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Csaba

Ethiopia TR - June & July 2013

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Csaba

This trip report is for a backpacking trip I took between 19th June and 17th July. I wouldn't recommend this time of year as it's during the wet season. I had an exam in June so I couldn't leave earlier. I'm cross posting the TR on a forum with a lot of backpackers so some of the info might be particularly relevant to most people on here. If it isn't you can look at the pretty pictures instead of reading the text :)

 

The main aim was to see the the four main endemic mammals, Ethiopian wolf, gelada baboon, mountain nyala and walia ibex. The Bradt guidebook is the one that gets recommended on most forums. It seems to be reasonably accurate however, a few things were out of date. Nature of the beast I suppose.

 

All of the panoramic shots were taken with a Panasonic FT20, most of the landscape shots and the long range wildlife shots were taken with a Canon SX500 and the close range wildlife shots were taken with a Canon 450D and a 55-250mm lens. I'm making a half hearted attempt at learning to use the DSLR and Photoshop properly so any criticism of the wildlife shots would be appreciated.

 

The day after landing in Addis Ababa I took a 10 hour bus trip from the Merkato area of Addis to Dinsho, which is on the outskirts of the Bale Mountains. One thing to watch out for is Ethiopian clocks are weird, 0600 is 0000 Ethiopian time. My ticket said 1130 and the bus was scheduled to leave at 0530.

 

The bus station was a God awful crowdy, muddy mess containing umpteen different buses in no logical order. If one of the locals hadn't taken pity on me and located the correct bus I would still be looking for it. Bus workers generally want a “service” charge for loading your luggage onto the roof rack so its a good idea to make sure that you have a few small notes before going to the bus station. You also find that people hang around bus stops, grab your bags off the roof before you've managed to get off the bus then demand money for “service”. They also try to carry your bags for you. This gets very annoying very quickly.

 

The government run buses tend to be OK. They're like something out of the stone age but overcrowding is kept to a minimum and most of the staff are friendly enough. Overcharging tends to be limited to short changing you for a couple of birr. I tend to let this slide as it isn't worth the time or hassle to argue over £0.10. The private minibuses are another matter. Overcharging foreigners is very common and they jam as many people as possible into them. On one trip I ended up in a 12 seater that had over 20 people in it. I was convinced that I would break my leg if the bloody thing crashed as it was completely locked in place. The driver also tried to charge me 2.5 times the normal rate for the ride.

 

When I reached Dinsho the manager of Dinsho Lodge intercepted me at the bus stop and took me to the park office. I was told that I would have to do a 6day/5night trek if I wanted to get to the main wolf habitat (Sanetti Plateau). I found this quite surprising as Bradt stated that it was possible to get there and back in 4 days. I ended up going for the 6 day trek as the wolves were my main target species so I didn't think that I had much choice. I wouldn't recommend Bale Mountains for someone that is primarily interested in hiking as the scenery isn't particularly interesting

 

It ended up costing 4500 birr (NP fees, camping fees, cooking equipment, guide, two pack horses and two horse handlers) plus food and tips. Obviously it would be a fair bit cheaper if you went in a group as a lot of the costs would be divided by the number of group members. My guide stated that some of the costs were due to increase in July. Bradt recommends having your own tent as facilities within the camp are minimal. In my experience this is correct.

 

The next morning one of these characters pinched half of my breakfast.

 

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This little bugger got some as well

 

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Bale Mountains – Day 1, Dinsho to Fincher Habera waterfall

 

Most of the start of the trek was over farm land so it wasn't particularly interesting. We reached the campsite at Fincher Habera waterfall by 2:30. Bradt states that it's possible to hike to Web Valley as a day trip from Dinsho stopping at the waterfall for lunch so it may have been possible to add this onto the trek without adding any additional days to the itinerary. Web Valley is supposed to be good for seeing wolves so it's definitely worth investigating.

 

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Apparently this bird is endemic. Looks like a duck to me.

 

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I got a decent look at a spotted hyena through my binoculars but it moved behind a hill before I managed to get a photo. My guide said that they're pretty rare in this area.

 

The waterfall next to the campsite

 

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Bale Mountains - Day 2

 

Some baboons that moved reasonably close to our campsite in the morning:

 

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Again we reached the campsite in the early afternoon.

 

Bale Mountains – Day 3

 

We reached the camp site by 1pm. By this point I was getting annoyed by the early finishes. The hiking was easy so I always felt like I could have gone a lot further. Additionally once we had set up camp I had to make my own entertainment. I expected to have to amuse myself for part of the day due to the language barrier, that's why I had Game of Thrones and a torch with me. I didn't expect to have to do this when there was 5 hours of daylight left.

