DAY 5 OF OUR AFRICAN ADVENTURE AND THERE REALLY IS AN ELEPHANT IN MY BATHROOM!!
It is our first night at Chongwe River camp situated on the banks of the lower Zambezi and I am sleeping on my own in a luxurious tent overlooking the river. I am feeling very happy at the prospect of falling asleep to those fantastic African sounds on my own. I am at one with nature. I don’t feel remotely scared anymore and fall into a deep sleep having left my brothers in another tent about 40m away, although I do get up to go to my own private outside loo around 2am. I am a little tentative about that – I peek out using a torch to check for frogs but the coast seems clear.
A couple of hours later I wake to strange noises. Swishing and dragging and crunching of gravel type noises – I assume that it’s 5.30am and time to wake up and our lovely butler (we have a butler!) Michael is making our little early morning bonfire upon which to roast our toast. Swish, crunch, drag, chomp, snap, crackle, pop…..it’s getting increasingly louder and my tent appears to moving a little in the process. My eyes don’t adjust to the light particularly – the night is pitch black, although there is moonlight gently highlighting the right side of my tent so I can make out certain images in my bathroom, but can’t really see the river. I slowly begin to realise that the sound is a bit too loud and a bit too close to be a man with some sticks and a box of matches.
I creep out of bed and tiptoe in cartoon comic style over to the left side of my tent to peer cautiously behind the gauze curtain and through the mosquito net. Absolutely nothing. Still pitch black. But noisy. Swishing above my head. I push my face further into the mesh and peer out, but feel some sort of resistance. Then several seedpods fall onto the floor and I see the trunk for the first time. IT’S A FUCKING MASSIVE ELEPHANT STUCK TO THE SIDE OF MY TENT. So close that my nose is practically touching him. He is busy swishing his trunk across the top of my tent and hoovering up all the “elephant biscuits” – the delicious Albida Acacia tree seedpods that are falling from there onto the floor around my tent. He doesn’t seem too fussed by the fact that I am there. I am in awe of his immense size. Marginally shit scared but happy to be awake and observing this magnificent creature in such close proximity. A rare privilege. I watched elephants from my tent at night when I was with my father in the Luangwa Valley two years earlier – they were a little further away but I had the same feeling of being very small and insignificant in the world. No bad thing sometimes.
So, albeit a little nervously, I got back into bed and watched him as he slowly made his way around my tent – I am in the middle of my very own up close and personal nature programme. The curtains are open in front of me so from my bed I have the perfect viewing platform. Incredible. I am lying in bed watching an elephant I can just about reach out and touch. I wish my brothers were with me – they are missing out. He skilfully skims his trunk delicately over all the leaves, sticks and general detritus, before carefully picking up just the pink seeds pods, almost as if he was using a pair of tweezers. Then the trunk curls and deposits the delicacy into his mouth. Such an unbelievable sight. Prehistoric. Enormous tusks. Land before time. I consider taking some photos but worry that the flash might scare him.
He moves directly in front of my bed and further into the moonlight shadow. I can see him very clearly now. Which presumably means he can see me. And smell me. We stare at each other. There is nowhere to hide. He carries on eating, pulling at branches and at one point puts his head on the trunk of the tree and pushes into it. Shakes the tree quite violently and it’s like manna from heaven for him – a shower of seedpods land on the floor and again on top of my tent. When he uses his trunk to swish them off I can see into his mouth. Finally he gets round to the right side of my tent where the fence is that keeps me safe in my outside bathroom. Made of sturdy standy uppy branches. I am the little pig in a brick house. Safe and sound with a brilliant story to tell my brothers in the morning – who no doubt have earplugs in and won’t know what’s going on.
