A Travellerspoint blog

The road to Addis Ababa (2)

No delays

sunny 30 °C

Jinka to Addis Ababa was a two day afair with a stop over in Arba Minch. The first leg ran smoothly and we arrived at our stopover destination in good time.

Last time we were in Arba Minch I had left Di's record book in the internet cafe. It had a lot of valuable information, including our expenses in it so we wanted to get it back. Due to the Sunday syndrome all the shops were shut. I waited outside until a familiar face showed up. It was the friendly driver that took us to the crocodile market. I went up and greeted him like a familiar friend and he was very warm in return. I began to explain the problem but he already knew why I was there. He pulled out his mobile and tried to organise someone to open the shop but no one was answering. He noted where we were staying and said he'd drop it over to us. We went back to our room and waited. Within 10 minutes there was a knock at the door. When I opened it I was surprised to see Karsa. We had planned to meet and some how he had tracked down our whereabouts. We jumped into the truck and were introduced to his two girls. He drove us back to his house where we were seated for an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. As we waited for the coffee to heat up we studied the lounge room in detail. Compared to the mud or cow shit constructed houses we had visited in the past this one was a palace. It could be compared to an okay house back home. Karsa took the time to show us his daughters school results and tell us that she wanted to attend university overseas, despite her being all of 10 years old. Di and I didn't like where the conversation was going and we tried to minimise our feedback. As the conversation was changing his eldest daughter entered the room carrying scrambled eggs, bread and injera. We weren't really hungry but we ate anyway, we even drank the water out of politeness. The coffee finished boiling and we were each served a cup as incense wafted around the room. We drank it down and Karsa offered to drive us back. He brought his daughters to our hotel and we got a few photos of us all togethor. After confirming he had our details we said our goodbyes. Di and I both agreed that he was angling at something with the university abroad conversation but besides that the experience had been worthwhile.

Without waiting to take a breath we left the hotel again. Our book had not been dropped at our room so we tried the internet cafe again. This time two men were waiting for us in the doorway. We thanked them profusely and collected the book. We finished our time in Arba Minch with one last dinner at the tourist hotel.

For day two of the bus ride we swapped seats because the bruises on Di's knees said we had to. Di nearly cried as we whisked through Sodo without stopping for Ethiopia's best bread but it didn't worry me as it meant we were making good time. This proved to be true and we arrived in Addis with daylight to spare. For our third stay in Addis we chose the Bole Rd area, particuarly because of its proximity to the airport. We found a hotel and chose to hoof it to our predetermined restaurant. I had found it in the Lonely Planet. Said to serve gigantic portions of Tex-Mex meals I had been salivating for days. After walking for over an hour we were told that it had closed down. To my dismay and Di's fortunes this meant we were having Middle Eastern instead.

Posted by jaredlking 06:50 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


Going Tribal

sunny 34 °C

Originally we had plans of touring the Lower Omo Valley via a series of short stops but time and lacking transport had convinced us that we would be better off heading straight for the biggest and furthest town in the region, Jinka.

We arrived at the Arba Minch bus station around 5am to find that both the buses were full. I suggested to Di that we might be able to get one from Konso, a minute later a local recommended the same plan. We caught a mini bus to Konso which broke down en route. Losing only 30 minutes we transferred to another van. We were still ahead of the buses.

When they arrived at Konso I was told that they were still full. No surprise. The real surprise was that no buses originate in Konso. We were offered some standing room on the bus. 150 birr, we laughed. In the end we got them down to 40. We went to board but we were stopped by a traffic officer. This was not going to work. Di snatched our money back and we went in search of other options. A bus full of university students got quite excited by the idea of giving us a lift but they were not going far enough to be of use to us. The trickle of buses ran dry and we were reduced to trucks. After several hours on the side of the road we finally found a driver who would take us. The price was slightly higher than a bus fare but we did get to ride in the cab.

The Lower Omo Valley is known for the 17 different tribes that call it home. They are very colourful and famous amongst ethnographers for their traditions and rituals. Along the way the driver pointed some out, "Arbore", "Ari" etc. He was a quiet man but friendly enough. At lunch he even bought us a drink out of his own pocket. That was certainly a first for Ethiopia.

The day was long as the truck was slow. 16 hours after we had passed the gates of the Arba Minch bus station we arrived in Jinka. 8 hours later than expected. Then again setting an ETA in Africa is just asking for trouble. It was late and all the hotels were full. We pitched the tent and somehow arranged some food.

For our second day in the Lower Omo Valley we planned to backtrack a couple of hours to a town called Key Afar. As luck would have it our truck driver was heading there too, so we organised to meet him on the morning of the second day. We waited for him to show up and eventually he did. Before we were going anywhere the truck had to be repaired due to a few mishaps we had on the Konso Jinka road. He told us he would return and then drove off. While we waited we had time to study our hands. Since leaving Dinsho Di's rash had subsided a little and the skin had become leathery. Each of my hands had developed a dozen or so medium sized blisters, leaving me to believe that the sensation of heat experienced in the earlier stages may have been real. We passed time by playing cards, part way through Di realised the man sitting beside us had out a pen and paper and two voice recorders. We figured he was using this as an opportunity to practice his english. I actually felt kind of bad because we had been talking a lot of non sense. After an hour and a half the truck didn't show. We were nervous that we wouldn't make it on time to catch the markets so we went in search of our truck or some other transport. We made our way to the garage and as we did so the repairs were just being finalised. We climbed aboard and headed in the wrong direction, Karsa, our driver, wanted breakfast.

