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We retire to the hotel for a long overdue beer with our heads swimming from images of church paintings, beatified saints, living grey bearded white turban druids either squatting or floating in and out of hidden cold chiselled cracks of light with small crosses, staff, muttering words from consecrated books. After dinner the girls call it a day I venturing out for an evening stroll take in the second half of a football match played on a rock hard pitch. I get invited to the local pub up in the village by Ato wearing green.
Yes you’re right: It turns out to be a stone roundhouse up a very stone steep pathway. Opening the door the stone floor is covered in a fine fresh scenting grass. There is no light and no sign of any other drinking regulars. My new-found friend Ato (Mr) Giday orders two specimen bottles of Tej (That’s the mead stuff made from honey) In his early forties he speaks faultless English. With a sweep of his hand he introduces me to a raised ledge where to my surprise are seated six or seven others. Introductions over a few ishee( Ok) later the unfathomable cultural divide is once again a barrier to any mean full communication. Mr Giday comes to my rescue.
The questions start flying. Where am I from? Ireland. Never heard of it. The grass is swept aside > A map. Ishee Ishee. What to I think of Ethiopia? Where have I been? What religion? Do I like the food?
They find it inconceivable that we have driven from South Africa. By specimen bottle two my round the conversation has turned to politics, the price of things in Addis, woman > Home from home. Bottle three Mr Giday promises to take us around the churches again in the morning. The toilet turns out to be Shita Biete and I am sailing three sheets to the wind.
An old codger is pocking me in the side with his walking stick. He seems to be offering his stick to me, but I am not sure. Five pucks later Mr Giday informs me that the stick is a present to whack the dogs on the way back to the hotel. I don’t quite remember leaving or where Mr Giday said his good nights but man was I thankful for the walking stick. In pitch dark I staggered back to the hotel creating enough noise to arouse very pair of four-legged ivories in hearing distance.
Surprisingly I awake relatively unscathed. Mr Giday is awaiting us in the dinning room. He breakfasts with us out lying the day ahead. Florence is not impressed with another round of the churches she being bribed with motherly know how.
A long day of detail explanations delivered with grace and genuine pleasure brings Lalibela into true perspective than any text could have done. Mr Giday back in the hotel refused to take any monitory payment for his services. However I insist that he should. He is setting up a private guide company to meet the demands of the expected tourists when the airport opens.
Before taking his leave he inform us that if we wish in the morning at 6am we could visit and witness a druid ceremony in Biete Golgolta an experience we should not miss.
We are all somewhat tired so the thought of getting up a 5.30am to see some whaling druids does not appeal to me. Fanny enthusiasms however surprise us so Mr Giday promises to collect her in the morning. The Hotel also has a group of Amhara woman performing a traditional dance, which according to Mr Giday we should not miss.
Later than Fanny would have liked we sit watching one of the most unusual dance form in Africa. A group of five women stand riveted to the floor with the stillness of startled deer’s. With fixed smiles their shoulders start to shudder in imitation of some sort of exotic mating dance undertaking by our feather friends. Not another muscle moves other than their shoulders, their breasts and necks. The breasts quiver like set jelly while their necks and heads mimic the elastic of any old golf ball unravelling to the rhythm of a rather loud band.
The contrast from rock-hewn churches built by angels too an erotic totally strange dance form makes for an uneasy night sleep.
We awake to find Fanny in a spiritual trance. Her experience has crossed her into another world. The modern world has being left behind. She describes a sensation of being in seventh heaven > A pure and magical event that we lazy good for nothings had missed. In the cold of the new day she had gone with Mr Giday and stood for an hour transfixed by large drums, tambourines, low chanting priests, frankincense, myrrh all swirling and rumbling around stone walls and pillars. She unlike us had lived the calling of Lalibela. Before leaving we visit the market where low and behold she spots Jesus himself sitting under a brolly.
Fanny still in a haze of beatification we slowly make our way out of Lalibela.
We see our welcoming beggar making his way down from his rocky house to the roads edge. He has heard the noise of Williwaw and knows with our new-found Lalibela haloes he will be showered with gifts.
