Travel for mind, body and spirit: Lips The hippos of the Zambezi

Lips The hippos of the Zambezi

I'm a Canadian. I was born to paddle. An eight-day white-water-rafting trip down the Zambezi is supposed to be like an amble down the high street for me, a leisurely jaunt along the watery border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Just the sun, three rafts, 16 people and a copy of The Compleat Angler.

The full horror of the situation hit me while I was sitting on a cliff overlooking a rapid called The Washing Machine or The Devil's Toilet Bowl or one of the other suitably macho names given to the churning pits of aquatic terror. It had just flipped three boats in a row.

But it wasn't the rapids I was scared of. Or the two crocodiles we'd seen upriver. Or the malaria-carrying flies. Or the poisonous snake that had managed to bite an ex-British Army officer before we could pummel it to death with our paddles. Or even the sense of humour of our river guides, invariably Australians.

No, what really scared me were the hippos. Forget your images of cute, waddling, grey hippo-teddies. These things kill more people in Africa than any other wild mammal. Hippos spend 60 to 70 per cent of their days in the water. But not only can they not swim, they can't even float. They can, however, stay underwater for up to six minutes. Often, all you can see of a hippo are two golfball-sized eyes bobbing on the surface.

Usually, if a hippo senses you are entering his area and doesn't like it, he'll mock-charge. This mostly involves bouncing off the bottom of the river, snorting water and grunting. In the words of Max, one of our river guides, "When performed by two tonnes of highly irate hippo, it's a surprisingly effective warning."

Sometimes, though, there is no warning. "I saw a canoe get hit by a hippo," Max told me. "It was just gliding along in the middle of the river. No noise. Then, boom. There's noise. There's water. People are screaming. It's quite hectic, eh?"

What Max saw was a fairly standard hippo attack. Imagine a Zambian fisherman poling down the river in his dug-out canoe. He is approaching a hippo who has been underwater for four minutes. The fisherman doesn't see him and sticks his pole into the hippo's head. The enraged hippo opens his jaw wide, pulling back his blubbery lips - yes, this is where the lips come in, they are extraordinary. Exposing his murderous teeth, he surfaces violently, driving his 10in-long lower canines though the bottom of the boat.

If he is lucky, the fisherman will be thrown clear. Many though, don't survive the attack, largely because most people living near the Zambezi don't know how to swim.

So is that it? Do river-users just let themselves get terrorised by these curvaceous beasts? Some, such as Hugo, yet another Australian river guide, take solace from a quirk of Victoria Falls geography: "Hippos have been known to drop over Victoria Falls, hit the bottom and explode. It'd be good to see."

Nothing like a respect for nature in all its glory. Now if only they could do something about the crocodiles, poisonous snakes and Aussie jokes. The flies I am used to. After all, I am Canadian. Cleo Paskal

Air Zimbabwe (0171-491 0009) and British Airways (0345 222 111), fly between Gatwick and Harare, with connections to Victoria Falls.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Toure could leave Manchester City in the summer, claims his agent
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior C++ Developer

    £350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Senior C++ Developer – L...

    SEN English Teacher

    upto £110 a day approx: Randstad Education Cheshire: English EBD Teacher requi...

    SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

    Client Services Associate (MS Office, Analysis, Graduate)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client Services Associate (Microsoft Office, Ana...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz