Tag Archives: nature

Hits, Heathens and Hippos Tour

Stories from an Agent, Activist, and Adventurer

Memoir, humor, nature, music business

Date Published: February 28, 2021

Publisher: Encante Press, LLC


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Be inspired, intrigued, and entertained!

Everyone has dreams of what they want to accomplish in life. Marty Essen’s
childhood dream of becoming a herpetologist gave way to his dream of
becoming a popular DJ, which led to his dream of becoming a big-time talent
manager, which morphed into the dream of becoming an in-demand author and
college speaker. While he achieved most of his dreams at various levels, he
also realized that he didn’t necessarily have to reach the top to find
success or happiness. Sometimes “almost” is close enough.

Hits, Heathens, and Hippos: Stories from an Agent, Activist, and Adventurer
is a humorous and inspirational memoir that explores relationships and
careers and how seemingly minor events can lead to life-changing results.
Compelling stories have filled Marty’s life, and he tells those stories in a
conversational style that combines his talents as an award-winning author
with his talents as the creator of a one-man stage show that he has
performed at hundreds of colleges across the United States.

This is a must-read for anyone faced with an unexpected career change,
worried about finding and keeping the partner of their dreams, forced to
take on bullies (whether individual, political, or corporate), eager for
ideas to make life more satisfying, or just in search of a fun-filled


“A thoroughly absorbing and inherently fascinating account of a most
unusual life lived out in a series of equally unusual
circumstances.”—Midwest Book Review

“With thought-provoking explorations into making peace with family
members who adhere to differing religious values, tales of his time as a
talent agent, and escapades with gigantic rainforest monitor lizards—there
is much to enjoy in Marty Essen’s memoir Hits, Heathens, and Hippos:
Stories from an Agent, Activist, and Adventurer.”—a 4/5 starred
IndieReader-Approved title, reviewed by C.S. Holmes



From the chapter “The Death Seat”


Before getting on the river, we all gathered around for instructions on our three-day canoe trip. Humphrey Gumpo, a specialized canoe guide, would be joining us for this portion of our expedition. The twenty-five-year-old native Zimbabwean had stopped by our camp a few days earlier, so we were already familiar with his instantly likeable, happy-go-lucky personality. He could be serious when necessary but often told elaborate stories that sounded convincing—until he flashed a wide grin.

As Humphrey warned us about hazards on the river, his seriousness was unquestionable: “There are four dangers you need to be prepared for, but they’re not in the order you’d expect. The greatest danger is the sun, because you can quickly become sunburned or dehydrated. Be sure to put on lots of cream and drink plenty of liquids.

“Snags, such as submerged trees, are the second greatest danger. Brian and I will point out snags as we see them. Give them a wide berth. But if you can’t steer out of the way, hit them straight on. The water current is moderately fast, and if you drift into a snag off-center, your canoe could capsize. If you do get caught, lean into the current until we arrive to assist you.

“The other two dangers are crocodiles and hippos. The main thing with crocodiles is to avoid dangling your feet or hands in the water—like bait. We will have close encounters with hippos. The important thing to know is that hippos always move to deep water. Most of the time, we’ll be canoeing in shallow water. If hippos block our way, we’ll stop to give them time to move. The one place we don’t want to be is between a hippo and deep water. We also need to be careful near high riverbanks, as we can’t always see what’s on top. If we startle a grazing hippo, it will plunge into the river unaware that we’re below it in our canoes.”

Jill and Susan gasped.

“Finally,” Humphrey continued, “a hippo could surface under your canoe. This is very rare, but if it happens you’ll feel a little bump, and the hippo will sink back down until you pass over it.”

When Jill and Susan gasped again, Brian did his best to calm their fears: “I’ve been doing this for eighteen years, and I’ve never had a client in the water. Once we start paddling, your nerves will settle down, and you’ll be surprised how safe and easy the canoeing is. Just relax and enjoy the scenery.”

