Sunday, October 21, 2007

Of hippos, hangovers and handsome leopards

There I was, just six inches from the hippo's broad, bewhiskered snout, its massive jaws close enough to crush me...

True story, so far, Legion of Fans. Mr Blog came face to face with Africa's most dangerous creature yesterday. Hippos, according to common wisdom here in Efrica, kill more people than any other animal (apart, of course, from the mosquito which, while not an animal, kills millions, through malaria).

Close enough I was, LOF, to smell the rank breath exhaling from his huge nostrils. Aunty Blog, who was there at the time, said it smelled like regurgitated hay mixed with stagnant water (how she knows what that smells like, I didn't ask).

My first glimpse of him was of his broad back, only the hump of which was above the water. I couldn't at first, tell which end was which, until he conveniently farted (long and loud), sending up a trail of tell-tail (get it?) bubbles.

The hippo was, in fact, under the floorboards in the hide (small thatched shelter) overlooking Lake Panic, near Skukuza Camp in the Kruger National Park. Actually, the hide is currently overhanging Lake Panic, as the water in the dam is very full following recent rains. In case you're wondering (and in case you've bothered to read this far), Lake Panic was named after the man who built the dam - apparently when the first rains of the season started to fill the lake he thought he may have made a boo boo and the camp would flood - hence his panic.

But all turned out well and Lake Panic is a very agreeable spot, for humans and hippos alike. The hippo in question, a HUGE specimen, has found himself a lovely spot to lie up during the day, under the hide. He rests his chin on a supporting cross-beam, which brings his nostrils (and disgusting breath) within inches of unsuspecting tourists' feet.

I wouldn't have noticed him there (like the other people in the hide who were there when we arrived, blissfully unaware there was two-tonnes of killer beast under their flip flops) if not for my very good friends at Tinga Private Game Lodge who had warned me of his presence.

Mrs B and I had very pleasant lunch and game drive with one of our friends, who is a part owner of Tinga. Tinga is, as far as I'm concerned, the last word in luxury safari destinations. It's the sort of place I'd like be' a part-owner of. All I need to do is sell about another 20 million books.

We had a very good game drive around Tinga's concession in the Kruger park, during which I learned a lot about vultures and serial killers. One of our friends' guests was a young lawyer from the UK who knew far too many of Ted Bundy's direct quotes. Another was a friend of our's, a dentist, who knows more excellent dirty jokes than anyone I've ever met. Our guide knew a lot, too, though not much about serial killers. She told us that when you see a flock of vultures in a tree that doesn't necessarily mean (as Mrs B and I had always presumed) that there is a kill nearby (the serial killer expert was disappointed). The vultures may simply be waiting for the weather to change - specifically, for a bit of sun to come out and creat the thermals they need to fly high.

By use of a clumsy weather segwe I can report that Uncle and Aunty Blog have been doing some very successful game viewing, in between drinking, thanks in part to a change in the weather. It had been cool and overcast here for the first couple of days of their visit, but the reappearance of the sun yesterday seemed to bring a spurt of activity in the animal world.

As well as seeing a gazillions of giraffe and a veritable zoo full of zebras, keen-eyed Uncle Blog managed to spot that most elusive of all the Big 5, a big, handsome male leopard (actually, it walked across the road in front of the car, but Uncle has been calling himself the 'Leopard Man' ever since, in honour of his special sighting).

We celebrated the finding of the leopard and the 15-6 drubbing of the Poms by the Springboks with one too many bottles of South Africa's finest R40 (about AUD$5.50) champagne.

As I write this, Mrs B is doing a pretty reasonable impression of the Leopard's sawing cough, snoozing and snoring on top of Tonka the Land Rover at 1.10pm in the afternoon.
(Update - two days after drafting this post - Uncle and Aunty Blog have now seen all the big five, thanks to a nice view of a lion with a zebra kill. Mrs B has returned to solid food and had her first G&T in two days).


meggie said...

The encounter with the Hippo sounds smelly. I have always found them to be rude- seemingly deliberately- in Zoos. But then I am sure I would be rude in a zoo too.
Great pic of the Leopard.
Enjoy reading you.

ali g said...

glad to see Aunty & Uncle Blog are maintaining the "out-law" standards.Good about sighting the's usually just pink elephants with me

redcap said...

Tony, you always make me wish I was there! Even the stinky hippo breath. We had a reasonably close hippo encounter on the Delta - our boat hit a big bugger who was rude enough to submerge itself in the middle of the channel. There were a few hairy moments when capsizing looked likely, but we stayed upright in the end and luckily the hippo didn't realise we were the cause of his newly-acquired headache.