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Ethiopia

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predator

Friday 21st November

 

The trip got off to a bad start as the flight was delayed by two hours. When we finally boarded and took off, the flight wasn’t bad – the service was good and the staff were friendly, but the aircraft was definitely showing its age – my armrest was broken and other things didn’t work properly. The in-flight magazine said they are expecting Boeing 787 dreamliners, but these are running late so they’ve obviously had to keep the old planes till the new ones are ready.

 

Sat 22nd November

 

We arrived in Addis Ababa and after a fairly quick trip through passport control and baggage reclaim we changed our currency to Ethiopian Birr. The notes were a strange mix – some brand new notes and some so filthy that you wanted to pick then up with tweezers rather than your fingers and which were probably only held together by the ingrained dirt. We then went outside and boarded an old-looking coach (but being Africa all vehicles tend to age quickly) and headed off to a hotel nearby to give us chance to wash, shower, change etc.

It was surprising as we drove through Addis Ababa to see goats, donkeys and even cattle walking around the streets. There was a strange mix of buildings – some old and ramshackle buildings, and some brand new modern buildings. Rather than having some run-down areas and some new ones, most areas seemed to contain a mix of old and new buildings next to each other.

Once that was all sorted we headed off on the full days drive to Awash where we were due to spend the first three nights of the trip. We stopped for lunch at a town called Nazret (or Nazareth depending on which version of the spelling you want to use). The hotel where we were stopping was hosting a loud wedding party so we ate outside by the pool. The food was good – as was the local beer. After lunch we had a look for birds around the grounds before boarding the coach again.

The roads in Ethiopia are generally very good tar roads, but traffic is heavy – mainly trucks but also tuk-tuks, minibuses, donkeys and horse drawn carts, as well as a few cars. Overtaking is a bit scary – the policy seems to be that you give a blast on the horn to tell the vehicle in front you’re about to overtake (this is different to the other 200 uses for the horns they seem to have) then you pull out to overtake. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a hill, a blind bend or whatever – you just try it and hope. Luckily our driver seemed very good and safer than most of the other drivers on the road.

 

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We arrived at Awash national park after dark and drove to our camp. This was a surprise in itself as we were expecting a lodge (as per the itinerary) but were actually camping instead. The camp was in the park itself rather than the lodge which was an hours drive away, so the location was better. We stepped off the bus to the greeting “watch out for the crocodile” – our camp was on the bank of the river and a fairly large crocodile was sleeping around 2 metres away from the nearest tent ! Once we’d seen it, the staff chased it back into the river. Dinner was served on a long table in the centre of the camp, and was superb – far better than you could expect someone to prepare on a single camping stove. Typically my torch decided to stop working at this point which made life a bit tricky.

 

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Sunday 23rd November

 

An early start for breakfast and a look round the camp. There were some double tents and some singles, which were fine – except slightly too small for me. The problem with the camp was the facilities – one long drop toilet for 14 people, and the washing facilities left a lot to be desired.

After breakfast we headed off to a park of the park called Kudu valley. The park is divided into two by the main road to Djibouti which runs East-West through the park. Our camp was in the southern part of the park and kudu valley is in the northern part. Nomadic herders take their cattle there to drink despite it being in a national park. Our guide explained that there are two separate ethnic groups of herders and they don’t get on well together so we had an armed guard for our safety. Despite not seeing any kudu, we did see a lot of birdlife and a few warthogs.

We returned to camp for lunch then walked around for a while before the afternoon drive. Unlike most parks in Africa you are allowed to walk in the park. Walking along the river we saw an enormous crocodile sunning itself on the bank, and also saw baboons, vervet monkeys and lots of birds. We returned to the camp at 3pm to find the camp crocodile had just arrived (apparently he comes out to bask in the sun in our camp every day around 3pm).

The afternoon drive was good – we saw Beisa Oryx and Soemmerings Gazelle, although they were not great sightings – long range and in long grass, and we saw a load of birds. We stopped at a lodge inside the park (and were glad we weren’t staying there) for a drink just after dark, then headed back to camp. We saw a greyish eagle owl in the road and managed to get a photo before he flew off. We then carried on back to camp for dinner. Unfortunately Awash national park no longer allows night drives so we couldn’t do a drive later on – driving back to camp after dark is as much as was possible.

 

Monday 24th November

 

In the morning before breakfast we walked from our campsite to the waterfalls around 1Km away then back to camp – pausing to watch baboons and vervet monkeys on the way. After breakfast we headed out on a game drive. While waiting for people to get their stuff ready before departure we got to see how fast and clever vervet monkeys can be – while the camp staff were clearing away the remains of breakfast they kept watch to keep the monkeys away, but just turning away for 5 seconds was enough opportunity for the monkeys to race in, lift the cloth covering the bread, grab a slice and run off to eat it.

