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hippos, crocs, and a canoe

August 25, 2009

‘Why do you want to go to Zimbabwe?’

Even I thought it seemed a little silly, when I replied ‘Because I like the name.’ Zimbabwe sounded exotic and I just wanted to go.

Now I’ve arrived in Africa and I’m ready for my big adventure: a canoe safari down the Zambesi River.

Standing on the banks of the calm looking river, I am beginning to get scared. Watching us is the biggest, meanest looking crocodile I have ever seen.  Lying in the sun, he seems to be inspecting us.  I watch him and he watches me as I listen to our guide’s safety instructions.

“Keep looking for hippos, usually you will just see their little ears sticking out of the water, and every few minutes I want to you give a little knock on the canoe so they can hear us coming. If you don’t and we frighten them they are likely to charge our canoes as they try to get into deeper water to hide.” he said.

I’m really getting scared now – last night I’d read that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal – but it’s too late to change my mind.

Our canoes are laden with tents, food and water: enough for four days. We paddle away from the security of the Mana Pools National Park – our destination, a wee village just before the Mozambique border.

We paddle down-stream and, once the crocodile is out of sight, the safari is as wonderful as I had imagined. The sun is warm and all around me I can see the sacred white ibis balancing on the back of cape buffalo, iridescent dragonflies hover about, I can hear noisy baboons, and the sky has many fish eagles, Goliath herons and beautiful white-fronted bee-eaters. Magic. Just like a storybook.

“Hippo!” The guide and I paddle as fast as we can. It is coming directly towards us. We just miss colliding with each other!

Close your mouth.  Danger’s over,” I tell myself. I have a swig of water to get some moisture back into my dry mouth.

“Whew that was close!’  Adrenaline is surging through my body.  I try to breathe evenly and calm my heart. “That was a lessor spotted hippo” laughs Chobe our guide.

True, we had spotted it at the last possible moment and I’m not sure who was the most scared: hippo, guide or me!  In seconds Chobe had changed from a laid back, softly spoken Zimbabwean, to a fast paddling man who was sure both he and I were about to be killed by a hippo. The front of the canoe almost rose in the air as we both paddled deeply and strongly.

Perhaps it is true the hippo was just scared but I’d like to know why a vegetarian has such big teeth and powerful jaws if it only eats grass.

Read more of my round the world adventures in my book Naked in Budapest: travels with a  passionate nomad. Only $NZ25   http://www.kiwitravelwriter.com

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