Monday, 19 September 2016

Now I've Seen An Elephant Swim

We pushed the kayaks off shore at the west end of the dam. Feet squelching in the mud that oozed between my toes, water lapping around my calves flexed for balance. And I hopped into the kayak with practiced grace (relative to my ungainly entrances when I came here, to Ekorian’s Mugie Camp, a few months ago). Assuming my place in the seat at the back of the kayak, I took up my paddle, finding a rhythm and keeping time with my friend sitting in front.

And off we went, a light breeze blowing against us, but making quick progress across the 100 acre, Mugie dam. To the west of us was what we called “Egret Island”, a small bit of land rising out of the water, covered in reeds often decorated with the snowy white of hundreds of Egrets that perched upon them.

We carried on toward the second, much larger, island (known simply as “The Island”). As if put there for entertainment, coming up over the brow of the hill, from the other side of the island, stomped a big bull elephant. He often swam out there, to browse for the lush green grass - it was no small feat, a substantial distance and deep enough that even an elephant can’t reach the bottom. To see him out there never lost it’s magic, but we did hope that he swam back before we went to the island with our picnic.

Leaving the bull in peace, we continued around the island to the south end of the dam. We could see a dust cloud in the distance, and shortly before it arrived at the water’s edge, we had made it to this narrowing estuary where the water overflowed into a stream that ran south through the sanctuary. When the dust cleared, a herd of elephants came into focus before us. Our trusty guides, Joseph and Larabian, without speaking and with a few hand motions, so as not to startle the elephants, directed us down-wind of the herd. We held fast to a tree, it’s braches sticking out of the water to offer an anchor. And we watch as the herd comes down to the water, drinking at first, long trunks reaching below the service to fill with water and then lifting to curl back and pour into open mouths. Grey wrinkled skin becoming brown with the spray that they blow over their dusty backs, a sprinkler of the best sort.

The calves get a free pass down to the front of the herd, pushing their way into the water to cool off and flee the hot sun, with the confidence of a baby that knows it is beloved by it’s protective herd of giants. We watch as the calves, with an overestimation of their swimming abilities, march into the water, splashing and causing a great ruckus as they attempt to swim. And then the mothers come to help, their tails grabbed by their calves for balance and to help them stay afloat. With an undeniable playfulness, they all start to splash and push each other, spray one another, and dunk down into the water, letting the coolness wash over them. They wrestle and play until every hot and wrinkled back has been cooled, the dust washed away, and thirst sated. And then they start their slow procession out of the water, two youngsters straggling behind as they roughhouse until the last possible moment, the cloud of dust following the herd as they move away.

Exchanging looks and ‘wow’s with one another, more words than that are inconceivable at the moment, we paddle back to the main island. The bull elephant has left, swimming for shore, his trunk held above the water like a snorkel as his head bobs below the surface. Pulling kayaks up, we clamber out onto the bank and up to the top where we set out a delicious picnic in the shade. A truly magical experience that we all take great joy in reliving over our meat pies.

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