He walks closer to the fencing and I watch him from my bed. He shoves my sturdy wooden barrier with his not inconsiderable weight and tramples them like toothpicks. He steps between the gaps and is now in my bathroom. My safe outside bathroom. His trunk is swirling around the base of my loo scooping up seedpods. His arse is pressing into the door of my tent. He moves further round into a thin little corridor between my tent and a wall and I begin to panic. He is not supposed to be there. This is MY bathroom. It is meant to be safe. What do elephants do when they get stuck? I do not know. He is in the wrong place. Will he go back the same way or panic and step on me? I am now palpitating with fear. He is F’G HUGE AND IN MY LOO!!!. His shadow is what looms at me now in my room – this section of the tent has a gauze curtain and so he is beautifully lit and huge and quite possibly completely stuck. He has now become a simply enormous comedy shadow – like the Gruffalo or some other such scary character from a children’s book – a vast black blob with two HUGE tusks and a trunk. I run to my door. Unlock it. Decide that the best thing to do is make a run for my brothers’ tent. But then I hesitate. What if there are leopards and lions out there? More elephants? Brothers with ear plugs in that won’t let me in because they’ve locked their tent and can’t hear me? It was the first rule we were given. Do not leave the tent at night under any circumstances.
I can’t find the torch. I try the walkie talkie. I don’t know how to use it. It’s not working and neither are my fingers. My heart is pounding. I curse the fact that I didn’t take Brownies and Girl Guides more seriously. This is a disaster. I am going to die. The elephant is going to panic and I will be crushed. I wonder if I should get under the bed. In the cupboard. I don’t want to be squashed by an elephant – it would be an embarrassing way to die.
I have no idea what to do. I am literally shaking with fear in the furthest corner of my tent – which let me tell you was nowhere near far enough away. I find the whistle but don’t want to blow it because that is girly and pathetic and I’m worried that it will frighten him and make him panic. I watch him squeeze his way round the back of my tent where I know he can’t get out. Can elephants go backwards? I don’t know. Probably not. I decide. His arse is now indented into the material of my tent. How strong is the tent? I am now most definitely the little pig in the straw house.
He begins trying to do a 360 turn. This is ridiculous. He will never make a turn it such a tiny space. So. I have no choice. I blow the whistle. I blow the whistle that I thought I was supposed to blow if I am being eaten by a lion. The emergency whistle. It’s probably just me in my immense fear but it feels like 10 minutes go by before I blow the whistle again. I guess it probably takes a while for them to work out who is doing the whistle blowing.
Eventually my knight in shining armour arrives – well, the night watchman with a torch light. I am standing in my pants. Peering through the net.
“I’m so sorry to bother you, but there is an elephant in my bathroom and I don’t know what to do” I say to him ridiculously calmly, not unaware of the ludicrousness of the statement.
“Don’t worry, just let him be. Wait. Stay calm. He will probably head down to the river in a minute” my saviour says. “But how”? I ask him “HE’S STUCK IN MY LOO!!” – so he takes a look and is quite surprised to see where he is. He hasn’t done that before apparently.
Still. The instructions are the same. Don’t panic. Sit quietly. He will back himself out and leave when he’s finished eating all the seedpods and “don’t worry” he says, “I will stay nearby and make sure he leaves”.
So. Then I do calm down.
I go and sit on the floor right next to his trunk and watch him picking up the pods. I am sitting under his body. His legs either side of me. He is there for at least another 20 minutes, squeezing his large form back around my tent and re-trampling my security fence before ambling off to the river.
I have never been so scared in my entire life. I couldn’t sleep after that. Just too amazing for words.
Here is the photo evidence the next morning of my fence:-
These are the delicious elephant biscuits they love – the Albida acacia seedpods (and I now realise why we are in the Albida Suite):-
He didn’t come back to see me over the next few nights, although I lay awake wondering if he would come again or not. They rebuilt my fence of sturdier stuff so it would have been great the second time, when I knew what to expect.
Instead, he came during the day – I watched him do exactly the same thing to my brothers’ tent. It was during siesta time – one brother had said, “OK I’m going for a snooze – wake me up if anything interesting happens” and promptly fell asleep with his earplugs in. So he missed the whole thing and we couldn’t wake him up because we couldn’t get to him. The bull elephant that came to see me in the night is called Slash – owing to a cut in his ear and he is truly massive:-
He turns immediately left and closer to the tent. You need to look quite closely in this photo to see him squished around the left hand side:-
A smaller one came over to my tent at the same time – but from my bed, during the day, you get the general idea of what it would be like at night – you can see here that they rebuilt my fence:-