Canoeing with Hippos

Are you crazy? Your guides will have guns won’t they? Don’t you know that hippos kill more humans than any other animal in Africa? And so it went. I knew I would be paddling through hippo and croc infested waters but thought the experience totally outweighed any fears that may have crept in. Until we found an article written by a British travel writer who had done the very trip we were going to be embarking on detailing their experience getting chomped and falling out of the canoe. This prompted a letter to the tour operator requesting a comment re the incident. We were placated and put at ease! After our week long driving safari we got on a small plane that flew us over the Selinda Spillway, the waterway we would spend the next 4 days paddling along, and dropped us in the bush at the Motswiri Air strip to be met by our guide DF and our 2 other paddle companions from Capetown. We all hit it off immediately. It took us about an hour and half driving through the bush to reach our canoe put in. When we rounded a bend there were our lovely Canadian canoes all packed up with our camping gear and the most beautiful looking lunch all laid out with table cloth and cloth napkins sitting just on the edge of the spillway. We couldn’t wait, for everything!

Very quickly we discovered that my travelling companion, although an avid paddler doesn’t steer and I don’t paddle or steer. I could see the look of incredulity cross our guide’s face. I guess that was something we should have discussed before signing up for this trip! And we didn’t know the challenges that would face us over the next couple of days where steering capabilities would really have been advantageous!

We spent the first afternoon zig zagging along the spillway as I was constantly oversteering. We were playing catch up the whole time. Once again I thought for sure our guide was just rolling his eyes and wondering what on earth the next 4 days would look like, and would we even make it to the end! That first afternoon on the water we came across a couple of young bull ellies playing in a pool and we just floated up to them. How magnificent! That was the start of endless sights that left me speechless and at peace. It was just us, under our own steam, the sounds of the paddles, the bird calls, a giraffe slurping water around the next bend, a zebra in the distance trotting along, a herd of ellies crossing the spillway in front of us. We had the steering down by day 2 and were all in harmony. We cooled off with cold beers and swimming in the spillway. We sat around the campfire at night after an amazing meal, revelling in our paddling accomplishments, the animals spotted and laughed alot. We curled up in our cozy duvets and tried to tune out the sounds of the roaring lions and grunting hippos nearby.

I was rather pleased with myself when we made it through 2 days without a hippo sighting. I thought we were going to get off scot free. How wrong I was! The next day was a series of chases, charges, swirling tails and faeces, cat and mouse games and pretty much pure fright! As sound really carries in the bush we had to rely on sign language that became more exagerated with each hippo event! We have all lived to tell our own hippo tales. It was truly a trip of a lifetime but it did push my fear capacity further that I needed.

Water is the life blood of all of Botswana, people, animals, flora etc. This was an exploratory trip on a brand new waterway. A waterway that hadn’t been there fore more than 30 years. It was created by the joining of the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti River. Botswana experienced higher than ever flood levels this year which besides creating this spillway and providing new habitats, resulted in vary interesting and bizarre animal behaviours, perhaps even our atypical hippo behaviour! We knew it would be a unique trip on many levels and indeed it was. ┬áBut until we were actually there and experiencing life along the spillway, the magnitude of this rare event and the vast and varied beauty of this country had only been in words.