Heh heh heh.

That’s the sound a hippo makes. In the pitch black night, the calling card of all cartoon villains bounces through the air.

Heh heh heh.

Even the crickets go silent.

I suppose crickets fear the feet the way we fear the jaws.

My life has always been absurdly free of real stress. Sure, I worry about bills and work and friendships and family and finding taxis when it’s raining. But up until staying alongside the Nile, I’d never ever experienced real stress. Hippo stress.

Heh. Heh heh heh.

It was right outside my door. My door was only thin wood and a screen. I lay in the bed, straining my eyes trying to make out the source of the maniac’s laugh. It was to no avail. For something that is essentially a 4,000-pound hybrid of a manatee and an ogre, hippos move with astonishing grace and very little sound. They love the night. In the cooler air, they stroll the banks eating, watering the grass when droplets of Nile fall from their wrinkled backs. They bark their evil laughs, existing camouflaged in the moonlight.

And all the little human guests of Baker’s Lodge stay tucked safe in their beds till morning, because if you aren’t trampled by a hippo,  you could still be carted off by a crocodile.

We spent part of our recent trip to Uganda in the region of Murchison Falls National Park. It’s the ideal place for a river safari, and we called Baker’s Lodge home for a few days. At Baker’s you stay in one of eight, rustic-but-artful, screen-fronted houses. They are built mere feet from the banks, and you can rent one for only $230 per night in the low season, which is when we took our adventure.

Baker’s Lodge from Above; Below – my bungalow

The wildlife I expected to be blown away by, but strangely, nothing prepares you for actually seeing The Nile.

I couldn’t stop pointing at it.

I was Steinbeck’s Lennie understudy. It was a one-woman production of Of Mice & Men.

“The Nile. It’s the Nile. You guys, look … the Nile. Nile, Nile, Nile. Hey guys, look. (Points finger again). The Nile.”

The surface  is jovial and bubbly. Sticks and loose reeds bounce along, sending up small splashes. What’s moving beneath could and would kill you, from the swift currents to the hippos with their fickle aggressions.

Then there are the crocodiles, so thick-skinned that not even 200 million years could kill them off … modern-day dinosaurs with teeth from a Stephen King novel.

The longest river in the world winds for more than 4,000 miles, but it only touches six countries. It starts from Lake Victoria in Uganda and unleashes – seemingly upwards – through Burundi and Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan, into its most-associated Egypt. It’s internally counterintuitive, this force that rages up the paper map. This massive ribbon of water is what sustained ancient Egyptians, while they brought history eyeliner and calendars, toothpaste and the written language. It’s lived so long in textbooks. It’s been everyone’s class project at some point and a hero of National Geographic coverage for decades. Seeing it firsthand is strange and intense.

Murchison Falls National Park is named for the river’s roughest patch in Uganda. The waterfall boasts a 140-foot release of water that hammers down a 20-foot gap, sending 11,000 feet of water over the edge every single second.

“Look, you guys. It’s The Nile!”

A river safari here will show you an incredible array of wildlife from a small pontoon boat. You have moments where you are much closer to these magnificent animals then you could be on land.

 

Annnnd … moments when you are definitely too close.

Sometimes, we nearly earn our own Darwin Awards.

Someday, when I’m 90, I’ll lean out of my wheelchair the way I leaned over the bow of that pontoon boat … and I’ll whisper to the deaf lady next to me, “I once saw a crocodile with a spotted tongue on the banks of the Nile. The Nile. Oh, the Nile.”

Jenny Adams is a freelance travel writer, author and photographer.
She currently contributes to a number of publications, including National Geographic Traveler, Hemispheres, American Way and Imbibe.

She’s the former Bar Columnist for the Miami Herald, the current Copy Editor at Robb Vices and is also wrestling a half-written novel, set in New Orleans.

Jenny’s got an knack for getting lost, an addiction to full-fat cream cheese, and a deep and abiding love for every Water Buffalo she’s ever seen.
Her bookshelf is mainly Tom Robbins, her favorite word is ‘visceral,’ and you can find out more about her at www.jennyadamsfreelance.com.

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