… continued …
His name shall be Rudy for the present purposes. He was a kid who was sent by his big brother, a scientist of some sort, to join our glorious field expedition, to learn some stuff, have a good time, get his Wellies wet. He and I spoke on the phone at length before the trip, during which time I gave him ample good advice to aid him in his travels.
“No matter what any one tells you do not bring boots. No hiking boots. Just running shoes. No boots. Write that down. Did you write that down? OK, now repeat back to me what you wrote down.”
“Good. Money belt that goes around your body under your shirt, made of cloth, zipper. Put 500 dollars in there and don’t touch it until you get here. Got that?”
“Bring a tent. The tent must be the size of a VE 23 or larger. Not much larger. Don’t bring a smaller tent. Got that?”
“Do. Not. Bring. A. Smaller. Tent.”
“OK, now, you do realize, yes, that if you fail to follow any of my instructions there is a pretty good chance you are not going to get out of this alive. Do you understand this?”
“Ah, yes, I think so ….”
“If you follow my instructions you’ll be fine. No boots. Running shoes. Money belt that ties on with zipper, tent no smaller than a VE 23. Got it?”
He didn’t get it.
So, Rudy arrived with is hiking bots (no running shoes) penniless because he kept his money in his underwear and he figures it fell out when he was in the bathroom at the airport. So some Republican Senator was up five hundred bucks.
His feet got ‘jungle rot’ because of the festering blisters caused by breaking in hiking boots under these conditions. Independently of his failure to follow my advice, he also got some sort of eye infection.
But otherwise, Rudy made an incredibly valuable addition to the expedition, helping in many ways, getting a lot of excellent experience counting cape buffalo and doing some other research. So, every night, when he squeezed into his tiny little “Flash-Lite” tent that he brought to sleep in, he was able to feel pretty good about himself. I don’t think he ever had the foggiest idea of how close to death he came every night in that tent. Until, of course, that one fateful night.
You will recall that I was busily building a road from Kenyatsi back to the road that linked Ishango to Senga. This road met the Ishango-Senga road just north of the guard post, with the security gate and the little mud huts. It was not much of a road, but it was sufficient to find one’s way without accidentally bumping into some other (nearby) country, or driving in circles all day, which previously had been the pattern.
Rudy may have stayed a day or two at Kenyatsi, but he was mainly working out of Ishango. You will recall that Ishango is a flat plateau that sits atop a steep, curving bluff that overlooks the southern end of the Big Lake, as well as the Semliki River, which exits the lake at this point. All along the lake and all along the river, wherever there is grassland to be found nearby, reside varying numbers of hippos. There is a LOT of grassland near Ishango, so there are a lot of hippos in the water there during any given day. One can stand on the Ishango bluffs and count well over 300 hippos lolling around in the water.
At night, of course, the hippos come out to feed. They eat very little near the shores of the water they hang out in. The vast majority of their food is in the form of grass, for which they may walk many kilometers inland.
It seems that the dominant hippos come out of the lake or river and feed wherever they want to, which is typically the nearest good grass. If there are many hippos in a given area, several will come out along the same one or two trails, and sub dominant animals will sometimes have to pass these dominant hippos on their way inland to father, less convenient grasslands. In a place like Ishango, dozens of hippos may pass through in a given night, and several do not go very far to feed, so in the starlight they can be seen as giant, car sized slowly moving hillocks wandering back and forth across the landscape.
Now, I should say a word about tents. To most mammals and birds, a tent that is about four feet high and six or seven feet in diameter is assumed to be pretty much the same thing as a termite mound or rock of the same dimensions. It is obviously not a plant, and it is obviously not an animal, so that leaves termite mound or rock. Or maybe they think it is something else. But they don’t think of it as a delicate cloth construction with a person in it. Or at least, hippos don’t (primates totally get tents, of course). Anyway, a hippo wandering across the landscape will simply walk around such a tent.