The game drive was good – along with lots more bird sightings (Ethiopia is a superb destination for bird lovers) we also got good sightings of Beisa Oryx, Soemmerings Gazelle and dik-dik. At the end of the drive we headed down the main road into Awash town to fill up the bus with fuel before heading back to camp for lunch.

 

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After lunch we had the opportunity to either laze around in camp, or as I chose – walk along the river and look at the wildlife. There were plenty of birds including a pygmy kingfisher sitting just a couple of metres away from the path. On the opposite bank of the river a farmer was ploughing his field the old fashioned way – with a pair of oxen pulling the plough.

The afternoon game drive started with a large troop of baboons close to our camp which we watched for a while as they sat and played by the side of the track. The other highlight for me of the drive was seeing a lesser kudu (my first sighting of one), although it wasn’t a great sighting as it crossed the road and disappeared into long grass a hundred metres or more ahead of the bus.

 

Tuesday 25th November

 

Today was to be a long drive to our next stop – Wondo Genet. We only made it a couple of kilometres before we made our first stop for wildlife or birds. We saw a load of vultures in a tree ahead and to the left of us, then as we drew closer saw a lot more vultures on the ground on the other side of the road. There was a dead spotted hyena (presumably road-kill) which was the centre of attention for all the vultures. It was an impressive sight with vultures regularly taking off or landing and fighting over the carcass.

 

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Later in the day we stopped at a lake where we were able to watch an impressive array of bird-life including fish eagles, marabou storks, yellow billed kites, hammerkops, pied kingfishers and more.

 

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After lunch we stopped by another lake for some more bird watching before continuing the long drive to Wondo Genet.

 

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The roads were all good tar roads till we reached the town of Shashemene – around an hours drive from our destination. From there it was dirt roads which were initially fairly good but the last section was in awful condition – it was a steep climb and water running down the road in the recent rains had gouged out deep gullies down the road. As it was getting dark at this stage it made it hard to pick out the worst bits in the headlights so the ride got a bit rough. Shortly before we reached Wondo Genet we found a cable (electricity or telephone) that went across the road on poles, but which had sagged and was too low for our bus to get underneath. Our guide had to climb onto the roof, lift the cable then stay on the roof as we edged underneath before he could let go of it and climb back down.

Wondo Genet is a lodge that has clearly seen far better days – it has a very run-down feeling and appearance, but despite this it was nice to have a proper bed, and private bathrooms including a hot shower and a flush toilet – luxury after three nights camping. The food was pretty awful – the soup was so thick the spoon stood up in it, and there was so little taste I’d never have known what it was apart from reading the menu. This was the only bad food we had on the trip really.

 

Wednesday 26th November

 

Today was the day to tackle the road from hell – the road from Shashemene to Goba in the Bale mountains. The dirt road is around 190Km long and is being renewed, so in the meantime they aren’t bothering to maintain the existing road – they just build the new one alongside it and if or when they ever finish that then people can start using it. They have a typically African approach to building the road – rather than finishing a section at a time so at least part of the journey could be on a good tar road, they appear to want to finish the entire thing before letting you use any of it.

The journey took us around 11 hours plus an hour or so for a stop for lunch. A long and bumpy drive that we were glad to get out of the way.

 

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We arrived at out hotel in Goba to find there was no power or lighting except for a few lights in reception and the restaurant which were run off a generator. Luckily while we were having dinner the mains power came back on so we had lights in the rooms.

 

Thursday 27th November

 

We set off in the morning up towards the Sanetti plateau. Shortly after setting off we stopped in the forest for a bird watching walk. We then continued the steep climb up to the Sanetti plateau (altitude around 4000m – a long climb from Goba which is around 2500m above sea level).

Once we reached the plateau we saw plenty of rats (possibly grass rats of some type but as there are around 15 species of rats and mice in the area I cant say what sorts we saw exactly), and then saw what we had come all this way for – an Ethiopian Wolf. It was a couple of hundred metres away and was lying down in the sun and after a few minutes it got up and walked off. Knowing how rare the wolves are then I wasn’t expecting much better sightings than this. A few minutes later we got another sighting, this time a wolf was maybe 150m away. We stopped to eat our packed lunches then shortly after our lunch stop we got a good sighting – a wolf maybe 75m away walking along. The day just kept on getting better – we saw a wolf in the distance hunting unsuccessfully and it gradually got closer and closer before crossing the road maybe 30m ahead of us before changing its mind and crossing back again. This was a fantastic sighting – better than I’d ever imagined.

 

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As we started back to Goba we saw another wolf a couple of hundred metres away which was then joined by three others so we got to see them greeting each other.

