So we did mention the trouble securing a suitable car right… well, just as the trapping was about to begin our driver (#3) sheepishly pulled us aside and said he had to return to Addis. His insurance had expired and he needed to renew it in person. He had called the office and another driver was on his way to replace him. We were assured that driver had left Addis at 5pm that day and so should arrive in in Dinsho around noon the next. Driver #3 would stay through the morning and leave with Muzeyen after our AM shoot had concluded. Noon came and went and by 2pm the new driver was still no where to be found. Knowing that we needed to have a vehicle to photograph the pups that evening Muzeyen brought driver #3 all the way back out to Web Valley and paid a local boy to bring the new driver whenever he showed up.
After the following mornings shoot we arrived back in camp to find Driver #4 waiting for us and Driver #3 left us. It turned out that driver #4 had bald tires and the 4WD had broken just the day before…. it’s always just the day before. We found this out when we became stuck in a spot even my friends Prius could have managed.
After a torturous time getting the vehicle unstuck we discovered all we needed was some momentum and the 2WD was enough and we managed to keep up with the trapping team. Once the trapping was complete we moved on to our 5th and final driver – Will and an older yet vehicle…. amazingly the truck is older than Will himself. The EWCP Land Cruiser has been with the programme almost 30 years now. Her shocks are nonexistent, the seats are worn, the bolts rusted, there is baling wire holding up something important in the dash board and she rattles worse than the ghost of Christmas past. At least our driver is savvy. ;0)
We spent our final days in the Web Valley following the Alandu and Meggity packs. We were unsuccessful in locating the Alandu pack den but we managed some terrific group interactions as the pack started it’s day with a patrol. Meggity was a different story.
We knew where one of the old dens was and we suspected the new den site. There was lots of fresh signs of digging and tons of scat and so we got in place for the sunset. After quite a long wait we began to loose faith that we had the right den. Muzeyen went on one of his now infamous scouting sessions which revealed nothing. Just as we were about to give up and look for members of the floater pack, Will yelped “Pups!” while nearly leaping out of his seat and pointing to a spot on the horizon. Sure enough, he had found Meggity’s new den. Within minutes we had moved locations, the adult male barely lifting his head as we squeaked and groaned our way into the best position for sunset. He very accustom to seeing us and our vehicle having visited us many times in camp, though I wonder if having four hungry mouths to feed with just he and his mate to provide has left him wiped out. They are doing an excellent job, both adults are well fleshed with sleek healthy coats and none of the pups look to be wanting for food.
The four pups had headed to the safety of the den when they heard us arrive but it wasn’t long before the little alpha male popped his head out to contemplate us. This den was situated on a very low ridge which offered us a much better view than the Tarura den which was halfway up a very high and steep cliff side.
The Meggity pups were also born two weeks earlier than the Tarura pups and have lost their soft, round puppy features. They look more like miniature adults though still lack a bit of coordination we discover as one falls tail over head backward off a low rock. Undaunted he leaps back up and chases off after his three siblings.
Playtime is more focused, lasts longer and involves far more running than their younger cousins. Ears perk up, heads turn this way and that, listening for any sound of mole rat or grass rat. The adults leave bits of food around for the pups to discover and a lively game of ‘chase me’ ensues whenever a scrap is found.
For the next three days we visited Meggity pack – watching the shy siblings grow more bold and the little alpha male bolder yet. At one point he marched within seven meters of the truck and bounced up and down, a tiny growl caught in his throat. Convinced that he had cowed us into submission he huffed and strutted away. He will certainly be a wolf to contend with when he’s grown!
The time had come to leave Web Valley. We decided to make one more sunrise trip to the four pups. We never made it there.
It almost always starts with one mistake and gets worse with subsequent incremental mistakes. It rained during the night. We piled into the truck at our usual 5:30AM time and wiping the fog from the front window Will made his way along the route, by now well traveled. Our first mistake was not being able to see clearly through the front window. The car headlamps are tilted strongly to the left side and the added fogging prevented Will from seeing our normal path was a bit darker green than normal after the rain.
We forged ahead and sure enough… spinning tires. No problem, we were halfway out of the ditch anyway, nothing four wheel drive can’t handle… if it were working… which apparently it wasn’t. Running start then… no such luck. All of our tricks up our sleeves, mole rat dust, rocks, pebbles, plants, rocking, digging… we just sunk deeper and deeper. By the time the sun had risen to illuminate our predicament it was clear that we weren’t going anywhere. An hour later we had sunk the car right up to it’s undercarriage, broken our shovel, completely coated our poor guide with mud and we feared the truck wouldn’t be able to be pulled out without damage.
One thing to know about Ethiopians… they are persistent. Muzeyen would not give up. He marched off to camp approximately a mile away and shortly after marched right back with a new shovel, several long logs of firewood, our dear chef Mamoush and a pick ax! It was now 9am and we had been stuck in what Will described as a proper hippo wallow for three hours. I finally managed to get a message through to Edriss who was visiting family in Goba. He said he would come and help pull us out. The weather was cold, everyone was wet and tired but neither Muzeyen nor Mamoush were willing to give up. I grabbed my backpack and walked back to camp to meet Edriss and show him where we were stuck.
Four hours later I heard a car rumbling up the road into camp. Then a honk. I scrambled out of my tent and couldn’t believe my eyes!! The truck, heavily coated with mud was driving up the road into camp with three very self-satisfied and equally muddy men hanging off the sides. Will calmly states that all I missed was four hours of digging, rocking and spinning tires. Oh, and a small goat herder boy who helped out on the final push.
We finally packed up all our gear and made it out of Web Valley in time to secure a hotel in Goba for the night while our beloved Toyota went to the shop to be fixed. I believe we were single handedly responsible for draining the hotel of it’s hot water that night.
The next morning, car fixed and a new spare tire we met our new guide, Musti and headed off to a very wet Sanetti Camp. Muzeyen headed off for a well deserved vacation. I think we forgot to mention the flat the day before the epic bogging incident (see our post on how to change a flat in the Bale Mountains).