We pulled into a pretty standard local restaurant which had nothing but meat. Di and I shared a tibs but the real excitement of the morning was eating some of Karsa's Kitfo. I had had it twice before but not in a truly local fashion. I tore of some injera and picked up a large glob of raw minced beef, dipped it in crushed chillis, shut my eyes and ate it. Low and behold it tasted like raw mince, not exactly what I would call a delicassy but each to their own.

Time was short as Karsa had to return to Arba Minch after visiting the market so we left the last of our meal and piled into the big white Isuzu. We bounced our way out of town, just after the gates we came across a group of tourists including the two Italians from Arba Minch. To their dismay they were charged twice what we were just to sit in the back. Covering familiar territory we reached Key Afar in less than 2 hours. We had to walk the last few hundred metres as it is illegal for foreigners to ride in the trucks.

The streets of Key Afar were already bustling by the time we plodded in. The market is known to attract the Ari, Hamer and Banna tribes and they were all there in spades. It took us a while to be able to distinguish which were which but we were pretty confident by the end. The tourist dollar has not passed by the tribesmen and they charge for photos. We had a few 1 birr bills but not enough to snap at whatever we wanted so we had to be somewhat selective. The first time Di pulled out the camera was to take a photo of a fruit stand. Anywhere else this would be free, it would probably go by unnoticed but the owner of this stand sure realised. He demanded 2 birr, a little taken back Di offered him one. He refused and Di walked away. He came running after her, one birr was okay after all but because of the way he had reacted the offer was no longer on the table. He started getting rough with her; pushing and grabbing her, trying to snatch the money. I was just behind and I had a rush of blood. I grabbed him by the arms and yelled something he wouldn't understand. Not watching behind him I nearly pushed him over the food stall behind him. His aggresiveness abandoned him quickly and I regained control of my temper. I pulled him away from the store and let him go. We both puffed up our chests and waved dismissive hands at each other. Still a bit flustered I turned my back and walked away.

We found some Banna youths who were clearly at the market to bait tourists. Each of them had donned the full regalia with body paint, feathers and jewellery. At 2 birr per person, per photo we took a few but depleted our money stocks pretty quickly. With no small notes remaining we just wandered around taking photos of the market as a whole. The shops were charging farenjis double or triple the normal prices so we saved our money for Jinka. We loaded onto a bus heading our way and waited for it to leave. Key Afar market had been interesting but it is just as easy and less hectic to see the Ari, Hanna and Banna on normal days.

For our second day in the Lower Omo Valley we had budgeted for a day trip to a Mursi village but we had been told that if we waited the Mursi would come to us. The following day a peace concert had been organised by USAID. All 17 tribes of the region were going to be represented and each would perform a traditional song and dance. This meant that we had a day to waste and that's pretty much what we did. The morning was soaked up with typical time wasting activities and in the afternoon we accidentlly undertook a walking tour of the town before visiting the local ethnographical museum. The only business we had to take care of was to move our flights to Tanzania back a day.

The third day was the big one and it started with some excitement. For the locals anyway. A plane buzzed low overhead and the towns people ran to clear the airstrip of the grazing sheep and goats. The plane circled and landed. Over a hundred locals waited for their new guests to arrive. A handful of older, white tourists climbed out. A few brave locals approached but the rest just stood back and stared. The newcomers were quickly whisked away to "a safer place" by their guide.

Overnight the excitement had reached frenzy point. Excitement coursed through the streets as truckloads of tribes people were shipped into town. Songs and chants poured forth from the trays of the Isuzus. The Mursi were the loudest of all. Di and I, desperate to get a good position for the show went in search of the stadium. Three local trouble makers showed us the way. The crowd had already begun to build by the time we got there. Luckily someone told us the show didn't start for another 9 hours otherwise we would have wasted a lot of time. Our assumption that it would be a night show was clearly unfounded. Unfased we left the stadium to peruse the Jinka market. The stalls were selling the usual unappealing junk but the number of colourful people strolling the streets more than made up for it. We found a corner of the market abounds with fruit. I was in heaven as I sat on a concrete verandah and ate banannas and passionfruits. From the size of the gathering crowd there was something comical about a white guy chowing down on fruit in public. The onlookers were all friendly, the more brazen of the group decided to try his english. He was a nice guy, a truck driver and he offered us a cheap ride back to Arba Minch. I said we'd take it if we couldn't get a bus ticket. Worn out, we left the heat and bustle of the market. I picked up a pineapple on the way out. Back in our hotel compound I sat down and devoured the entire thing.

