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!


Spooky Things

21:11, Nov. 6, 2012
Sodwana Bay, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

Today’s approximate proximities of the local wildlife to me:

2 swarms of African killer bees. (2 smoke fires later, we drove them away.)
2 Hippopatamuses charged us. (only bypassing us by 2 car lengths.)
1 scorpion. (1 foot from my foot, 1 step away from my chapel bush cottage.)
1 beautiful brown owl. (perched 1 meter away from the 4×4.)
20 centimeter millipede. (20 centimeters from my bed.)

As is my usual style to go on about pretty and extraordinary things, I feel it would be more fun tonight to write about spooky things.

I’m staying in a remarkable little cottage on the edge of the property here at the permaculture homestead I’m volunteering at. It’s a stand-alone, medium-sized room, built in the form of a little chapel, comprised exclusively of recycled plastic bottle ‘bricks’, and covered in a smooth concrete finish, painted all-white on the inside.

The Chapel, where I sleep (at sunrise.)

Next to me is an similarly sized, but differently-shaped dwelling, the ‘Green Haus’. Here, a Zulu couple is taking refuge from their own homestead, where ‘little men’ have overrun and deemed it unfit for their living. It’s round, inspired by the traditional Zulu mud and thatch-roofed huts, but made instead of quick and inexpensive green metal. Its inhabitants, Sibongile and Mfanseni are having some domestic issues: yesterday she chased him with a garden hoe clear across the neighborhood, to another homestead, or so he told my host, Ronell. We got a clarification later in the afternoon, directly ‘from the horses mouth’ so-to-speak, as she confessed to a neighbor she was trying to kill him.

I haven’t seen either of them since shortly after the incident, although eerily-enough, for the last two nights, the door of the Green Haus has been left ajar, lights-on, all night. It’s only 5 meters away, but I haven’t been bold enough to go pop my head in to see if everything’s alright. (Honestly, I don’t think I could handle it if it wasn’t.) Ronell found in both cases that nobody was home.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this room since I first stepped-foot inside. It looked a bit, shall we say: abandoned. Bedding and rugs heaped in piles, a lot of dirt and sand collected, a line of five red candles in holders alongside the bed (ritual?) News of Sibongile’s dwindling mental health had reached me long before I entered the space she occupied most recently and during the last episode, which spanned the month prior to my arrival. It _all resonated. I promptly dashed-open the curtains and windows, collected the linens to wash, swept the space tidy, and moved-in. It’s cozy and quite charming.

Except that the door handle is broken (falls off) and the lock can’t be engaged from the outside. So I can lock myself-in, but not out. And being so close to the edge of the land, [to the little men in my head] it doesn’t feel 100% safe. And I hear noises outside. Could be dogs? Tonight it sounded as if dirt was being thrown at my big bay window. Or could be bugs buzzing into the glass. (Very likely.) Swarms of bugs.

We really did have to fend off swarms of African killer bees yesterday, and today. But that’s another story.

Just after I locked myself in tonight, a buzzing at the door startled me. From beneath it a beetle buzzed and entered, (unsolicited, mind you.) The next moment, a giant millipede just trotted under behind him. And one more, something we can all relate to: inch-and-three-quarter roach (just big enough to be too-big) scurried from somewhere near my bed to the other side of the room, and I didn’t even get up from my typing to chase her. I suppose these _are the other native inhabitants. (Shiiit, I didn’t kill the scorpion I found outside my door this morning either.)

Really, I’m just the new guy here, and I’m getting used to all this new stuff. For every thing I’ve mentioned that one might find questionable, I’ve got three more I could wax lyrical about. But this was the spooky blog.

Speaking of spooky, I heard a big phantom swallowed-up Halloween this year?