23 Jul

This deviation wasn’t part of the script. I ended up at Shakani Campsite because I needed to use the bathroom. Emptying my bladder in the bush would be risking being eaten by a lion. After the bathroom break, I spent some time gazing at a score of hippos.

Hippopotamus (singular) is a Latin term derived from two Greek nouns hippos and potamos, which can be translated as horse and river respectively. Combined, the two Greek words mean river horse. The semiaquatic mammals are native to sub-Saharan Africa. They have barrel-shaped torsos, wide mouths and large canine tusks. Despite their stocky shapes and short legs, they are capable of running at a speed of up to 30 km/h. However, they are not long-distance runners.

Hippos are dangerous and unpredictable. They may be vegetarians, but attacking human beings is part of their defense mechanism. Yes, some animals will attack you because you are a threat to them. They strike preemptively. Don’t blame them. They have justifiable reasons not to trust meat-loving Homo sapiens.

If you enjoy watching hippos minding their own business, you better do it from the open roof of your tourist vehicle. From the safety of my car, I used a pair of binoculars to watch a show staged by a group of grunting hippos. I saw them lifting their 1500-kg bodies before falling back onto the surface of the lake and disappearing underneath it repeatedly, causing loud splashes. As this was going on, one of them emerged with its mouth wide open. Next to the mouth-opening monster, another one seems to be asleep. It’s amazing how these creatures take naps while floating.

As mentioned above, watching hippos wasn’t part of my itinerary. However, I found their activities quite intriguing. I also caught a glimpse of one crocodile moving swiftly in the lake. Fellow big reptiles were basking in the sun, on the other side of the lake. The sight of these man eaters drove chills down my spine.

A guide would have explained more about the behavioral patterns of these creatures. If you are planning a self-drive tour, hiring one is highly recommended. The next part of The Akagera Expedition will be published later today. Stay tuned.