A huge angry elephant run

Letter Home – Written April 2006


Hey everyone.

yup, so great story. so I’m gonna tell it.

So this week Julia, Caitlin and I all decided we should go out to Caitlin’s village because Julia and I had not gone yet (yes it took us a year). Her village is quite far from Sikasso though - about 2 hours past it on the road towards the Ivory Coast and then another short bike ride off the main road.

The area is absolutely beautiful - cliffs and waterfalls and rolling green fields of mango trees.

So we were going to go on Thursday - but Julia developed a severe allergic reaction to mangoes - rash all over her body, etc (the sap at the stem of a mango has the same stuff as poison ivy in it).  So we let her recover a bit (and laughed at her a lot) and left on Friday.

Saturday morning we decided we wanted to take a walk up to the cliffs right next to the village. Caitlin’s homologue (work counterpart) was there and said he could take us to this nice waterfall Caitlin hadn't been to yet - so we said sure, and set off with him, a couple of other guys, and Caitlin’s dog. Walked for quite awhile, got up into the cliffs and thick bush – the guys were cutting the trail with a machete.  But then we came across a place we didn't have to clear - because it had already been done - by elephants.  Yup, as we walked around we noticed tons of footprints and obvious roads of destruction.  cool. We decided to go the waterfall and look on the way back.

So did that - waterfall was pretty, nice to see running water - of any kind :)

Headed back.  The men started tracking the elephant path - which was pretty fun and easy because they leave huge footprints, big distinctive poops, and destroy all the brush.

Now the men had mentioned at this point that it was not a good idea to look for elephants when you have dogs with you, because elephants really don't like dogs, and if they see one they will chase it, and then the dog will run to its owners, and thus the elephant will be chasing the people.

So we had 2 dogs with us at this point (Caitlin’s had found a friend), but apparently the guys didn't think we were actually going to find the elephants.

So we looked for awhile, decided there were 3 elephants - but then the trail got harder to follow and a huge herd of cows was there and ran over all the tracks - not helpful.

So we decided to give up and go down the cliff, back to village.

Went down. When we got down we encountered this guy on his bike who asked if we had seen the elephants, no, oh, well they just passed by this way right right now he said.

so...disregarding the aforementioned risk, we all immediately set off really fast to follow this guy in the direction the elephants had gone, dogs included.

5 minutes later or so - we saw one.

A huge gray form a little ways in the distance.  so we slowly kept walking closer - and the dogs ran to go check it out. 

well. as we were still approaching we then heard a commotion, and then a loud "roooaaarrrruurrrooaau" and looked to see the elephant jumping up on its hind legs, flailing its trunk in the air, and then hitting the ground hard and breaking into a run. a huge angry elephant run.

everything turned surreal. my heart stopped.  the men turned and bolted in the other direction, through the fields of long-ago harvested corn, sprinting as best they could.  Caitlin, Julia and I turned to run too - we just unfortunately weren't as fast.  they were both wearing flip-flops, not good for running for your life, I was wearing sneakers. so I was a little ahead when I heard Julia scream "help me" and then saw Caitlin fall flat on her face, and looked up to see the elephant bearing in on them, kicked up dust maybe only 10 feet away.

so I really quickly evaluated the situation, decided I couldn't think of how I could possibly help either of them, and turned and ran as fast as I possibly could away.  talk about adrenaline rush - I surely must have broken the 23 year old girl sprinting trough a corn field record.  turned around to check a few times, saw my friends were both up and running and making some distance between themselves and the elephant.  good. 

Kept going until I got where the guys had stopped and Caitlin and Julia staggered in a minute or so later.  whoa.

We were alive and the elephant seemed to be calming down and retreating. dogs were w/ us, panting.

so we all stood there for a minute, processing this. after a few minutes the guys looked like they were considering walking back towards village. Julia and I looked at each other - we wanted to go back and see the elephant. close up. without the dogs.  when would we ever again get the chance? 

So we convinced the guys to let us go back, Caitlin stayed with the dogs and gave us the camera. 

so we walked back.  found our friend again. hanging out and eating a tree. got really close slowly slowly.  stood - and just watched.  elephants are pretty amazing to see, because they are SO big, and have big huge ears, and watching them do stuff w/ their trunk is just incredible.  I went up really close for a bit - to take some good pictures.  I don't think the elephant liked my camera because every time i took a picture it looked at me and started approaching, almost like it was going to chase us again - but then it would stop when it saw I wasn't going to do anything. at one point it really started coming towards me and Julia actually started running again, but I stayed put and got a really good photo.  maybe I have a future with National Geographic.

Anyway, some of the guys came back at this point, I guess they figured we hadn't been killed yet so it was ok (wimps) - and we all stood and watched the elephants - a second one came shortly after.  It was awesome.

I think we could especially appreciate it - as five minutes before we had all felt like wild animals ourselves - wild animals being chased by our much larger predator.

Thank you evolution for two fast legs and adrenaline.

Alah k’I kisi sama min diminna ma – May Alah protect you from angry elephants.



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