Bale Mountain Trekking


Dan’s had the past month off from teaching so we’ve been able to do a bit more traveling of late.  This past weekend we visited the Bale Mountains, the westerly edge of which are about a 2 hr drive directly east of Hawassa.  A German NGO built a series of five mountain huts that are stocked with cooking supplies, bunk beds and warm bedding ( A local farmer acts as hutkeeper and you also hire trained guides, horses to carry your packs and grooms to lead the horses.  Everyone gets paid directly, a form of self supporting eco tourism that tries to give people wages other than in the form of cutting down trees.  We had done the exact same hike 9 years ago this May.  It was rainy season at that time and our second day we hiked for 6 hrs straight in absolutely pouring rain.  So, we decided to go back again…this time with a 6 year old and 3 year old.  Because we are into self-punishment.


here we go!

Actually, the weather cooperated, for the most part.  It did dump rain both nights on the trail and on our second night it actually hailed hard enough to cover the ground with white. The trail was a mucky mess as a result.  The first hut, Wahoro, was at 3,300 m elevation  (10, 826 ft) and we passed through dense afroalpine forest on the way up filled with weeping cedar trees (I don’t know their proper name) and heather trees (Erica species), rhododendrons, red hot pokers, wild nettles, etc.

afroalpine forest




weepin cedar from below

The hut was the same as I remembered though sadly a big neglected and very dirty (rat droppings on the food shelves!)  I had knit the entire family warm hats and scarves for this trip in particular and we definitely used them.  The last time we had done the hike, one of the local families had prepared a nettle pesto and we requested it again.  At first the hutkeeper said they couldn’t make it but then in the morning he brought over a big boiling vat of bubbling green slime that smelled vaguely of smoke and wet animal hide.  It was very different than the time we’d had it before but it tasted, well, ok so we took some with us to have with our dinner that next night.

viewfrom Wahoro


view from Wahoro





red hot poker

The second day of hiking was blissful.  We did a short stretch up the escarpment and then up onto the moor which was covered with wild thyme, everlasting flower and small heather-like bushes.  Sweeping views of the surrounding peaks and valleys were jaw-dropping.



up on the moor


view towards the north

Actually, this part of the trip was my absolute favorite and made up for the fact that the last time I did that stretch it was completely clouded in and pissing rain the entire time.  The kids actually walked quite a bit the second day as it was fairly flat up on the moor.  The second hut was Angafu at 3,460 m (11,351 ft) elevation and took us about 6 hrs to reach.  A couple of guys from Zambia were there and had set up an elaborate tent camp for a group of hunters who were set to arrive the next day, their intention to hunt the Mountain Nyala.  Evidently they paid 250,000 birr to hunt this endemic and rather rare species with only 1500 left in the wild.

angafu hut


early morning in front of Angafu hut





view from Angafu hut

This was the night of the hailstorm and it was truly cold that night.  Again, the wood stove was not working so we huddled in all the clothes we had brought and enjoyed the light provided by the generator the Zambians had schlepped up the mountain by horseback.




The final day was the hardest as we had a long, slippery, muddy descent.  Dan also got food poisoning from the nettle pesto and was nauseated and vomited along the way (the rest of us avoided it apart from a few polite bites).  I rode horseback with Gus for most of last bit (he didn’t like to ride alone, frankly I preferred walking) and I now know the joy of having a blister on your tailbone.  Isn’t there a name for that?  Saddle burn?



getting carried over a muddy part



riding on the plains

He actually fell asleep on the horse during the last hour of trekking.  We were all a bit weather chapped, sunburnt and very tired after our 3 day trek.  We headed straight home to Hawassa for hot showers and fresh food.  I always swear I’ll never camp/trek/backpack again after the last time I do it.  But then I forget the torturous aspects of it.  I do hope the kids will remember this little adventure we took with them.



Mt. Gama

These are a few of my favorite things…


We seem to have hit our stride here these days in Hawassa.  Perhaps because I realize we are now in the latter half of our stay and every day brings our return to the U.S. ever closer, I am appreciating the small details that make life in Ethiopia so stimulating and enjoyable.  I love the weather.  It pretty much doesn’t get better than this.  80’s every day, 50’s at night.  The occasional thunderstorm (especially now that its belg or roughly the equivalent of autumn or the pre-rainy season) to keep the dust down.  There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the financial perks that enable us to afford a babysitter and meals at nice restaurants every weekend, enjoying a drink lakeside while watching the sunset beforehand.


