Keeping clear of Hippos whilst Kayaking in Kenya’s Lake Victoria

“My son’s friends got attacked by a hippo when they were once out kayaking”, Nathalie says between paddle strokes. She has invited me to join her on a morning’s kayaking trip on Lake Victoria whilst I’m visiting her in her Kenyan home. “The hippo came out of nowhere and overturned the boat”, Nathalie continues. Images of screaming kids and Jaws’ like scenes come squealing to my mind. Fortunately all of the kids escaped unharmed, she tells me, shaken but not devoured.

Fishermen on Lake Victoria, heading out with their nets.

Lake Victoria looks luckily devoid of hippos this morning. The colours of the lake blend with the early morning African cloudless sky, leaving a seamless blue void for us to paddle into. Local fishermen are already out, sailing or rowing out into deeper waters to search for their daily catch.

Victor, our guide, paddling us out in the early morning into Lake Victoria.

It isn’t long however before some hippos are sighted far in the distance. “Let’s go look!” Nathalie suggests with overwhelming excitement. She has obviously completely forgotten the story she has told me less than 10 minutes ago about hippos hungrily attacking her son’s classmates.

Hippos lurking in the water – I steered a clear course around them.

I hate looking like a wimp. So I reluctantly agree and slowly change the course of our kayak. “Don’t worry”, she says. “It looks like there’s a few of them. If it’s just a hippo mother and its child, then it’s a no-go as she might try to attack us to protect them”.

Nathalie getting ready to paddle around Lake Victoria.

There is already a large motorboat floating beside the herd of hippos. It looks full of tourists, happily snapping away at these animals from the safety of a metal hull. Our plastic sea kayaks look no match in comparison for a hippo’s chomping jaws. So we slide behind the tourist boat, using it as our first defence against any prospective secretive hippo assaults.

Our kayaks – ready for their outing. Nice to have someone carry them for me for a change!

No sooner have we approached the boat than Nathalie recognizes its human contents. “Look, its my next door neighbours!” she coos. We all wave wildly at each other, not knowing that we would all end up on the lake this morning. Fortunately the hippos themselves don’t seem too bothered by all our excitement, as they continue to bob obliviously away in the waters.

Happy to be getting out into the water – not been kayaking for months!

The neighbours are having breakfast on the boat just as we draw alongside. “Want some chocolate cake?” they ask, holding up a picnic box. Neither Nathalie nor I had eaten breakfast that morning, so all offers of food are greeted with utmost welcome. We thrust out our paddle shafts towards their boat and they placed moist pieces of cake on the flattened oars. We reel them in and gobble down the slices.

Fishermen sailing their dhows out to reel in their daily catch.

We spend 4 hours in total kayaking up and around Lake Victoria. We watch kingfishers precision-diving to catch their daily food. We see monkeys climbing through trees on the waters’ edge. We greet fishermen returning with full nets, and politely decline their offers to buy some of their fish fare. And we enjoy the silence that is so rarely found but we surprisingly sensed whilst floating along in our Kenyan kayaks in Africa’s largest lake.

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7 thoughts on “Keeping clear of Hippos whilst Kayaking in Kenya’s Lake Victoria

  1. Just out of curiosity where in lake Victoria was this. I come from that side of the world but currently living in Tokyo. I have been here for 10 years but I still remember vividly very many episodes with the hippos. Very nostalgic in deed

  2. Hi Moire, I am writing from South Africa. We are putting together a brochure on Legson Kayira’s journey across Africa to complement his republished book ‘I will try’, and I would like to use one of your pictures ‘Fishermen on Lake Victoria’, as he passed by Lake Victoria on his journey. (This book is a true story of Legson walking across the African continent to get to an American University in the 1960s) I was wondering if you could provide further info regarding the availability of this image to be used in our promotional brochure as a thumbnail that depicts the challenges he had to face. Thank you very much for your help! If you need further info on the project, please visit us on http://www.rivoniamediagroup.com/what-we-do/i-will-try/ BTW, as I browsed through your blog I must say it is really amazing what you do! It is the first time that I’ve heard of anyone running up hills as a hobby! Almost makes me want to get up and run to the top floor and back:)

  3. Dear Moire
    I have found your blog while searching on the internet since I am looking into some light training (running) while in Africa, namely in Tanzania. I have never been to Sub-saharan Africa and the time of the foreseen visit I will be at the very end of a marathon training. So I hope to be able to go out for a run of 5-10 km, just to keep in form before the event. However, I am not sure whether it is possible to avoid risks, any risk like predators, snakes, security issues. It would be nice to hear from you how you deal with this and whether there are such risks at all. You go out early, don’t you fear snakes on the road for instance? many thanks for any good tips, it would greatly improve my current state of mind. The e-mail I leave is a real one, I just do not want to leave my real name for data protection purposes but of course in a private e-mail it is a different matter. Thanks in advance for any advice.

  4. Reminds me of coming far too close for comfort to a hippo in a Canadian Canoe in Lake Malawi; seconds earlier, I’d been thinking how friendly the local kids were running along the beach shouting ‘greetings’ to me – turned out they were trying to warn me – never paddled so fast in my life! Enjoying your blog – evokes great memories of Africa.

    1. Thanks David! Was back in Africa there in June, after nearly 2.5 years away. Was good to be back and visit the old haunts and see many old and dear friends. The hippo bit was just a bonus 🙂

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