In the afternoon we sold our left over kerosene which confused everyone involved. Since when did farenjis sell stuff to them? Especially at the market! We took our money to the bus station where we wanted to pick up our ticket back to Addis. This meant that we would have to wait for the bus to arrive then beat the crowd to get a ticket. Never a pleasant experience. To our surprise and benefit the bus had just arrived when we got there and a helpful local forced himself through the jostling mass to buy our tickets for us. We were wrapped, with a spare day up our sleeves we were very likely to make our flight out of Ethiopia.

The concert began at 6pm but we got there just over an hour early. The crowd was not much bigger than it had been in the morning. The guy I was standing beside informed us that we could go and watch the rehearsals if we wanted. With nothing better to do we readily agreed. We passed through a small gate and into the practice area. All 17 tribes were singing and dancing at the same time, a very uplifting experience. We took our time and watched each tribe perform. It was a perfect chance to get some footage. In the end this may have been better than the concert itself.

6 o'clock was approaching so we left the practice arena to get pole position at the main stage. Like everything in Ethiopia the show started late. It kicked off with some preachy USAID representatives talking about peace and the US's ambitions and they didn't finish until it was dark. A chant/song could be heard building in the background and then the first tribe came into view. They sang and danced in a poorly floodlit area for about 10 minutes before they were ushered on. The rest of the groups proceeded in the same matter until they had all given their display. The range of talent was quite vast; some of the singing and dancing was good and a lot of it was grating but the entire concert was a fantastic cultural experience and we repeated many times how lucky we were that our trip had coincided with it.

Our legs ached from standing for hours on end so we took a seat on the slanted ground near by. Two well known Ethiopian bands from far afield were the big finale. We watched the first few songs but Di was tired and I didn't want her walking alone through the dark streets so I escorted her back to the hotel. As we left a crowd of youths were flooding into the arena.

Posted by jaredlking 10:39 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Arba Minch

The boy hood dream

sunny 32 °C

The morning in Sodo was drowsy, one of the greatest advantages of the short bus trips is that they run all day, no 5am wake ups. We went back to the cafe at Di's request to get more of what she had dubbed "the best bread in Ethiopia". They were out. It turns out that bakers don't work night shift in Sodo. We wanted internet and we had read in the Lonely Planet that it was expensive in Arba Minch. It was a Sunday so all the shops in town were closed, at least for the morning. We even had a tout take us around but it was still no help.

We collected our bags and walked to the bus station. Once inside the compound of the bus station everything felt different, people yelling, go here, go there, and telling us they don't like Australians. We fought through the crowd and found the next bus to Arba Minch, I tied the bags to the roof and then untied them. The bus was full. The onslaught started again. They took us to a mini-van, it was too much and the owner was being an ass. Then we were led to a mini-bus, despite the yelling and abuse to the contrary I took the bags up and tied them down myself. We jumped on the bus and we were left alone. We sat for 5-10 minutes and no-one else got on. Both Di and I realised that this bus was going nowhere in the near future. So I got the bags down and we found a normal bus bound for Arba Minch. Again I lashed the bags to the roof racks and descended the ladder. Di claimed two seats on the back seat. Before I could board the bus two or three of the trouble makers came up to me. What now I thought, to my surprise they had come to shake my hand and give me a pat on the back. They had wanted to get our money from us but now that we had sorted it all out ourselves they were happy. It was all just business to them. I said thank you and stayed to chat with them for a while. The bus was starting to fill and I said good bye. We bought our tickets from the super friendly supervisor and smiled to our fellow passengers. In a matter of five minutes my mood had completely reversed and it only got better. The driver put on the normal show of bravado, revving the engine, muscling out the other buses, lurching forward, revving the engine again...and then we were free, cruising down the sealed road. In no time at all the ticket man was reaching into an esky and distributing ice cold soft drinks. Di and I couldn't resist. As we carefully sipped from the bottle trying to minimise the clothing casualties. Di decided we should call it the party bus and that's just how it felt. People were chatting, food was being passed around; everyone was laughing and smiling. The mood lasted for an hour or so but faded towards the end of the trip.

The party bus came to a complete stop and we were in the thick of it again. After retrieving our bags we hesitantly started chatting to a tout who said if we wanted to go to Nechisar National Park the next day he knew two people already going. At the best of times we resent touts so it was with hesitation that we agreed to follow him. He lead us to a hotel called Hallelujah Guest House. It was 70 birr a day, a good price considering what the guide book suggested we pay. We took a room, next door to the other couple who were going into Nechisar. We gave it a while before we knocked on their door. A fimilar face answered, they turned out to be two Italians that we had meet in the Simien Mountains. We discussed the arrangement with them and they were happy. We said we would see if we could arrange something cheaper and said good bye. We caught a mini-van to the other part of Arba Minch; Sechar. From there we walked around a k to a hotel called Bekele Mola. There we sat on a wide open terrace decking and gazed across the Nechisar National park and two of the Rift Valley Lakes, the view was beautiful and the drinks within our price range. We scraped our chairs along the tiles as we stood up. It caught the attention of a man sitting nearby, he stood up aswell. He asked if we wanted to go to Nechisar, after a brief discussion we determined that he could do the trip for 150 birr less than the other offer. We took his number and left without agreeing to anything. To cut a long story short we went back to Sikela (the part of Arba Minch we were staying in) and haggled with the two young men we originally talked with. They dropped the price by 100 birr but told us the car would not be as good.

