Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hippopotamus and the Niger River

It has been quite a long time since we went on the Niger River. This river is one of the longest in Africa (third to the Nile and the Congo River) as it extends about 4,180 km. It starts in the highlands of SE Guinea and runs a crescent through Mali, Niger and on the border with Benin then through Nigeria and out the Niger Delta.

The Niger River is a relatively "clear" river, carrying only a tenth as much sediment as the Nile because the Niger's headwaters lie in ancient rocks that provide little silt. Like the Nile, the Niger floods yearly; this begins in September, peaks in November, and finishes by May. By flooding I mean more like high water and low water in a normal way that does not overflow it’s banks, except for exceptional years like 1.5 years ago now. Right now the water is getting lower and we can see sandbars start to pop up and more rocks and little islands shows.

The Niger takes one of the most unusual routes of any major river, a boomerang shape that baffled European geographers for two millennia. Its source is just 240 km (150 mi) inland from the Atlantic Ocean, but the river runs directly away from the sea into the Sahara Desert, then takes a sharp right turn near the ancient city of Timbuktu (Tombouctou) and heads southeast to the Gulf of Guinea.

This strange geography apparently came about because the Niger River is two ancient rivers joined together. The upper Niger, from the source west of Timbuktu to the bend in the current river near Timbuktu, once emptied into a now dry lake to the east northeast of Timbuktu, while the lower Niger started to the south of Timbuktu and flowed south into the Gulf of Guinea. Over time upstream erosion by the lower Niger resulted in stream capture of the upper Niger by the lower Niger.

The northern part of the river, known as the Niger bend, is an area because it is the major river and source of water in that part of the Sahara desert. It runs right through the capital of Niger, Niamey, and makes our city much more beautiful because of the increased greenery and capacity to grow things here!

But as much as we see the river and appreciate the river, it is pretty rare that we actually interact with it (we surely don’t swim in it) or go ON the river! We had two sets of visitors in the past month and took the opportunity to arrange two different trips on the river in a traditional pirogue. Think of it as a long, wide canoe with a thatched straw and fabric roof and foam mats across the floor to lounge on. Quite comfortable actually!

The first trip Paul went out with the visitors and they had the extra special privilege of seeing a newborn baby Hippo with it’s Mom outside of the water on an island! Chantelle was not there with her camera, so thanks to Joanne and Rob for sharing some of their photos. Then the second trip Chantelle and Bennett and Arielle went, along with our friends Tim and the Chens, while Paul stayed back with Ella. She is just too small to go out on the river yet!

We had a wonderful time letting the cool breeze cool us off in the boat while a fine mist came off the water. The kids loved searching for the hippos and where they would pop up in the water and seeing the life of the people as they interacted on the waters edge is always fascinating.

Enjoy the photos below! (a mix of Chantelle’s, Rob’s and Joanne’s)











JR Hippos-13

JR Hippos-15

JR Hippos-21




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