So, today, I was not killed by a hippopotamus.
Just need to throw that out, because it was, in fact, a possibility.
My boss (the Ambassador) wants to see every prefecture in Togo before he leaves in 18 months. He’d recently seen the Prefect of Vo at a function, and decided it was time to visit Vo and its neighbor, Yoto. I was put in charge of the program, which was for an overnight trip, for yesterday and today. Also, I’d be going with him.
Unfortunately, there’s not THAT much to see in these two parts of the country. My team had to search to find anything to justify an overnight visit, and most of the trip was dedicated to seeing large investments, either in terms of mines or cement factories. The one highlight was getting up at 5 AM to try to go see hippos at a small eco-tourism site.
Of course, after planning this, my boss mentions that he’s seen a ton of hippos in his time. In fact, he’d nearly been killed by one while fishing in some lake somewhere in southern Africa. Yay.
Still, he’s always up for an adventure, and at 5AM we quit $20/night hotel. (Side note: seriously, this was one amazing place, one of the best places I’ve stayed at in Africa, and only $20 a night! If there was anything else to do in Tabligbo, I’d recommend it.) We were met just outside of town by the Prefect of Yoto, who accompanied us the rest of our time in his prefecture. His truck guided us to the eco-tourism site.
After getting there, we had to walk a good ways through a village. This was already a bad sign with regards to seeing the hippos, because people and hippos do not mix. They are incredibly territorial and dangerous. The prefect and the local guide then walked us all the way to the lake shore, and we were told to get in a boat. Now, my friend Mr. Kate has been to this place several times, and never once mentioned getting into a boat. Also, by boat, I do not at all mean an aluminum-hulled speedboat. I don’t even mean a canoe. I mean one of these:
Not my picture; it was taken by one Jon Ward, it’s from the wikipedia page for pirogue.
This was itself a scary proposition, as the boat didn’t look that seaworthy. There was water all over the bottom: gross, dirty, possibly disease-filled water. It also barely floated above the surface–the side edges were only an inch or two above the water line.
However, the Ambassador was in one before I could say anything, with the prefect right behind him, and so off we went.
Now, it was a gorgeous day for this. The air was full of fog, and the water was perfectly still, making it hard to see where the air stopped and the water began. Many of the boats looked like they were floating in the sky. As long as I focused away from my own boat, I felt like I was in another world, possibly Faerie, possibly Purgatory, but definitely not normal earth.
Then I’d look down, and see the water right next to the boat, and the water in the boat, and the one dead fish, and … yeah, the illusion was broken.
It took a long time, but eventually our guides found a hippo for us. Or, at least, found the line in the water where something big was moving. They weren’t satisfied with showing us that, though–they knew we came to see a hippo, and by golly, they were going to show us one.
So, they began screaming and raising a ruckus to make it get up and show itself. They were deliberately provoking the most deadly animal in Africa, for the amusement of the two yovos in the canoes. I think my boss was likely to have a heart attack.
However, it worked. Sort of. The hippo moved away, probably thinking that we were all crazy but not worth the bother, and as it did so I got to see it come up out of the water. Well, I got to see its eyes and ears come up briefly before it went back down.
After that, we came back to shore, and continued our day’s events (though I did it with the grossest possible socks). I can now say that I’ve seen African megafauna, though I hope to never do it in that fashion again.
And, just to finish, nothing seems as appropriate as this: