Elephants and Sea Turtles and Pigs, Oh My! For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by these three animals. Well, I have been fascinated by elephants and sea turtles – I suppose piggies are just cute. ~smile~
Years ago, I saw a video of young people riding an elephant and thought it looked so cool! (What a life-changing experience it would be to ride an elephant!)
Years went by, this little girl grew into a woman, and she still dreamed of riding an elephant. Everyone dreams of that, right? I mentioned it occasionally to people (mostly Eric), but I thought I would have to travel to Thailand or some other distant country for such a thrill.
Eric is typically pretty good about planning something sweet for my birthday. Some years are more lavish than others (of course), so I was not expecting anything over-the-top this year. Last year, he took me to Charlottesville for a food tour (amazing), so I would have gladly given him a pass this year had we simply gone to dinner and a movie. ~smile~
Aggravatingly, in the week leading up to my birthday, I came down with some sort illness and intense cough. Apparently, it is going around here. Just like a child, I thought, “I cannot be sick on my birthday!” I went to the doctor, took meds, and rested; yet, the cough lingered. Thankfully, by Saturday (the day we planned to celebrate with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law), I was at least sprightly enough to make the trip for a day o’ fun. My occasional coughing fits emerged, but we pressed on an anyway.
On the way out of town, Eric said, “So, there is something I want us to do, but I am going to let it be a surprise – unless you want me to tell you.” Since I was still feeling a bit under the weather, I was nervous about what it might be.
Will it require a lot of physical activity? What if I cough non-stop? Will it require getting wet? I did not pack a bathing suit. Will it be scary? Why, Heather?! Why do you freak out about not knowing? It is supposed to be fun. Get it together. (Do you not simply love these sneak peaks into my swirling, tornado-like thought process? ~smile~)
Just When I Think I Have Him Figured Out
We made it to our destination (Eric’s step-brother’s) and apparently we were running late for whatever we were about to do. We got the dogs settled in, gave them treats, packed some water, and left in a hurry. When I saw the cooler come out, I assumed we were not heading down the street. Where could we be going?
After about twenty minutes on the road, the terrain started looking familiar. This is the path we were on when we went to Safari Park with Mom and Dad last May! We said we should go there with David and Vanessa! I bet that is where we are heading. Yay! I get to see my giraffe friends again!
Sadly, Vanessa took the wrong exit. (~smile~) Safari park was exit 180 and we pulled off onto exit 175. Wait a minute. Maybe we are not going to Safari Park? Caverns maybe? The Natural Bridge Zoo? Where could we be heading? We sped past the Natural Bridge Zoo, so I crossed it off my list. That is, until she made a U-turn and pulled us into the Natural Bridge Zoo parking lot.
Okay, I like animals. This is a fun activity. Happy day.
Eric got out of the car and headed inside quickly. When he came back outside he asked, “So, do you know what we are doing here?” Was that a trick question? We were at a zoo, so the obvious answer would be…
“You are going to ride an elephant!” My face lit up like a thousand Christmas trees. WHAT?! We are not in Thailand! How is this possible?!
Apparently, you do not have to book an expensive vacation for such an opportunity. I could not believe it. I was excited. I was also a little nervous. How am I going to get onto the elephant? More importantly, how am I going to stay on the elephant? ~smile~ But nevertheless, I was about to mark something off my bucket list and I was stoked! (Does anybody say “stoked” anymore?)
We bought our tickets, got our hands stamped, and headed out into the zoo. There was a wooden arrow marked “Elephant,” so we rounded the bend and saw her standing there, Beautiful (yes, her real name), an amazing, twenty-eight-year-old African elephant, much beloved by her owners.
There was a breeze and the elephant-ride line was short – my favorite kind of day. ~smile~ We climbed the stairs, stepped up onto a platform, and slid onto the blanket on Beautiful’s back (easy peasy). Also attached to the blanket on her back was a pole for passengers to hold onto. It was held in place by what appeared to be a comfortable harness. No pain for the sweet, enormous baby. So, my concerns about getting on the elephant and staying on were put to rest.
And we were off!
No surprise, elephants are not as fast as horses – at least not trained elephants who give rides to children and seniors. Beautiful started slowly down and around her short path with her trainer by her side. Though it would have been extremely unwise to let go of the rail on her back, I did not experience any fear of falling.
I. Was. Giddy.
I am riding an elephant people! The ride was short, but I did not mind. Whether it was a minute or sixty minutes, I finally knew what it was like to ride one of my favorite animals! When Beautiful came to her last turn, she posed, (yes, she actually posed with her ears stretched out – see the picture above!), and we got a wonderful, keepsake picture so we can always remember this experience!
After Eric and I slid off Beautiful’s back and started walking away, we noticed my sister-in-law’s face; she looked conflicted. “Vanessa, do you want to ride the elephant?” She tried to ignore her feelings at first, but she totally wanted to ride! So, I got to go… again! (They asked for at least two people per ride.) Whee!!! An elephant ride with my hubby and then another with Vanessa. What better way to celebrate thirty-three years of life?!
Though I know I am a bonafide adult who pays bills, keeps a house running, and does not throw herself on the floor screaming at Walmart (even though I occasionally want to), I am still a child at heart. As we perused the gift shop on the way out, I wanted a souvenir to commemorate my happy, happy day. Then I saw her – a stuffed elephant with purple ears, purple feet, and a purple bow. What better gift for me?! No diamonds necessary. Just give me a stuffed animal to squeeze.
Beautiful, the stuffed animal, is now residing on our bookshelf (far away from Ramsey). ~smile~
When you are young, you cannot wait to rip open those birthday and Christmas presents. As much as I still enjoy opening a gift, I am getting to the point where experiences mean much more than purchasable objects. You will likely get there too (if you are not there already).
Eric taking the time to plan and make one of my dreams come true was a gift in itself – and the experience of riding an elephant was precious to me. I sincerely hope to see them stomping around Heaven someday. I will have to ride my pet elephant down to the water to visit my sea turtle friends. (I should make cartoons for a living. But, I digress.)
Consider adding experiences to your sweetheart’s birthday celebrations. You can still give tangible gifts as well, but also add a very memorable element. As much as I have appreciated gifts over the years, I have only the shoddiest recollection of what I have received. However, I will remember my elephant riding excursion for a lifetime – just as I will continue to remember the food tour we took last year.
Thank you, Eric, for such a fun day and lasting memory. My bucket list just got smaller. Now I need to ride a horse, ride a jet ski, zip line, and jump off of a tall building – just to name a few. ~smile~ (Who would have thought I would ride an elephant before riding a horse? ~smile~)
What experience will make your sweetie’s day on his or her next birthday?