The Song of Hippos

We spent a week in November traveling across the Caprivi Strip in northern Namibia. It’s this funny skinny strip of land with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the south, Zimbabwe to the east, and a landscape that shifts from the Namib Desert to the Okavango Delta.

the local residents

It’s one of the greatest places I’ve ever visited.

Where we sat and ate our meals

Our lodging consisted of tents on the Kavango River. These were larger and more comfortable than you’d think.  The lodges are off the grid, with electricity powered by solar energy collectors. The first tent had a fan and the second one didn’t. The tents always included mosquito netting over the beds.

The river bank was a few meters away, and I gazed across it to Bwatbwata National Park.

By far the best pieces of scenery were the hippos that live in exactly this stretch of the river.

That’s Bwabwata National Park on the other bank

I was astonished to learn this fact: Hippos can’t swim. Apparently they can hold their breaths under water for up to five minutes. Mostly they stand around in groups called pods or bloats (really!) almost completely submerged. They socialize in water up to their eyes and ears to keep cooled off until it’s time to go up on land and find something to eat.

Hippos talk simultaneously both above and below the water. I found them to be surprisingly chatty. When hippos communicate with honks, the sounds really carries.* They also talk with grunts and bellows and wheezes.

Each night I fell asleep to the voices of hippos snuffling in what sounded like quiet contentment. I slept more deeply there than anywhere else on our trip.

NOTES: * A hippo’s honk can be heard a mile away. Science Direct: Amphibious communication. The San Diego Zoo has a great article on hippopotomuses: ©2023 Jadi Campbell. Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photography and his photos of our trips can be viewed at

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.


8 thoughts on “The Song of Hippos”

  1. Dear Jadi,
    I am so jealous. It sounds like a great trip.
    Hopefully the worlds fragile political situation never put you and Uwe in danger.
    I love hearing about your travels,

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