Expat Adventure: Death by Crocodile, Almost

by missfootloose on February 4, 2012 · 17 comments

in adventure, Africa, wildlife

Dutch Girl

No, this is not really me

When you grow up in Holland and ride a bike and eat cheese and the wildest animal you ever see is a stork, it doesn’t occur to you that one day you’ll be an expat in Africa and in touching distance of a very wild crocodile. But such are the vagaries of life.

Dear reader, I trust you remember my (mis)adventure of almost landing in prison in Uganda when I was a new bride. When fortunately my mate, our two friends and I were rescued from the clutches of a crazy drunk cop, we drove on to go camping in Queen Elizabeth National Park, one of several game parks in Uganda. More adventure awaited us there. It’s true, expat life can be exciting! Here’s the tale:

A Crocodile, a Stupid Tourist, and Other Wild Animals

The campground  is located not far from a gorgeous five star safari lodge near the Nile river, the kind where foreigners with money come and drink creatively decorated cocktails and eat fabulous gourmet meals and take guided wildlife safaris.

The campground, however, is merely a clearing in the bush. No water, no facilities, nada. What there is is a sign, a big one:

LEAVE ENOUGH SPACE BETWEEN TENTS

FOR THE ELEPHANTS

TO MOVE THROUGH!

The place is empty of humans and other wildlife. We pitch up our two tents, which we have borrowed, and yes, we do leave plenty of room between them. As we are getting organized, more campers arrive, two young Catholic brothers, missionaries newly arrived from England. They are winter pale and frail looking. We chat briefly as they too pitch up their tent. Then the four of us leave to go to the lodge where we sneakily wash up in the pristine rest room and then have a drink at the bar to spy on the rich tourists to see how they live. They live well. Suffice it to say that the unfashionable, unbejeweled four of us – two Peace Corps volunteers and their mates — do not belong in this place. (Hi D and L! Do you remember this?)

We eat food we have brought with us and go to bed, hoping the elephants will not trample our tents. They do not. I do hear various wildlife noises but not enough to keep me awake. The trauma of our almost-ending-up-in-jail has wiped me out, I suspect, and I sleep.

However, the Catholic brothers are not so lucky. We wake up the next morning and the two of them crawl out of their tent looking even more pale, sort of greenish actually. They heard loud chomping noises around the tent in the middle of the night, they tell us.

“Very close by,” one of them says.

“I opened the flap and looked out the window,” the other one says, his voice unsteady. “You won’t believe what I saw!” Unsteady or not, he clearly intends to create a bit of suspense here with his story.

“What, what?” we say right on cue.

“A hippo! His snout was almost up against the screen!”

Nile Hippo

For a moment we all stare at him in stunned silence as we visualize this terrifying scene. Coming face to face with a hippo is not nothing, and clearly not something the two have been prepared for in their missionary training.

Fortunately nothing else happened. The beast moved on, but the two men of God did not sleep for the rest of the night. I suspect they were on their knees.

We think of hippos as lolling around in water, but in fact they graze on terra firma at night and can be found trundling along quite a distance from the water.

Later that day we go on a boat tour on the Nile, joining some of the lodge tourists, all of them decked out in fashionable safari gear and festooned with expensive cameras and binoculars. The boat is a low, flat affair with a tarpaulin stretched over the top for shade. We are a dozen or so.

So here I am, little Dutch me, floating on the Mighty River Nile! How cool is that! It’s almost like being in a movie! I think of the old explorers, of Stanley and Livingston and so on, but not for long because my knowledge of history is not impressive. I get lost in my surroundings –  the birds, the animals and monkeys on the river banks, the sounds and sights and smells.

Hippos are wallowing everywhere, but appear not to be interested in us. Neither are the crocodiles. We float up alongside one monster of a specimen stretched out on a sandbar. He seems asleep or comatose. I could lean over and touch him, almost, which I am not about to do, trust me. It gives me the creeps to see those thick rugged scales so close up.

