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Batty for Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

I was so excited that I could hardly sit still. We were headed to Addo Elephant National Park. The park is close to Port Elizabeth and near our completed Otter Trail hike.This would be our first African game park with the Big Five. I read many reviews and I hoped that my expectations weren’t too high.

Addo is not as well known as other South African parks. It is smaller and less crowded than Kruger National Park, but just as beautiful. There are 19 national parks in South Africa and Addo ranks third in size after Kruger and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Visiting the national parks has always been the reason I wanted to visit Africa. I am the happiest when I am outside and when I am with animals. I want to be immersed in nature with animals that are truly free. I cherish every up close personal wildlife sighting I have ever had.

We arrived in the afternoon, so we had a few hours before the park closed. We signed in, got the keys to our accommodation and set off for our real first game drive. In Addo you can self drive (more on this later).

I didn’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t seeing the abundance of animals right after we pulled into the park. Elephants, wart hogs, birds of all colors and sizes, and lions were all around! We were overwhelmed. Maybe it was beginners luck, but we had a large bull elephant standing right next to our car. He was about a foot away and I could have touched him. He was looking at me as we watched four lionesses up on the hillside pass by. It was almost as if he was saying, “do you see this?”

I kept grabbing Ol as wildebeest roamed by us, followed by herds of zebra. It felt like we were in the Lion King.

Unfortunately, it was getting late and we had to make it back to our chalet within the park. Animal viewing is restricted from 5;30 p.m. until sunrise at 6:00 a.m. The guidelines for the park are very strict. There is a sign that informs visitors of the time the gates open and when they close. Today, sunset was at 6:00 p.m. Visitors not out of the park at the appointed time can be fined or worse, kicked out of the park.

We judged our time accurately and were back at our cottage in Matyhotweni. The camp is in the southern part of the park. Since, there isn’t a restaurant at this end of the park, the camp gate is manned 24 hours for overnight visitors so they can visit local restaurants.

We just happened to pull up to the gate when the gate attendant was getting off duty. We offered him a ride to his home and in turn he showed us to a good restaurant. We were surprised to find that the park personnel walk several kilometers to get to and from work. Despite the predator animals, they have to walk through tall grasslands to their homes.

We had a nice dinner and excitedly talked about what we had just seen. When it was time to head back to our lodgings we could see lots of monkeys around and on the roof of our neighboring chalet. It was dark so we both dashed up the stairs to our chalet. We had a beautiful view on our deck but all of the wild animal sounds kept us inside.

The next morning I did not need an alarm. I was like a child on Christmas morning. We were up at 5:30 and the first in line for the camp gate opening. I was filled with adrenaline looking for the big cats around every corner. We had our first siting of a civet curled up alongside the road. I could tell that it was resting up after a long night prowling.

Before long it was an elephant fest. We sat and watched elephants playing in the mud at the waterhole for several hours. It was magical.

After a few hours we headed back to our chalet to shower and pack. We had two more nights in the park, but we would be moving to a cottage in Addo’s Main Camp. We enjoyed the drive through the park as we went through several eco systems. Because it was the dry season, we stopped at every water hole for viewings. The entire day seemed like we were in the Garden of Eden.

In the heat of the day the animals are less active, so we decided to stop for lunch in our new camp. The restaurant is called Cattleman’s and it as good as Ruth Chris or Morton’s Steak House at home.

After a wonderful lunch we checked into our cottage. It was nice with a thatched roof and a balcony that overlooked the park. Hopefully, we could see some night predators when we got back in from the day drives.

I wanted to go out and enjoy the last three hours before sunset and the park closing, so we headed out again.

Our first sighting near the road, were two adolescent male lions. We pulled over and waited for them to get up and do something. They finally started moving around just about the time we needed to head back in for the night.

We were lucky to see them again the following day. However, my favorite sightings were the elephants. We saw hundreds of elephants lined up for the waterhole. We just sat and enjoyed the show.

It was interesting to see all of the elephants take turns at the water. One family would come in, drink, get muddy, drink, toss dirt on themselves and then move on. Over a few hours the queue finally shortened and zebras, antelopes, and smaller animals, were allowed access.

No one was in a hurry and everything seemed to run smoothly. A few youngsters would occasionally need assistance to get out of the mud.

After a while, I had finally had my fill of animals and we decided to head home and enjoy our cottage view with a bottle of wine. When it finally got too dark to see anything, we called it a night. I was officially exhausted.

I was deep asleep in five minutes. I was awakened by Ol shaking me awake yelling “BATS!” Not bat, but plural, bats! I could see their shapes and hear them dive bombing us. I pulled the covers over my head and told Ol to turn on the lights.

Once all the lights were on the bats took refuge back in the straw ceiling. We had three choices, sleep in the bathroom, keep the lights on, or make a rush for the door.

We both decided to dash to the car. When we were safely in our vehicle, we could think clearer. We decided to go to reception and ask for another cottage or get someone to capture the bats.

The office offered to put us in a different cottage. We accepted the offer and were escorted to another unit. It was late and we were tired so we immediately got in bed. I was exhausted so I slept, however, I kept one eye open most of the night. Did I mention that I hate bats! Maybe I need to specify that I prefer animal encounters in nature and not in my bedroom!

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