Hippo Pot of 'em

Trip Start Nov 10, 2010
Trip End Nov 26, 2010

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Flag of Namibia  ,
Sunday, November 21, 2010

I slept as well last night as I have slept since March. The
sound of the rapids and the breeze blowing through the mosquito net must have
been the perfect sleeping aid. With all the curtains open, I am up with the sun
hearing the sound of passing hippos. My boat companions later on this day will
describe the sound they make as what gigantic frogs on steroids must sound
like. The croak and then they trumpet. That's one fine wake up call.

Today, I see more hippos than anyone has ever seen in a
single day...at least any American who is not floating on the Zambezi River.
They are everywhere. The river is wide but shallow. You must watch carefully as
you cruise so that you don’t hit a hippo. Big ones, small ones. In coves, near
rocks, in eddys, in the middle of the channel. They are everywhere.

You cannot effectively count hippos. Some are on the surface
while others are submerged. At one point, I counted seventeen heads in one pod
(I think that’s right—pod) but then four submerged and three surfaced and
then...well, you get the picture.

Today was also about people. Along the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers, people make their homes...such
as they are. Thatched roofs over walls of sticks, families live here and work
to find their daily meals. Fishermen plow the river’s edge in dugouts powered
by their backs and long poles. Moms bathe their children in the river. Kids
line the banks. All are friendly and happy to wave as you pass.

One wonders about the families and the hippos. And, of
course, the crocs. I suppose the children are well educated about the dangers
of these animals. They must be.

At this "Camp" or “Lodge” there is a group of five South
African fishermen being hosted by an Indian guide, a German couple, an American
couple and me. I have lunch with the Germans and dinner with the Americans.
Everyone is friendly and all have stories to tell about what they’ve seen, what
they hope to see and how they came to be in Africa...Namibia in particular.

After a morning motor down the river, we come back for a
late breakfast and I dive into my book by the pool. It is hot. I’m in the water
and back on the chaise; in the water and back on the chaise. I skip lunch due
to the late breakfast and am ready for the afternoon cruise on the river but
the skies are again threatening. “The rainy season has arrived,” says Toff, the
proprietor of this place. The rain skirts us so we (the Americans and I) tromp
to the dock and board our boat and away we go. With the overcast skies and the
plummeting temperature, I wish I had worn my coat. Literally falling twenty
degrees in a matter of minutes, the weather does not deter us.

However, the skies and the rain have deterred the animals.
We see the omnipresent hippos but not much else. Yes, there are birds aplenty
but I’m not much of a birder. No elephants. I am crushed. Soon, however, we see
a dark shape on a river bank far ahead and it is moving. As we come nearer, it
is—darn it—another hippo. But, wait. There is something else there. It’s a
newborn. Our guide suggests that this calf is a month old but I’ll bet it is
younger than that. Unsteady on its feet, it chases after a bird who’s job it is
to peck ticks from it’s mother’s body. Mom grazes unfazed. The baby wobbles and
romps. We could watch this for hours.

We’ve been told countless times about how dangerous the
hippo is. In two situations, they are very dangerous. If you get between them
and the water and they feel threatened by that, they will attack you. If you
get between them and their babies, they will attack you. Here, the hippos are
on the ground and we are in the water. Our guide feels that we are safe and we
approach more closely than we would had these “river horses” been in the water.
Mom pays us no heed.

Everybody likes babies. Well, baby hippos are no different.
They are lovable—from a distance.

Darkness begins to fall early due to the weather. We head
back. It is about an hour with the throttle wide open. It is cold. It is OK.

As I write this, I am listening to the streaming audio of
KCFX and the Chiefs are ahead 14-3. I don’t know how long the generator will
remain on so that I can listen. This is unreal. I am on an island in Namibia where
there is no sign of modern development anywhere hear...certainly no electric
lines. But, the internet is on via the Lodge’s WiFi and I am listening to a
Chiefs game. Bizzare.

I leave at 9:30 tomorrow morning for the complicated trip back to Johannesburg.
Here’s how that will go. I will leave the Impalila Island Lodge by boat. After
a 20 minute ride, we will stop at Namibian immigration’s dock so I can walk up
the road and legally leave the country filling in a form and having my passport
stamped. Then, back in the boat it will be about a 10 minute ride to Botswanan
immigration where I will legally enter their country by filling in a form and
get my passport stamped. Then, I will be transported by a car of some sort to
the Zimbabwe border. That will take about another 20 minutes. There I will have my passport
stamped by the Botswana folks, get in the vehicle, drive 100 yards or so to see the Zimbabwe folks, fill in a form and get my passport stamped. Then, I will enter another vehicle
and drive about an hour to the Victoria Falls Airport where I will fill in a form
and get my passport stamped prior to boarding my international flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. I am getting pretty good at this border crossing stuff. I spend the night at the same airport hotel in Johannesburg where I slept...what was it...a month or so ago?
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