“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas”. As great as that classic Christmas song is, I have to disagree. Knowing these animals to be very territorial and aggressive is one thing, seeing it with your own eyes is another. And seeing Mad Max the horrible hippo following us during our canoeing trip on the Zambezi river in Zambia, was something else all together. Yet, the terror hippos and the Zambezi did teach me, again, that travel is always worth all the effort.
But let’s back up to the beginning.
Going canoeing for two days, made me a bit anxious. Not so much because of the exertion or the water or even the hippos. My anxiety came chiefly from my inability to take directions well. Especially when I am feeling tired or hungry and I have no idea what the person in the back of the canoe is doing. And yet, this is what I would do for the next two days.
So, with some trepidation I get in our fully packed – stuffed really – canoe and we set off. We try to follow the guide, but find ourselves stuck on a sandbank just behind him. Great start. We keep trying to follow the guide, getting used to the canoe and all the other people canoeing around us. And that is when Mad Max strikes.
He pops up from under water, spraying water from his snout and following up his terrorizing with a big, loud, scary rumble. Then, as menacingly slow as he can, he disappears under water again, leaving us in uncertainty about his direction or whereabouts. We must be out of his territory by now as we’ve encountered more hippos, but he is relentless. And keeps following us. In the end, one of the guides has to stand up, shout and wave and keep Mad Max away so that the rest of us can get away.
I am trying to keep calm, at times holding my paddle as a weapon, but really I feel more like Erik’s exclamations: “I don’t like this, I really don’t like this”. Which, to be fair, is mostly to do with all the hippos, but is exacerbated by the unclear instructions of a guide. Does left mean we go left, or that there’s hippos to the left? Shouting louder and louder doesn’t make it any clearer, so in the end, we fend for ourselves.
Thankfully our four-hour lunch break gets me in a better mood. We have a meal, I read some and learn how to do a head-stand – how creative one gets out of boredom. The mood has disappeared again by the time we get to our camp for the night and after a bit of miscommunication and clumsiness I start to contemplate feeding one of our guides to the (vegetarian) hippos. I eat a snickers instead.
The tents having been set up, a beautiful sunrise having been enjoyed and dinner having been prepared and eaten, I return to normal. The view is amazing, we have some great conversation around the campfire and get to go to sleep in cooler tents than we have in a while. I am most definitely a happy camper again.
A happy camper who is woken up in the early morning by a frantic Erik. He is trying to shut off a light, because hippos are attracted by our head torches – apparently. Thing is, the light he is trying to shut off, is coming from outside. From the sun. Because it is morning and nearly time to wake up. We laugh about it, doze off and get our second day of canoeing started.
The second morning passes much easier. The water levels are higher (the sluices that close during the weekend having been opened so that the hydraulic generator can create electricity for a big part of Zambia) and there are less hippos to be seen. Lunch consists of trying to find a sliver of shade to escape from the burning sun – unsuccessfully. And by the time we get to the island where we will spend the night, we are happy that the trip is nearly over.
And yet again, food and another beautiful sunset make me realize that this is worth it. We have had great fun on the boats, laughing at other people’s struggles and our own clumsiness. We have seen gorgeous landscapes and gotten a great tan. Our food is prepared for us by the two Dragoman cooks that accompany us and the night is spend with horror stories by the guides. How could we not love this?
The next morning after packing up the tent, I walk away to brush my teeth. Every piece of clothing I have with me has stains on it and probably are starting to smell. I have no make-up on my face, my hair is more resembling of a piece of rope than the lush blond waves you see on commercials. It is 5 a.m. in the morning, I’ve gone to bed at a geriatric 9 p.m. and yet, I am so, so happy. I am calm and peaceful and content. Again I feel strongly, that this is where I am meant to be and what I am meant to do. And thankfully, for the next few weeks, I have nowhere else to be and nothing else to do, but be on the road.