While on the Zambezi River, we would paddle approximately forty miles, pass fifteen hundred hippos, and float over hundreds—possibly thousands—of crocodiles. I wasn’t as nervous about the dangers ahead as Jill and Susan were, but I was definitely on edge. Though I was technically just another member of the expedition, with no leadership duties, if it wasn’t for me, none of us would be here. Therefore, I felt obligated to put on a stoic front.

Since Jill seemed to be the most nervous of all, as we walked the half-mile trail to the canoe launching area, I said to her, “Deb and I have canoeing experience. We can canoe ahead of you, or if you prefer, between you and the hippos. Just let me know how we can help.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

One by one we pushed off from shore onto a narrow channel of flat water. Humphrey and Brian led our convoy of five canoes, followed by Deb and me, Susan and Joe, Jill and Sam, and Skip.

I hadn’t canoed since Belize and was looking forward to using the initial unchallenging section of river to hone my strokes. On the Zambezi, however, even the most placid water can become challenging in a hurry. We were only ten minutes into our journey when we encountered our first hippo. My paddling refresher course would have to wait.

A young bull was in shallow water, caught between us and a herd of hippos with a dominant male. When he stood his ground and roared at us, we paddled to the riverbank and held on to the long grass. He continued roaring as he considered his options. He obviously preferred to deal with us rather than the dominant male downriver but eventually chose a third option and climbed onto the opposite bank. As we floated by, he opened his mouth in a classic “yawn” of aggression.

Yes, his big tusks were intimidating.

Slipping past the young bull was one thing. Now we had to face down the dominant male and six other hippos who were blocking our entrance to the main river channel. As we floated toward thirty-five thousand pounds of snorting attitude, I wondered how we’d reach camp before nightfall. Surely, these hippos weren’t going anywhere.

Then, in what seemed like a miracle, the hippos did what they were supposed to do—they submerged. Canoeing past an underwater herd of hippos for the first time was the ultimate exercise in trust. Although Brian and Humphrey had floated the river numerous times, could anyone really predict how a hippo would react? I gripped my paddle as if it were a rope in a game of tug of war.

The tension I felt paled in comparison to how Joe and Susan felt. The typically jovial couple had virtually no canoeing experience, and I could hear them bickering behind me. No matter what Joe did, Susan retorted it was wrong, and vice versa. They reminded me of the first time Deb and I canoed together, except their pitch was much more fevered.

The current in the main channel was faster than I expected. We moved along at a good clip with a minimum of paddling.

“There’s a snag to the right!” Humphrey shouted.

“I see it!” Deb yelled.

As we drifted past the snag, I turned from my position in the stern, pointed at the low-floating tree trunk, and shouted to Joe and Susan, “Watch out for the snag! It’s right there!”

All they needed to do was steer two feet to the left, but instead they veered just enough to hit the trunk off-center. I cringed as I watched their canoe turn sideways.

“Aaahhh!” Susan screamed.

“Brian! Humphrey!” Deb yelled. “Joe and Susan are caught on the snag!”

Joe shouted to Susan, “Lean into the current!” but she was too terrified to react. Their canoe listed precariously downstream.

We had all seen huge crocodiles along the riverbanks, and now in Susan’s mind even bigger crocs were waiting to rip her to shreds the moment she splashed into the water. “Oh my God! Oh my God! We’re gonna tip over! Oh my God! Oh my God! We’re gonna tip over! Oh my God! . . .” she chanted.

“You’re gonna be okay!” Humphrey yelled. “Just lean into the current!”

“Oh my God! Oh my God! We’re gonna tip over! . . .” she continued.

Brian and Humphrey paddled upstream of the frightened couple’s canoe and attempted to dislodge it. The heavy current held it in place.

“Aaahhh!” Susan screamed, as the canoe rocked.

