An encounter on the shores of Lake Victoria

January 13, 2009 at 11:13 pm (Short Story) (, , , , , )

Many years ago, in my younger days, I spent a bit of time travelling and hitchhiking around Africa. Most countries in the continent were still under colonial rule and one could still travel in relative safety and sleep cheaply here and there. Along the way I met interesting people of different races and creeds. But it would be hard to meet a more likeable and charming fellow than Patrick Cassian, an old boy of Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit school in Lancashire. Pat exuded all the charm of the Irish with the refinement of an English education. His handsome black Irish good looks and his polished manners were like a magnet to expatriate colonial women. 

    I ran into Pat while trying my hitchhiking luck outside Nairobi in Kenya. I waved to a grey Peugeot 403 and it stopped. I explained to the driver, who was Pat, that I was making my way to virtually anywhere in East Africa. He informed me that he was going towards Uganda and he could give me a lift. I jumped into the car and we ended up travelling together for about three weeks. 

   It transpired in the course of our conversation that Pat was a travelling salesman for Marshalls East Africa, selling Peugeots and heavy equipment. At this time I would have been in my early twenties and Pat would have been in his middle thirties. I mentioned to Pat that I was Australian, to which he replied: “I can see that.” Then for some reason the question of where I went to school came up and I told him I went to a Jesuit school in Sydney: St Ignatius’ College, Riverview. “Ah, do you remember your school’s motto?” He asked. Not being a terribly bright student and by no means a classical scholar it was a bit of luck that I did: Quantum Potes Tantum Aude “As much as you can do, so much dare to do” “Strange, ours was similar but not in Latin, in French: Quant Je Puis, which translates: As Much As I can. The same old Jesuit mark, I guess. I went to Stonyhurst.”

    Not that our old schools formed much of the topic of discussions, from memory the main subject of conversation was women. 

    Travelling around East Africa, one is struck by the natural beauty and contract of the scenery. The mountain stretches and deep drops of the Rift Valley in Kenya, the tropical splendour of Uganda and the savannah stretching to the immensity of Tanganyika’s Mt Kilimanjaro; all surrounding great Lakes like Victoria and crowned, as it were, by the Mountains of the Moon or Mt Rwenzoni, located between the border of Uganda and the Belgian Congo. All the great mountains of East Africa are snow-capped: Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya and the Mountains of the Moon. 

    Pat had to visit dealers at a town called Bukoba in Tanganyika on Lake Victoria. After he had conducted his business we decided to spend the day by having lunch at the local hotel on the Lake and then just to play it by ear; visits to local African, shall we say, beer drinking stores. 

    By mid-afternoon we were both pretty well primed. We had started drinking with an Englishman who was leaving Bukoba by a Lake Victoria steamer/ferry for a port in Uganda. We were both determined to see Fred, I think that was his name, off in style.

    This consisted in Pat driving him to the ferry and having a few more drinks with him on board. This was duly done and Pat and I, at one stage, decided that we would dive off the deck rather than disembark in the normal way. Fortunately this course of action was not followed as I’m sure we would have been killed in the attempt. 

    It was early evening by the time the boat left. Our friend was waved off with gestures of eternal friendship. After this we made our way to Pat’s trusty Peugeot. 

    We did get to the car, but Pat was only able to drive it for about 50 yards, and then he more or less collapse at the wheel. 

    The car was still parked near the lake and I decided to put the seats in a reclined position, and in this makeshift bed two intoxicated gentlemen passed out. 

    The next thing I became aware of was the sound of sniffing and nosing around the car. I looked out of one of the windows and all I could see were gigantic animals peering in.

    At first I wondered if I were suffering from delirium tremens. The dawn was just starting and my senses were returning and I realized that what I was seeing was hippopotamuses or hippopotami, whatever you prefer. Pat was still dead to the world. 

    Looking at the size of these animals I wondered if their sniffs would become shoves and the car and we would go rolling over; but in time they lost interest in us and the car, and moved on. 

    Shortly after this Pat awoke and we drove to the hotel where we were staying. 

    I was later told that hippos are very aggressive animals. When one considers that they can be 2 tons in weight; the Peugeot would have been little protection if they had decided to attack us. 

    After this eventful experience we drove back to Nairobi, and from there I parted company with Pat and continued on my travels, however, we did meet up briefly once again in Mombassa just before I left by ship for Europe and the UK, but that is another story.    

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