Rebecca had told me that of all the places she visited on her previous trip to the Bale Mountains, Rafu was her favourite spot. As our excruciatingly slow horses plodded forward and Rafu gradually loomed into view, I didn’t have to ask why.
Rafu is an area where an ancient lava flow has eroded to form a spectacular field of towering rock pinnacles. Each pinnacle can be over 10m high and the tightly packed formations extend far into the distance.
Our camp site was nestled under a particularly impressive edifice that dwarfed our tents. Pinnacles surrounded our modest encampment, protecting us from the howling wind that had chilled us to the bone up on the plateau. The indignant chattering of hyrax and baboons echoed down from the from the rocks around us.
Nomadic families often graze their cattle and goats in the area and as a result rudimentary mud huts and shelters can be found hidden amongst the rocks. One such establishment became our cooking hut and made for a atmospheric (if rather smokey) place for us to enjoy our meals.
Our visit to Rafu coincided with the full moon. On the one hand, this was a disappointment as we would have loved to photograph the formations under a sky full of stars. On the other hand, the moon allowed us to take ethereal moonlit photographs of the landscape. As a result, we worked late into the night, exploring and photographing the abstract, moonlit shapes.
Sunrise and sunset were particularly spectacular and I often left an hour or so in advance to trek into the heart of the lava flow. It was particularly spooky climbing through the pinnacles in the darkness before sunrise, all alone and in the knowledge that leopards were prowling the area!
Wildlife was abundant and particularly photogenic in the context of the rocky surroundings. In addition to the hyrax and baboons, we also found klipspringers and a host of raptors. One of the most iconic birds in the region is the Lammergeier or bearded vulture. We spent a day trying to photograph these birds as they scavenged from the remains of a dead goat. The adults proved very shy but we got very close to a couple of subadults.
The three nights that we spent in Rafu flew past and by the end we were exhausted from hiking around both day and night. Thankfully our horses went much faster on the return leg, clearly happy that they were heading home. After reaching our camp on Sanetti, we headed down to Goba for a well-earned shower and a night in a bed… bliss