Intrepid Optimist

Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age

Elephants in the Andes



         Remembering a memorable 1975, Rolls Royce journey through the Andes to a rugby game.

El Pub Rugby Club, the first rugby team in Ecuador was formed in 1974 by  a  collection of ex-pats from the UK, Chile, the Argentine and France. Our first intercity match was against a Guayaquil team, cobbled together by the British Consul to that city, where we were supported by a bevy of bewildered coastal beauties.  Following the game we retired to the Phoenix Club to celebrate.

The truly memorable game came shortly afterwards, when the crew of the visiting Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, the Sir Lancelot, challenged us, a joint Quito and Guayaquil team. Once again we partied in the Phoenix Club but this time with 200 British sailors and a similar number of exotic  Guayauilenas – procured by the same British Consul – it was the talk of that city for years to come.

The majority of the Quito contingent flew there but as part owner of El Pub and as such, having more time on my hands, I decided to travel the 350 kilometers and 2,800 meters downhill from Quito in the Andes to Guayaquil on the coast.  My idea in theory was good but as I did not own a car or relish the fatiguing six to seven hour bus journey, I had to find a solution.

I knew a few friends with cars but it seemed that weekend there were no volunteers.  In truth, no one enjoyed driving to the coast because at its best, the condition of the road was either bad or atrocious, depending on the lack of maintenance or the weather.

Fortunately I remembered Alan, a sometime kilt-wearing Scotsman who lived amongst  us and  had  a car. I do not mean just any old car. His was a 1936, white Rolls Royce Continental roadster. It was originally built for cruising the deplorable pre-WW11 country highways (Germany excluded) of Europe – and it was the only one in Ecuador.

Alan was very proud of his RR and from time to time he would take the Continental out for a short spins and once he even entered her in an Ecuadorian antique car rally, which she won hands down. Sadly, someone stole the winner’s silver plated trophy, which put Alan – a stickler for the correct thing – off somewhat.

This was the perfect moment to tempt him to take the Rolls out for a good run and as he being also on the rugby team, the game was the perfect opportunity. Luckily he was all for it and to add icing to the cake, Carola, a good friend and ideal traveling companion pleaded to join us.

On the appointed day we set off with Alan at the wheel. Instead of taking the normal and faster road route via Santa Domingo de los Colrados[1], we took the  longer, equally  scenic route, along the paramo[2] and following the old railway line down to the coast. The drive was a dream, despite the roads being in the same condition as were the continental roads fifty years earlier.

I suppose one can expect it of a Rolls Royce owner but Alan could be quite affected at times. However, his affectations did have a beneficial side. He liked everything to be of the best. Everything had to combine. Mode of dress (no kilt that time thank God), the luggage (his) and the picnic hamper; all had to blend in with the Rolls. At some point in the journey point Alan instructed me to open a bottle of champagne – crystal glasses – to prove even at speed and over a rutted road surface we could slurp without spilling a drop.

Before we turned off the Pan-American highway to start our descent to the coast we stopped and laid out the plaid car rug for our lunch. I was stretching my legs after the excellent cucumber sandwiches and apple pie, served on Spode china and a further bottle of champagne, when I caught site of a herd of elephants on the skyline.

My first  thought – it was the champagne, but the distant animals were not pink. I beckoned my two companions over and asked if I was correct in believing wild elephants were not native to the South-American continent. They confirmed this to be the case.  I pointed out six of the beasts grazing on the opposite side of the valley to us. They were as amazed as was I. Could we be mistaking them for hairless mammoths?  Carola expressed her doubts, recalling the last living one must have been 10,000 years ago. Alan remembered from school history that Hannibal had them in Alps – but they had been imported. But they definitely were elephants we were looking at  – and they were alone. Not a soul, not even a solitary Andean Indian was to be seen in the vicinity.

Alan bravely proposed driving closer to take photos which, Carola suggested we could send to David Attenborough, the international naturalist for his professional opinion. It took some time to find a track that would bring us closer to them but the Rolls lived up to its reputation as it purred along over the dirt trail as smoothly as if it was careening along an Autobahn. Eventually we managed to get pretty close to the herd without spooking them, the Rolls being large enough, they probably mistook it for one of their own, albeit an albino. The six beasts ignored our photography session, as though something they were justly accustomed to.

Our dilemma, as to who we should report our natural history discovery to, was answered as we finally left them to their own devices and  drove over the crest of the hill from where the animals had been foraging. Hidden in the lee of the knoll was a group of colourful wagons. Not only had we discovered elephants in the paramo, we also found a circus.

If it must be known, we unassumingly continued our journey to Guayaquil without further revelations and as I recall, we lost; forty to three but that after-game party was something else.

[1] Santo Domingo de los Colorados,[2] simply referred to as Santo Domingo, is a city and seat of the canton that bears its name. It is the fourth most populous city in Ecuador.

[2] All high, tropical, montane vegetation above the continuous timberline.

About bbryanthomas

Not so young man about town who, having witnessed and enjoyed life, is presently having fun, writing about those by-gone times and life in general.

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2017 by in Stories.
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