 

A hare that was running around close to camp:

 

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Bale Mountains - Day 4

 

Within half an hour we reached the Sanetti Plateau, 10 minutes later we saw our 1st wolf. Why did no one mention this yesterday? Admittedly the weather was horrible for most of the previous afternoon. However, I had come prepared for heavy rain and had walked much further in the opposite direction to take a look at some oddly shaped rocks.

 

Over the course of the next 45 minutes or so I saw 5 wolves. Depressingly this means that I've seen around 1% of the population.

 

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The plateau

 

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Couple of hares (fox food!) that were running around.

 

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Couple of cranes. I was moaned at for spending too long taking photos as it was starting to rain.

 

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We reached the camp site by 1pm again. This was irritating as we had walked straight over the plateau without stopping unless we saw something interesting. It would have been nice to spend a lot longer in the area where the wolves were active.

 

On the plus side the scenery around the camp site was very nice.

 

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Bale Mountains – Day 5

 

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Bale Mountains – Day 6

 

We got back to the lodge pretty early. I didn't mind the early finish this time as I wanted to get out of Dinsho without spending an additional night there.

 

I saw a red bushbuck, some more warthogs and loads of mountain nyala around the lodge grounds.

 

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On the penultimate day of the trek my guide told me that he could call the “bus broker” to arrange transport to Sheshamane. I took him up on the offer. The bus turned out to be an HGV. I was worried about this as it is illegal for truck drivers to pick up foreigners. I'm not sure if this is a big deal as the police stopped us three times. On each occasion they checked the driver's documents then sent us on our way. The truck itself wouldn't be road legal in a developed country. The turning circle was larger than an oil tanker's and the way we veered across the road whenever we had to avoid livestock suggested that the tyres were bald.

 

Aside from his dodgy music and internal décor tastes (red furry roof, steering wheel and gear stick) the truck driver was a nice guy. He dropped me off next to my preferred guesthouse and shared his lunch with me.

 

 

Arba Minch

 

The next morning I got the bus to Soda then straight onto Arba Minch. I got scammed here. Someone standing by the bus door asked me for 20 birr for what I assumed was the bus fare. As soon as I got onto the bus someone else asked me for 40 birr and gave me a ticket. Turned out the 1st person was just some random kid asking for 20 birr :). A spotted hyena ran in front of the bus then alongside it for a few seconds. I was on the wrong side of the bus so I didn't get a good look at it. Still a fun sighting though.

 

I arranged a trip to Lake Chamo and 40 Springs through someone called Andu that was friends with the owner of the guesthouse I stayed in. He had a fairly annoying “you're in a special place as you're booking through my best friend” routine but he seemed nice enough otherwise. We agreed a final price of 1300 birr, which was a fair bit more than I expected as Bradt stated that a trip to Lake Chamo should cost around $30. However, it was consistent with the prices offered by the other tour operators in town. The trip ended up costing 1470 birr as there were a couple of park fees that he 'forgot' about.

 

I expected 40 Springs to be crap. My expectations were met. I only went as the price increase over visiting Lake Chamo on it's own was minimal. It's meant to be fairly good for seeing monkeys. However, I was there at the weekend so there was a bunch of school kids listening to music and playing in the springs.

 

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I caught a glimpse of a colobus monkey but didn't manage to get any photos.

 

It turned out that the Lake Chamo boat ride was run by Paradise Lodge. My assumption is that it would be cheaper to cut out the middle man and book direct with them. The lodge is a bit out the way but the scenery is stunning so it's worth taking a look.

 

The boat ride itself was lots of fun. It lasted for around 2.5 hours and the driver was very friendly and good at spotting wildlife.

 

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This croc was massive. The boat driver thought that he was over 5 meters.

 

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Csaba

Simien Mountains

 

At this point I took another 10 hour bus ride to back to Addis then a flight to Gondar. It's worth noting that internal flights are considerably cheaper if booked inside Ethiopia. My flight came to around 1100 birr. If you book online it costs 3228 birr.

 

When in Gondar I met a couple of Americans that were planning a trek so we joined up and headed to Debark together. Katie had a plane to catch so she did a 3 day trek whereas myself and Chris did a 4 day trek. This increased costs slightly as it meant that we had to take 2 scouts. We didn't bother with a guide or any pack animals. I don't think a guide is necessary as the scouts know all of the paths. However, pack animals are a good idea if you aren't comfortable hiking for long distances with all your gear and food. For myself and Chris it came to around 1000 birr for the scout, cooking equipment, park fees and a car ride part way into the park. It costs 10 birr to camp or 80 birr to stay in the lodges. They're pretty basic but fine for a short stay.

 

Simien Mountains – Day 1, Debark to Gich

 

I think most people hike from Debark to Sankobar. We took a car part way into the park then hiked to Gich due to Katie's tight schedule. The car ride was 1000 birr so it was reasonable between three of us. It's worthwhile taking a car into the park as most of the first day is usually spent trekking over farm land.