In the morning we moved our bags to a hotel that cost half the price and went back to rendezvous with our driver. We were greeted with a beaten up shit box 60s series Land Cruiser. We got in the back seat and were soon joined by the italians. Two more people had joined the group and we went to pick them up. They didn't like the look of the car or the fact that due to the back seats malfunctioning we were going to be packed in like sardines, they got their money back and we let out a sigh of relief. It meant our trip would cost a little more but at least we could breath. Next stop was the ticket office where we purchased our park entries. Insufficient funds meant that we had to borrow from the Italians.

The driver turned and drove to the park entry and then he drove past it. We were a little confused until we saw him stop at a bakery for bread. Then despite the already crammed conditions in the car he stopped to pick up his son. At least now we were ready to go. As we passed through the park gates the landscape was unremarkable, slightly hilly, several trees and long dry grass. Within minutes we were stopped by a convoy of tourist vehicles blocking the way. They had been out walking and were just returning to their vehicles. I asked our guide what they might have been looking at and he said "I don't know, maybe something out there". As they began to move again so did we. Only 100m had passed and we realised what they had seen: Burchell's Zebras. We followed their movements and walked as close to them as we could. They were shy but not scared and we could get within 15 or 20m. They were at least as large as the average horse back home and they carried with them a certain appeal. Their stripes stood out against the backdrop of dead grass like a man in a powder room and I thought that they were beautiful but you could hardly call that camouflage. After taking a few photos and picking up some grass seeds we clambered back into the car and the driver ground it into first gear. Within 10 minutes our surroundings had completely transformed into a flat green forest with lush undergrowth and even greener grass. It had a calming affect and at the mention of wild dogs I scanned the passing scenery but we never saw any. In as little as another 10 minutes we were in steep hills driving along a road set 50m back from the lake Chamo shoreline. Only shrubs and long grass were prominent here which allowed us good views of the red waters to our right. The driver stopped at a few fixed locations along the way which had, for no particular reason been dubbed "viewpoints". It was at one of these that we saw our first pod of hippos. I had always wanted to see them but we were so far I couldn't make much out, it might as well have been t.v. but it did auger well for the afternoon and the boat trip.

We summited the hill with the help of a lot of clutch because the driver refused to use low range. As we did so a savannah panorama unfolded before us. We gazed out the window to the lake below, it was the best view point all day but the driver insisted that there was a better spot up ahead. When we got there it occured to me that better just meant higher, the view was far less scenic.

As we pretended to look at the view I noticed that a conversation was firing up between "the guide" and the driver. I asked what the problem was and the guide told me that there was no problem, then two minutes later he told us all that this was a good point to turn aroun and that we wouldn't see anything but more zebras. That's what we came to see we told him and he relayed the bad news to the driver. Apparently this is what the tiff had been about. So whilst another vehicle turned back we continued down the road. A few hundred metres further along the car stopped whilst we stalked some zebras through the grass. This time there were about a dozen of them, including a foal.

I sat and watched them for a while, actually I was watching the Italian guy stalk them through the semi dense foliage near by. It seemed a little bit comical, like an amateur hunter armed only with a camera. I chuckled at what I was seeing and the guide obviously considered this a good time to bring up the idea of turning back again. I new that the problem was the driver so I didn't really respond. When the hunt was over and we were heading back to the car I dropped behind and waited for the others to catch up. They were as unimpressed as Di and I with the idea and when we were back with the driver the italian, whose name was Leo, saved me the hassle and brought up the issue himself. The driver was complaining about a problem with the car and Leo told him that it had nothing to do with us. Only half the trip, only half the payment. This suited us quite well actually and I secretly hoped that that would be the outcome. It wasn't, we got back into the cruiser and headed further from town. For the next half hour we continued through savannah territories with several more groups of zebra and at least as many gazelles. We passed near to the gazelles which offered us a good opportunity to see them up close. They had very sleek bodies and when they did take flight their movements were fluid yet effortless. Every gazelle that we saw had the same body shape: lean and muscular. I wondered if there was ever a time, before processed foods and office jobs that people were the same.

We had come almost 270 degrees when Di noticed a light glowing under the console I didn't think much of it but Di had noticed it flickering, it was a fire, the car was on fire. We bailed straight away and took our bags with us. Another car pulled up, they battled the problem by first throwing water on the electrical fire and then hitting the battery with a ring spanner. Apparently this solvedeverything and we were ushered back into the car.

We completed the circuit section of the drive in no more than another 10 minutes. It seemed crazy all this talk of turning back earlier; it would have only cut 20 minutes to half an hour off the drive. We were back on familiar terrritory, retracing the route we had taken in the morning, only in reverse. When we returned to the forested area the driver pulled over, a small fire had started again. While he was waiting for it to put itself out the he tried to weasel a tip out of us. Unlikely. We gave him nothing and we left. The driver took us to the bank and we exchanged U.S. for birr, we paid back the italians and the car hire. We headed to the refuge of the tourist hotel for a beer and lunch. It's fountain and garden made the perfect retreat.

