It was getting late on a hot summers night in the african bush and I was hosting guests at a private boma dinner in a secluded courtyard with tall rock walls, lanterns gently flickering light into the surrounding darkness, the smell of perfectly cooked eland steaks still lingering in the air and countless stars sparkling in the sky above us. My guests and I were taking the last few sips of a fantastic pinotage and enjoying a relaxed conversation. During a short break of peaceful silence as we all just sat back and took in the surreal environment we were in, a thought came to me…an idea…but an idea that could easily get me into big trouble!
Slowly the special evening with my guests wound down and came to a leisurely end, and as my guests left the boma and headed to their comfy beds with big expectations for their next day in paradise floating around in their minds, My girlfriend at the time came walking towards me. She was helping out at the lodge for a while and was usually, after a bit of convincing, she was keen on joining me on some of my unusual adventures.
I had to be careful how I did this. It would be unbelievable if I got it right, but it was risky on multiple fronts and convincing my girlfriend to join me on this one would be more of an obstacle than usual. I told her that we should go on a short detour on our way back to the staff village, via the nearby dam. It was just past midnight so it was exceptionally unlikely that we would bump into anyone driving around.
We jumped into my game viewer and headed off into the darkened night time bush basking in the glow of a full moon. A few minutes later we pulled up at the nearby waterhole and the scene that lay before us was phenomenal. It was so quite and calm, with the water shimmering in the moonlight without a breath of wind blowing. We sat and took in the very special atmosphere. I felt that the time was right for me to make my move. “Lets go swim.” I said. She looked at me as if I was mad. “No seriously, lets go swim.” I repeated excitedly.
I think this is a good time to point out that I was very confident that there were no crocodiles in the water. One had never been seen in the dam and it was far from any other water source. Granted, as the saying goes, you shouldn’t trust any water in Africa, and I am in no way encouraging midnight swims in dams in the African bushveld, but in this case I was happy to do it.
To my surprise my girlfriend agreed without too much more encouragement and we headed down to the water. The mud felt squishy between our toes but the water was warm as we walked toward the middle of the small dam. It wasn’t very deep, maybe coming to just below my chest. We must have been in the water for 20 glorious minutes and as I lay floating on my back looking up at the stars I heard a branch snap not too far away. I stood up and looked in the direction of the noise to see if I could see the culprit, knowing already what it was.
Out into the soft moonlight and moving slowly towards the water walked a big, old elephant bull. His ghost-like shape almost floating towards us. He was too close for us to get out the water and back to the safety of the car without spooking him, but looked very relaxed, his tail gently swaying from side to side and his big blanket-like ears occasionally flapping to help cool him down. My girlfriend who had been floating some 10m away from me 2 seconds ago was now right behind me whispering rather urgently, “ELEPHANT!”. I quietly told her stay calm, that we were safe in the water and that she should just enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
The big, old bull made his way down to the edge of the water and slowly stretched out his powerful trunk to suck in some water. We were around about 20m from him as he tilted his huge, heavy, grey head back and sprayed the water down his throat. He then took a couple of steps into the water causing us to sink slowly deeper into the water so that only our heads were sticking out. We gently and very slowly floated a meter or two back further back in order to give the gentle giant his space. The bull took his time and had his fill of water as we floated nearby completely mesmerised.
Eventually the he decided that he had had enough and turned causing the gentle light from the moon to catch his beautiful ivory tusks, delicately highlighting them in the darkness. He slowly walked back the way he had come, fading gracefully back into the night. It was undoubtable one of the most surreal and special moments of my life. We stayed in the water for another 20 odd minutes trying to digest what we had just experienced. Yes it was naughty to go to the dam and yes it was naughty to go for the swim but I would never change the decision to go through with it. After all, ‘Life is not about the amount of breathes you take, but about the moments that take your breath away’…and that night experience was pretty breathtaking.