Our route back to Addis passed through Dese the capital of the Wolo province. A sprawling forever town it nearly connects to the next town. We cross the Awash River and start to climb up to Debre Birhan where it’s down hill all the way to Addis. Our six weeks circuit in one of the most beautiful countries of Africa comes to and end outside Paul’ House. He has gone to Dire Dawa leaving a message to join him we are thankful for small mercies.
Next morning I call on the bank to collect my US dollar transfer. After a long wait I am informed that it has not arrived. Fax my Irish bank. They confirm the transfer has being sent > Back to the bank. No we don’t have it > Fax. Reply received with tracer number, and acknowledgement of receipt by recipient bank. Back to bank armed with fax. Line up again in queue. One hour later. “No it’s not arrived.” Blow a fuse. Customer behind me, “You think that’s bad I am the ambassador for Sweden, we are waiting on a few million for the last two months.”
Demand to see the manager > another search > Yes it’s arrived > Problem.
They are without the authorisation of the minister of Finance not able to pay me out in US$. They must pay me the equivalent in Birr. Then I must change the Birr back into dollars. Commission, exchange rates massive loss.
Get into a taxi. Arrive at the Minister of Finance offices > Up to floor four > Open door. Walk in on the Minister. “Have you ever being to Ireland?” Yes.
“Well then you might be aware of what happens when a Paddy looses his temper.”
Explain the problem. Return to bank with letter of Authorisation. Queue. One hour later. Bank won’t accept letter. Ring Minister. State car arrives. Manager red-faced. Queue another hour and half. Teller counts out the dollar bills once, then again and once more for good measure. I recheck count in front of teller.
Hand her a hundred-dollar bill. Change to Birr please (Ethiopian currency). She holds the note up to the light and declares the hundred dollars bill a forgery. I throw a wobbler and all the bills over the counter. Manger Confusion > A recount with each bill scanned by fluorescent light. Having arrived at 8 am I walk out of bank 6.30pm parched.
Very conscious of the wad tucked into front of my jeans I stop at bar. On leaving the bar I start walking towards Williwaw. Coming straight at me and sticking out like a sore thumb is a dude I had seen lurking in the bank. Out of the corned of my eye his accomplice is standing in a narrow lane way. At three paces with fist closed I run on to him. Smack > my knuckles sting. Floored his buddy does a runner. I arrive back to the house with four teeth imprints, a headache, and mammoth dislike of banks.
All the next days’ attempts to secure a passage across Eritrea fail. The alternative of circumnavigating Eritrea by way of Sudan is not on the cards so for all inattentive daydreaming purposes our adventure is all but at an end.
The logistics of arranging homeward passage commence. Fanny and Flo will fly back to the UK in week’s time. After the week I will drive the Jeep to Djibouti ship her home as all attempts to sell her have failed, returning to Addis and fly home. Not difficult.
We decide to spend the last few days with a visit to Awash national park and the Filwoha Hot springs along with a stop over in the walled city of Harer one of Ethiopia’s most interesting cities. We will then go on up and visit our mad Sicilian friend Paoulo in Dire Dawa my set off point to cross the Denakil desert to Djibouti.
Awash park lies in dry acacia savannah land around 200km east of Addis Ababa on the road to Nazert. The road out of Addis has become almost familiar to us, as it is the main exit to eastern Ethiopia. We have already driven it a few times but the landscape still takes our breath away. Dark lava flows stain the sides of the surrounding small volcanic hills while the northern Rift Valley walls shimmer in the heat as do numerous small lakes of the Aris and Bale highlands before the whole lot is swallow up by the Arba Gugu Mountains.
We follow the French built railway line that connects Addis to Djibouti Ethiopian’s only rail line. God only knows how people travel on this sweat box of a train. It staggers and shutters alongside us from one village to the next at walking pace. Yerer an extinct volcano on our left is envious of the smoke pumping from it engine funnel. We stop in Debre Zeyit a railway level crossing town surrounded by lakes with one lake almost in its center. A herd of long horn cattle with a swarm of goats with a liberal helping of dogs are blockading the rail line so we stop for a drink.
As always it’s not long before Williwaw attracts some faranji hysteria so we decide to give a walk around the lakes a miss.
A half hour later we have passed through Nazret (the Ethiopian for Nazareth) where one exams every donkey/horse-drawn cart for a woman and man called Mr and Mrs Jesus.
