“Hush, the hippos are resting,” whispered our guide, who also happens to be the helmsman of the small boat we boarded. My friend and I had been chatting excitedly but we stopped. “The last thing they want when resting is noise,” he added.
At first I was frightened when I saw the hippos lying low and floating on the water, with their eyes fixed on our oncoming wooden boat. As we drew closer to them, my friend asked our guide if we were doing the right thing. The guide smiled and said, “Relax! You will brush past these beasts, have a close and good look at them and leave without any harm.”
Kiboko Bay is a large viewing area on Lake Victoria in Kisumu City, Kenya. When I first went there, the thought of getting this close to hippos never crossed my mind. I had other ideas, like eating fresh fish from the lake. Kisumu is a tropical-rainforest-climate town with an average temperature of 22 degrees Celsius, and when the sun is hot, especially in the afternoons, the hippos resort to taking respite from the sun. They usually lie in the shade of the shrubs that grow in the water. They lie on their chests, in groups.
When far from them, one will assume they are a rock protruding from the water because of their massive bodies brought together during this resting period. I couldn’t believe it when the guide pointed his finger to a rock somewhere on one edge of the water and said, “We will start with those hippos resting there.”
Omollo, our guide, told us that the hippos lie in that state, with no movement, till the sun goes down. You can have the closest view during the day and they will not move unless you provoke them. We slowly and silently moved past them. I was in awe of their intriguing body and shape and held my breath. We moved on deeper into the vast lake with the hope of coming back to the hippos before six p.m. because at six p.m., the guide said, and I believed him, the hippos become active and aggressive.
As I said, I had come to this lake to fish and generally explore, to have fresh fish by the lakeside. But all my plans and ideas were overtaken by these beautiful beasts.
Omollo is a well-built man in his late thirties, with dark brown eyes and chocolate skin colour with traces of scratches here and there. He told me he has been working as helmsman and guide for almost 15 years and has not known another income-earning activity since then. He said he enjoys it every day albeit knowing the risks involved. He is a father of three and he said he hopes to raise his young family through his self-taught skill of being a helmsman and tour guide, in one package.
Have you ever felt envy just because you admired what someone is doing? That is how I felt! “You are a lucky bastard, Omollo, I want your life,” is the exact tune that played in my small head. (I have a small head, by the way. Haha!) I want to wake up early in the morning and tell the kids, “Lemme ride some clueless tourists around the lake. See yah tonight, munchkins.”
“Let us go back to the beautiful beasts,” I told Omollo. I tried to forget how much I wanted his life and to just enjoy this time.
The sight of these hippos lying there took me—in a way I can’t explain—back to my old days in high school when we used to bask in the sun during morning breaks. Throughout the ride, I thought about the past, and the hippos sort of floated through it, if you can imagine that.
My stay in Kisumu wasn’t a long one, but I—there and then—decided to prolong it because I was in love with the way these beasts take respite from the scorching sun. There is nothing more fascinating than seeing a hippo, which can be so terrifying, lying on its chest and relaxing. Brushing against resting hippos and being sent down memory lane to be reminded of bittersweet high school memories is not an everyday thing. Eish, see the déjà vu there! Resting hippos that look like rocks are second to none—at least for me.