Hunter and the Hunted

20 04 2013

I thought I was going to find me some elephants and take some great pictures to post on Facebook and blog about.  What actually happened was that I got chased from the mountain and seriously was scared into a near panic.  

You may have followed me on Facebook or here at my blog.  If you have you know that every now and then I take time off of my normal routine of  work and enjoy going into to Mt. Meru and looking for elephants.  They come down into our area where I live and eat corn sometimes.  Last November, they killed a farmer when he tried to shoo them from his corn field.  Elephants are NOT nice animals.  I know you seen them in the circus and Tarzan had a great relationship with Timba, in the old Saturday morning movies.  But in real life they are the bullies of the Serengeti and the most dangerous animal our side of Mt. Meru.  

The first time it occurred to me to go looking for elephants was while  jogging one morning I came across some elephant sign.  Meaning huge droppings.  I knew elephants came down the mountain but only through reputation and rumor.  I even knew they had killed a local farmer.  Again, just a story to me.  But these droppings were real.  I jogged back home wolfed down  a quick breakfast and headed out with my faithful dog Kuji.  The cur female that has puppies like Carter has liver pills.  None live, but she persist.  Below she leads the way after finding some droppings.


I get water, hiking boots and I am off.  We find where the elephants had came out of the tall grass and start backtracking.  You can read the details on my past post called, under recent post called. 

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

On this first trip I was turned back  by  Columbus Monkeys.  On my return trip I found it was not the monkeys disdain for me, it was Kuji.  The monkeys were totally indifferent on my second and each subsequent trips.  They viewed Kuji as a threat.  On my next few trips I found amazing elephant signs, incredible trees, beauty, strange cave like holes and a beautiful gorge.  I left Kuji behind. 


This last trip, the most memorable was almost an after thought.  I had just enjoyed a great afternoon of bible reading at my house church.  Many of my members are illiterate.  So at least once a week we have a formal time of just getting together and reading the bible.  We talk about discipleship and many issues pertinent to our walk with the Lord.  

Frankly, the only reason I went up on the mountain this day was it had rained for three days straight and this was the first pretty day in a while.  So after everyone left at about four in the afternoon I head out for a quick two hour jaunt.  One hour up and then quickly back down.  It gets dark here at promptly seven PM on the equator and even sooner up on Mt. Meru under the trees and canopies.  Mama James, told me that I was heading too high up on the mountain each time and that I needed to look more to the North East.  I reproved her that I was following the freshest signs and that the elephants were all over the upper mountain. However, on this day I did not have the daylight to really go where I wanted so I just decided to confirm my suspicion that Mama James did not know what she was talking about.  I should point out at this time I get a lot of misinformation and that Africans are NOT curious about their own surrounding and sometimes it is amazing what they don’t even want to know about their own history and surroundings.  Having said that Mama James grew up here and is unusually bright.  She has been a wealth of information for me on social matters and I have learned to take her Que on many issues.  However, I truly looked down on her insights into elephants because I was tracking them and she was not.  So, there.  

I did take my compass, my panga, (machete) and my rungu, (Maasai club).  I did NOT put on my normal camouflaged gear.  In fact I put on a bright sky blue safari shirt and had a bright yellow Tanzanian souvenir shirt underneath it. Off I went, sans Kuji.  

The stroll started uneventful.  The grass was very tall here after the rains making the initial trail to the forest difficult.  The thorns and briers seemed to have particularly enjoyed the rainy season.  Once I entered the forest the trail was clear and wonderful as always.  Against my personal preferences I used my compass to take only the directions that Mama James indicated. North East not North West, after entering the rain forest.  After well over an hour and nothing of note I decided to take a break, pick some fruit for questioning around the dinner table in a couple of hours and then head home.  Just before I did I noticed that I was facing a bit different than I assumed on my compass.  The trail seemed to now be heading back towards the house.  140 degrees South of my normally Northward direction.  The path was much clearer than before  and very broad.  I then turned right towards the house and headed up a beautiful hill with giant trees at the top.  Wow, what a spot.  It was like something out of a National Forest back home.  No underbrush, tall trees and open.  I could just envision setting up a tent and relaxing.  

