So Elephants like stew... only with dumplings of course...
A couple of long drive days saw us travel across Zambia through Lusaka and Chipata before arriving at South Luangwa National Park. We set up camp right on the river bank at Crocodile Valley Camp and settled back to view as much wildlife as we could from the river side.
It’s an absolutely beautiful location, the campsite is very well set up – complete with a swimming pool that has no sides to prevent the hippos and elephants from getting stuck in it when they come to drink at night and shotguns at the ready to scare away any wildlife that gets just that little bit too close.
It wouldn’t be long before we were hearing the shotgun ring out – right above our heads as we sat prone inside and on the truck whilst four elephants were attacking us.
What? Huh? What the heck are you talking about? Yeah kind of out of the blue so let me tell the whole story...
South Luangwa National Park has all the major African wildlife present – leopards, lions, buffalo, warthogs, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, wild dogs, monkeys, baboons and of course elephants. The park proper is bordered by the river we’d camped on – so we were on the opposite bank looking across to the park, however the area on this side of the river is a preservation area so all the animals are free roaming and can be on either side of the river at any time.
The afternoon we arrived we watched a herd of elephants cross the river – it’s shallow, only up to their ankles (do elephants have ankles?) and even the babies had no trouble crossing over.
As cook group was going about their preparation later on the elephants that we’d watched cross the river began walking around the periphery of the campsite, a couple of close calls meant the guys had to leap on the truck just in case the elephants came through, but in the end they were all false calls.
Until the one that wasn’t.
We had all sat down to dinner – sitting on stools in a circle between the truck and our tents – when all of a sudden someone mentions elephants in the trees beside us.
Kyle got up to investigate while Jen jumped on the bottom step of the truck while the rest of us continued eating thinking surely they won’t come any closer.
Next thing you know Dave has firmly but with no panic whatsoever recommended we all get on the truck. It looks like Kyle may have actually drawn the attention of the elephants to us and our food.
Jen was gone like a flash and was already in the truck before Dave even managed to open his mouth (later we discover she’d seen the elephants getting closer but in her panic forgot to tell any of us) and the rest of us are soon behind her.
Half of us end up inside the truck whilst half have clambered up onto the cab roof, and the second we’re all in position the elephants come straight into camp and start destroying the place.
First thing to go was the rubbish out of the bin – one of the elephants wrapped her trunk around the rubbish bag and lifts the whole thing out of the bin, she then dumps it on the grass and proceeds to spread out the contents over as large a surface area as she can manage before eating whatever takes her fancy.
Next thing you know the elephants are investigating everything in and around the truck, containers of food are being pulled from the shelves on the outside of the truck and anything that was left out on the tables is getting a thorough once over.
Sealed Tupperware containers are no match for these guys – our left over fruit salad from breakfast was stored in an airtight container which one of the elephants simply pulled from the shelf onto the ground and then proceeded to gently apply pressure to it with its foot. The whole container explodes releasing the tasty fruit salad which the elephant devours complete with plastic shards from the destroyed container.
There was no stopping them at the fresh fruit and veg however, they soon had out our baking box and proceeded in eating all the flour, custard powder and cake sprinkles etc. Packages and all. Yum Yum.
Meanwhile we’re all pretty scared in the truck – the elephants are only a centimetre of Plexiglas away and are rocking and bashing into the truck all over the show. One even tried to get its trunk in under the traps whilst others were bashing the windows with their tusks.
We were truly eye to eye with these guys, they are huge and put them an inch away from you and they seem to grow to a colossal size.
Soon we become aware of things being thrown at the elephants to try and scare them away, rocks it turns out, and none of them are having any effect.
Still watching the scene with utter amazement the night air is all of a sudden interrupted with a huge shotgun blast.
I think that scared me more than the elephants did – no warning whatsoever and when you don’t know what it is you do wonder what the heck is going on – and it certainly scared me more than it scared the elephants.
It took three shots and some more throwing of rocks and yelling by the owner of the campsite and his staff to finally make the elephants move away.
Once the coast was clear we were all immediately off the truck and cleaned up the entire camp site – our half hour ordeal was swept away in a matter of minutes as all of us frantically got everything sorted out – quickest cook group clean up ever!
Straight to the bar after that – we all needed a beer to calm down and what better way to share our stories and excitement.
Not long after we started drifting to bed, about the same time as the elephants came back again, those of us who were already in our tents had a decision to make – either stay in the tent and don’t move or take this window of opportunity to make a mad dash to safety.
All of us except Dave chose the mad dash option and were soon huddled under a pagoda in our pyjamas.
With nothing left out around the truck the elephants didn’t stay too long and we were soon able to go back to our tents and go to sleep – well at least try to anyway, not an easy feat when terrified you’re going to be trampled to death under a layer of rip stop nylon and aluminium poles.
But sleep I did and it wasn’t until three thirty in the morning that I awoke to the sounds of a security guard yelling and yahooing. I lift my head and look out the tent (no fly on tonight) and see the elephants are back – not quite on top of me yet but they were coming this way.
All I can do is crouch in my tent as low as possible (but still making sure I can see what’s going on) I stop breathing as the elephants make a beeline for one of their favourite trees, just so happens that the path they take brings them directly between my tent and that of Jules and Jen, a space of only about a metre and a half, but no worry at all to them or me.
The elephants were surprisingly light on their feet and very sure of their step – they passed through the narrow gap without so much as a breeze ruffling the fabric.
The morning saw us awake with more stories to share – some of the boys had seen the hippos come up and eat the grass around the tents and we all became a lot more conscious of where we were putting our food and gear.
The day was spent again mucking about – some of the group headed out on game drives, I haven’t bothered with any here, they’re $65 USD each and I’ve already been so lucky with the wildlife I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a cheap couple of days – and when the wildlife comes to you, well, not much need to drive to it is there now!
After lunch we had another run in with the elephants – we’d all drifted away from the camp and had accidentally left out the breakfast bin – it’s a big plastic box full of things like cornflakes, tea and coffee, powdered milk etc.
They again entered camp and proceeded to destroy the box and eat everything out of it. Cornflakes gone. Cinnamon gone. Sugar gone. Lentils intended for dinner gone.
Our fault entirely but this is just getting ridiculous now.
Every last thing was put away this time and we’d have a sharp eye out when preparing dinner tonight, last thing we need now is for anything else to be destroyed or eaten.
The elephants didn’t bother us again after that. Had problems with the baboons and the monkeys who stole the other packet of lentils intended for dinner – so much for the dal, it’ll have to be a potato masala instead... but nothing serious and a quiet night saw us in bed fairly early on.
Today we’ve again been woken by the monkeys and the baboons in the trees above our tents – Lara was unluckily awakened by monkey pee in the face – and we’re now getting packed up ready to hit the road again and cross the border to Malawi.
And so ends another mini adventure on this life changing expedition.