Canoeing with Hippos and a Touch of Malaria...Part I

I’d heard about Hippo Pools Wilderness Camp long before I’d even arrived in Zimbabwe. Run by a British family, my friend had given it a rave review – secluded and peaceful, it was set on the banks of the gloriously beautiful Mazowe River, You could bird watch, hike, go out on night drives with the owner but – the clincher for me – take a canoeing trip down the river itself, home to hoards of hippos.

Grave warnings from more cautious travellers sailed way over my head. So these enormous, one-ton creatures were the number one animal killers in Africa? So they often lay in wait, peacefully, for their innocent victims to paddle by in nothing more to protect them but the flimsiest of wooden structures? So they then merrily tipped said victims out of said flimsy structures, pulling them deep under the waters to their untimely deaths? I couldn’t vision it. Hippos didn’t strike me as violent creatures. Anyhow, I’d waited months for this part of the trip – a few scare stories wasn’t going to deter me. I had the cash and I was ready to sign up.

The info I was given, the day before we left, was pretty standard. Our accommodation would be pretty basic – two person tents, and mother nature there for me, if I needed to relieve myself at night. Hearty fare would be provided, around a camp fire, each evening. Then there was the list of “must brings” – all very obvious of course – toilet rolls, flip flops, a towel, mosquito repellant and, last but not least, Larium – the standard anti-malarial medication back in the 90s.  Malaria, the brochure said, was rife in the area.  Only I didn’t have any Larium. I’d taken it the previous year, on a three-month trip around South East Asia, and it had made me feel bloody awful. Headaches, itchy skin, agitation, a constant feeling of exhaustion and technicolour nightmares on a regular basis had left me feeling like something out of a living dead movie.

After three or four weeks of this misery, I’d decided that if it were a choice between malaria and having my trip ruined by these exceedingly unpleasant side-effects, I’d take the risk. And so I’d junked the Larium and continued on my merry way. No harm had befallen me. Now, a year later, in Africa, I’d taken the same calculated risk. OK, it was less than ideal, but I always slept under a net, covered myself up with long sleeves the moment night fell and had made Bite Blocker Xtreme my trusty friend. After almost three months in Southern African, it still had not failed me.

Three days into my trip, Hippo Pools had got an enormous thumbs up from me. I’d trekked around the area, seen all kinds of unusual flora and fauna. and taken an early morning jeep drive, out in the bush, which had been spectacular. And, fearlessly, that morning, I’d canoed down the river, for over 2 hours, and found myself almost hysterical with delight when I spied a huge group of hippos not a few metres from my boat, lounging on the river banks and two or three 90% immersed in the water. As I passed them, wallowing happily beside me, I felt not an ounce of hostility, I mentally marked this off as one of the highlights of the trip.

What could go wrong now?   What indeed...