The lazy man's hike.
28.01.2008 - 02.02.2008 28 °C
For the first time we refused to arrive at the bus station on time. We were told to be at the bus at 5 but we knew there was no need. We got up around 4:30 and got ready. After a short walk to Charles De Gaulle Square and a 20 minute wait we found a shared taxi going to the bus station. It was a cold morning and I watched the bags on the roof and laughed with the locals about my inappropriate choice of footwear (Haviannas). The road south to Shasamene was superb and I dare say at times we reached 60 km/h. It was a dream run topped off by the fact that Di decided chocolate was a good choice of breakfast. Despite my protests to her opening it I still joined in. I even got a little sleep which is a rarity for me on buses over here.
The second half of the trip was not so smooth. In fact the road is notoriously bad. It was easy to handle though because we weren't going that far. The bus stopped on queue for us in Dodola and we disembarked into one of the dustiest towns we've visited. So much for the greener south. We found the Bale Mountain Motel and grabbed ourselves an awesome room where we enjoyed, without a doubt, the best shower in Ethiopia. Before it was too late we went to the guides's office and organised the team for our Dodola horse trek.
It wasn't until the morning that we met everyone and even then our guide waited twenty minutes to introduce himself. After loading the pack horse we mounted our own steads and headed out of town, leaving behind us a small crowd of helpers. The morning was long and dusty, it was simply a means of getting away from the town and into the forest. At one stage we had our horses cantering, which was actually quite hard. Horses here are sure footed and climb rocks like goats but they are as slow that old man driving his Volvo down the fast lane.
By lunchtime we had reached what was supposed to be the end point of the first day, or the start point for those with private vehicles. We stopped under the shade of a lone tree in the middle of a large meadow and chowed down on some Vegemite sandwiches. After the horses had recuperated we ascended into the forest. Within minutes we were surrounded by lush greenery, in particular the largest juniper trees in the world. They dominated the landscape, standing up to 15m tall with large weeping branches, a great respite from the beating Ethiopian sun. Regardless of the green above us the floor was still just a thick layer of micro-fine dust.
As we lost ourselves in the motion of the horses walking our guide spoke to us for one of the first times since we'd left, "look monkeys". Sure enough in the tree above us was a large group of Colobus monkeys, hanging rather nonchalantly from the branches. We stood and stared for a while but they were uncharacteristically quiet. Still monkeys are always a pleasure to see and we rode off with smiles on our faces. During the climb to our first night's campsite, Wahoro, we spotted several more Colobus families obviously sapped by the heat. When we arrived it was mid afternoon and we looked around for the so called campsite. It was clear from the lack of flat ground that most people opt to stay in the lodges set up along the way. Determined to save a few birr we put up our tent at the only suitable spot, right in front of the steps to the lodge.
The rest of the afternoon turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to date. As we were setting up our beds for the night the locals all started arriving to check out the faranjis. Whilst none of the women came over, most of the children and men from the nearby village were present. Di pulled out a rubbery, spongy ball from her bag which her mum had given her to give to some kids. A little boy of about 18 months by the name of Hiko was the first recipient. He just stared blankly at it whilst everyone encouraged him to kick it, he had one swing and fell flat on his ass. Another boy and girl jumped on the opportunity to grab the ball and have a play but it wasn't long until the grown ups and adolescents usurped the game and in no time at all we were playing hacky-sack with it. Horses for courses I thought and I grabbed a real hacky-sack from my bag. This caught the adults attention and the kids had their ball back. One by one the fathers returned home to their duties and we continued to play with the kids. Ball kicking, whizzy dizzies and other children's favorites ensued (only these kids had never played them before). As time went by Hiko got his hands back on the ball much to our entertainment. As he honed his skills from always missing to sometimes connecting he took dozens of tumbles. To add to the amusement his only items of clothing were a jumper and gumboots (wellingtons) so whenever he fell, everyone got a glimpse of his gear and he added a new patch of red to his bum. It was a perfect afternoon and both the kids and ourselves retreated at night fall for some recovery time.
Our guide had been sleeping and when he woke he explained to us that he was really sick. Feeling mixed emotions towards him, one of sympathy and one of annoyance at him coming when he was sick we discussed what we should do. He said it was no problem and that we should go on and so it was settled. We cooked our dinner inside the lodge and sat around the enclosed fire eating it. It had been a good day and we thought to ourselves, this must be what Ethiopia was like before the new generation had been spoiled by foreign aid.
Each day we rode a different horse and had a different horse assistant. This way each area receives some benefit from the tourist dollar, not just the major towns. This meant that each morning we needed to come up with a new name. The first day in true nerd style I named my horse Gandalf because he was grey, the second, no less nerdy I called Wolverine because he was a hairy beast. Each day we just called the pack horse was just called pack horse or packy for short. Pack horse was always the disobedient horse which ran away and farted far too regularly.
So as Wolverine and I took of on a fresh new day I increasingly became aware of my mistake and Wolverine's problem. He always walked sideways; down hills, along sheer drops, everywhere. At points I was sure he was going to fall off the edge and so I dismounted and walked. Peg leg would have been a much better name. I thought he must have had saddle sores or his girth belt (rope) was too tight but there didn't seem to be a problem there.
