Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Walking with elephants at Glen Afric

This morning we went to Glen Afric, an elephant sanctuary about 30 minutes away from the Lion Park. Immediately on arriving it was clear that we were somewhere special - heading down the drive, monkeys crossed our path, the first I have seen in Africa. Soon the dirt track gave way to a lush, green paradise, a world away from the surrounding dust clouds; green lawns and pink flowers framed by tropical trees, all leading onto a simultaneously breathtaking and belittling panoramic mountain view - a welcome relief from the overpowering African sun, today being the hottest day of my trip so far.

The lodge, a hotel and restaurant which also offers elephant walks, was a very African take on a traditional English hunting lodge; the mandatory stag head mounted on a central wall was replaced with the head of a rhino, and in place of the portrait of the master of the house was an oil painting of a pride of lions.

After a brief nose around, much to the disgruntlement of the paying guests, we set off in another cloud of orange dust on our elephant walk.

We stopped by a river and our guide told us that we were waiting for the elephants to come to us, as they come to that point of the river every morning. Sure enough, the 25-year old mother and two 5-year old daughters (one adopted) soon appeared to drink and bathe in the river.
When they left a few minutes later, we followed them to a clearing where they began to throw the dust around in a further attempt to cool themselves down - sunglasses were essential as dust flew everywhere.

Once these magnificent animals were comfortable with out presence, we were able to approach and stroke them. Their skin was rough and dry, but the experience of stroking a fully grown elephant in her natural habitat was incredible.

 We spent about an hour walking with them in the blazing heat, taking photos and interacting with them, before we ended up at what I can only describe as the deserted set of a Western film (Fake, I suspect, placed there for the entertainment of the visitors), including a bar called "Fatani's", the same name as the bar in Wild at Heart, one of my favourite TV series. (**Edit: see below)
Alongside the "liquor store" was a large lake where the elephants bathed, and it was a pleasure watching them not only stand in the water, but lay down and splash around in it. It was only the off-putting colour of the water and the threat of other wildlife which prevented us from joining them in seeking solace from the sun's almighty power. As unique as the experience was, it was unfortunate that it took place on one of the hottest days I experienced in Africa, as the searing heat prevented me from enjoying it as much as I would have done otherwise.

  Once the experience was over, and it was clear the elephants were settled in the water for the foreseeable future, we headed back to the lodge. Sitting on a terrace overlooking a stunning mountain view (the sort of which my grandmother would have used five panoramic photos stuck together to illustrate) was divine. The accompanying cup of tea and muffin upgraded the morning's adventures to heavenly, not only because it was my first cup of tea since arriving in Africa, but also because I was faint from the heat by this point, so the sugary goodness was very welcome.

Volunteers enjoying refreshments overlooking stunning views

**EDIT** - Further research has just told me that Wild at Heart IS filmed at Glen Afric.  Whilst we were there I semi-consciously snapped this picture of a building which I thought vaguely resembled Leopard's Den, the central house of the series. Turns out is IS Leopard's Den!!!
And this is a photo of Fatani's bar; the deserted town I saw is actually the film set used in filming Wild at Heart!!

Even more exciting, the terrace where we had our post-walk refreshments is part of the lodge used to film the scenes at Mara, the neighbouring safari guesthouse to Lion's Den.

Anyone who knows me even a tiny bit knows how excited I am right now!!

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