Once we leave the main road near Shashemene, the landscape suddenly changes dramatically and we are in the middle of a large forest. We stop at the hot springs of Wondogenet for a quick swim. After this refreshing break we continue our trip and pass through the village of Shashemene. It is a scruffy town. The only reason it is famous is that it is the headquarters of the Rastafari movement. The Rastafari relocated from Jamaica to Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie who they believed to be the reincarnation of Christ. Bob Marley was the symbol of the Rastafari movement. As they are known for their cannabis consumption we decide not to stop (we are traveling with kids after all). In Awassa we have a confirmed booking for the hotel of the world famous marathon athlete Haile Gebreselassie but that reservation gets cancelled the day before because they have used our rooms for conference guests. I am not pleased about it but nothing we can do. We find a room in the Lewi Hotel in the centre of town. in the late afternoon we leave to the lake for the sunset. On the way we visit the market where people are very friendly. The sunset is spectacular and I manage to get some nice photographs.
I am already on my second 4GB memory card and the third day of our trip has only just started. After breakfast we drive to the National Park entrance to get our ticket and pick up our scout. The first lake we will visit in the NP is Lake Abiata. Due to the recent rains, the ground is too unstable for our jeep so we have to stop about 2km from the waterfront and walk. The Flamingos are still relatively far from the lake shore. I get some shots with my Sigma 50-500 zoom but not as good as I had hoped for. On the way back to the car we meet a local farmer with his spear and he lets us practice some spear-throwing. We continue to Lake Shalla where to our surprise we see hundreds of camels. A group of Kereyu boys has been walking the 220km from Lake Metahara to Lake Shalla to let their camels drink near the hot springs where the locals are bathing and cooking their maize. The Kereyu react aggressively when we stop the car and they see the camera so we leave without me getting any good shots. We continue to drive to Pelican Island where we should have seen lots pelicans but grazing cattle have scared them away. In a careless moment I stumble and twist my ankle. Luckily not too bad. We see a few flamingos and then return to our lodge. The plan is to return to lake Shalla in the evening to see the sunset but our children prefer to go swimming in the Greenish water of Lake Langano. So it is just me and our driver that return to the National Park. As it is still an hour before sunset I want to go back to the hot springs to see if the camels are still there. The Kereyu boys have seen us and so I leave my camera in the car. We shake hands and I take my camera out and start photographing the hot springs, our driver and the scout. One of the Kereyu has a cell phone with a camera and starts taking pictures of that strange white woman. They are having fun with laughing about his pictures. A few minutes later I am their friend and they allow me take their photograph and it is great fun. They carry a curved knife and start playing with it. Surprising how things can change that quickly.
The electricity is still not back. The storm must have hit the main power cable as apparently the whole area is without electricity. After a Fresh shower we enjoy our breakfast on the terrace with a nice view on the Awash falls. After breakfast we start with a short game drive before we continue our long drive south. We see besides many birds a few Oryx, kudu, wharthog and a turtle.
The armed Kereyu warriors with their cattle and the ruin of a deserted lodge provide for the more interesting photographic opportunities. Nevertheless I will include a few wildlife shots in this blog.
We head back for Nazreth and encounter some beautiful and friendly people along the road. In Nazreth we stop for lunch. Food is very cheap in Ethiopia at least for us Faranji’s (foreigners). A person you pay about 4 EUR/drinks included.
We continue our way to Lake Langano and make a small detour to Lake Ziway, one of the other rift valley lakes. It is Sunday and there are many people near the lake in addition to lots of marabous and also some Pelicans. We meet two little girls that are carrying a heavy load of fire wood on their back. Nevertheless they are smiling and very friendly. My heart breaks.
In the late afternoon we arrive in the Sabana lodge at lake Langano. It is a popular weekend stop for expats from Addis as Lake Langano is the only Bilharzia free lake in Ethiopia and safe to swim. When we see the sign for the lodge and leave the main road the kids here are rather agressively begging for money or pens. I keep on thinking about the two girls with their load of firewood.
