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Staying along the Zambezi River in Zambia at Chongwe River Camp offered the unique opportunity of canoeing.

I simply had to try it.

Right before sunset, my husband, Greg and I were taken by motorboat from our chalet to a channel in the river where two canoes were waiting. I got in one canoe with a guide and Greg in the second with a guide.

It was rather scary right from the start as there were many hippos in the water and we knew they were perfectly capable of charging the canoes and tipping them over. The aim of the game was definitely to avoid them.

We were just paddling along, smelling the wild jasmine and looking at the beautiful foliage, when we heard a noise from the right bank. A hippo came charging and jumped into the water right in front of my canoe with a great splash.

We didn’t tip.

A Hippo in the river

But then I got worried about my cameras.

They had all of my pictures in them which I hadn’t downloaded as we had not had any wifi or cell service. If the cameras went in the water, they could get ruined.

So, of course, I immediately devised

the Hippo Avoidance Strategy.

First, be very still and quiet, don’t say a word to alarm them, don’t be moving around trying to take pictures of them, and don’t even meet their eyes which could be confrontational.

Second, I put my backpack with my cameras in it between my feet so if the canoe tipped over, I would grab it, hold it over my head, and run through the water onto the land.

Paddling along, looking at a herd of elephants on the left bank, including a little baby, we were coming up on two hippos in the water on the left. Both guides paddled the canoes over to the right side to avoid them and we were hugging the right bank.  The two hippos were staring at us and I was a little nervous. Luckily I had already devised my Hippo Avoidance Strategy and so I simply implemented both the necessary actions immediately. The foliage on the right bank was very lovely and provided the perfect focal point for people fully engaged in Hippo Avoidance and therefore currently avoiding any eye contact with all hippos.

Canoeing in Zambia

Until I spotted:

not five feet away from us on the bank at eye level, a 12-foot Nile crocodile.

A crocodile on the banks of the river

Greg and the two guides who were not aware of my excellent Hippo Avoidance Strategy were still busy looking at the two hippos on the left.

We were about to float right by the croc.

“Excuse me, but there’s a giant crocodile on the right.”

I whispered to my guide.

Now, when you are in Africa you know you are in trouble when your guide says,

“Oh, sh**.”

There was nowhere to go except right down the middle of the channel with the two hippos close on the left and the giant croc on the right and pray which is what we did.

Thankfully, the hippos and the croc were all practicing their Human Avoidance Strategy at that very moment.

(The Human Avoidance Strategy is comprised of simply staring at the human and not eating it.)

The next thing I remember is seeing the safari vehicles waiting ahead with a much-needed sundowner cocktail. Upon getting out of the canoes, Greg looked at me and said simply,

“Never again.”

So the next day, our guide said he was taking another couple canoeing and we could go again. I wanted to go as I was sure I wouldn’t be as scared the second time.

Greg said,

“No way.”

I was disappointed, but Greg was adamant, so we went on a game drive instead and much later met up with the other canoe couple at the sundowner. Greg asked the other couple how their canoe ride had been. The man said,

“Oh, it was quite exciting, as we ran over a sleeping hippo who reared up and almost tipped our canoe!”

A hippo mostly submerged in the river

Greg just glared at me with a look that said,

“I told you so.”

I thought that was possibly not the best moment to share my Hippo Avoidance Strategy with him.

Images by Lynne Bolduc &Joshua J. Cotten Ian Keefe,

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