Travel Tales: Hippos on Border Patrol


“There is nothing to do here but get drunk. You should have stayed in Livingstone”, was not the first thing we wanted to hear as we embarked on our long weekend adventure. Living in the tourist hub of Livingstone, Zambia it was quite easy to get dragged into the multitude of activities available based around the Zambezi. The only problem is you’ll find yourself in this amazing African setting surrounded by tourists each forking out big dollars for their slice of controlled adventure. Travelling with fellow adventure traveler Martin, we wanted to break the shackles and coming back with something unique, something new, and something that perhaps only the true Zambians would understand.

Our destination for this epic 3 day journey was Sesheke, a small border town linking Zambia with Namibia. Border towns aren’t always the best place for an African adventure. They can often be a collective of opportunist Nomads looking for their next opportunity. But for us Sesheke was accessible, recommended by other Zambians, on the Zambezi, and maybe gave us a chance to cross into Namibia illegally.

After a bumpy 3 hour local mini bus ride filled with roadside sausage, crying babies, and catching people’s heads as they drifted into a deep sleep, we finally found our accommodation at Brenda’s Baobab. Excited for what laid ahead the guards welcoming words of wisdom immediately deflated our spirits. He showed us to our campground and we pitched our 2 man tent only to realise it was perhaps appropriate for 2 children with our knees by our ears while trying to sleep. Surely a walk around town would reenergise us only to realise this African border town was exactly that – a dusty African border town with lots of men walking around looking disheveled.

After a sleep filled with leg cramps and the tent eventually braking, we unzipped to see this beautiful paradise at our feet. Green grass, fruit trees, and a steady Zambezi stream was unobstructed from our view as we felt as if we’d been picked up and transported somewhere else overnight. We were the only guests at the campsite as we were greeted by the owners. Brenda was a welcoming Zambian woman partnered by her Dutch husband who resembled Doc Brown from Back to the Future. They gave us advice on where to go and what to see around town while also offering us free use of their kayaks at our leisure.

The town itself didn’t hold much charm. It served its purpose but had little to offer in the way of adventure in the town itself. A club a few doors down from Brenda’s was welcoming with Chicken and beer but apart from that Sesheke was a quiet place. The nights were peaceful with low lighting, a sky full of stars, and the sound of the flowing Zambezi in the background. We cooked our own food, played some cars, had some beers, and tried to avoid going back to the tent at all costs. We toyed with the idea of upgrading to a room but being the stout independent travelers we are we toughed it out.

The next day we set ourselves for a day on the water and our attempt to enter Namibia illegally. We had already raided the markets for food and loaded the kayaks as we awkwardly pushed off from the banks of the Zambezi. Rowing along with not another soul in sight, the mighty river was dotted with Islands. Doc Brown had told us about this amazing sand island providing the perfect spot for relaxing. We passed an island covered in small bushes that after a lengthy discussion we decided to bypass and explore on the journey home. The sandy paradise was our first goal.

Golden sands appeared in the distance as the rowing became more laborious. We had finally made it and celebrated with boiled eggs and oranges as we laid back welcoming the sun. Curious kids crept towards us as fisherman tried to sell us their fresh catches. This was more of the Africa we had missed. Livingstone is a travel Mecca but living in such a hustle-bustle transient town can be tiring. This was the break we both needed.

After a few hours of building sand turtles and pushing kids into the water, it was time to push on. Our next goal wasn’t hard to achieve. Basically all that separated Zambia and Namibia was the Zambezi. All we had to do was row to the other side and have a little walk around. Having said that we can now say we have entered Namibia illegally but that isn’t the story at hand. As we approached the first bushy island Martin turned to me and said, “Do you remember those rocks being there”. These big boulders stood out making us both even more curious to what this island held. Martin lead on towards the island before all of a sudden he stopped rowing. “Shit, they aren’t rocks. They’re Hippos”, he yelled. As soon as he dipped his oar back into the water to backtrack the hippos rose as one and took off to the other side of the island. We heard the loud splash as they entered the Zambezi.


Two stranded kayakers in the middle of the Zambezi with a group of Hippos in the vicinity but not within eyesight. The island was blocking our view of the Hippos with home on the other side of the Hippos. We saw that they had a calf with them meaning they were bound to be protective. A choice awaited us – not knowing where the Hippos were we could either go left or right of the island. Saying somewhat of a goodbye to one another we chose right for the sole reason that it was the Zambian side. Rowing furiously while trying not to dip our oars too deep into the water we kept a firm focus trying to shield the butterflies in our stomachs. A loud splash came on the left side of the island as the Hippos reared the heads only to duck back under and start making their way towards us. We now dug deeper only looking back on occasion to see the Hippos keeping the same 50 metre distance the whole way.

Arriving to our launch point I quickly docked and got onto land while Martin’s attempt to dock saw him land straight back into the Hippo infested Zambezi River. He quickly crawled his way onto the banks as we looked out to see the Hippos staring straight back at us loudly growling as if we had interrupted their day out. Even when we returned to the safety of our tent the growls continued to sound out.

This was our near death experience with Africa’s most dangerous animal. What looked like a letdown of a weekend turned out to be an African adventure and I haven’t even mentioned the listening to James Blunt – Goodbye My Lover on repeat for 50 minutes in our tent or the abusive drunk who continued to steal our books while slugging Rose from the bottle on our 3 hour journey, that turned into a 7 hour journey home.



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