(From a long, long time ago, when travel called and we answered readily, “drinking life to the lees”, as Tennyson would have it.)
Meki, Ethiopia – At the unkind hour of 5:49 a.m., a gentle rap on my door stirred me from a fitful sleep. It was the morning after the wedding in Meki, and we were off to Arsi Province and needed to make an early start of it.
Our driver – a man we took to calling Big Belay to differentiate him from our friend and host, Belay Wolashe, the runner – was evidently suffering from a keening hangover, as we found him passed out in the back of the Range Rover incapable of assuming even an upright posture, much less his driving duties.
“Big Belay, he sick last night,” said friend Belay, master of the obvious, in explaining the incense sticks burning throughout the car.
It soon became clear that the two Belays, cousin Andinet, and his friend had all slept in the car last night, as Mike Long, Rich Jayne, and I had taken the only three remaining single rooms at the tiny Ghion hotel.
Finding this out after the fact made us feel guilty as hell, but we hadn’t realized – nor been told – that there weren’t enough rooms to go around when it was suggested all three faranji (foreigners) bunk together in room # 8 last night. After our protestations, rather than inconvenience their guests, our friends simply acquiesced and slept in the car.
By 6:20 a.m. we were on the road, a mangy collective of mouth-breathers until the warm air could divest the vehicle of Big Belay’s overnight involvements. We soon dropped Andinet and his friend off upon coming to the main road to Addis Ababa. Then we continued on our way toward Asela.
After another hour, the Range Rover began to misfire, until we finally were forced to pull over to the side of the two-lane road. Parked atop a high wind-swept vista overlooking the Awash National Park, we took note as the Range Rover’s starter churned unsuccessfully in its attempt to catch.
No Triple-A to call here, so the two Belays got out and stood peering into the engine compartment searching for clues with a clutch of woefully inadequate tools they found in the boot. We were having another of what our Belay called, “oh, it is no problem” problem.
Conical thatch-roofed mud huts called tukuls, common in the countryside of the Arsi region, sat bunched some 100 meters off the road atop this pearl in the string of surrounding mountains. The valley below spread for miles upon miles, a misty washed-out hew of brown grassland partially covered in scrubby bush and accented by airy-topped Acacia trees.
Finally, Big Belay emerged from the raised hood with the carburetor in hand, holding it up for inspection before blowing out the dust that had clogged it. Satisfied with his work, he quickly reassembled and refitted it. Amazing. And off we went. (more…)