Sunday, October 30, 2005

Obelisk, Axum

Ethiopia - Obelisk, Axum
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Today, we spent the day with Michael and Hamish (from New Zealand) who we had met at breakfast, investigating much oif what Axum has to offer. Without going into too much detail, we had the Axum museum, showing carved stones, pottery, urns, fibulae, decorative and votive heads, ancient writing tablets and so on, before going to the Stelae Field, where the obelisk stolen by Mussolini was still in three pieces on the ground, witing to be re-erected, but where there were some fantastic obelisks and stelea still standing. We visted tombs, not dissimilar to Etruscan tombs, a hut enclosing a large tablet enscribed in Greek, Ge’ez (ancient Ethiopian) and Sabean (Yemeni), some more tombs and a monastery with finely illustrated books and church walls, crowns and crosses, and all set in lovely countryside. Rocky with cactus, flowering aloe vera, rock walls, small farms, numerous wells, local Tigrayan people with their animals and fine views across the plains to the rocky outcrops towards Adwa, site of the famous battle in 1873 when the Ethiopians decisively beat the Italians, and on towards Eritrea. Sad to say that here we have heard more stories of troop build ups in this area which has already seen far too many battles in the past.

All day we were accompanied by a young man named Gatocho, who is thirteen, very bright and rools his ‘R’s in an incredible way, making his sound an extreme form of Scottish.. he would say ‘forrrr tourrrrrristses’. Oh yes, they speak like Gollum, doubling the plurals.

Anyway, back at the Africa Pension and who should we bump into but Roberto, the Guatamalen oarsman from the Omo trip. And yesterday, we briefly ran into Nick,. Fellow paying guest, in Debark

Tomorrow, we fly to Lalibela.

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Lobelias in evening sky

Lobelias in evening sky
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

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Simien sunset

Simien sunset
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

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Red hot pokers

Red hot pokers
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Two days into Simien Mountains, from Gondar and then a drive up to Axum, the old capital of the Axumite Empire, which was pre-eminent in the Horn of Africa from around 100 BC to 700 AD.

The Simien Mountains were quite simply breathtaking, with escarpments falling vertically for almost 1,000 metres to the forested floor and views of near and distant limestone peaks jutting into the air.

The road from Gondar took us past highland farming country, with rolling hills, green and yellow, from the dominant flower in the region. By the villages there would be what looked nothing less than English village greens, with horses, donkeys, cows and sheep dotted around in small groups, looked over by small groups of young children, wrapped in green or blue rugs, carrying sticks.

We, Fred and I and Michael, quickly arrived in Debark, where in addition to the young chap, Peter, from the hotel who arranged the trip for us, and the driver and a cook, who had all come up with us from Gondar, we picked up a local guide and a scout (the one with the rifle) at the Park Headquarters. Our team would be later supplemented with two mules (ponies actually) and their drivers. All for two 4-5 hour walks in the mountains!

Leaving Debark, we entered a beautiful green and yellow landscape of rolling hills, planted with flax, peas, broad beans and wheat. We stopped off to buy some bunches of peas and broad beans from the children working in the fields and popped them open and ate the deliciously sweet peas as we raced up higher into the Park.

Within an hour we had climbed up to Senkaber Camp, which is 3,300 metres high, perched near the escarpment. Here we picked our mule drivers and set off with guide and scout, first stop being a breathtaking view across to Jinbar waterfall, which has a drop of 500 metres. We climbed through a well beaten path, under low Erica trees up back to the road which we followed for a short distance where we passed numerous baboons, this time the impressive lion baboons, as well as an area, covered with the very beautiful red-hot poker plants.

Back off the road we passed through wheat and barley fields, dotted with blue flowering mint, yellow daisies, blue scabious, purple violets and vetch and the like. Coming up to a stream with dark clouds in the east, it looked nothing less than Scotland! Once over the waterfall where we had lunch accompanied by the large billed ravens, we had a long climb through a rather barren area, being destroyed by erosion. On we went as it grew cooler and cooler until we made it to Geech village, above which we found grassland, on which our camp was set up.

We were delighted to find our tent already set up and also to be greeted by a glass of hot coffee. Being 3,600 meters high (over 11,000 feet), it was not too warm, and I was glad that I had bought not only a scarf but a silly looking woolen hat to keep me warm! After coffee, I joined the guide and the scout to walk back up to the top of the escarpment for some more breathtaking views, while the sun lowered in the sky, with ravens and hawks flying in the valley below.

The low sun put everything into a beautiful light, none better than the giant lobelia plants scattered around. In the meantime, the local villagers were bringing their cattle and horses and donkeys back into the village, a steady stream passing just above camp, with shepherds calling out loudly to each other, happy to be at day’s end.

It was now that we realized just what being 11,000 feet up meant, because as the sun set (very dramatically – all pics to be seen on flickr!), the temperature plummeted and soon there was steam coming out of our mouths as we breathed and we were happy for every piece of warm clothing and wraps that we had with us!

The cook came up trumps with dinner – fresh soup followed by pasta with fried potatoes AND fried beetroot (exceedingly delicious) and a cabbage and carrot stir-fry. We had to rush it down as it was SO cold that we couldn’t stand being outside of the tent. Unfortunately, the camp fire was inside a small hut, so there was no possibility of sitting cosily around this until the small hours. It was just after 7 when we made it to our sleeping bags, Mike to his masai robe.

Fortunately, the sun came up early next morning and warmed us up quite quickly, and after an early breakfast we were soon on our way back the way we had come the day before, this time passing villagers taking their animals out for grazing. Views just as spectacular.

Once back in Debark, we set off on the 360 km journey to Axum. This was easily the most beautiful road journey we have had all the time we have been traveling, as we wound our way up and down the sides of mountains and valleys, past waterfalls, forests, farmland, rivers, villages, often with views back across to the peaks and plateaus of the Simien Mountains. The road was built by Italians and felt and looked very much like and Italian road. The tape of Teddy Afro turned itself around many times, and we learned that his music is banned by Ethiopian radio because his songs are very anti-government. The great thing is though that his music is played EVERYWHERE, protest music as almost every Ethiopian we speak to despises the current Zenawi/Tigray government, which cheated on the elections ion June.

Anyway, we sped along the roads until we almost had made it to Axum, when in a manoevre to avoid a young boy selling guava’s, the vehicles alternator died and we were left stranded 30 kms short of our destination. Still, it was as short bus-ride to Axum, where we had a room waiting for us at the very friendly Africa Pension, where we bumped into all sorts of people we had seen in Bahir Dar and Gondar. Many beers were drunk over a pleasant dinner to end a perfect day.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Off into the wilds again

Colourful mountains
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Missing the outdoor life after a week away from the Omo we have arranged our next little adventure.

Tomorrow we take a Toyota Land Cruiser up to Debark in the Simien Mountains where, with some help from Peter from the Belegez Pension,. where we are staying at, we will arrange for a guide, a scout (the one with the gun!), some mules, a mule driver, a cook, camping gear and FOOD for a two day/one night trek into the Simien Mountains. They are said to be beautiful, very beautiful.

On Saturday evening we wil arrive in Axum, where we are looking forward to seeing the Obelisk, which had been stolen by Mussolini, but which was returned earlier this year (or was it?). Hmmmm.....

