Friday 21st December, 2012 – Paddling distance: 22.08km (total to-date: 105.73km) – River Gambia Expedition
Before we headed back out on the River Gambia for the town of Mako – or next port of call – we paid a last visit to one of the gold mines near to where we camped last night.
Near to our campsite, migrant workers – from all over West Africa – and local villagers would come to the river each day to either launder their clothes, wash their bodies, swim, or to wash the crushed rocks from the gold mines, in the hope of finding gold in the dust. This little boy came down to the river with his mother, imitating her as she washed the dust.
Leaving the gold mines behind us, we got our two canoes back out on the River Gambia, heading towards the town of Mako – where, sadly, we would bid farewell to our Malian fisherman, guide, and hippo expert – Yousef. After Mako, we would no longer have his expertise on dealing with hippos. However, despite his perhaps rather unorthodox ways of dealing with the huge mammals – which included catapulting rocks at them, posturing, and making baboon-like noises! – it was actually a scary prospect, knowing that it would be just the four of us, from then on, facing the hippo’s. None of us had had any experience with *‘one of the most aggressive creatures in the world… regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.’ Up until, that is, our week long crash-course with Yousef.
All along the river bank, as we paddled along, we spotted fresh hippo tracks leading into the river. At one point we passed a family of three hippo’s, over on the other side of the river – “donding, donding” (slowly, slowy). Yousef’s mantra whenever there were hippos in sight – that and “natah, natah!!”, which basically translates as get a bloody move on – the hippo’s are coming!!
After a very close encounter with a very large hippo (do they actually come in any other size?), we spent over an hour on the rocks, waiting for the mammoth mammal to let us pass.
We spent an excessive amount of time hugging the river bank. Waiting became part of our daily life for a long stretch of the River Gambia. Then, after we wait for so long and/or we couldn’t see where the hippo(s) was any longer, we’d paddle like the devil was on our stern to get out of their territory! In the above mentioned encounter, Yousef had the bright idea of ‘distracting’ the hippo by throwing one of our 25 gallon water containers as far as he could, across the river, hoping that the hippo would think it was our canoes and thus head in that direction(!?!). Here we are, in the following film clip, paddling furiously, with Yousef steering our canoe into the middle of the river. “What the hell are we doing when we aren’t quite sure where the hippo is at this point – i.e. it could be right there – in the middle?!” I screeched at Yousef – which then had to be translated to him by our team mate, Ebou. Apparently, he wasn’t about to let that bright yellow water container go that easily – paddling towards it – as it floated in front of us, up the river! “But they only cost about 50 cents” Flo hollered “we can buy another – we can buy 10 more!” Just as Yousef laughed out loud, as he deftly scooped the container out of the river – hardly missing a stroke of his paddle!
Now, where is that Kelly Kettle?!
Further adventures on the River Gambia to come soon.
Thanks, as ever, for stopping by.
The Florios – H & Flo