Another half an hour we arrive in Awash a mangy forgettable small town that clings to a railway station where long-tongued thirsty train passengers quench their thirst. Our journey leaves the road and enters the Kudu valley in search of the Filwoha Hot Springs. An hour later we bump our way across a small river towards a small bunch of Palm trees that surround ice blue water pool.
There is neither a soul to be seen nor any hint to confirm that this is the Filwoha Hot springs but in the searing heat of the day the water looks refreshing and inviting.
Without any ado I strip off and plunge in. I can only describe it as the same experience a lobster must get when it is chucked into a pot of boiling water.
My momentum brings me across the pool where I emerge gasping and glowing red with two testicles that pain like hell. Florence the daughter is in stitches, but suddenly goes quite at the sight of two emerging Ethiopians pointing at my man hood. They are also in fits of gleeful laughter at sight a glowing Irish fool who had being looking all day at volcanoes, lava, and who had now dived headlong without dipping his toe in to test the temperature.
There shrieks of hysterics of course attracted the ever-invisible humanoids within hearing distance. The next commotion comes from Williwaw where my beloved is treating a bloke with bigger knife who has attempted to snatch her handbag. Waving one of our machete she is shouting “You bastard mine is bigger that your.” With my pills stinging we make a hasty retreat all the way back till we arrive on the main drag late in the afternoon.
The entrance to Awash Park is marked by a battered sign and a small hut with an unmanned barrier. It’s difficult to believe that behind the barrier lay a 870 km park supporting 50 large animal species and over 400 bird species.
Our park campsite is up a nine-kilometer long track from the barrier. We see nothing on the way up arriving eventually as what is described in the Bible as a large waterfall carved out by the Awash River.
The Awash River lamely dribbles over a small waterfall as we prepare Pitch No 118 under huge figs and acacia threes our last and final Pitch of our African journey.
Our chosen site although beautiful soon shows itself to be unbearable with visiting insects and those nuance of all nuances our friend and enemy Blue balls him self the Vervet monkey. There is no choice but to move. Pitch No 119 is back up to a rocky outcrop on raised ground giving us a view out over the river and some cool evening breezes.
While Fanny starts preparing the evening meal I get on with now a very tried and tested routine of setting up our roof top tent, beds, nets, and all the other things necessary to make our camp site comfortable. We have not seen a soul since entering the park.
However while walking around Williwaw I get the feeling that I am being watched. During our whole time in Ethiopia we had not associate it with real African Wild life. Now here I was face to face with a young lioness that is more than peeved to see me. In a crouched tense posture sent the hairs on my neck tingling. With my legs wanting to scamper my mind is telling me not to make any sudden movements. Pointing at the rock I slid back around Williwaw and tell the girls to get on the roof. There is no protest as we all clamber up the ladder.
It takes some time and a large campfire for the girls to relax. Dinner is eaten with a douse of reinsurance that we are perfectly safe. The next visitor is just as much a surprise. A game warden asking for our park entrance fee and insisting that we could not camp where we are.
After two camp pitching’s with highly sensitive balls combined with nearly becoming lion fodder, we or I should say I, am in no mood to move in the dark. Our refusal turns our park ranger into an aggressive threatening animal, but he eventually leaves us in peace after being told in no certain terms to piss off
The girls hit the sack on the understanding that I stand watch until I hear them snoring. With the sound of the waterfall I sit with my back to Williwaw sipping a beer and sweeping the rocks now and then with our powerful torch.
Out of the darkness to my left a set of green eyes followed by two more sets announces the return of our lioness with two of her girl friends. All three sauntering pass me without showing the slightness interest in my presence.
Their eyes and silent gait nonetheless sends quivers of nerves up my spine until they disappear in the direction of the river. I retire up the ladder with backwards glances over my shoulder. Sleep comes fitful with tingling pills and gaping jaws.
Next morning early we break camp not to avoid a re visit from our lions but to avoid our less than pleasant game ranger. Arriving back at the park gate entrance we find the barriers down and locked. The rusty chain gives Williwaw bull bars little trouble. We turning right and it‘s not long before we are climbing up the Arba Gugu foothills to our turn off to Harer.
(To be Continued)
Donation News. Still pathetic.
Robert Dillon: Account no 62259189. Ulster Bank 33 College Green Dublin 2.
Sorting Code: 98-50-10.