Victoria falls (Africa Lite)

Crossing from Botswana into Zimbabwe for the conclusion of our trip at Victoria Falls it was immediately apparent that we were moving into Africaland – the holiday experience of a lifetime. If Mickey himself wasn’t there to meet you then the group of young black lads wearing feather headdresses and animal skin loincloths while lounging on a traffic island to await the next tourist coach would put you squarely into context.

Swish hotels built above fake waterholes, budget backpacker hostels, purveyors of zip-wire propelled bungee helicopter flights; wifi, McDonalds and Big Five baseball caps were all there to ensure that anyone on a three stop, five day visit to this Continent was going to get their fill. But the World Heritage site that is also one of the seven Natural Wonders of the world was not looking her best for our visit, waters were low and some of the famous cascades could manage little more than a trickle.

Grahame and I dutifully trouped around and took our pictures. I think we had already resigned ourselves to the fact that this would not be the highlight of our trip but it was fortunate that we had arranged an extra night at the end of our organised tour because this is the only place in the world where you can ride an African elephant. But first we had our last evening with the group which took place at something called a Boma, a sort of Milliways (the Restaurant at the End of the Universe) with warthog steaks and drums. Lots of drums. We said (or rather mimed) our goodbyes over a toast to “our” new-born baby elephant and returned to our hotel.

The following day our elephant ride was booked through a company called Wild Horizons which, in addition to organising all the rest of the hoopla, has administered an elephant sanctuary/safari lodge near the falls for the last thirty years. These twenty or so elephants have grown from various rescued calves into a cohesive tribe and represent the first attempt to domesticate African elephants. This is no mere “attraction” as the three hour excursion involves a detailed briefing and introduction, followed by an hour’s gentle ride across a substantial private safari park. The elephants patrol in single file, with only a handler and two passengers in the saddle and at the end line up for the healthy treats which we were permitted to feed them by the bucketload.

Who can say, on the basis of one short visit, whether the promotion literature is accurate but we were encouraged to ask as many questions as we liked. In fact I never shut up, displaying a (possibly misguided) confidence around pachyderms which may well account for Grahame & I being selected to ride point on one of the largest bulls. Jake was adorable, thirty nine hands of beautifully coordinated muscle wrapped in skin the texture and thickness of tree bark. If I felt safe with him then it was not totally out of foolish ignorance and wishful thinking. Having a working dog at home, I can recognise an animal that has been trained to the “reward” system and never known mistreatment. Having been around well-loved elephants in India and seen something of their mistreatment in Cambodia, I think I can recognise various aspects of condition and temperament that indicate whether appropriate care is being given. It turned out that, even at thirty years of age, Jake has not yet sired any calves because he is still giving ground to Jock, the dominant bull. Never mind, we can follow developments online, the photographs will thrill the grandchildren and the stories will make me the envy of all my Indian friends.

Categories: Africa


  • Chris says:

    The toast was Amarula, of course!

  • Nicola says:

    Yes, I managed to get hold of a bottle. Better still, I found something called “Amarula Gold” in the duty free shop on the way home. Twice as strong and half as sweet – a definite must for birthdays and Christmas.

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