Friday, May 25, 2012

Ethiopia 2011 - Dear Salad

Dear Dorothy
Thursday March 17 2011
Kombolcha, Ethiopia

Shit, fuck hell. Here I am 6 hours away from my passport. It is at the 
hotel in Addis. Stupid stupid, STUPID !! We got into Addis last night 
and had to check into the hotel. Clear up the arrangements for the trip 
north and all in two seconds. I was frazzled and left my passport at 
the reception desk when I checked in. Well at least it's located. 
Tomorrow Lalibea for 2 nights and the passport is supposed to be in our 
next stop. Cardinal sin on my part.

Well here is what I was planning to say before I realized that I am 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ethiopia 2011 - The Ides of March

Dear Dorothy

Tuesday - The Ides of March

How many times have I written that while on a trip ? At least half a dozen.
Back in Arba Minch, different hotel this time. Nicer room, great courtyard the view is lacking though. I'm not certain if the trade off is even or not. The view there is spectacular, this place has hot water .... when they have water. The town seems to be out of water so I guess it's a choice view or luxury, because they are both about the same price. $19 here vs. $15 there. It will be fine for 18 hours before Addis tomorrow. EXCEPT for the fucking nearby church. Some guy is yowling over loudspeakers and it is getting a bit bothersome.

The roads back there were the usual mix. Some good, some really good and some not roads. But I have said about all OK not quite finished about roads. We were coming down this hill to cross a bridge and ran into a Cow Jam. They owned the bridge at that moment so we just had to wait before bossy sauntered her bony asses across MY bridge. I asked driver if the farmers thought they or the cars own the road. He said they are equals. I guess if you flatten a goat you suddenly own a goat and it aint cheap. 6 to 700 Bir about $40. Considering the wage in Jinka was 400 Bir for a month for the waiter at the hotel, goats are gold. We did almost mash a Paris Hilton size dog I didn't ask how that much would have been. Maybe the owner would have thanked us.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ethiopia 2011 - Lip plates with Corn Nuts

 Dear Dorothy

Monday - March 14 2011 - Jinka Ethiopia

End if the day and I'm a tuckered lil cowgirl. I didn't sleep all that well and lots of rough roads consisting of jostling and such. I didn't consider exactly how much work it is just sitting in a car and staying erect.

Today started at 7:30 take off for a visit to the Muri people. The first two reasons for coming to Ethiopia are in this order the rock hewn churches in Lalibea and the Mursi people. Both at opposite extremes in the country. The Mursi people are one of the iconic African tribes that I think about when thinking about Africa (that and the cliche' of Missionary in cooking post (which may not be that bad for the world)) The Mursi are the tribes that have the round plates placed in the women's lower lips. At the proper time, the guidebook says 20, the local museum says puberty, a hole 4 lower teeth wide is cut into the lower lip and a wooden plug is inserted. Then over time, my guide says 3 years, the museum says one year, the lips are stretched with larger and larger disks that look something like a rope pulley wheel. Some are plain and some are painted and some are etched. According to the guidebook the Mursi people didn't even know that Ethiopia existed until about 50 years ago, and I can see why.

The drive here from Addis is arduous trek in today's 4X4's and reasonably modern roads. Omce you are here in Jinka then you need to cross the mountains to the Omo valley. The road was mostly a graded road cut through the mountains. Only problem the last grading was in the Truman administration and the dirt has been packed down leaving only real sharp rocks pointing you. We were flying along at a breakneck 20 KMH (12 MPH ?) when we hit the straightaways. Of course we had to slow down for the hairpins and somehow make a 3/4 lane road into a 2 lane road when someone was coming the other direction. Fortunately for us there were guardrails at the places where the vehicle would cartwheel for miles if the worst happened. The guardrail consisted of a small and I mean small berm made when the last road grader passed through.

Dry rivers and creeks were no problem for the Landcruiser. The 4 Landcruiser long pond was worrisome for me. He kept it in 2WD and mushed through it with water splashing up onto the windshield and water about 1/3 the way up the door. The worst part was knowing we had to come back that way and how bad the water smelled. To put it nicely it was "wiffy". My imagination went on overdrive and started looking for a sharp knife to commit HariKari (Supoku ?) if we stalled on the way back. Better that than living with the aroma of fermented cow poop, insect larvae and mosquito piss - plus a few other things I'd rather not think too hard on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ethiopia 2011 - Coffee with salt and butter

Dear Dorothy

Sunday March 13 2011 - Jinka Ethiopia

Actually a very easy day. No eight hour drives through nowhere.

