‘As in Hippo pot — oh my!’
Hey there, Madeleine and Becca and Ruth. I’m baaa-aack! Yes, after three weeks and two countries’ worth of African adventures, I’m back at the keyboard again.
What with the animals and the birds and the dunes and the waterholes and the sunrises and the sunsets and suchlike, I’m not sure where to begin.
So I’ll just jump right in with the story about the hippos in the middle of the night.
See, we covered a heck of a lot of ground on this trip, going from habitat to habitat to get different kinds of birds. Which meant that we mostly stayed just one night in each of, gosh, a dozen different lodges. These places were not fancy, but very cool all the same, and I must admit I hated leaving most of them. But once I got the hang of never really unpacking, I got into a rhythm and started to enjoy the feeling of anticipation that came with knowing I’d get to discover a new place at the end of each day.
We were about two-thirds through the trip when we stopped at Xaro Camp. (Interesting linguistic note: in Bostwana, an “x” is pronounced like a “k,” so you say “Karo Kamp,” ’cause, well, the “c” is also pronounced like a “k.” Hahaha.)
The only way to get to this camp is by water, it being situated at the head of the Okavango Delta.
When we were shown to our room — which was a canvas tent on a wooden platform — we were told (rather firmly) not to leave the premises after dark — not even to go out on the balcony — since large nocturnal animals would be roaming about looking for food. And, if we didn’t want to be on the menu, we’d need to stay inside. The one time we’d be out after dark would be dinnertime, and then we’d be escorted. Safety in numbers, I guess.
We were used to this, having been to Africa before. In fact, once in the Serengeti, we were having breakfast when a whole herd of elephants came marching through the lodge grounds, ripping up trees and causing havoc. A whole herd of German tourists rushed out to take their pictures (!) and had to be wrangled back inside. So, yes, we were into the escort idea.
Another fun fact: when shown our cabin (room? tent?), we were also told that ours was called the “hippo cabin,” since it was just a few yards from a dip in the riverback where hippos liked to come ashore. Oh wow. Terrific.
This was a stay-two-nights place, and the first night was uneventful. Some screeching, a few hoots. Plenty of elephant tracks out there in the morning, but otherwise nada. Oh! We did see Pel’s Fishing Owl (or PFO), which is very hard to find. We found two.
But the next night I woke around 3ish and was lying there deciding whether to grab a flashlight to make my way to the bathroom, when I heard this snuffling sound. A really loud snuffling sound, punctuated with these grunts. By now, I really needed to pee, but decided against using the light. I kind of felt my way toward the toilet, and lowered away — trying to be extremely quiet, which I have had lots of practice doing. (See “The Daydream Believer and the Homecoming Queen” for a tale of quiet peeing gone awry in an awfully embarrassing way.)
The whole time I’m aiming for the side of the bowl to avoid noisy splashing I’m hearing snuffling and grunting just inches away from my scared little snack-sized body. Mind you, there’s just a piece of tent canvas between me and whatever it is making the snuffling and grunting.
Next morning, I see large footprints around our tent and am told at breakfast that, yes, it was hippos I was hearing — and that everyone in camp heard them too. Though not everyone heard them inches away from their peeing selves.
Well, I think that’s enough adventure for today. But don’t worry; there’s plenty more for next week.
New York City. September 2023