Dining With the Hippos

by Matthias Mugisha for Sunday Vision

In the heart of Murchison Falls National Park, we stroll through the forest surrounding Chobe Safari Lodge. In the woods, the sunlight sifts on the trees, crashing the darkness underneath. Our guide, Joshua Masereka, the warden of tourism at Murchison Falls National Park, takes us through a nature walk, with the sights of colobous monkeys, graceful giraffes, lions, buffalos and sprinting antelopes.

The breathtaking panoramic views and sounds of the River Nile's magnificent rapids set the scene for an adventure.

Chobe Safari Lodge is a five-star facility located in Murchison Falls National Park. It is under Marasa Africa, which also runs Paraa Safari Lodge in the same park and Mweya Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The adventure is part of the treat from Marasa Africa to showcase their services to the press.

Apart from sampling wildlife, the lodge, built with stone and with an award-winning health club, is a contender for the best sports-fishing destination in the world.

As our walk progresses, it becomes clear that Masereka knows almost each and every plant in the forest. The poisonous ones, the sweet, the bitter; he knows them all. And he is more humorous when he is describing plants that "keep marriages intact".

"Hi, see this!" he shouts. "This is Cissus quadrangularis. This plant is gold to families, especially women. It "fixes" frigid women, who experience "desert conditions" during acts of intimacy." he says. "All a woman has to do is boil and drink and it will start raining." he says. The plant is also known as the Devil's Backbone.

Before our laughter dies down, he comes across another plant that he claims to be a treasure to less endowed men. The instructions on how to use that one are lengthy, but he says a man can determine the size he wants. The tree is commonly known as the sausage fruit tree; the fruits are sausage-shaped. Elephants can get drunk on eating the fruits.

The nature walk is cut short when we encounter two bachelor cape buffalos eager to charge at us. Male buffalos are chased from the herd by younger ones once they age. The estranged buffalos live a solitary life as bachelors in small groups. They are very aggressive, hostile to people and dangerous. With Masereka's guidance, we evade the creatures and make it safely to the lodge.

Chobe Safari Lodge.

Chobe Safari Lodge.

How to Get There

Chobe Safari Lodge is about three hours drive from Kampala, but can be reached by air, it has a landing strip.

Accommodation facilities range from presidential suites to luxury tents. It targets the upper and middle class as a getaway from Kampala, as well as for honeymooners.

Dining With Hippos and Crocodiles

Guests dine by the riverside with hippos and crocodiles lurking in the waters beyond.

Guests dine by the riverside with hippos and crocodiles lurking in the waters beyond.

Back at the hotel, a once in a lifetime experience awaits us; the experience of dining with hippos. The venue of the feast is on the banks of the River Nile. All tribes of food, drinks, fruits and puddings are laid out on a long table awaiting their fate. The chefs are busy, finalising the last details. A hunger stimulating aroma wafts to our nostrils from the distance. We salivate.

The afternoon's sun rays dance on our faces. A slight chill is in the breeze. The water from the Nile occasionally splashing on the sand creating music. The waves transform into a wonderful dance with the shore, as a variety of aquatic objects, both live and lifeless, wash to our feet.

Hippos and fish waltz under and above the fast Nile waters, broken up by rapids here and there. Every few minutes, the hippos bring up their massive heads, look at us, do cavernous yawns and submerge.

As we devour the meticulously prepared meal with relish, birds occasionaly fly above, as though accusing us of not extending an invitation. The hippos, now closer than before, keep yawning impatiently waiting for us to leave so that they can eat the grass under our feet.

Great is the experience of dining with these aquatic beasts, but greater is the nightlife at Chobe.

Facts About Hippos

 

  • They might look chubby, but easily outrun human beings
  • A male hippo is called a "bull"; female, a "cow" and a baby hippo is called a "calf"
  • They live for about 45 years
  • Hippos are found in Africa
  • They give birth in water
  • They mostly eat grass

The Camp Fire

A dance troupe jigs around the fire to entertain guests at the safari lodge.

A dance troupe jigs around the fire to entertain guests at the
safari lodge.

In the evening, the sun's last rays slip below an outstretched horizon, over the stampeding waters of the Nile. A pale blue-gray evening light descends upon the area as traditional dancers gear up to entertain guests around the campfire.

When the twilight gives birth to the night, drums and dances silence the songs of roosting birds. Flames from the campfire crackle, sending sparks in the lively light and decorating the faces of the dancers.

Under the pale moonlight, we sit by the camp fire and tell stories – both true and false – in the name of humour. The combination of the night magic and the effect of drink seamlessly going down the throats to loosen many a tongue. We add more logs to the fire. When he fire flickers with more life, the drumbeat becomes irresistible. Young, old, short, tall, big and small, we take to dancing.

The mesmerising glow of the campfire, combined with songs and the rhythm of the drums seems to attract the wildlife around. At the climax, hippos grunt, frogs croak, insects sing amid more drumming and dancing. A pure delight.