The last leg of our trip we kept a secret from the girls until we arrived. They just love surprises and we try to keep some information about our holidays to ourselves until we can spring it on them. As far as they knew, we were going home after Dibiki but we had something else in store. You can probably imagine the elation when we turned back onto the N2, driving west and in the opposite direction of home.
Thirty kilometres past Mossel Bay, we turned right onto the road that leads to Indalu Game Reserve. The ornate steel gates at the entrance to the reserve create a sense of wonder about what lies waiting beyond.
A beaming and jovial Gerhard van Rooyen, the owner at Indalu, let us in and came to greet us at our car. While waiting for another group to arrive, Gerhard regaled us with stories of how Indalu came about. Originally from an engineering background, he is clearly passionate about his business and he loves what he does.
Gerhard called the girls over and told them to hop into the Jeep so long while we wait. They are always thrilled when it’s time for a game drive and they eagerly obliged. I’m pretty sure they also enjoyed watching Gerhard’s younger son, Rohan, polishing the Jeep for us.
When the rest of the group arrived, we were all off together in the Jeep, through the hills and valleys of Indalu’s wilderness. After a short drive we stopped to climb out, and there they were, patiently waiting for us in all their majestic glory. Shanti, Amari, Bakari and Moketsi, four of the six magnificent elephants that roam free in this beautiful sanctuary.
Hannah and I walked with Bakari and Carl and Georgia walked with Moketsi, the eldest bull and the protector of the family heard. The elephants have experienced and skilled handlers who know and understand them well and with whom they share a special bond. As with all the handlers, Hanro, Gerhard’s eldest son and Bakari’s handler, was a wealth of information about the elephants. Hannah, even though she’d had experience of interaction with elephants before, was enthralled. Walking next to this enormous creature filled me with an amazing sense of awe and reverence for these intelligent animals. What astounds me is the very human qualities that they possess. Elephants are able to learn through watching and mimicking. They have a great capacity for compassion and a developed sense of memory. I wonder if it means they remember everyone they meet.
At the end of the walk, we came to an open grass area and the elephants all lined up to enjoy a well-deserved snack. Rohan, the younger of the two Van Rooyen sons, was on hand to make sure there are buckets full of veggies for us to use in order to feed the gentle giants. Dzingai, Moketsi’s handler, showed the girls how to get an elephant to lift its trunk, so they can feed a snack directly into its mouth. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to empty our pails of nibbles.
Georgia became fond of Dzingai and she wasn’t eager to say goodbye. As we watched the elephants leave, with the handlers following closely behind, she ran as fast as her little legs could carry her to bid him one last farewell.
Dzingai turned around and stopped. He swept her up into his arms and hugged her tight, and from a distance, I could hear the echoes of their laughter. A moment I trust she will remember for years to come.
Our family spent the night at Indalu. For the rest of the afternoon, we explored the area around their two luxuriant bungalows, the other being unoccupied. The girls spent some time exploring the banks of the river that runs below the bungalows, while Carl and I watched them from the outdoor lounging area. Later we were sitting around the fire with Gerhard and his wife, Arina, who turned my daughters into avid lovers of bobotie. It’s a well-known South African minced meat dish and Arina’s was the best. So good, in fact, that the girls have requested it at home many times over since our visit to Indalu. It was a cold evening but we were warmed by the fire and by Gerhard and Arina’s generous hospitality. We had a wonderful time sitting around the fire with them, sharing stories, jokes and laughter.
Early in the morning, after a self-catered breakfast in the communal kitchen, we had to say goodbye. This time we really were homeward bound. In a short time, the elephants and the people of Indalu had crept into our hearts, where they will stay forever.
On our family trip to Mossel Bay, we discovered amazing places, did wonderful things and had the time of our lives. These were the kind of experiences that Carl and I hope the children will cherish for the rest of their days.