Sunday, June 15, 2008

African Adventure: Southern Ethiopia and back again. (June 15-20)

Current Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Highlights: The Mursi Tribe, chasing a chicken for dinner, and the hunt for petrol!
Upcoming: Departure to Sudan, and visits to Axum, Lalibella, and other religious sites in northern

Our drive down to the Mursi Tribe in Margo Park took two days. We got as far as south of Sodo the first day and bush camped on a quite hill but of course we were discovered at first light by a group of teenagers who gathered around the truck until we emerged from the rooftop tent. By nightfall the second day we made it to Jinka, a small "last outpost" type of town. We tried to find the road which left town and went to the park, but the map in the Brandt guide was wrong, so a local guy showed us. We bushcamped again just outside the park boundaries in a beautiful spot in complete privacy. It's moments like these that seem to compensate for the headaches!

Next morning we headed of to the park HQ where we had an interesting interaction with officials. To cut a long story short, we asked if they had a map of the park, which they said they did not. They said the Mursi tribe was inside the park, then they said they were outside. We asked if we needed to pay the park fees to visit the tribe since they were outside the park to which they replied we did. When we asked why, they changed their mind again and said that the Mursi were inside the park. When we asked where the park boundaries were, they produced a map. Hmm, I thought, just a few moments ago they said they had no map. When they showed us the map, they tried to tell us that Arbor Minch (complete nonsense as it's a town about 300 km away) was within the park boundaries! I got the feeling they just wanted us to pay up! The whole situation was very confusing as there are no signs on the roads saying where the park boundaries are and apparently they only have one map. From the map, it looked like we crossed into the park a ways back and that the first Mursi tribe was in fact within the park, so we paid the fees and headed off into the park.

The park was a beautiful area which expanded across a valley floor surrounded by steep mountains, but unfortunately we saw hardly any animals at all despite reported large herds of buffalo, elephants and all the big cats. In fact they say Margo Park is what Africa was like before colonial times. Before long we reached the Mursi village right on the banks of the Margo river and an EEC funded bridge building project. We
spent the whole afternoon with the tribe. I ended up using the tools we had to fix some of the their AK47 guns and had some friendly interactions with the men who take great pride in their guys. For full details & pictures on the Mursi Tribe, see the special diary entry I posted immediately before this one.

Just before dark we crossed the river to the other side of the park to find a quite place to bushcamp. We drove up a very steep mountain side onto probably the most beautiful plateau I have every seen. This would have been the most spectacular and wonderful place we have camped of the whole trip, but as soon as we reached the top people literally came running out of the bushes towards us. I can't imagine what they were doing up here as it was so dry and desolate. So we had to pass on this incredible spot and find a deserted area back off of the edge of the plateau to bushcamp.

We returned to the Mursi village the next morning and took more pictures before leaving. As we were leaving the park we "bumped" into a guy called William, a Brit who had driven down from the UK in a 4x4 VW van and whom we had met in Addis a week or so previously. So we all decided to go back Jinka and stay the night at the campsite to exchange travel info. Apparently, there was no petrol in Jinka, or any of the towns within about 300 km, and William ended up waiting 3 days for fuel at one point! This was a serious blow as we were depending on getting petrol down here to allow us to visit some more tribes and meant that we had to head back to the town of Arbor Minch which was about as far as our remaining petrol would take us and hope they had a delivery. With the decision to turn back the next day and the prospect of petrol uncertain, Aaron and I decided we wanted some meat for dinner so asked one of the kids if they could find us a chicken.

Rather than bring us a chicken they insisted I go with them to choose the chicken. So off we went into the village until we found a house with lots of chickens running around. I saw one that looked plump and told the kids I wanted that one. It was totally hilarious watching 6 kids chase this chicken around the yard. Finally the chicken ran straight into the house with a kid hot its tail. The kid closed the door and emerged 30 seconds later proudly holding up the chicken. I paid him 7 birr (about 90 US cents) and off we went back to the campsite with our diner. It might sound somewhat odd to go out and catch your dinner, but its the best, if not the only way, to ensure the meat is fresh where fridge's are almost non-existent. Back at the campsite I chopped off the chickens head, paid the kid to pluck the feathers and within no time we had the chicken roasting over a hot fire. It wasn't the most delicious chicken as just about all the meat is these parts is very lean and tough, but it really hit the spot!

The next two days we spent driving back to Addis. We were lucky as Arbor Minch had received petrol so we decided to stay the night at a campsite to "pamper" ourselves in town. Although Arbor Minch is not the most picturesque place, the view overlooking a huge lake and pristine forest from the camping area in the hotel was stunning. It was a long drive back on some nasty potholed roads and we wearily arrived back at Bob & Merlin's house in Addis late at night.

PS We have been reading in the news about impending famine because of drought in Ethiopia. This amazes me as we have seen nothing but heavy rain just about everyday. Of course the famine areas are not this wet, but there is not a lack of water in Ethiopia, there is just no infrastructure to distribute the water.

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