Meeting a River Monster! – Rolfe Oostra

Would it even be Halloween without hearing a scary story?
Rolfee Oostra shares an adventure nightmare as he comes face to face with a real river monster whilst out exploring Africa.

All my worst nightmares combined as I looked into the huge open mouth of the enormous male hippo busy tearing our boat apart. It’s cavernous red maw sporting enormous dagger like teeth breathed the stench of death, a red mist had descended on its beady little eyes.

I fancied I could see myself reflected in its crazed depth. A freaked out hippy kid who until only a few seconds ago harboured dreams of becoming an African explorer.

I could not have planned a gathering of all the things that freak me out any better. Here we were on a remote African river, in a wobbly dug-out canoe with the number one most dangerous animal in the bush determined to rip us all to shreds.

With heart in mouth I watched my companions take both evasive and defensive action. One leapt out of the boat into the river whilst the other began to hammer the animal with our paddle. It is funny how at times like these one seems to automatically follow your gut rather than your brain…

The gut told me that the guy who’d jumped was doing the right thing, so I jumped in too.

Once in the river I found myself in an even scarier position. Satisfied that it had battered our boat the hippo stopped biting it and dived under the water. Hippos don’t swim, they run along the river floor. You can tell where they are by the bubble stream racing along the surface.

I watched in horror as the bubbles made a bee-line for my frantically paddling legs. Here it comes shouted the guy who was in the water with me. An understatement if I’ve ever heard one.

The guy began swimming like mad to the nearest shore. He was eying up a low-hanging branch. I could see his reasoning, but my brain kicked in at the same moment and decided that we’d be better off going our separate ways. I started my world record front-crawl attempt towards the other shore.

The brain lucked out. The bubble stream changed direction and went for my waterborne companion. I crawled onto the shore and turned in horror to see my friend grabbing the branch and heave himself clear of the river.

The bubbles reached him just as he was hanging sloth like from the branch and then exploded into a fury only a truly pissed of hippo can muster. The vast head lurched clear out the river, mouth at its widest and those fangs glittering in the sun. It snapped shut only a few millimetres from my friend’s dangling butt.

This was not the actual hippo… we we’re too busy trying to survive to take photos. One thing I can say is these fangs do not do the actual hippo’s justice.

Relieved I watched him utilise his climbing skills and clamber to the top of a tree in a style which would be the envy of Leo Houlding. Had climbing been an Olympic sport back then he’d have cleared the medals in all categories. The enraged hippo lumbered up onto the muddy bank and head butted the tree trying to dislodge my mate who was swinging through the canopy.

After ten minutes of not having much luck it calmed down and slunk back into the river. The guy who’d stayed in the boat managed to drag its battered remains over to my side of the river.

It took a lot of arguing across this beautiful African river about who was going to swim to whose shore. I am glad to say that I didn’t have to re-visit the nightmare and stayed firmly grounded on terra firma whilst my mate beat all records in his swim across the river to our shore.

Rolfe Oostra