Saturday, February 1, 2014

To the Shores of Lake Awassa.


A cluster of Sidama buildings.

Road trip! It was a leisurely start today. We have to make it from Yabelo to Awassa before day's end but it's not a long drive so no need to rush. Even with the bad roads here, it's just around a 5 hour drive, with stops included.

After breakfast, I got my suitcase from the room, left the room key with at the reception desk and headed out to the parking lot. No one else was there so I found a spot on the hotel's wrought iron fence to sit on. It was high fence with concrete base that was maybe three feet in height - perfect spot under the shade of a tree. On the other side of the fence was a local bus stop. As I sat there, absorbed in my own thoughts, I heard someone behind me. From the voice, I could tell it was a man though I did not and never did, turn around to look at him.  He was trying to have a conversation with me but I was not in any mood to talk to him but I did not want to be rude either so I gave short, terse responses to all his questions which included the usual ones about whether or not I needed a guide.  Of course, he could arrange for anything I needed, including accommodation.  Uh....I'm already at a hotel and a guide and a driver and a car.  Of course, he could do better.  Don't think so.  I then told him I was leaving Yabelo today and had no need for any of his services.  He wanted to know where to and I told him Addis.  Then, out of the blue, he wanted to know if I wanted to marry him.  What the....?!?!  I was stunned but quickly and firmly responded back, "no".  He then continued to talk on but I had lost my patience so I just ignored him.  Thankfully, Jean showed up and I turned my attention to her and as soon as it was obvious we were lost in our own conversation, I could here him walking away.   Oh, the unexpected experiences you have when you travel!

Today,  Pat and my suitcases went in to the trunk of Car 1 - we're back with Masai and Netsanet!  I'm happy to report that Masai was much better today - barely any coughing.

Pat opted to sit in the back - she has replacement knees and so she prefers to sit in the back so she can stretch out her legs when they start to get stiff.


I don't know about Masai and Pat but I'm pretty certain that Netsanet is not a morning person and I'm pretty quiet in the morning as well.  There was little chatter in the car as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot and made our way down the road.  By now, we had long grown accustomed to the scenery - all the towns started to look the same days ago and even the herds of livestock blocking the roads were no longer a novelty to us. 


In no time though, we had all fully woken up and the chatter and laughter resumed in the car.  Again, Pat and I made it our mission to embarrass Netsanet which generated a lot of interesting conversation and fun moments.  This time, he also had questions for us which we graciously answered....it's the least we could consider all that we've put him through :-)

Our drive from Yabelo to Awassa took us into the Sidama region of southern Ethiopia; an area that is well known for its coffee.   We arrived into a small town around mid-morning and parked outside a small hotel - seemed like a very nice place.  Some folks used the facilities while Pat, Gale and I headed to the hotel's restaurant to enjoy a cup of coffee especially when it costs 7 birr - just a little more than 30 US cents.  Same cup at Starbucks will cost you at least $1.45 USD!

Pat and Gale enjoying their cups of coffee. In Ethiopia, it's typically served almost as an espresso.

My coffee served in a little mug like cup.  A little bit of froth on top but no milk.  I need heaps of sugar to counteract the
bitterness and then I enjoy small sips. This cup was especially flavorful - had hints of chocolate in it.

Back on the road, we drove through a comparatively lush landscape than either Yabelo or Turmi.  It's a amazing how drastically it can change considering we had barely traveled 100 kilometers.

Front row seat was the perfect for capturing road videos!

Although the road we were on was fully paved, it was badly marked with potholes.  I love how Masai drove to avoid them :-)  Luckily, there was little oncoming traffic.


At one point we pulled over because we had arrived at another tribal village - this time for the Sidama tribe.  The fruit vendors were waiting for us!  The pineapple looked so good - it was hard to say no.  In fact, the fruit was so ripe that when Netsanet pressed into it, a spray of the juice hit Pat on the face!  She burst out in giggles.


Fruit buying over, we all got out of the cars and followed Netsanet across the street and down a small embankment.  There was a small cluster of very cute looking mud homes - very large thatched roofs and leaves affixed to the exterior - gave the walls a fuzzy look!


I loved the squatty, fuzzy looking homes with their thatched roofs and mud façades covered with leaves.

Us and our Ethiopian Swarm.  Tourist to Swarm ratio about 1:2.  This was a comparatively gentle swarm - more just kids
acting as kids and less as persistent beggars.

By now though, I was "villaged out".  It's the same thing that happens to me when I visit churches - after a while, they all look the same and my interest has waned.  We did get to go inside on of the buildings and I was surprised at just how spacious it was on the interior - much larger than any of the other tribal homes we had visited.  It was also remarkably clean - well, as clean as a mud home could be.  I don't recall seeing a pen for animals inside the building and the kitchen was set off in another area....in the back section of the building, if you will.  The back entrance opened out to a grove of false banana plants.  It was actually quite a lovely home.

