Friday, September 21, 2012

OUR FAILED ATTEMPT TO DEBRE ZEYIT AND LAKE HORA


WEATHER: Rainy and wet, sunny and then rainy and wet 14C-24C-11C

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Getting my most favorite photo of Zeme and I so far

BUMMER OF THE DAY: Not making it to Debre Zeyit – another time

WORD OF THE DAY:  Bumpy roads

DISTANCE TRAVELLED: 110km

We were heading out for the afternoon today, so we had Sunday morning to have a sleep in after our mammoth driving day yesterday, breakfast and then I had to start to think about getting all my stuff together as tomorrow is my last day in Ethiopia before I head to Phuket-Thailand via Saudi Arabia and Singapore.  It sounds like a long way round and there is a direct flight from Addis to Singapore with Ethiopian Airlines but they were 3 times the cost of me flying via Saudi and having a 9 hour stop there.  To save 800AUD I thought that was well worth the extra time. 

Zeme and I get photos from our trips printed when we come back from the road.  So I popped 40 of them on a flash drive and then he headed out to get them printed, visit home and swap the rental cars back as we didn’t need to keep the 4WD for my last 3 days.  This gave me time to go through some of my things and just watch some National Geographic in TV when I really should have been putting some fingers to a keyboard and getting a blog done.  As it stands I am currently still in Brighton, which is bad, bad, bad but I won’t feel bad as I use this important time with Zeme and I will just have to knuckle down when I get to Phuket.  But it is quite daunting that I will have around 22 days to catch up on and I would be totally at a loss if I lost my trusty notebook-that would be disastrous. 

It started to rain just as Zeme got back before lunch and he didn’t seem to perturbed that it was coming down like cats and dogs, I was thinking that maybe we would have to call off our afternoon trip.  As it works out we had to keep the 4WD as our little 1980’s Mazda had been given to someone else and with it being New Year’s Eve tomorrow there is not much left available, so we will just keep the big car till I leave.  This was a blessing in disguise as the rain had dumped a lot of water in the road, like serious amount of water that it all just pooled in the dips in the roads and some of the puddles we had to pass through were huge.  We invited Chombe along for this afternoon’s drive; he wasn’t working, so we thought it would be nice to have him see some more of his own country.  So after wading through the streets of Addis Ababa, picking up Chombe and encountering HAIL-who would have thought, 35 minutes later you would have thought we were in a different city.  It was dry as bone-dusty and not a single rain drop to be seen.  If you had of been asleep for the first 40 minutes of that drive you wouldn’t believe that we were swimming in rain puddles and seen some hail.  Really it was quite bizarre.

I have travelled on this road before that we were using to get to Bishofte.  It is an industrial road and is the main road artery that connects the Port of Djibouti to Addis Ababa.  Being a land locked country; this is where a lot of Ethiopia’s trade comes from.  So that means lots of trucks, lots of pollution, lots of factories, lots of people and really bad roads.  You think that they would look after a pretty important road but how can you fix such a busy road that has traffic 24 hours a day?  I can see they will just wait until the absolutely have to fix then they will.  A perfect case of this is one of the bridges is getting fixed and the traffic had to converge from 3 lanes to 1 lane to cross and the backlog of traffic around this area is murder.  All the niceness is gone from people that have been sitting there for 20 minutes as they all try and shimmy their way past busses and the massive road-train trucks.

It took over an hour and 20 minutes to travel 45km to the town of Debre Zeyit also known as Bishoftu.  Since the late 1990s it has been officially known by the Oromo name, Bishoftu, which was its name until 1955 at an elevation of 1,920 meters.  It is a resort town, known for its five crater lakes: Lake Bishoftu, Lake Hora (a base for watersports, many water birds and an annual festival), Lake Bishoftu Guda, Lake Koriftuand the seasonal Lake Cheleklaka. Debre Zeyit is also home to the Ethiopian Air Force and the Harar Meda Airport.  The township has had telephone service since 1954.   

We turned off at the town with the purpose of heading to the mountains and seeing a church that is located there.  Every year there is a big celebration up at this church and the roads are graded and fixed in the anticipation of thousands of people commuting for the festival.  Once the festival is finished the road is left to its own devices again till the next year when they will fix it in time for festival again.  So it has been a few months since this year’s festival and the second we left the main road we were on a dirt road and the condition of this was shocking.  Poor Chombe was bouncing around in the back of the car and then Zeme mentioned that the road was 30km to our destination!  ONE WAY.  We then had to bump and weave our way back the 30km to get back.  You should have seen this road it was in such bad shape and the bumps were just too much to handle.  Chombe and I just looked at each other and then 11km into the trip we all decided that it was just too much and we decided to cut our loss and we will come back when the festival is on and see the church then.  I can’t remember the name of the church (hence it is omitted) as I left my guide books in Addis with Zeme and I am writing this 2 weeks later.  But I was happy with the decision and not all was lost as we had a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains and the plains and there were some rain clouds on the horizon that made for some great photos with the blue/black of the sky, the lush green of the grass and trees and the brown of the dark soil.  We also saw some birds that I haven’t seen before and I am more determined than ever to find a bird book on Ethiopian birds so that when we see the birds we can tick them off and look at some more information.  UH OH I think Zeme and I have turned into ‘twitches’ aka bird watches.  Early stages but hell they have some great looking birds here and endemic ones that can only be found in Ethiopia, so why not?

