It was the sound of flapping that woke me.  I assumed it was a large bird, an owl perhaps, flying up with its prey to the branches above my tent.  But the noise got louder and it was close – grunting, breaking, tearing, ripping and munching sounds on all sides.  And then I heard it, the distinctive sound of an elephant tummy rumble – a sound that hits you right in the solar plexus and then vibrates through your whole body.  The flapping was the sound of their large ears.

Elephants in Maasai Mara

I held my breath. Despite the cloudy, starless night, I could make out large stumps of legs on either side of my tent.  I sat up in bed but didn’t dare turn on my flashlight.  More noise was now coming from the riverbank below.  I looked out the front screen of my tent and saw a head rise from the banks.  A huge elephant was now silhouetted against the pewter sky.  He was ten feet away.  The zipper on my tent jingled and I knew that that elephant was reaching out with his muscular trunk, examining the front entrance to my canvas enclosure.

Every hair on my body stood up, every goose bump at full attention.  This was not frightening, it was exhilarating.  I was sheltered in my warm bed yet close to one of the most magnificent animals on earth.

It had already been an exciting night.  Eustace and I had wandered Maasai Mara for most of the afternoon, looking for the small and well-hidden Rekero Camp.  The Mara is a great place to get lost because there are so many wonderful things to see.   Huge herds of wildebeest still remained, reluctant to start the long trek back to the southern part of the Serengeti in Tanzania.  We passed topi, zebra, gazelles, eland and cape buffalo.  A few hyenas wallowed in mud and wandered the roads with us.  Jackals sniffed the ground and eagles soared overhead.  But now it was getting dark, and I really did not want to spend the night sleeping in the vehicle.

All of the landmarks in the Mara are similar.  “Go to the lone tree on the ridge and look down by the river for the lights of our camp,” we were instructed by phone.  What ridge?  Which tree?  After the 5th crossing of the river, we finally spotted a small sign painted on a rock.  We had found Rekero camp.

Jackson and the entire staff welcomed us.  I was shown to my tent and told dinner would be at 7:30.  Hot water was dumped in the shower bucket above my tent and the warm water felt good as the evening’s chill descended upon us.  There was one other couple in camp, an older German couple that arrive every year, at the same time, to the same camp.  Dinner was family style but it was hard to keep a conversation going because of the grunting of the lions nearby.  They seemed really close.  At dessert, the hippos started in, honk, honk, honk.  Jackson and I could have sat there and talked all night – the plight of the Mara, the politics of Kenya, the impact of the economic downturn that had ironically helped the safari business in the past year.  At least for the higher end of the market.  People were looking for meaningful experiences and Rekero can deliver this in spades.

The next morning, outside my tent, where the elephants came to visit the night before

Two askari’s (guards) escorted me back to my tent, one in front, one in back.  It seemed as if I have spent the past three weeks living in vehicles – long drives in the north, and now today, the drive from Nairobi to the Mara.  Every muscle in my body still ached from the hard driving in the north and I still had bouts of exhaustion, chills and nausea.  It was not hard to fall asleep –  until the elephants arrived.  And then I stayed up all night, not wanting to miss a moment.