“WHAT! Don’t do it! You’ll get attacked by hippos and crocodiles. Whoever offered you this trip is desperate for money. They’ll sell you anything. It’s not safe”. People started recounting dangerous encounters with wildlife (one was very recent) and the conversation deteriorated fast into fear mongering. They were obviously scared and I could feel the tension in my body rise as they were talking. I listened, thanked them for their concern and walked away. “These wildlife attacks are so rare. What are the chances of another one happening so soon anyways?”, I thought to myself.
I had already done several amazing safaris by truck, car, horseback, on foot and by boat. But I hadn’t done a canoe safari yet. I also wanted to exercise my upper body to help my kayaking skills. It was very difficult to find a canoe trip. So when I met Owen at Victoria Falls and he offered to arrange one, I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it’s best with a group so I casually mentioned it over dinner and that’s when I was strongly discouraged. I expressed the concerns I heard to Owen and he assured me that it’s safe and agreed to get paid after the trip. I checked in with myself and I really wanted to do it.
Even though it’s called canoeing, we used a raft. Ever since a canoer was attacked by a crocodile, they had been using rafts because they’re bigger and crocodiles don’t attack them. So off we went; 4 guides and myself rowing through the upper Zambezi river for more than 4 hours. My head kept playing the horror stories I had heard the previous day. Every rock looked like a hippo. I kept consciously returning to the present moment, breathing slower, feeling my body, thanking my fear, singing my safe mantra* and acknowledging the awesome Nature around me. We glided down the river, no other humans in sight. Whenever we approached hippo territory (according to our river expert), we would hit the raft and the surface of the water with our paddles producing loud bangs. These bangs would echo in the water so any animals lurking under the surface would stick their heads up to check what’s going on. Once we see them, we paddle away to keep our distance and give them space. Hippos are typically very chill but they are territorial. They can get very aggressive defending their territory. We made sure to stay at least 10 meters away from them. They cannot swim but they can hold their breath for up to 7 minutes and walk fast underwater. We tried to stay in the deep parts of the river. One time we had to paddle really fast because a hippo was coming towards us. Luckily we were faster than him. Another time a hippo was in the middle of the river and there wasn’t enough space to pass him safely. So we parked by the side of the river, after making sure it was crocodile-free, and waited, and waited. After about 10 minutes or so, our guide decided it was safer to get out of the water and walk around him. Just as we were preparing to disembark, the hippo moved to one side and we paddled the hell out of dodge. We came across several other hippo groups that were super calm and minded their own business. The nice thing about wildlife and Nature is that if you respect it, it respects you and we can all coexist in harmony. We also saw a crocodile, buffalo and lots of birds.
I learnt so much about hippos on this trip, first hand experience. Much more than I could’ve learnt from books or films. I also learned that the river expert who came with us is a local hero. He rescued the canoer who got attacked by a crocodile. For all that, the amazing scenery, and overcoming my fears, I’m forever grateful!
* My safe mantra: “I am safe. I am free. I have peace of mind. I am abundance!”
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