Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bale Mountains Part II

Our final visit to Bale Mountains National Park

Mountain Nyala - gorgeous!

With only two weekends left in Hawassa, we decided to visit the Bale Mountains one more time. Besides being relatively close to us (2-3 hours) it really was one of the most scenic places we have visited in Ethiopia. The first time we went there (in February) we took a three day horse trek from Dodola town up steep river valleys and thick hemlock forests, spending a night in an Oromo hamlet at 9000 feet. Austere but beautiful.
This time we decided to go to the Bale Park headquarters in Dinsho, about an hour up the road from Dodola. We hitched a ride with Walelign and Beza, who were going to Addis where Beza will have her baby. They dropped us off in Shashomene on the main road to Addis, a very crowded and bustling town with a huge bus station leading to points all over the south of Ethiopia. We got a small bus whose driver was kind enough to take us to the park gate. For a sum of about $6 we entered the park and walked the two kilometers or so to the park lodge. This was an old stone building, with an out building for showers and water. It was completely deserted, except for the animals which we saw immediately as we started walking up the road. Warthogs, Mountain Nyala, Redback deer and Bushbucks were some of the few fellows who greeted us. 

Redback Deer
Pasture and Forest in Bale National Park
 There was no food in the lodge – we are not quite sure why they call it a lodge, so we walked back into town for a nice meal of tekavino and tibs (lentils and meat), bought some bread and bananas, and made our way back. An older man stopped us on the way; his name was Abdulai and he was the park guide/ranger/ everything. He let us into a small but comfortable room with two narrow beds. There was a much larger common room, with comfy chairs and lots of stuffed animals (by a taxidermist) and bones on display, including a warthog jaw with its two shiny tusks.
We read for a while on the back balcony – we were both immensely absorbed by the last Harry Potter (Deathly Hallows). Elliot had never read them before, and read all of them on his Kindle this year in Ethiopia.
Chilling with Harry Potter on the Kindle


But the mountain was too beautiful, so we put Harry down and went for a late afternoon walk into the fields above the lodge. We were at 9000 feet so the going was slow. But we were rewarded with a beautiful panorama, and lots of animals who walked around us as we sat quietly on the ground. A huge warthog family scampered around fifty yards from us, three adults and seven babies. So cute, the baby warthogs were prancing, dancing, and head butting each other practicing to be grownups.
"Look who just came in, God's gift to warthogs"(Gary Larson)

We saw a herd of Mountain Nyalas grazing, big dark beautiful antelope with white stripes on their chest. The males have large and beautifully curved horns, as you can see.


We headed back down at sunset and crawled into our beds – it was really cold up there but there were plenty of blankets – and got reabsorbed by the battle for Hogwarts and JK Rowling’s heartfelt message that you must fight fascism and never accept it! Good book to read during an election year.

The next morning, Abdulai was there when we woke, and we asked to take a shortish walk – 2 hours – as Marty was getting a head cold. He took us on a different route than the one we took the previous evening, up a river bed that opened onto a big pasture with many deer and the ubiquitous warthogs again.  Abdulai had amazing eyes; he could spot animals hiding in the trees long before we ever could. We walked into a forest, beautiful and quiet in its lush green following the recent rains. Abdulai explained various bushes and trees to us: “Those berries are poisonous; those flowers are used for medicine to clean the stomach.” “Does it help clean you out?” Elliot asked, familiar with the strong purgatives used by Samburu in Kenya. Abdulai smiled in embarrassment, ‘Yes, it moves right though you!”
Abdulai - our mountain guide
 A highlight of the trip was Abdulai taking us to a tree and pointing to a very rare owl – the long-eared Abyssinian owl which we would have never noticed. He said many birdwatchers come from Europe to see this bird. He was wearing a hat given to him by a German ornithological group; he really knew his birds, and could identify every bird call we heard. “That’s a flycatcher, that’s an Ethiopian mockingbird.”
A truly wonderful walk.
Abyssinian Long Ear Owl - a rare sight

Around 11 AM we decided it was time to go into town and find some food, and especially coffee. We figured it would take us the rest of the afternoon to get back to Hawassa by Sunday evening. We had met a lovely Ethiopian woman on the road, who told us her name was Sophie and had a coffee shop nearby (a tiny room near the road where she brewed fresh coffee) so we stopped there and were very happy that we did. We had 2-3 cups, brewed the Ethiopian way by roasting fresh coffee beans, grinding them, and soaking in water.
Sophia in her coffee shop 

Dinsho town Backyard. Cool!
 Abdulai joined us for coffee – he seemed to know everything that was going on in town. He gave us each a picture of an Ethiopian Wolf, a reddish animal that looked like a coyote. Although these are not found in Bale Park, they are the symbol of Ethiopian wildlife and we were happy to take one.

Not our photo, but just so you know what they look like.
 We then headed down to the restaurant where we ate the day before, this time ordering eggs and enjera.  Very few cars or vans were coming down the road. The guy who ran the restaurant posted another guy on the road to flag a bus or van down. But after an hour, Elliot went out there, and almost immediately saw a bus. We managed to stop it and got to occupy the last two seats in the back. Young boys come on board to sell roasted barley (a favorite snack), and there was a lot of jostling to get on. Once we managed to sit down, a young Ethiopian with stylish long hair (twists) and very good English introduced himself as Teddy (for Theodros). He worked for an NGO called PACT and was going to a three day workshop in Nazret. He played us the latest song by Teddy Africa, the most popular singer in Ethiopia who was jailed for criticizing the government’s lack of democracy. Teddy asked if I had any daughters his age to write to! The ride home was peaceful, through gorgeous Ethiopian countryside, with the Bale Mountains to our left. We got to Shashomene, quickly found another bus to Hawassa, and made it home around 6 PM. 

Marty and Teddy on the bus - bumpy ride makes the photo look like an art shot!
We arrived in Hawassa Sunday 6 PM. Church was getting out so the streets were full of folks, mainly Evangelical Protestant, we assumed (Orthodox women wear long white cloths over their head, Protestants seem to  purposely reject that.)We talked about religion to each other, a favorite topic here, especially as Marty’s assistant on the homeless project, Dagim, is so devoutly Orthodox and loves to explain his religion to us. We were a bit disconcerted when he told us that when the anthropology students took their long 12 day bus ride to the historic sites of the north, including Lalibella and Axum, the priests would not allow one of the Moslem students to enter unless she took off her head scarf. She refused (naturally) and was asked by the other students to sit in the bus, lest a fight break out. (The priests will physically attack those who wear Muslim symbols.) We were a bit astounded she would be rejected from not only a famous site in Ethiopia, but a UNESCO World Heritage site. But Dagim was firm that no Moslem should enter a church. I told him how I was welcomed into a Mosque in northern Kenya when I wanted to get away from the noise and the hustle bustle. He couldn’t believe it when I said all people –Christians, Moslems, Jews-- were welcome in our National Cathedral in Washington. Religion continues to plague us.

Last two weeks, and invitations are starting to come in – to visit a colleagues’ house for coffee (i.e. a huge meal) this Saturday, to be wined and dined by Marty’s medical colleagues Saturday night. Departure is coming, and we feel great that we got to go to Bale Mountains as a parting visit.


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