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Ethiopia - Royal Palaces, Gondar
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Spent the afternoon visiting the Royal Palaces in the Royal Compound here in the centre of Gondar. There are six palaces, dating from 17th century onwards, each built by a different Emperor. Fascinating.

The morning was spent at what must be one of the most beautiful churches in the world, the Debre Birhan Selassie Church, famed for its ceiling of angel faces, in archetypal Ethiopian Orthodox style, together with beautiful wall paintings. One of which was of the prophet Mohammed on a camel, others being the Nativity, Baptism, Last Supper, Crucifiction, and the nine Syriac saints who brought Christianity to Ethiopia. All housed in a wonderful church, hard to describe, but made out of wattle and daub.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

On to Gondar

Graveyard in St Michael's Church
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
A really good bus ride this morning, which on asphalted roads took just 4 hours instead of the expected 6!

The road went through spectacular mountain scenery and past many villages in a vast ocean of green, now turning brown as we near harvest time.

One sad thng about the drive was that we saw four dead people, wrapped in white linen being carried alongside the road. This in addition to a body I saw yesterday. Makes one realise just how the poverty one sees takes its toll.

In the meantime, we have seen so many school children and university students these past couple of days in particular. So many young people, so few older ones, and so few jobs for them to go to afterwards. What future in an economy dominated by a corrupt government and NGO's?

So, we have mde it to the old capital of the Ethiopian Empire, Gondar with a centre dominated by the Royal Palace which we will visit tomorrow. Odd to find a place in Africa with buildings this old.

We were met off the bus by a couple of lads from the pension where our friend Michael was staying and caught him feeling a bit worse for a bad dinner last night. Walked around town and met up with a charming Australian lady (Hilary, retired) on return to the hotel, so we spent the afternoon swapping stories with her and Michael.

Further news is that we have seen signs of large troop movemnets to the north, up to the border with Eritrea. It seems as if the situation is gradually edging towards yet another war between these two countries which everyone firmly believes that Eritrea will lose. Odd that they have precipitated the latest crisis. We will be out of the area within a week, so should be OK. Just one thinks of all the young men and women who are going to lose their lives needlessly.

And on the subject of war, we are not best pleased to see the western powers making such a meal of the possible Syrian involvement in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in Lebanon. The Syrians have withdrawn their troops already, not sure what rubbing their nose further in this issue is going to serve, apart from alienating yet more Arabs and Muslims. Which Americans were ever held to account for the assassination of Allende in Chile, amongst many others?

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Shepherd boys

Shepherd boys
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
I like this pic!

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A day out on the bicycles

Fred with bikes, in Bahir Dar
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Bahir Dar is situated on some flattish ground on the shores of Lake Tana and many people ride bicycles. We chose to take some bikes out for the day instead of going by bus to the nearby Blue Nile Falls - Tis Abay - which hardly fall anymore, the water being re-directed through a hydro-electricity plant .. fair enough!

We chose to go over the Nile and along the eastern shore to the so-called Haile Selassie Palace, the journey being more important than the destination. It was great to get away from rivers, boats, cars, buses and be back on a bicycle, even though the roads were anything but smooth. We crossed the big bridge and passed vilages, pastures filled with cattle, donkey carts pulling building materials and sticks, from trees which are farmed along the riverbank, the sticks being used for scaffolding on building sites.

We gained a 'friend' along the way... and VERY unwanted he was to.... but no matter how many times we told him to go, get lost, vai, wegwezen, oprotten, hid and other such words, he would not go. He stuck to us, well Fred mainly, like honey to one's fingers when one has put too much on a sandwich. Of course it was bound to end in tears, well taunts, and we only got rid of him once we re-entered Bahir Dar.

In the meantime, the Palace proved to be a disappointment, a plain modernm building with a grand drive. I went down the hil to the banks in search of hippos. No hippos but plenty of beautiful flowers and birds.

Fred managed to get a flat tyre as we raced back down the hill and was condemned to walking the way back to the nearest bicycle repair man, with his 'friend' stuck beside him... Fred was AGITATED to say the least.

Anyway, back in Bahir Dar we found a pleasnt spot by the Lake to eat chips and drink a coke before Fred went off to blog and I cycled further around town, meeting assorted construction workers and shepherds!

We have our tickets for the 6.30 bus to Gonder tomorrow, where we hope to bump into Michael, the chap we spent many pleasant evenings with in Amman, about two months ago!

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Reisje langs de Omo

Als ik aan onze trip op de Omo terug denk, dan moet ik altijd weer denken aan tal van liedjes waar een riviertocht central staat. De leukste vind ik nog steeds die van Adele Bloemendaal over een ‘Reisje langs de Rijn, Rijn, Rijn’
Voor dat ik aan deze tocht begon, had ik tal van bedenkingen. Ik ben niet zo’n waterrat en veertien dagen op een rivier? En dan het woord: ‘white water rafting’ daar kreeg ik het al gelijk Spaans bernauwd van (die hielden ook niet zo van water). En hoe zit het met zaken als kamperen, toilet en niet te vergeten: douchen! Kortom: genoeg redenen voor mij om keurig op de droge wal te blijven.
Maar er was natuurlijk een factor die doorslaggevend was: Charles wilde heel graag en wie ben ik om hem dit pleziertje te weigeren?
Op zaterdag 8 oktober maakten we kennis met Geoff, Chris en Robel. De volgende dag op tijd weg omdat we zo’n anderhalf dag voor de boeg hadden om bij de rivier te komen. Op Maandag waren we ‘s middags op de brug waar we opgewacht werden door Garry en zijn crew. Na het inladen van verse groentes etc staken we van wal.
De eerste paar uren waren erg rustig en ik voelde me dan ook al gauw op mijn gemak. Na een aantal uren op het (rustige) water gingen we kamperen op een zandstrandje met een nijlpaard als buurman (alles beter dan een Tokki!).
Het kamperen beviel wonderwel. Het toiletgebeuren was altijd een rustig plekje zoeken voordat het donker werd zodat je tenminste niet op een nijlpaard trapte. Het gebeuren ging altijd vooraf aan het ophalen van de spade (‘The Magic Stick’) en het toiletpapier. Douchen was meestal een emmertje met bruin Omo-water over je lijf gooien maar afentoe werden we verwend met een zijrieviertje waar je heerlijk in kon liggen alsof je ein een bubbelbad lag. Ja en als het niet regende, dan lekte onze tent ook niet en kon je heerlijk liggen snurken na een dag op het water.
Het eten was top. ‘s Morgens een ontbijtje met vers fruit als voorafje. Soms gebakken eieren, dan weer pannenkoekje en altijd voldoende koffie. Het middageten was veelal vers fruit en brood met kaas en salami. ‘s Avonds werd er driftig gekookt. Vaak hielp ik in de keuken en we hebben heel wat paprika’s, uien, kili’s knofloof en kool fijngesneden. Vaak was er rijst of pasta met een heerlijke roerbakken groentemix en natuurlijk altijd een verse salade. Over de keer dat we kip hebben gegeten praten we liever niet omdat deze scharrelkip de laatste 3 jaar hard had getraind voor de marathon. Op onverklaarbare wijze is deze harde jongen op onze borden beland en wij zijn een redelijk tijd zoet geweest om het vlees van zijn botjes te krijgen.
De eerste dagen zijn we geen mensen tegen gekomen. Na een week ontmoetten we Zapata. Hij was onze gids voor een dag. ‘s Avonds stond al snel zijn halve dorp bij ons om de tent.
Hoe verder we kwamen, destemeer mensen stonden er angs de kant .Zo kwamen we de Wahaita, de Bumi, de Bode, de Mursi, de Hammer en de Ari tegen. Meestal stonden ze aan de kant te zwaaien en te wachten op een bezoek. Bezoek betekende veelal geld en wie weet geschenken zoals scheermesjes. Ze vroegen voor iedere foto zo’n 2 Birr (= 0.20 euro). De scheermesjes werden niet altijd gebruikt voor het scheren van de hoofdjes getuige de vele rituele littekens op hun lichamen. De meest indrukwekkende en ook wel afschuwwekkende waren de Mursi vrouwen met hun lippen. Deze dames hebben een platte kleischijf in hun onderlip. Van jongs af aan wordt er een voorwerp in de lip aangebracht en het gat wordt dus steeds groter tot dat ze er een schijf tergrootte van een theeschoteltje in kunnen hebben.
Naast de vele mensen die we gezien hebben, kwamen we tal van krokodillen, nijlpaarden en bavianen tegen. De grote en indrukwekkende visarenden waren tot op het laatst onze begeleiders op deze geweldige tocht.
Na zo’n veertien dagen lekker op het water dobberen, lekker kamperen, lekker eten en lekker dieren kijken, kan ik een ieder zo’n reis aanbevelen. Alleeen de volgende keer ga ik leiver op de eerste helft mee omdat de ‘rapids’ voor mij wat te tam waren.

