December 15th 2012 – River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa
Despite not having seen the hippo in this instance – a mere taster of what we would face, literally, whilst on the River Gambia Expedition– it was enough to shake us up…and wonder why the hell we didn’t have canoes with engines! During his many years on the river, Yousef, our Malian fisherman/guide, had been attacked twice by hippos – and, tragically, a friend of his had been killed by one – hence, he knew a thing or two about the colossal beasts. It was one of the main reasons we hired him in the first place, to take us through the first 100km of the River Gambia – unwittingly, giving us a crash course on ‘hippo etiquette‘ (as Florio likes to call it) in the process.
We were in a very narrow section of the river, taking in the serenely idyllic, shady, surroundings as we paddled along, when Yousef suddenly started paddling furiously, whilst shouting to us in his local language, Bambara, “natah, natah, natah!!” (go, go, go! – not that we knew what the word meant, right at that moment, but we learned to use it, pretty damn quickly and often after that) to us and our team mates, Abdou and Ebou, in their canoe behind us.
Once we got a little further up the river, Yousef announced ‘donding, donding’ (‘slowly, slowly’ – we got used to that one too, especially when trying to sneak past hippos!), he explained, as Ebou translated, that he had ‘heard’ a hippo under our canoe. “What does a hippo sound like?” Florio and I asked. Yousef laughed out loud at this – he did a lot of that, at the oddest times (i.e. our next encounter with a hippo!) – and refused to tell us. “he cannot make the noise” Ebou said “he said it might attract a hippo”. Ermm…right…ok.
Aside from the laughing-out-loud-bit, Yousef had a very unique way of dealing with the hippos…but, we’ll expand on this in the next post.
Next up: the hippo stand off!!
The Florios (H & ‘Flo’)