When I found out I was going to be visiting Sri Lanka last year, I had one thing on my mind: find some elephants in the wild.
More specifically, baby elephants. I know you’re on the same page.
Fair warning – I am about to bombard you with nothing but elephant photos. Because I can’t help myself. I love them. Even though they totally tried to kill me once. But more on that in a minute.
So a few months ago I found myself in Sri Lanka with Cinnamon Hotels for a conference. On our first day they set the bar high and organized a sunset elephant safari for us in Kaudulla National Park. All my childhood Dumbo fantasies were about to come true!
As we piled in the back of a jeep standing up and hooting and hollering as we sped along the red dirt roads into the park, it started to pour and we squealed for cover.
Luckily, the rain never lasts for long so soon it was dry enough to emerge as we got closer and closer to the elephants.
Also lucky for me we ended up with the BATSHIT CRAZY driver who decided it was his mission that evening to scare the living daylights out of us and make sure we went on a ride we would never forget. Ever.
In retrospect, I look back on this evening fondly, but I can tell you at the time, I thought I might be meeting my maker in the grasslands of middle-of-nowhere Sri Lanka.
While the other drivers stuck to the obvious choice of 4 wheel drive tracks, ours decided to go rouge and create his own. Which is fine by me, I like a rebel.
My whole life I have had a deep fondness for animals and nature, and I always hoped that one day I would be able to go on a safari and see some of the world’s greatest animals for myself, and you know, not hidden away in a zoo or circus. And I would never even consider riding one.
Elephants are the most amazing creatures, and I was dying to see them in the wild. Full of such character and life, I frequently watch Youtube videos of them when I need to smile, like here, here, and also here.
How can that not make you happy?
Image via Flashpacker HQ
I could barely contain my excitement as I spotted my first elephant in the distance, a massive male, he must have been king of the herd.
Then I got distracted as our driver tried to go through a lake. As the front tires sunk deep into the mud and the jeep stood at what felt like a 90 degree angle, we heard him have a little conversation with himself before finally declaring, “nope nope nope” and reversing out quickly.
At this point we all looked at each other not knowing what we were in for.
The rest of the jeeps sped ahead towards the main herd of elephants as we made our way over behind them. Undeterred, our driver veered around and parked super close to the elephants in front of everyone. Front row tickets everyone!
Being too cheap to invest in a nice zoom lens, I was stoked to be so close to them and get great photos. In fact, at this point I should take some accountability for our crazy ass driver since I was definitely in the backseat yelling “closer, closer CLOSER” as we sped along.
The elephants barely registered our presence, just munching on grass and moving about along the waters edge; but as they nommed down on their dinner, they were slowly moving closer and closer to use.
Fine by me, bring those baby Dumbos closer by all means!
Squealing on the inside (and on the outside) I was mesmerized by the herd. Trying to imagine who the moms were, what their names would be, what kind of personalities they have, and watching the little fuzzy babies toot at the bigger elephants and trip over their own feet, I was in animal heaven.
Finally, the elephants had arrived super close to the car, I’m talking like 10 feet away when it’s like a lightbulb came on and they realized we were there staring back at them. They starting shuffling back and forth, blaring their trumpet noses and flinging grass around stomping.
We started murmuring to each other, like we should probably go but then the driver kept being all like “no worries, it’s all good.” I mean he’s the one that comes out here all the time, maybe this was the elephants’ idea of saying howdy.
Famous last words, guys.
Suddenly one of the elephants let out a wild call, trunk in the air, repeated by those around her, and then we turned around to hear the answering call of the enormous king elephant on the other side of the jeep, blaring his horn and full on charging us from across the grasslands.
Let me tell you guys, there is no adrenaline rush in the world that can compare to being charged by an elephant bigger than a truck.
Looking back the whole herd on other side started running towards to which we all screamed “HOLY FUCK” and dived down inside the back of the jeep, cameras and dignity long forgotten.
We elbowed each other out of the way deep in the back of the jeep as the driver yelled at the king elephant and banged on the side of the car stopping him. Then of course as fate intervened as we were literally sandwiched between a rock and hard place, the jeep was stuck in the mud and as we tried to get away, the elephants charged again.
A fleeting thought crossed my mind as we were huddled together in the back of that jeep: “Does my travel insurance plan protect me against charging elephants?” But before I could begin making a mental list of all the adventure activities I’m covered for with World Nomads, the jeep finally beat the mud.
Screaming bloody murder, we finally got away as the whole herd moved behind us reunited with each other.
That was a close call.
Moral of the story? When an elephant looks at you like this, you run like hell.