 

Gelada baboons are everywhere. It got to the point where I didn't bother taking photos unless I saw something of particular interest.

 

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We met a researcher from a university in Switzerland who was measuring sediment levels in the river. He stated that the government is planning to move a lot of the farmers out of the area. Judging by the amount of farmland we saw that'll take some doing.

 

When we got to the lodge we found out that we didn't have any cooking equipment. We had been assured that the scouts would have it but someone messed up somewhere. After a bit of negotiation with the lodge owner he agreed to let us use his gear for 80 birr.

 

 

Simien Mountains – Day 2, Gich to Chennick

 

This was easily the best day scenery wise. It's meant to be a good route for spotting ibex but I didn't see one :(

 

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Our scout. I turned round to see the gun pointing at me more than once :)

 

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On the plus side we had a wolf come within 20 meters of the lodge. I was cooking dinner at the time so I didn't have my camera ready unfortunately. It was easily the best wolf sighting of the entire trip though. An hour or so later we heard a few wolves yapping at each other in the surrounding hills. This crappy shot taken with the SX500 at 40X zoom is the best I could manage.

 

Wolves aren't seen particularly often in the Simien Mountains so we got lucky.

 

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Simien Mountains – Day 3, Chennek to Sakobar

 

We were mist locked for most of the morning so I didn't get any decent photos. Shame really as what we could see of the mountains looked very nice. One of the perils of visiting during July.

 

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Simien Mountains – Day 4, Sakobar to Dinsho

 

No photos from this day as we were caught in a thunderstorm of biblical proportions.

 

Both myself and Chris agreed that we should have done a 5 day trip. If you stay at Chennek for two days you can climb Mt Bwahit, which is supposed to be good for Ibex.

 

 

Gondar

 

When myself and Chris got there we found that all of the hotels in the town were booked out as it was the university's graduation weekend. We ended up renting an apartment from the night manager of the guesthouse we had planned to stay in. It consisted of two rooms, a bathroom/shower and a kitchen/bedroom/living room. I think that he is fairly well off by Ethiopian standards. It was an interesting change from the dingy guesthouses I had been staying in up to this point.

 

This bird woke us up in the morning. I think it's a type of hornbill?

 

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Photos of the castle:

 

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There's a few other historical tourist attractions. We didn't bother with these as they're located outside the town and we were knackered from the hiking.

 

 

Lallibela

 

As a general rule I'm not interested in cultural attractions, Ankor Watt bored me shitless and I walked out of the Forbidden City after 90 minutes. However, this was excellent.

 

I'll let the photos do the talking.

 

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Axum

 

I hadn't planned on visiting Axum. However, I had a couple of days spare and the air far was £30. I didn't find it particularly interesting. A few photos of the stelae field.

 

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Harar

 

I stayed at a guesthouse overlooking the football field as Bradt claimed that you can see hyenas crossing over it at night. I found this claim to be laughable as it's too poorly illuminated to see anything. You can certainly hear them and the domestic dogs though, wish I'd recorded it now. I say football pitch. It's probably more accurate to call it a bus station and rubbish tip:

 

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Hyena feeding is advertised around town. I'm not sure how good an idea it is to hand feed Africa's 2nd largest predator. Apparently they have hyena feeding traditions going back centuries. If you wander around the town outskirts at night you're nearly guaranteed to spot them.

 

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None of the locals seemed to be particularly phased by this. I saw one adult being chased off by a fairly small domestic dog so the hyenas around town seem to be pretty cowardly.

 

The walled town itself is quite nice to wander around aimlessly. It's like a maze so it's very easy to get lost. However, it's pretty small so if you wander in a straight line for 15 minutes you'll end up at the main road or the wall.

 

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Metehara

 

Metehara and Awash Saba sit either side of the entrance to Awash National Park. Awash Saba's main attraction is a gorge whereas Metehara borders Lake Bewitz. What I saw of the gorge when we drove past seemed nice. In hindsight I could have visited both towns in the same day as they're close together and minibuses run between the towns regularly.

 

Metehara is very close to Awash NP and there's no physical barrier to stop you wandering in. I saw several cattle herders right next to the base of Mt Fantelle. It wouldn't surprise me if I was inside the park boundary when I took these photos.

 

A few people in town claimed to be guides for the park. My guess is that they're unofficial guides that take you in illegally. It's possible to climb the volcano as a day trip. To do this officially you need to go to the park headquarters and hire a scout.

 

The nearby lake is used as a dumping ground for plastic rubbish and cow carcasses. Bradt states that it contains crocodiles and "profuse birdlife". I didn't see any crocs however, there was a reasonable amount of birds and what looked like a monitor lizard. The birdlife seemed to consist almost entirely of marabou storks and weaver birds.

