Ethiopia - Days 14 & 15
Early out of Murelle and back up to Paradise Lodge on our way back north to Addis. Retraced our route through the trackless, well barely, rough, dry, scrubby desert country. This is a region of termite mounds which are scattered in surprisingly large numbers across the countryside in addition to something else that fascinated me. This was the presence of a flower called by the locals a bottle flower, blooming in large numbers on a plant whose stem was smooth and gray and somewhat bottle-shaped, which like the termite mounds, were scattered throughout the dry scrub. It was wonderful to chug through the scrubby desert landscape and then be confronted by a 2 or 3 metre high termite mound or even more surprisingly, a burst of beautiful waxy flowers covering a virtually leafless small tree, carmine at their petal edges shading through pinks to a brilliant white in the heart of the flower. I drove our poor driver crazy as I continually asked him to stop whenever we found a fresh specimen for me to photograph, temperature in the 40's and no-one wanted to stop, but.... Stunning.
Arrived at Paradise Lodge late in the day, and fortunately had remembered that instead of asking for a double bed we should ask for twin beds as standard practice. This almost guarantees a larger room and more space to manoeuvre and to put suitcases and cameras. Worked like a charm again and our room at the Paradise was substantially larger and more comfortable than on our previous visit.
The hotel's restaurant is built on the edge of a highland plateau looking towards the Bridge of God and the two rift valley lakes stretching out across the horizon about 500 metres below. At the back of the restaurant is a terrace with a railing that stretches to the very edge of the plateau and a couple of steps down from it are two little private terraces, big enough for only a table and a couple of chairs with a stunning and unobstructed view across to the lakes and mountains. After check-in and on our way to our rooms I stopped in the restaurant and asked them to reserve one of the little terraces for V and I, so we drifted up there as the sun was setting to find a freshly laid table and two comfortable chairs waiting for us. We have been restricted to beer for the most part of the trip since wine is both vile and expensive and imported wines are prohibitive and yes, Ethiopia does produce its own wines. This evening there were some South African wines available and the view and the evening were so stunning that we decided to pull out all the stops. Wines were not available by the glass but if you selected the bottle they would sell you a glass by charging 1/5 of the cost of the bottle and then filling the glass to the brim. We ate a pleasant, not particularly memorable meal helped along its way by 3 glasses each of very drinkable white for V and red for me.
Full moon rising over the mountains and so back to our room where we sat on our veranda and tried to handhold some 1/2 second moon shots, not successful but with the wine couldn't have mattered less. Forgot to mention that yesterday we visited a village of the Karo people, a tribe that I'm sure most readers of National Geographic will recognize as they decorate their faces and bodies with white painted designs, the paint being made from white limestone that the women grind to a powder and mix with water. A large village of many very neat tukuls surrounded by a thorn enclosure to keep out predators. The village is situated on a bluff about 150 metres above a bend in the Omo River and stretching out for a great distance towards the mountains on the other side of the Rift Valley was a lush, flat delta, perfect for agriculture. The land is jealously guarded from incursions by neighbouring tribes who raid cattle and I was told by our village guide, a very articulate young guy who was going to be jumping his bulls at the next festival, that AK47's are involved and shots are fired in anger.
More surprisingly, we learned that the rich delta land that the tribe used to grow their crops was being leased to Turkish investors to grow tobacco. When I asked why they would do that, was it for the rents that the tribal community would receive, I was told that they will receive no rents as the monies will go to the local government but that the Turkish firm would provide employment to the tribespeople as farm workers. I could have wept; from independent pastoralists with their own land to day labourers, at minimum wages on their own tribal lands.
Off at dawn for our last long drive, 340K, the last 20k into the Bishingari Lodge grounds very bad. But before we got under way Eskadar announced that we would be going for a boat ride on one of the two rift valley lakes that we could see from our hotel. Purpose was to see a crocodile farm on the lake. We announced that a crocodile farm had less than no attraction for us and in fact neither did a boat ride but a boat ride we were going to have since it was on the itinerary and the boat and captain had already been engaged. Much time spent driving to the park gates, as the lake is in a national park, along another of the numberless unmade roads that we have traveled, back again to a 2 lane paved highway and a 20 minute drive to the boat dock on the edge of a reedy sore line. Since we were not going to see crocodiles we chugged dutifully up the lake for 1/2 hour, took some pictures, chugged back to the dock and loaded into the car no wiser than we were before we started.
We had left the hotel at 7:00 and it was now 10:30 and we had 320k to go, the last 20 over very bad roads to the Bishingari Lodge. The early part of the drive was on relatively good roads albeit with people and flocks wandering on and off the road without warning so that even though it was a relatively smooth surface, speed was reduced considerably since there was a constant need to slow down to avoid mass murder of flocks and pedestrians.
After about an hour we moved off the paved section to a stretch of about 80k which was a road in name only with massive road building going on. Dusty, hot and slow.
Arrived at Bishingari late in the afternoon and met by a horse drawn buggy which took our bags to reception and on to our rooms all of which was a walk of about 500 metre through the property. Built on the side of a large lake with a main open-sided dining building and individual cabins in the woods along the side of the lake. All are built of varnished wood and are quite attractive but pretty basic, as the idea of eco-lodge suggests. Candles and lamps in the dining room at dinner and one fluorescent to each cabin. Walked back to the cabin in the dark, aided by a flashlight, about 300 metres, and V almost jumped out of her skin as a family of warthogs, parents and squealing youngsters suddenly dashed across our path, more than a little unsettling. No wifi at the Lodge and V is working on a proposal with colleagues in Toronto which needed to be completed on the following day so we cancelled our second night at Bishingari, and booked at the Sheraton in Addis, our home away from home.
Went on a bird walk with one of the camp naturalists at 7:00 pm; fascinating and a large variety of land and water birds to be seen. Breakfast and in our car at 9:00 for the drive to Addis.