We spent a few minutes in the kitchen and then headed out back where Netsanet gave us more insight into the tribe.  He read to us from a very interesting manual that a friend of his is authoring - it basically describes each of the Omo Valley tribes.  Unfortunately, it's still a work in progress so we can't buy it.

To me the Sidama were like the Ari - a much more urban people than say, the Mursi.  They are predominantly farmers though they do keep some livestock.  Their main crops are coffee and false banana - we were standing in a grove of the plants as Netsanet spoke.

Every village we went to, Netsanet was like a magnet for the young boys.

It had been a few villages since we've encountered young girls.  Here, they were definitely curious about me.  There is not etiquette about asking before you touch so as I stood, listening the Netsanet, I felt fingers gently pulling on my hair....no hard tugs, more like just holding a few strands between their fingers and then running their fingers down the strands.  At one point, I turned around and the girl who had been holding my hair quickly darted to try and hide behind her friends.  Of course, she knew she had been discovered.  I smiled at her and her friends and then turned back to listen to Netsanet.  By now though, I had long lost track of what he was saying.  I once again felt fingers.  This time when I turned around, she had not darted away so I took my fingers and touched her hair.  Hey, monkey see, monkey do! :-)  That elicited giggles from her and her friends.  I smiled and so I followed touching her hair with touching her skin and then I let her touch mine.  More giggles.  If Netsanet was still talking, I didn't know.  I really didn't want to be rude to him so I turned back and paid attention until he was done speaking.  Then, it was back to the girls. 

Soon, several of my tour mates and more of the village kids got to playing - it's always fun to interact with the children!  Before we knew it, it was time to go.  The Swarm accompanied us back to the cars and I swear, if they could have, they would have jumped inside for a ride!  We said our goodbyes as we tried to shut our car doors without crushing any fingers.

Back in the car, we continued our journey towards Awassa.

One of the things I enjoyed about the car rides was the music.  Masai, Danny and Negatu each had their own tastes.
Masai was definitely less pop/rock and more traditional Ethiopian music which I grew to really appreciate.

Lots of greenery in this part of Ethiopia. Nice change of pace from the arid landscape we had spent so much time in.

Avoiding more potholes.  Lucky I don't suffer from motion sickness :-)

Not a whole lot of cars here.  I think mainly tourist vehicles.

Always something for sale along the roadside.  Here, it was woven, straw goods - popular in this part of Ethiopia.

)
.....and then there was no paved road.  Later, Masai told me we had driven an estimated 2900 kilometers on this trip of which an estimated 1800 kilometers were on unpaved roads!  And that's just in the south....not considering all the unpaved roads we were on in the north!

Flash forward a couple of hours and we've arrived in to Awassa.  It reminded me a bit of Bahir Dar but larger.  Netsanet got us checked in to our rooms at the Haile Resort, a very swanky place (compared to the other places we've stayed at), located right on the shores of Lake Awassa.  Our rooms weren't quite ready yet so a few of us had to wait.  I was busy uploading photos to Facebook so I opted to wait for the last room.  The rest of the day and night was free time for us.

View of Lake Awassa from my hotel room balcony.

After I got settled in to my room, I met back up with Pat and we took a short walk along the lake shore.  There was small boat dock from which some fisherman were hauling in their catch The hotel has a little drink stall by the shore so I bought Pat and I sodas and we took a seat to enjoy the view.  It was a very warm afternoon but the drink, view and conversation more than made up for the heat!


We didn't hang around the lake shore for too long because it was hot.  On the way back to our rooms, we bumped into Gale, sitting poolside. She had the right idea!  I had also brought along my swimsuit and was momentarily considering joining her. 


Back in my comfortably air conditioned room, I took a good shower - I think several layers of dirt came off me.  It was nice to put on some clean clothes.  I then did a bit of reading, writing and watching TV to pass the time before dinner. 

I watched the sun set from my balcony.

The sun may have been dropping over the horizon but there were still fisherman out.  I wondered what kind of fish they would catch among the grasses.

Dinner was a buffet meal in the hotel restaurant and I have to say, it was quite delicious.  I guess after days of eating pasta with vegetables, anything but that would be tasty.  In any case, I ate a big meal and I enjoyed every bite of it!!

Tonight, I repacked my suitcase.  I can't believe it but tomorrow, I'm flying home - I'll wake up in Awassa and the next time my head hits a pillow, it will be back in my bed in Silver Spring!  It's going to be one hell of a long travel day so I'm going to try and get as much rest as I can tonight.

As I close out this posting, I can't help but feel a bit sad that I will shortly be leaving Ethiopia.  This trip has far surpassed any of my expectations - I will forever have fond memories of my time here!

Goodnight from Awassa!