There is another area to visit while you are in the Bishoftu area and that is the 7 crater lakes they have here.  A crater lake is a lake that forms in a volcanic crater or caldera.  Lakes located in dormant or extinct volcanoes tend to have fresh water, and the water clarity in such lakes can be exceptional due to the lack of inflowing streams and sediment and that is what you find in these lakes, they are alkaline and are supplied with rainfall and underground waters.  The 3 main lakes are:  Bishoftu Lake which is the deepest of the craters lakes and is rich in Tilapias, a type of African fish.  Hora Lake which is the largest of the crater lakes and is well known for hot water springs and Babogaya Lake which is known as the surroundings used for famous Ethiopian Music video-clips.  We were just going to head to Lake Hora today which was a wise choice.  You are required to pay a fee to enter each of the Lakes and Lake Hora also worked out to be the cheapest at 12Birr for the 3 of us which is like 66c but the other lakes charge 200Birr per person so it’s like 33AUD for the 3 of us per lake.  The reason Lake Hora is way cheaper than the others is it owned and managed by the government and is subsidized the other lakes are privately owned and that is why their fees are higher.  We decided that Lake Hora was fine for today, it was beautiful with large Eucalyptus trees and I really thought I could have been in Australia.  There were a few brave souls swimming in there and you can catch a boat to do a cruise if you wish.  It was nearly 4.45pm by this time, so we just took some photos but it would definitely be a spot I would come back to. 

So it was time to hit the road and run the gauntlet back to the capital city.  I am not sure if there is any such thing as peak hour as there is just traffic all the time on the roads during the day.  But it was busy and as we lined up next to local buses in the traffic I would get looks from its passengers and drivers as we sat in traffic to which I would give a small wave and a smile to them and I was rewards with a smile and most times a wave as well.  I feel like I am the bearded lady or the elephant man but again, I say this all the time it is something I am going to have to get used to. 

We were back to the city just after 6pm and I needed to get some more cash out of an ATM.  So we pulled up to the first one and I think it may have been out of money, as it came up with a machine error rather than my card having something wrong.  So Zeme just decided to take me to an ATM he knew would work and give me a small tour of that part of the city I haven’t seen before, more of the major chain hotels were here.  The Radisson Blu was here, The Hilton and an Ibis hotel.  We were heading to the Sheraton Addis Ababa and wow it looked amazing.  It reminded me of the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi or The Palace Hotel at Sun City in South Africa.  It was amazing.  There was a security gate we had to pass and obviously just having me in the car was enough to get us through with no questions asked, Zeme dropped me at the fancy front door and then went to park on the side while I ran in, well I had to pop my purse on the security belt and walk through a scanner, and then I walked in like a lady who had a room there.  I have seen a lot of hotels in my time and this one looked very luxurious and totally not like a Sheraton.  I have always said of big chain hotels, you could be anywhere in the world their hotels all look the same.  Well not this one and it was interesting to note that there weren’t a lot of farangees around.  The lobby was busy; there were people everywhere but not many western people in the mix.  I located the ATM without having to ask anyone, used it and on my way out one of the doorman opened the door for me and said I hope you enjoyed your stay.  Yeah I wish-but thanks anyway. I got back in the car and made a vow that Zeme and I would stay there for one night just to experience it and then I said hell, Chombe you can stay with us as well.  He would not have seen anything like that in his life and I am serious.  I know it is an expensive hotel, but I wonder if I can somehow wrangle an agent rate.  I’ll check with the guys when I am back in Brisbane-but WOW.  Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve, I’m going to check the prices for tomorrow night anyway, and maybe we may get lucky with a rate?  Yeah right!!! 

As it was my second last night we decided to try the pizza place again for dinner and hope that it was open this time which it was.  It was too cold to sit outside so we sat inside and ordered garlic bread, 2 pizzas to share between the 3 of us and 4 drinks and the grand total was 17AUD that’s total for the 3 of us and that is a western meal as well.  We dropped Chombe home and once I got home I checked the rates for the Sheraton tomorrow night and being New Year’s Eve the cost was 492AUD for the night!  Zeme looked like he was about to pass out and he worked out that would pay for a WEEKS accommodation here at Baks.  Yes it is a lot of money, so I will need to work on the agent rate. 

So even though we did have a failed attempt at getting to the Debre Zeyit church we still had a pretty good day all round for what was to be my second last day in Addis Ababa till November.     

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