Columbus small

I scouted it out and realized I could hear someone pounding nails.  I was near the gate entrance to the Mt. Meru park.  The Momela Gate.  Interesting.  As I faced that direction I saw a path with big elephant tracks coming up a hill.  So they did come up here sometimes.  Not many signs here, but hey, in the hard rain it is possible that many have washed away.  I reluctantly turned to leave and just then heard some grass “crunching”.  This is a sound that so far in my travels has actually been large Columbus monkeys jumping from tree top to tree top.  Making a loud swooshing sound as the leaves all collide and rub each other.  I walk in that direction.  I look and just below the hill is a huge field of tall grass.  I see some of the tops of the grass swaying like something is pushing them aside and the same swooshing sound.  Could it be?  Have I finality found these big guys?  About that time I heard a loud sound I can only describe as a huge creature passing gas.  Yes an elephant fart.  Sorry, I just call em as I see em.  Or in this case, hear them. 

Now, normally I have a plan for this scenario.  See in my vision of how this works, this is my well laid out safe scenario.  Locate the elephants via sound or sight from a distance.  Sneak up to the top of a hill and peak down and secretly take pictures.  Just before doing so locate a plausible escape route and perhaps a tree with low branches to scurry up in case they lumber your way.  

Well as I noted before there were only huge tall trees.  No low branches.  I was right on top of a large hill and it was seventy five yards across at the top so no precipice to peak over and hide behind.  The swooshing got louder.  Well, I want this picture so I will just sneak up snap it and get out right?  

Not so much.

 As I neared the area of the sounds, I had to go INTO the grass with the elephants.  As I did I realized that I could only see about ten feet ahead of me.  After a few steps I heard an elephant pass gas again and realized that I was right behind him and that I still could not see him and, and, and…….

About that time the elephant, trumpeted.  Well I have heard that at the zoo.  I have heard it on TV.  I have heard it in 3D at the theater   But this time I heard it from 20 feet away as the elephant obviously sensed my presence and turned to confront me. I did not run but tried to very quietly, walk very quickly out of the grass.  I was soon back on the hill in the open.  I glanced back and noticed the grass was being pushed down rushing in my direction like a wave on the ocean.  The elephant trumpeted again.  Where to go?  I took off in the direction of home and quickly realized that I had one elephant coming behind me and another had flanked me.  This one was now also trumpeting and running parallel to me, blocking my next move to head home.  I wanted to go South West, and he was forcing me due South. I had been holding my camera behind me determined to get a shot of this beast evidently chasing me.  However, he stayed in the grass just on the edge of the forest preferring to crash through it making as much noise as possible.  

I can’t tell you how horrifying it is to be chased by something you can’t see, that knows where you are, evidently, and  trumpeting his seeming attack about every 10 seconds.  I realized that if I kept running with my right arm behind me glancing back to get a shot I was going to run into a tree or off a ledge or something.  I lowered the camera and concentrated on escape.  I realized I would HAVE to enter the grass in front of them and cross to get heading home.  As I started off the hill into the grass, elephant number two was now sure he had me in his sights and started  plow at me like a bulldozer through the grass.  I quickly realized that in the grass I was a sitting duck.  These guys don’t actually try to get you with their tusk or snouts.  They just run over you.  End of story.  That was the word from the locals and I could see first hand how this could happen in a split second, right now.

I cut back left away from home into the thicket next to the grass.  Both elephants had me in a pincer action now bearing down.  I kept pushing into the thicket following some trail that was taking away from my home.  Away from safety, but away from the thudding feet and crashing branches.  By now I had to reluctantly put up my camera.  Not a hard decision.  I had come to the conclusion that I did not care if I ever got a picture of these guys.  Right now I was hoping just to get home.  

The elephants now began to slowly look for me.  The trail ended but they kept coming, but now slowly.  I was confronted with a brier thicket of considerable size and no other way out.  Perhaps the elephants knew I was out of options.  I made a decision.  I got on the ground and crawled into the ticket.  I had no idea if they would follow me.  My heart rate and profuse sweating told me I simply did not have the courage to try to simply run through them or make any bold action other than flee.  I could not make any sounds but let me tell you.  If the term “scream like a nine year old girl” has ever been one you laughed at, well so had I.  However, I longed for the FREEDOM to scream like that.  Meaning I was far enough away that giving my position away was no longer a danger.  

I pushed into the thicket.  At first blindly moving forward.  But the further in I went the thicker it got.  Finally, I realized that I was cutting myself to pieces   My arms were cuts, my clothing was torn and it was getting harder to go forward.  I had struggled for 20 minutes and probably had gone no more than fifty feat.  I tried changing directions.  No relief.  

