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Among Hippos and Crocs; Canoeing the Zambezi River

Spending four days with just a small canoe separating me from some of the world’s most dangerous animals

sunny 37 °C
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Posing hippos

Posing hippos

The hippo suddenly appeared about ten metres in front of our canoe. It lazily yawned and showed off its four big canine teeth. It looked like it could swallow the first half of the dugout in one gulp. That half of the canoe I was occupying. “Hippo, straight ahead!” I yelled, with me and our lead guide in the seat behind starting to paddle backwards frantically. We’d clearly awoken it, to a lot of discontents. Snorted angrily at us, water spraying from its nostrils like it was a small whale. We slowly took a wide bend around the morning grumpy animal, and it stayed put.

Giant crocodile

Giant crocodile

Following in the footsteps of Livingstone, a couple of other white silly explorers and generations of local fishers, my sister and I have decided to brave some of Africa’s wildlife in its element by booking a four-day canoeing adventure on Africa’s fourth-largest river. Probably mostly my idea, but by this point, borderline crazy ideas constitute a badge of honour I happily wear on my travels. It did feel full-on crazy when we stopped our canoes mid-river on a shallow spot to take a quick bath just minutes after being chased by a hippo. That, however, was the guides’ idea, not mine.
The crocodiles turned out to be surprisingly timid. They are sliding down into the water and under its surface before our canoes got close. They are opportunistic animals, so they don’t bother much with the big canoes. However, better watch the water closely when walking down to the shoreline from camp to wash hands or clothes. The last thing you want is a croc snapping out against you without warning. So we made sure to stay well away from the water’s edge after dark.

Hippo City

Hippo City

The hundreds of hippos we passed turned out to be a little trickier. Hippos are the animal in the world responsibly for killing the largest number of humans on an annual basis. They’re very territorial and short-tempered. Not only can they pop out the water without warning—they like to rest on the river button—they also rush around in the water at the sight of a canoe to get to the securest possible position. Hippos don’t like being exposed, standing on land or in shallow waters, but prefer the deeper bit of river, for a place to hide and defend. Knowing this, and which parts were the shallow river we could stick to, we could zigzag our way through the dozens of ‘hippo islands’ and lonely, aggressive singles that dot the entirety of the Zambezi.

Close encounter

Close encounter

But not everything on the river is so heart-in-mouth – through the adrenaline of being chased by an angry hippo is a rush of the wilder. Antelopes, elephants and buffaloes are relatively untroubled by the silent, slow-moving canoes make for close wildlife encounters that are more relaxing than those with the hippos. Granted, sitting in a canoe on the water’s surface, elephants look very big when they are standing towering over the dugout to get a sip of water. Such encounters are possibly as thrilling, and a lot nicer, than those with the hippos.

Stuck Buffalo, Waiting Vultures

Stuck Buffalo, Waiting Vultures

Nature being nature; not everything is rosy. We didn’t see any predators other than the crocs, though we heard plenty of rows from lions, hyenas and spotted dogs during the nights. It was making falling asleep somewhat of an exciting experience. The vultures, however, did still have a feast. Extremely high temperatures and droughts hit the area around the river. As our visit coincided with the end of the dry season, everything but the river was dry to its bones, and plenty of weaker animals had succumbed to the harsh conditions. The most notable sight on our trip was a buffalo that had gotten itself stuck in the mud on the river bank. Unable to get out of its sticky grave, it was left to die of thirst and hunger, just metres from the river. While it was still alive, a handful of vultures were already sitting above it, waiting for its demise and a feast — the situation straight out of the cartoons I used to read as a kid.
Such were just a few of the impressions after four highly recommendable days on the water, should you ever find yourself in this part of the world. There're more photos in the gallery on the right side for more inspiration.

Posted by askgudmundsen 22:06 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged river adventure africa safari zambia zimbabwe travelling roadtrip canoe southern_africa zambezi Comments (0)

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