“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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.