You can spend your holiday in Paris secure in the certainty that neither the Eifel Tower nor the Mona Lisa will trouble you at two in the morning. You can make a pilgrimage to Florence, Botticelli and Michelangelo and rest assured that none of them – not Venus and her seashell, not Flora in her dress of 60 (count them) flowers, not even David (sans fig-leaf) — will be coming to you in the night on soft-stepping feet.
It’s different in the bush. If you go to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia to see elephants, you will be enriched for the rest of your life — and you will soon find out that the elephants don’t save themselves for your game drives and your enthralling walks.
There’s no time off. The animals you have come to see add savour to your meals, bring an intoxicating extra ingredient to every drink and serenade you through the night. Some sounds you sleep through, some penetrate your dreams, still others bring you awake in response to an awareness you didn’t know you possessed.
It was the sound of a stout person tiptoeing across a field of poppadums and it woke me — not because it was loud but because it was close. It seems that even in sleep you can calculate such things. The feet were actually crossing a scattering of dead leaves. They paused and then I heard the sound of munching. I knew at once who was paying me a late-night visit.
Growing hard against the bathroom at my hut — it was at Takwela camp in North Luangwa National Park – is a rather fine monkey-bread tree. Its branches were full of delicious fruit and some animals are especially keen them. So I got up and went to the midnight bathroom, not for the usual reason.
Softly I parted the straw of the walls — and found I could see nothing but grey wrinkled skin. The elephant, a youngish male all by himself, was about two feet from my nose. I kept still, breathing softly, with a mixture of delight and fear – nine parts delight to one of fear – that hits you on every good visit to Africa.
There were no longer any fruit on the ground, but that could be remedied. The elephant put his big domed forehead to the trunk and pushed: four sharp shoves of ever-increasing force, bringing down a rain of leaves, twigs and fruit. Some fell in my bathroom, others beyond it, within easy snacking range.
The elephant snacked and moved on. I went back to bed, knowing that my dreams would seem far more real than what had just happened.
- I was co-leading a trip with Wildlife Worldwide https://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/discover/zambia