African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day Ninety-Nine Zambezi River

Later that morning with us bringing up the rear as usual we were paddling alongside an island to avoid a pod of hippos.
Suddenly a flurry of activity brings four hippos scurrying out of the bush and into the water just metres in front of Peter and Greg. They disappeared into deep water and four pairs of eyes popped up about twenty metres from us and watched as we tentatively crept past getting as close as we could to the bank.

After such an exhausting morning (we had covered 20 kilometres as well) we were thankful for a stop for lunch and a couple of hours siesta followed by a swim in the shallows later in the afternoon under the watchful gaze of a few hippos.

Still by the time we had got to our overnight stop at a deserted beach we were all pretty much exhausted and aching. The excellent food and some elephants strolling down to the water’s edge for a drink a mere 150 metres away soon resuscitated us.
We were now in Mana Pools National Park and the hunting camps and other signs of humanity gave way to thorny bushveld and groves of Acacia and other trees. It was a full moon and as it rose it lit our campsite with a soft glow and turned a nearby perfectly formed thorny Acacia tree into a silhouette.

The distant roar of a lion, the call of hyena and the munching of the hippos nearby seemed to be with us all during the evening and overnight. Despite our soreness, exhaustion and apprehension this was as good as it gets!

Peter and Greg allayed our fears somewhat about hippos. Apparently like most wild animals they only attack only when they feel threatened. The stories of canoes being turned over are greatly exaggerated and usually caused by accident. In deep water a hippo may be right underneath the canoe and its occupants totally unaware, so if it decides to pop up and you’re in the way, bad luck!

These guys seem to know their stuff. Peter was from the Shona, the most populous people in Zimbabwe and Greg was a young white guy from a farming family. When talking amongst themselves they spoke Shona. It seems that even though English is the official language Shona is more commonly spoken. They also told us of our biggest danger. “We (meaning Peter and I) will stand guard overnight to watch for Zambians paddling across from the other side. They ‘ave been known to raid a campsite and steal belongings from the tents and canoes whilst everyone slept.” Greg said.

Great I thought, we have to watch out for crocs and hippos by day and thieving Zambians by night.

Our final full day at 24 kilometres was a lot shorter and allowed us to leisurely enjoy the sun rising over the Zambezi.
This was our best day!
The river was mostly a series of tranquil channels and the wildlife was everywhere. Lots of hippos to be seen but none that were close enough to trouble us; a herd of elephants on the Zambian side; more elephants near our lunch spot; waterbuck, buffalo and impala also darted in around the national park edge, whilst little bee eaters probed small openings they had created as entrances to their nests inside the cliff face of the riverbank. But the piece ‘d’ resistance was yet to come. Swimming in a shallow channel we dried off and under Peters leadership we approached, by foot through the water, a large pod of hippos. We got within four metres of them as they watched us whilst closely bobbing up and down, ears flapping and noses snorting. They were watching us as warily as we were they. I snapped away around ten shots only to realise that I had the camera still set for a much dimmer light. By the time I reset, the hippos were almost completely submerged and moving away. Curses!

Ten metres beyond them an elephant descended the bank and paddled across the deeper channel up ahead to join his mates strutting on a small island. Later that afternoon we stopped our paddling and drifted as we watched more elephants frolic in the water just in front of us. Peter was pretty keen on ensuring that we didn’t get too close but some other canoeists were foolishly a lot closer and came very close to having their canoes turned into firewood.

Five kilometres on and it was time to set up camp for the last night on another sand island. First we had to navigate our way through a narrow channel with, you’ve guessed it, another pod of hippos in the way. No drama. Peter and Greg slapped their paddles against their canoes and off they went to safer waters.

On dry land we were all busting and Sue managed to grab the spade before anyone else and headed off to an inconspicuous place. She was had been so absorbed with finding a hidden spot that it wasn’t until relief had come that she realised that there was a hippo lying on the bank asleep a mere five metres away. Any alien who had no prior knowledge of humanity would have gone away thinking what strange toilet rituals we have once he saw this mad women running towards us waving a spade with one hand and holding up her shorts with other!

Footnote:

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Elephants in the Zambezi River walking across the river in Zimbabwe

Elephants in the Zambezi River walking across the river in Zimbabwe

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