The sound of off-road trucks making inroads among the woods reverberated into the silent night, their turbocharged diesel engines rumbling and grumbling like the roar of a pack of wounded lions.
The villagers heard them coming, at first like the hum of a distant thunder; and then it growled louder as the machines plowed through the narrow, treacherous trail leading up to the village, throwing mud and dirt in their wake.
The seemingly reckless flooring and releasing of the accelerator produced the kind of growl that could easily be mistaken for aggression; but the villagers knew that that was the only way one was able to tame that particular stretch of the trail.
Soon, the glare from the headlights of a dozen off-road vehicles pierced into the moonless night, illuminating a small settlement of nondescript homes scattered along a valley.
The lights from these houses, which must have been coming from solar-powered panels, seeped through the wooden walls and open windows, giving the settlement an uncanny resemblance to a collection of giant lanterns.
Mothers hushed their children to sleep; the men peering from behind closed doors, squinting their eyes for a better sight of the nocturnal visitors.
As the off-road trucks entered the makeshift gate and made their way into the village compound, an old man emerged from the shadow. Behind him were a group of other men, some as old as him, watching as the trucks arranged themselves to parking positions.
Silence reclaimed the night as the blaring engines came to idle. Soon, frogs resumed croaking by the pond, crickets chirping from the bushes, and other creatures added to the cacophony of nighttime symphony. There was an actual thunder humming from afar.
A burly man alighted from one of the vehicles, flashed his light, and approached the elderly man. He coughed a greeting, and extended his hand. “How are you all doing?” he asked.
“Ah, it’s you,” the village elder said as they shook hands, recognising him from the group’s previous visit.
“Yes, Old Chief, it’s us,” the burly man said. “Our humble apologies for not informing about us coming here. We tried to send words but no one was able to contact you or anyone from this village.”
The Old Chief smiled, and took a long pull of his tobacco and said, “Ah, thank you. No worries at all; you and your friends are always welcome,” he said, apologising in return for not preparing anything.
“You can set your camp here, or do you want to put up at the lodging house instead?” he asked.
“We’ll set up our camp here,” the off-road trekkers leader said. “We’ll see you first thing tomorrow, that is, if you are not going anywhere.” [Part 2 of the story coming Soon]