Friday, 18 May 2012

Hippos under the stars

The Hippo Sanctuary at Wechiau is not at all easy to get to without a car and it was fortunate that we had this opportunity to visit the place with Francis. The road was a challenging drive for him again and it came in stages. The Visitors’ Centre is in Wechiau village where we registered for the night on the tree platform. 19 kilometres down the road we came to the Sanctuary Guest House where Francis was to stay. By this time we had lost contact with all phone networks. It was another 5 kilometres before we arrived at the “tree” and the river. This place felt very remote. As we unpacked thin mattresses and mosquito nets from the boot of the car, another guide arrived with 2 young German guys having just observed hippos downstream.
It was suggested that we should see the hippos that evening rather than waiting for a morning trip and possibly not finding them. We readily agreed and climbed into a long, low canoe with the guide at the front and a fit young paddler at the back. It took an hour in total to paddle downstream watch the hippos from a safe distance and return to the tree platform. These huge animals were under water most of the time but surfaced to yawn and play fight with each other. Some were standing on a submerged rock so they were more visible. We kept our distance which I have heard is prudent, but we were not able to get a clear impression of their massive size.

Ros, Victor and I had bought far too much picnic type food to eat as supper. Fruit and biscuits would have sustained us until morning and the ants enjoyed some of it too. I have spent many a night under canvas but never before have I been able to see the sky and the underneath of a large tree canopy all night. There were 6 of us lying under nets on this wooden platform which moved slightly when anyone rolled over. I felt confident we were safe even though our guide had told us of one platform that was lately out of use as it collapsed! 

It was still warm all night as we were still in the dry season, but cooled a little before dawn. We experienced surprisingly few insects and none of us seemed to be bitten. Unless I slept more soundly than I thought, the hippos were not audible during the night. I'm not sure whether that was a blessing or not! I enjoyed the experience but, I think, one night sleeping fully clothed on a tree platform was enough.

Francis returned with the car at day break and we piled everything back in and returned to the Guest House, where he found all the essential ingredients for a welcome cup of tea. Home, a shower and a thicker mattress beckoned and we set off towards Nadowli. I was looking forward to having members of my family in my African home, even for a short stay. It had been a very interesting, privileged and long, albeit comfortable journey from the south and shortly, Ros and Victor would be returning to Accra and a flight home to London. They had travelled far to visit my home and I am eternally grateful to them for their tireless efforts. 

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