After lunch we met back up with the others: The italians and the two touts who had organised the trip. For the afternoon the tout with one blinded eye, as opposed to the tall one with the eyebrow piercing, was going to be our guide. We had a trip to the crocodile market planned, to get there we needed to first contract a taxi, we waited a short while before a silver bomb jazzed up with a completely unneccesary spoiler opened its doors. Again we packed in and the doors were closed around us. It was then dumped on us that the boat owner wanted a deposit. I was not really adversed to the idea but the italians were and bowing out of it, an argument insued. In the end the taxi driver decided he would spot the money. As we pulled away from the boat owners house the half blind guide asked how much we had agreed to pay for the boat. We all thought the same thing; damn, these are never a good sign. The italians had agreed on 450 for the boat and taxi combined, we had agreed to pay 450 for the boat and 150 for the car. The driver was asked to do a u-turn and the following conversations got a little heated. The tall tout had given the italians a bad price and his partner could see their profits flying out the window. He was furious at the situation to the point that he was screaming everything. He pointed what looked like an accusing finger at the italians and yelled "It's not your mistake, it's my friends mistake. He's on the toilet." It was too much, we all broke into pearls of laughter which didn't help our guide's temper, especially when the driver joined in. In the end a deal was struck which left the italians a little worse off but in a managable state.

By the time we were lakeside the sun was threatening to set. We waited a little impatiently for the boat to show up, it wasn't the waiting that was a problem but we were pretty sure that the boat's navigational lights wouldn't be functioning. In fact we could confidently say the "captain" would have never even heard of them.

Precariously close to our pullout time the boat came into view. We exchanged some meaningless banter with the disembarking tourists as we boarded. Wasting no time the captain revved the under powered outboard and we sat ourselves on the wooden bench seats. Only 5 minutes from the crocodile market one of the locals pointed to a small raft near by. "Illegal fisherman" he said, the waters were protected. Not a hugely safe profession on that vessel I joked with Di. The captain pointed the bow directly for the raft. Di and I were impressed, he was going to tell the fisherman off, obviously we were wrong, some Ethiopians do care about the environment, at least those that gain income directly from its protection. Our naevity was immediately obvious. The driver pulled out a 10'er and bought a fish. Some discouragement.

Now carrying the catch of the day, Nile Perch, we covered the last kilometre to the crocodile market. A nickname for an area in Lake Chomo that is packed full of crocs. In honesty I was more interested in the hippos than the crocs especially seeing as they were freshwater. We passed close to a few pods of hippos and I got excited but the others were there to see the reptiles and time was short so we couldn't stay long. The crocodiles were much larger than I had expected, they were close to the size of the salt water variety back home. One lay basking on the beach but the rest were semi-submerged in the water. Apperently due to the flurry of toursits that had visited just before us. We took ten minutes to take a few snapshots, hippos to the left, crocs to the right. Satisfied we turned for our landing zone. We were treated to a stunning sunset, reflected perfectly by the still waters around us. Dark silouhettes of fishermen on their makeshift rafts completed the foreground. It seemed like a just reward for suffereing the delays of the day.

The only person still in a bad mood was our guide, his day had thus far been relatively unprofitable. His spirits weren't brightened much when the driver said he couldn't take him into town because he was charged with taking the captain back. Our guide flew off the handle, the italians led the laughng again, I tried not too but it was contagious, everyone except the guide was laughing. The driver and captain flicked him a couple of birr to hitch a ride and we drove off. The laughter had several small revivals as we returned to our pension.

Another point of contention now aroused itself. Di and I had agreed to pay a fee to the touts for organising everything, the italians had not. The two touts spent hours trying to convince us that we should pay them, then giving up they went to town on the italians before returning to us. We were tired of the whole thing but they owed us some money, it was only a couple of dollars but for the principle we put up a fight. Our problem was that we were leaving town at 6am the next day. We didn't have much time to extract it. By the close of operations for the night we were still out of pocket.

Di and I had checked in to a budget option costing only 34 birr per night. They had also offered to do our washing cheap. When we went to pick it up it was not ready and the price had risen. Not this again we groaned. This one at leat, we had half anticipated, the price we had been offered was too low. It was a genuine mistake and tired I was happy to foot the still very reasonable bill. We waited up late for the washing to be delivered to our room but it never came. Around midnight we gave up and settled in for another day in Arba Minch.

The hotel we had chosen had been a mistake. The writing had been on the wall but we chose to ignore it. The hotel turned into some sort of offkey rave which carried through most of the night, the bugs were in plague proportions and the water didn't work. In the morning we picked up our washing, settled the bill and found a good value 40 birr room with private shower.

We whittled the day away by playing cards, eating, drinking and I updated the blog. We even managed to extract most of the money we were owed from the tout. In the process we gained some insight into the whole operation. The tall tout made money from the guiding/organising fee which he only recieved half of, our half. The shorter one took some money from the boat commission. To his dismay his partner sold him short by setting the boat price so low. He gained nothing from the day, well at least not much. It was a lesson in business for them and we were reminded why we hate touts.