I love the fact that the streets are thronged with people.   The social atmosphere is so much more engaging and dynamic than in the U.S.  Sometimes in Norman I feel like I’m stared at like a crazy homeless person if I happen to walk down the sidewalk (what sidewalk there is) west of Berry on Lindsey.  You can totally disconnect from your environment when you only ever see it by automobile.  I just experienced my first motorcycle ride here.  It was exhilarating.  All the freedom and joy of riding a bicycle without all the peddling and work.  I kind of want one.  We’ve started letting Iris venture out on small errands with her 10 year old best friend/compound neighbor, Mehret.  They run across the street to the souk to buy eggs or milk or sometimes slightly farther to visit Mehret’s parent’s barbershop.  I love that it feels completely safe to do this and I hope she can enjoy these same freedoms when we return to Norman.  Though sending her to the Shell station on Lindsey and Berry (the American equivalent of a souk?) seems a little sketchy.  What is she going to buy there anyway?  A slim jim and a pack of Marlboro lights?  I love that I know my neighbors, at least a little bit, and that when Iris and her friend opened a play restaurant called “Cache Up” (pronounced Ketchup), they can come over and I can make them coffee and we can talk and laugh and they can order off the menu which includes “egg, resons (raisins), avocado, biscut, milk and pencake”.  I barely know my neighbors in the U.S.  I love that a kilo (that’s 2.2 lbs people!) of delicious, ripe Roma tomatoes costs less than $1.  That makes some delicious pasta sauce and tomato soup right there.  I love getting to hang out a luxury resort and go swimming sipping damn fine cups of coffee at least once/week.  Have I mentioned the pizza with herbed Nile perch and vegetables baked in wood-fired oven?  Or the passionfruit gelato?  Even Gus is eating shuro (chickpea sauce) and injera now.  In fact he begs me to make him shuro wat for lunch every day.  We have fully adapted and its going to be hard to say goodbye to vibrant, beautiful Africa.


plus hippos!

To Jimma and Back Again


Last week I returned to Jimma after an epic cross-Ethiopia road trip with the family.  The early 90’s Jeep with a rebuilt Toyota engine and our stoic driver Ashenefe got us there and back with only a few close call breakdowns.  While we got what was widely respected as a pretty great rate on the daily rental fee, in retrospect I would choose reliability of vehicle over price.  At one point after having just passed through the Gibe river gorge, a road at whose beginning is marked with a sign emblazoned with a skull and crossbones and the words “Dangerous Road Ahead”, we had to stop because the car overheated.  Another time Ashenefe literally removed the stick shift (who knew this was possible?), knocked on it a bit and then plunged it back into the gear shaft and we continued on our merry way.  It was a real treat to see Ethiopia by road though.  The dramatic changes in landscape in leaving the great rift valley, ascending into the highlands and then back down again into the lush, mountainous lowlands surrounding Jimma.  What a beautiful place this is!


highlands outside of Butajira

Jimma.  What can I say?  It still feels like home in Ethiopia to me.  A poorer, grittier town than Hawassa for sure.  As we had been warned, the major roads in town had been completely torn up and were being re-done.  Many roads were completely blocked off with no clear detours indicated.  One evening I walked from our hotel, over the Aweytu river and to the old Italian quarter of town called “Ferenj Arada” (foreigner’s quarter).  Heavy roadwork machinery scooped and dumped dirt as throngs of pedestrians wove around them, crossing ditches on rickety bridges made of sticks.  The downtown has completely changed in the 9 years since I last laid eyes on Jimma mushrooming with new highrises lining the main road.  Many of our old friends had moved to Addis Ababa but we visited with some of those who had stayed behind including my former Amharic teacher.

We took the kids to lake Boye where we used to walk early in the morning to go bird and hippo watching.  The hippos were gone, surrounding forest clear cut, the lake dried up to a grassy marsh and a new housing development coming right down to the very edge.  The next morning while Dan tracked down his old friends and research subjects, I took the kids up to Jiren, a small town in the mountains above Jimma where the palace of a King Abba Jiffar who ruled the Kaffa kingdom during the late 1800’s lived.  The Kaffa region incidentally is the birthplace of coffee and the word “coffee” supposedly derives from it.

Dan is still widely recognized in Jimma (he’s been going there on a close to yearly basis for the last 11 years) and I even got a few “wife of Danny”‘s shouted out at me.  I completely understand why Dan chose it as his primary research site.  People are much more likely to approach you and start talking to you, asking you about yourself and why you are visiting Jimma.  I rarely get that in Hawassa.  There are way fewer foreigners in Jimma.

It even rained one of the nights we were there.  A welcome relief after Hawassa’s endless dusty, bright white sun in hot blue sky days.  The soil in Jimma is red and clay-ey and the mud, oh the mud.  Brought back the memories for me.  The clatter of vultures on the tin roof of our hotel was also a real flashback to my time there in 2004-2005.

On the way there and back we stopped one night in the town of Woliso about an hour SW of Addis Ababa in the highlands.  There was an old government hotel that had been privatized and refurbished.  There was lots of wildlife roaming the grounds including a little deer called a duiker.  It also had a swimming pool fed by natural hot springs. I basically wish I could just travel around Ethiopia staying at privatized, refurbished former government and upmarket “eco” lodges.  Now, we just need a reliable vehicle and a 3 year old who doesn’t get carsick.  Then I’ll be all set.


a duiker who is clearly not afraid of people.

I’ve been having some issues loading photos.  I’ll upload them in a separate post.