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The Omo River 2005 crowd

Gary, Nick, Charles, Chris, Fred, Jonas, Robel, Zekarias, Danny (partially hidden), Eddie, Claude, Geoff and Roberto.
A group photo, taken by MartinZilka, a Slovakian photographer we met on the last night in Dus, who had preceded us by two days with his team of four.

So a short word about each of the team members as follows:

Gary - leader of the expedition, head of Remote Rivers, originally from California, now based at his hotel, Chez Maggie, in Madagascar. Veteran of many trips down the Omo.

Nick - Mr Tsetse fly man, world expert on the tsetse fly, from St Ives in Lincolnshire, been to Africa many many times, used to work at COPR (Centre for Overseas Pest Research) in London, so knows my Dad and many of his colleagues.

Chris - originally from Hull, Yorkshire, but been based in Africa for over 30 years, retired from his business as a quantity surveyor, lives in Nairobi

Jonas - from Jinka, main town of the Omo region, assistant truck driver, helps out the last two yeasr with the Omo expedition

Robel - born in Asmara, but moved to Addis as a child, works for Ethio Fauna Safaris, main contact for Gary in Ethiopia, playing a big part in arranging the local aspects of the trip

Zekarias - (younger) brother of Robel, studying Accountancy in Addis

Danny - based in Addis, also training to be a truck driver, wants to take over Robel's father's job, driving to and from Djibouti

Eddie - based in Colorado, where he spends most of the summer taking people out on rafting trips up the Grand Canyon, has been on the Omo River many times with Gary

Claude - colleague of Eddie's, based mainly in Costa Rica and, in the summer, Alaska, again taking clients on rafting trips, originally from Louisiana, an Omo debutant

Geoff - originally from Middlesborough, but lived in Leicester for many years, widely travelled in his job as technical and safety director of a construction company, and also making many trips in retirement

Roberto - from Guatemala, works with Eddie in Colorado, also first time on Omo River (I think), famed for his very loud calls

These are the very basic facts about each member of the expedition but, of course, each has their own personality and it must be said that, at least from our own perspective, it was a really good and sociable group.

There were four rafts and thirteen participants, so three rafts would carry an oarsman, a member of the crew and a guest, the other carrying another guest. We would rotate from day to day, and every day there would be other stories exchanged. Was fun.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

At the source of the Blue Nile

Detail of Debre Gibrel
Detail of Debre Gibrel
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We are now in Bahir Dar, at the start of the Northern histrical circuit... the classic tourist trip around Ethiopia.

Bahir Dar is on the southern shore of (the very muddy) Lake Tana, at the source of the Blue Nile.

There are many monasteries around, mainly on the islands of Lake Tana and we visited three by boat today. Tomorrow, maybe down the Nile to the waterfalls at Tas Abay, although more than likely they wil be turned off (should have gone yesterday - Sunday when they are turned on for day trippers).

The monasteries are over 500 years old and each contain a large round church with three ares, the outer, repersenting the outer walls and corridor, before one gets to the intermediate area and then the inner sanctum. The inner sanctum is decorated with scenes from the Bible and legend, painetd in almost comic book style, showing stories of saints, devils, angels, snakes and so on, many featuring bloodthirsty scenes of decapitation and hanging and the like. Many are from the 16th century.

Lake Tana is surrounded by forest and, at the source of the Nile, there grows the papyrus reed. The locals construct a rowing boat out of the papyrus, the tankwah, which seems to vary very little in design from boats depicted in Ancient Egypt.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Omo sunrise

Omo sunrise
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Discussing with Fred just now about what we liked most about the trip, I had to say that I was amazed by the beauty of the sites we chose to camp along the river. As mentioned before, all were marked by one or two magnificent fish eagle, and most tended to be on a bend in the river, many near rapids, with fast flowing water streaming through, throwing up waves onto the black sandy beaches.

On the first night, we camped by a large pool of water, which turned out to be the home of a hippo, who kept his eye on us the whole night, every now and then letting off a large snort.

At another site, strange noises were heard in the night and there were fresh footprints in the sand of a large cat.

Towards the end we had a couple of clearish evenings, where we positioned ourselves with views for fabulous views of the full moon rising in the early evening and sunrises in the early mornings (we were up that early).

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Omo River folks

Bumi men
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
We may not have spent as much time with them as we had hoped, but the glimpses we have been privileged to have of the people of the River Omo have been amazing.

We have seen the Wohaita people, the Bumi, the Bode, the (not-very-nice0 Mursi, Karo, the very nice and happy Hammer people and the Aris.

Again some photos on the flickr site.

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Back from the Omo

Rapids on the Omo
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
It was tough at times and we have come back with all sorts of (minor ailments), but we did it! The lower half of the Omo, on raft.

It was a lot more camping than we had expected, but we found great spots to spend the nights, nearby hippos, crocodiles, baboons and hyenas and each site was marked out for us by a magnificent fish eagle.

The group was good.... five guests, Fred and myself and Geof, Chris and Nick, all British, all in their sixties and all with great stories to tell. The rowing crew was Gary, Eddie and Claude from the US and Roberto from Guatemala and the Ethiopian lads were brothers Robel and Zekarias with Danny and Jonas. Thanks guys for looking after us so well and giving us such a memorable experience.

We made camp every night, collected firewood for the camp fire, chopped up meat and vegetables for the fireside dinner, lasagna al forno and bread, incredibly were were baked in Dutch ovens, the vegetables stayed fresh through the whole twelve days and we hardly saw a single can. Early starts were greeted by coffee or tea and fresh fruit, followed by cooked breakfasts of pancakes or omelettes or potato and tomato mash and lunch consisted of fresh bread. Mmmmm..... No alcohol though!!!