Posted by jaredlking 05:55 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The road to Arba Minch

Sodo: A midsummer night's dream

23 °C

Similarly to Debark at the Simiens, Dinsho is not served by its own buses but the Robe and Goba buses pass through. Once again we had arranged for some guy to go to Robe the night before and save us a couple of seats. So at 4:30 in the morning we packed up a wet and icy tent and brought our fingers back to life as we plowed down the hill and into town. We stood on the side of the road waiting for a place to open for breakfast or the bus to arrive. As we did so Muzeyan came and met us. I had confirmed the day before that the black market rate was 8.25 birr to the dollar and I tentatively brought it up with him, he responded with a roundabout denial and I didn't bother with it any more. The bus arrived at a good time and we took off on route to Shasamene, the Ethiopian home of rastafarians. The trip was as smooth as could be hoped for and we rocked up in the early hours of the afternoon.

Wanting to keep moving if we could we asked around for a bus to Arba Minch. They had finished for the day and most people suggested we stay the night. Another option that sprung up was to bus it to Sodo then transfer to an Arba Minch bus. It sounded plausible and we ran with it. The trip took around 3 hours along a decent sealed road and we arrived just after 5. There was one bus left in the afternoon, the price was slightly inflated because of the time and our bums were sore so we decided this was far enough. A local that we had ridden the Shasamene-Sodo leg with pointed us in the direction of a tourist hotel and we grabbed a forty birr room. Still filthy from 5 days walking and no shower we were forced to go one more day without due to water issues in the hotel.

Sodo is a relatively large town/small city. It features on the Lonely Planet map but it doesn't rate a write up. This, as is often the case, made the city a more enjoyable experience. There were no hotel touts, prices weren't inflated and most of all, people were friendly.

We left our room as soon as we had dropped our bags. Partly because the room was a bit dank but mostly because our diet for the day had consisted of nothing but bread. We found a little cafe and nestled down into a corner table. With two short claps of the hands a waiter was waiting to take our order. They had no menus and as it turned out they only served bread. We had seen some on another table and it looked good, so disregarding my taste buds calls for change we ordered a few baguettes; they came out freshly cooked and piping hot. In fact they were so tasty that we ordered another two and without thinking I had spoiled my dinner (the three or four cokes I had consumed didn't help the matter).

Despite my bloated stomach's distressed moans Di was still hungry. The first place we tried for food was a rooftop terrace, but they served only cakes and drinks; so we had a juice. The second place was a cosy local's bar, but they served only tibs and drinks so we had a beer. We were seated at a table which was already occupied by another man, as is custom in Africa when there are none free. Initially the man we sat with didn't appear to speak English but it turned out that he actually spoke quite well and he was more than likely just considering our privacy. He was going to Arba Minch the next day, same as us. He was leading a university excursion there. I asked him if he had free seats, he replied "Yes" and offered us a ride. Unfortunately they weren't leaving until late in the day so we regretfully declined. I pulled one of those I don't want to do this but I just can't waste it faces as I drank down the warm dregs of my beer and we resumed the hunt. We searched the streets high and low for vegetable soup but the only place we could find it was in our own hotel and they were charging three times the going rate. We asked the waiter if he would translate soup into Amharic for us and we wandered the streets again, this time armed with at least the means to order the food. Again we failed. With our heads hanging low we returned to our hotel and Di ordered the soup. As if to apologise for the price the serving size was huge, the bread was plentiful and the waiter was super friendly. The first camp man we'd met in Ethiopia.

We didn't pull the blankets over us when we went to bed. A sign that the south was going to be hot.

Posted by jaredlking 10:58 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Dinsho: Bale Mountains

Fauna yes, Flora no.

sunny 12 °C

According to the Lonely Planet map Dodola to Dinsho was only a small trundle so we woke late, bought some bread and meandered down to the bus station. Unfortunately no buses were leaving for a few hours. I climbed onto the roof of the bus and tied down our bags. As per usual this excites the locals and angers the bus man who is always hoping to make some quick cash. When I climbed down the locals all wanted to talk to me: "How many times have you been to Ethiopia, many I think?", "What do you like best about Ethiopia?" and as always "How is Ethiopia different to what you expected?". The last one always crops up because Ethiopians think that the portrayal of their country in the west is unjust. The image of dusty lands and starving children. Whilst the starving children have not been a common sight since the end of the Derg I think the dusty deserts are spot on. Still I always tell them what they want to hear and it makes them happy.

In the Simiens Di and myself to a lesser extent had found our hands becoming intolerably hot at night and cold and tingly during the day. It was a discomfort but we didn't think to much of it. It had reared up again in Dodola to the point of not being able to sleep at times. As we waited for the bus I could see that Di's problem had reached a whole new level. What had previously been a few bumps had turned into a severe rash covering most of her hands. As we were inspecting them so were the locals, "an allergic" some said. One of them wrote down some cream she should buy from the pharmacy. We were going no where in a hurry so she went to buy it straight away. She came back with a tube, it wasn't what the locals had said but something the pharmacist recommended. Di applied the cream and we waited for the bus to depart.

