Sunday Safari: Elephant Poop, Monkeys and a dog named Kugi

17 03 2013

This morning I took off on my normal morning run.  On Sunday’s I almost never attend traditional church.  By Sunday I may have been in 4 to 30 house church meetings and seminars.  I may have spoken for 20 or 30 hours.  When I go to an African church I am inevitably either forced to sit with the elite members of the congregation, the pastors and elders, and often even asked to preach on the spur of the moment.  If they preach, they feel obligated to offer me a translator and then the preacher speaks at such a speed that the poor translator gives up in a few minutes as I assure him I will be fine without his attempt to translate.  Since so much of what I teach is contrary to the African definition of the church, I prefer to go on my own most Sundays.

Today it has been a wonderful adventure.  16 minutes and 38 seconds into my daily run I spot something unusual in the road.  A huge pile of poop.  I mean huge, like a bushel basket of poop.  It is not domestic poop, it is elephant poop.  Two months back a local was killed trying to protect his corn from an elephant just a few kilometers from here.  And though the local national park, Aursha National Park, states that elephants seldom migrate through here any more due to the presence of so many humans the recent death tells another story.  I visited the park just this week in preparation of some church members from my home church, ICC heading my way in two months.  I learned there is NO fence around the park, as I had imagined.  The Masai plains leading to the Serengeti are just North of the park, so all kinds of animal roam into what is called the park and obviously into our area as well.  I have heard the elephants at night making their unmistakable trumpeting sound, but just stay inside in light of the recent tragedy.

But today I had another idea.  It cost 35 dollars to officially visit the park.  But hey, I am less than a mile from my house and here we have elephant signs.  I finish my run quickly and rest a minute have a bowl of cereal and some mango juice and head back out.  My faithful companion Kuji is at my side.  I lay out all my accoutrements for the trip and begin my march.  My plan is to go one hour into the mountain and then return the same way and try to safely spot an elephant.  Kuju is a cur I have adopted along with her puppies some few months back.  Nearly starved,  with her hair falling out she was a terrible sight.  Though her puppies did not make it she gets fed dog food by me three times a day, at least.  She sleeps under my tarp protecting my  motorbike, barking, should anyone or anything approach.   Great alarm system.  She is normally skittish of strangers especially the alcohol brewers down the road.  I am confident they are NOT kind to dogs.  But when she is by my side she is fearless.  She will charge a pack of dogs bravely.  If I am there to back her up.  Besides, she does not talk much, and I enjoy visiting with her although she does get under my feet and trip me at least a few times each trip.

We take a foot trail that comes out up from  the poop sighting.  I begin to follow an area where something very large has tramped down the grass.  Still not certain that this is an elephant, I imagine that perhaps someone was hauling cattle and got a huge chunk of feces hung under a wheel well and it just came loose all at once.  Although, this is definely NOT cow feces I still am only hoping.  This theory is quickly dispelled as I follow the trampled brush up the mountain.  About every 50 or so feet there are many droppings all of the gigantic proportion and they are firm and fresh.  No, I did not handle them, but I did get down and smell them and they were moist and firm.  I soon realized that this was not a single elephant but a small herd.  The trail would go for several yards then you could tell the herd had branched out and fed crushing the foliage for several meters in an area and then more poop.  Finally I lost the trail which seemed impossible and decided to climb a hill and see if I could relocate the trail.

Sitting down I was reminded of my friend Joe Jones advice.  Just wait and let Africa come to you.  I sat down and was silent.  Kuji was panting furiously by now as we had gone two miles into the mountainous area around Mt. Meru, the second highest mountain in Africa.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is just 60 kicks away and is the tallest free standing mountain in the world.  It has glaciers on the top, a rare feature around the equator.  Mt. Meru frequently has a little morning snow on it as well being well over 13000 ft high.