We had rapids, flat bits, large bends, eddies, rocks, clear side streams, waterfalls, the accompaniment of birds and beasts and local people to help out every now and then with camp. There was the moon and Venus and Mars and a sideways Orion to keep us company.

Misty mornings, sunny days, rainy evenings (but only AFTER we had set up our tents!).

Forested mountains, riverine forest, scrubland, desert roses and baobabs on the banks. Later, cleared banks ready for farming where the Omo River people plant their crops, every day different, mostly spectacular.

There were the odd disappointments too, the late starts as breakfast was prepared, slightly too few stops for waterfalls and not much opportunity to meet the Omo river people, but on the whole it has been a great experience.

Two weeks right out in the wilds.

Some photos on flickr and some more stories later.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Big River ...

Fred and I say goodbye to you all for the next two weeks as we embark on the Omo River expedition. We start tomorrow and have met one of our fellow travellers, Jeff, from Leicester. It seems as if there maybe two others plus the Remote River team.

We are looking forward to it, although we will be far away from the modern world and a long way even from the nearest roads. Thanks to you all for the support and appreciation you have shown for this blog and we hope to be back after a couple of highly enjoyable and only reasonably exciting weeks!

OMO: The African Queen of river expeditions. The Omo is a special river and one of the world's most renowned river experiences. We offer 10-21 day expeditions and the full trip combines spectacular scenery, exciting rapids, wildlife, exotic tribal peoples in a remote wilderness setting. The expedition is a journey back in time and into the seldom traveled world of south-west Ethiopia. There has been little change in the Omo Valley over the years. The river snakes between wild cliffs and green/brown hillsides from Gibe Farm southeast of Addis Ababa, to the scorched bushland near the Sudan border. The Omo has it all: challenging whitewater, abundant wildlife, excellent birds, superb scenery, and some of the most unique unvisited people in Africa. The trip is for the adventurous in spirit, for the lover of the wild; the river expedition that in 15 years has not become a 'tour'.

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Having fun with the qat boys

Having fun with the qat boys
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
But, despite a couple of not-so-good days here and in Awaasa, this is how we experience Ethiopia... lots of very friendly, hospitable people, eager to talk, share their qat, interested in the world.. it is a great experience, a pleasure and an honour to share their country.

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Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Addis - cold and wet.

Addis - Charles has 500 birr stolen from his pocket, he gets 200 back and thinks that is all which was pinched as the minibus drives off at full speed (three epeople have worked together to pull this off)

Addis - Fred returns home ot the hotel to find that his bag has been slashed. We have got off the minibus just in time before they have had the chance to pinch his money and sunglasses

Addis - Fred and Charles are not in the best humour to give money to all the beggars, shouting out 'You' and holding their hands out

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Awassa to Addis

Donkey and cart, Awassa
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Awassa was a very diferent place to the wet, muddy, dirty place we had arrived to the day before, this beig a typical scene on the backroads, driving a donkey and cart standing up!

We ahd a very good, but quite slow drive up to Addis, again with many students, a couople f whom we spoke to quite a klot on the way up, including a girl from Jigjiga and a chap (Abdi) from Dire Dawa, both on Ramadan fast. Our Vradt guidebook is popular wioth fekloow passengers, although we are not sure about the cover, which shows a tribal girl with a baby clutching her bare breast... doesn't give Ethiopians a very good idea of why tourists come here. we also have a 1969 textbook of Ethiopian history, published when Ethiopia was still an Empire and had an Emperor and which which has photos of 'desert beauties' and 'warriors' and refers to the Oromo people as Galla (a name used by their old enemies). The world seems a lot more 'correct' nowadays, but a lot more complicated.

We had the traditional 'customs' stops, though this time not to stop contraband but to check we were not bringing in weapons to the opposition here in Addis. The governmet here is very paranoid, very rightly so, as they cheated on the elections in May, have still not announced the result, caused civil disturbances and blamed it on the opposition, and claimed the European observers were biased im their reports. Mugabe would not get away with it, and meanwhile Zanawi gets invited to wine and dine with the G8 greats.. hmmmm....

As day turned to dusk and we climbed the highlands to Addis, the clouds cleared to give us a view of the Moon and Venus together, reminding us of all the good things in life out there.

We got into Addis in the dark, had a long drive to the bus station and then a long drive back to the hotel in a taxi (well we didn't know before we had made the trips). There was room in the hotel, but the receptionist did not want to give it to us, two men, as it contained a double bed. she only gave it to us (against the rules, she said) if we promised to move to a twin bedded room the next day.

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Meta beer, Addis

Meta beer, Addis>
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Meta, if you are reading this, were you aware that there is a beer sort named after you here in Ethiopia?

We tried to take a photo of the Meta beer delivery van but the driver, in typical fashion said 'no'. Oh well.... we found this shortly afterwards.

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Ethiopian Olympic Champions

Ethiopian Olympic Champions
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Great achievements by the Ethiopians always. Amazed how they do it as one really does not hardly see anyone doing any sporting activity, apart from a few boys kicking a football around, and kids playing either table football or table tennis out on the streets... one of the charms of Ethiopian village life.

Needless to say, these sportsmen and women are REAL heroes!

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Big calm

<Lake Awassa
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Friday morning and the sun came through the mist hanging over Lake Awassa after the downpour of the previous day. We took a horse and cart down to the lakeside for a few hours peace before embarking on the bus-ride up to Addis, moved forward a day after our bad experience of the day before.

Armed with binoculars we had great views of teh very varied birdlife at the lake's edge. In the shortest amount of time we had seen three types of kingfisher, first the large pied (black and white) kingfisher, then a bluey-grey one and then a number of bright azure kingfishers, red beak, orange breast and kingfisher blue back.... beautiful!

We also saw rails, a bittern, marabou storks, ibises, egrets, herons, hummingbirds, green and red parrots, geese, assorted waders, fish eagles, kites, blue starlings, little finches, long-tailed wrens, a green-gold-and-black bee-eater (mouth full with a dragon fly) as well as the normal bee-eater, some very large hornbills (how they can carry the weight of that bill as they fly through the trees?) as well as a very large crow-like bird also with a massive beak. (There are some pictures on the blog).

It was a lovely time.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Gefeliciteerd Vera met je verjaardag!

Oromo girl
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Lieve Vera,

We wensen je een hele fijne dag morgen en we hopen dat je nieuwe broertje spoedig komt!

Dit is een mooi jong meisje van de Oromo stam hier in Ethiopie. Het is hier echt kleurrijk!

