Monday, 13 May 2013

5am starts don't agree with me

I was awake from before 2am. :p

The drive to lake Kariba was lovely and much shorter than to Vic falls, at around 350km, and we arrived around 8.15am. Loading the boat was a little manic but getting the engines started was a much more leisurely affair – at least for those of us watching. However the efforts of the crew and especially the young guys with us did eventually get them running, and we left by about 12.15pm.

Hippo Basher is a pontoon houseboat, built on 2 parallel steel floatation hulls (so effectively a catamaran) which housed the engines, with an enclosed lower deck (inc kitchen and cabins) and open upper deck, all above the waterline. As we were to discover later, this construction makes the vessel float like a cork, rather than sail like a ship – cheap and easy to build, highly effective in terms of buoyancy, but lacking the natural ability to cut through the water like a conventional hull. Internal construction resembled something like a 1970s caravan and reminded us constantly of one we used to own, but that had been modified and added to over the last 40 years. Everything worked, but in true African style things had been fixed so they could work, but would require some knowledge or insight not obvious to the novice. Like the engines. The ability to fix and re-use stuff that most others would throw away and replace is a point of pride in Africa, at least among some people, although certainly bourne out of need too. Hippo Basher was a proudly 'living' example of the art of non-consumerism.

M&M and ourselves, as the 2 oldest couples on the boat, had been generously given the cabins to share, each with a double bed. The remaining 2 young couples and 2 single guys were sleeping upstairs on the covered but open upper deck. Not necessarily bad if you're a little out-doorsy, slightly scary if you're a town mouse. Mike described it as being like camping on a boat, and that's pretty much spot on. We were being crewed by a couple of guys local to Kariba – Macdonald (pilot) and Lovemore (cook).

Through our cabin window:

We motored across the lake over about 5 hours; beautiful scenery on the edges of a vast blue expanse.

One couple had borrowed a tender boat, towed behind us while motoring, and as we drew near the shore of Sanyati West a few of us embarked and were taken across to see the new terrain and some wildlife.

Darkness was falling fast as we drew near the shore, and we saw distant elephants and closer hippos in the twilight. Hippos are very dangerous, being territorial and large creatures with a powerful bite, inclined to come up unseen below an unwelcome boat, tipping the occupants into the water and either attacking them directly or leaving them prey to crocodiles. We carefully observed but kept our distance, our driver keeping a sharp eye out for signs of hippo activity in our path.

Elephant in the sunset

The sun dipped below the horizon, and with the light fading in glorious colours, we looked around for hippo basher – to no avail! 

I'd checked to see where it was heading after we drew near to the shore, and it appeared to be heading into one end of the bay in which we were now motoring, but there was no sign: just one other houseboat moored about a mile away. So we motored around the bay with increasing speed (it was becoming dark and cold too) but of the boat could see no sign. Eventually we met a launch returning to the other houseboat, and they told us they'd seen it heading into a smaller bay that was off the main bay area. By this time we'd becoming a little nervous, and so hammered off to finally find it, tucked round a corner and completely out of site of the lake. 

There was considerable relief!

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