Best Laid Plans…

Funny thing about plans in Ethiopia. No matter how well laid, they always change. We crawled out of our tents and were met with a beautiful clear sky. The air was crisp and cold but finally felt dry! We hatched our plan to slowly make our way down to Goba for fuel and our repaired spare, leaving plenty of time to scout for foraging wolves along the way. Perhaps we’ll even have time to head to Dinsho for a hot shower at the research station!!

As Will and I schemed over our coffee and hot porridge Musti stood silently aside. When we asked what he thought of the plan he said “We’ll discuss it.” HUH? When we pushed him he revealed that the tire we had changed just yesterday was now flat as a pancake. AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!

The sat phone once again became useful. We reached one of Edriss’s sons and he got the message to his father – we weren’t going anywhere.

At this point I’d like to note that not once through this entire saga has Will uttered a single obscenity. Personally I have the mouth of a sailor and was muttering a whole string quietly to myself. I’m thinking of making it a goal to hear just ONE tiny little word slip from his lips. I’m not holding my breath… if being stuck in mud a total of 11 hours, three solid days of nasty, cold, damp rain and three flat tires in four days can’t elicit more than a slight downward turn of his lips I have no idea what it will take to get that one word.

Knowing that rescue was well at hand Will and I headed off in separate directions on foot to explore the lakes not far from camp. It really was a beautiful morning and by the time Edriss arrived we were both smiling with a few new images safely stored on our memory cards.

Off to town we went. The plan was to meet at the local garage where Chris would bring us a drum of petrol and a new tire and Edriss would have them look at the 4WD once again. At the last check point before town the LandRover Defender was right behind us. Will zipped through the city streets like an expert and arrived at the garage in no time at all. About half an hour later the Defender limped in behind us. It had thrown the suspension spring. Vehicles really take a beating here in Ethiopia. I was amazed that this garage could fix the vehicle – men laying in mud mixed thickly with grease using broken, half repaired tools. The next time my mechanic with all the latest tools and technology and his clean cement floor complains it will take him days to fix my car, I think I might show him a shot of what these guys have to work with.

To save time we decided to forgo the 4WD fix and just stick with roads we knew the truck could handle in 2WD. Chris brought us two new tires and we headed off to the tire store to get them installed. So really… the tire store is a flat area with a couple of guys, an air hose that has been repaired so often you can’t tell the original color of the hose and a few hand tools. The boss is a small, wiry man with the strength of 15! He had a large truck he was working on and he threw the huge tires around like they were made of styrofoam. They didn’t have any jacks of their own so they were limited to working one wheel at a time with our tiny, mud covered jack. The 30 minute estimate turned into 2 hours and the two Ferenji made for some interesting entertainment for passers-by.

Some folks just wanted to practice their English. “Hello. What is your name.” Others wanted money. It was hard to refuse them but we didn’t want to encourage a culture of begging. When I returned home in February I donated money to a charity which was digging wells in remote villages. This time I’ll look for one that helps the schools or perhaps a woman’s shelter.

The last was perhaps both the cutest and saddest was a young man around 16 or 17 who approached and struck up a conversation. “I would like to go to America. Maybe I could go back with you? I’d make a fine strong husband!” He looked crestfallen when I explained while I was flattered, I’m already married and it just wouldn’t be possible. A few moments later he was happy again, laughing and smiling with his friends.

Our tires finally fixed and a full tank of petrol we were ready for a nice lunch of Tibs. Musti brought us to his favorite spot and we picked up our mood over the tasty morsels of meat. One last stop at the telecom office to top up on internet credit and we headed back to the garage for our barrel of spare fuel. Once that was safely (?) secured in the back of our truck we headed back up the pothole ridden road to camp. Along the way we reached a particularly bad section of road. Two Isuzu trucks were pulled off, one in either direction and the men were shoveling mud and trying to fill the deep ruts with rocks. They refused to let us pass. Musti had a few heated words with them and Will measured the depth of the water and determined we could make it across even with the 2WD. Eventually the men stepped aside and we made it through. Musti explained later that the men thought we were Park officials. They were angry, “See what you’ve done to our road? You should let the Roadworks Authority fix it!” It took a bit of time to convince them we were only there for the wolves and had nothing to do with the park.

The sun was low when we reached camp and we were able to make use of the last bit of light to photograph some beautiful lobelia trees. Will is getting quite the collection! When we finally pulled into camp Mamoush was waiting for us with another of his delicious soups. As an added bonus we got fried bananas and french fries for dessert! Bellies full and warm we head off to bed to dream of the wolves we will photograph tomorrow.

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