Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ethiopia: Bale Mountains, Day 1, Friday

Up at 6:30. I really like the surroundings of the Bale Mountain Hotel. When I opened my door, I saw the pine trees on the other side of a strip of grass. Through the trees, I could see a small outbuilding. It reminded me of a nice campground in the woods in the U.S.

Opted for the continental breakfast in the hotel cafe. Coffee good. The bread, honey, strawberry jam -- eh. Also, it's best not to look too carefully at how dishware is cleaned here.

Ayano, my Bale Trek guide, arrived at 8:30 as planned. We proceeded to go food shopping. Not much to choose from. Ended up with spaghetti, fixings for a spicy tomato sauce, shiro, some bread, coffee, water, some cookies -- oh yes, and popcorn!

I tripped on a large rock in the "sidewalk." It was funny -- I could feel myself falling and I took quite a few faltering steps thinking I was going to recover my balance without falling -- nope, I took a tumble. Fortunately, just bruised a knee a bit.

Fast forward to after Ayano and Defu (the horse handler) loaded the pack horse with my gear, and after a disappointing detour through some rocky and dusty Dodola back streets (long and dull story) -- to stepping "into" that old National Geographic photo I kept for eight years.

Bale Mountains forest. Photo credit: Bale Trek

Some things you anticipate and the reality doesn't meet your expectations. In this case, walking in the Bale Mountains met every expectation. It was exactly as I'd imagined it. It was an emotional experience.
Photo credit: Currently unknown
The hike from Dodola to the camp is about 6.6 miles. Ascending altitude (beginning at ~ 8000 feet). Not a hiker, it was tough going for me, but I achieved it, which is the only thing that mattered.

We arrived at Camp Changeti around 3:00 p.m. Defu, the horse handler, unloaded my gear, then returned to Dodola with the horse. I took a nap for about an hour. Luxurious.

Camp Changeti is atop a mountain, albeit a junior one, surrounded as it is by higher, forested mountains. Below this mountain are patchwork farms in the lower hills. The camp is almost entirely grassy, cropped close by the cattle of nearby farmers. The terrain seems moraine-like to me, replete with many small folds. There are four tented dormitories, a kitchen hut, a dining hut, and a latrine and shower building. The latrine is the hole-in-the-floor, squatter type, but it was very clean.

It felt tremendously satisfying to look at "my" mountain panorama. I am definitely a mountain girl and not a beach girl.

Ayano, the guide, made popcorn (!), followed by a delicious pasta with a sauce made with tomatoes, onions, bebere, and garlic.

After dinner, Ayano built a fire and we talked about this and that for a couple of hours. The sky was black and starry.

I went to bed in the snug tent Ayano had pitched for me earlier. One of the hut keepers had inserted a mattress, and made it up with sheets. Ayano added a couple of super-heavy blankets. It was cozy.

Ayano and the guard slept in the old-fashioned, military-style, large tented dormitory close by. (When the guard appeared in early evening with a gun, Ayano had laughed, bemused, saying, "I have been with Bale Trek for 11 years. This is the first time I saw a guard bring a gun."


Anonymous said...

This is amazing, sounds fantastic. I am traveling to the Bale Mountains in April, and have been trying to arrange a trekking itinerary. This sounds so lovely; would you happen to have any contact information? How did you get to the Bale Mountains? Thank you in advance :)

Mzuri said...

Hi! I think you'll love the Bale Trek org. The email connection should now be working:

I chose to embark on the trek from Dodola - I took a bus there from Addis. An important logistical point: In purchasing bus tickets (and finding the correct bus), good to know the end of the bus' route is actually in Goba - you just get off in Dodola en route. I see that Bale Trek has new info on how to get there, albeit still not as detailed as needed:

But don't worry about making arrangements in advance - just show up and you'll be OK.

One of the things I really like about this org is there are fixed rates and an established system of trekking/lodging - no worries about negotiations and last-minute changes in fees as is in the case, for example, in the Simien Mountains.


Geoff Reed said...

That so.unds so enticing? Do you have any pictures of your own from the camp or is this the point where your camera was lost (stolen!)? I've kinda lost track of the sequence of events

Mzuri said...

It was enticing. No pics of my own as my camera had already been lost/stolen. The Bale Trek was one of the highlights of my trip. .... and I'm laughing at myself now because now I'm remembering how grumpy I became on the walk back to town.