This morning I went to see the hippos. The young man who sells knickknacks and souvenirs in the hotel lobby had proposed an outing last weekend but I had too much to do. I also thought the initial cost of the two hour ride (160 dollars) was a little steep. Since he has not been able to sell me any of his wares (I tried to explain that I had many of the things he sells and was actually divesting them), I said I would be willing to go see the hippos if he dropped his price. This he did instantly, by 50%.  We negotiated a little more and for a price I still though rather steep, I agreed.

We walked some ways to get to the waterfront, through a narrow slippery path, to a half-submerged pirogue, that took me through a field of water hyacinths to the larger pirogue I paid for. I suggested that next time he makes sure that the little boat was at least bailed out. I figured with the money I paid I could insist on better service, at least for people following after me.

I arrived at the edge of the river where at least 10 men were washing clothes, their arms and upper bodies covered in suds. They would not let me take a picture unless I paid. I didn’t. I indicated surprise that men were washing clothes. As it turned out they are commercial washermen from Mali.  They collect the clothes, wash them in the murky waters of the Niger, then put them out to dry on the dusty and dirty sidewalks near the hotel. In the afternoon they collect them, bring them home, iron and deliver to their customers. Like any other profession, once it becomes lucrative, men take over. As far as I know the women I see washing clothes along the river do it for free.

The large motorized pirogue, all 30 feet of it, was all for me – with my guide sitting in the front, to explain to me what I was seeing, and two boatmen in the back, handling the outboard. The middle section of the boat was covered with an awning, and with mattresses on the bottom, but I could see those were already soaked. The boat was rather leaky, held together with wire and struts, tape and gum. The outboard stopped about half an hour into the ride upstream; after about 15 minutes of hammering and cleaning of plugs, the motor started again and we pursued our trip.

We did see a small group of hippos where my guide expected them. They stuck their heads above water to check us out. We went a little further upstream but found no other and turned around. By then the hippos had moved fast upstream and we landed in the middle of them, with one right underneath. I am glad I didn’t realize it until we felt the bump, but by then we had passed them and neither the hippo nor the motor was hurt.

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October 2017
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