Finally, I came to the conclusion I simply had to go back or stay here for good.  It was now after six PM.  Darkness would come.  I retreated the way I entered.  No elephant sounds.  No matter what I tried to tell myself about heading back the way to the hill and then the trail home I came I could not do it.  The sound of the elephants and their anger was still fresh in my mind and I was NOT going back in that direction.  I continued away from home towards the East.  Every fifty to a hundred feet  I would find a trail leading South and follow it into more thickets.  A huge deer jumped up in front of me scaring me to death.  Add to that three pheasant taking off making the sound of a helicopter and you realize I am still quite scared.  I thrashed and cut at the occasional briers with my panga.  Too thick.  Darkness was coming.  I used my rungu and broke the branches.  I realized that I had to slow down.  I was still operating in fear mode and continued to cut myself at almost every turn.  My hands were bleeding all over and I was sure my head as well, as many thorns had poked my head.  My ear was almost pierced by one thorn, I seriously would have had a missing ear lobe had I not stopped in mid stride.  

I prayed.  I asked God to show me the way out.  And of course I then had a vision of a beautiful lighted path with rabbits playing on it and daisies growing on the sides and followed it and went home.  NOT.  

Instead, in a few minutes, like always, I simply KNEW to slow down, don’t panic.  Everything was going to be fine.  Don’t stop, don’t run, walk out.  

It was getting really dark now.  Yes I packed my head mounted lamp, thank you brother Tripp.  I hated turning it on as everything in the entire forest would know where I am.  We have leopards and cape buffalo also to contend with.  However, no local has ever been attacked by either OUTSIDE the park.  And that is right where I am. On the edge of the park.  I walk hoping and praying for a trail.  I find many false ones.  But with peace that everything is going to be fine, I am in fact, fine.  I now realize that my host family will be worrying about now.  My phone has the ringer turned down, of course, but I realize that if I am still in here around eight I have to call.  Talk about a humbling experience.  “Hello, I will be a little late, I am lost.”  

I see lights far off in the distance and my compass tells me it is the little village of Maji Chai.  I hear a Pentecostal preacher holding a revival there.  I laugh, his hollering over a loud speaker in Swahili is like a vocal compass.  Just head West of his voice going South and you will be home.  Except you can’t go West as the trails all lead East.  Eventually I find my way South.  First I come to a trail that ends at an honest to goodness cliff.  Thanks again for the headlamp Tripp.  But as I suspected the trail picks up again to the East and heads sharply down.  I am at a much lower altitude now.  No briers at all.  I hear running water.  Insects begin to flock around my light.  I swallow a few breathing.  Pitch black now.  My glasses keep fogging up.  In the light I am aware that I am entering cooler air and vapor like steam is coming off of my clothing and skin.  I am stopping every 20 feet to clean them the fog my body is creating on my glasses.  I wish the bugs would leave and about that time a huge bat swoops down and catches a large moth right in front of me.  OK, that was fun.  But you know after the elephants this is all small stuff.  I eventually come to a marsh, after crossing a creek.  Yes, a marsh.  

I am actually following elephant trails in the grass now but I have no fear.  I am over a mile from the incident.  I know from where they were and my previous tracking that they are going to the corn fields to the West of my shamba, (farm).  I am to the East of the shamba.  The water is over ankle keep and the going is very taxing.  But again.  I am safe.  I have no fear.  I am now on a stroll.  After another thirty minutes of checking my compass I emerge onto a road.  I look at my phone and have dozens of calls all from my family here.  I call them and tell them I will be home in a while.  I eventually come to a house on the road and in broken Swahili find out I need to go East.  In thirty minutes I am sitting down for supper.  I recount my story to an excited audience.  I go to my little house and take a shower.  I wash my wounds.  I ache all over.  I get in bed but strangely I am still amped up.  I sleep little. The next day I have scabs all over me from cuts.

 I spend much of the next day at the motorcycle repair place getting my rings replaced and pulling splinters out of my hands.  I am full of them.  I am really sore over my entire body.  I am cut all over. I am thankful.  God is good.  

I don’t know about my next adventure.  I know where they live now.  I think I even know a hill that overlooks that spot.  But for now my adventurous side is assuaged.  My little boy nature is in a state of hang over from it’s overindulgence.  Today is house church day.  The one day a week I get to cook for my little house church family.  I could not have written this story yesterday due to swollen fingers full of the tips of thorns.  But I write it today as I hurry off to fellowship with the people I have grown to love.  Please pray for me.  Pray that I connect with my tribal family.  Pray that they know I love them and that I can model how to love others.  Elephants are cool.  They are not eternal.  Only the eternal truly matters.  God bless you as you live for that which will last forever, and learn to neglect that which is passing.  






One response

22 04 2013

You are so crazy. don’t not want to read in tabloids missionary crushed by atheist elephant. Please……

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