Well Let's start with yesterday from my notes. Never could take notes in school because "Me? Take notes? I'll remember it." I guess that is why I'm not a doctor now.

Evangadi Lodge - Turmi Ethiopia. The Best of the worst hotel in Turmi. No hot water, they store it in black iron tanks and the sun warms the water. The morning's water is too cool for my comfort, but the evening's water isn't all that bad. The electricity is on from 6pm until 10pm. The room is cooled by whatever wind or breeze happens to pass through. When the electricity is on it is just for lights. There are no electrical outlets in the room. No hair dryer, no computer charging, no hot coffee in the room even if my imersion heater was working.

All in all a pretty nice place. It is clean. Each unit is a separate bungalow. the room is very clean . The bedding is nice with the canopy bed mosquito netting. I will remember to bring a clock with me next time. This is the first time I can recall where no room has a clock in it.

Cattle blocking the road

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ethiopia 2011 - My $3.00 fit of anger

Dear Dorothy

Saturday March 12 2011 - 4 p.m.

Well I guess I'll start with the sour and with luck end on the sweet. One of those do you want the good news or the bad news first ?

The local in Turmi. Yesterday for an hour's time walking me through a Hamer village he charged 150 Bir. His guidemanship left a lot to be desired. He told me the absolute minimum that he was required to tell and maybe not that much. He was forever wandering off to talk to the people. Today we went to Omorate a village at the literal end of the road. The entire hour of the trip he didn't say a thing, unless I asked him a specific question. I would get the correct but most minimal answer possible.It was like I was paying him by the word
This village was the same as the previous one. "There is a house", "Those are ladies" well you get the idea.By the time we got back to the 4X4 I was steaming, but not terminally -- yet. Then off to the Saturday market. Repeat of the past, except this time he wandered off to find some water. I strolled around, pestering the people with questions I should have directed at him and then went back to the Landcruiser. We (the driver and I) waited and waited. We waited so long that a salesman finally accepted my low ball bid on a trinket. Then we drove around a little looking for him. It must have been half an hour before he strolled up and got in the SUV. When we got back to the town another outing was planned and when he got out I had him come to my window and told him we were done. In my best Donald Trump, I told him hes was fired. What do I owe you. 350 Bir ($20 bucks). I handed him 300 and told him the ride back cost 50. I be very happy he no carry spear, because the daggers from his eyes were menacing enough. He took the 300 and threw it back at me. He has a good arm on him too. Fine ! So now three hours later he comes walking up to me here at the hotel. "You owe me (unintelligible) and 20 for the 2 pictures at Omorade. That is right he did front me 20 Bir, because all I had were 100's. I got change and handed him 30, just to show --I don't know --- no hard feelings --- maybe it was a ""see I'm a bigger person than you". Truth be told that was probably a closer description of my intent. He looked at it and said you owe me another 40. WTF, Over ?!?!? I told him call the police. I'll be happy to explain to them my side. Finally after a few moments of ping pong bickering I took the rest of the Bir and threw it at him. Neener, neener !! I can be as childish as you. He threw a few choice words back at me but were lost in translation. I waved and with the most sarcastic smile and voice said "Have a nice day" Am I proud of myself? In retrospect, No. But it sure felt good at the time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ethiopia 2011 - Arba Minch

Dear Dorothy

Thursday March 11 2011
Arba Minch, Ethiopia

(I think that translates to a place in the edge of nowhere. Tomorrow we delve in to deepest part of the middle of nowhere)

450 km ( About 270 miles) over mostly paved roads to get here from Addis. Left about 8:30 and got here around 4:30. Had to shop for a hotel. The first one was kinda nice, but over priced. This one is a flea bag (I hope not literally) but really cheap. Under $20. A place to sleep and hopefully shower, if the water comes on sometime.