Liefs aan jouw, Timon en iedereen,

Fred en Charles

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Father and son

Father and son
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

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'Genade Brood'

Vandaag zijn van Nazreth naar Awassa via Ashamene (centrum van de
Rasta cultuur) gereden. Gisteren kwamen we door een dorpje waar een
enorme menigte stond te wachten. Toen we vroegen wat er aan de hand
was, werd ons verteld dat een Amerikaanse hulporganisatie gratis graan
kwam uitdelen. Graan uitdelen? Maar er is helemaal geen honger!
Tenminste niet zichtbaar. Wat er aan de hand is? Zijn het weer die
Amerikanen die hun overproductie aan graan dumpen op de Afrikaanse
markt? Of is het de regering die haar hand ophoudt omdat ze liever het
geld aan andere dingen uitgeeft? Of is het echt nodig?
Een vriend van ons vertelde dat hij, na zijn reis door Ethiopie, het
gevoel had dat velen bedelen en dat velen hun eigenwaarde kwijt waren
geraakt. Ons valt op dat er inderdaad mensen bedelen. Met name kleine
kinderen, vrouwen en oudere mannen. Maar tegelijkertijd valt ook op
dat het niet zozeer de handjes ophouden is maar dat ze gewoon vragen
om geld met het idee 'nee hebt je...'
Maar men moet zich bedenken dat het land erg arm is. De meeste mensen
buiten de steden wonen in lemen hutten. Er zijn geen sanitaire
voorzieningen en drinkwater is een item dat je van heinde en ver
lopend moet aanslepen. Nee we hebben het even niet over een spaatje
blauw. De kleding en schoeisel zijn meestal de enige bezittingen die
ze hebben.
Maar is hulp wel zo goed? Maak je de mensheid niet afhankelijk? Dat is
moeilijk te zeggen. Natuurlijk zorgen tweede- hands
kledingsinzamelacties ervoor dat de kleren op de lokale markt worden
gedumpt. De lokale kledingproducenten kunnen vervolgens werkeloos
toekijken. Gratis voedsel uitdelen is ook niet bevordelijk voor de
lokale boeren... maar als mensen echt doodgaan van de honger wat moet
je dan?
Als je aankomt op een station in een grotere plaats, dan staan er tal
van mannetjes klaar om je te helpen. Maar hulp kost geld! Heb je van
te voren geen prijs afgesproken, dan heb je vaak oeverloze discussies
en een hoop irritatie. Je denkt al snel: ' ik word weer als toerist
uitgemolken'. Maar als je bedenkt dat hun dagloon vaak zo'n 10 Birr is
(= 1 Euro) dan valt natuurlijk te proberen om een loonsverhoging via
de rug van de weinige toerist te regelen. En geef ze eens ongelijk.
Zonder die tien Birr redden wij het ook prima en voor hun is vaak
noodzaak. Maar verpest je het dan niet voor andere toeristen? Ja
misschien wel maar als je bedenkt dat gisteren twee jongens onze zware
rugzakken over een afstand van twee kilometer gedragen hebben, dan is
het toch een faire prijs.
In Awassa zijn tal van kantoren van allerlei hulporganisaties. Je
noemt ze en ze zijn hier aanwezig. Wat ze allemaal doen en of het
allemaal helpt, dat blijft een vraag. En waarom allemaal in
Ethiopie... ook dat blijft voor ons een onbeantwoorde vraag. Maar ik
denk ze zullen wel hun functie en nut hebben. En hun aanwezigheid kan
niet alleen maar schadelijk zijn.
Ik realiseer me elke dag weer dat ik een bevoorrecht mannetje ben die
een enorme mazzel heeft dat hij zes maanden kan reizen. Ik realiseer
me ook dat het hebben van heet water geen prioriteit is voor velen. En
natuurlijk als je een goed doorvoede man zoals ik tegenkomt kun je
altijd proberen om daar wat geld, kleding of boeken van los te
peuteren.' nee he3b je..'
Zoals een leerling, die vorig jaar via Edukans naar Ethiopie is
geweest, schreef: 'Ik zal nooit meer zeuren'
Als in terug ben in Nederland help me dan even herinneren!

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Africans can help themselves

Sewing machine
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Here is a picture of an enterprising young man, sitting outside a material shop, with his sewing machine, making the material into a dress or a skirt or whatever.

The man who owned the hotel we stayed at last night was given money to catch a train from Harar to Awassa. He didn't go but bought some eggs and started trading, soon he was into chickens and then all sorts of products and ended up owning a chain of five very good hotels. It can be done.

So why do we see, three times yesterday, crowds of people waiting in a field? Hundreds of them? I thiught they might be open-air church services. But no, in this green and very fertile land, full of wheat, maize, sorghum, qat trees and the like, these people were waiting to be GIVEN grain produced by heavily subsidised farmers in the US.

What does this do to the local prices for grain, if foreign subsidised grain is DUMPED on the local marekt? I wonder.

There is not a town or village which one passes through without, somewhere on the outskirts, a sign, or a number of signs, advertising a go-good Western AID organisation. Menschen fur Menshen, Kind Hands, Christian Aid, SOS Sahel, People in Need and the like. Helping out with education, health service, looking after orphans and disabled people, fine, but giving away free grainin such a green and fertile land? I don't think so.

On the roads the fastest and newest vehicles are ALL white Toyaota Land Cruisers owned by the aid organisations. Go to any expensive restaurant and all tables are taken by aid workers and their colleagues.

All things being given to Africans.

At the same time, we see here in Ethiopia, hands outheld, Give me Money, I am hungry, Give Me Money, or just Money. Is it any wonder?

I am not against aid and one has to be very careful about drawing quick conclusions from casual observations. But so often one is left asking oneself why the people here show such a lack of initiative and seemingly such little self-reliance.

And, how does the government get away with it? Anyway, with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (both of whom are very popular over here) doing their best to boost AID to Africa, admirable though their aims, one wonders if they are going the best way about it. Trade not Aid.

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No milk today

After another draught of camel's milk.
It started well, after the best night's sleep we have had all holiday, with a lovely warm shower and a good breakfast at the Molo Bekele Hotel (HIGHLY recommended). Then quickly into a minibus to the station and immediately onto a bus to Shashamene. We met some nice students from Awassa, a couple of them studying Accountancy and the time passed well.

We were travelling down the Rift Valley, flat and fertile, with many cows, maize/sorghum, potatoes and tomatoes. The little round mud and straw farm houses had low 'hedges' of cacti, which were quite cute and the cows were longhorns, a change fromthe ones we had seen in the Eastern Highlands.

Gone too were all the colours of the East. Clothes here are more modern and drab. A pity.

Gradually we lost more colour as the sky became grey and eventually it started raining hard and the cattle tracks along the side of the road turned into streams and dust into mud. Now we would find out whether of dusproof and waterproof rucksack covers were really waterproof! (They were!).

We pulled into Shashamene, famous for the Rastafarian Community (which bemuses the locals apparently). Anyway, tehre were ever so slightly more Bob Marley T-shirts to be seen, making a change from the trio of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Craig David, but most of the rastas live outside the centre. A grubby little (well big) centre it was too... We joined teh boys in the bus to Awassa, hping that in the half hour it would take us to get there the rain would stop and the sun come out. (It didn't).

No, it rained harder and as we changed into a taxi, the road to the hotel got bumpier and bumpier. Down to the sodden lakeshore we went, past villa after villa housing Western aid organisations (this can be the subject of another blog... but for example we saw a sign for Self-Help Development International.... a contradiction in terms one would think), the road lined with flowering poinsettias and amaryllis, all sorts of birds in the trees, Fred went to reception to check if rooms were available. Of course they were not, noeither here nor in the other hotel on the blakeshore... and we had been SO looking forward to staying there, so it was back into town to check out the Pilla Hotel. I ran out to check this time, there was room so ran back quickly gathering our bags and checking in.... only, it seems, leaving my mobile behind.....

