The following evening, Michael and Rod took the children off to look for crocodiles. Terry started cooking our meal and I made tea whilst Fiona had a quick wash under our screened-off makeshift shower. As I was getting ready for my turn under the shower, Fiona pointed to some trees about a hundred metres away where an elephant, a large bull, was plodding slowly in our direction.
‘He’ll turn off long before he reaches us,’ Terry reassured. So we continued to watch and sip our tea as he steadily walked towards us, getting ever nearer, eating placidly as he approached. He flapped his ears to shoo away the flies and I kept thinking ‘Any second now he’ll branch off.’ But he didn’t. Closer and closer he came. Before we had time to flee, he was in our camp.
‘Just stand perfectly still,’ instructed Terry, a picture of calmness. Fiona and I exchanged panic-stricken glances, whilst trying to edge in behind Terry.
The elephant nonchalantly ate his way through our bathroom, and I was grateful I wasn’t in it. Then he headed for the washing line and wrapped his trunk round two pairs of jeans. They went into his mouth and came straight back out. Obviously distasteful enough to irritate him, as with one twist of his trunk he broke down the tree that was supporting the washing line. We were standing less than two metres away, and the sound of splintering wood was enough to make a girl wet her pants.
The elephant ate a couple of leaves from the tree he had just killed. Then he stood and looked at us. He stood. We stood.
‘Terry,’ whispered Fiona. ‘What warning will he give that he’s going to charge?’
‘Absolutely none,’ said Terry encouragingly.
We stood. The elephant stood. Interminably. At last he turned and moved towards the tents.
‘The bugger’s coming right through,’ Terry commented.
The elephant lumbered up to the tents, looked and changed his mind. He walked back through the bathroom and washing line and Terry casually leaned over to stir the stew, while Fiona and I raced to the closest truck. From there we watched as the elephant slowly moved away and settled himself by a tasty tree about a hundred metres up the track.
A few minutes later the guys and children returned, full of excitement, to tell us there was an elephant just up the road.
That night, the children and I slept in the vans, despite reassurances that the elephant would not come back. Just after midnight I was woken by flashing torches and car doors banging. The elephant had returned. He walked into Rod’s tent, but Rod managed to get out and get Fiona and their children into the vans. Michael was up but Terry refused to budge, even with the elephant touching his tent. The elephant turned, and Terry popped his head out, just in time to see Rod’s tent being knocked flat with one swing of the trunk.
I decided a cup of tea would be a good idea as everybody was wide awake with plenty of adrenalin in their blood. I giggled silently with suppressed hysteria as I set out the cups. I never could have dreamt I would be in the middle of the Okavango swamps, making tea at one thirty in the morning, with an elephant three metres away from me. But he ambled off, not wishing to spoil our midnight tea party, and we sat around the campfire re-living the whole experience.
The next morning we didn’t need the prunes the baboons had eaten.