Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chuck Almost Swims with the Hippos

In the heart of Africa, on the Masai Mara Game Reserve, an extension of the great Serengeti Plain, which runs through Kenya and Tanzania, the most dangerous animal isn’t the lion or the leopard, the elephant or the buffalo . . . it is the giant hippo.

More tourists are injured by the hippo than any other animal.

On safari, if you decide you want to see a hippo in person, you are escorted not only by your regular guide, who carries at best a walkie-talkie for protection--the theory being that information is your best ally against danger--but you are also escorted by an armed soldier who carries a machine gun, ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.

Although hippos spend almost all of their time submerged in the water to keep cool, in the nearest river or lake or mangrove swamp, they can get themselves on land and in your face faster than you can make your grand escape.

Despite the inherent danger, Chuckie, my fearless and rascal cat, decided he wanted to see hippos swimming in the river. This dream of his was born after we visited the animal orphanage at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club and Chuckie met a baby hippo and saw him smile.

So late one morning we trekked down the path from our safari vehicle toward the water with Steven our driver, James our guide, and, of course, Botswain, our trusty armed soldier who came along JUST IN CASE. Botswain was the one in the know. He knew where the hippos were most likely going to be. He knew how close we could get to the water’s edge without falling in or attracting the attention of said hippos. He was our “go to man,” and we were lucky to have him.

Because the hippo, for those of you who know nothing about this magnificent beast, is considered the most aggressive creature in the world and the most dangerous animal in Africa. The hipppo is the third largest land mammal, after the elephant and the rhinoceros, weighing one half to three tons, but it can easily out run a human and has been clocked at short distances running nineteen m.p.h. Even though it closely resembles the pig, its closest living relative is the whale. The name hippo, short for hippopotamus, comes from the ancient Greek meaning “river horse.”

Of course, Chuck knew none of these interesting facts. He just wanted to see a hippo in action. And, I have to admit, I was curious, too. And a bit on edge.

The path that led from the Serengeti Plains to the river’s edge was about a quarter of a mile. As we neared the river, I kept a look-out for lions and leopards. I didn’t know quite what to expect.

But there they were. Their roundish heads popped in and out of the water. Occasionally we were lucky enough to see their backs float on top, but usually the hippos were totally submerged, keeping cool, while we humans and CAT stood on the shore and stared and sweated.

Chuck peeked out of my backpack.

For once, he behaved himself.

Feeling brave myself, I inched closer to the water and grabbed onto a tree limb to support myself so I could get a closer look. I wanted to snap a few good pictures.

Curious, Chuck leaned out further than he probably should have.

Suddenly, my foot slipped, or perhaps, the ground underneath me wasn’t as solid as I thought.

I lost my balance and began sliding toward the water.

Now, let me explain.

I was standing on a ledge that tipped out over the river.

And I was being careful.

When I slipped, I didn’t go sliding into the water. No, I slipped and slid maybe a foot, but it felt like I was about to keep on going--me, the camera, and the CAT into the water, into the mouths of the MOSTLY herbivorous hippos.

At that moment I didn’t know if that meant they ate meat or not.

I screamed.

Chuckie ducked back into my backpack.

I spotted at least one hippo pop his head out and look AT ME.

Botswain came running.

I regained my equilibrium and didn’t slide in, but Botswain did not look happy. (I suspected he had never actually shot a hippo in his life.)

As we hiked back to the safari vehicle (yes, I was very embarassed), I whispered to my rascal cat, “I blame you for this. This was your idea. If it hadn’t been for you--”

Then I stopped and realized the kid was going to be the death of me yet and what was I thinking to have brought him along with me anyway on SAFARI and wasn’t I just setting myself up for more crazy adventures?

Well, wasn’t I?

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