Dodging Hippos on the Zambezi

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Africa » Zambia » Chipata
August 28th 2008
Published: September 19th 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

Covering up in the canoeCovering up in the canoeCovering up in the canoe

The sun was blistering
The next stop on my adventure through Africa was the 2 day canoe trip on the lower Zambezi river. Before I left I was a little worried about this portion of the trip - for those of you who have been canoeing with me, you know that I prefer to be canoed - I get bored of paddling very quickly. Well no need to worry - the canoe trip was a dream!

Before we left on our canoe trip we were given a briefing about safety - turns out it's not the crocs that were the biggest risk to our safety, but the hippos. We were told to follow our guide in single file and to listen closely to his instruction. If however we should be so unlucky as to bump into a hippo, we were told to abandon ship as quickly as possible and head for the nearest land. Not such a happy prospect when you think of all the things in the water waiting to eat you.

We spent two days canoeing down river on the Zambezi. The current was strong (2-4 km/hr) enough that you could stop paddling and just enjoy the views. And what views!! We paddled by local villages - waving at the children who ran down to the banks to see us, by baboons in the trees who watched us as we floated by and past elephants crossing the river. That was probably one of the most amazing moments - a large elephant making it's way across a kilometer wide river. At one point the river got too deep and the elephant started snorkelling - swimming with most of it's head submerged using it's trunk as a snorkel - while the rest of it's herd waited and trumpeted for it on the bank.

We saw crocodiles as well, sunning themselves on the banks of the river. Whenever we got within picture taking distance of them they would slip into the water. It's amazing how easily a croc can dissapear in the water!

We had a couple of close calls with the hippos; on the second day, we were canoeing towards an island that had elephants and hippos on it happily munching on the grass. On the other side of the canoe, in the water, was a large pod of hippos. We figured if we stayed close to the island we could avoid the hippos in the water. Only problem with that theory was that it relied on the hippos on land staying on land. They did not... The hippos jumped into the water straight into our path... Suddenly our guide is screaming : "Turn the canoes... To the island". This meant paddling against the current - futile effort. Heart beating fast - freakin out - we managed to beach our canoes on the island and wait for the hippos to decide what they were going to do. It was a hairy couple of minutes, but a lot of fun in retrospect. Also, the elephants on the island did not appreciate us being so close and were trumpeting and mock charging at us. FUN!!

On the first night of the canoe trip we camped wild on Elephant Bone Island. What an amazing experience. We sat around a campfire all night listening to stories of Uncle Baboon while the hippos laughed in the background - hippos make the most amazing sounds, they really sound as if they are laughing and they sound as if they are standing right next to you even though they are on the opposite bank. Just before sundown we watched a herd of elephants cross the lake onto the island. We were told that it was likely that animals would visit our camp during the night. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of something tromping through the grass - it sounded very close to me. I lay in my tent and just listened, eventually falling asleep. The next morning I found elephant tracks just a meter from my tent!! What an experience

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19th September 2008

I cannot begin to imagine how incredible it would be to see all this spectacular wildlife! The elephants are absolutely amazing! So glad you survived Africa with only a few scrapes and bruises. You need to start your own travel show!

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