Sleeping with elephants

13 Sep

Howdy folks,

I’m back from the wild and have a few stories to tell in the coming blog posts (I had a whole bunch of photos with this post but have had to cut the majority out due to the slow internet and cost).

Last week I spent it at Mashi River Safaris after meeting Dan the energetic pint sized Englishman owner at the local bar in Katima. After a night full of beer drinking the plan was for me to go and help him build a mud hut and have him show me around his backyard that just so happens to be the Kwando River that borders the Bwabwata National Park.

On the Sunday I hitched a ride the 100km out of Katima. Then 14km down a gravel road past Rodericks village where I attended the funeral. Once at Dan’s place we were out on the river in his boat spotting the abundant elephants and hippos that called this area home.

Once back at camp it was time for me to pitch a tent. Dan went and got me one of his tents and said

“Do you want an exciting nights sleep?”

Umm, is this a loaded question I wondered? I met Dan in a bar, he has spent a lot of time alone in the African bush. Was he wanting to have the African version of broke back mountain? Without waiting for my answer he started walking and said,

“We’ll put your tent outside the camp in the elephant corridor”

Off we marched through the scrubby bush to pitch my tent in the elephant corridor. The elephant corridor is basically what it sounds like. It’s a pathway (you can see the clearing in front of my tent) through the bush that the elephants use to go from the river back into the bush. It’s easy to spot as you walk through due to the ravaged broken trees and rock sized elephant crap everywhere. Wanting the full experience and because it was bloody hot we just put up the inner mosquito part of the tent. Then off we went back to the camp to light the camp fire, have a few beers and dinner.

Come 10pm it was time for bed and I made the 80 metre trek into the bush to find my tent. Anyone that has been to Africa and slept a night in the middle of the bush knows that on your first nights it is rather nerve racking. Especially when all of sudden all the bushes look identical and you’re wandering around trying to find your tent waiting to come across an elephant, hippo, lion or pack of hyena that call this area home.

When I got to the tent it dawned on me how small, flimsy and insignificant the mosquito netted tent was, especially when you compare it to a five ton bull elephant. In saying that, it also felt good to crawl inside it away from the wild. Unluckily for me the apprehensive feeling only grew when I went to zip up the tent. The zip didn’t work. 30 frustrating minutes later I conceded defeat to the zip. There was no way I was sleeping with the tent open, namely because there had been fresh hyena tracks in the camp and this area had a large population of them. They are rather harmless when compared to Lions etc, but they have been known to attack people when a sleep. I texted Dan

‘hey mate, I’m having trouble with my zipper’

Dan the next morning told me when he got the text he had wondered if I was inviting him to my tent for a night of Africa broke back loving. He texted back offering a hand and telling me there were spare tents in the storage hut. Not wanting to bother him I told him I would be fine. Off I went again into the bush back to the main camp to find another tent.

Successfully finding a new tent and making it back safely I put it up, crawled inside and heard the sweet sound of the zip closing. I lay back in my tent and looked out through the mosquito netting at the trees silhouetted by the half moon. That moment there was what I had envisioned Africa being like when I had I was back in Melbourne thinking of my final continent.

My blissful moment slowly morphed into one of vulnerability. There is nothing like lying down on the ground in the middle of an elephant corridor to make you feel vulnerable. Your senses are intensified. All the sounds of the bush turn into a hungry lion or a sleepy elephant that is going to innocently walk right over your tent. The smell of the onions on my hands that I had prepared for dinner overpowered me and all the warnings that elephants were attracted to fruit and vegetables started trampling through my head.

I had asked Dan before leaving the camp fire what to do when the elephants came, to which he replied in his pommy accent

“Just don’t act like a [insert four letter C word here]”

So there I was lying in the middle of an elephant corridor under the African sky trying to not act like a c***. Eventually the day of hitchhiking, sunshine, wildlife watching and camp fire beers whisked me away into I deep sleep. In the early morning those camp fire beers woke me up with my bladder knocking at the tent door wanting out. As I had been rather nervous, when I had gone and got the new tent I had also picked up a 5 litre water bottle so I could answer the call of nature without have to touch the zipper or enter the wild. Unscrewing the bottle I quickly realised the 5 litre water bottle had been used for petrol as the strong fumes filled my nostrils. But putting the old fella in the petrol bottle seemed like a better option than going outside or having the zip fail on me.

With my bladder empty and my groin burning as though I had spent a night with Paris Hilton I lay back down. My thoughts of Paris Hilton were interrupted with the approaching sound of rustling bushes. Then to my left through the mosquito net I saw the unmistakable bulk of two elephants emerge into view. I was surprised at how calm I felt as they made their way closer to my tent. I was up on one elbow looking out at them, unable to move, not wanting to move, I was transfixed by the moment. I couldn’t believe how such giant creatures could move so silently and gracefully. I wasn’t scared of these beasts, I was in awe of them. I wondered if behind them was an entire herd. But I will never know, as when the leading bull was five metres from me lying on the ground he quietly came to a halt. His ears flared out, his trunk went into the air horizontal to the ground. He had picked up my scent, as elephants sight is rather shit house but their sense of smell makes up for this. I was hoping that the smell coming from my sleeping bag was going to overpower the smell of onions on my hand. It must have, as quietly as they had come into my world, they turned and walked out of sight to find another path in the corridor.

WOW. That moment I will remember for the rest of my life. Such a special moment. This was what Africa was about for me. The reason I loved the moment so much is because it made me feel at one with the wild. I look back at how fearful I had been when Mandy and I had been biking through the national park on our way to Katima. I was so scared of charging elephants. But like my English safari guide told me, they won’t hurt you if you don’t act like a c***.

The next morning I as I was having coffee with Dan he asked if I had seen elephants. I told him I had been visited twice during the night and told him what an amazing experience it had been. I asked him about the elephants and how they know you’re there, and what happens if they have a blocked trunk and walk over your tent. Isn’t it dangerous? To which he once again filled me with confidence.

“yeah, just last year down the road at another camp a German girl had her tent trampled while she was asleep”

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3 Responses to “Sleeping with elephants”

  1. Paul Matthews September 14, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    Mate! You’re living it! At my desk in sunny London I am smiling at you my friend. Well f’n done.

    • Hap September 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      Enjoy that desk bro. I’m just about to go to the hostel happy hour, 2 for 1 beers. In zimbabwe at vic falls. Best I not over indulge, as i have to cycle 90 km tomorrow, but then again i have always been a sucker for cheap beer and good hostel!!
      NBL Hap

  2. Geoff September 14, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Hap

    “With my bladder empty and my groin burning”. OMG!
    These are classic symptoms of elephantitis a disease that causes delusions of grandeur! (and acts of increased stupidity). Bro, get on ya bike and get out of there!

    Cheerz, G

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