(insert "life is a journey" cliché here)
Hippopotami kill more people in Africa than do the carnivores with sharp teeth and claws, or beasties with excessive hornage. I’m sure you’re heard this, right? The highly territorial hippo may tip people out of canoes by emerging from beneath it, then carelessly crunch a person in two with those gigantic jaws. It will mow down any person who stands between it and its beloved water hole, squishing that person to mush. So when Chris asked me to accompany her on a safari that would involve entering hippo-infested waters, of course I said yes.
I then quaked internally for the lead-up months, wondering if this is how I’d meet my maker – as two halves or a person pancake. I was assured the local guides in the Okavango Delta are extremely experienced at manoeuvring around groups of hippos instead of ploughing through the middle, but strangely I was not entirely reassured.
Anyway tickets were purchased, Africa was embarked on, yada yada.. and you can read about my first safari experience here in the Kruger National Park region. On that occasion, I had my first extremely brief hippo sighting – a pair of small flicking ears and a glimpse of flared nostrils on the surface of a water hole, all from the relative safety of a four-wheel-drive. It was all very thrilling but minimal. A second sighting came during a dawn walk with an armed ranger – two aggressive males had a mild joust at a river spot. That was quite thrilling to watch, and a sobering reminder of the size and power of these magnificent herbivores.
And then in Kruger itself, we saw a whole herd. A group of hippos, for your information, is also called a pod, a dale or a bloat. A bloat of hippos. Yes.
In Botswana, our Intrepid trip took us to the banks of the Okavango Delta where we were paired up into low, water-level mokoro canoes, and steered into the delta by the local equivalents of Venetian gondoliers.
As a passenger sitting at water level, I couldn’t see much of all our immediate surroundings besides the tall reeds that we pushed through. But suddenly we came into a watery clearing; a lagoon of sorts. The canoes passed slowly and silently around the edge; the snort of hippos was close. Then it got closer, and I glimpsed the ears. Were they moving in our direction? Our guides didn’t stick around, and putting their poles to swift use, moved us quietly on our way and out of reach. My worry threshold had been reached, but I was so chilled out by this holiday, I wasn’t even scared.
We stayed on a delta island for two nights with dawn and evening walks, and much chilling out in the shade and swimming in a shallow and safe water hole. The most dangerous thing that happened was a girl cutting her forehead open by swimming with a waterproof camera flailing around on a wrist-cord. I tactfully suggested she leave the water quickly, lest crocodiles could smell blood from miles off, the way sharks can. Go me.
On the way off the island, our polers took us back through the lagoon, but there were no hippos in sight or hearing. I was actually kind of disappointed.
A few days later, I was rewarded by some close-up sightings during an evening cruise on the Chobe River, in Botswana’s north. The yawn was a prized Kodak moment – I almost got it!
Then a dawn drive beside the Chobe netted a whole host of hippos wallowing in the shallows. I was lucky enough to catch this shot of one rolling continually over in the water. Yes the one at the top there. Aww! Don’t you just wanna rub his ickle pink tummy!