I soon found out it had gone, so went back to find the taxi driver, whiuch I did on the second attempt, having already tracked down his mobile number, by describing him to one of his colleagues... but the phone had gone.... and is now switched off.

The hotel is expensive and without any style, there was no milk for a white coffee in the cafe attached (this at 2 pm... as if no-one could go out to buy a pint or two - but this IS Africa), it continues to pour with rain and the lake looks ot be a long long way away, a grey patch of light in the mist... so it is either yahtzee or writing a blog.,

To make the day even better, Fred just tells me he has written a really good blog. A minute later, I hear 'oh no!' and it seems as if he has lost connection and lost his blog.

After this I think we might have to have a look around the muddy town to see if we can find some warm clothes, as if it is like this on the Omo River, we are totaly unprepared!

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

An extreme way of avoiding the traffic lights

<An extreme way of avoiding the traffic lights.
Yesterday in Dire Dawa.

Anyway, just to mention that the reason we have decided to fly around Ethiopia for our trip north is that our time IS limited and exciting as bus trips can be, they are VERY slow and quite tiring. We think we will probably need more than six days to fully enjoy the overland journey from Bahar Dar to Blue Nile falls, Gondar, Simien Mountains and Axum, but we will see.

Also, it is a curious fact that today we have left the Muslim world after 11 weeks and return again in a month's time, thereby completely missing out on Ramadan, when most people are not at their best!

This evening we are staying in what the (excellent) Bradt Guide says is the best value hotel in Ethiopia here in Nazret. And so it seems, our own chalet in the gardens, with abundant water, clean beds, towels and soap and so on... and all for less than 7 euro for the night.

We will not stay here long, despite the good internet connections!!! because tomorrow we take the bus down to Shashamene (centre of Rastafarians - who we wil avoid) to take an onward bus to the beautiful Lake Awassa, which promises to be teeming with birdlife, including pelicans and have two excellent hotels.

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Arsenal supporter

Ethiopia - Arsenal supporter in Dire Dawa
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Thomas, if you are reading this, you may be interested to know that we have come across many Arsenal supporters here in Ethiopia. In Eritrea it was almnost all Manchester United, but here they like Arsenal, Liverpool and, of course, Chelsea. I have not come across anyone who supports Southampton, but at least they ahve heard of them. We also saw the Champions League match the other day when Arsenal beat Ajax, from Amsterdam 0-2!

Anyway, we are interested how you are doing with football this season, how many goals you have scored and whether you have bene made man-of-the-match yet?

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Fred marking the start of Ramadan by getting inside a bottle of beer

Fred marking the start of Ramadan by getting inside a bottle of beer
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Yes, indeed, Ramadan DID start yesterday, as I mentioned in my badly spelt blog made quickly last night.

It is not easy to see but Fred is standing inside this bottle of beer, which also serve as doors to the bar!

He, and I can say we, did not stop there because it turned out to be our last evening in Harar, so also our last evening in the bar of the Baleynah hotel, with its bottles of Harar beer for sale for 30 eurocents. Monique was there for dinner (each of us ordering the delicious and HOT spaghetti bolognese) and we later joined up with Mike and Lorraine who had been down to Dire Dawa for dinner. And, also two German Swiss men who enjoyed the opportinity of asking three Brits what they thought of Tony Blair, when not monopolising Fred's timer being their funny German!
Needless to say, the evening went on for a long while and there were very many bottles for the boys to clear up afterwards. Only pity was that Bokhane, our ever friendly smiling waiter had his day-off.

So, by the time we got back to the hotel among the hyenas, there was less than four hours before the alarm clock would wake us up. Fortunately, we would have the whole day to sleep off the effects of too much Harar beer, perched/squahed/crammed into the exteremely SLOW bus to Nazret (12 hours for 400 kms on what was an excpetionally good road). Problem this time was not the road but the bus, an old one from Italy, maybe even from the colonial days - not quite but so it seemed.

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haastig spoed is...

Vandaag de bus van Harar naar Nazreth genomen. Na bijna een week
hebben we afscheid moeten nemen van onze geliefde stad en vooral onze
geliefde bar (in het Baleynah-hotel.
De laatste dagen van alles gedaan. Charles heeft jullie al uitvoerig
verteld over onze trip naar de kamelenmarkt en naar de toch wel wat
raar uitziende rotspartijen.
Vorige week woensdag toen we nog in het Baleynah-hotel logeerden,
hebben we Monique ontmoet. Deze reislustige Belgische uit Leuven reist
5 weken door Ethiopie en dit is haar laatste week. Monique heeft veel
gereisd en ze probeert als fotografe reisboeken te maken. Om toch te
kunnen leven, doet ze veel marktonderzoek. Met haar studie
geschiedenis doet ze niets meer.
Traditie getrouw dronken we 's avonds voor het eten een aantal gin and
tonics en dan eten in het hotel. Helaas was er voor ons in het weekend
geen plaats meer omdat er een groep Nederlanders en een groep Duitsers
kwamen logeren. De groep van Koning Aap stond onder leiding van de
toch wel wat jonge en erg naieve Shirley. De Duitse organisatie
verliep gesmeerd. 's Avonds hoorden wij hun reisleider de
mogelijkheden opnoemen voor het ontbijt en een ieder moest zijn hand
opsteken bij kreten als 'Spiegeleier einseitig' of ' Spiegeleier
beiseitig' etc. Onze Shirley kwam aan het eind van de avond nog naar
beneden gerend om nog snel even het ontbijt te regelen.
Met Monique hebben we een aantal uitstapjes gemaakt zoals naar de
hyenaman en naar de kamelenmarkt in Babile. En we moeten zeggen dat
het erg leuk en gezellig was en dat we een leuke week met haar gehad
Maar gisteren hebben we toch onze reis eens op een rijtje gezet en
beter gepland omdat we bang waren anders wat teveel in tijdnood te
komen. Ook de busreizen kosten teveel tijd en daarom maar eens een
serie binnenlandse vluchten geboekt. Daarnaast hebben we onze vluchten
en dus reis naar Somaliland en Oeganda geboekt.
Vandaag met de bus (er zullen nog een aantal busreisjes volgen) naar
Nazreth. Deze stad ligt ongeveer 400 km van Harar en in de buurt van
Addis. De weg was goed en grotendeels van asfalt voorzien. Het weer
was goed dus wat wil je nog meer... Nou de bus was van voor de oorlog
en de chauffeur was schijnbaar bang dat harder dan 30 km te rijden
teveel benzine kost. De berg op kan ik me nog voorstellen dat het niet
harder gaat maar om ook zo de berg weer af te komen...
Ondertussen een aantal keren gestopt vanwege controle op smokkelwaren.
De hele bus werd uitgekamd en alle electronische zaken zoals dvd
spelers, kleuren tv's etc werden meegenomen naar het kantoortje en de
eigenaar werd daar ondervraagd. Nou dat kost dus tijd nietwaar. In
totaal zijn we vijf keer gecontroleerd en twee keer was het raak.
Om vijf uur rolde de bus het station van Nazreth binnen. Dat houdt dus
in dat we vanaf vanmorgen 5.30 onder weg zijn.
Maar alles is weer goed gekomen. We hebben een leuk hoteltje: een
soort van bungalowtje in een tuin. Er is internet en straaks lekker
eten met een koud biertje.
Morgen gaat de reis weer verder om vervolgens zaterdag in Addis te
zijn. Zondagmorgen begint onze boottocht...spannend! Twee weken lang
op de rivier en kamperen op de wal. Met natuurlijk tal van stammen en
in het water voldoende krokodillen en neushoorns om het geheel wat
minder saai te maken.