Humphrey jumped into the dark, four-foot-deep water and pushed on the bow. It wouldn’t budge. He repositioned himself and wiggled the stern. The canoe slipped free!

Two tense situations in a short amount of time had raised everyone’s anxiety level. Moments after we continued on our way, Susan, still panic-stricken, pointed at a ripple in the water and screamed, “There’s a hippo right there! He’s swimming straight toward us! Aaahhh!”

“It’s just the current, Susan!” Joe yelled. “Calm down!”

A bit farther downstream, the river widened to a quarter mile across and the current slowed. Per Humphrey’s instructions, we changed the order of our single-file paddling. Joe and Susan moved up to second in line, Jill and Sam took over the third spot, Deb and I lingered in the fourth position, and Skip brought up the rear.

As the sun dropped in the sky, an idyllic calm came over the river, and a gentle breeze kept us comfortable. Best of all, the hippos were spread out and moving to deep water without much fuss. I could feel the tension melt off my shoulders. Others in our group seemed to relax as well. The adventure part of our canoe trip was surely behind us, and from now on sunburn would be our greatest worry.

A smile creased my face as I thought about what the next few days would be like: my feet would be enjoying a well-deserved break, the wildlife sightings would be spectacular, and the hippos would be serenading us along the way.

Ah, life on the river would be sweet.

The depth of the Zambezi wasn’t always proportional to the distance from its banks. Sometimes we canoed inches from land and were unable to touch bottom with our paddles; other times we’d nearly run aground at midstream. Actually seeing bottom was rare, however, as the water’s visibility was little more than a foot.

Deb and I were canoeing next to a low, flat riverbank when we felt a sharp bump. Perhaps we’d hit a rock. We were too close to land for it to be a—


Something huge chomped through the middle of our canoe and thrust us into the air!

At first, I thought it was a crocodile. Then I saw the hippo’s giant mouth!

As we continued skyward, my eyes shifted to Deb, who was rising higher than I was. At peak height, our canoe rolled shoreward, dumping us like a front-end loader would. I hit the ground first, followed by Deb—who landed on her side with an eerie thud!

The hippo dropped the canoe and vanished into the river.

Fearing the worst, I scrambled to my feet, calling to my wife, “Deb, are you okay? Deb, are you—”

She jumped up and we both wheeled toward the river, ready to spring out of the way if the hippo came at us again.

“Yes, I think so,” she said while scanning the water. “I’m gonna have some bruises, but nothing feels broken. How ’bout you?”

“I wrenched my back, but I’ll be fine.”

The hippo had dumped us on a shallow bed of mud. Though we looked like pigs after a good wallow, we couldn’t have landed in a better spot. Adding to our good fortune was that despite the ferociousness of the attack, it was over before we fully realized what had happened.

Once we were sure the hippo wouldn’t return, we hugged, whispered “I love you” to each other, and burst into laughter.

“We were attacked by a fucking hippo!” I chortled.

“I know,” Deb said between giggles, “and we’re just filthy!”

“I can’t believe you got up after that fall.”

“Mud is wonderful stuff!”

“A fucking hippo attacked us!”

As we stood by the river, giggling, Skip came running. “Are you guys okay? Is anyone hurt?”

“We’re gonna be a little sore,” Deb said, “but other than that we’re great!”

When Skip realized we were laughing, not crying, he grinned and said, “I saw the entire attack! The hippo lifted your canoe six feet into the air. It was so-ooo cool!”

When the hippo struck, the rest of our group was ten canoe lengths downriver. After pulling ashore, they ran back to us.

“Deb, Marty, are either of you injured?” Brian asked.

“No, we’re fine,” I said. “Look at what the hippo did to our canoe!”

We had been paddling a heavy-duty, wooden-keeled, fiberglass Canadian canoe. The hippo’s upper teeth had snapped the gunwale, and its lower teeth had smashed through the bottom of the canoe, ripped out a sixteen-inch-long section of keel, and pierced my dry bag and daypack. The canoe was beyond repair, but we could mend the dry bag and daypack once we reached camp.

