Friday, January 24, 2014

On the Way to Arba Minch. Meeting The Halaba.


Halaba children and women waving us goodbye as we leave their small compound.

Today was another long day's drive. Our guide had set our expectations that our trip through the south would indeed involve a lot of road trips. I love road trips so I don't mind at all.

Speaking of our guide, we finally got his name! Pat had him write it down in her notebook and he had him pronounce a couple of times. His name is spelled Netsanet but it's pronounced "Net-sahn-yet". It took a day but at least now I don't have to keep referring to him as "our guide".

It was an early morning departure and by now the kitfo that had filled my belly all day yesterday was now pretty much out of my system and I was ready to eat.  Before leaving my bungalow, I enjoyed taking in the view of Lake Langano from my terrace.  It was beautiful morning to be out.

I left my bungalow for the dining hall a few minutes early.  I didn't make it down to the beach but it was nice to just gaze out over the water.

Sun rising over the lake

View looking back into my bungalow.   I really sitting out and just enjoying the view.

Superb Starlings, with their gorgeous iridescent blue and turquoise colored feathers were flitting about the hotel grounds.

I had a v-e-r-y filling breakfast with a good cup of tea to wash my meal down with.

We headed out right after breakfast - cars were fully loaded up with all our luggage.  Netsanet had told us that we would be rotating cars on a daily basis. Those sitting in Car 1 would move to Car 3, Car 2 folks would move up to Car 1 and we would be in Car 2 etc. Seemed so unnecessarily complicated to me so Pat, Jean and I just got back into Car 3.  We like each others company, Negatu is a good driver - we're enjoying ourselves.  Pat got the front seat today - we'll take turns doing that.

Pat checking her luggage in trunk of Car 3.

It was nice to back in the same car and chatting with the gals.  So far, the road has been excellent i.e., fully paved with no pot holes. This morning, I was sitting on the sunny side and at times, I have to admit, I just wanted to close my eyes and take a rest.  Of course, I did take a few photos of the world we were making our way through.

Donkey drawn carts and people walking - such a common scene that after a while, you don't even notice it any more.

This part of Ethiopia is populated by Muslims.  We passed quite a few cemeteries - recognizable by the moon and crescent
atop the tombstone....and they were very colorful tombstones!

Lots of small towns and villages filled with ramshackle buildings. To say that Ethiopia is a poor country is an understatement.

We also passed by a lot of village homes like this one - circular mud buildings with thatched roofs.

About two hours of driving later and we had arrived at a Halaba compound.  The Halaba (also spelled Allaba, Alaaba) are a large (estimated population of 204,000) indigenous people that call this region of Ethiopia home.  The Halaba are known for their painted houses or as they are known here, toukouls.  We got our of our van and while we were greeted some very friendly children, they were not like those who had swarmed around us yesterday.  The Halaba children, especially the girls with their shaved heads save one wisp of hair near their forehead, were just adorable.  Underneath the layer of grime and torn and tattered clothing were some pretty happy children.

Before we entered into one of the houses, we took a few minutes to wander about the grounds.  We were basically in a small compound, not really a village.  The homes were situated quite close to the main road but luckily, there's enough land around for the kids to run around and play.

The circular mud homes with their neatly trimmed thatched roofs, had murals painted on the exterior.



We followed Netsanet inside one of the homes.  There was a raised platform area for seating and sleeping, a separate area for cooking and a small for baby animals.  The woman who lived in this house definitely kept it clean, as clean as mud house could possibly be.  The walls were again painted.  The woman told us that she pays a person to come and do the painting - it cost her 1000 birr (about $50 USD) which is a king's ransom here!


Netsanet gave us a bit of background about the Halaba which for me, promptly went in one ear and out the other.  Why?  Because I was seated close to the entrance and a few of the kids plus some young men had gathered around - they were just curious about us and what was happening inside the room.  I just happened to lock eyes with one of the young girls and she started to play hide and seek behind the legs of one of the young men.  As Netsanet spoke, I found myself quietly playing with the girl.  But to avoid being completely rude, I did turn my head back to Netsanet every now and again.  He's a very serious guide. But he is going through an adjustment period.  It is difficult to all of a sudden be thrust into a group that already has bonded for almost two weeks so it will take him time to get used to us....never mind having to remember each of our names!  Hopefully, we'll get him to loosen up.


The poles that look like they're springing out of Netsanet's head form the central
support for the large domed roof.

Sam sitting next to the woman who owns the house.  She was very friendly, patiently
answering all of our questions - Netsanet was the interpreter.

A calf, munching on a bit of hay, in the pen.

We didn't spend much time inside the home.  I'm sure the woman was relieved to see the strangers leaving.  I thanked her on my way out.


Netsanet gave us a few more minutes to wander about the compound before we had to head back to the cars.  It's hard to not play with children who are happily running around you.  One of my favorite moments was when Judy, the former teacher, interacted with a small group of children. What ever she said, they mimicked back perfectly. I caught a bit of it on video and even though it's fuzzy video, it's still priceless!

Children hear, children do.  Too cute!

As we stood near the cars, the happy kids bid us farewell with a round of clapping.  Just makes you want to pick them all up and bring them home with you!


After we waved the kids goodbye, we got back in the cars and continued our ride.  Our final destination for the day would be the town of Arba Minch where we would be spending two nights.  But for now, it was back to the road. Chatting with Pat and Jean helped to pass the time. 

More views of life in this part of Ethiopia.  The men wear these unusually tall top hats called qoomita.

Buildings are constructed from whatever materials are available.

Less than a hour's drive after leaving the Halaba compound and we had arrived into a small town where the weekly Halaba market takes place.  We all love markets so a stop here was a definite must.

