Friday 7th January 2000
In the light of dawn, I discovered why the military were so concerned at my presence. I had camped within 50m of a bridge, which had a permanent guard post.. In the dusk light, I had not seen this. Anyway, the soldiers had behaved in a very friendly manner, and even refused any payment for their duty - an attitude that is hard to believe anywhere, let alone Africa.
From here, I drove on through Robe to Sof Omar. The trip took about 3 hours, and was through mechanically farmed areas, and there was minimal bird-life. Once at Sof Omar, I walked down to the dry river bed, and started searching for the Salvadori's Seed-eater (endemic), which is virtually restricted to this area. While I failed to find any here, the following species were seen: European Snake Eagle, European Turtle Dove, Orange-bellied Parrot, Blue-naped Mousebird, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Pied Wheatear, Brown-tailed Rock-chat, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Northern Grey Tit.
While down in the river valley, I walked downstream to the caves, an amazing sight, but since I hadn't brought the necessary torches and other gear, I was unable to explore them. I suspect one could spend a day exploring these fascinating caves, although I am not sure how far one can explore without proper diving gear.
Since the time was then getting on, and the temperature was approaching 40°c - the altitude was around 1000m - I decided to leave in order to get onto the Bale mountains by evening. Once back up to the top of the ravine, I had just started to leave, when I saw three small birds fly off from beside the road - and they appeared to have whitish rumps. To my surprise, these turned out to be the Salvadori's Serins that I was looking for. Looking at the references I have, I wonder if they don’t stay in the valley bottom in early morning, and "migrate" up to the cooler farmland during the heat of day.
I then returned to Goba, arriving at around 15:00. Here I hit my next problem. The fact that there was no petrol station open since it was Christmas Day was not totally disastrous. The fact that there was no petrol at all was. I was advised to go back to Shashamene where the last petrol would be available. If I were to do that, I would not be able to afford enough petrol to return, and complete the journey. After some inquiries, I was advised that it might be able to purchase petrol on the black-market, but only in bulk. Even this was going to give me problems - I was very short of money. I dropped in on the Goba Ras Hotel, hoping to find some advice on where to find some cheaper petrol. No such luck, but I was fortunate enough to meet a local Scandinavian UN official (although I stupidly forgot to get his name). He was prepare to change some Kenyan Shillings into Birr, since he was soon going to be leaving Ethiopia, and so could change the money once he had left. I reckoned I had just enough money to get out of Ethiopia.
Returning to the trader, I purchased a 200 litre drum of petrol. Having filled both front tanks (I still hadn’t fixed the rear tank), I had to put the rest in my empty water containers - hence ruining them for future water usage. I was left with no Birr at all! I was now totally dependent on looking after myself until I could get to Moyale - and be able to use my remaining Kenyan Shillings.
On this note, I left Goba at about 16:00, and reached the Sanetti plateau within an hour. By now the altitude was around 4300 m. On reaching the top, there were several small mountain lakes, which were searched for Ruddy Shelduck, but without luck. There were Blue winged Goose, Thekla Larks, Moorland Chats and Black-headed Siskins. There were also a few groups of both Moorland and Chestnut-naped Francolins seen both in the afternoon and the next morning. Otherwise, bird-life was very restricted. Amazingly, the first raptor seen was a Golden Eagle, which had only been discovered there within the last 10 years (Steven Spawls photographed one - which was rejected as a valid record - the year before one was first confirmed).
By this time, the sun was setting, and the temperature started dropping, so I put on some long trousers over my shorts. I decide to camp just off the main road, in a flat area next to one of the lakes. By dusk, the temperature was dropping fast, and by 20:00 it appeared to be freezing. A hot evening meal was very welcome. I retreated to my tent, where I used the sleeping bag, with the duvet as a blanket.
Saturday 8th January 2000
I was woken up sometime during the night by a scuffling sound, but I couldn’t work out what it was. However, once woken, I could not get back to sleep since it was seriously cold. At dawn, I tried to get up - but the tent was frozen solid!
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000