If you are not too smart about it, you will fail to notice when a few rainfalls concentrate moisture next to your tent, and extra succulent grass grows there over a few weeks time. Then, the hippos will be attracted to the grass and they will wake you up at night. They go “squeak, squeak, squeak” as they feed. It’s the funniest thing. This is the sound you hear when you are one or two feet from their enormous mouths as they graze. At first I thought it was the sound of their eyelids closing and opening or their omni-directional ears moving around, but no, it’s the sound the grass makes when they pull on it with their lips to get it in their mouths. Squeak, squeak, squeak. You don’t really want to hear this. When you hear the squeaking it means it is time to cut the lawn!
But all these things apply to tents large enough to matter. If you have one of those tiny little tents, that a person can barely fit into ….. the kind of tent a biker on a cross country trip may carry to minimize weight … then that won’t be counted as a rock or a termite mound or anything else to avoid. It will be counted as nothing. To a hippo waking, or especially a hippo running, across the landscape, such a tent isn’t even there.
So one night I was sleeping in my own tent, at Kenyatsi, when I heard the sound of a truck. A truck in the middle of the night can only be bad news. I got up just in time to see one of the Land Rovers pulling into camp. Some yelling, some running around, and in a flash, Paul, the geologist and EMT, is in the Land Rover, with Leo (from Ishango) driving. Paul had his two big toolboxes full of medical stuff with him. As they drove out of there, Leo yelled out the window to me: “A hippo ran over Rudy! It does not look good. Hey, thanks for making this freakin’ road, by the way! I owe you a bee….”
I never did catch the last word. Bean? Beetle? I dunno… B-something.
At sunup, I walked over to Ishango to find out what had happened, and this is what I found.
Rudy was alive, but badly injured, strapped into a makeshift gurney, an IV planted in his arm, a number of inflatable splints holding various parts of his body together. Paul was tending to him, calmly assuring him and others that he would be fine. The local chief has been informed and he was using his radio to call in an airplane to get Rudy out of there.
How did this happen?
Well, there were these two hippos. The dominant hippo and some other hippo that felt that he should be the dominant hippo. The two of them had a fight that I hear tell went on for some time. These things can be pretty nasty. A lot of running around, charging, goring each other, lots of satanic noises coming out of the beasts, and so on. Finally, one of the hippos … I think the dominant one … convinced the other one that the fight was over and it was time to run away.
So the hippo ran away at high speed … that’s about fifty kph for a hippo … and the trajectory it happened to take ran right over Rudy and his tent, the long way.
I went over to have a look at the scene, and there was no tent. Instead were tiny pieces of the poles that held the tent up, all broken into bits, a few pieces of nylon that had cute little (well, big) hippo prints impressed into them. Hippo prints are the shape of funny looking flowers. And there was a small nylon bag that constituted the largest part of the tent left after the hippo went over it.
Rudy had been mushed on one leg and his shoulder. He and the tent were somehow dragged around a bit. He was heard to scream then went unconscious, then I think there was more screaming. By the time anyone got to him the hippo was long gone. (Which, actually, is rather immaterial.)
As I looked at the wreckage, my friend Catherine came over.
“What a mess,” I said.
“No kidding. He’s lucky to be alive.”
“No shit. Wow.” Hey, what else are you gonna say.
“Oh, Greg, do you want to see something funny?”
“Sure. This would be an appropriate time for a few laughs,” I said.
Catherine lead me over to the bag nee tent that Rudy used to live in.
“This morning when Paul was redoing the traction, Rudy asked me to get him some clean underwear. You know, like you want clean underwear when you go to the emergency room? And he is going to some emergency room, eventually, if he eve gets out of here.”
She leaned over and picked up the ex-tent.
“So, I went to get him some clean underwear. There wasn’t any. That kid never did his laundry, it turns out. There was just less clean and more clean.”
“Yea, that’s funny,” I said.
“That’s not the funny part.”
Catherine opened up the bag-former-tent she had been holding, and showed me the inside.
“OMG …. THAT is funny. That is very very funny. What was he thinking!?!?!?!?”