Nile crocodile

We study the huge reptile and listen to the guide. The crocodile doesn’t move or twitch and we consider the possibility that he is dead.

As we are beginning to pull away, I notice the hand of one of the fancy lodge tourists as he tosses something at the croc. Something small – a bottle cap – goes flying though the air.

It’s as if a bomb explodes: An enormous upheaval of water and movement and sound engulfs us. The monster crocodile takes off like a projectile and disappears into the water.

He could have landed in the boat. He could have killed one or all of us. We could all have ended up in the river and chewed to death by his friends.

As I sit there, soaking wet, my heart racing, the thought occurs to me that perhaps I should have stayed home in Holland like a good girl. I could at this very moment be eating a cheese sandwich or drinking a cup of tea or shopping for a lipstick and be perfectly safe with no danger of a crocodile coming for me.

Then again, I wouldn’t have this story to tell.

The most dangerous animal we see that day? A stupid tourist.
* * *
What’s lurking in your memory about tourists — the good, the bad and the stupid? Have you ever been close to a dangerous animal?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Aledys Ver February 4, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Well, I hope that you at least made it clear to this stupid tourist that if he was so curious to see the croc’s reaction you’d be willing to toss him into the water? Seriously, some people deserve to stay home and go shopping for lipstick!

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missfootloose February 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I don’t remember what was being said, but I don’t think anybody on the boat was impressed by his stupidity. It boggles the mind how someone can be that dumb!

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Maria February 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm

The closest I’ve come to a dangerous wild animal is fending off hungry monkeys in Singapore — not quite in the same league as hippos and crocs! But I didn’t want to let another day go by without telling you how much I enjoy reading your stories. Whenever one lands in my inbox, I know I’m in for a treat. Thanks so much for giving me another fascinating glimpse of your world.

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Claire February 4, 2012 at 11:41 pm

A safari is as close as I have come………….and it was pretty darn awesome!

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Walter Knight February 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I was once told to watch where I sleep, or a tank might squash me flat. But usually I just worry about ants, and I’m sure to shake out my boots in the morning.

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Mara February 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm

As one of the children on my bus said the other day: a brain like an acorn! (I doubt the squirrel would want that acorn though: not enough intelligence in it!)

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Bob February 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Miss Footloose, I loved the story of the tourist. I have traveled to Kenya, Uganda and Angola, but not to Uganda. I did see tourists aplenty, as well as some animals, but an interesting trip was in Brazil. My older son, about 12 at the time, REALLY liked fishing. There was not much available in Brasilia, so I arranged a long weekend trip for us to the Pantanal (it means Big Swamp, and it is about twice the size of the Everglades, occupying large parts of two entire states in Brazil). After an hour flight to Cuiabá, he and I and the rest of the small group transferred to two VW buses, which set out at high speed on a narrow, sometimes paved road running south into the Pantanal area. At times it seemed as though the road we were on was the only ground above swamp and water level, and that if one had an accident or veered off the road, we would likely be there for quite a while. We made it to the “lodge”without incident.

Without doubt it was not as fancy as your lodge in Uganda. It had a main “lodge house” built of wood, raised up on stilts to keep it out of the water during the rainy season, and it was surrounded by a series of small “bungalows” (tiny cabins with two beds, and electricity. I think there was a fan and no A/C. I don’t remember if the plumbing was indoors). But we were not there to spend much time in the bungalow.

After a brief orientation, we were out on the river in two small boats, getting a guided tour of the flora and fauna in the Pantanal, and then back to the lodge for dinner. The menu was simple – whatever the cook had managed to produce. This night was a fish stew and rice. Then off to bed and ready for the next day’s fishing. That’s when the fun began.

