I See You Baby, Shaking that Ass ...
Sep. 16th 2004
Today we were not travelling onto a new place to sleep so it was nice to be able to leave things at the hotel. The destinations for today were Nechisar, a national park, and the region known as Dorzey.

The Arba Minch hotel overlooks lake Abayo. As we sat eating breakfast, we were treated to some fantastic views.

On the way to the national park we saw a few baboons (zenjiro), although these were quite timid we were to find some rather less ashamed ones tomorrow.

The path into the national park was a dirt track, we stopped briefly at some kind of head-quarters. Outside was a small building containing skulls and skins of all the animals you hoped to see but in all reality stood next to no chance. In fact i'm not sure that there are any cheetahs left so that was a bit optimistic. We had rather more realistically pinned our hopes on seeing some zebras. Especially Jackie because she wanted to say that she had seen a zebra crossing.

We continued into the park pausing briefly to have what looked like lunch and a box of ammunition passed into the lead car. We assume this was in case we saw a warden.

The cars wound their way slowly on a track that was sometimes dirt, sometimes gravel, sometimes in vegetation, sometimes on the side of a mountain. Large dragonflies and small butterflies escorted us into the park as the morning started to heat up.

Our first sighting tucked into the shadow of a small tree was a pair of dik-diks. At least that is what Terri told us. Having just been on a safari recently she was the most qualified in our car (and correct by the way). Firew was in the lead car and could explain to people in that car in more detail. Dik-diks can best be described as grey pygmy deers. They have large black eyes like the aliens in many of today's science fiction programmes. They are also fast and it is nigh on impossible to get a photo of the little buggers. Dik-diks are quite common animals as are guinea foul that would run together as pack in front of the car before one of the birds sensibly thought to run at an angle away from the car so they would all follow.

It wasn't long before we saw our first group of zebras in the road ahead of us. We pulled to a halt. They watched us for a bit and then headed into the scrub. The Amharic for zebra is yemeda aheeya which translates as donkey of the plain.

As we approached the plains we could see large numbers of zebra and we able to get some quite close photos. They didn't seem worried about our presence but we were trying to be quiet by not shutting car doors and the like. Also on the plain we could see gazelle and hartebeast. On the bird front, Corey Bustards were a common sight. And yes, some zebra sloped across the front of the cars so Jackie can now legitimately say that she saw a zebra crossing.

We spent about four hours driving around the park. Probably two hours of which I spent looking for an animal that I could hear squeaking just outside the left of the car. It wasn't actually an animal at all - the steering wheel squeaks. It wasn't a noise you could hear normally but we were all listening extra hard and driving slowly.

Should you be in Ethiopia, the park is worth a visit although Terri said that in no way could it compare to something like the Serenghetti. If you do both, then do Nechisar first! The park has been bought recently by an American. Presumably there will be some effort to reintroduce animals that have been displaced. The fact that American had bought the park was going to be very interesting knowledge in a few days. However, that's another diary entry.

After the park, some of us ate in town, others ate back at the hotel. Although I have no problem with Ethiopian food there isn't a lot of variety. I was glad to take the opportunity of eating Ferenji food. Despite there being little variety at the hotel, what they had was different to what is on offer in Mekelle.

The afternoon took us on a long climb up into the mountains to the region of Dorzey. The cars didn't leave second gear for what felt like 15km. On either side of the gravel road were uncultivated trees. Beyond these were terraced plantations. Every 200m or so there would be a young boy or group of young boys. Most of these would do a little dance in an attempt to get the tourists to pay money. They shouldn't really have bothered with us because our "why aren't you at school?" rule still applies. Much of the dancing involved a peculiar bum wiggle that I am sure we will be showing other VSOs, time and alcohol permitting. Other young boys would be break dancing badly. One tried the falling over trick as the car got close. This was new to me, the children don't do it in Mekelle. It's just a ploy to make you think that they are ill or something. It wasn't very effective and he wouldn't make an actor. His confused face would have made a great picture as the cars charged past him and we waved at him through the dust tail.

We passed brightly coloured cotton stalls on the way into Dorzey town, but it was the market in town that was to be our first destination. This was a large, open market. Although the calls of "you, you, you" and "ferenj" had stopped, I found it very difficult to move in the market. For some reasons the kids had latched onto me more than the others. I walked around the vendors sitting on the ground with an ever growing group of cling-ons before giving up and returning to where the cars where. I can't say I enjoyed this market which is a shame because it looked really interesting. One of the features I missed out on was the old women smoking tobacco through hookahs of some kind.

The route back took us past the cotton stalls so we stopped off and the process of bargaining began. One of the vendors seemed much more switched on to our way of thinking and offered us a sensible price much to the annoyance of the other vendors who basically lost all of their business as everybody bought from this one woman. I hope that she wasn't made to pay in some way later. I wasn't interested in buying anything - I didn't need a shawl, novelty hat, or Dorzey dancing jacket. Jackie bought at least one of each in what would be the start of one woman's mission to buy something of everything Ethiopian. Children had started to gather around us and were asking for things like pens and highland (water bottles). They seemed nice children, weren't too pushy, and we could have fun with them.

We were not the only ferenj or vehicles travelling the steep road into Dorzey that day. So myself, Teriku (one of the drivers) and Rob tried our hand at dancing at the side of the road as the cars went by. Teriku was proving to have a mischievious sense of humour and didn't take his countrymen too seriously. We didn't get any payment but our arse wiggling got a few honks from the passing cars and, of course, lots of laughs from the nearby children.

A little bit further back along the road to Arba Minch, we stopped off to have a look in a house. Firew stopped and greeted an old man that he clearly knew. It seemed that he was some kind of elder and took us to the house of a newly wedded woman. She was extremely shy but didn't seem to have much choice about our invasion. Our understanding was that the man, as an elder, was paid and the money would then go into the community as the village council saw fit. Of course, you worry about the money just ending up in this man's pocket but we came to trust Firew's judgement on these matters. As I said previously, he seemed more ferenj than habesha in many things.

Dorzey houses are large beehive like structures, each one surrounded by a plantation of some kind. The sides and the tall roof appear to be made of woven tree bark or leaves. They appeared to be well made. Firew told us that the top part doesn't get damaged easily but the bottom is sometimes damaged by termites. When this happens they cut all around the bottom and just move the complete hut somewhere else.

The cars wound their way down the mountain in late afternoon, past the ever hopeful, arse wiggling children. At this time of day people are returning home. Again we saw a large number of women carrying awkward and heavy loads strapped to the back. Very few men seemed to be doing this. Just outside of Arba Minch we saw a car wash in action. For a car wash, you drive your car (or bus in this case) into a river and then just throw water at it.

For our evening meal we went back to the fish restaurant and then walked to the hotel. As often happens, we attracted some young men who walked closely behind us. It's not threatening just annoying. We confused firstly by tacking. Terri walks very quickly and to allow other people to catch up started the tacking trend to make her walk a bit further. Our second form of turning this kind of thing around was we started to walk behind them, very close and not talking. They seemed quite relieved when we stopped doing this and they went their own way.

Back at the hotel we met up with a VSO who was just finishing and a volunteer from an Italian organization. The pair were travelling around Africa as an end of placement treat. They were due to head down south on a similar course to us and then into Kenya.