We stopped to give a ride to a couple of researchers who are monitoring the wolves. Just after picking them up we saw a wolf close to the road. It had coloured ear tags and the researchers were able to identify that this wolf had been tagged around 20-30Km away in the Web valley several years earlier. They also told us that there are 29 individual wolves in the area where we were so for us to have seen 9 of them in one day was a pretty impressive feat. Packs range from 3 to 12 individuals. There are around 360 wolves in the entire Bale Mountains national park.

Apparently the wolves aren’t worried by vehicles but are scared of people on foot or horseback – presumably because people on horseback or foot are the local livestock herders who regularly take their livestock to graze in the park.

 

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Friday 28th November

 

Today was the second and final day for wolf spotting. We again started the day with a bird watching walk and also managed to see some colobus monkeys before we continued the drive up the steep road to the Sanetti plateau.

Once on the plateau we saw a lot of rats and also a number of giant mole rats. These are difficult to see as they rarely leave their holes and instead just stick their heads up for a few minutes before disappearing again. These along with the other rats and mice form the bulk of the diet for the Ethiopian wolves. We also saw several hares.

We had another great day for wolf spotting, seeing one in the distance then shortly after that seeing one closer hunting and watched as it caught and ate a rat.

 

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After lunch looking down over the Harenna escarpment we saw two wolves together walking along looking for food. We then saw another wolf successfully hunting for a rat. As the afternoon drew to a close we saw another wolf close to the road. Overall we had two fantastic days with sightings of 15 wolves including two successful hunts and some great close views – far better than I could ever have hoped for.

 

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Saturday 29th November

 

Today started with a drive to Dinsho and into another part of the Bale Mountains National Park. This area is home to lots of Mountain Nyala and Meneliks Bushbuck. We went on a guided walk for around 90 minutes and got views of a few bushbuck, and some incredible views of Mountain Nyala which seemed to be absolutely everywhere we looked. These kudu-like animals (they are part of the same family) are very impressive – particularly the males with their huge curly horns.

 

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After leaving Dinsho it was time for the long drive over the road from hell back to Shashemene and on to Lake Awassa. The drive was actually a lot better this time – several hours shorted, as we did the worst parts in daylight and were mainly going downhill (as Goba is a lot higher than Shashemene) which made a big difference.

We arrived at Lake Awassa after dark (as we had arrived everywhere after dark so far on the trip). The lodge was quite pleasant with working power and lights – although the lights had a disconcerting habit of dimming and brightening at random intervals as the power seems slightly erratic.

 

Sunday 30th November

 

The day started with a walk along the lake shore (accessed via a gate from the lodge grounds) looking at the bird life. After breakfast we drove to a nearby fish market. This was an amazing experience. It was noisy and chaotic as fishermen landed their catch and the fish were gutted on the lake shore, and fish were being bought and sold alongside the catching and cleaning activities. Through the middle of the throngs of people, marabou storks strutted looking for scraps, and birds including cormorants and kites were everywhere feeding on scraps. There were also loads of kids who pestered us constantly asking for money. They’d also throw scraps of fish for the birds so tourists could get good photos (for a fee obviously).

 

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Away from the main fish market area we found loads of colobus monkeys in the trees as well as a few vervet monkeys. We also saw a large monitor lizard clinging to a tree which was almost invisible at first – it just looked like a lump on the tree.

 

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We then headed to lakes Abijata and Shalla. Lake Abiata is home to a large number of Flamingos and was like Lake Nakuru on a smaller scale.

We also stopped at a sanctuary for Grants Gazelles and saw a number of them. There was some confusion as some looked to be Thompsons Gazelles but these were actually young Grants which can look similar to Thompsons Gazelles. The confusion was only resolved by me studying my photos on my return home and checking the reference books to find the identifying features to prove things one way or the other – they all turned out to be Grants Gazelles.

We then headed to our final lodge at Lake Langano. Our bus was unable to get along the last 12Km of road (although the signpost said it was only 6Km), so a minibus was waiting to transport us. Because there were 14 of us plus bags then there would have to be two trips. I went in the first run along with all the bags, and the ones left behind decided to walk partway rather than wait at the bus. We eventually made it to the lodge after dark as the road was pretty bad. Our tour leader was quite worried as half the group were now walking along a strange road in the dark and we weren’t sure if they had torches. After dropping us off the minibus raced back to get the others. The lodge is an “eco-lodge” so no mains power etc – just solar powered lights and solar heated showers. The paths were lit with oil lanterns. The food was excellent but the rooms felt gloomy as the lighting really was inadequate – it spoilt the entire atmosphere, and the solar heated showers were awful – ice cold. The camp staff recommended running it for 10 minutes to heat up (didn’t work, and goes totally against the eco-theme of saving water).

