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Champagne, Apple Pie and Elephants

Alan, a friend of mine had a car. I don’t just mean any old car, I mean a Rolls Royce; a white 1936 Rolls Royce Continental roadster. It was built for cruising the deplorable pre WW11, country roads (Germany excluded) of Europe. But it was no longer in Europe. In 1980 Allan had shipped it to Ecuador along with his other worldly goods.

  Normally it was parked in all its majesty at his house just outside Quito,in Tumbaco. From time to time he would take her (the Continental) out for a spin. On one occasion he entered her in an antique car rally, which she won hands down. Unfortunately, someone nicked the winner’s silver plated trophy, which put Alan, a stickler for the correct thing, off somewhat.
I had been searching unsuccessfully for a reason to tempt Allen to take the Rolls out her out for a good run, when the perfect opportunity arose. A Royal Navy frigate, on a South-American showing the flag tour, docked at Guayaquil and the crew had challenged us ex-pats to a game of rugby. Guayaquil is some 350 kilometres from and 2,800 meters downhill from Quito - a perfect test run for the Continental, I suggested, and Alan had agreed.
Because of their work schedules,  the Quito contingent of our improvised rugby team were to fly to Guayaquil for the game. By the shortest road route, the journey could take three hours or even more, depending on the occasional highjacker, landslides and other natural calamities. It was only Alan, Carola, a good friend and ideal traveling companion and myself who were under no pressure  to get there and back in hurry. We would to take the longer, more scenic route, along the paramo, the high plateau  between the tree line and the snow line and then, more or less, follow the old railway line down to the coast.

Preparation for the journey took time. Alan could be quite bumptious at times but I suppose one should expect that from the owner of a Rolls Royce. If I ever have the luck to own one or two of my own, I’ll guarantee you, I’ll be the perfect prig. But Alan’s arrogance did have a good side. He liked everything to be of the best. Mode of dress, the luggage and the picnic hamper had to blend with the Rolls.

The drive was a dream, despite  the roads being in the same awful condition as were the continental roads fifty years before. On Alan’s instructions I’d opened a bottle of champagne, to prove that even at speed we could drink it without spilling a drop. Before we turned off the Pan-American highway, to start our descent to the coast, we had stopped for lunch. It was after the cucumber sandwiches and apple pie, served on Spode china and a further bottle of champagne that I caught sight of a herd of elephants on the skyline.

It may have been the champagne I’d drank but at first it didn’t register. I thought about it for a moment before asking my companions if I was correct in thinking that wild elephants  were not native to the South-American continent. They confirmed this to be the case, so I pointed out six of the beasts grazing on the opposite side of the valley to us. They were as amazed as myself. From our distance  could we be mistaking them for  hairless mammoths? This was also doubtful as the last living one reported must have been 10,000 years ago. No, they were elephants and they were alone. No one, not even a solitary Andean Indian was to be seen to confirm our discovery. The answer was to drive closer and take photos of them which, Carola suggested, we should send to David Attenborough for his professional opinion.

It took some time to find a track to that would bring us closer, the Rolls living up to its name as it purred along dirt tracks as smoothly as if it was careening along an autobahn.  We managed to get pretty close to the herd without spooking them. Being so large, they probably mistook her for one of their own, albeit an albino. The six beasts ignored our photography session, as though it was something they were quite accustomed to.

Our dilemma as to who we should report our natural history discovery to, was answered as we drove over the crest of the hill where the animals had been foraging. Hidden in the lee of the hill was a group of wagons. Not only had we discovered elephants in the paramo, we had found a circus.

If it must be known, we continued our journey to Guayaquil without further revelations and, if my memory serves me right, the British Navy team, all of them the size of elephants, beat us by 56 to 3.


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