malawi: hippos, warthogs, and a near-death experience with a seriously pissed-off crocodile

Last Thursday was a national holiday in Malawi, which meant that we couldn't schedule any meetings -- everyone had the day off.  So instead, we took the opportunity to do some sightseeing:  specifically, to see the wildlife of the country.

So we climbed aboard our bus and headed to Liwonde National Park for a boat safari.  We split ourselves up into two small boats, and off we went.


I sat in the very front of our boat, right inside the bow, since I had the long telephoto lens on my camera, and I wanted an unobstructed view.

(By the way, that sentence above is what they call, in literary circles, foreshadowing.)

The safari consist of a 2-1/2 hour ride along the Shire River (pronounced "shee-ray"), and we were told that we'd see monkeys and waterbucks and all sorts of wildlife.  And certainly, so said, so done:

Pumbaa  !!


There were also tons of hippos.  At first, I was a little nervous about getting close to them -- I knew that hippos are the most dangerous mammals in Africa -- but they honestly weren't really bothered by us.  They just sat there, floating with their eyes just above the water, and when we approached, they'd -- bloop! -- sink beneath the surface.


"Look," said our guide at one point.  "She's nursing."

And to my unease, he turned the boat toward her.

(More foreshadowing, friends.  Just sayin'.)

She was not pleased


We took the hint and moved on.

For the most part, the rest of the ride was peaceful.  We passed countless hippos, and time passed, they eventually ventured out of the water for a snack, so we could really see how massive these animals are.

Beautiful creatures.

In addition to hippos, to my intense discomfort, the river was also teeming with crocodiles.  People, I hate crocodiles.  I've watched enough River Monsters to know that crocodiles are evil, evil animals:  they sit there with that diabolical grin on their faces, sunning themselves, and then - BAM! - you look down, and you're missing a leg.  Occasionally our guide would spot a crocodile lying on the banks, and point him out.  Inevitably, we wouldn't see him at first, and then we would, and I'd shudder as the animal would suddenly slither into the water and disappear beneath the surface, leaving only a small trail of bubbles as a hint of how far away it was from you, and how much time you might have left in your far-too-short life.  

On the way back to the lodge, the guide suddenly called out, "There's a big one."

At first, we couldn't see it.  And then, slowly, we could.

There he was, about 9 feet long, sunning himself on the bank at the water's edge.

And to my considerable consternation, the guide turned the boat toward it.

We got close, and the crocodile hadn't moved.

"Is it dead?"  asked one of my travel companions.

"No way that thing's dead," someone else responded.  

"I'm telling you, those things are evil," I mumbled.

"It's a plastic one!" laughed our guide.  "I put it there to scare you!"

And he pulled the boat closer to the bank.

"Maybe it's dead," repeated my friend.

"I'm telling you, it's not dead," repeated my other friend.

"Dude, I think this is close enough," I murmured, becoming restless in my front-row seat.

The crocodile didn't move.

And then, to my horror, the guide bumped the bow of the boat on the bank, about 3 feet from the grinning, evil crocodile.

In a flash, this thing ROARED TO LIFE.  It turned, twisted, its toothy mouth agape, and leapt at the front of the boat.  Everyone on the boat shrieked. I fell backwards off the bench, my friends seated behind me took flight and ran to the back of the boat, as the guide gunned the motor in reverse.  The leaping crocodile narrowly missed the reversing boat, splashing into the water in front of the bow, thoroughly soaking me and my camera.

The crocodile disappeared (under the boat? away from the boat?) and gradually we all regained composure.   We all laughed, agreed we had a great story to tell, and generally seemed pretty calm, but I'll tell you this:  when our boat met the second boat with our friends back on land for lunch, my friends in the second boat had soft drinks with their meals, but all of us?  We had gin-and-tonics.  Doubles.

* * * * * * *

After lunch, we decided to drive the long way out of the reserve, because we hadn't seen any elephants, and our guide guaranteed that we'd see them as we drove away.  At first, we saw nothing, save for a few more monkeys -- and then, suddenly, right before we exited the park, they appeared:

Stunning creatures.  They were positively magical.

With that, tomorrow some final thoughts on Malawi.  It was really an epic trip.


Song: Circle of Life, as performed by Tsidii Le Loka, The Lion King Ensemble, Lebo M and Faca Kulu.  You had to know this was coming.  (Incidentally, a few times while we were on our bus and generally being quiet, I'd suddenly bust out with the first few notes of this song, with no warning whatsoever.  It dawns on me, as I write this post, that this might be why my friends abandoned me when the crocodile lunged.  

Can't blame them, really.)