It is about 9.30 on Friday night Ethiopian time. A lot has happened today, which has brought about in me a child-like excitement that has my heart racing. I am attempting to text all my friends to establish newly acquired bragging rights. As I write, sitting in my tent, I can hear the cry of jackal and spotted hyena. It’s unreal.
Anyway, the backstory: Will and I are in Ethiopia for eight days on Wild Philanthropy’s first ever educational. Hosted by Abaca’s Graeme Lemon, we’re due to visit the Wabe Shebelle Valley, Sheikh Hussein, the Bale Mountains, and Chebera Churchura National Park. The eight hour flight in was pleasant enough. Met by Graeme at the airport, we managed to get visas, had a wash, and breakfast at the Abaca guest house in Addis Ababa after meeting Graeme – seamless stuff.
Instantly, I have decided I like Addis and Ethiopia. Though poverty is apparent, the people don’t seem to let it rule their lives. They have a certain style and coolness about them. They smile and nod to you from one human to another human, and not, I don’t think, because they think you’re a westerner. Everyone is very friendly.
After breakfast we left Addis for the longish trip to Ali Dege, a park with no other apparent human life or infrastructure; wildlife in its rawest form. After gathering our kit – various cameras, binoculars and ID books – we drove out from camp to spot some of the wildlife this place has to offer. Enthralling. After spotting a good deal of oryx, Soemmering’s gazelle, ostriches, warthog, and Grevy’s zebra, we alighted from the vehicle and went for a walk.
A relatively unknown oasis among some of the wild places of Ethiopia, Ali Dege is stunning, and there’s plenty to see – especially when walking. Firstly, we spotted the animal that may have given me most fear and demanded the most respect among my old ecology companions over the time that we had spent collecting data for research in the bush: a honey badger. This was an animal that dives head first into bees nests, bites off the heads of cobras after being bitten and has been observed going head to head with hyaenas, leopards, and even lions. It’s no wonder the honey badger holds the Guinness world record for ‘most fearless creature’. This was the first I had spotted in the flesh and here it was not 20 meters away. Upon spotting us it seemed unfazed, as honey badgers do, but couldn’t help reflect upon some of the stories I’ve heard as my heart drummed away in my ears.
Later, on the way back, in the dark, we spotted an aardwolf sauntering away in front of the car. And still, as if that wasn’t enough, we saw an aardvark running straight in front of us and down its hole whilst spotlighting for hyenas. I hereby award myself lifelong bragging rights.
On return, sat around the dining table under a star-lit sky with shooting stars whizzing past. The day was all washed down with a three course meal cooked by our wonderful chef, Addis, and a glass of 18 Year Old Limited Edition Glenlivet. The pineapple notes that Dave (our copywriter and resident whisky fan) assured me I would taste were admittedly difficult to get, but nonetheless I felt very contented with my situation. And that is how I found myself immersed in such a unique situation this evening. Let’s see what the rest of the trip brings along. Next stop, the Wabe Shebelle Valley.