Hippos, Warthogs, and Rhinos…Oh My!

I don’t really know where to begin. Even though our mid-semester break seems like a distant memory, I think it still deserves some written recognition. Let’s start with my close hippo encounter. My wish to see a hippo in the wild came all too true on my spring break (well technically fall break) camping trip through Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. We were riding thin wooden canoes called Mokoros in the middle of the Okavango Delta, during which, a couple of inquisitive hippos to decided to come too close to comfort (well my comfort). I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified. I wouldn’t let go of my roommate’s hand as I ushered my Polo (the guys who rows the boat) to paddle as speedily as his God-given hands allowed. The language barrier between the two of us didn’t especially help my panic either. When I asked him if any of his friends had been attacked by a hippo, he replied “yes.” Then, seeking reassurance, I followed with, “are we going to be attacked by these hippos?” The only response I got was “yes.” Much deep breathing and silent praying on my part proceeded as we slipped past these beautiful and terrifying creatures further into the Delta. Okay, so admittedly I may be slightly dramatizing the situation, but this experience still made me recognize how invincible people often think they are until situations like having a hippo follow happen. In all seriousness, that Mokoro ride will forever be one of the highlights of my semester abroad and basically sums up many of the feelings that surface when living in a foreign place: fear, excitement, and uncertainty.

Our main purpose of riding into the Delta was to go on a walking safari in the Bush. There, we mainly spotted herds of zebra, ostrich, buffalo, and scattered carcasses. Nonetheless, camping in such a secluded area was unforgettable. In my opinion though, the best part of the trip was going to Matopas National Park in Zimbabwe to see rhinos. Before this trip, I had no understanding of the grave danger that rhinos are in as a result of rampant poaching. If poaching trends continue as they are now, rhinos will nearly be extinct in 10 years, both in the wild and in captivity. You can imagine my awe and excitement when after only 15 minutes of hiking we spotted four grazing rhinos. And we were able to get so close to them I could almost smell their breath! Even if we wouldn’t have spotted rhinos on the walk, our passionate guide, Ian would have made the trek worth it. He knew everything from different types of hallucinogenic tumbleweed we stumbled upon to animal footprints to decoding every last grunt that rhinos make. The livelihood of guides like Ian revolves around literally saving a species, and their dedication was so inspiring.

Other highlights of the trip included going to Victoria Falls, taking far too many pictures of monkeys, becoming a self-proclaimed master of pitching tents, getting to a point where “bush toilets” became common jargon, spotting elephants and giraffe on the side of the highway as casually as seeing deer in Wisconsin, and so so much more. Now that I’m back on campus, I’ve been powering through papers (yes Mom, I do still study) before preparing to go to Afrikaburn, South Africa’s sister-version of Burning Man. As a part of a study break, I cleared my head by FINALLY hiking Cape Town’s natural gem, Table Mountain. It only took me two months to muster up the courage to trail up it. The path I took through Kirstenbosch Gardens, deemed Skeleton Gorge, intimidated me simply from the name. Three hours later and five or so breaks in between, my roommates and I made it to the top. Out of sheer exhaustion and simultaneous awe, “WOW” was the only syllable I could utter. You’re literally so high up that you can see the curvature of the earth on the horizon. It was definitely one of those existential, “there’s something much large out there that I’m a small part of” moments. All in all, it was well worth the aftermath of sore legs, tingly hands, and blue lips.

This semester is whizzing by, and this is the first chance I’ve had in a while to sit down to blog and appreciate everything I’ve accomplished since coming to Cape Town (partly because WiFi is as finicky as my shower’s water heater). Stay tuned for the activities I’m about to cram into the next month before heading back to Madison.

XX Chloe

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