Sunday, December 14, 2008
A Healthy Fear of Elephants
Yesterday, to wind up our trip to South Africa, the team and I took a rest day and headed to the authentic African bush where we hoped to have our own personal Lion King experience.
When we entered the game reserve (called Hluhluwe) we immediately spotted a cobra crossing the road. I have an irrational and quite serious fear of snakes, so I did not join in the delight of the rest of the team. Still, I was excited about seeing elephants, lions, giraffes, zebra, leopards, baboons, monkeys, buffalo, warthogs, etc. We hired a guide to drive us around the park for 3 hours in an open air safari vehicle. We quickly saw all the above animals except for the elephants. The herd was elusive. That is, until we reached the very end of the tour. 10 minutes from our camp, cloaked in the pitch black darkness of night, we happened upon another safari vehicle driving in reverse with frightening speed. As it approached our vehicle, we could hear very clear, high pitched South African voices screaming,
"Go! Go Back! THERE'S AN ELEPHANT CHARGING AT US!!!"
We didn't see any elephants at first. Then, suddenly, the largest elephant I have EVER seen appeared in the darkness and was, indeed, charging straight for us. Our driver put it in reverse and we stepped on the gas. We had to navigate the windy, narrow, dirt road in the darkness at a speed that topped that of said ginormous elephant.
I cannot explain the terror one feels when being chased by an elephant. I could not say anything but, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus (not uttered in a swear word kind of way - rather, the desperate prayer kind of way).......and Dear God, Dear God, Dear God...."
Long story short, our vehicle and the unfortunate one in front of us (the elephant had tried to lift up their car with his tusks) out ran the elephant. We booked it for home as fast as we could until we came upon TWO RHINOS FIGHTING in the MIDDLE of the road. I AM NOT KIDDING. Now, angry rhinos are also known to charge poor, unsuspecting vehicles. At this point, I expanded my prayer vocabulary and said, "God, Seriously?" Our driver was able to scare them enough to get them out of the road. We kept on driving. Then, we happened upon MORE elephants. We blew by them without even pausing and made it home safely to our camp.
In 20 years of guiding people through the game park, our driver has had "elephant experiences" just 4 times.
It was an adventure, to say the very least. We head home tomorrow to the land where elephants are only in zoos and the HIV/ AIDS infection rate is extremely low. My prayer is that the comfort of home does not dilute the potency of our experiences and that the freshness of the memories will birth new action in us.