“Eighteen bloody years, and this has never happened before!” Brian lamented.

“Sorry to break your winning streak,” Deb said.

The attack troubled Brian so much that he immediately conferred with Humphrey to figure out what they, as guides, had done wrong. Jill, Sam, Joe, and Susan were also troubled and obviously debating internally whether to continue on the canoe trip. As for Deb and me, we were still giggling away.

“I can’t believe you two are laughing about this,” Jill said. “If the hippo had attacked Sam and me, we’d be totally freaked out.”

“The only way I can explain it, Jill, is that Deb and I have just lived through something very few people have ever experienced. I feel like we’ve been given a gift.”

“All I can say is that it happened to the right couple,” Joe said. “If it had happened to Susan and me, we’d be done. As it is, we may still be done.”

“Yes, we’re very fortunate the hippo chose your canoe,” Skip added. “You two have handled the situation perfectly.”

“What are we gonna do with our canoe?” I asked.

“Leave it here for now,” Brian said. “Tomorrow we’ll send someone with a boat to pick it up.”

For the next several minutes, Susan, Joe, Jill, and Sam debated what they were going to do. They wanted to hike out, but the sun would be setting soon, and hiking through the African bush at night could be even more dangerous than continuing on to camp via canoe. Once they agreed to continue, we pushed onto the river arranged quite differently from how we had started. Humphrey paddled alone, Jill and Sam maintained their original partnership, Joe and Susan shared a canoe with Brian, and Deb and I shared a canoe with Skip.

As we began paddling, I noticed Susan and Jill shaking with fear. I also noticed that Deb and Susan were sitting in the middle seats of their respective canoes. With a big smile and in a voice just a little too loud, I couldn’t help announcing, “Hey Deb. You’re sitting in the death seat!”

About the Author

Marty Essen

Marty Essen began writing professionally in the 1990s as a features writer
for Gig Magazine. His first book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the
Seven Continents, won six national awards, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune
named it a “Top Ten Green Book.” His second book, Endangered Edens:
Exploring the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica, the Everglades,
and Puerto Rico, won four national awards. His novels, Time Is Irreverent,
Time Is Irreverent 2: Jesus Christ, Not Again! and Time Is Irreverent 3:
Gone for 16 Seconds are all Amazon #1 Best-Sellers in Political Humor. Hits,
Heathens, and Hippos is Marty’s sixth book, and like all of his books, it
reflects his values of protecting human rights and the environment–and does
so with a wry sense of humor. Marty is also a popular college speaker, who
has performed the stage-show version of Cool Creatures, Hot Planet on
hundreds of campuses in forty-five states.

Contact Links



Twitter @MartyEssen



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“What are we going to do? We can’t feed these to a human.” Shorty was still rubbing her tongue with the fern leaf, trying to get the bad taste out of her mouth. “If they turned my fur colors, no telling what it would do to a human.”

“Yeah I could have really hurt someone feeding them this.” Doe replies with a sad face.

“If only we knew what humans eats?” Emmykins replies, while shrugging her shoulders and turning her palms up.

Elmo looks at everyone and replies, “Wouldn’t Jelly knows what they eat, or where we can get information on what they eat?”

Everyone looks at Elmo like he was the smartest animal in the forest. For at that moment he was.

“Yes, Yes Jelly would know exactly what to do.” Hoss replies hopping from foot to foot and flapping his wings.

“Yes, let’s all go to Jelly’s!!” Everyone shouts and runs to Jelly’s place.

As they approach Jelly’s place they hear mumbling and the sound of things being thrown around. “I know I put it here…hmmm or did I put it over there?” They see Jelly standing in a sea of books all around her scratching her head with a puzzled look on her face.

“Jelly, Jelly, Jelly, and guess what guess what?” Munchkin hops up to Jelly in extreme excitement.

