Thursday, January 5
Today, for the first time since our arrival in Ethiopia 8 days ago, we had almost no fun at all. All we did was drive, starting a little before 8 a.m. and slogging our way north for almost 11 hours. Whereas the ride south had seemed novel and interesting, the return trip quickly grew tedious. We’d chosen a different route for the northern half of it, one that went past the celebrated Rift Valley lakes and through the creepy town of Shashamene (home to what’s left of Ethiopia’s Rastafarian community). But by the time we got to both, we felt so road-weary, we didn’t want to do any sightseeing. Steve and I concluded that we probably should have at least inquired about the possibility of flying home from Arba Minch. But the flights go only a few times a week, and somehow we never got around to looking into it.
On the other hand, we had such a wonderful time last night, it rather compensates for the dull day that followed. After visiting the Earbore tribe and leaving the Omo Valley, we’d arrived back in Arba Minch shortly before 4 p.m., made a quick stop in town for money and a coffee at the one hotel with wi-fi, then piled back in the Land Cruiser to drive for another 45 minutes or so, most of it a steep climb up a rutted dirt road. We’d slogged up that same road on the second day of our expedition, the morning we’d visited the elephant houses of the Dorze people and tasted their weird bread baked from the fermented false-banana (enset) pulp. This time, we didn’t go all the way into the village, but rather turned into the lodge that was created by a Dorze tribesman 4-5 years ago. It was splendid.
The Dorze Lodge is almost 10,000 feet high, situated on a cliff top with commanding view of both Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo (the one filled with hippos and crocs where we earlier had our boat ride). A half dozen or so elephant houses serve as the guest quarters, each containing little more than two double beds; simple but snug. An outdoor bar constructed from native materials occupies the highest part of the promontory, and Steve and I watched the sunset there while sipping cold St. George beers. Then we moved into a large communal room where the staff served us what may turn out to be our best Ethiopian meal. It started with a bright and flavorful tomato soup that I could have made a meal of. But then came rice flecked with carrots, and tasty bread, and two excellent vegetable mixtures and a platter full of what I can only describe as Ethiochips — potatoes thinly sliced and deep-fried and salted. (I couldn’t stop eating them either!). Of course there was also injera — the sour, spongy, pancakey stuff made from the uniquely Ethiopian grain, called teff. Although Ethiopians eat it morning, noon, and night, we’re already turned off by its sickly color and texture (a bit reminiscent of rolled-up dead flesh, in our not-so-humble farengi opinion.)
Although we were the only guests staying at the lodge that night, Endalk said the villagers were willing to come over and entertain us. We could hear the drum and singing as we were finishing our meal. Outside, someone had built a huge bonfire and surrounded it with chairs made of cowhide stretched over lengths of wood. The night was frigid, but lodge staffers bundled us up with blankets. Watching the festivities, I grew so warm that I eventually shed first the blanket and then my jacket. With a single drum, and maybe 20 voices, and a lot of clapping, the villagers created music so infectious I couldn’t resist joining in the dancing. (Steve could. And sadly, the altitude took such a toll on me that I only lasted for one song.) The best part was what a great time everyone seemed to be having. It occurred to me that we Americans may have our campfires. Some of us may even sing around them. But we don’t dance like this. What a shame.