The road was bad, yet like no one else can, Di slept. I bounced along watching the new road under construction and thought that in three years time the road network in Ethiopia will be unrecognisable. A few calls of excitement went around the bus and I looked out the front window, catching site of a large troop of baboons running across the road. I woke Di, she gave an unenthusiastic "Wow" and went back to sleep. One of the men from the bus station who had got wind that I wasn't Christian came to sit next to me with every intention of converting me and thus, saving my soul. In highly religious countries I try to avoid the topic as much as I can but if confronted I never lie. So as he told me great things about Jesus I explained that I believe in science. I told him that I don't believe that Jesus was the son of god and he told me that if I didn't believe in Jesus then I couldn't go to heaven. So I took the time to tell him that I don't believe in heaven either. It was a passive discussion and those around that understood English listened in very intently. In the end I told him it was great that he had faith and no one should change his mind on that but no one was going to change my mind either, I am agnostic and none of the known religions add up for me. The conversation died off and I stared out the window again. I knew we were getting close to the national park because I followed some excited passengers eyes to see warthogs and deer at the end of their gaze.

We pulled into Dinsho which was even smaller than Dodola. A tout saw Di looking out the window and jumped onto the bus. He got the bus to pull over at the park entry and we walked a km or so to the lodge. There we met a guide called Jaffar with whom we planned out our six day expedition into the mountains. We also arranged with him to get money changed at the park office in the morning because it was a Sunday so the Dodola bank had been shut. The tout then showed us a shortcut into town and took us to the shops where we could top up our supplies. As we were doing so I ran into another guide who I had met in the Addis bus station. We agreed that he could be our guide if he organised it with Jaffar as his English was superior. We finished our shopping, had dinner and headed back into the park. We set up our tent in the dark and went to sleep. The Lonely Planet had suggested there would be "oodles of wildlife" where we camped but we only heard one warthog all night.

The next morning we went down to the lodge to enjoy a preprepared meal cooked by one of the workers there, Tsehay. We soon came to realise that Tsehay was a bit of a nuisance. She wanted to have our stove when we got back and cook our dinner for us, a bad deal considering we still needed the stove and it also disadvantaged us financially. Then she wanted to have a sauna ready for us when we got back, then she wanted to sell us cheese and so on. After breakfast our new guide Muzeyan came to collect us. we decided that Di should go into town with him and get bread and pay our fees whilst I packed up the tent. It was in this process that I found the "oodles of wildlife". I was walking up the hill to our tent and I saw several warthog families, very cute I thought and carried on. A hundred metres further along I saw a deerish like thing behind a tree, then two, three until I counted maybe five. I was a little bit nervous as they were very big and some of them had massive horns. I kept an eye on them as I walked along, I turned around to see where I was going and noticed I was standing about 10m from the biggest one of all. Taller than a horse and far more solid, with metre long horns it was an impressive sight. I then realised that it was a Nyala. Another endemic animal which is one of the main draw cards to the area. Still a little shaken I took a photo and walked around it to the tent. After packing up and walking back passed the Nyala to the lodge I sat on the balcony and watched someone take photos of some redbucks that were standing nearby.

I took a seat and watched the animals and people busy themselves around me. Soon enough Di returned from town saying Muzeyan was just getting our money changed on the black market because the park office couldn't help. After at least 90 minutes we had growing concerns about handing a months salary over to a stranger but our fears were releived when he came back with a wad of birr. He got a poor rate of 8 to the dollar but we didn't have much choice.

Due to the delay, time was running short so we grabbed our bags quickly and hurried off to meet the horse assistant and our horses. Di had chosen to ride again as her fitness levels were a bit lacking, not to mention the thoughts of our disasterous, high altitude experiences in South America. The pack horse was laden to the point that we felt guilty enough to get a second one. The Ethiopians abuse their horses enough and as tourists it was our job to lead by example.

Much like Dodola the path leading away from town was dusty and plain so I got chatting to the guide about different things, in particular life in Australia. We spoke for a while whilst Di's horse dragged its feet behind us. She was being left out so we doubled back and gave it a hurry on. We stopped for a vegemite and biscuit lunch at a small river whilst the pack horses caught up after being repacked. The landscape was not varying a great deal but we thought nothing of it. As we reached a large plateau at around 3400m Muzeyan said we should keep an eye out for ethiopian wolves. They are common in the area and are probably the main reason that the Bale mountains are frequented by foreigners. They are the rarest canid (dog) in the world and exist only in the Bale and Simien mountains, although rarely seen in the latter. Ten minutes later Muzeyan seemed to have given up on spotting them and said maybe we would see them later but not 2 minutes had passed and he called out "look wolf". I strained my eyes straight ahead but saw nothing courtesy of my dodgey eyes. Di spotted it immediately and drew my attention to its whereabouts. It was running along hunting molerats and barely raised an eyebrow at our presence. It even ran through a herd of cattle without much concern from either party. As it trotted off into the horizon we returned to the task at hand. The last hour of the day was relatively flat and we finished the 17km walk in roughly five hours, stopping for another wolf sighting along the way.