Jelly jumps up and quacks with fright. “Oh my, mother goose where the feathers did you come from?”

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I will be late in publishing the next installment of “HOW TO CATCH A HUMAN”. We are having a little bit of writer’s block. The last installment my niece and nephew helped us out. We are going to try to work on it today, depending if we don’t have any company come over. It has really been fun writing this story. I have had many laughs coming up with different scenarios for these characters. We have some ideas that we are trying to add to the story, we just don’t know how we are going to do it. My sister wants to do a whole series based on these characters. She already has ideas for the books. My niece and nephew want to do a comic book strip to post on the site later on based on the characters.

We will have to wait and see if we will do it later on. We have big dreams and ideas, let’s just hope we haven’t bit off more than we can chew. If any of you have any comments about the story, posts, or the site, your suggestions and comments are welcome. This is all new to me and I am still learning the ropes.

I always loved to write, I just never thought I would do it for the public. I guess I over came my shyness.  Well, I need to do a few mundane chore before I write on the story. Also, I have to watch football “GO, COWBOYS!”.

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“If you don’t believe me why don’t you try one” Doe was proudly showing his donuts off to his skeptic friends.

They all gave grim faces accept Munchkin who bravely bite’s into the donut as the other’s stare at Munchkin for his brave act.

Munchkin thumped his foot against the forest floor “Try it… try it…!” He bounces around in a delightful joy only to shove his face in the donuts.

As the others looked at the strange looking food, Shorty the all so spunky squirrel “It can’t be that bad” She acclaimed, pinching her nose she bravely took a bite of the strange donut. She ran around only to spit out the donuts.
“It’s that bad…” She shook her head as the others stared amazed as she changed from green to blue.

“Oh… My! What pretty colors!” Hoss accliamed, tinkering with his glasses, he gave a serious look.

Shorty ran sticking her head into a stream that happened nearby, as she sat up with a relieved sigh.

The others pointed and laughed, as she looked at her extremely fluffy fur.

“Never again will I eat donuts…” She rubbed her tongue with a fresh fern leaf to cure the taste of the extremely bitter treat.

Munchkin showed little concern for what was going on, only to enjoy his fine snack with great persistence.

Hoss sat next to Munchkin “I do not think these so called ‘Donuts’ are for human consumption.”

“What is Consumption?” Emmykins asked with a bewildered look upon her face.

Hoss glasses tinkled in the sunlight as he gave a serious looked he tap his head with his feathers “It means to eat or to use” He gave an explanation.
Emmykins giggled pointing at Munchkin “He’s consumptioning!” She giggle repeating herself as she bounce around Munchkin.

Doe gave a bewildered looked as he tried to figure out what was wrong with his donuts.
“I don’t understand?” He questioned his self.

“Oh… what is it this time Doe?” Hoss asked with extreme distraction.

“My Donuts turned Shorty into a rainbow!” He acclaimed.

Hoss shook his head “Tsk! Tsk! Humans cannot eat those contraptions.” He shook his head with the flick of his feathers. “No…No! This simply won’t do!” Hoss agreed with his self.




“Hey, look I have the perfect snack to use for our trap.” said Doe.

“What do you have?” said Hoss.

“Just come and look at these are amazing!” stated Doe.

Hoss worked his way over there and looked; he put his wing on his beak and shakes his head a little. He looked at Doe and looked over to the others and let out a soft chuckle.

“You need to come and see these amazing goodies.” The others make their way over to them.

“Wait! What is that??” said Emmykins, pointing at the five rolled balls.

“That is food, well it will be food after I find some loose bark to spice the flavors.” said Doe.

“That doesn’t look very appetizing Doe.” said Elmo.

“I will eat it!” said Munchkin jumping up and down .

“Yeah, let Munchkin try It.” giggled Shorty.

“No, not yet it isn’t completely perfect yet.” said Doe.