Sunday, February 2, 2014

Homeward Bound.


Pink Flamingos at Abijatta-Shalla National Park

This will be a bittersweet day for me. More sad than sweet because it's the day my trip to Ethiopia comes to an end and I'm going home. Don't get me wrong, I love my home but I love to be on the road just as much and when a trip is as fun as this one has been, you just don't want it to end!

It's going to be a very long travel day today as we make our way back from Awassa to Addis by car and then from there, I catch a plane that will take me back to Dulles and from there, SuperShuttle to home!  Essentially, I wake up in Awassa, Ethiopia and I go to bed in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA!

I had set an alarm but was up well before it and the wake up call from the Front Desk.  The first thing I did was to go out on to the balcony and look at the view.  What a pretty sight though the clouds had me wondering whether or not we would have rain today - there has not been a drop for the three weeks I've been here and though I would rather it not rain, the land could use it.

Early morning over Lake Awassa.

Breakfast was in the hotel restaurant.  I had a very nice omelet (made to order), some toast and tea.  Happy belly.

I made it to the lobby before everyone else and spent a few minutes checking email and updating my Facebook status.  The latter has been my way of letting friends and family all know that I'm still alive and doing well - they all worry about me because I'm in a place that is soooooo remote......to them.

After checking out of the hotel, we headed to the fish market in Awassa.  I love fish markets.  They are gritty, dirty, smelly but for me, always interesting places.

From the parking lot, we walked towards the water which was of course, Lake Awassa.

A row of food stalls, serving up freshly caught fish, located near the lakeshore

Fishermen gathered around the boats.

Marabou stork, a scavenger bird.  Tall birds but not very attractive.

On his own little island :-)

Catch of the day.  Looks to be some sort of catfish.

Men, boats, fish and storks - typical scene that morning.

Had to capture the some of the sights and sounds at the water's edge.

There's always crowd when a catch is hauled in.  In this case, it was tilapia.

To one side, there was large concrete slab where men were fileting fish.

Sit, stand, whatever position you're comfortable in to filet fish!

One guy just fileted the fish on the ground.

Not only was he fast, he didn't even have to look down at what he was doing!

On our way back to cars, I walked by to check out the food stalls.  There was a lot of fish being fried!

I told Netsanet I wanted to try some fish.  By sheer coincidence, there were two men he recognized, sitting and having their meal.  They invited me to have a bite of their fried tilapia.  I tell you there is nothing better than the sweet meat of freshly caught fish!  The skin was crisp and the meat was still piping hot.  I took a couple of (big) bite and just did a light dip into the berbere sauce.  It was so good.  Had we had time, I would have ordered a whole fish and sat down and eaten it all!

Whole fried fish.  Damn good!

Our road trip back to Addis took us next to Abijatta-Shalla National Park.  Netsanet had told us we would be in for a nice surprise but he wouldn't tell us what.  I am dying to find out!


Just inside the park's entrance, we were greeted by a small flock of ostriches.  It's the first time I've ever seen ostriches let
alone in the open - there was no fence around them at all so they were free to roam about!

They have a reputation for being feisty so I kept my distance.

At the entrance, Netsanet picked up a park ranger.  We followed the two guys on a short walk in to the park.  It was warm but still a beautiful day for a walk.  I will miss seeing the winter silhouette of the trees here.


Then, we stopped because someone had spotted animals moving around in the bush.  Turned out to be a few of the Grant's gazelles that we had seen yesterday.  They were quite a distance away from us but close enough that I could easily take a photo of them.  We all tread quietly to not scare them away.



After the gazelles, we got back into the cars and drove further into the park.

It was a bumpy ride but we were in good hands with Negatu at the helm. 

It seemed like we drove for quite a bit of time before the sight of water came into view.


The drivers parked the cars  quite a distance from the water's edge.



As I got out of the car and put my foot on the ground, it crunched beneath me.  That told me we were at a salt lake.  But it wasn't until I walked to the edge of the water that I realized what was so special about this lake.  There were thousands of pink flamingos feeding near the shore!  There were both Greater (Phoenicopterus roseus) AND Lesser Flamingos ((Phoenicopterus minor) feeding alongside each other.  It was quite a sight and turned out to be the surprise that Netsanet had in store for us!!





Panoramic view of the flock and it was as a large flock!


Curious me.  I wanted to get a closer look at some of the birds so I started to walk towards the water.  Few steps in and I was walking on mud.  I don't know why I didn't think the muck would get worse so I kept walking.  Next thing you know, my entire shoe is in the mud.  I managed to get back to shore but there was no way I could wear my shoes until I got them cleaned up.  I stopped walking and took them thinking I could walk barefoot back to the car but that was not a good idea either because the crunchy ground was painful to walk on.  So, I shouted out to Pat to ask her to get me my rubber slippers which I conveniently store on the outside pocket of my suitcase.  Of course, she didn't get that part and first and the next thing I know, she and Negatu are carrying my suitcase towards me!  I explained a second time and this time she got and came over to me with my slippers.  These are the same Malaysian rubber slippers that I trekked through the Dogon country of Mali in and ever since that trip, they have come with me on every trip.  Oh....such misadventures I have - never a boring moment traveling with me!

