Hip hip hippos

Days 283-285, Saturday-Monday 13-15 October 2012 – Guma Camps, Botswana

In an (now failed) effort to catch up before the next tour starts this is three day post – warning, this is a mega post!

After going to bed early last night for some quiet contemplation I ended up with a lousy sleep. I did not get to sleep fast enough to beat the snorers and then it rained in the middle of the night and we had to get up to get washing in and put the rain cover on the tent. There was quite a bit of frantic activity in the camp site as we were all caught unawares. It was a brief shower and by the time we were sorted it had finished – oh well.

I stayed in bed till 8:00 as we are not leaving camp until 11:30. It is an overcast and warm day, not great for photography at all so I wandered the camp site and took some photos of the various toilets and showers; it is all very unique and quite special. Especially the throne that overlooks the Okovango river. As I was standing on the bank looking out over the river I could see a couple of hippos briefly raising their snouts out of the water to grab a breath before sinking back below the surface in their slumber. A great spot to sit quietly for a while, definitely do not need the newspaper here! Ngepi camp is definitely my favourite so far and it is a shame we only had one short night here, I would rather have done a down day here rather than in Swapokmund.

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The drive from Ngepi to the border with Botswana is only a few minutes and we were through the Mohembo border post in a few minutes and into country number three. There are a lot more mud brick houses in Botswana and there are more donkeys than I have ever seen in my life grazing on the road sides, another fraught day of driving for our driver, Will.


We stopped in the town of Satwe to try and get some lunch but the supermarket was almost dry of take out foods so we jumped back in the truck and had another road side lunch.

At 3:00 we parked the truck in a dusty little town – Etsha 13, there are 16 towns along the edge of the Kavango that were close to military bases and they are named Etsha 1 – 16. We offloaded three nights worth of gear into an old 4WD truck which then took us on the rough and sandy 10km drive to Guma Lagoon camp, our home for the night.



It was another early night, but I surprised myself by sleeping well until 4:00 when I woke up quite cold. We were all expecting a warm night like the last couple but it was not too be and being cold was the topic at breakfast (It was the last time !) Sadly I was not up for sunrise, the keen ones got some great photos so I did kick myself – again.

We packed all gear into bin liners for the days trip, at 9:00 we were on a speed boat to Mokoro Island, we saw this great sea eagle on the way. I have seen loads of them flying about and they are magnificent birds, first time one has sat still long enough to photo.



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We unloaded all the gear from the speed boat and loaded everything onto mokoros, these canoes are of course traditionally made from a hollowed out tree though ours we fibreglass. The plastic wrapped mattresses from our tents doubled as seat covers for the trip.

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We were all allocated a mokoro and a poler to push us through the delta, ours was Tim and he was relatively new – and to be fair, pretty hopeless – he could pole a mokoro but could not identify wildlife, some of them were great though.

The journey out to our island home took almost two hours and we twisted our way through tight channels, made by elephant and hippo and through large open ponds surrounded by lilys and papyrus, luckily/unluckily we did not come across any big game on the way.

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The island we are staying on was probably by the large termite mound, which then collected debris and seeds and then grew into the island it is now, it is not large, though we were not allowed to stray from site as the delta is a dangerous place.

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We pitched our tent in a small clearing in the grass, right next to a pile of elephant pooh…


The loo was a hole in the ground, though we were lucky to have a seat 🙂


After lunch it was snooze time for a few hours, I was a wee bit ticked with this as if I had known i would have brought my book with me, I am not good at doing nothing for three hours in the middle of the day, most people are less fussy than me and went to sleep under a big shady tree. The tree also turned into a camera hanging spot and became the camera tree for the duration.



At 4:00 we loaded up camera gear and jumped back onto the mokoros for an hour long paddle to a hippo pool. The hippos sleep during the day, but start stirring late in the afternoon. We again crossed some large pools and went up some really tight and shallow channels before arriving at hippo pool.



There were seven makoros in our group and ours was second to last, as we approached the pool we could hear hippos bellowing in the distance and as we got closer we could hear Simon, the head poler, banging his pole on the canoe. When we arrived there was not a lot of room for us in the small area at the end of the channel so I had a lousy view of the pool, obscured by a shoulder to my left and a hat to my right. I was using the lens at 400mm, which is tricky in a canoe at the best of times , but in the end pleased with my photos. I did miss out on the money shot though.

When I arrived in the pool I could see the tops of a couple of hippo heads on the far side, and as we watched this number grew till there was eight or nine of them looking at us.

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The dominant male gave us a few glares, snorted a few times and then started a long process of diving below the surface and reappearing a few metres closer, then swimming to the left and right before diving again and then popping up to glare at us and then displaying his huge choppers.

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All of a sudden he just started coming towards us quite quickly and our poler got scared and started back pedalling rapidly, the hippo jumped out of the water and I missed it. Once recovered from the charge and then the sudden retreat of our poler I was a bit miffed at missing such a great sight, those with less of a chicken for a poler got some good shots.

The hippo stopped about thirty metres in front of us, and the others all gradually approached and were facing us down, at one point they all got together in a group and it looked like they were discussing tactics and then they all lined up and glared at us again. We had another sudden retreat as the big hippo started forward again and then we were back taking photos. After another great display the hippos drifted back to the other side of the pool and we left. It was a good experience, it could have been great if we didn’t have a scaredy cat poler. The others just stood there and watched. Having said that, the hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa.

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We poled back to the main pool as the sun set, due to our lowly position in the poler rankings we were late getting to the sunset pool, so largely missed it.

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While we were out, Ebron our chef had whipped up another great meal on the open fire and afterwards we toasted marshmallows before doing some night photography.

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I had a go at stars as I had never done this before and there is no ambient light here, this isn’t perfect, but I am pleased with the result.

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The path to the loo was lit with little lanterns

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In the morning we had a quick coffee and were back on the mokoro for short ride to another island for a nature/game walk for a couple of hours. We saw lots of sign of big game but sadly all I managed to photograph was a dragon fly.

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The walk was interesting, led by Simon, he gave us a good run down on the various plants that grow in the delta. The coolest of which is the sausage tree. The fruit grows up to 5kg and has been know to kill people when they fall, they are huge.

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I thought it was a warm morning, not for some…

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The local people are allowed to keep fish caught in the delta, tourists have to tag and release, while we were out on the walk some of the polers cleared some nearby nets and I saw this guy fishing while we were out.

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After a late brunch we loaded up the mokoros again and headed back to mokoro island where were offloaded to the speed boat and were back to Guma Lagoon camp for another night.

Lillie pads from below.



While waiting for dinner I spotted a troop of vervet monkeys moving through the trees above the camp, I managed to get a couple of shots in before they disappeared.

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As we were going to bed after dinner someone found a non-venomous western green snake on the track to the tents, cool – I think !


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Wannabe writer and photographer. Interested in travel and place. From Auckland, New Zealand.

2 thoughts on “Hip hip hippos”

  1. Geez Phil, the pics are astounding – don’t be too hard on your poler: everyone has to start somewhere 🙂

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