After winding our way back up the switchback road, we got to the ranger station where we picked up a young guard with a weapon slung over his shoulder. He directed Emanuel to drive up to the rim of the caldera for the beginning of our game walk. Emanuel would meet us at the end of the trail.
I guess when we look back on it, our expectations were a little high. We were thinking we’d see wild animals close up, outside the protection of the Landcruiser. That’s why we had an armed ranger with us, we thought.
After we piled out I realized he’s got a damn Kalashnikov strapped over his shoulder. Twice he said, “If an elephant charges do not run, this is a very powerful weapon, I will fire a warning shot then aim to stop it!” Well, okay. I didn’t see any elephants around. “We won’t run,” Marce assured him.
He proceeded to repeatedly load and unload the gun with a ch-chung that was probably meant to give us a thrill. We quickly realized that in addition to climbing a semi steep rise, there were huge piles of poop on this trail that you kinda want to miss.
There are nature walks and then there’s nature and it soon became apparent that the Masai use this trail to move cattle around. Maybe too much nature. The only wildlife we were likely to see were the cows.
We spent some time taking the obligatory photos at the edge of the world’s largest caldera. Our ranger enjoyed using my new iPhone and Marce asked a few intelligent questions which he answered. Then he claimed if we went further we would struggle to keep up and he suggested we return to the Landcruiser. He spent the rest of our “walking safari” on his phone. I guess we can’t blame him. We were late getting there and he wanted to go home.
The road back to the ranger station was all washboard which set the whole Landcruiser to chattering and bucking. Apparently there is a prescribed speed which when adhered to, will launch the Landcruiser into the air and it just tiptoes over the ruts. Something like 50 kph. It’s a theory. Marce swears it’s how they drive in Philadelphia. Be forewarned.
Within shouting distance of the ranger station we caught up to a water truck laboring up a hill. We were heading directly into the sun and Emanuel was struggling to see through the glare in the windshield.
The water truck came to a stop. “Elephants,” Emanuel said, and we saw about 8 or 10 beasts crossing the road from right to left in front of the truck. Emanual stopped too, but the driver of the water truck, either impatient or struggling to ride the clutch on the steep road, kept inching forward toward the elephants. He eventually split the herd, let out the clutch and took off.
Emanuel, always respectful of the animals, paused as the last elephant crossed the road. Suddenly, we heard a loud trumpeting, the first we’ve heard in nearly a week of elephants. The three of us turned toward the sound, to the left, where Marce was sitting in the back seat.
Not six meters away, charging through the thick tangle of underbrush beside the road, was one massively pissed off elephant, trumpeting loudly, big tusks aiming right at Marce.
In an instant the ranger cocked his shotgun and lunged across to the seat behind Marce for a better shot. I thought, “My god if he fires that thing in the cruiser we’ll never hear anything again.” At the same time Emanuel mashed the accelerator and the Landcruiser surged forward up the hill in the nick of time. The elephant stopped just as he emerged from the bush at the edge of the road. He’d done his job, scared us off and protected his family. Emanuel and the ranger did the same, protecting us.
The adrenaline rush took quite a while to subside. What a day!