What could possibly go wrong in paradise?
Tired of mortgage and car payments, thirty-something Andrew and Gwynn sold nearly everything they owned but their Siamese cat and escaped their humdrum nine-to-five existence for life in paradise—a tiny island accessible only by boat or air in one of the remotest spots on Earth: the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Woefully inexperienced, they took control of a luxury game lodge where the rich and famous went to sip G&Ts with lions and elephants.
Trouble soon followed.
Their lives were threatened daily by snakes, elephants, baboons, and a hyena with a plastic fetish. Not to mention the endless—and often insurmountable—challenge of keeping their five-star guests fed in a world where the closest supermarket was an air flight away.
Amongst others, their guests included a famous Hollywood director, some French aristocrats, a Mafia lawyer, world-famous singers, and the England cricket captain.
Light-hearted and humorous, this adventure—peppered with some drama and suspense—will enthrall you with its unique look at life as game lodge managers in wild Africa.
From what I could make out, this was one, maybe two elephants. They must have entered the camp from the runway end, passed our cottage unnoticed, before settling down to some concentrated chewing and tree pushing near number four, the cottage where the frosty Agatha and her partner were sleeping.
Then again, sleeping was being optimistic. Above the rumbling of elephant stomachs, whooshing trunks, and creaking palm trees, I heard the unmistakable sound of women squealing—and not in delight either. The guests were scared, and as manager, it was my job to protect them. Or so I told myself.
I scratched my beard, plotting my attack strategy. Elephants can’t see very well. Even so, I couldn’t risk lighting my torch. Not that the darkness helped me; they more than made up for poor eyesight with an acute sense of smell. Considering the garlic I’d eaten at dinner, I didn’t give myself good odds at remaining undetected should things go wrong. That meant I needed an escape route where they could neither see nor smell me. But where?
Then I remembered my new donkey boiler with its extra wide mouth.
Surely, the acrid-smelling ash would mask me and my breath? All I needed was to hide in its belly should things go wrong.
I heard the elephants shake fruit from the palms. It wouldn’t be long before they got frustrated and brought a tree down. Definitely time to move.
I set off into the dark, soundless night. And tripped over a log. Grunting, I dropped the bowl and the torch at the same moment a spider’s web wrapped itself around my face. Cursing inwardly while trying not to imagine the size, or current location, of the spider, I felt along the leaf litter for my stuff. My hand brushed something hard and cold.
Ah ha. The torch. Then the bowl.
I scrambled to pick them up, then stood—and bumped my head on an overhanging branch. The bowl fell out of my hands again, clattering to the ground.
This was the stupidest day ever. So much for my element of surprise.
I took in a deep breath and, weapons held securely, prepared for another attempt. A few more steps, and I reckoned to be about twenty paces from the elephants. They were still way too far off for me to see their dark bodies in the dark wood in the dark night.
I did, however, see a faint orange glow from the dying embers deep inside the donkey boiler. I crouched, my torso tense with excitement. Then, with three swift movements, I struck the bowl as hard as I could with the torch.
For a few seconds, nothing happened.
Then a scream rent the night like an express train screeching to a halt after the emergency stop cord is pulled.
All hell broke loose.
I don’t know how many there were, but six, eight, twenty elephant charged through the bush towards me. The ground beneath my feet shook, branches cracked and fell, and two women screamed, and screamed, and screamed some more.
Not a second to waste.
I sprinted in the pitch dark towards the orange glow in the boiler. Diving in head first, I was vaguely aware of the hot coals charring my hands. Nothing for it but to suck it up. Weirdly, I felt no fear; the entire event was just surreal. Ash stirred by my feet wafted to my nose, and I stifled a cough. How long could I hold it?
Trumpeting and the rumble of feet passed around me.
My plan had worked.
Sneezing, I crawled out, gasping for air. I turned on the torch and stumbled towards cottage four. “It’s safe now.” My voice sounded like someone was strangling me. “You can sleep peacefully.”
The next morning over breakfast, I waited for Agatha and Yvonne to boast about my braveness. Surely, they would recount my heroic deed to the other guests?
But then I heard Agatha say, “And then, just before the elephants took off, Andrew tripped over the fire bucket!”
“What?” I spluttered.
“You know, that red bucket next to the cottage? I assume it’s for putting out fires. We heard you fall over it.” She turned to her audience. “Not once, not twice, but three times, he fell. That’s how frightened he was.”
I looked to Gwynn to redeem my flagging honour, but she merely patted me on the arm. “Tripped over a fire bucket, huh? And you told me you’d driven the elephants out of the camp.”
I buried my face in my blistered hands, ready to cry.