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Hyena man (again)

Feeding a hyena with meat at the end of a stick held in one's mouth.
Another picture of me feeding a hyena, albeit a bit ruined by those silly cats in the foreground, but anyway.. nobody else dared go near the hyenas, and do you see the shiny eyes at the back there?

I have known about the hyena man of Harar since I was a small boy, from the stories my parnets told me, and I have always been fascinated by the stories, such that Harar would be the one place in Ethiopia I most particularly wanted to go.

It is not sure how long the hyena man has been there. Some say it is a very old tradition, others that it was started somewhere in the late 1950's. Maybe Mum or Dad would know a bit more, as they were there in the early 1960's.

Anyway, the man, Youseef, lives just outside the walls of the City, facing the open fields out to the east. He comes out in the evening just as it gets dark with a bucket of very smelly meat and calls out to the hyenas, who turn up very quickly. Then one by one he calls them up to take his meat, although it seems that Jambo is one of the tamest.

Hyenas may not be the prettiest of animals and they do have very strong jaws and sharp teeth and it is quite amazing to get so close to such wild animals (albeit well-fed wild animals).

As it happens, there are other hyenas who hand around Harar at night, and these congregate in the ditch outside our second choice hotel (the Tewodros, really not recommended if you can get a room at the Belaynah). So from the window in the corridor to get to our room it is possible to watch them scavenging around. One evening we saw a brave man having a (stand-up) pee just about 5 meters from one such hyena.

Anyway, Harar met all expectations, and more, when it came to the hyenas!

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

On we go...

Eastern Highlands.
Ramadan i sure is (see previous post). Just as it was turning 6 the owner of the previous internet cafe told me it was time to leave, the sun was setting and it was time for him to finally EAt again!

Anyway, justa bit of news. We went to Dire Dawa today with the intention of booking onward flights and managed to do everything within an hour and a half. They are as follows:

25 October (after the Omo River trip) - Addis to Bahar Dar
31 October Axum to Lalibela
3 November Lalibela to Addis
5 November Addis to Hargeisa
12 November Hargeisa to Addis
14 November Addis to Entebbe (Uganda)

The dates are flexible. We go overland from Bahar Dar to Gondar, Simien Mountains and Axum.

We are still in Harar, after a week, enjoying the place very much and not wanting really to leave, but on we must go.

Tomorrow to Nazret and the day after to Lake Awassa, where we stay a couple of days before our appointment in Addis to meet our fellow Omo River travellers.

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Somali tea

Somali tea.
Fred relaxing with some sweet Somali tea.

The next day, today is the start of ramadan. One is not supposed to chew qat during Ramadan, but we do not think they will stop. (They do NOT stop, as it turns out).

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Cowherds at market

Cowherds at market.
Yesterday, Fred, Monique and I went to Babile with Youssef, the brother of the owner of our ex-hotel. Mondays is livestock market day in Babile and many camels could be expected.

Sure enough there were camels, bulls, goats and sheep and lots of local herdsmen, mostly Somali or Oromo. We'd have taken more pictures had not someone waving a large stick decided we ought not to take photos. We meet these types all over the place and they have absolutely no authority at all. They just think they are cleverer than the rest and are in need of attantion.

The group of children Fred was teaching to count to five were shoo-ed away by another man with a stick, but they were waiting for us when we eventually left, but first we stopped off with the qat chewers for a cup of Somali tea. Very sweet, with a spicy teaste... more cinnamon than cardamom.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Feeding time

Feeding time.
Yes, the hyena man... feeding the hyenas, last night. An unforgettable experience.

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Cowherd on way to Babile

Another cowherd
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
This is the implement most of the countryfolk carry around with them.

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Dakata Rock

Dakata Rock
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
I am being asked by the flickr site to say whether this photo might offend. Ummm.....

What do you think?

Anyway, I came here by myself yesterday, taking public transport with the idea that the bus drived would take me the 7 kms (it was in fact 3) down from Babile to the famous Dakata Rocks (there are two like this). Of course, he would receive 100 Birr for this (Eur 10).

Well, I ended up in a siuation I really had no control over. He took me down, while a peanut-seling boy jumped in for the ride. After about two minutes, the bus driver was telling me to get back in to go back to the village while the peanut seller wanted me to climb the rocks on the OTHER side of the valley, so I could sit down and he could take a photo of me???

I ended up shouting and swearing at the both of them and told them I would climb to the top of these rocks and would go back once I was finished. We found a local shepherd to take us up, past the prickly cacti and bushes and it was indeed a wonderful sight, even though the mad bus driver kept on yelling at us to get back down and into the bus.

Once in the village it became clear why he was in such a rush, becaus ehe would have to queue up to be able to take people back to Harar.... well he shouldn't have taken my money of he couldn't spare the time.

Back in the village the peeanut seller took me around the very colourful market and we stopped for some more camel's milk.. GOOD STUFF!!!!!

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Fred with his new schoolmates

<Fred with his new schoolmates
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
While Monique (our Belgian fellow traveller) and I were busy taking photos, Fred was teaching his new class how to count to five (in English) and say donkey, cow, camel and house and so on. He was a bit disappointed with the progress his new pupils made, but then neither he nor I have mastered even five words of Amharic.
Note the Somali house in the background.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

