Sunday, 26 April 2009

Never Mind the Hippos

Swimming in Africa isn’t without its hazards. We’ve just come from Murchison Falls in Uganda, where the White Nile gets squeezed through a tiny gorge a few metres wide. It’s a magnificent spectacle, but it was a hot day and the sight of all that water was too much for us. We simply had to swim. Mands leant into the spray in an attempt to cool off, while Nicky gave serious thought to jumping in there and then.

Wisely, perhaps (given that the Falls are some 50 metres high), we decided against. There was a campsite a couple of hundred metres upstream from the Falls, and it was said to have a natural pool in the river, calm enough to swim in. So off we went. But when we got there, there were four hippos in it. If we jumped in, they’d have no way out except over/through us. But we were roasting, and there was no way we could sit by and watch them frolicking. So in we went, keeping a wary eye out for them. Although not what you’d call relaxing, it was a heavenly swim.

We’ve had some awesome swims along the way, although they rarely come without some form of additional excitement. There was a hot spring we came across at an oasis in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Wonderful to jump into, after several days without a wash, but as Little Max shows here, it came with a powerful smell of rotten eggs!

Then there was the river in the Omo where tiny, almost invisible fish nibbled us persistently as we were swimming, convincing us we were under some form of sustained attack (much to the amusement of the onlooking Mursi tribespeople). Don’t ask about the headgear!

In 45 degree heat on the shores of Lake Turkana, we were reliably assured by Kenyan National Parks staff that swimming in the lake was quite safe. We desperately wanted to believe them, as it was hellishly hot. But when we reached our campsite at Alia Bay, we saw not less than four crocs at any one time eyeing our children, and had to rethink.

But then, occasionally, the perfect swimming spot appears. This was one of them. In the Chalbi Desert of northern Kenya, there’s an oasis called Kalacha, where some far-sighted person has helped the local community develop a small lodge with a swimming pool. It wasn’t a big pool, but my goodness it was a welcome one. No hippos, no crocs, no nibbling fish and, best of all, cold beer.

Now that's what I call a perfect swim!

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