We left Addis Ababa early to avoid the congestion. The traffic can almost be compared to Cairo. We took the less travelled road toward Awash and spent the first night in Butajira then went cross country towards Lake Ziway and onwards to Lake Langano.
The lakes here are a paradise for birds, hippos, monkeys, baboons, warthog and many more wild animals. There are numerous lodges along the way and it was recommended to stay on on the quieter Southern side of Lake Langano at Hora Langano Lodge. I also visited Bishangari Lodge where I had lunch. A slice of heaven can describe these amazing places. Walking under the wild fig canopy with some trees rumoured to be over six hundred years old and the rustle and chirp of the wildlife around puts you on an euphoric alertness. A scurry of rumbling trees as a warthog charges away. Then a wild fig that lands at close quarters, a columbus monkey that’s shying away high above amongst the tree shrub. It’s time for a beer in the tree bar. I wait until dusk to see the hippos come out grazing, they have been spying on me close to the lake shoreline all day.
The next morning it was off to Shashemene which is believed to be the birthplace of the Rastafarian religion. You enter town to find the Rastafarian museum and numerous shops selling memorabilia. I meet an Italian photographer who is doing some work for the UN. He invited me to a Rastafarian party. Beer, music and good vibes took us late into the night. I was even lucky enough to meet one of the twelve tribe leaders and had some really interesting in-depth conversation about their religion and way of life. I got back to my tent at the Rift Valley Hotel. They had kindly allowed me to pitch it under the watchful eyes of the night security guard.
It was an early ride out to find the ten thousand flamingoes on one of the crater lakes, just next to Lake Shala. This place is currently off the tourist map. A Belgian guy called Jan is busy constructing a lodge overlooking this amazing mass of water filled with pink flamingoes. Herds of cattle make their way to the side of the lake which is more accessible. A nice walk to Lake Shala and a swim in a volcanic hot spring that runs into lake almost completes the day, but not before sunset over the tranquil setting. Jan kindly allowed me to string up my hammock. It wasn’t the thunderstorm that woke me up, but rather the shouts of the hyenas that were having a singing contest in the crater. No doubt feasting on some flamingoes during the night.
I met an Estonian who happened to be walking along the side of the road. Elizabeth works for a school aid project and after some good conversation she told me about a hot spring about 25km away and off the beaten track. So after cycling along a gravel road towards Lake Abaya I found a valley that was as green as our local cricket pitch and in stark contrast to the rest of the dry landscape. There I found water bubbling out of the earth and too hot to sink your toes into. How on earth do the locals manage to do their laundry and wash? So I was more than happy to give one of the local girls some employment for some well earned cash. The kids kept me entertained for the whole afternoon and then it was time to pitch my tent. The electric storm gave a strobe light effect to the inside of the tent and was dramatised with the baboons barking and the whoo whoo of the night owls. No hyenas or lions that I was warned about by the locals. Apparently that’s why they all live at the top of the hill. I assume to also escape the swarms of mosquitos.
We managed to negotiate a good rate for camping at Paradise Lodge in Arba Minch. We needed some downtime and recovery after a few long cycle days. This place really lived up to its name with a view overlooking a mass forest and mountain alongside the lake.
From Karat Konso it was into the Omo Valley region. Some really interesting people live here. Most of the locals carry their machete, AK47 and their traditional headrest/chair, all dressed in traditional attire, but really friendly until you want to take a photograph. The area has recently become flooded with many tourists who have created a market for the locals to receive money for a photo. 5 Birr will buy you one photo. I guess this is one way of keeping their traditions alive.
In this region the kids would be so excited to see us that there were no longer calls of “Farengie money money” but rather “Fr Fr Fr mney mney mney”. The shortened hurried way of attracting your attention.
I’m glad I didn’t find this cobra in my tent
The Omo Valley would not be complete without visiting one of the markets. There are a handful of towns that have a market day on a rotational basis and I was lucky enough to time a visit to the Keyafer market. The farmers come to sell their grain, goats and the more creative sell jewellery, ornaments and head rests.
We finally made it to Omorate, the last town before we left Ethiopia for Kenya. A really nice guy Mike, allowed us to pitch our tents on his compound which is on the bank of the Omo river. Mike runs a solar kiosk, where he uses solar electricity to run a bar. As there is no electricity in town, this is the only place to get a cold beer. He has also arranged for the local guides to bring the tourists to his compound and then coordinates with the local boat ferries to cart them across the river to the traditional villages. Mike has deservedly been granted the land by the local government due to his entrepreneurial skills and forward way of thinking. He is truly an amazing twenty four year old, after a full day’s work whilst still caring for two orphans he decided it was appropriate to send us off on a big bang and he slaughtered a goat for us. The goat was roasted in a traditional manner whereby a big bonfire cooks the chunks of meat which is held spiked and grounded by a pole.
Mike even had a South African flag for us to wave. Five men, beer, fire and meat – awesome!
Ethiopia is a great country to visit. It’s hard work on a bicycle but very much worth the effort. The downsides are the steep climbs and the occasional kid that throws stones at you, but otherwise there are always the downhills, wonderful smiles from everyone, amazing diversity in culture amongst the eighty tribes and unbelievable landscape, birds, animals and nice people.