Have you ever fished for piranha? Intentionally? We did. The last one meter of the line, the leader, is made of thin, braided steel instead of nylon so the fish cannot cut it with their teeth. Once you hook one and fight it up to the boat, the guide puts on a chain mail long sleeved glove (whole hand up to the elbow) on one hand and holds a stick in the other. He pulls the steel leader and the fish into the boat and then has to kill the fish with the stick before putting it in the box. Because of the razor sharp teeth and the voracious appetites, you cannot string the catch and leave it outside the boat (other fish would eat it), and you cannot leave it alive in the box of caught fish, as it would continue to eat and destroy any other fish in the box. After a short while, we had a good catch of piranha which the cooks would turn into stew for the evening meal.

We took a short break to tour up and down the narrow river, spotting tropical birds flying, perched in trees, and fishing for their supper on the banks of the river. We also spotted a few jacaré (crocodiles), lazing on the banks or slithering into the water.

Then it was back to fishing for a bit, this time for other fish. My son caught a dorado, which the guide helped him net, as it turned out to be almost as long as he was tall (he was about 4’8″ at the time and he needed both hands up to his face height to hold the fish off the ground). I got a photo of him with the fish, and with a smile almost as big as the fish was long. That was a good day, and the highlight of the trip. The next day was packup, drive the 100 km north to the airport and then fly back to Brasilia and back to real life.

Not much, compared to the hippo at close range and the foolish tourist who had more money than brains, but there you have it.

Bob

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missfootloose February 6, 2012 at 8:34 pm

This was wonderful! I’ve read about the Pantanal and seen shows on TV and it is a fascinating place. Your son was so lucky to have that adventure with you. The closest I have been to a piranha is a “preserved” one that I bought in Rio as a souvenir for my son. No danger in that one, although it did smell for a while ;) thank you for sharing your story. It was much enjoyed!

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Steph February 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm

That campground sign is wonderful! I think I’d have felt very vulnerable in a tent there.
There sadly doesn’t seem to be a limit to how dumb people can be. You all had a very lucky escape – but you don’t need me to tell you that!

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Welshcakes Limoncello February 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm

What an irresponsible man he was! I’m so glad you lived to tell the tale!

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edj February 5, 2012 at 11:45 pm

In Mauritania, there are oases surrounded by full desert for miles, where small populations of crocs and monkeys have managed to survive somehow. We were visiting one. Elliot was about 8. He pointed and shouted, “LOOK!” We looked. About 10 feet away from him was a sleeping crocodile. I freaked out, but quietly, and snatched my son a little closer. We passed a camel skeleton and went on down to the water. When we came back, the croc was gone. A little too close for comfort, I’d say :) I was glad it ended so calmly.
Maybe I’ll write a post about this! I love how you continue to write up past adventures. I keep thinking of doing this, but haven’t yet.

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MaryWitzl February 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm

My sisters and I once walked right past a rattlesnake which was sunning itself. They say you’re not supposed to run when they rattle, but I’d like to see anybody with the sang-froid to do anything else. I also tried to pry a snake off a wall in Japan — but neither that nor the rattlesnake incident horrified me as much as finding a monster cockroach on my toothbrush my first night in Taipei.

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guyana gyal February 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm

You’re much braver than I am! I live in wildlife land and I run from roaches and rats, hahaha.

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Turkey's For Life February 9, 2012 at 10:34 am

Ahh, there’s always a tourist around to ‘brighten up’ the day isn’t there?! I get so angry with people here sometimes but like you said, you wouldn’t have these great stories to tell if you hadn’t had the adventure in the first place. :)
Julia

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GutsyLiving February 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm

I remember watching a croc kill a wildebeast while on a safari in Kenya and Tanzania. The guide told us how lucky we were to experience this as it only happens once every 17 years! I can only imagine your fear when the croc turned explosive.

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Cram21 February 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

It’s not common to every body in seeing a wild animals like crocodile that’s why in order to experience to see it a a nearby, I love to bring my family in the zoo. Learning and discovering things while enjoying.

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