Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grazing Elephants and Knee-Deep in Mud

We were up before dawn at 5am this morning.  The humidity means that absolutely everything around camp is damp, but the temperature makes that not unpleasant.  The porcupine had been back during the night and been gnawing on Brett’s sandals, so we are going to be more careful what we leave out tonight.

Mark brought us all coffee which was quickly supped and then we were on our way.

Today was a much better game day than yesterday; plenty of birds and herds of water buffalo, several herds of elephants and several solitary males.

We tracked the elephants for a while and once we saw their direction we pulled the jeep almost in front of them and switched off the engine.  Sure enough they grazed their way past us, within yards of the jeep.  I took plenty of photographs but once I was done, it was a deep pleasure just to sit and watch them; a selection of ages, massive and placid, interacting with each other, familial; the silence of the plain, broken only by peacock wails and the tramping and chomping and occasional guttural growling of the elephants themselves, was beautiful and very satisfying.

We also got close to a young bull who was accompanied by three egrets and sat and watched him grazing for a while.  There were huge owls, eagles and a small flock of parrots.  There are peacocks everywhere, some of them in plumage.  Several times we saw them take wing which is quite a sight and we got to watch an eagle catch some small prey and feed quite nearby.

We stopped for a while on a promontory overlooking the central lake of the park.  It was a comfort and snack break with some great vistas; most of the park is quite flat so you don’t easily appreciate the scale of it until you get a little altitude and see how far it goes on!  Although there were distant pelicans on the lake and a wandering buffalo, the only close encounters we had were with crows after our biscuit crumbs.

On our way back to camp for breakfast however, we attempted to cross a channel where the jeep just couldn’t make it up the other side and then couldn’t back out.  After a bit of spinning wheels back and forth, Mark got out and unwound the winch on the front and pulled it out of the ravine.  It was a chance for me to get out of the vehicle and I took it.  The warm mud between your toes was lovely – who needs expensive spa treatments!

A little further along the same track though, we got bogged down in the soft mud again and really could not get out.  We tried the winch, we tried rocking the jeep back and forth to release the suction – then the winch gave out.  We tried pushing unsuccessfully.  (Trying to gain purchase in the soft mud beneath a foot of water was interesting – but not unpleasant.)  In the end we had to call for help – bizarrely in the middle of miles of wilderness there is better mobile coverage than Rod & Jess get back in Wimbledon!

While we waited, we walked along to the next ravine and rested in the shade, drinking the mango juice and keeping cool with our feet in the running stream.  If I’d had a blanket to lie on, I could have stayed there all day, but the sound of elephants foraging nearby made a return to the relative safety of the jeep a necessity.

An hour or so after we’d sent out the call, the rangers arrived in their landrover and, after much discussion and trial-and-error, (which on several occasions looked like it would result in them being bogged-down too!) we eventually got the jeep free and set off for camp again.

Having waded through mud up to our knees, when we got back it seemed appropriate to bathe in the river rather than take a shower, so Ping and I did just that and it was very refreshing.  The boys were serving a combined breakfast/lunch by the time we were done, so we took our leisure by the river again and ate heartily.  Almost as soon as we’d retired for siesta though, the rains came down and didn’t let up.  We’d planned to do another safari in the late afternoon but aborted in favour of an early morning one tomorrow instead.

We spent the afternoon relaxing and just watching the river through the rain.  We had tea and biscuits and later cocktails and then a barbeque dinner.  (I had been sceptical of the chances of barbequing in a tent, but it worked out perfectly well.)  The porcupine (now nicknamed Peter) showed up later on and scared Brett out of his wits by walking over his feet before anyone noticed he was there.

As I write, it is pitch black outside, broken only by the few flaming torches which bound the camp.  The night is full of sound; the sounds of the river, the cicadas and crickets doing their thing, the occasional water pit-patting down out of the canopy and the odd peacock call or elephant roar.  The rain has stopped now and it’s a lovely mild night; the sky is clear enough to see the stars.  Ping observed earlier that we’ve been here barely forty-eight hours, but it already feels like forever; we are all comfortable and familiar and totally at home.  I have mixed feelings about having to leave tomorrow.

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