Running into Hippos on the Zambezi

It was the morning after my first night camping in Zambia and we were up at the crack of dawn. We quickly ate breakfast before going down to the river's edge and boarding our canoes. Before long, we set off, disturbing the pristine surface with gentle ripples. There was a loud bellow, almost like a laughing old man. I turned my head to spy a group of hippos, their heads only just visible above the river's surface. It was incredible to see such a majestic animal up close until there was a shout from one of the leading canoes.

"Hippo!" He yelled.

Me and my fellow canoe-mates were turning the canoe away from the hippos, believing we had skirted the danger. Hippos may be vegetarians but they are notoriously dangerous, killing hundreds of people per year. They have been known to attack without much provocation.

"Hippo! Paddle!" More people were yelling now and they were looking right at our canoe at the back of the group.

I paddled faster than I ever had in my life, still rather oblivious to what was going on. We finally caught up to the rest of the group who told us that a hippo had been right behind our boat. It had apparently opened its humongous jaws and tried to grab the end of the boat but we managed to paddle just in time. It sounded like a pretty close call but because I had never seen the hippo, I didn't feel too shaken. Although, I had learnt to be a little more careful.


Hippos were not the only animal which we had to look out for. We were warned before we set off that we should not put our hands or feet over the edges of the boat. This is because crocodiles can grab a stray limb and catch an easy meal. Whilst rowing down the Zambezi, I often wondered just how many crocodiles were lurking beneath the water. I saw several sunning themselves on nearby banks. They are intriguing animals but one which you want to not get too close too.

It was during our first day of canoeing that I first saw an amazing animal - elephants. I was so excited that I accidentally dropped my camera into the bottom of my canoe, submerging it in water. Needless to say the camera died. Fortunately I had my trusty iphone for backup and a DSLR in my bag which I could use later as the bags were all travelling on a separate canoe.

The elephants were perched at the water's edge, using their long trunks to get a nice refreshing drink. There were many elephants, perhaps five that I could see. We stopped rowing and silently drifted over to the elephants, trying to get as close as possible without disturbing them. After around ten minutes, the elephants were had quenched their thirst and melted back into the African bush.

At lunch time, we all stopped off on the shore. It was a remote area, completely in the middle of the bush. Occasionally I would see small little houses by the water's edge whilst canoeing down the Zambezi, but mostly we were completely in the wilds. We were able to explore the area and quickly came across a hippo skull and spine. It was a grizzly yet amazing sighting at the same time and I couldn't help but wonder how the animal met its end. Perhaps it just passed away naturally as I can't imagine many animals wishing to tackle a hippo.

Pristine African wilderness

Hippo skull

After lunch we continued canoeing for another few hours until we eventually stopped on a small island in the middle of the Zembezi. The island was little more than sand and a few shrubs but the views from it into the wilderness were magnificent. This was where we were to set-up camp for the night. It really is wild camping.