A day out to Jigjiga

With the milkman
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
After a couple of days of discovering the joys and wonders of Harar, it was time for another adventure, this time a day out to Jigjiga. Jigjiga is the capital of the Somali Province of Ethiopia, 125 kms, east of Harar and just 160 kms from my birthplace of Hargeisa and is accessible by many buses going there from Harar.
So the first fun of the day was the bus ceremony, this time enlivened by the specatcle of lots and lots of ladies trying to bundle as much fresh top quality qat into the bus as they could. The roof was used, as were the racks above the seats, the gangway, under the seats, on their laps and everywhere. As the journey went on the qat would be taken out of the plastic bags, aired, passed around and put back. It seems as if demand is almost infinite so any amount taken could be sold for a good profit. As the bus was almost full when we arrived and we were given two seats at the back, it only took us half an hour to get gouing after many false starts, but it was still early.
The tarmac road gave out about 3 kms out of town, but the dirt road was pretty smooth as we passed idyllic rural scenes of boys, men, women and girls tending their flocks of goats or camels, moving their herds of white cattle, all set in a green rolling landscape, with little villages dotted around houses made of red mud bricks, some rectangle some round, with pretty straw roofs. No photos, as the windows were dirty and we were dreiving so fast.
At Babile, we stopped and we could see the fascinating rock formations there. Rocks rounded and weathered, balances on other rocks, many sticking up like fingers... all along the valley. Hope to go back there this afternoon or tomorrow, so you may get to see some photos later.
Eventually, we got to Jigjiga and were soon surrounded by a bunch of freiendly people asking where we were from, what we were doing, were we journalists and so on..... until some man in uniform shooed them away and told us that we could not just turn up in Jigjiga, we needed permission. So we were forced to follow him through crowded streets, full of colourful Somalis, many calling out to us and offering their hands. Every now and then a few camles would pass us, led by women, carrying a bundle of syticks on their backs, walking very silently, quite fast, nimbly finding threir way through the crowds. At the police station, as it turned out he was police, we were asked by a very friendly man what we wanted and we told him that we just wanted to spend a day in Jigjiga and go back to Harar and that we had been brought there by his colleague who said we needed a permit. He told us we didn't need a permit and then he introduced us to one of his colleagues, who was equally friendly and asked us exactly the same question to which we gave exactly the same answer. All very pleasant, and soon we were back out on the streets, only a little bit lost.
Well, we walked around for about three hours, gathering crowds of friendly people everywhere we went, some for a chat, some for a photo. It was always good to talk about Somaliland and, of course, about football! Often there were so many people around, we ended up stopping the traffic... the horse and carts, the camels and donkeys, the boys with wheel barrows (yes, they were back, not seen since Sana'a but here there were lots of them offering their services of carrying things. If they were not used, the wheelbarrows made good beds.
The biggest hit was when we went out to find some camel's milk to drink, intrigued by the so-called power of the substance. Well, finally we found some ladies selling the milk from yellow plastic bottles and we tentatively drank it. It tasted like cows milk mixed with barbecue ashes, a sort of burnt taste. Anyway, it seemed to amuse the locals one of whom reversed roles and took a photo of the tourists.
Eventually it was time to find the bus station again and this time we were one of the first on the bus, so we got good seats at the front with a window next to us.. great for taking photos of the landscape. However, it took about an hour and a half to load up, unload and re-load and finally start, by which time the dark clouds had come over and the day was getting late, so altogether too dark for any photos.
No qat this time, but plenty of women and this time. First they were just noisy. Then they started fighting each other. Then they started shouting and fighting with the ticket boy. Then they fought with another chap. Then all was still. And then it would start up all over again. Lots of pushing and shoving and threats to throw cans at each other. I had read in a book written in 1960 that Somali women could be pretty terrifying, having been treated so badly by their men and it seems that very little has changed in the intervening years. Fish wives... and worse. I am ready to believe that the women we see on the buses (who are ALWAYS loud, if not violent, are more an example of market women than indicative of the total population. I hope so, for the sake of them men.
Anyway, we pulled into Harar in darkeness at 8 after a heavy fall of rain. We found Monique, the Belgian lady we had met the day before and we moved our things over from one hotel to the other (we were forced to move to make way for some tourist groups). At the new hotel, we found little sign of the promised hot water, but there WAS water and we had the opportunity to view the hyenas from the window at the back. Hyenas just wandering the streets looking for scraps of meat thrown in the ditch. The ditch is also used as an open toilet and it was intriguing to see a man pee-ing just 10 metres or so from a pacing hyena. He (the hyena) looked fat enough, so it was probably safe, but I wouldn't have done it!

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De methadonbus


Reizen per bus heeft zo zijn voordelen. Je ziet genoeg van het
landschap, je ontmoet allerlei mensen en het is redelijk goedkoop.
Maar het heeft ook tal van nadelen en een ervan is wel het gebrek aan
Men moet bedenken dat de afstanden niet alleen groot zijn maar dat er
meestal geen wegdek is (soort van verharding als je mazzel hebt). Een
ritje van honderd kilometer kan algauw een uur of drie vier duren.
Naast het ontbreken van het wegdek zijn ook de Ethiopische busrituelen
niet bevordelijk voor snel vervoer. Allereerst als de busdeur opengaat
dan perst iedereen zich snel mogelijk in de bus. Dumpt zijn of haar
spullen (en dat is meestal veel) op en onder de banken, gaat dan weer
naar buiten of blijft heen en weer lopen. Na een tijdje kijkt degene
die verantwoordelijk is voor de bussen (de meeste bussen zijn
particulier) of de bus vol genoeg is. Is dat het geval, dan gaat hij
de kaartjes controleren en diegene zonder kaartje wordt er uitgezet
met als gevolg dat we weer moeten wachten tot dat de bus vol genoeg is.
Meestal rijden we na ongeveer een uur.
Gisteren een tochtje naar Jijiga gemaakt. Deze reis ging anders. Bij
aankomst op het station kregen we een voorkeursbehandeling. Er werd
een plek voor ons vrijgemaakt en de bus was al snel vol. Dus rijden
De bus was vol met vrouwen op weg naar de markt in Jijiga. Hun
belangrijkste handelswaar was ' qat'. Schijnbaar levert dit spul meer
geld op in kleinere plaatsen. De sfeer in de bus was gezellig. Een
jonge man vertelde zijn verhaal en een groot deel luisterde
aandachtig, lachte om het verhaal en soms werd er geklapt. Onderweg
werd een aantal keren gestopt en was de bus snel gevuld met kinderen
die hun spulletjes (koekjes, limonades en pinda's) aanboden. Na zo'n
tweeenhalf uur waren we in Jijiga.
Maar daar gebeurde iets vreemds. We stonden te praten met een groepje
jongeren om te vragen wanneer er weer een bus terug ging. Toen
verscheen er een agent die de jongens sommeerde om weg te gaan en ons
vertelde dat we mee moesten naar het politiebureau. Waarom? Met een
opmerking over 'not free to travel' moesten we het doen.
We volgden de agent door de straten en wisten gelijk al niet meer waar
we waren. Op het bureau aangekomen werden we ontvangen door een agent
die ons vriendelijk vroeg wat we hier kwamen doen. Dat vroegen wij ons
ook al af. Hij belde een inspecteur die vroeg: ' Wat kan ik voor
jullie doen?' Ja dat weten we niet. Dus wij vroegen of we een 'permit'
nodig hadden en of er beperkingen waren. Nee, niets van dit alles. Dus
we konden weer gaan.
Eenmaal terug in het stadje hebben we de markt bezocht. Charles was
met zijn camera een attractie. Steeds als hij een foto had genomen en
dat aan de mensen liet zien, had hij een grote menigte om zich heen
staan. Dus elke vijf meter stonden we weer een kwartiertje stil. De
markt zelf had weinig te bieden maar het was wel leuk om er rond te
kijken en afentoe te praten met de mensen. We hebben een glas
kamelenmelk gekocht (vet met een branderig smaakje)en wat gegeten.
Rond een uur of twee maar weer eens richting bus.
En dat ging even anders dan gepland. De bus was nog bijna leeg en het
duurde tot een uur of vier voordat het vol was. Tegen half vijf gingen
we eindelijk rijden. Maar algauw brak er een ruzie uit. Een aantal
gillende vrouwen zat elkaar in de haren. Wat de reden was bleef voor
ons een geheim. Een van de vrouwen greep een, nog gevulde,
conservenblik en was van plan omdat maar als projectiel te gebruiken.
Na een tijdje was de boel weer wat gesust. Maar toen was er nog een
groep vrouwen die weigerden te betalen en gilden alsof ze gekeeld
werden. Met de gebruikelijke stops en de controles op gesmokkelde
waren (i.v.m. grens gebied van Somaliland) duurde de rit uren. Toen
het eenmaal donker werd, ging het nog langzamer. Om acht uur 's avonds
stapten we uit: vijf uur in een bus en dat voor slechts 1.40 Euro per
persoon: dat noem ik nog eens waar voor je geld!

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