Expecting nothing but flat ground and maybe a long drop on arrival we were susprised to see two fully blown buildings at the site. It turned out that Phd students studying the wolf stayed here and as such had some basic amenities to facilitate their research. At the time we stayed it was home to only one researcher, from Holland, her name was Fraya. She was hospitipal to us and the night was a comfortable one. As I watched the sun go down from the verandah I saw a giant molerat. I had seen so many animals in one days I didn't know what else there could be.

Due to the cold nights we didn't wake in the morning until 8 o'clock. Even at this time the tent was soaking, inside and out, so after doing our best to dry it out we had to pack it away wet. The next day was of a similar duration to the first and still the landscape remained the same; nothing but dust and Giant Lobelias. We saw more wolves and I thought that its conspicuousness to humans was probably the cause of its endangered status. The Ethiopians have an amazing ability to wipe out everything in their way. Whilst originally housing the same flora and fauna as Kenya and Tanzania to the south they have managed to destroy the entire ecosystem. The only animals that survive are those that can't be caught and the only trees that are abundant are those that don't make good firewood, their solution... to plant foreign eucalyptus trees. Recent steps had been made to fix the issue but the numbers of people living inside parks is staggering. Hopefully in time things will improve and native species can be reintroduced, some parks to the south are already making good progress.

Camp for the second night was some terrible bumpy ground next to one of the guide's friends huts so the guide and the assistant could sleep comfortably. I was a little suspicious from its location that it wasnt the camp area at all, if there even was a designated spot. We cooked inside the hut and when Di went to bed I sat and chatted with the crew. The talk was small and boredom forced me to bed.

On day three we commenced the day with a climb we had been previously forewarned of. In my mind I had turned a molehill into a mountain so when it came time to actually tackle it the task was easy. The scenes surrounding us changed a little as massive lava flow formations increased in populus. A few times we saw klipspringer bounding effortlessly over the steep igneous rock and into the protection of the foliage behind.

In as little as three hours we stopped in at another hut and the horses were unpacked while the guide looked for springs. My temper had started to turn during the day as the guide had rushed us past the fauna; compunded by the fact that the walk was so short and that the guide had failed to point out much all day. Even worse was a dark thought in my head that told me the guide had taken a skimming from our US to Birr conversion and given us a false rate. We were tired of being told how to do our trip so we asked to head to the next camp that same day. Both the assistant and guide grudingly prepared and we shot off again. The trip was two hours and besides one amazing rock face formed by a huge unrecorded rock slide it was pretty uninspiring. I began to realise why tourism in the Bale mountains is so low this time of year.

I took the time along the way to try and get Muzeyan back on side. After all we didn't want to upset him, we just didn't want to whittle a day away. As we pondered our campsite Di and I discussed a few things that lead us to believe we were off-track so I pulled out the map and went over it with Muzeyan. Sure enough we were two days from where we wanted to be, a problem brought around by a communication error during the changing of the guides.

From the camp it was meant to be another two half day walks back to Dinsho. Now tired of the whole thing and completely confident in the fact that Bale was not our cup of tea we decided to head home in one day. The guide came up with a plan that would take us to the Sanetti Plateau as originally intended and still get us back on time. We agreed that his itinerary was suitable but Di's hands were getting worse and mine showed signs of following suit so we stuck to our guns. It was suggested that we should still pay for 6 days despite heading home in four. Di wasn't keen on the idea but I could see its merit so after some discussion we agreed.

The final day was a bit of a highlight, along with the wolf sightings. Partially due to the fact that we were heading back but mostly because of the high levels of fauna. In particular we say many Rock Hyraxes; an incredibly cute animal that looks something like a guinea pig crossed with a wombat. We sat and oggled a group for a while and as their confidence grew they came out of hiding and stared back. This is what we were there for and our spirits soared. We even learnt how to roll our r's, something neither Di or I had been able to do when learning spanish. We arrived into Dinsho during the nightly penning of the animals and the place was alive with domestic animals and their owners. We made plans with Muzeyan to do a half day walk to a place called Gayse the next day and said goodbye. Considering we still had food left we cooked for ourselves before setting up camp and heading to bed.

After making ourselves a protein rich noodle and egg breakfast we met Muzeyan before tramping 3km to Gayse. Expecting the wildlife to be in the hills we were greeted early by large numbers of Nyala, Redbuck, Bushbuck and warthogs in the fields. It was beautiful and Di and I regretted not planning our route better so as to focus it on the numerous animal species in the area. Beaten by the sting of the sun and our grumbling tummies we turned for Dinsho. The day had been good but it got even better when my parents called to check in and desuade us from entering into Kenya. Not a problem as we had already decided against it. This left Di out a little but her spirits were perked when her parents called from Argentina to see how things were going. Di's hands had deteriorated quite badly and as her father is a pharmacist most of the call was consumed with discussions of symptoms and cures. In the end our suspicions were confirmed, it was most likely a result of sea dwellers spending too much time at high altitudes. Grateful to know that the problem would pass and that we didn't need to spend any money on a quack she said goodbye and pulled out the cards.

Posted by jaredlking 05:32 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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