 

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After this I went back to Addis then flew to Kenya. The only tourist thing I did there was visit the National Museum so I can't offer much advice on stuff to do in Addis.

 

Despite the winging in this thread I'm glad I visited Ethiopia. I would like to go back but I don't think I'd do a DIY trip again. Getting around the country is easy enough but I would want to ensure that I maximise time in the prime wildlife viewing spots. At present this doesn't appear to be possible if you turn up and book on the day.

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optig

I loved your report as I'm planning to visit Ethiopia myself. I'm particularly interested in doing a five day trek in Simien Mountain National Park. I've done a lot of research on it. I wouldn't be going around the country myself. Believe it or not: I loved your photos.

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Csaba

@@Csaba

 

Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed your report, as I have enjoyed Ethiopia myself, even if I have travelled in a diffent way (also at a different time of the year).

 

The "red bushbuck" in your Bale Mountain photos is a Bohor Reedbuck.

 

Thanks for the ID. Red bushbuck is what my guide called it :)

 

I read your TR a few times whilst planning my own trip.

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TonyQ

@@Csaba

Thank you for a really interesting report - I enjoyed reading about your experiences and seeing your photos of the places you visited

We are in the "initial thinking" stage about a trip to Ethiopia - to include wildlife and historical interests- and your report has been really helpful in that.

Edited by TonyQ

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Zim Girl

Really enjoyed reading this and I loved all the detail in the narrative.

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inyathi

Interesting report, great to see photos of Gondar, the Simiens, Axum and Harar I didn’t get to any of those places when I visited Ethiopia. Good shots of the geladas as well which I missed out on and even if it isn’t a great shot it’s really good to know that there are still wolves in the Simiens.

 

The hares in your photos are Starck’s hares another endemic mammal species the dark ears in your second shot are very distinctive.

 

I’m sure you already know what some of the birds are but I thought I’d have a go at identifying some of them.

 

The first bird is a thick-billed raven which is endemic to the Ethiopian Highlands

 

Not entirely sure what the next one is.

 

The birds you say look like ducks are blue-winged geese which are endemic to the Ethiopian Highlands their nearest relatives live in the Andes in South America.

 

Some of your other birds are augur buzzard, wattled cranes, malachite kingfisher and Hemprich’s hornbill, hooded vulture.

 

I’m not sure about your first weaver birds at Lake Chamo but I think the ones at the end of your report are probably Speke’s weavers another endemic.

Edited by inyathi

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pault

Really interesting stuff. No way I'd be following in your footsteps transportation-wise - and I'd probably go for different accommodation, but it's great to see what is there is you just turn up - answer "a lot". Gondar and the Simiens, etc. looks like a fantastic little trip.

 

I cried out in frustration at your 1 pm stop so close to the wolves, and then you heading off in the wrong direction. That is really, really annoying, especially since they must have known the wolves were the reason for you being there. Maybe they thought since you'd see them the next day it didn't matter - or even that if they took you to see them that day there would be nothing left for you to do the next day. Hope you enjoyed the roots!! Actually, your landscapes from Bale make it look like a really beautiful place, but from what you said I guess that is just little highlights among a lot of less attractive stuff?

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davidedric

Well, great report and it brought back a few memories. I, too, am a survivor of a Bale mountains trek - just :o. Nearest I've ever come to serious grief when travelling (unless perhaps being driven in Rajasthan!)

 

We were there in the early nineties, just after Eritrea declared independence. It was an extraordinary trip. I haven't looked at the slides in years - I think I'll scan some and see how things have changed. One change for sure - the pillars at Axum were very much all lying down when we were there. :)

 

Dave

Edited by davidedric

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Game Warden
I haven't looked at the slides in years - I think I'll scan some and see how things have changed upload them to Safaritalk.

 

@@davidedric - there, fixed it for you ;)

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davidedric

@@Game Warden It'll have to wait till after the Zaire trip report :D

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pault

@@Game Warden It'll have to wait till after the Zaire trip report :D

 

Lot of patient folks here. Helpful too - we'll remind you in case you forget. ;)

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Csaba

@@inyathi Apparently the number of wolves in the Simiens is increasing slightly. I think we were told that it had gone up to over 70. Not great obviously but any improvement is welcome. Thanks for identifying the birds.

 

@@pault I'm assuming that they thought it didn't matter about the wolves as we would see them the next day. Wanting to stay out of the rain probably played a part as well. To be honest it doesn't seem to be a service oriented country. It's pretty common for the person sitting behind the tourist information desk to finish updating Facebook before putting down the mobile and helping you.

 

The thought the scenery in the Bale Mountains was very nice initially. However, it`s desolate and doesn`t change much so it gets a bit boring after 6 days. For someone that`s only interested in hiking the Simiens are a much better choice.

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