In 2008, while in Knysna for a Montessori conference, we had the privilege of staying at the Knysna Elephant Park. We stayed in the dormitories and got to watch the elephants going out from their stalls in the morning which was a lovely sight.
Damian has always been fascinated with elephants and I knew it would be a dream come true for him to get to ride one, and so on the day we left I went to make our booking. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the managers at the Elephant Park. For Damian, they let us both ride and gave us a DVD of our experience and did not charge us for any of it.
We were driven in a minibus to a lapa where the elephants were waiting with their carers. The elephants are led to the side of the deck to a mounting platform and we met the enormous elephant bull that we were to ride – Namibia. We were helped onto the special ‘saddles’. I have been riding horses since I was very young, but this experience was daunting to say the least. The elephants are enormous. It’s one thing falling off a horse, or being able to jump off in an emergency, but it is a really long way down from the back of an elephant. Damian was incredibly nervous, but brave nonetheless. During the ride I realised how much more terrifying it was for him: as he has only a very limited range of movement in his legs, he could not sit astride the saddle as I was and so he sat in front of me but with both legs to one side. This meant that he wasn’t looking ahead in the direction we were walking, but looking down. And as we have always been told when faced with heights: don’t look down! So it was quite an experience for him, but one he enjoyed anyway. We went for a long walk through the fields and around back to the mounting block.
After the ride the elephants lined up for apples which they took gently from us with their trunks. This was too much for Damian and he refused to feed them.
This was an experience of a lifetime. These gentle giants allowed us into their space and patiently accommodated our dream, sharing with us for a moment their view of the world. Damian still speaks of this experience often and I know it will be with him always.