Although the Orthodox Easter falls on April 12th this year, wouldn’t be respectful not to take some traditional days off to enjoy the Easter break, I mean, the one celebrated in all the rest of the world. Then no chocolate eggs, but a Suzuki Vitara 4WD and a trip on the roads of the Bale mountains to honor Christ’s resurrection! My first surprise is the fact that when Milande lands to Addis (finally together after two months!) everything is arranged and looks like it is just gonna go for the best. The car is hired and the way to go is kinda sorted out. Kind of, because we know almost nothing of what we’re going to encounter, but some discordant possibilities I have heard of. On one hand, bandits, no signals, dangerous dirt roads, impossibility to drive without Ethiopian DP and animals with an innate love for cars’ fenders. On the other hand, breathtaking landscapes, beautiful hikes and all sorts of wild life escorting you along the trip. We decide to take the “risk” and choose for the second one. Hoping our GPS won’t make bad jokes.
After a couple of days wandering around in Addis Ababa, on the 3rd in the early morning we’re ready to go. We need at least 7 hours to reach the closest plateau in Dinsho, but we expect that would have taken way longer. The first km are very smooth, thanks to the super modern three lanes-toll road recently built by Chinese investors to connect Addis to Adama. Out of there we start to see the first animals, such as camels, donkeys, goats and sheeps grazing on the sides, and also the first typical households built with malt and wood, mostly fenced by bamboo gates and cactus. And the landscape starts to get interesting: rocky deserts extend on hills and mountains, and the first villages finally give us an impression on how rural life goes on in the low land. Cattle continuously crossing the streets and people selling all sort of stuff, working, running after us “ferenji” scan our way up to the southern highlands. The pretty well made street connecting Adama to Dodola (actually all the main roads we’ve gone through were not too bad) facilitates local people’s businesses and that’s why it’s everywhere possible to see somebody walking along there even out of the towns.
The upper we go to the mountains, the more we see local habits definitely changing: men and women here move almost exclusively on horses, they are more wrapped in colorful clothes and more engaged in farming. The interest for us remains the same though: some times just curiosity, others we are approached for begging, not always in a “soft” way. But nevermind, the National Park lodge is closer and while seeing the first warthogs we long more and more for a room and warm tibs after almost 10 hours on the road.
The next day in the early morning our guide joins us for a long horse-hike in the northern side of the NP. Besides having the possibility to admire the wide and dry landscape around Dinsho village, we get to see with the first dears, nyalas (the most typical ibexes of this area) and baboons, besides many families of warthogs funnily grazing on the field. That’s just the beginning of a day which will see us ending in a camping site in the Sanetti plateau, the highest and widest in Africa (around 4,000 metres in height!). Strong wind and negative temperature don’t facilitate the journey, but after having cooked some pasta, drunk many coffees and teas and chatting with the guide and two other locals around a campfire we get warm enough to survive the night in the tent.
Our Easter, as anticipated, is again on the road, but just after an amazing 2 hours- hike in the plateau heading to a big lake among the mountains and most of all looking for the Ethiopian wolf, the rarest canid in the world. After going through mossy rocks, plains and lovelia plants we manage to reach the lake and on the way back we also have the possibility to see some wolves wandering around, such an unique show which hopefully won’t disappear in some years, since this breed is seriously threatened of extinction. In the afternoon, the rainy Harenna forest will be our last stop in the Bale Mountains and the landscape, again so different than the previous ones, is simply stunning: cows, tropical trees and bamboo plants make our way to little waterfalls, and we also get an impressive sight of the low land through the clouds. A coffee break in a small village in the forest opens our road back to Dinsho, from where the next day a way longer trip will bring us to Addis again.
But since we would like to see something else than the outward journey, we decide to take a more scenic road, which goes through Shashemene (the Rastafari capital of Africa), and the Langano Lake national reserve. Will be tiring and taking more time to be home, but definitely worth it. Our last effort! After saying bye to the mountain populations, we end up again among more “modern” ones, and Shashemene in particular is such a big urban center, where people look friendly and apparently a bit more used to see white folks. In this area the landscape turns more into a savannah-looking one, but cattle, donkeys and goats never stop showing up on the street to make the trip never too boring. Langano lake is famous for its tea-colored water, and for us backpackers resting for a couple of hours in this sort of touristic beach sounds like the heaven after many hours driving! But the dusk is going to come, and the last part of the trip is waiting to be completed. Quite dramatic, since you never wish to drive in the dark in the Ethiopian countryside. But looking at the people continuously wander around (who knows for how many hours) doesn’t make us feel extremely unlucky in that situation. That’s also something you learn just not being blind towards what surrounds you.
Some final consideration! During these 4 days we have been driving for almost 1,000 km, seeing desertic landscapes, mountains, lakes and forests which almost melt with each other forming an unmatched dreamland. But something which really strikes is how usually people do not consider the time flowing, but just follow their needs and completely adapt their life to them. It’s impressive how many are willing to face the cold and the hunger while wandering, maybe to come back home, maybe to look for better perspectives. On the other hand, many others just spend whole days under a tree or on the border of the street, just waiting for the day to be over. Others again, work tirelessly for their community or spend many hours socializing around a coffee cup: in few words, it doesn’t matter how much time will be needed for something to be done. Such different perspective about time is one of the reasons why Milande and I are having a great time in Africa, as well as why we are planning to see more together in this beautiful continent.
Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens 75-200.