Nechisar National Park - bitten by a tsetse fly
Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
84Trip End Aug 18, 2005
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Since we're moving we needed to pack - up at 5am, meet at 6. Italian dude wants food. Dammit. The whole point of starting early was to get into the park for dawn. But no. To save time, we left the bags in the back, to take them into the park with us and drop them off on our return. Saves us doing the whole signing in thingy while we should be in the park.
We pulled up to the park HQ to sign in and pay the entrance fee. The jolly ranger from yesterday was there with some of his cute-looking brood. As we got to the informal gate further up the trail (a rope draped across the track) a boy materialised out of the undergrowth - the splitting image of his grinning father - and twitched the rope down for us. We are the only people in the park today. Nice.
It was decided that Italian dude would sit in the front, so Stef and I could sit together. Yes, the front has better viewing potential but we were willing to sacrifice that in favour of not having our ears chewed off. Poor Abera had to put up with that, but at least he was getting paid for it. We drove through the forest in the valley, crossing a river and not really seeing much in the thick vegetation. The bridge was interesting -
The verges thinned out as we started to climb and we kept spotting Guenther's dik diks in pairs and occasionally family units. They are the cutest little things - fully grown they only reach 14" high and their noses are long and flexible. They mate for life, so they are always in pairs, unless one has died. If there is offspring then they all travel together. We saw them running off the track into the verge, where they would stop and wiffle their noses.
Toward the top we got a nice view of early morning over Lake Chamo. The road runs across the spit of land between the two lakes - called the Bridge of God.
We saw warthogs running into the undergrowth with their tails held erect, and then suddenly the road flattened, the forest dropped away and we were in Nechisar proper. Nechisar means White Plains, and you can see why - the grasses have light coloured flowers and they appear as a sea of white in the sunshine. At this point we saw something in the distance, so Stef and I climbed onto the roof for a better look over the grasses. When we set off again Abera let us stay up there. Health and safety, pah. I felt this incredible elation being up there, each in a spare tyre, away from 'gobby', with the breeze in our faces and the hiss of the grass in our ears. Not only was the view better from there but we could also smell the park - the earth and the grass and the sun.
Whenever we saw something we would bang on the roof, and Abera would stop. We spotted some kudu - a male with impressive horns and a harem of females.
We spent quite a lot of the time looking at the road in front, watching for little birds, not sure what they were, about the size of small chickens. They would run ahead of the vehicle until they couldn't keep ahead anymore and then they'd flap pathetically into the air off to the side. Presumably to avoid getting their wings caught in the long grasses, they'd tuck them in before landing, and so as we watched, they'd suddenly stop flapping and drop like a stone into the grass. Probably due to the elation as mentioned before, we found this incredibly amusing.
We stopped for a while and climbed off so Stef could take photos of the flora. From a distance the grasses look plain, but they are dispersed with other plants and flowers.
The only problem with being on the roof was that you had to really hold on. The road was bad in places - apparently the rains had been through in the previous weeks and washed a lot of earth away.
Abera said had we come through earlier we wouldn't have been able to enter the park. This is good news for another reason - if the rains have come and gone then we won't have any problems getting through to Moyale.
We were tilted at what felt like 45° at one point, hanging on the side bars and hooking our feet under the slats in front. Also the spare tyres had to be padded before you wedged your butt in them, or else you ran the risk of chipping your coccyx on the valve.
It was all worth it though, for views like this -
Nechisar doesn't have the wildlife of the parks in Kenya and Tanzania, but honestly, does it get better than this? [Having completed the trip I can now say that we decided the scenery here was better than Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania]
We saw guinea-fowl, gazelle, zebra and - highlight - a herd of Swayne's Hartebeest, which are endemic and rather rare (with less than 1000 in existence, the IUCN lists it as "in imminent danger of extinction" and Nechisar is one of only 2 places they are found.)
The picture we have is nothing more than a black speck, but hey.
The Grevy's zebra we saw are also the rarest species of zebra, classified as endangered. So it was nice to see a large-ish herd of them frolicking around.
We drove to the edge of the escarpment, from where we could see both lakes. They really are distinctly different colours. Lake Chamo is the small one, much bluer than Abaya, which is a rusty red colour - due to a high hydroxide content. It is much larger than Chamo - 60km long and 20km wide, whereas Chamo is only about 20 by 10km.
Looking west across to Arba Minch, Chamo is on the left and Abaya on the right, with the Bridge of God in the middle.
There was a ranger station at the top, so we shook hands with them and chatted for a while. It is good that the local people can be persuaded that the park and wildlife are worth protecting, rather than plundering. Then Stef noticed that the grass was crawling with ticks, so we got back on the landrover pretty quickly. With one last look at the fantastic backdrop, we took the road back down into the forest.
I did the usual safari trick - spotted an owl in a tree right by the road, banged on the roof, and by the time we reversed it had gone. Actually, no, we saw it fly off, which vindicated me slightly. I wasn't imagining it. But still, you always feel a bit silly for causing fuss over something that no-one gets to see.
Then we got back inside, since not only is the track a little steep but there are also overhanging branches. We were joined by two rangers with their AK-47s. Somehow, despite the bumpy road, I managed to fall asleep, slumped over on my knees. Stef said he and the rangers were amazed. Go me. I think I am becoming indoctrinated to the African way of life.
I only woke when a tsetse fly bit me. My god, they hurt! I came round to find us stopped down in the forest beside the stream we had crossed earlier. On the bank were some fallen tree trunks and these were home to dozens of small butterflies. They were white with black patterns and blue on the inside when they opened their wings. Waving your hand close to them caused them to take to the air in clouds.
And then back to Arba Minch. What a wonderful morning! We thanked Abera profusely for such a good drive. I think this will be a definite highlight of both Ethiopia and our Africa trip as a whole.
After sorting out our new accommodation - which as well as being cheaper is also close to the bus station so we can walk there tomorrow morning and not worry about early transportation - we took a minibus up to Shecha. The government hotel there - the Bekele Mola - is perched on the edge of the ridge over the jungly forest and has nice views over both lakes and the National Park. We sat there for a while, drinking cold soft drinks and reading up on the south route. We have learnt that there is no bus to Yabello tomorrow. So we will get one to Konso, and see how we get on from there.
Arba Minch means forty springs in Amharic. There are some hot springs you can visit, usually as part of a tour that includes the park and the crocodile farm. We decided we'd walk it ourselves, although we were warned of the risk of getting lost. We figured we'd just go for a wander and turn back when we felt we'd gone far enough or it started to get dark. The path threaded its way behind huts and compounds, where we were greeted by delighted calls of 'farengi farengi'. A small entourage accompanied us as far as the edge of the forest, where the path dipped and we had to scramble down some rocks. The forest below us looked really dense and inviting.
There was a huge range of flora lining the path, Stef was in heaven, and took some lovely pictures.
Some parts had obviously suffered from erosion in the recent rains, leaving large crevasses in the dark earth. A few people passed us coming up from the forest with bundles of firewood or sacks of charcoal. A group of 3 young lads caught up and asked if they could use their little camera to have their pictures taken with us. It was a strange reversal; usually they want us to take the pictures of them.
Finally we turned around as the sun went behind the cliff, and headed back home. On the way we walked beside two small children carrying wood. They were adorable and wide-eyed with disbelief. This only increased when I bent down slightly and spoke to the girl in Amharic. She whispered a reply and then went to tell her brother (?) who evidently didn't believe her, for I heard her repeat the conversation. So much gawping went on that she didn't watch her step and tripped up. I can't imagine what they told their parents when they got home.
And so to bed. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.