It was still dark out when Ibrahim met me at my hotel in Banfora. An early start was crucial in order to be at nearby Lake Tengrela both for the sunrise and to catch a glimpse of some hippopotamuses (hippopotami??). The lake is just a short drive outside of Banfora, off the asphalt road and a few minutes along a dirt road. It is known for its hippos and locals believe that they do not attack people because they are sacred (unlike these hippos in Botswana). According to my guide book, the best time for hippo spotting is between 7 and 8 a.m. – it was just after 6 a.m. when we arrived, so I figured we should be in good shape.
A fisherman soon appeared to take us on to his rickety wooden pirogue. Ibrahim took my day pack from me and grabbed my hand to steady me as I stepped on to the boat and then slowly turned around to take my seat on a narrow wooden plank at the front. I set my day pack in front of me between my legs despite the water that was slowly pooling at my feet. And I started to think that if I was to die while traveling in West Africa, it would likely be by drowning after falling out of the canoe and into Lake Tengrela. As we began to float out through lily pads and reeds into the center of the lake, I was too nervous to even move, scared that the slightest bobble might tip us over.
Eventually, I steadied my nerves and pulled out my camera to capture my surroundings. The sun was slowly rising, turning the once purplish gray sky into a rainbow of pinks, oranges and yellows. One other boat joined us and together we headed to the far side of the lake to see the main attraction – the hippos.
I heard them before I saw them, and it took the zoom lens on my camera for me to really see them well, but we did soon spot a family of hippos. They weren’t far from shore and Ibrahim confirmed that the water where they were was shallow enough so that they were sitting/lying on the bottom of the lake as they poked their heads out of the water ever so slightly. If you watched the video above of the hippo in Botswana charging a speedboat, you’ll understand why we couldn’t get too close (even if these hippos are allegedly sacred).
After several minutes of watching the hippos in silence and enjoying the sun illuminating the sky behind me, we finally saw some action.
I’m not sure if they were kissing or fighting (probably the latter!), but I was thrilled to actually get to see the hippos in action – and to capture it on camera! Unfortunately, they seemed to go back to sleep after that outburst – but considering West Africa isn’t really known for opportunities to spot wildlife, being this close to hippos in the wild was an experience I won’t soon forget!