The first part of the trip was wide open well paved roads. I kept fantasizing driving a hot car, like a corvette or Porsche on them. They were virtually empty. I doubt we passed 50 vehicles coming to us or away in 2 hours. We were cruising at a comfortable 55 mph the entire time. Then the construction began. One mile of pavement, 2 miles of gravel. Sometimes the gravel was a better surface than the macadam. The roads were jammed. Not many cars, but cows, goats, small children, school kids, women carrying loads, men just wandering. One town we passed through had their weekly market. The line of people and goods reminded me of the photo I've seen of war refugees. Metal wheeled carts loaded tallre than a man pulled by a donkey or maybe a cow. Then individual people with packages of who knows what on their heads, or perhaps pushing a wheelbarrow contraption made out of lumber and rolling on the equevelant of a mettal skateboard wheel.

The scenery was really varied. Mountains, savanahas, banana plantations small subsitance farm. I/we passed through 2 good sized towns and a multitude of villages. the houses ran the gamit from near palaces, to mud huts, one cave and the ubiquitous Tina Turner thatch roofed round huts. There were monkeys, one big primate ( Baboon ? It had a long tail with an pom-pom on the tip. Raptors slowly circling on the thermals and a flock of cranes or storks. All at the same time as we dodged kids, bikes, and tuk-tuks.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ethiopia 2011 - Seatac Geocache

Dear Dorothy

At SeaTac airport waiting for the plane to Amsterdam. Two and a half hours to go. I did the time killing eat breakfast thing. Wandered through the shops. Somehow missed out on the full body grope by TSA. They just required the usual semi strip tease, without the tease. Then came the hardest part of the trip so far. Finding an electrical outlet. My choice was to wait for 20 minutes before this outlet was free or it sit under the wall mounted drinking fountain. I was afraid that the water dripped from the lips above would short out the computer so I opted for the wait instead.
Tiffany gave me a ride to the airport on Sunday to pick up the rental car. A pack o f cigarettes, a lighter and the words "Make good choices" and she was gone and I was officially on my trip.

I stopped in Seattle and had dinner with Chris at the local cafe. We had everything except the hummus from the starters menu. New cook, food not as good as when they first opened. New bookkeeper, portions smaller than when they first opened. But it was cheap enough (Chris bought) and it was nice to see Chris.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Where in the world ..... ???

Where to go ?

Dear Dorothy

Now what ? Now where ? Do I put aside certain prejudices I have for certain countries and miss out on potentially great opportunities ? Do I stick to my feelings and prove to myself that I am not just another opportunistic tourist hunting for that next notch on my travel gun butt ?

Iran - I hate their current politics. I still simmer over the taking of our embassy over 30 years ago. Besides their current policy to U.S. Citizen tourists is no independent travel.

Vietnam - fifty-five thousand lost lives and that was just my country's losses. Not counting the losses on the Vietnamese nationals and the French before us. BUT, they have forgiven us and moved on, why can't I ?

Angkor Wat - Cambodia

Saturday, May 5, 2012

But wait ! There's more !

Nxai Pan - Botswana - 0745 a.m.

Dear Dorothy

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. I am sorry to announce that there is an obstruction on the runway and we will need to make one go around before landing. Thank you for your patience.

So after all that I'm going to stay in camp rhetoric I decide to go on one last game drive last evening. WTF. I'm here and even though I'm going to see the same ole, same ole it sounded better than just killing time. I decided that I was going to be a pig, a nice pig, but I was going to not get the middle seat. One of those "Where would you like to sit?" questions of the other guests and expecting them to say it didn't matter. Then taking the seat I wanted in the first place. Knowing full well no one would be as rude as to say "I want ... that seat" So after the expected response I grabbed a seat in the back at the side.

Cheetah - Nxai Pan - Botswana
Mohane is a different guide than Donald. He said right up front. "We are going to drive fast and stop just long enough to get a few pictures before moving on. Alright?" Praise the lord. The Master Race would stop and look at a single little Tit Mouse for 5 minutes. Describing one another the color of its feet. The hue of its bill and the size of its nostril. I mean - It's a game DRIVE, not a game STOP. Still it was better than the Eskimos only wanting to see big animals.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Time to head home

Nxai Pan - Botswana

Dear Dorothy

After doing nothing all afternoon except high tea at 4 pm then we had to wait an entire four hours before dinner. Chicken Tarragon and rice and peas and carrots, not peas 'n carrots. Tasty meal. I know it is almost a cliché'dish but chicken tarragon is pretty high on my list of faves.