 

Monday 1st December

 

The day started for some with an early morning bird walk before breakfast – but for me I took advantage of the opportunity for a nice lie-in (the only chance for one on the whole trip really)

After breakfast we went for a walk through the woods around the lodge. As well as birds we saw squirrels, lots of baboons, and lots of colobus monkeys. We also saw some enormous spiders which had built some massive webs across the paths.

 

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In the afternoon we went for a walk to part of the lake to look for hippo. We saw one in the distance and also the biggest monitor lizard I’ve ever seen – 1-2metres long. We were standing watching the hippo and birds through binoculars when someone stepped too close to where the monitor had been lying unseen. It then raced past all of us so fast none of us got a photo – we just got a hell of a shock as this enormous monster raced past us a couple of metres away.

 

Tuesday 2nd December

 

Our final full day in Ethiopia was spent driving back to Addis Ababa where we were to spend a night in a hotel near the airport. We stopped on the way at Lake Hora to look at the birds, then carried on back to Addis ababa.

The hotel was a welcome sight as the dinner menu was not the standard Ethiopian one. Almost every lunch and dinner on the entire trip had been grilled fish (Tilapia) with rice, which was quite nice but after a couple of weeks of having that every day we were all glad to have the chance to eat something different.

 

Wednesday 3rd December

 

A late start by Safari standards followed by a short drive to the airport for our flights home. The duty free shops were cheap but didn’t take Ethiopian Birr, and the bank was closed (although a couple of people found another one hidden away to change money back).

 

Overall this was a great trip. Accomodation is very basic, but is perfectly acceptable. Don’t go to Ethiopia if you want luxury – there isn’t anywhere for you, but if the accommodation isn’t your main concern then it’s a country well worth visiting.

Food is monotonous but is healthy and tastes fine. The local beers were good – St George’s was particularly good, but Harar beer was less impressive. Beer was cheap – typically 50-80 pence (UK) per bottle.

The roads are generally good except for the road to Goba, but the new road will make things a lot better in a few years when its finished. Until then it’s a long drive but is well worth it for sightings of the wolves.

Wildlife: Ethiopia is a bird-lovers paradise. We saw over 300 species including 10 or more endemics (I cant remember the exact count but the tour leader is going to be sending out a detailed list as some of us didn’t keep ours up to date).

For mammals, the density is lower than say Kenya but there are plenty of mammals in certain areas, and the trip was worth it just for the Wolf sightings.

I’d like to go back to Ethiopia in the future and visit some of the other areas – particularly to see the rock churches and other cultural sights in the north of the country.

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Guest John Milbank

Thanks, pred...interesting.

 

I've always imagined Ethiopia has awesome landscapes...descriptions I've read tend to present that image. Did you find it so?

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predator

The landscapes were impressive, particularly on the road to Goba and around the Sanetti Plateau. In other areas we saw semi-desert, woodlands, wheat fields, maize fields and more - quite a variety.

 

A few landscape shots...

 

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(the mandatory safari sunset photo)

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predator

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twaffle

Some great sightings of the wolves, they are really beautiful. It is interesting to read about other people's visits to these not so well travelled countries in Africa as it is quite hard to get much information. Just the logistics of getting around seem quite different. I imagine that there is a lot more to discover and as John noted, the scenery is always commented on.

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Atravelynn

Beautiful landscapes and some excellent wolf sightings you caught on camera. Great bird watching and 15 (or so) species of rats is interesting, especially the giant mole rat. The kudu is quite handsome as well.

 

It appears after your delayed flight, everything was great. How very fortunate to see the Ethiopian wolves. Did you get a feeling that preserving the wolf habitat and not killing them was a priority? The fact that there is a national park where they live is encouraging.

 

Thanks for sharing this very interesting report.

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predator
It appears after your delayed flight, everything was great. How very fortunate to see the Ethiopian wolves. Did you get a feeling that preserving the wolf habitat and not killing them was a priority? The fact that there is a national park where they live is encouraging.

 

Although there is a national park, it was disturbing that even up on the Sanetti plateau - one of the wolf strongholds within the park, there were locals grazing their livestock. I hope that the Ethiopians can start getting this under control as human disturbance is a big problem - the livestock herders have dogs and these transmit rabies and other diseases to the wolves.

 

Our tour leader had been to the Sanetti Plateau on a birding trip which only had one day there, and they saw nothing at all - the clouds had come in reducing visibility to a couple of metres. Hearing this made us all grateful for the good weather we had.

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Atravelynn

More sunset or sunrise beauties. Nice luck with the weather and just about everything.

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Nyamera

Interesting trip and beautiful wolves! Thanks, Predator. I’d pack at least 5 torches for an Ethiopia trip.

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