us through Port Elizabeth and its surroundings, including the Township shanty-towns.  Townships are the communities in which most of the diverse South African population lives. Stemming out of the oppressive era of Apartheid, when black, coloured and Indian residents were prohibited from living within the suburbs, townships earned the reputation of being poverty-stricken areas where clean amenities and facilities were lacking. However, over the past few years, townships have emerged from these challenges as a culture-rich environment, home to a large spectrum of this Rainbow Nation.

Most of the townships, particularly in Port Elizabeth, are still made up largely of shacks – homes made by the inhabitants out of corrugated iron, wooden pallets, even paper and cardboard. Clearly, there remain economic challenges within these areas, which are usually located on the outskirts of a city’s commercial and suburban centre. Like the favelas in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, these less-than-salubrious areas contrasted sharply with the modern commercial buildings and up-market residential homes.

As Africa is so famous for its diverse wildlife, in particular the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), we were looking forward to visiting the Addo Elephant Park. The park was founded in 1931 by the South African naturalist and entomologist Sydney Skaife, in order to provide a sanctuary for the eleven remaining elephants in the area. The park has proved to be very successful and currently houses more than 600 elephants and a large number of other mammals, including wildebeest, lions, warthogs, zebra, kudu and hartebeest. It is also a place of haven for the protected dung beetle species (Circellium bacchus) and we saw signs along the roads in the park which said Dung beetles have right of way.

Once we entered the park the bus went along at a sedate pace in order to maximise our chances of seeing anything. We kept our eyes peeled and soon spotted some families of warthogs and, a bit further along, some zebra. It was pleasant driving along in the rich African landscape but the air conditioning on the bus was on a bit high, and I was constantly blasted with cold air which was not very comfortable. We had driven for quite a while and still not seen any elephants.

Our guide told us we would go to one of the main watering holes, where we had more of a chance of seeing the elephants. As we headed up a slight incline, we could already see a herd of elephants in the distance so we eagerly craned our necks to get a better view.

The bus pulled up at the watering hole with the elephants on the right side. Of course Trevor and I were on the left-hand side of the bus and we worried about our view being impeded by the camera-waving people on the right-hand side. The driver told us not to worry; after a while he would turn the bus around so that the people of both sides would get a good view.

There were loads of elephants; about 70. There were the big bull elephants with their long, curving tusks, and mothers with babies. The elephants were going in and out of the watering hole which must have been quite deep, as they could submerge themselves, using their trunks as ‘periscopes’. Some of the elephants were frisking about in the water and getting themselves totally wet in order to keep themselves cool. It was fascinating watching them; in a large herd the oldest female is the matriarch, and you could see that the females were protective of their young, who stayed close by their mother’s side.

As we watched the group by the watering hole, another herd came towards us from the left-hand side, crossing the road in front of us to join the others. Once again there were some babies with them; they were very cute.

We stayed watching the elephants for about an hour and got loads of great photos. Then it was time to start making our way back as time in the park has to be limited for obvious reasons. The bus made its way back to the entrance of the park, where there were shops and toilet facilities for those who wanted them.

We arrived back on the Voyager about 1.00pm and had our lunch. Then we went and sat out at the pool deck for a short while and enjoyed a couple of drinks. There didn’t seem to be a lot ashore in the immediate vicinity, so we just decided we’d stay on the ship for the rest of the day.

At 4.30pm we went along to Scott’s Lounge in time for the afternoon trivia. While we were in there, we saw an easel displaying a large, interesting-looking painting. A closer look showed it was the Voyager‘s navigational chart for this cruise, showing all our ports of call and the route taken, but one of the ship’ crew, who is obviously a very talented watercolour artist, had painted over the chart in a theme from the cruise. So there was a picture of the Voyager, as well as some of the more famous landmarks and pictures of elephants and lions. It was an absolute work of art and a complete one-off and it was up for raffle! The tickets were £2.00 each or three for £5.00, so I went along to reception and bought a fiver’s worth. The money raised would go to charity.

We took part in the quiz with Beryl and Sue as usual, and despite scoring 17/20 we were beaten by the winners who scored 18. So we weren’t about to get our hat-trick then.

After the quiz I went back to the cabin and got showered and changed in time for dinner. We went up to the Explorer Restaurant, which we hadn’t tried before, and shared our table and some pleasant conversation with another three people.

Tonight there was a bit of variety on the entertainment programme for a change. After the quiz in the Sunset Club (nope, we didn’t win) we took our seats in the Darwin Lounge for tonight’s ‘main’ show, which featured Kirsty Fuller, one of the singers, doing her tribute to some of the well-known female icons. The trouble is with singing some of the really big songs is that they are doomed to failure if you don’t have the big voice to match, and this was the case here.

After Kirsty had left the stage, we looked forward to the next show which was called “Parade of Chefs” and featured the Executive Chef and his “Zulu Warriors”. It was quite amusing. The chefs all came out in their uniforms and tall hats, and they’d made ‘shields’ out of serving trays and ‘spears’ out of broom handles. They had learned some Zulu words and chants especially as they did their parade, so at least it made their efforts original and allowed the audience to show their appreciation for the delicious meals we’d enjoyed so far on this voyage.

The final entertainment for this evening was the traditional Filipino Folkloric Show that is an essential feature of every cruise. A lot of people commented that some of the crew singers and dancers were more entertaining than the professional entertainers! It was a coloutful and interesting 45 minutes.

At the end of the show as the passengers in the Darwin Lounge drifted away we just returned to Scott’s Lounge as there was nothing on in the Sunset Club tonight. So we just enjoyed a couple more drinks and listened to the cocktail pianist whilst partaking some of the late-night snacks, before returning to our cabin about midnight. We had a day at sea to look forward to tomorrow.

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