Saturday, May 4, 2013

I was swallowed by a hippo

'There was no transition at all, no sense of approaching danger. It was as if I had suddenly gone blind and deaf'.

Experience: I was swallowed by a hippo 

"Hippos' mouths have huge tusks, slicing incisors and a bunch of smaller chewing teeth.' Photograph: Peter Hoffman for the Guardian.

The hippo who tried to kill me wasn't a stranger – he and I had met before a number of times. I was 27 and owned a business taking clients down the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls. I'd been working this stretch of river for years, and the grouchy old two-ton bull had carried out the occasional half-hearted attack. I'd learned to avoid him. Hippos are territorial and I knew where he was most likely to be at any given time.

That day I'd taken clients out with three apprentice guides – Mike, Ben and Evans – all in kayaks. We were near the end of the tour, the light was softening and we were taking in the tranquillity. The solid whack I felt behind me took me by surprise.

I turned just in time to see Evans, who had been flung out of his boat, flying through the air. His boat, with his two clients still in it, had been lifted half out of the water on the back of the huge bull hippo.

There was a cluster of rocks nearby and I yelled at the nearest apprentice to guide everyone there, to safety. Then I turned my boat and paddled furiously towards Evans.

I reached over to grab his outstretched hand but as our fingers were about to touch, I was engulfed in darkness. There was no transition at all, no sense of approaching danger. It was as if I had suddenly gone blind and deaf.

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