As Danielle and I sat drinking cold coke at the Mara Serena in the Kenyan side of the Masai Mara national park, we waited for the tour guide who had requested us to give him a ride to Mara Bush top Camp, the park Camp we were staying the night. The camp was situated a good one and thirty-five minute drive from the Serena across the exhilarating wilderness. Just how exhilarating it could be, we were shortly to discover. It was rapidly approaching half six and the guide was nowhere to be seen. At half past six, we made up our mind that it was a pointless to wait and we had to get back before it was too dark. Driving at night is proscribed, more so with your headlights on. Being complete animal enthusiasts, we sought to make sure we did not disturb them.
The initial half of the expedition was as exciting as always however the dusk started to set in. Barely over ten minutes after the sun had set over the hills in Serengeti national park in Tanzania twilight gradually paled into several shades of night. I could sense the nervousness starting to take over as we drove on, illuminated only by the dim lights from up above. In a little while, we had crossed Talek and approached the river bed just after it. As I drove slowly over the pebbles, a huge bush to the left of the trail caught my attention. Perhaps its sheer size stressed by its shade in the moonlight that made it so noticeable. I was not aware that Danielle had noted it too.
She was so muted when I said, “this is not encouraging, Danielle, not at all." Almost as I was about to move my interest away from the tree to the trail, I thought I had seen some motion in the bush’s shadow. It had seemed like a glistening white ghost for a moment and then vanished. My feelings were affirmed by an instantaneous "did you notice that?" from Danielle. We were now just about 20 feet from the bush and approaching fast when the ashen ghost emerged again, only this instance there were double helping of them with loads of raw power. This was the hugest elephant I had ever seen. His knees were almost above the windscreen of our jeep.
From the look of it, he was not amused to see us since he released this yelling trumpet about two feet from Danielle ear. I, seated on the far end of the jeep, felt as if my brains were about to fly out through my right ear. With my brains thinking they are lying outside the jeep, my motor nerves assumed control and by reflex, I shifted down a gear and hit the pedal to the floor. I viewed back to be dismayed by this giant on our trail. Fortunately ahead was a hill and the tormentor, or perhaps the tormented, resolved the chase was not worth the effort. Thank God because at least it felt like my heart was trying to reap my chest open and smash its way through our windscreen. I drove a little faster though trying to be within the speed limits in the park and still with the headlights off.
Shortly we arrived at a split in the path. On the right was the short cut through the Crocodile pool, a very bad path. On the left was a better path for an additional few kilometers prior to taking a left turn into the deep wilderness. We took the left turn, a mistake it turned out. The main path was quiet and brightly illuminated by the moonlight but as soon as we took the left turn the shock of our blunder dawned on us. To begin with, this was a longer route and secondly from the junction on it led through the center of this thick tree-cover as compared to the other route, which was open and well illuminated by the moonlight.
It was too late to change our decision so I drove straight into the blackness of a real jungle night. The advancement slowed down as even after my eyes attuned as much as possible to the dark, it was hard to make out the path. I until now never want to utilize the headlights. Then there was the very dark area where none of us could se the pathway. To avoid going off the road and to make sure no animals were lying on it I flickered the lights on for a second. It is said that abrupt intense radiance stuns animals but this particular night I thought it eyes that were stunned by the abrupt burst of light. After a second, we were once more on a straight path. My eyes adjusted and I was able to drive the jeep at a little more speed.
As I negotiated the last curve leading to an extended straight path through some more trees, I flickered the headlights once again. In under a second, my foot slammed the brakes pedal and the jeep was in reverse through the curve we had just negotiated. Danielle was totally shocked and confused. "What happening!" he inquired. I had the impression that I saw another elephant on the road some hundred meters in front when I flickered the lights. I stopped the jeep after reversing round the bend and a bit more back. The plan was to remain there for a moment and because I had the impression that the animal too had panicked and quickly getting off the track, I imagined it would go away in a while in another direction.
Danielle at first thought I was berserk and after surveying the steep incline behind us without room to turn the jeep around, she clenched her fist and resigned her fate to this mad woman. After what felt like hours, I edged the jeep around the curve and flickered the headlights yet again. There was nothing. As we edged nearer the spot where I imaged to have seen the elephant, we made out this tree on the right which somewhat looked like the front outline of an elephant. I slowed the jeep for a few seconds trying to figure out if the immobile giant was tricking us in the moonlight. Thanks to Danielle, I decided it was my mind playing games on me owing to previous encounter. I eased the jeep down and across the final river prior to the camp.
I could already feel the sensation of sitting in the safety of our balcony and some good Kenyan hot soup and meal. This entire thrill had me starving and in my haste to arrive faster, I pushed on the accelerator a tad more and flickered the headlights to see where the road separated. The rights turn leading past the crocodile puddle, the path I wish we had driven through and the left turn up an incline to the camp. By that instance, we were completely past the trees and on to the riverbanks. In a fraction of a second, the vast rocks appeared to come to life. I heard Danielle shouting "Hin! Two of them are coming after us from my side!” Almost concurrently, I heard those them trumpeting. Just as I was almost turning to glance in that side, three more went off to my side. They were all some feet ahead of the jeep on each side. Hitting the brakes as I was engaging the reverse gear, I looked into side view mirror and engaged the first gear. I turned all the lights on. Behind the jeep was the monster I had in reality seen.
If that was a product of my imagination, well, it was a scary imagination at that moment. Radiant of the red from the jeeps brakes and swinging the head from side to the other, he let out a loud yell that scared the daylight out of me. Ahead the path again branched about fifty meters ahead. Hit the accelerator! With a fraction of a second, we were coming out of the lineup on each side of the road. I spun the jeep wheels to the right with the two roads approaching very fast! Looking ahead was like fifteen big ones ahead of us. The path though was clear, I went right through, and the jeep flew over the crests and into the riverbank. None of us can recall the jeep landing in water that night. Then next was the awfully sharp, meandering, and rocky incline up to crocodile pool. I did not care to look. Amazingly, the jeep climbed the incline in third gear and I had to shift down into first the next morning.
We rapidly approached the same road we had been 45 minutes ago. We turned left to avoid numerous riverbeds. After what seemed like a lifetime, we approached the camp. We had a hard time explaining to the camp manager that we did not ride in the dark on purpose but at last, my Kiprono finally understood. We later came to understand from our guide that the herd of elephants had been in an abnormally hostile temper that evening after a tiger attacked one of their babies. This story is so well etched in my memory owing to the fact that this was my initial and, up until now, the only visit to Kenya and it was such an adventurous trip.