African Safari – Part Eight
We’d floated silently in canoes in a Linyati River marsh, a blissful ending to a magic-filled day. During the evening “sundowner” we’d watched a family of ellies teaching a baby how to feed itself. He’d been completely submerged, holding his trunk up like a periscope, while the older ones were wet only to their bellies.
Back on river’s edge, canoes pulled out by sunset, we were all hungry. Guide Russell took us back to camp where we ate under the stars with a full moon rising.
After dinner, we were served Amarula, a creamy liqueur made from the nuts of the marula tree. A favorite elephant snack, those nuts. (I’ve recently seen “Marula” lotions in upscale catalogs, good for a lady’s complexion at only eighty-nine dollars. I’d rather drink the stuff and hope it works from the inside out.) The giddying combination of liqueur and brilliant moon prompted hilarious chatter, including a tutorial about the man in the moon. Safari coordinator Kate, usually a fount of knowledge, asked what that meant.
“It’s the ‘face’ in the moon,” someone said.
“But there is no face,” Kate argued, “there’s a rabbit.” And so there is. In the southern hemisphere, the north’s man is, indeed, a rabbit! If you live north of the equator, prove it to yourself at the next full moon. Bend over at the waist and look at the moon upside down. Better yet, take a picture and turn the picture upside down.
The things you learn wherever you go.
The hour was late and a contagion of yawns infected us, but no one wanted the night to end. Suddenly, Kate yelped, “Whoa, here come the ellies … Pauline, no!” A small herd — perhaps those we’d watched at sundown — appeared silently around the side of the dining tent. The largest land mammals on earth are unbelievably quiet when they walk. Camp cook Pauline flapped her apron at them as if they were pesky chickens, but she jumped back as they paraded past and into the river a few feet beyond.
We had ringside seats at a water circus. Our uninvited guests performed as if trained to it.
Kate was on alert. “Russ, here she comes, she’s right behind you.” She tilted her head toward the matriarch stepping up to our table. He ignored both Kate and elephant.
Finally he turned and at the same time picked up an empty plastic water bottle. He held it aloft as if to hurl it. The matriarch was inches away. She explored the tablecloth with her trunk nonchalantly, as if to say, “I’m bigger than you and I’ll do what I want to, so there.”
After a few minutes, Russell said “HEH!” That’s it, just “Heh.” Elephant and man looked each other in the eyes, respectfully, I thought. Slowly, she backed up and the group of eight — mama, youngsters, and an infant — returned to their water play.
It was almost the witching hour, and Magic was working overtime.
Sometime after midnight the ellies left as suddenly and silently as they’d arrived. Russell and Max saw us to our tents. I sat awake in the dark, but my husband slept immediately. In the river outside I heard the kind of smacking a child makes in a puddle — splosh, splosh, stomp. The animal was in shadow, but “elephant” was my newly-educated guess.
A shape materialized in the waning moonlight — a juvenile male. He slurped at water’s edge for a bit, then meandered up the path right outside our tent, close enough to touch. He ran his trunk up and down the screen directly above Peter’s head.
I was standing at the end of Peter’s cot and shook his foot gently. He needed to see this! “AWRRGGHH-H,” he growled. I let him be.
The animal continued snuffling, then stepped onto our porch to suck dust off the floor. After several minutes he plodded away quietly. Only the snapping of small trees gave him away.
I couldn’t wait to tell Peter next morning. He scoffed. “You were dreaming!” he said.
“Come outside. I’ll show you!” And there was my proof: our night visitor’s footprints in the dust.
It was something to tell the grandchildren, and I have, many times.