Hippo Attack


Hippo Attack

So my first few posts have been about where I’ve taken my children or recent experiences but I thought I would write about a near death experience that happened to my husband and I about 15 years ago in Zimbabwe!

My husband Tim and I travelled to the beautiful country of Zimbabwe to kick off our round the world tour.  At the age of 21 I was certainly naïve and unaware as to how dangerous a canoe safari on the Zambezi river would be.

It had been widely documented in the news that the Mozambique floods had caused not only human fatalities but also the animals had become highly protective of their babies too.  That being the  case you would have thought leisure trips would have been cancelled but not so in our case!

That being said we both survived the trip in one piece and it was a phenomenal experience but one I would definitely never repeat.

On day two as were gently rowing down the river you could hear grunting noises which sounded like strange pigs and it was only when you got a bit closer that you could see the real culprits – the hippos! Now before my trip if someone had asked me about hippos the cartoon images would spring to mind with cute podgy faces wallowing in the mud.  I didn’t even realise that they could swim under water for 5 meters without coming up for air or that they can open their jaws to 150 degrees! The most shocking fact I heard whilst on the safari with no option to turn back was that they are the second biggest killer in Africa after the mosquito!!! They’re not predatory but if you get in their way there will be trouble!

I had absolutely no idea what I was signing up for when we paid to do an idyllic canoe safari for 2 nights and 3 days!  I imagined leisurely paddling along and admiring the wildlife out of the water.  When we boarded the canoe boats which were long and white we were told there were three hazards – big branches that could flip the boat over, hippos and crocodiles!! It was estimated that there was at least 1 crocodile to every 25 metres.

To make matters worse Tim and I were by no means the best rowers and we really struggled to keep our canoe straight. I lost count of the number of times my head was part of a bush or tree.  How could we be so bad Tim is  naturally good at every sport he puts his hand to unfortunately we found his Achilles heel.  That being said I still don’t really know what my job was and was hopeless at the paddling too.

The paddlers of the boat in front were a couple from Yorkshire who were older than us and at the time I thought they were quite old.  They were probably in their 30’s so not old at all!  The rowers in front were two guys from Denmark called Jacob and Thorkild who were great fun and still good friends. Jacob even came to our wedding a few years later and thanks to Facebook we are able to see how they’re getting on.   They say near death experiences can bond or break relationships and I can totally see that.

Ok to put you out of your misery as I’ve waffled on for far too long I’ll get to the attack!!! We were zigzagging along as usual and struggling to keep up with the rest of the group when all of a sudden there was a loud thud and the next thing I knew I was completely submerged in the water trying to swim to the top and climb ont he embankment.  Tim on the other hand being characteristically ever so obedient clambered onto the upside down canoe and assumed the foetal position. These were the guide’s instructions if we capsized in the middle of the water not next to the embankment.

It all happened so quickly – one minute we were fully capsized into the water and the next minute the guide was patching up the hole on the boat ready for us to get back in! It was only when I saw that the hippos teeth marks were exactly where my bum was that reality sank in.  Climbing back into the patched up canoe and paddling passed the hippos that had attacked us was terrifying as from that moment I was convinced we weren’t going to survive the rest of the trip.  I’ve never craved for dry land more in my whole life.

Tears were rolling down my face for the whole journey.  We set up base for the night on a sandy island where the animals such as antelopes, warthogs etc were free to roam.  Our guide assured us that the animals would just think our tents were rocks but this didn’t stop me from waking Tim up to plead with him to stop snoring.  I remember we had our food cooked on an open fire and there were black flies everywhere, we also had to take a spade and dig a hole if we needed the toilet – this was camping  in the most true sense.  Definitely swaying towards the whole glamping craze these days…

The next day I couldn’t face another day so Tim and I swapped partners with the guide and the trainee guide and thankfully we’re still here to tell the tale.

After we completed the safari all sorts of horror stories came out of the wood work about tourists losing arms, legs etc on the same trip.  We also heard that our guide had won a national bravery award for saving one of his team members lives when they were attacked by a crocodile.  Apparantly he swam in and pulled the crocodile off the man with his tail and the tide luckily pulled the crocodile away.

Despite having the occasional irrational fear that hippos are in the swimming pool I will always have fond memories of the people in Zimbabwe who were so very friendly and welcoming.




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