There And Back Again
My commute to work on Friday was again disrupted by an Ethiopian Orthodox saint. Given that every day of the month is a special day for someone or other disruption is fairly likely, but this was Tekle Haimanot whose church is right on my route. Both the church and the road was thronging with white-clad people coming to honour him. Some 800 years ago towards the end of his life Tekle Haimanot hung out in a cave a couple of hours’ drive north of Addis and brought a new meaning to the concept of getting legless. He stood up for so long (apparently) that one of his legs fell off, and he then stood on the other one continuously for seven more years. For four of those years he didn’t drink anything, and all he ate were leaves at the weekend. So I think his special celebration was well-earned.
Last week you left us having a short break in the Bale Mountain Lodge with Gary and Peggy after an eventful 600 km drive including 31 speed bumps and an off-road adventure through a river. The Lodge was a surprise in many ways. The food was notably British – we had shepherd’s pie one night and fish and chips the next, possibly attributable to the fact that the owners are a British couple. It was very cold, considering it’s at roughly the same altitude as Addis but nearer the equator. So those of you who know her well can imagine Chris’s delight when we retired to our room after dinner to find a fire burning in the small wood burner that each room was equipped with, and a hot water bottle tucked into the bed. The most amazing thing though was how they obtained their electricity in this extremely remote location. A good kilometre away, up some rough terrain and through dense rain forest, they have built a small hydroelectric generator just for the lodge, and we explored this the following afternoon, in the rain. There’s a partial dam across the stream rushing down from the plateau above; a few hundred metres of pipework through the forest sometimes buried and sometimes on concrete pillars carries water to a concrete reservoir that then sends the water steeply downhill through another pipe to the turbine and thence back into the river. 22 kilowatts of electricity makes its way down a cable that is sometimes buried and sometimes on supports over streams through the rain forest and back to the lodge. The construction of this took a year, and all the materials were hauled up the hill and through the forest – by donkeys. Once we’d seen this astonishing small engineering project what had previously felt like an extremely expensive room charge (even allowing for the generous discount for residency card holders) now seemed very reasonable. It was a very worthwhile afternoon walk, even allowing for the large ants crawling up inside my trousers and biting me on the legs whilst standing in the rain as our guide explained what a parasite tree is.
The morning before visiting the generator we’d taken a short walk through the lushly green rain forest to a roaring waterfall buried in the trees. Look:
Peggy loves markets, and to her great glee she discovered the tiny local village had one that lunch time. After returning from the waterfall we headed off (Peggy and Chris as happy as Larry; Phil and Gary kicking and screaming) to admire and possibly purchase some local produce. I was happy to stay by the car and stop small boys crawling underneath to dismantle it while Chris and Peggy sought out honey and coffee. Chris declined to buy any coffee off an amazingly old lady who was topping up her bag of green coffee beans by cracking open the shell of the dried cherry and extracting the seed (the coffee bean) – with her teeth. One by one. Bean by bean. Neither did we buy any of the honey that was stored in dirty plastic containers having been extracted straight from the hive complete with a buzzing cloud of angry bees. Peggy bought several kilos of coffee beans and some honey in a tub from the small shop – a much more sensible plan.
Sadly we didn’t go out on the evening drive to hunt for local animals. Had we done so we would have been privileged to bump into a very rare female Abyssinian lion. I did however fly my drone from our room’s small veranda off towards the mountain that looks like a man sitting on an elephant when, 250 metres or so on its way, it suffered a terminal equipment failure. It plunged out of the sky into the shrubbery and out of sight, fortunately just short of the rain forest. I ran off to hunt for it while Chris, concerned there may be lions roaming free, alerted our guide who came and joined the hunt. We eventually located it and discovered one of the four motors had ripped itself out of the plastic shell, probably because some idiot had forgotten to replace the two screws removed when the rotor blade protectors had been taken off for storage. Oops.
After another warm cosy night courtesy the wood burner and hot water bottle we headed off to Hawassa, the journey again punctuated by a 4x4 trip through a river and 31 speed bumps. We spent the night in Haile Gebreselassie’s hotel by the lake before dropping Gary and Peggy off in Ziway the next day and heading back to Addis. The new motorway is much quicker and makes trips south so much easier. However this brand-new, fenced-in toll road still carries its hazards. Like a bride and her entire entourage of possibly 30 cars parked up in a layby and spilling out along the hard shoulder and on to the carriageway. She was glistening resplendently in her white wedding dress as she was photographed – on the motorway, miles from anywhere. Also, after the toll booth approaching Addis there is a beautiful new 6-lane dual carriageway with an enormously wide central reservation that’s extremely inconvenient for local people to cross. Hence you have to be careful – at any minute, rather than take a long detour to cross to the other carriageway a taxi, a motorbike, a donkey-drawn cart or even a small truck may be heading towards you the wrong way down the outside lane. After all, the road’s half empty – so why not use it? Why not indeed. Ethiopian logic.