Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hungry Hippo

I was in the pick-up on my way back to Murchison Falls, having permanently checked out of my Kampala accommodation. Herr Marlboro was at the wheel and had been exhibiting signs of anger at me, brought to the surface by an unexpected recent event. We drove silently, communicating in strained, monotone sentences.

“Pull over,” I said excitedly, breaking the tone with sudden enthusiasm.

He pulled up at a fruit and vegetable stand, where I wandered about buying tomatoes, pineapple, potatoes, onions, and bananas from pleased sellers.

Happy with my purchases, I got back in the truck. H.M. turned the key. Nothing happened. Well, something happened. Smoke rose from the fuse box under the hood.

The vegetable sellers watched as H.M. opened the hood and took out his mini-Leatherman. He discovered that someone had used a “bridge” and it had burned out. He was able to disconnect a cable that we later discovered charged the alternator, and he used that for the starter. We were able to drive.

Unfortunately, we would have no lights. We stayed in a rickety hotel in Masindi as all the good ones were full. It was hot, H.M. had a stress headache, and I had a dream that I took a St. Bernard puppy for a walk and it got eaten by a snake.


My final days at Murchison were not pleasant. Instead of enjoying the view of the Nile and the hippo eating grass at night, there was the tension and arguments that are typical of break-ups., with its lovely romantic evening on the Nile with H.M. where we first met, played out its final chapter on the verandah on Tuesday night. It wasn’t a very nice ending.


I got up early and made breakfast for H.M., as one does when faced with co-habiting with someone right after everything has gone to hell. This set a more normal tone, but I was still surprised when he invited me on a game drive later in the afternoon. Celsius was at the northern gate and needed a lift, after having had to host his father’s funeral. His father had been killed by rebels north of Pakwach a few weeks ago. We could have a game drive en route to the gate.

We loaded up on camera gear and off we went. But it was the middle of the afternoon and we saw nothing save for a few gazelles.

We picked up Celsius and the others who were also hoping for a lift, and headed towards the ferry.

A hippo was eating grass in broad daylight at the ferry landing. H.M. took his digital Rebel and headed over. This hippo seem habituated to people so he got closer than he would have normally, as the hippo is the number one killer in Africa’s animal kingdom. It is vegetarian but has four-inch teeth and can run at high speeds. It seemed safe enough so I followed suit with my film Rebel.

The hippo was covered in fresh scars and deep wounds. Perhaps it had been involved in a territorial dispute or in a fight with a lion or crocodile.

“Click, whirr” went our Canons.

Then, through my 70-300 mm Canon zoom lens, I saw the hippo stiffen and look up. His face changed from “I like to eat grass” to “I will kill you, tourist.” He charged, but not before my film Rebel had a shot of angry hippo.

H.M. and I both ran for our lives, straight to the truck. We were lucky to have a good 50 feet on the angry hippo as he could easily have outrun us. As we were both about to leap up on the pick-up bed, the hippo slowed down and returned to eating grass.

Celsius was laughing at us from a distance. We joined in, full of adrenalin. We didn’t really think the hippo could have killed us as we had been pretty close to the truck. But all the statistics of hippo deaths were running through my head as I ran and thought “stupid, Marie, very stupid.”

For a moment, all the tension of the past week was forgotten and we laughed together as we crossed the Nile on the ferry.

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