“We may see our lone bull hippo,” Clause was saying as we set out for a sunset cruise.
I was on my way back from Angola when I decided to stay at Taranga Safari Lodge. Located above the Kavango River on the Angolan border, it’s one of the few Namibian lodges (outside of the Caprivi Strip) with hippos and over 200 species of birds. I was the only guest that night and by default was VIP.
Fixed glamping tents overlook the river from above, tucked into the trees. The lodge’s floating bar awaits guests at the bottom of a hill with a riverboat tied to one side and a jet ski to another. Walking paths traverse the grounds leading from the main lodge and pool to the stylish tents, around a bird-watching trail, and to 10 secluded lawn-covered campsites.
The lodge is a half-way point along Namibia’s route to the Caprivi Strip, about 4 hours from Etosha National Park and a half hour outside of Rundu. Nguni cattle (with impressive vertical horns) wander up from the river on their way home in the evenings and children and mothers can be spotted fishing and playing along the shoreline.
Before the sun went down, Stefan the manager walked me around the property, making sure I saw the bird-watching benches near the watering hole, the well designed campsites, and the unique tents overlooking the Kavango.
Dinner and a Cruise
During my sunset cruise, we spotted an otter and Claus (the riverboat captain and bartender) named each bird we saw, stopping the engine long enough for us to enjoy refreshments and snacks while the sun descended below the horizon. Sadly, no hippo was spotted…
Maria had dinner ready upon my return, a fire roaring next to the table, and a well-packed breakfast ready for my early departure the following morning.
After a mesmerizing fire and filling meal of lentil soup with paprika sprinkled on top, a main course of steak, potatoes, green beans and shredded beats, and a dessert of chocolate moose, I made my way back along the lit path to my large tent with its beautiful branch-lined bathroom and enjoyed a hot shower with blessedly intense water pressure. I couldn’t stay awake long enough to read more than a page, the bed and its elegant porcupine-embroidered sheets were just too comfortable.
Where is that hippo?
Hippopotamus means ‘water horse’ in Greek, although hippos are more related to pigs and whales than horses. They form groups called schools or (my favorite) bloats, and the average lifespan is 45 years.
While I didn’t see the famous bull hippo on our sunset cruise, I did learn more about these bizarre animals. Up to 5’2″ at the shoulder (my height), they can grow to 16.5′ long. They spend 16 hours in the water every day, holding their breath up to 5 minutes, but oddly can’t swim. Instead, they push off things to get around. And they’re not just big and heavy, but loud: they can snort and bellow at decibel levels equalling a rock concert’s speakers from 15′ away. Despite looking as cuddly as a pig, they’re the most dangerous animal in Africa, killing on average 500 people per year.
The following morning before dawn, armed with my packed breakfast, Stefan let me out of the gates with a warning about animals sleeping in the middle of the warm paved road and to drive carefully. I pulled out from the long driveway, the serenity of the place lasting until the very end of the property, and made my way to the B8 highway and back to Windhoek. My only regret was not having stuck around long enough to enjoy their full breakfast on the main deck; perhaps then our hippo would have shown himself. But I guess there’s always next time…