The night before our departure I started counting the days and despite several attempts re-counting I could only get to 15 days. There was thus a mismatch between our itinerary and the number of days we would be in Ethiopia. Luckily we realized it in time as otherwise we would have returned to Addis Abeba on a Sunday afternoon while our flight back to Brussels would have left the night before. We had no problems finding an internal flight from Lalibela to Addis Abeba and that for a decent price of 40 EUR per person. Booking an internal flight on Ethiopian Airlines is best done from within Ethiopia as you end up paying only 1/3th of the price quoted on their international website. It turned out to be a positive as after 2900 km on the road we would be happy not have to drive the extra 700km back to Addis Ababa.
Upon arrival of our night flight from Brussels we were met at the airport by our guide Liben. After a coffee and stopping at the bank to convert our Euro’s to Birr to pay the remaining 70% balance for our trip and Liben fueling the car and dropping the money at his boss’ house we were finally ready to leave Addis Ababa. It was a good idea we changed plans and not drove to Bahar Dar (11.5 hours) which with kids after a night flight would be a stretch. The road to Awash National Park (about 200km East of Addis Ababa) leads us through Nazreth, the capital of the Oromia region, one of the nine regions in Ethiopia, home to mainly the Oromo people. Before we come to the scruffy town of Metahara (home to the Kereyu tribe)we pass by Lake Besseka where the locals are bathing, doing their laundry and cleaning everything from cars to donkeys. The Addis-Djibouti railroad is passing through the lake which together with the reflections provided some interesting photo opportunities. Lake Besseka is growing in size which is causing problems to the railroad and the highway so the plan is to pump water into the Awash river to control the level of the lake. From Metahara it is not far anymore to Awash National Park. After paying our entrance fee we drive another 20 minutes to the Awash falls lodge (constructed in 2010) and located in the Southern part of the National Park. The view of the Awash falls is beautiful and our detached family hut has a nice view of the falls from the first floor terrace. After lunch and a vervet monkey stealing the remaining food we drive back to the park entrance to pick up our armed scout (see below) to visit the Northern part of the park . As we had prepared our kids upfront that the wildlife in Awash NP (the oldest NP in Ethiopia) was not comparable to Kenya and Tanzania they were not disappointed. We walked to the green hot springs in Filhowa (36°C) over a small river (and managed to do so without falling into it). We pass some Kereyu women in their colourful oufits and some armed men with their cattle. Our armed ranger tells me I can’t take their pictures as they may become aggressive (too bad, it would have been great pictures). It was a long drive back to our lodge and it was already dark. We see a few Jackals near the road but it is far too dark to take any decent photograph. We try to have diner on the outside terrace of the lodge but it starts raining and a thunderstorm is coming so we have to move inside and then there is no electrical power anymore. Our headlights come in handy. We find our room in the dark and have a good night sleep. It has been a long day.
To our surprise an armed ranger was required to join us while visiting Awash National Park. The official version is that the ranger is needed to protect us against wildlife. There are however few predators in the Awash NP and they are rarely seen. The most dangerous animal we have seen was the hamadryas baboon. Large troups were sitting on a long cliff and they were only fighting among themselves. Wildlife cannot be the real reason for the need for an armed ranger as in Kenya and Tanzania there was no armed ranger required while there was much more dangerous wildlife around.
I think the real reason was to protect us against certain humans. It appears that back in 2001 there were intense tribal wars between the Afar, the Kereyu and the Ittu tribe which have resulted in many dead tribesmen. The fights have stopped but the wildlife has not recovered. This is also due to the cattle that grazes illegally in the park.
We have seen many mainly Kereyu tribesmen with their cattle and all armed with Kalashnikovs. Not that we felt unsafe at any time.
Our wildlife viewing was limited to oryx, kudu, warthdog, ostrich,jackal, turtles, baboons, vervet monkeys, eagles (and many other birds) but the Awash falls and the Awash falls lodge with views on the falls made the park a worthwhile stop-over.
Awash NP is about a 4-5 hour drive from Addis. It is on the main route to the Djibouti port so there can be heavy truck traffic.