I sat down and  pulled out my binoculars that my buddy Brett Hancock surprised me with on his recent visit.  It was about then I realized that I had left my compass sitting on my prep area.  Great.  I did NOT want to get lost here, though it seems impossible with a huge mountain to the East, I am not an experienced trekker so I have a passing sense of condern.   Sure enough sitting in silence I began to hear hooting and calling sounds.  Monkeys.  They are all around where I live but keep hidden from sight most of the time.  I had been gone an hour and according to my cautious plan I was due to head back having lost the trail.  How do you lose a trail of elephants?  I decided to return a slightly different route and came upon fresh poop.  I had previously determined I did not want to go into the forest as I was very near the edge of where the park begins.  They have leopards, giraffes and of course elephants.  But the trail and droppings were leading straight up, into the forest.  So off I went.  I could not imagine elephants on this narrow trail.  But sure enough I see the occasional place where a foot as large as a 10 gallon bucket had step off the trail into the soft soil.  I pressed on.  Climbing higher and higher I came upon many butterflies and the forest was so thick and cool it was wonderful, if not a little suprising  becoming dark from the thick foliage above.  I walked slowly and quietly always scheming how to exit should I become surprised by the elephants or some other creature that would not give ground.   All of a sudden Kuji presses to the front and then quickly retreats with her tail between her legs and then the sounds begin.

It sounded like a 500 lb man was burping into a microphone with huge speakers.  I looked up and there were big monkeys that looked like Columbus monkeys but with the longest and most beautiful white tails I had ever seen.   Perhaps they all had theses tail.  But I had not noticed them on the ones seen in captivity or in the wild.  Although I must admit, I  exited pretty quickly when I came upon these guys in the wild as I was in the water last time and had just seen a crocodile.  So maybe I missed it.  I opened my back pack and got out my Galaxy camera and prepared to take some pictures.  They were almost a hundred feet up so I didn’t know how the pictures would turn out, but you gotta try.   As I approached it became obvious who the dominate male was.  One large monkey with very distinctive facial features began to race down the tree to get closer shouting out his warnings.  Also,  ALL the monkeys began to defecate from the tree tops.  This was as strong as deterrent as the approaching menace. Being rained on by monkey poop could ruin a good hike.   Kuji was silent but looking up at me trying to ascertain if we were in danger.  She takes her cues from me.  I offered her no reassurance, as I had none to give.  Finally, the big guy stopped about 40 feet above the dark forest floor.  They were right at the peak of this steep hill and I longed to see what was on the other side but they were determined to defend it.  I took several pictures and told Kuji we had better go.  She was more than happy to exit.  We tracked our way back down.  I was happy having found a great hiking trail right into the the area where “the wild things are”.

Returning I realized that in all my concern of the monkeys and elephants that I had not been looking at the ground.  Should I be concerned with snakes.  I have not studied them at all but Brett, had brought me a snake bit kit.  It seems pretty simple to use, just use the shaving razor to remove the hair from the bite area, then use the syringe type device with the cup, to suck the venom out.  It occurred to me that this “seemed” how to use it but that I had not bothered to read the instructions.  I was reminded that Dad and I do things differently.  He likes to do things WITHOUT reading the instructions. Being mechanically minded,  he viewed things like puzzles to be figured out.  He always smiled when he told me that looking at the instructions spoiled the adventure.  Like when we were putting my daughters swing set together when Elizabeth was about four.  Which of course we got almost done and had to start over again, since it required certain steps be done BEFORE you got to another certain point.  I relished reminding Dad that we should have read the directions. ” What is the fun in that” he stated.  But just now, I had to laugh at myself.  I could just see someone finding my body in the forest, sprawled out in blue agony, with the directions in my hand having died trying to determine how to use this thing while reading.  Then Dad could say, “see I told you so. ” Not being mechanically minded I would most likely, apart from God’s Grace, NOT been able to wing it like Dad could.

We crossed by into familiar woods and steadily made our way home.  I love Africa.  There are blessings and adventure at every turn.  Kuji drank lots of water and ate hungrily.  For the third time in this young day I might add.  I headed back out on my motor bike to write to you. Come and see me.  I know where the wild things are.  I even know where just off the main road about an hour North of Arusha, the Masai still have to kill lions to protect their cattle.  They do it with spears and sticks.  Just down from where I live there are apparently elephants in the wild and monkeys galore.  I don’t know what else.  But I also have widows, orphans and the lost for you to meet.  Anything can happen here.  And by God’s Grace wonderful things will.  In fact they already are.




One response

17 03 2013
Pat Roseberry

Loved your story. Just printed it so Dad can have it in his folder.
take care of yourself and know we are praying for you constantly.
Love you forever,

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