Arriving at the Hilton in the late morning, I was politely received by the Financial Manager, who said that limited arrangements could be made. They were able to advance me US $100 in cash, and I was able to pay for the room, etc on the credit card. While there I was able to contact some South Africans staying at the hotel, one of whom was prepared to change my SA Rands (of which I was still carrying approximately R500). Given the price of Birr 2.80 per litre, this would allow me to travel west to Gambela, and then back to Bale, and the complete planned trip in Ethiopia. - and leave a bit of spare cash for emergencies.
Having now sorted out my problems, I enjoyed the facilities of the Hilton for the remainder of the day.
Friday 31st December 1999
Another early start, and I was able pass Gefersa Reservoir just after sunrise, but there was such a heavy mist over the water that I couldn’t see much at all, other than large numbers of Dusky Turtle Doves and Red-rumped Swallows. Continuing back along the road to Nekempte was uneventful, and I reach there by noon. However, my luck was really running out. On filling up with petrol, I discovered that the Government had raised the fuel price by 20% overnight. My money problems were now back where they were before I took the excursion to Addis Ababa. However, having got this far, I decided to continue on to Gambela, and play it by ear thereafter.
On leaving Nekempte to the south, the road reverted to gravel (rock), and I slowed right down again. Travelling along this stretch with occasional stops I found Shikra, Little Sparrowhawk, and Foxy Cisticola. After passing through Bedele, the road heads west. After about 20 km, the tar road degrades quickly, and as it turned to gravel I found a reasonable spot to camp for the night.
Saturday 1st January 2000
Not having bothered to wait up for the new millennium (it was not due until 11 September 2007 in the Julian calendar), I awoke without a hang-over, and to the call of approximately 5 Stone Partridges.
Continuing through Metu and down to Gambela, I stopped frequently, as a wide variety of species were seen. Abyssinian Ground Hornbills were regularly seen. Gymnogene - not having been seen yet on the trip - became common, with 5 seen within an hour, all hunting close by the side of the road. A little further on, in an area of open farmland a European Sparrowhawk was seen, and when returning to a more wooded area Violet Wood-hoopoe and Black Saw-wing (race blandfordi) were seen. Red-breasted Wheatear and Red-winged Pytilia were quite common, and in one spot I found a small flock of Black-faced Firefinches.
Once past Gore and Bure, the road dropped down into the soudian lowlands, with the temperature and humidity increasing dramatically. The scenery was stunning, especially as the road approached the Baro river. While virtually no water-birds were to be seen (the river was full and fast-flowing), the were a number of other species around, including the Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, which was quite common. Other birds seen on the road to Gambela included Vinaceous Dove, Black-billed Wood-Dove, Blue-naped Mousebird, Singing Bush-Lark, African Thrush, Grey-headed Batis and Red-pate Cisticola.
Gambela town itself was not an impressive site, and had little to offer. The local government hotel (the Ethiopia Hotel) was asking US $10 to camp. Given my cash shortage, I decided to try camping in the bush. However, before I left I noticed that there were Tantalus Grivets in the grounds. Leaving town on the Gog road, I found that travel in this area was not going to be easy. At first the road was in excellent condition, but after passing the grader, I found that it was little more than a small track, and so decided to camp in the woodland nearby. I had seen little near the town, and even after walking around the area, found little in the way of bird-life.
By this time the flies were becoming a serious pest, and given the heat and humidity, I realized that this area was not going to be one of the nicest places to stay. After dark the flies departed, but the heat remained throughout the night, dropping to perhaps about 25 by dawn, when the flies reappeared. I could only be grateful I was there in mid-winter.
Sunday 2nd January 2000
Given the paucity of bird-life near Gambela town, I returned towards the escarpment as quickly as possible. However, once some distance beyond the town, the bird-life improved again, and I was able to find Northern Black Flycatcher, a flocks of Brown Babblers, White-rumped Babblers and Cinnamon-breasted Bush-Shrikes within a matter of a few hundred metres. By about 08:00, the heat was building up again, so I started up the escarpment to Metu, finding Scaly Francolin, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Chestnut crowned Sparrow-weaver on the way.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000