They were a shade of light blue when I started the trip.  By the end, they were dusty blue :-)

While we waited for the others to return to the cars, I tried to get as much of the mud off as I could and then put the shoes inside a plastic bag to carry. 

It was late morning by the time we arrived to Lake Ziwaye.   Along our walk from where the cars were parked to the pier, I stopped and washed my shoes.  A young boy came over to help me - very nice of him.  We squatted down in the water and used our hands to scrape of the mud.  The whole time, he had a smile on his face - seemed like a very nice kid.  I tipped him for his efforts - good to encourage them to work for their money instead of asking for handouts.

Bath and laundry time!

Sam doing what he loves most.  Videotaping.  He's capturing Netsanet telling us more about Lake Ziwaye.

Horses, Marabou Storks, and Great White Pelicans.  I'm going to miss seeing the animal life on a daily basis!

Lunch was the next to-do on our itinerary.  We ate al fresco at the Bethlehem Hotel in Lake Ziwaye.   Netsanet had promised that he, Masai, Danny, and Negatu would join us for a final meal together.  It would be our opportunity to collectively thank them. We also agreed that we would each tip Netsanet individually.

Last night, we had decided that we would pool our tips for the drivers into a single kitty since we had taken turns riding with each and it would have been too difficult to remember how many days each of us rode with each driver. So, we're giving them one lump sum and leaving it up to them to divvy it up among the three of them.  This morning, I asked Sam if he would do us the honor of saying some nice words about the guys and handing over the tip.  Thankfully, he agreed.

At the table with Danny, Negatu, and Masai. 

Sam tried to use the menu to hide the money til he could give his speech but I think Masai figured it out :-)

Sam giving his speech.  He truly said some very nice words to the guys and they most certainly deserved the praise!

Then, it was Netsanet's turn to receive his compliments.

Before we ate, I washed off the mud on my shoes. They're blue again.

After lunch, it was a straight drive back to Addis and the Jupiter Hotel.

Last view of Ethiopian landscape.  Sad to be leaving.

Belay was there to greet us and while Netsanet got us checked in, we gave Belay the two thumbs up on how great a time we had all had on this trip.

Belay had arranged for us to get four rooms to get cleaned up in and ready for our homeward bound flight.  That was a great idea.  Pat and I shared a room.

After Netsanet handed over the keys to us, we all said our goodbyes and gave him our tips. He got hugs from everybody.  I will miss him - we had a lot of fun in the short time we were together.

We had some time to kill before dinner and Pat had earlier asked if we could go together to buy more of the roasted wheat snack that I had picked on our last visit to Addis.  So, we set out from the hotel and headed back down the same street looking for the snack stall that we had previously visited.  I don't know if it was the time of day or day of week but most of the stores were shuttered up.   We were about to give up when we passed one stall and noticed the vendor handing over a bag of the snacks to a customer.  Exactly what Pat wanted so she got her bag!

On the way back to the Jupiter, we saw Masai having a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  We still had some time to spare so we decided to join him.  It was nice to have some one-on-one time with him and get his impressions of some of the places we had been to and tribes we have visited with.  Unfortunately, we couldn't stay long as both Pat and I did want to make sure we got back to the room in time to do a bit of repacking and then check out.  We didn't have to say goodbye to Masai quite yet as we would see him shortly.  Oh....and two cups cost me 10 birr - so cheap; the other place had charged me 30 birr!

Apparently, Belay had asked Masai and Danny to hang back to drive us to the restaurant for dinner and then to take six of us to the airport - Sam, Judy, Gale, Marianne, Pat and I were all leaving on the same flight; Jean was flying later in the night, and Carol was staying back an extra day.  Jean decided to not join us for dinner so we said our goodbyes to her in the lobby.

Dinner was back at the same Kitfo/Cultural Dance place that we had been to for Robert's last meal here.  Neither Carol nor Sam and Judy had been so it was a nice treat for them.  

Group shot taken by Belay.  A bit fuzzy but a nice memory.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes to Carol and then headed off to the airport.  We had plenty of time to go through security, check in (Pat and I checked in together so we could get side by side aisle seats), go through immigration, another round of security, and then lastly, stand in line to get a colored dot on our boarding pass that basically tells us what boarding group we're in.  What a process!

Shortly before landing, I went to look for Sam and Judy to say goodbye.  Pat followed and next thing you  know, Gale and Marianne had also come by.  We wished each other safe journey and to keep in touch!   When we landed at Dulles, the others had to go another way as they were transiting.  I told Pat I would see her later  - I plan to not only keep in touch with her but to also visit her in NYC.  I gave her a really big hug before waving goodbye.

I'm home.....and happily reliving my days in Ethiopia!  Amazing country, unforgettable animal life, stunning scenery and above all, warm and friendly people.  This was an awesome trip!