Last Sunday we spent the day alongside the Niger River at a campsite that several families rent together year-round. It is about 30 minutes outside the city, crossing vast expanses of desert wasteland, garbage-laden bushes and trees, dust-covered roads, and primitive mud-hut houses and ramshackle settlements. It is sobering, the reality of this poverty-stricken country in plain view. The Mango camp, so named for the many mango trees providing shade, is riverside and lovely. Not exactly Lake Chelan or the mighty Columbia river, mind you, but who’s comparing? There was a grill for lunch and the kids could climb the trees easily, while the adults visited or simply enjoyed the peace.
Hippos are really really really really really BIG. Let me tell you how we found out. We took a little boat trip to find the hippos – something they do often around here. Apparently they haven’t seen the same episodes on Animal Planet depicting these creatures as unpredictable man-killers? Anyway, we went along with it….for the adventure. After tooling around the somewhat shallow waters for about 30 minutes and not finding the beasts, (although I have to mention that we did find an entire herd of cattle grazing in the shallow waters) our driver suggested going further south, although he didn’t know those waters as well…but he thought they might find the family of hippos there. (I was getting slightly uncomfortable, but not wanting to appear the wimpy mom, didn’t say anything). We saw beautiful African birds everywhere, remote villages along the shores, families bathing and washing, men working the fields, or simply resting in pumpkin boats…it was a slice of African life I never would have seen had we not ventured this way!
Still the hippos eluded us. (All this time I wondered if they were right underneath us, ready to pop up! I seriously have watched those crazy animal shows!) We were almost ready to turn back when we spotted them – ON LAND – on an island about 125 yards away from us! Glory! This was what we were waiting for! Two “smaller” ones were in the water, and two large ones were on land, standing and moving around. It was incredible! We slowly drifted a wee bit closer, boat driver being cautious, I’m internally freaking out while taking pictures, and the hippos not noticing us. Then “BIG GUY” stands up on land near the now-medium-sized ones standing on the water’s edge. Seriously, I thought that it was a huge rocky part of the landscape until HE stood up! They all seemed to notice our presence and wimpy mom starts to sweat…uh, what are they going to do? Boat driver says (with a touch of nervousness, I might add) that it was time to go. Uh, ya. We reverse and the hippos stealthily slip into the water. Oh great – now we don’t know where they are! I’ve seen this on Animal Planet, people! They run like horses on the river bottoms! I am pretty sure we all were thinking the same thing – LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!!!
Our boat driver skillfully maneuvered his way through the shallow waters, only grounding us once, retreating to a safe distance from the dreaded man-killers of African rivers! And I have some pretty cool photos to prove I am adventurous-mom, not wimpy mom!