Hippo tracks (and trails)

23:36, Nov. 7, 2012
Sodwana Bay, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

Bugs, schmugs; I’m in Africa. There are much bigger fish to fry (before they fry you!) I’m on Lake Sibiya, a breath-taking natural reserve, and HIPPOS live here. In fact, when they were building the main homestead on this land, a hippopotamus was seen right here on this very spot, at the corner of the property. I’m in hippo-land. Hungry-hungry, man-flattening Hippo-land.

Did you know that hippos kill more people than all other people-killing mammals combined? (That includes lions, tigers, bears, and elephants.) It’s because they don’t fake-charge. They simply Charge. And this is exactly what happened to us yesterday.

Ronell, my gracious Wwoof host and “barefoot nature doctor” to the community, escorted me and another volunteer from next-homestead (aptly named Hippo Haven) down to Lake Sibiya. I drove the 4×4. On the way, just before the Jurassic Park theme sounded and we entered the gate, we saw 15 giant amazing hippo skulls in front of the park rangers’ station; should have been a clue. Nevertheless, moments later I could not stifle my jaw-dropping surprise of finding a family of hippos playing in the lake, splashing about, exhibiting their cavernous mouths for all to see. From a safe distance we watched this sunset vision.

Like Sibaya

Alas, onward I drove. When we were approximately upon the family, who were now obscured by tall yellow grass between our crude dirt path and the lake’s edge, I asked if it would be foolish to get out to sneak a peek. Ronell suggested we keep driving a bit further, with good chances of seeing more up ahead. Sure enough, a big blobby hippo crossed our path. Amazing! And look, another one over there! A baby! They’re close enough that we were shooting video.

The following events took place in a blur, but by combining our fragmented testimonials and disrupted videos we’ve pieced together this story:

The hippos suddenly started running. For enormous pink blobs, they move incredibly fast. For no apparent reason they changed directions, and were heading straight for us! I was glued to my camera. We all started screaming. Ronell repeated “start the car, start the car!” (so I cut my video) but it wouldn’t start. She fumbled over the driver’s controls, and inadvertently sounded the horn. All I could think was: hippos are charging and are about hit us broad-side, or shall I say driver’s side; And how a 12-inch hippo tooth like the one back at her house can slice through this car like a tin can. I think the horn spooked them, because in the final moment they barely missed us. The baby kept running, the big angry one stopped behind our car and glared at us until we drove away.

What a rush! We were all amazed, and happy to be alive. Here we were, with mother and 10 month-old child, and we’re all laughing. Doc says it’s amazing; never happened before. Africans live among stunning wildlife, and life-threatening experiences are all part of the fun. (Aussies share this brand of national masochism too.)

Anyone for a swim?

(Crocodiles don’t fake-charge either, when you can’t see them sneaking-up beneath the water’s twilight reflection.) Gotcha bitch!

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