It’s Northern Kenya. The rains have come. The desert has turned from brown to green. Samburu herdsman and too many cattle for this drought-stricken region line parts of the road.
After some tough days with strong headwind, we were rewarded with a surprise: two elephants in the shrubs next to the road. We completely did not expect elephants this far north. Simon didn’t even notice the two brown masses almost looming over him. I had to shout three times, “Simon, there’s a large elephant next to you.”
As the sky was getting darker, we looked for a place to settle down for the night. We turned a corner and came across a massive rock face standing tall over from the dense bush below. It was Mount Ololokwe and it was beautiful. It looked like an epic spot to pitch the tent with a world class view… and that’s exactly what we did.
We pushed the bikes as fast and as discretely as we could into the bush. About 30 m in we were well disguised and had time to admire our new home for the night. However, we soon discovered a large pile of elephant dung. Not exactly the neighbours we were hoping for.
Simon said he had found a great open place for us to pitch the tent… We then realised that this was actually an elephant highway… Worst. Location. Ever. We found another spot close by, between three low hanging trees bordered by an already broken down acacia tree… no reason for an elephant to swing round this spot unless it wants to smash down a tree… or us.
As dusk fell, we cooked dinner to the sound of baboon calls echoing off the cliff face. Then we heard a ferocious trumpet in the distance… yup, we are in elephant territory. Tucked into our sleeping bags, we had many visitors before bedtime. Two hyenas came to our tent and had a conversation about us…
“Do you know who these blokes are, Mervin?”…
“Nope haven’t got a clue, mate”.
“Do you think we can eat them?”.
“Na, they smell funny.”
They spoke in their characteristic wooping sounds and the conversation ended in a deep grunt. Apparently we didn’t smell tasty enough. Later on, something else seemed deeply offended by our presence, because it stood a few meters from our tent and screeched at us for five minutes!
At 2 am, we woke up to something else. A deep rumbling. Rrrrrrrrr, Brrrrrrrrrr, Rrrrrrrr. Then I said a concoction of words I never thought I would say.
“There’s an elephant next to our tent.”
It was crossing 5 frickin metres from us. And you know what? It was on the same highway we were first going to pitch our tent! Yes, I know.
….Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Swooooooshhhhhhh. Crack.
I had never heard an elephant rumble before. They use it for communication with the rest of the heard and most of it is inaudible to the human ear.
Wow. Although I could hardly breath, their rumbling was even more breathtaking. I had only read about it in books and although I have seen many elephants in my life, I had never been so lucky enough to hear this. Now, unperturbed by people and in the wild, with nothing but a flimsy sheet of canvas separating us from this 6 tonne wonder, it was exhilarating.
My breathing was shallow but I consciously slowed it down and stayed calm. We decided to make a plan in case things went wrong. The bottom entrance was facing in the direction of the road. Handy, if we needed a last attempt to escape… only one problem: we didn’t keep our shoes with us in the inner tent. We would have no chance with all those thorns out there.
The elephant was now spending a lot of time next to the tent.
Simon: “Should we run to the road?”
Me: “No. Stay inside.”
Simon: “Are you sure?!”
Me: “Yes, stay still.”
For me, running is really a last resort. An elephant can run 40 km/h and flatten all the trees in the way. After what felt like forever, the elephants’ rumbling finally faded. I listened closely and heard it reunite with a family member close by. After that, we managed to get back to sleep surprisingly quickly.
The next morning, I took a morning ‘walk’ into the bush. I heard a crack of a branch. Uh oh… is that what I think it is?? Then I heard another crack. Are the elephants still in town? I had a choice to make: the call of nature vs the call of nature. The noise subsided and I put it down to paranoia from the night before.
We ate breakfast next to the tent. After packing up, I wanted to admire the view one last time. As I pushed the bike past a bush, I heard a loud Brrrrrrrrr…. there was an elephant right behind the bush in front of us! The whole time we had breakfast it must have been there! We didn’t see it because of the dense bush but it was there, as real as daylight. I was amazed at its courteous behaviour, politely letting us know not to come closer. I turned around with the biggest eyes towards Simon, “we need to leave”.
The rumble was followed by a loud trumpet from a not-so-polite elephant a bit further away. Uh oh. I got the message loud and clear and we excused ourselves. When we were almost out of the woods, we paused for a photo. As the camera went click, an elephant trumpeted loudly from a bush somewhere behind us. We packed the camera up fast and emerged with a few more holes in our shirts, a flat tire and just a few memories from Mt Ololokwe and our neighbours.
For more photos from Kenya, see here.