I lightened my luggage a little. I had lugged around a plastic throwaway poncho because the guide books said to. This being the rainy season and all. The only rain I've seen was one afternoon in Duma Tau and the only other rain was Camelot rain in Davison Camp. You know Camelot where it only rains after sunset. After a short rest in my room I needed to get out of the room and ran into Eva Braun of the Master Race. Seeing Christina's seventy year old body in a black one piece bathing suit was something that I tried to avoid with my eyes. After a certain age when it comes to bathing suits we should all be required to wear burkas. I knew she was going to Victoria Falls next and it might come in handy, or not. But if I gave it to her I wouldn't be forced to schlep the darned thing around any longer.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Giraffe survivor on the way to Baines Baobob

Nxai Pan - Botswana

Dear Dorothy

It is hot. At least it's not humid. All the camps have issued either a plastic or metal liter reusable bottle for water when away from the camp. This is the first place that I have felt the need to really use one. There is a hot breeze so any moisture evaporates quickly and I don't think I realize just how much fluid is going through me and not coming out in the standard method.

My jeep mates are a couple from Southern Germany. They are both professors, she English and he Optics. He's 77 and she's somewhere near that. A good group to travel with. They are interested in almost any animal they see whether it is a mammal, reptile or bird. A little too interested sometimes, but a welcome change from the Eskimos who only wanted to see what they had already seen in National Geographic. 
Battle scarred giraffe

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hippo herding

Nxai Pan Camp - Botswana

Dear Dorothy

After a brief hour of just laying on the bed zoning out, not sleeping just almost aware of my surroundings. I met Teko for a motor boat drive. I was the only person on the boat except for Teko and of course Wilderness Safari would have none of that. I Had to have some company along. I am guessing that solitude is not a word they have in their employee handbook. So Lebo came along. We had already had the "Where do you live, how many kids, what does your husband do .. Conversation. That left me with not alot of conversation left. I didn't know their politics well enough to broach that subject. I didn't want to be the "Well back in America we do things THIS way" kind of tourist. What's the old adage? Better to say nothing and let them think you are stupid, than to say something and prove it ?

The ride was expecting was the same as we had previously taken west and then north. Instead we headed south. The area was quite a bit different. Not as many islands and many more narrow channels through the papyrus and reeds. The channels were perhaps 10 feet wide through them and none of them are man made they are all hippo trails. The hippos have a great highway system. Occasionally they would open up into very large lakes (think Lake Padden times 3). I could look over the side of the boat almost all the time and see bottom in the crystalline water. A fish now and a again. Nothing very big. Some Bream (Tilapia) was all I saw, though Catfish and Tiger fish (a great game fish?) were in the same waters.

Lilly with hippo
No crocs. A Water buffalo and some Cormorants and another diving bird that swims under water locally known as the snake bird because of its long neck and pointed head. Well there were hippos and they we everywhere. I did have one request, well two. To see an Otter (scarce but possible) and a Meyers Parrot. The only parrot I found in Birds of Southern Africa that inhabits the local area.

All of the hippos kept their eye on us and if we idled too close might start to swim towards us, but Teko kept a very safe distance. When we had to pass near them he would get the engine screaming and roar through their area. Then we came into a channel where a lone hippo was and he swam away from us. Teko sped up behind him (not too close) and the hippo took off down the channel then stopped. We roared again, and the hippo bounded down the channel. We were herding hippos!! This went on half a dozen times until the huge ballet dancer ducked under a floating island of papyrus and escaped. Then he sat on the other side of the blockage in the channel and I'm certain I heard him saying "Ho Ho Ho" laughing at us.

Hippo herding
This was the terminus of our trip, our point of must return. We cruised into the middle of a big lake and stopped the boat for our required "Sundowner". No alcohol by anyone this time, 2 employees and me. Lebo is a modern woman who is ambitions enough to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She is a supervisor of all Wilderness' housekeeping staff and sells jewelry to the staff as well. Sounds like a slight conflict of interest, but was ain't in Kansas as the saying sorta goes. It was very nice to get away from the artificial world of Wilderness Safari Camps and actually get to talk to them like real people instead of paid host and client.

