Sleeping with Hippos, Dining with Bandit Monkeys
Trip Start Jan 20, 2005
58Trip End Dec 27, 2005
We've been up to quite a bit since I last had access to a computer to update our site
Getting off the crowded minibus that took us the 60k, we were immediately surrounded by boys wanting to take us to our destination. We were headed for Liwonde National Park, Malawi's best wildlife park south of Lake Malawi on the Shire River. Because we didn't have our own 4WD vehicle, we were going to be taking the side entrance to the park
Once we got to the gate of the park, we signed in and the boys then discussed whether they would take us the last kilometre to the boat jetty. They hemmed and hawed about the elephants and what danger they were putting their lives in in the hopes of negotiating more money
We arrived at the boat jetty on the river where we were going to take a boat across to the campsite without incident though. Virginie hadn't know about the danger we were apparently in and was excited as she'd seen her first Antelope. Seeing the river and hearing the Hippos in the distance she began to get very excited and nervous about camping in the park. When the guy at the jetty told me not to get too close to the muddy river due to the crocodiles, Virginie responded by telling me from her position way away from the river that I should do as I was told. Before I could be eaten by a crocodile, the boat arrived to ferry us across the river to the camp. On the way we did see some crocodiles gliding along the surface then disappear into the murky water as we passed.
The campsite was nice. We pitched our tent next to a sign that said "Beware of Hippos". The camp doesn't have a fence around it and because it is right on the river, Hippos which forage for grasses at night, often wander through the camp. This made V a little more nervous. There are no Predators in the park though due to poaching in the 90s. A shame really, we'd have to look forward to seeing some death and carnage in Zambia (unless we got lucky on the river with the crocodiles, I was going to have to satisfy myself with birds and animals of a more docile nature - ho hum). There was a kitchen we could use and we made use of it for most meals as the restaurant at the camp was mainly for those spending 150-200 bucks a night in the hotel and was correspondingly expensive. I did make use of their nice bar overlooking the river though and lounged next to their pool, but I was too cheap to fork over the $2 bucks to actually swim in it (rather swim in the river and take my chances with the crocs).
The camp was nice though and we were visited by all sorts of animals. After making lunch the first afternoon, a troop of Vervet Monkeys assaulted our picnic and stole Virginie's sandwich. Little punks are ruthless and fast. Before I knew what was going on they had mounted an attack on 3 sides and I was helpless to save the food. Then there was the Baboons constantly overturning our garbage. A family of warthogs would arrive in the evening to graze on the grass around us. Those things are ugly with their long sharp tusks. At night when you woke up, you were aware of all the noises outside and it was a bit creepy. The snorting and coughing of the Hippos, birds, monkeys, howl of a Hyena and god knows what else. I kept thinking about hearing while we were in Mozambique how a whole group of 19 villagers collecting shells at low tide was slaughtered by a band of Hyenas. My tent wasn't that thick and I was sure it couldn't take the weight of even a medium sized Hippo.
We went on a morning boat safari and saw all sorts of animals as they woke up on the river. Elephants munching grass, Hippos swimming with their babies, crocodiles lounging on the banks (some where huge!), Antelope (being watched by the crocs), All sorts of big birds (eagles, kingfishers, herons), monkeys, but I'm sorry to say, no circle of life predation. Virginie really enjoyed the ride. Though we have seen all of these animals in the zoo, it is amazing to see all these animals in the wild enjoying their natural habitat.
That same afternoon we went on a jeep drive through the dry forests along the river where we saw more wildlife. Virginie grudgingly came to terms with my continuous interjections about what kind of spice, sauce or stuffing would go best with each animal (if the animals refused to eat each other, I was going to let them know how I would do them up right). We enjoyed watching the sun turn into a bright red ball in the sky and go down behind the acacia-covered hills with the river in the foreground. There is something about sunsets in Africa, they are all amazing for some reason. We visited a 1300 year old Baobab tree on the banks of the river. Amazing to think that this thing started growing before Karl the Great was crowned holy roman emperor after uniting much of Europe in the 700s. I then had a beer on the banks and Virginie only had to tell me twice to stay away from the river for fear of crocs. We could hear the village across the river mouth celebrating something with singing and drums. On the way back we scared the hell out of a lot of animals with a superpowered spotlight being wielded by one of our guides sitting on a chair mounted on the LandRover's hood. We did spot one predator though - a medium sized Civet (a small bobcat-like animal), but he was thinking more about the spotlight than finding something to kill.
It was a relaxing couple days in the park, we'd enjoyed it but it was time to go. We tried to hitch a lift out with some other campers, but didn't have any luck, so we were resigned to going out the same way we'd come in. Meeting the boys on the banks of the river again, I negotiated a price, but then didn't feel like being carted around so I decided I would pedal and my friend would ride. The villagers thought this pretty funny (again). I did ok until I initiated a race with my fellow drivers. I didn't win...
We were heading north to the lake