We spoke about the problems I was still having with the Corolla - it was difficult to start and the engine would cut out sometimes when idling- a problem with the carburettor. Stretch remarked that he hoped we wouldn't be charged by an elephant and I said I didn't know of any such incidents. He replied that some time ago, an elephant had overturned a small car and showed me the spot where it had happened.
Strangely, for this time of the year, there was not much game to be seen, so we drove around and at midday arrived at Tsumcor, a man-made waterhole, where a small herd of Elephant was drinking and bathing.
All seemed quiet and calm but there was a tension in the air.
Suddenly a Tour Guide and her two Guests, pulled up to the waterhole in a Minibus. The vehicle had an irritatingly loud, high-pitched air-conditioner which immediately startled the animals and set them milling about.
Even after she turned the engine off the Elephants were still upset and started to move off quickly on a path just to the side and ahead of where we were parked. As they passed, a few of them moved toward the car, displaying; shaking their heads, flapping ears,trunks swaying and extended and performing a front-legged, two-step war-dance.
Most just passed by, but this one advanced towards us and for a moment it looked as if he was going to charge the car ... after what seemed like ages, he moved on and the whole herd melted away into the bush.
Stretch and I celebrated our little adrenalin rush as peace returned to the waterhole. Other animals came and went but there was still a strange tension in the air, the Giraffe were stiff-necked, alert and all staring in one direction. Stretch said there might be Lion close by.
The Minibus started-up again as the driver moved it to a better viewing position, immediately freaking-out every animal in sight.
The waterhole became quiet again. Stretch awkwardly climbed over onto the back seat to stretch his six-foot-six-long legs and we relaxed, chatting and enjoying the moment.
After about twenty minutes, more Elephant approached from the bush. The herd was tense and aggressive and one Cow immediately chased a sickly Vulture who had been resting nearby. The rest of the herd was drinking and the youngsters frolicked in the water but, all were on edge and nervous.
The tension increased when one of the smaller babies fell into the water-trough and couldn't get out. The mother trumpeted in panic, which sent the whole herd into a frenzy. I managed to get a shot of the mother helping it out using her trunk and pushing it from behind with her leg. Unbelievably, immediately the babe was on dry ground, it turned and plunged straight into the water again, setting off a new wave of panic among the herd.
After the baby had been rescued for a second time the agitated animals started moving toward us on their exit-path, which was in front of where we were parked.
At the approach of the Elephants, Ms Noisy Aircon started her car again and fled down the road with her guests, leaving us isolated and facing a herd of enraged beasts. Her action had inflamed the herd to boiling-point.
As they came toward and passed us, many of the adults displayed and mock-charged the car, making it clear that our presence there was unwelcome.
Stretch was still stuck in the back seat as we calmly rode the storm. I sat in the front passenger seat, hiding behind my camera, taking almost 300 pics of the whole adventure.
Escape was difficult and dangerous because there were two other vehicles parked about 40 meters behind us, blocking the road if we reversed. There was also the matter of my faulty car - would it start first go? ... if not, we could be in big trouble ...
Most of the herd passed by and stopped to have a sand bath a few meters away. We were just beginning to feel that we were out of danger when one of the stragglers, a cow who had passed us with a particularly aggressive display, turned around and slowly made her way back in our direction, eyeballing us all the time.
She moved towards a tree about 10 meters away and began nonchalantly plucking leaves. Stretch became instantly alarmed and warned that he didn't trust her; she was brewing something.
Hardly had he spoken when she was on top of us, filling-up my camera lens. She stopped short of hitting the car but it was clear that she was very angry as she ran around and approached from the front.
She charged the car a few times, ears flapping and ratcheting up the intensity level with each lunge, stopping just inches short every time. She wanted us gone and she was going to thump us eventually. I was still taking pics and from the angle of this shot I must have been trying to disappear under the dashboard at this stage.
Stretch said calmly behind me that it was time to move. I don't know how I levitated my long legs over the central console and gear lever and got them under the steering wheel but, in my next awareness, I was in the driver's seat shifting the gear into reverse, my other hand on the ignition.
This was our Moment Of Truth - if the car didn't start or faltered we were going to be hammered big-time, no doubt about it.
The engine sprang to life and, keeping my eye on the enraged beast still prancing in front of us, I kept the revs as low as possible as I reversed slowly backwards for about 30 meters until Stretch warned that I was heading into some rocks. Thankfully, the elephant seemed satisfied with our retreat and didn't follow. She pounded and scraped the ground in triumph.
The two other vehicles at the scene had fled as soon as we started reversing (I hope they got some good pics) and, it was at this stage that I realized that my heart was beating furiously in my chest, pumping pure adrenalin.
We breathed again but the drama wasn't over yet, a large cow was bearing down on us from the side, ears wide with bad intent ...
It was then that I decided that we'd used up all our luck and I took-off down the road - slowly - (in order to maintain SOME semblance of dignity) - my last impression of the scene was through the rear-view mirror; a massive hunk of flesh filled the road, watching us depart.
The Elephants had prevailed, the humans were in retreat.
In retrospect, I can't fault Ms Noisy-pants for making the welfare of her clients her first priority but I must admit that, as I was leaving the Game Lodge the next morning, I saw and directed a few bad vibes at her ... surely she must have been aware of the effect her vehicle was having on the animals and that she was placing us in danger.
For Stretch and myself it was an awesome adventure shared between friends. We'd handled it pretty well. Even though there were moments of heart-stopping tension, neither of us had succumbed to fear or panicked - we'd been on the Edge and had escaped unscathed.
For me though, the greatest satisfaction from the whole experience is that, for more than an hour, we were not just observers of an age-old drama, we were participants.
I've uploaded more pics of the whole sequence to a folder Angry Elephant in my Picasa Album ... you can view it as a slide-show there.
Related Post: Etosha Elephants