My infamous Hippo adventures

Well it’s official. I’m famous :~). Joking! But I am privileged indeed to have had my prize-winning Hippo adventure story broadcast live over the CBC airwaves. How spectacular!

So now it’s time to share. I’ve been alluding to this story for ages in my blog. And here’s the honest-to-goodness non-fictional tale which won us the prize tickets to the ‘Skydive’ play here in Calgary.

Many people have had wild animal encounters (especially those who live near the mountains, where bears and mountain lions and cougars rule the land) — not counting squirrels and rabid rabbits ;~) in their lifetime. Within the 3 year lifespan, I had 3 rather scary encounters with wildlife that will last me a lifetime. The scariest of confrontations happened when I was travelling through Africa in 1993. I was on an overland trip with an Australian friend. We started our trek in Nairobi with the Kamuku outfitter and ended it 6 weeks later in Zimbabwe (or as it was known at the time). What an adventure! Such an incredible continent, free-camping at every opportunity, totally immersed with the wildlife and nature, no holds barred.

To begin my story, I must start with the fact that one of my biggest fears (apart from heights) is of sharks and crocodiles (or anything with wicked jaws submerged in the water, with me and the possibility but highly unlikely far-fetched close encounter). To be honest, I’m a scaredy-cat, believe it or not.

The tale begins on one long and eventful evening when Snehal (my Ozzie friend) and I were camping in Malawi beside the incredibly beautiful Lake Malawi. The day before, on our arrival at the empty beach front, I had asked our Trek Leader if there was anything dangerous like crocs or other creatures in the fresh water of the vast lake. Her response: “Nothing that you need to worry your pretty little head about”. Taking her advice to heart, I didn’t hesitate to jump in the water at 5am the next morning, after my unsuccessful attempt at wrestling with our rain-drenched tent fly (and hence rather damp and dreary tent). I was big into ‘aqua-aerobics’ at the time, so I spent the next 30 minutes ‘aerobic running’ in circles whilst I watched the lightening light up the early morning African sky. With not a care in the world, I curiously turned my head at the ‘ploop’ sound that I suddenly heard behind me in the quiet morning still. At first I thought a log had surfaced whilst I stood there in water up to my chest, the soft sand squishy between my toes. But with a double take at the outrageously beautiful brown and purple mass that stood 5 feet away from me, I instantly recognized the face of a curious Hippo with its ears twirling faster than my heart was pounding at that moment in time. Yes, you did read correctly: Hippopotamus was its name. Female or male, I know not. Nor did I care to stick around and question the irrelevant thought. I believe that I instantly went into shock. No one had ever educated me on how one was to jettison oneself from the water when encountering a wild animal, especially when chest deep and without flippers or weapon to my name. Not that either of those would have made a difference. What seemed like a slow-motion picture show that I look back on, I turned and haphazardly scrambled / swam/ crawled / fought my way to the shoreline. Tina Fey’s ‘lifeline’ seems rather comical at the thought. No amount of ‘life life or buoy’ could have pulled me out of that Lake faster or with more flare and zeal. Adrenaline brought me to the water’s edge, crying huge crocodile tears, hyperventilating like a crazy woman who had almost drowned. I didn’t look back once I scaled the sandy beaches, heading straight for our Trek leaders tent. I didn’t care that it was 6am and her husband Tim {our overland driver} was delirious and feverish with Malaria. I vomited my story to Molly and she laughed at my ridiculousness. I instantly lost trust and respect for her in that moment, in shock and disbelief at the obscurity of it all. I awoke my tent-mate and the rest of our overland crew, reliving the story with no need to embellish or flavour the tale. The aftermath of shock has a way of placating even the most high strung. Yet snickers of disbelief resounded through the crowd. It was then that we were directed by a Malawi resident to go and stand by the water, and watch the surface for a while. Hippos can submerge themselves for up to 30 minutes at a time, and then they will come up for air before going under for another bout of grazing and ‘meandering’. We walked down to the rickety pier and sat watching, curious as to what we would witness. Within a one hour time span, we had counted over 40 Hippos surfacing within eyesight. The term ‘Shock and Awe’ holds an entirely different meaning than what Bush ever intended. Believers I had of the overlanders after our viewing and show by the Lake.

To this day, I am extremely grateful that I didn’t know the extensive and bloody history behind Africa’s most notorious man-killer (Genocide warriors, Aids and Malaria aside). Someone was obviously looking down on me and blessing me with 1 of my 9 lives that December day. Most people killed by Hippos find themselves between the Hippo and the shoreline. I’m also grateful that I didn’t brush up against one of these blubbery mammoth beasts, as I surely would have had a heart attack on the spot. Or they would have chewed me in half by their gigantic sabre-like teeth.

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