HWANGE NATIONAL PARK, ZIMBABWE – We kicked off our expedition here with great excitement and anticipation.
All of us looked forward to a tour of a lifetime, mixing with wildlife.
Before us lied the imposing forests that represented of one of Africa’s largest wildlife sanctuaries.
And I was confident that after the three-hour adventure, my desire to share a memorable bush breakfast with friends on the fringes of a massive elephant herd would be achieved.
But it turned out to be a frustrating game drive.
The hot African sun was rising under the big African sky as we rippled through the chilly depressions of the Hwange National Park that morning.
In the ancient game trails that criss-crosses the giant Savanna woodlands that firmly rests on the difficult-to-drive sandy soils, colonies of monkeys and herds of buffaloes prepared for another difficult day in that part of the world, where survival is not only at the behest of the creator, but on the ability of every animal to adapt and dodge ever impending dangers.
African birds decorated the leafless twigs in all directions, welcoming us into the extremely unpredictable bundu life with soothing songs and delicate airborne acrobatics.
Deeper into virgin jungles, we dodged beautiful outcrops of imposing Savanna woodlands.
We could not clinch the ultimate prize of every exploration in Hwange — encountering the jumbos.
We were all anxious to come face to face with the elephant.
Everything else was secondary.
We encountered a flock of the tall and aggressive marabou storks as we left our lodge, we had jolted shy kudus on the way, we had come face to face with some of the rare species, and we cruised through the edge of 300 suspicious buffaloes.
The elephant was elusive.
Our 4X4 was astounding in its exuberance as it trudged through the rough and sandy terrain, sometimes shaking us violently and keeping us on the edge.
We headed south, then west.
As we turned northwards back to the lodge with no sign of the elephant, a terrifying sound pierced through the trees.
A massive herd of jumbos was heading in our direction, brazenly grazing through the forests and trampling over a cluster of shrubs as if to announce the arrival of a dominant jungle king.
Our guide switched off the engine.
Then as he tried to restart and move to a strategic position from the path of the steadily approaching giants of the jungle, the engine muffle and sputtered.
He pretended as if everything was normal.
But I noticed a sudden change in his behaviour, as the sweat on his face evaporated.
Then I knew something was extremely wrong. He tried to switch on again.
It muffled. Then with composure, he disembarked and opened the bonnet, exposing a very old engine that could easily be over 20 years old.
It was spattered and splashed with black oil. Everyone realised the danger that lurked ahead.
There was a dead silence in the tapaulin roofed safari vehicle. He battled with the battery, the ignition and the engine.
Yet time was fast running out. The big herd headed towards us.
With the full knowledge of the damage that a provoked jumbo can inflict, my I was soaked in sweat. In Pumba Game Reserve in South Africa, I had learnt, in the most dramatic and dangerous way, that not all animal encounters can be benign.
We encountered a bull elephant in a very bad mood. It trumpeted and gave a mock charge that left us powerless.
As we proceeded, the aggressive bull charged for real. Being chased for 500 metres by a furious jumbo was terrifying.
I sat quiet in the back of the 4X4, my fingers crossed that our ordeal would be over in a few seconds.
The bull eventually relented, but only after giving us a rude awakening to the South African jungles.
In Hwange National Park that morning, the jumbos were unfazed.
They moved on, their babies looking clearly startled and disturbed by our presence. Their imposing postures sent shivers through my heart.
Teenage bulls criss-crossed the bushes in a naughty way that I feared would provoke the entire herd. Then the guide, after failing to find the problem with his old engine, rushed back into the 4X4.