I’m awoken out of a benadryl-induced coma-like sleep to the following sound right near my ear:
RIP, RIP, RIP, shuffle, swoosh, shuffle, swoosh, grunt, RIP, RIP, RIP, shuffle, swoosh, RIP, RIP
And after about 2 seconds I realize that less than 10 feet away from me, grazing just outside my tent, is a hippopotamus — the most deadly animal in Africa, responsible for killing more people than any other critter on the continent.
And then another thought hits me. Wow, I really need to use the bathroom.
To back up a bit… I was staying at the Red Chili camp site on a 3-day trip to Murchison Falls. The accomodations are a large cavass ‘permanent’ tent, with two single beds in it. We had been told before going that the campsite gets wild animals in it, including warthogs, leopards, and hippos, so it was not exactly a surprise. I had actually heard the hippo the night before as well, but I didn’t know what it was, and actually assumed it was a warthog. Not that having a warthog in your camp at night isn’t cool, but I’d seen the warthogs during the day and the excitement about them had sort of worn off.
But, upon conversation with the staff and fellow campmates, I learned that the sound came from hippos, not warthogs. The RIP sound is the hippo pulling out grass, the swoosh sound is actually its stomach digesting, and sounds like a washing machine in the agitation cycle.
I was very excited when it woke me up, excited and terrified at the same time. I knew that it would not try to go after people in a tent, but it is something to think that you are so close to Africa’s biggest killer, and there’s nothing between you and it but a piece of canvas!
So, I listen to its movements and hear it walk from my tent to the next row of tents and I ever-so-slowly sit up in bed and look out the screened portion of my tent and sure enough, there he is! I have never wanted to take a photo so badly in my life, but I had no idea how he would react to the flash, and certainly wasn’t going to take a chance finding out. It was not one of the gi-normous, uber-fleshy hippos that you’ll see in some of my photos if I ever get them loaded, I’d say it was more “medium-sized” but none-the-less, how cool is it to watch a hippo wandering around from only a few feet away!
I watch him for about a half hour and he’s wandering down toward the other end of camp. I hear the tent of one of my trip-mates open up and I see W walk with his flashlight to the bathroom, about 30 feet from my tent. I call to him and tell him he needs to get back inside the tent b/c of the hippo and he said he knew about it, but really had to go.
This conversation wakes up my tent-mate (whom you’ll read in my other post I have at this point grown to despise) who then gets up to use the bathroom. I tell her she can’t because of the hippo, and she tells me I am imagining that the hippo is out there (did I mention I really didn’t like her). Eventually I convince her that no, I am not dreaming and that there really is a hippo out there. But, by this time I also desperately need to use the bathroom and I reason if the two of us go together, I only need to run faster than her. OK, I didn’t REALLY think this at the time, but I did think about it later!
We now both really need to use the bathroom, and I can hear that the hippo is at the other end of the camp, so we decide to venture out and make a mad dash to the bathroom (fortunately, we were the second-closest tent to bathroom), we both pee in record time, and then run back to our tent. Despite their size, hippos can travel 30km per hour so the fact that he was at the other end of the camp didn’t make it that much safer, but still, when you gotta go, you gotta go!
Eventually, I hear a second hippo come into camp. But at this point, hippos are old hat to me, so I go back to sleep without a problem.
Definitely not an experience I’d have gotten if I’d gone to Hawaii for vacation instead of Africa!
(not that Hawaii is bad, in fact, there are times much throughout this trip I’ve been thinking “why couldn’t I have gone to Hawaii?? Life would be so much easier that way!)