Lowering the window was tempting but the temperature was a knee trembling 10 degrees. Encouraged by the call of a yellow throated spurfowl, I embraced Africa and eventually let her into the warm cocoon of the car. The air was fresh and invigorating. I could just about hear a lion roaring at the new dawn from within the embrace of a forest. Guinea fowl were stirring up the dust searching for breakfast. Gradually, the sun burnished the scene in gold and thankfully the mercury started rising. The Lion King theme song played in my subconscious and just on cue a herd of zebra walked onto the plains. All I needed to complete the scene was pride rock and Rafiki. Thankfully I had more than that- because I happened to be in Kenya’s Amboseli national park.
It’s the dry season- dust devils tear through the land, grass crumbles at the slightest touch and the animals look parched. Its a tough time for all. But out of the dearth, hope emerges in the form of a swamp. Underground springs fed by precipitation and ice-melt on Mt. Kilimanjaro trickle over the bedrock and spill into Amboseli’s heart. It is literally salvation from a rock.
I was waiting for the carnival. Every morning, families of elephants congregate and make their way to the swamp. They cross a particular road en-route and that’s where I was positioned. In the distance, the sun baked crust seemed to metamorphose into an undulating line of rocks gradually drawing closer. A fortress of dust rose behind this procession. The herds were on the move! In the background, the ice-capped peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro looked tantalisingly inviting. As the mirage cleared up, I counted 124 elephants before succumbing to exhilaration.
Moms, aunts, sons and daughters moved ponderously towards me. Their gigantic heads swung from side to side. As they drew closer, I was enveloped in, not knowing where to look. At such close proximity, I could see their loose skin crumple and unwrap as they moved. Eyelashes, the length of my fingers, revealed orange eyes laden with intelligence. Each step was delicately placed, as if not to disturb the countryside. The calves seemed to adorn a permanent smile on their faces. They playfully twisted their trunks, not knowing what to do with their unusual appendages. One tiny individual couldn’t make it over a shallow gully by the roadside. Two adults gently nudged it, reassuringly guiding it through. Amid the families walked several colossal males, towering above the rest. Their girth demanded a clear no go zone, that others respected. One of them passed a little too close for comfort. He easily dwarfed my car; at one point blocking out the sun. His shafts of ivory floated precariously close to the windows. I found myself crouching a little lower in my seat.
The procession took 10 minutes to walk past. For the elephants, it was a daily ritual to get to water. For me, it was an incredible moment that left me delirious with joy. Every movement, footstep, tummy rumble, the heat, the refreshing breeze and the soporific bird song all etched into my memory.