Back at camp it was the briefest of rests and then cocktail time and then dinner. I had seen papa Eskimo arrive with other the other Eskimo princess the previous day. Sharon had introduced me to Carol but not papa Eskimo. They walked in and looked at me. Maybe he's shy. I stood up and took a step towards him and with a smile said "Hi, I'm Theresa" He didn't make any form of non verbal communication. No handshake. No smile. Nuttin' but "I'm Ron". Fucker! Later we passed and I said Hi and he grunted. This morning I nearly bumped into him and said "Good morning!" and he said "good morni......" as he turned away. Double fucker ! This morning I asked another of the guests if she had spoken to him. She said "Yes .... he's ... a ..... a ... a ..... a bit contentious". So I guess it wasn't all about me.

I again sat next to Margaret the documentary producer who is wed to the former big pharma guy. She told me about her latest project called "The Bully Project". Their goal is to have a million children see their film in actual theatres and then have a lead discussion about the film by local teachers from the producers talking points guide lines (syllabus ?? no that's not the right word .. but I think you get my drift) It got great reviews at Tribecca and Sundance. It fallows five kids who different in different ways. One could be perceived as slow, one a different race that her peers, on gay .. Etc and shows what bullying's impact on them is. I hate her, because she is a much better person that I am. Actually I really liked her.

I read a little before bed and then went to sleep about 10:30. I didn't sleep all that well. The hippos were roaring and yakking all night and in the trees the owls or baboons were screeching. I thought it was just me as a light sleeper, but the conversation around the breakfast table was how noisy it was last night. (OH ! There was a cobra on the patio while I was on the boat ride ... and ... a python was seen when they escorted the first guests after dinner back to their rooms - Waaayyy coool) I saw Margaret's sweetie Gary the breakfast table. He was a drummer in his youth and said to him - "I'm sure glad you didn't blow up."He gave me that processing stare and then he laughed "I'm probably the only one at the table who would get that joke." If you didn't get it you obviously haven’t seen the Mocumentary "This is Spinal Tap".

Packed and off to the airstrip and Teko was driving the vehicle and said "Theresa. If you look in that dead tree you will see the Meyer's parrot".  These guides have good memory and a finely honed sense of humor. Then the rest of the vehicle said ""Yes I see them" There they were the Meyer's parrot. Up on a branch acting like parrots do, hanging upside down and playing. Well, I'll be!

The 208 turbo arrived and we flew to Maun where I had enough time to re-clear security before getting on the Cessna 206 with two employees from Nxai Pan to a very bumpy ride here. I was pretty impressed by the pilot he was the first and only pilot on this trip who checked out the runway by flying a downwind leg and an upwind leg before landing. All the other pilots just assume the people on the ground had done their jobs and made sure the strip was clear.

This camp is a step down from Wilderness Safari's facilities. More rustic.. ya that's the ticket! Lights in the room but no electricity. A little rougher around the edges but still for what it could be is nice enough. I got spoiled earlier in the trip. Maybe this should have been the first camp and then gone to Wilderness. The staff is just as attentive, the facilities are just a little more basic.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Giraffes via hub deep water

Xigera Camp - Botswana

Dear Dorothy

Ground Hornbill
After a brief nap and of course you can't forget the tea Sherri and Jim and I were taken on a game drive by Teko. The island where the airstrip is small but Teko took all the back roads and some off roading to see the local animals. There aren't near the number or variations as the land based camps but there are a few and it is better than nothing. I prefer the motor boat, but boating is where my heart lies best. I'd be happy just going for a ride on a boat. Any game seen is purely a bonus.

We left the camp via motor boat to the landing on the island and then transferred to the Land Rover. Warthogs galore were on the airstrip as were most of the other prey animals. Management has built a small berm dyke around the airstrip because when the water gets high it floods the field. The animals graze and do lookout on top of the berm. It gives then just that little better edge to see just a hint farther observation on the predators. Though when the dikes were first built the local leopard learned really quickly that she could hide behind the berm and ambush the grazing animals. I guess it didn't take all that long for the "advantage predator" to become "advantage prey".