As the day continued our guide got sicker and he didn't say much at all. At Angafu, our second campsite our guide went straight to bed. We set up camp and had another kick of the hacky-sack. As we were trying to work out how to light the kerosene lanterns and where we could find some firewood another faranji and her crew walked through the door. Her name was Maria, she was a Swedish Phd student studying fire in Ethiopia. Our destination for the night was her home. It was an interesting night as we discussed everything ranging from Australian immigration policy to Swedish television tax. As the night was drawing to a close our guide called me into his room and said that he was too sick to continue. He offered us a few choices, none of which were all that great. In the end it was decided that one of Maria's helpers would call back to base in the morning, our guide would head off for Dodola and we would await a new guide. Then due to time lost we would only be able to travel to the closest lodge. It was particularly annoying because the guide was superfluous as any horse assistants could have shown us the way blindfolded. Still the rules were that the guide is mandatory, so we had to wait.
In the morning we handed over our mobile to Maria's worker and awaited results. Not long after midday our guide came trudging through the lodge gates, said hello and put some tea on to boil. After a quick break he was ready to roll again. We walked the route to Adele in two hours, along the way the guide pointed out many of the surrounding floras and their uses. The most dominant tree, other than the Juniper was the Hygenia, an Ethiopian endemic which the locals laden with bee hives for honey collection. The area surrounding the Adele lodge was picture perfect and the camping was flat. After getting ourselves set up for the night we pulled out the hacky-sack once more but the sun was baking hot so we retreated to the shade of the lodge for the only other form of entertainment, cards. We asked the guide to teach us a new game but it was so overwhelmingly mindless that it made War look like Bridge. A little later two of the local boys came to visit, so by chatting, cooking and eating we passed the time.
For the 2nd time in a row Di had first pick of the horses and I was left with 4-Speed. After Wolverine I had reserved the naming of my horse until I had had the time to judge him. 4-Speed was named due to his capacity to travel at exactly 4 speeds. There was no variation of walking speeds for example, it was always a slow plod. His gear range included: a slow walk, a jog (with very worn synchro), a trot and a canter.
For the fourth day we had our metaphorical compass pointing towards Mololicho, the site which was to be the previous nights stopover in the original plan. The route there was beautiful and diverse as we drifted out of the forest and into wild flower covered open plans before returning back into the cover and coolness of the trees.
As we rode into camp Di and I both noticed the same thing immediately, chickens. Chickens meant eggs and eggs meant a good breakfast. The guide ran off to see if the owner had any to sell, she did but the price was sky high so we only bought two. The lodge itself was similar to the previous ones but it was set aside by its large patio area which was a welcome addition for avoiding the savage Ethiopian sun. Routine was setting in and the night was unremarkable. Our guide asked us if we would hire him a horse for the next day because the trip was long. We offered him his 80 birr tip (4 days of the average Ethiopian income) in advance to spend as he liked. Low and behold when the horses arrived the next day there was only mine, Di's and Packy. All three horses were big and fit which was lucky as the route to Adaba was over 20km.
Ironically we began the ride by walking down the first hill which was too steep for the horses to navigate with us on their backs. After the first descent we basically followed a long straight open valley all the way to town. This afforded us the opportunity to canter as much as we liked. Every time we did so the horse assistant would turn and watch us with a smile on his face. As he did I would often muse to myself that he looked a lot like a dark monkey magic. The pace we set was cracking and I offered the guide to use my horse on an hourly rotation basis. He said thank you but in reality he rode very little. By afternoon Di had irritated thighs and we slowed things down a little. As the valley opened up into a large, sparse, flat dusty plain we saw another tree laden with Colobus monkeys. These ones were far more active than those on the first day and we sat and watched them for a good 15 minutes before dragging ourselves away.
We arrived in Adaba in the peak of the weekly market fever. It was possibly one of the most horrible experiences in Ethiopia. We felt like freaks being paraded around at a circus. As we sat high on the horses, visible to everyone, some people in the crowd began calling out and jeering as those around them laughed. Keen to get down from the horses we did so as soon as possible. We paid for the assistant and I said goodbye to Stucky who I had named after his four black socks. We found a nice hotel but they were asking too much and to be honest we'd had enough of Adaba and its inhabitants. So we had two options, go to Dinsho for the Bale trekking or head back to Dodola. Transport to Dinsho was hard to find and with depleting levels of Birr, Dodola was the only nearby town with a bank to change our US. Dodola it was.
Keen to get back to the best shower in Ethiopia after 5 days of dust we jumped off the bus and headed straight for the motel. The double rooms were taken so we shelled out the extra for a twin. I eagerly plugged in the hot water and had a beer while it heated up. With great disappointment I noted that the cold tap was broken. Oh well, the manager had the perfect solution, a cold bucket shower. It was not what I had in mind so I used it in combination with the stinking hot shower water to make something bearable of it. As the hot water level dropped the shower water cooled and I got a good minute of rinsing time. It wasn't a dream come true but it was far better than nothing. Happy to let someone else do the cooking we ate in the restaurant and went to bed without an alarm. Bliss.