I was sitting in the back seat of an open jeep in Shamwari, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Beside me was a young Dutch girl on her very first safari.
She’d only arrived in Africa the day before.

Two young elephant bulls decided to play with us and stationed themselves one either end of the vehicle. The elephant behind us was getting more and more curious, eventually coming right up, to explore first the car and then us, his trunk playing gently round my neck, through my hair and along the camera strap.

Strangely and for no apparent reason, I became convinced that he was going to steal the camera and was equally determined that he shouldn’t. I was desperate to try and take a photo but didn’t dare move in case I spooked him, only twisting my head slightly so I could just see out of the corner of my eye.

To my left, the Dutch girl looked frozen with fear and ahead of me, another jeepload of tourists was frantically taking pictures (although I didn’t get any)! Eventually, he got bored, the two elephants just wandered away, and we could breathe again. It was a heart-stoppingly intimate encounter with a very gentle and inquisitive giant.

By Melissa Shales
United Kingdom UK

Melissa is an award winning travel writer for Fodors, Frommers and Insight, including guides to Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

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