When I returned from my much-needed trip to pee on hippo island, I noticed the rest of the group rising and unzipping their tents. I was exhausted from so little sleep and still coming to terms with the fact that I had been chased by a hippo in the night.
Even so, I could barely suppress a gasp of amazement as I watched the sun rise from above the towering hillocks in the far distance, their dark silhouettes contrasting with the huge red ball of flames which added a beautiful golden tint to the land below.
Breakfast was prepared. The guides stood behind the metallic foldaway tables, their backs to the Zambezi river which flowed past quietly. I noticed a group of hippos resting in the river, only a few metres from our island and swallowed nervously.
I made myself a tea before sitting down on a green canvas stool to enjoy breakfast in the wild. It was hard to come to terms with where I was - sat on a sandbank in the middle of the Zambezi river, completely in the wilds of Africa. I listened to the gruff chorus of bellows coming from the group of hippos, backed by the chirping of numerous birds. Occasionally a splash would sound as a hippo yawned or a crocodile slipped from the grassy banks of the river, becoming submerged except for their beady eyes atop their prehistoric skulls.
I sipped on the hot brew that I had cupped between my hands, the steam rising up and warming my chilly face. Mornings here were very cold, far colder than I had expected and I found myself huddling for warmth in my sky blue fleece.
After breakfast we began to take down our tents. I liked to think I was starting to get the hang of handling my tent and started tugging the black metal pole out from the canvas. It was icy cold to the touch but came out with ease. Working with Emily, we quickly folded down to tent so that it could be transported across the river on a small motor boat which went on ahead of the group.
Here I am putting my tent down, a signature mug of tea beside my rolled-up sleeping bag. Not my photo
We set out for another full day canoeing down the Zambezi. Today our third canoe-partner was switched. Instead of myself and Emily being paired with one of our teachers, we were partnered with a girl from the year below. Maybe our teacher felt like he needed a more reliable canoe to journey with after having a hippo trailing behind him with its jaws agape the day before.
We began rowing, slicing the icy water with our black ores. My arms felt stronger and I quickly got into a rhythm with my 2 companions. We were keeping up with the rest of the group with ease, rowing like it was the most natural thing in the world.
We knew how to handle the mighty Zambezi and were able to swerve out the way of hippos, giving them enough distance not to cause them any alarm. Lounging crocodiles no longer made me feel uneasy and the thought of them swimming under our canoe at any given point no longer felt terrifying.
I noticed with awe as the landscape around us began to shift. Majestic mountains stood proudly in the distance, tinged with blue as they merged with the clear sky on the horizon. The ridge of mountains seemed to stretch on forever, made up of peaks of varying shapes and sizes. Some were pointed and jagged whilst others were smooth and curved. Each one was filled with creases and ridges.
I'm not sure why - maybe I'm just incompetent - but it always seemed to be our canoe that got into trouble. We'd already nearly got our canoe eaten by a hippo on our first day (you can read all about that here) and on the second day we had another issue.
It was midday and time for a lunch break. We were all to pull up on a nice sandy area by the side of the river. Shortly after the sandy bank was a strong current and chilling within this strong area of river was a hippo family. The idea was that we all had to paddle to the bank long before the channel of rapids and if you didn't do it in time, well you were washed downstream into the hippos. Yikes!
We watched as every other canoe managed to get to shore safely without any issues. It was then our turn but somehow we had drifted and were already parallel with the rapids by the beach. I could feel the boat being dragged towards them.
"Paddle! Paddle!" Everyone was shouting.
I paddled as fast as I could but my energy was quickly draining. It was a real struggle to fight against the ever-increasing current. I could tell my canoe-mates were also struggling. There was a brief moment when I was sure we were going to get dragged away as no matter how hard we tried, the bank just seemed to be getting further and further away. Is this how it ends? I thought. I'd already escaped being eaten by a hippo twice, I could escape a third time! Somehow we managed to summon the energy and slowly bur surely the shore was getting ever closer. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, our canoe collided with the sand and letting out a huge sigh of relief, I collapsed onto the bank - alive! I was sure grateful for my yummy lunch.
Whilst we ate our lunch in the sand, the bushes further down-stream parted and a giant elephant walked onto the sand. We watched in awe as another followed. The elephants didn't hesitate as they stepped into the river and sure-footedly began to wade across, through the rough waters. The hippos watched on, flapping their ears and bellowing in contentment, clearly unphased by the elephant crossing.
After lunch, we continued our journey down the Zambezi. We eventually stopped off at our second campsite which was on a sandy bank at the edge of the bush. This one seemed to be not as much to the liking of the hippos as the last one and I let out a sigh of relief. Fortunately, I actually managed to make it through the night without needing a toilet break. Maybe my body had decided that last night was just too much for it.
Whilst lying in my tent that night, the sounds of the bush at night kept me awake for a while. I heard a high-pitched chirp, one that I recognised from nature documentaries. Hyena. Another joined it and another. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end as I heard their mesmerising cries. It sounded like they were coming from the other side of the river, though not too far away.
Later on, I heard an even more impressive call - the gruff roar of a lion. It was beautiful - one of the best things I had ever heard and it sure didn't fail to disappoint. I lay awake listening to the hyenas and lions for a while before their beautiful songs eventually lulled me off to sleep.