Sunday, January 23, 2011

Birthday Safari

Today is Susan's birthday. One of her favourite animals is the elephant, so this is for her. Happy Birthday.

In 2007, I had the great pleasure of living in Tanzania, Africa for four months volunteering with Cradle of Love and networking with Jifundishe (an organisation I still strongly support). Towards the end of my time there, my stepmom and Baby Bro came to visit for two and three weeks respectively. I couldn't wait to show them around my Tanzania and I worked out three or four possible itineraries before deciding on the one which would maximize their time there.

After meeting up in Dar es Salaam (armpit of Tanzania) and spending a few relaxing days on the beaches of Zanzibar, we headed to Arusha to begin our safari. We were joined by Ana and Ansel, two friends I had made who were also volunteering at CoL and Jifundishe. Our guide, Akyoo, is a local volunteer with Jifundishe who we all got along with really well so I knew that even if we never saw an animal (highly unlikely) we'd all have a great time laughing in the jeep (which we did).

The second day of our trip was Ngorongoro Conservation Area with its famous crater which is a must see on every one's safari list (which is also why it is by far the most expensive of all the parks but it is worth it).

The crater was incredible. I had been impressed by Lake Manyara the day before but this was a whole different experience. Our time in the crater seemed to fly by and before we knew it we were headed towards the exit road which takes you through the small woods. As we rounded a corner we came upon an older bull elephant giving himself a dust bath.

Akyoo stopped and turned off the jeep immediately in front of him and we watched in silence. He'd suck in some dirt and then throw his trunk this way and that. Left, right, between the legs, around his ear, it was mesmerizing to watch him and we all snapped pictures like crazy. We were about 15 feet away from him and he just continued on as if we weren't there.

In a matter of minutes, he had sucked up and displaced so much dirt that his trunk, which would normally sit a few inches above the ground, kept hitting the ground with a thud in between showers. We watched for almost 10 minutes, when he started to snort, trying to clear his trunk. He stepped out of the little sand pit he had dug for himself, he looked at us, backed up to a distance of roughly 30 feet, dropped his head and started walking towards us very fast. He was picking up speed. He started to run.

"Akyoo! Akyoo!" I banged on the top of the jeep. Ana, who was also on the ramming side with me, started to yell in Spanish. This was it. I had survived a mugging, I had survived opening a coconut with a machete, I had survived an obviously drunk bus driver, I had survived a dhow trip in a storm, I had survived multiple daladala rides, and this was how it was going to end: with the brunt force of a charging elephant.

Akyoo's little Land Rover roared to life and our tires spun a little in the dirt road as we lurched forward. As soon as we were out of his way, the elephant slowed down. He walked slowly across the road, stopping once to look in our direction before disappearing into the brush on the other side. It was only once he was gone from sight that I realised I could hear my heart beat in my ears.

My hero and his vehicle.


Susan said...

Amazing!!! I suppose no trip to Africa would be complete without a charging elephant incident ;) Thanks for sharing the story - and I love the pictures! xo

AndreaClaire said...

Apparently you don't have to come home with a charging elephant story, but where's the fun in that? ;)

Happy Birthday.