54 – Of crocodiles and giant pythons

Tue 19th Jan, National Hotel, Logiya

We woke up at 6 and found our security detail, two policemen, one armed with a rifle, looking over us. We set off, armed only with some biscuits and 4.5 litres of water between us, not knowing how far the lakes were, or even how many days we would have to stay out. This was because we had no way of communicating clearly what we required, which was a trip to the 5 lakes around the region. The two policemen were dressed in uniform on this day, but they were carrying little else, so we figured whatever supplies we had with us would be sufficient.

We carried on the gravel road, continuing where the bus dropped us off yesterday. According to them, it was an 8km walk to the first lake. Along the way, we passed by several Afar homes, many herds of goats, some camels, and locals headed in either direction. All throughout, the birdlife was spectacular. It would need a birdwatcher to truly appreciate the birdlife on show. My point and click Olympus fails miserably at capturing the sights.

We reached a large stream where the bridge was long gone. We had to ford the river further upstream. In the meantime, there was the show of a herd of cows trying to cross the stream. They simply refused to step into the knee deep water even after being cajoled by their minders. It was quite a hilarious sight watching the cows making a beeline for the same bank after they had been pushed halfway across the stream. In the end they did the same as us and forded elsewhere along the stream.

We reached Lake Afambo and Lake Gamarri after two hours walking. The lakes were set against the backdrop of the mountains bordering Djibouti. They were murky swampy lakes, filled with crocodiles, especially on the opposite bank of one of the many tributaries. A few had their mouths wide open on the banks. Another highlight was when we were walking along the lake’s shoreline. Nestled on a tree barely metres away from us was a huge python. We did not manage to go further down the shore though, the undergrowth was too thick.

Then came the surprise. The guides signalled we are done and should go back.

“Back? But what about the rest of the lakes?”

They waved their forefinger tellingly.

“But we specfically stated we want to go to all of the lakes, especially Abbe with its Mars terrain setting”

But there was no way we could convince them otherwise, and we ended up hanging around the lake for maybe 15 more minutes before they again told us we had to go back..

Well that was silly, we going through all the trouble, including a couple of days waiting in Logiya, just for the hour by the lakes. We were pretty annoyed that the excursion was so brief. And the bit that takes the cake was that the fee for each policeman guide was 150 birr. Of course we were adamant that we will not be paying 300 birr for half a days work. Our justification was that we did not ask for two guides (the three 4wds we passed by on the way back had 2 police guides for the 10 foreign tourists), we had spent only half a day and we did not get to see our intended lakes. Instead we will offered 200 birr, which resulted in a protracted negotiation before they finally gave in.

We had reached back by noon and decided to go back to Asaita then Logiya. We will spend the night there (yummy fuul and chilli powder yoghurt) before making our way to Djibouti. At night, we tried to arrange for transport on one of the many trucks that ply their way down to Djibouti City after overnighting in Logiya but the initial price quoted was 1000 birr (why do they even quote us such ridiculous prices!) This eventually went down to 300 but our LP published in Oct 2009 says 200 so we stood our ground. After all, this guy we are dealing with is a middleman. Tomorrow early morning, we will stand by the roadside and try to hitch with the truck drivers themselves, effectively bypassing the middleman.

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