Stuck Again!

After a cold, damp night spent sleeping on the Sanetti Plateau (this was the first night my hot water bottle was stone cold in the AM) we awoke to the thrum of rain hitting our shelters. Rather than sit in camp waiting for the rain to end we decided to spend the day on a recon trip to the Harenna Forest. We were keen to see the forest hogs and Bale monkey who call the forest home.

The road through Sanetti is managed by two different entities, the Ethiopian Road Works Authority and the Bale Mountains National Park. The two groups are currently at odds – the Road Authority wants to continue to use dirt and rocks mined within the park to repair the road and the Park wants to prevent any further damage to the fragile ecosystem. After a particularly wet rainy season the road is riddled with potholes, washouts, broken bridges and deep ruts made by the large Isuzu trucks that barrel through at incredible speed. Not to mention how slick and slippery the red earth gets when it’s wet… a fact it would have been good to remember later in the day.

Will did a particularly good job getting us safely down the Harenna Enscarpment on this trying road in fog as think as anyone from London or San Francisco has ever seen. Soon we were reveling in the thick, lush rainforest. We explored the road through the forest for a few hours before turning around and heading toward home.

Shortly after we made our turn around we encountered a group of olive baboon. We managed to get several nice portraits before we realized one of the tires was hissing. Our second flat tire in three days. At this point we had the drill down. Lift the car, place some rocks, lift the car again and swap the tires. It went pretty painlessly and we were in high spirits when we decided to stop for a quick picnic beside the river.

As the road was pretty narrow and the Isuzu trucks tend to barrel around corners without really looking we thought it best to pull off the road and it was a pretty clear track down to the rivers edge.

We thought the 4WD had been fixed the day before in Goba… we thought wrong. After a lovely little picnic by the side of the river we piled back into the truck with thoughts of returning to Goba to buy fuel and replace the spare tire. No such luck. Remember how slippery I said that red dirt gets when it’s wet…. Our back tires just spun and spun. There was no way we were ever going to make it up that hill with just 2WD.

We tried everything we could think of: a running start, piling dry pebbles from the road above, using the weeds at hand to try and give some traction… nothing worked. Eventually we gave up and tried to use the sat phone to contact Anne-Marie in hopes Chris or Edriss could come save us. We were met with frustration – reception in the forest isn’t all that good and by the time I found a sweet spot to place the calls, the local cell service went down. After around an hour of trying we managed to reach Edriss and he said he was on his way… hooray! Only trouble was he was at least 4 hours away. We kept trying to flag down trucks or land rovers to help us but most wouldn’t even slow down. So we settled in to wait. It just so happened that Will had a copy of Jurassic Park on his iPad and so we watched that surrounded by the same scenery in the movie – at times we couldn’t tell if the bird calls were coming from the iPad or the birds in the forest outside the truck.

I caught myself jumping at one point when the bushes began to sway and shake… I half expected a T-Rex to appear in front of us… instead a large male baboon popped out of the shrubbery.

We came close to beating our previous record of being stuck for 6 hours… not a record we thought we would be contesting so soon but eventually rescue came in the form of a husband and wife traveling home through the forest in a good strong Toyota. They took pity on us and stopped – with the promise of $300 Birr (~$18USD) they had us dragged back up the hill in less than 10 minutes time. Free, free at last!!

We began to limp home and meet up with Edriss after about 20 minutes. He grabbed our flat spare and followed us back up to the safety of Sanetti and our dinner. With any luck the weather will break tomorrow and we can get back to the business of photographing wolves!

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