Before we even had a chance to get out of the cars, the Ethiopian Swarm was already there to greet us.  Mainly young men including a boy who kept trying to sell me sewing needles.  He followed along as we headed towards the heart of the market place.


African markets are not pretty places - they are as ugly as the towns they are located in; ramshackle buildings and trash everywhere. Hygiene is not high on the list of concerns.  All that being said, I still enjoy wandering through them - very curious to see what sells here.  We had entered the market by the grain section so piles and piles of the stuff were everywhere.  Vendors use large scales to weigh out quantities.

I tried to take video as discreetly as I could but it was a challenge, especially when I had members to the Ethiopian Swarm all around me and tugging on my sleeves to try and get my attention.....like I hadn't noticed them :-)

Hill of Sand.....the boy was trying to show off his best martial arts moves.

Another bit of video.  See the little girl carrying the wood?  She was as curious about me as I was about her :-)

A young boy was selling sticks of sugar cane for 10 birr.  I had seen people chewing on them so I decided I wanted to try it.  I bought one stick and in two seconds realized it was not so easy to bite into as every other Ethiopian had made it look.  So, I asked Netsanet if the boy could cut the stick into more manageable bite sized sticks. Netsanet decided to do the cutting himself. 


I ended up with a few shorter and thinner sticks but damn, this sugar cane was tough!  It took all I had to bite of a piece and just as much jaw might crunch down on it to extract the sweet juice.  After a few bites, my jaw was too tired to continue so I gave up the rest of my cane to one of the Ethiopian Swarm.  Next time, I'm just going to drink the extracted juice; I'm a wimp.


The Ethiopian swarm accompanied us back to our cars. That young boy trying to pawn sewing needles had been with us the entire time.  Poor kid, doesn't realize these tourists were not in need of any needles.  I wanted to tell him to also sell thread - needles without thread are pretty much useless.

Our next stop was lunch. Another tourist meal at a tourist restaurant and another meal of fried fish. The fish is fresh but they do cook it to death here....no subtlety to technique.

I made a quick trip to the restroom before leaving.  On the hallway leading to the restrooms, hung up on a wooden pillar, was a small cabinet stocked with condoms.  I presumed they were free for the taking and I wondered what the heck goes on in this restaurant that the owner feels the need to offer condoms.  Hmmm.....glad we're moving on.


After lunch, which was a late lunch, it was straight to the town of Arba Minch and our hotel which would be the final stop of the day. 

Our nicely paved road had given way to unpaved road.  It looked like they're building an entirely new section of road.....all by hand. 
The workers were hauling dirt and stones around - no machines in sight.

We rolled up our windows to keep the dust out.  Negatu turned on the air conditioning.....it was a warm afternoon.

Our offroading days would begin this afternoon!

The landscape also started to change.  Banana trees shared the land with acacia trees.

Zebu or Brahman cows, with their distinctive humped backs, are the common domesticated cow here.

We arrived into Arba Minch in the late aftenoon.  It's a decent sized town and somehow it reminds me of Bamako.  The town is riddled with unpaved roads and our hotel, Swaynes Hotel, was located just off of one of them.  The hotel is perched high on a bluff, overlooking a narrow stretch of water called God's Gate which is convergence point between Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo.

Netsanet got us checked in and I followed my porter to my bungalow/room.  Very basic accommodation - the room was a good size, the bed comfy and the bathroom large and clean.  The bungalow had no electricity at first.  I waited til it got dark and external lights came on to reset breakers in bungalow. No luck. I headed up to Reception Desk to report the issue and the man behind the desk said he would look in to it.  Walking about the grounds, I found a seat on the hotel's terrace and enjoyed an early evening view of the two lakes.  There were quite a few other tourists on the terrace.  Apparently, the Swaynes Hotel is one of the better tourist class hotels in Arba Minch so on any given day, there are multiple tour groups staying here.

On my way back to my bungalow, I bumped into the receptionist who told me that the electricity was back in my bungalow.   Unfortunately, it was not.  Whatever he did to try and resolve the issue did not work. I had noticed a few of the bungalow around mine looked to be unoccupied and I even found one that had the door open.  I knocked on the door and when there was no reply, I walked in. It was obvious that no one was staying in the bungalow.  I turned on the light switch and the lights came on.  

On my way to the hotel restaurant for dinner,  I stopped by the reception desk to tell the guy that the electricity had not come on in my bungalow and asked if I could move to another bungalow.  His response was to tell me that 1) the electricity issue was due to overload and 2) that there were no bungalow were available both of which I knew were not true.  He then offered me a candle which I told him was not acceptable because I cannot charge up my devices using a candle!  I'm ordinarily very easy going but I was not all all pleased with the receptionists responses which were basically bullshit so I decided to have Netsanet talk to the guy.

By now it was time for dinner so I decided to not worry about the electricity issue and instead headed to the restaurant to meet up with the rest of the group.  It was a buffet meal and blah....I am not enjoying the food.  It's become a matter of eating to fill the stomach not satisfy the taste buds.After dinner, I mentioned the problem of no electricity in my bungalow to Netsanyet - I told him what I had done to test it out and the fact that I even found an available bungalow.  He followed up with the receptionist and to make this already long story shorter, I got another bungalow....the one that I had walked into and turned the lights on in.   Hah!

I thanked Netsanet and said goodnight.  I spent the rest of the night doing some laundry, taking a cold shower, and writing some notes for this blog post writing.  It's a warm night - there's no ceiling fan and the only windows are the ones that face the walkway that connects all the bungalows.  For now, I've thrown open the curtains as far back as I could and still maintain some privacy.  I drew the mosquito net around the bed and am hoping that I did a good job.  I'm just about to pop into bed.  Tomorrow, we have a busy day ahead of us and I definitely want to get a good night's rest.

Goodnight from Arba Minch!