Beware the hippopotamus – tales from the Okavango
On the bank of the Kovango River in the quaint Shakawe village, where the Kalahari Desert meets the Okavango Delta, sits Dithlabi Lodge.
Dithlapi means “fish” around here. And so within minutes, we had our rigs rigged and got down to the river’s edge. Standing the rudimentary 2 metres back, we enjoyed a sunset session, enduring three more mock charges from tigerfish.
But these were not the mock charges we were worried about.
The next afternoon, we got back from the bush, and lo and behold, a huge hippo had moved into our bend in the river, for a feed. The girls that worked at the lodge were lining the verandah, as three little boats were edging themselves around the corner, right to where the hippo was reasonably obscured from their vision.
In the front was a little fishing guy, one paddle, which he used as a pole to move through the sandbanks and channels. Behind him was a fully loaden vessel, about 12 ft long, also paddle powered, but with two crew. The papyrus reeds were loaded so high that the boat was almost taking water. Behind them was another papyrus harvester, but he was alone and did not have that much load.
The fleet was agonisingly slow, and the confrontation was inevitable. They were on a direct course to intercept the huge hippo. One of the girls explained, “We don’t like that person!”, referring to the hippo as a person is kind of how it goes around here. All sorts of clicks and clucks and gasps of alarm rattled out as the hippo noticed the tiny fleet and turned to face them.
The front boat saw the hippo. They were 20 metres apart. It looked all under control to me.
The hippo barked a huge bark, something I’ve never heard before, and charged! That hippo moved so fast and the bark had become a fully-fledged growl and water became spray and that hippo accelerated like nothing I’ve seen before.
Thankfully, it was a mock charge. It ended as soon as it started. It was a good ten metres that he covered though, in a second! Those three boats were now moving real quickly in reverse, getting themselves back out of sight and around the corner to relative safety. The hippo let out a normal but agitated grunt, grunt, grunt, turned away, and disappeared, with a flop, into the main channel leading away from the three very nervous looking captains.
The girls all sighed in relief and were immediately joking and laughing about it. What fun living like this!
After a short while, the fleet resumed sail and headed back across to where we were waiting to laugh some more with them.
A crocodile then came cruising down the river to visit too. Elephants were all over and around us last night, as evident from their footprints and fresh droppings.
And yet all weekend, local kids were swimming and catching crabs and things, in the very same piece of water?!
The contrasts of Africa?!
Our stay at Dithlapi Lodge was relaxing and the view out front was like a huge National Geographic TV set, constantly playing out interesting wild-life scenes all day and night. A huge full moon highlighted each night for us too.
The staff were very entertaining as we witnessed how their lives are so intertwined with the wildlife of the Okavango Delta system. There is a lot of human-animal conflict, especially with the ever-expanding population of elephants that are literally taking over the towns and villages in some places in northern Botswana.
Everyone is trying to just get on with it, living together, but the incident as described above gives you an idea of the day-to-day challenges living in a place like this brings. It is pretty darn wild out here, that’s for sure.
That all said, Dithlapi Lodge in Shakawe is a fantastic launching pad at the very top of the Okavango panhandle.
The border into Namibia and more excellent wildlife and fishing is barely 15 minutes drive away. And a ferry can take you across the Kavango River into the wildlands where nobody hardly gets to. It is possible, with the correct kit, to drive across into the East. And all the way to Kasane, linking up with the Chobe reserve road as it comes north. But it’s very hard going, and extremely tough on vehicles.
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