PHOTO: A bush walk provided the opportunity to come very close to a herd of zebra. (Photo by David Cogswell)
On the eighth day of the NTA Product Development Tour of Ethiopia we saw two more essential aspects of the many-faceted country.
We started from Paradise Lodge in Arba Minch where we saw a fantastic sunrise over a vista that included the giant expanse of water of Lake Abaya and a huge symmetrical mountain known as God's Bridge.
After a short drive we came to the edge of Lake Chamo, where we boarded two small canopied boats and took a ride across Lake Chamo to Nech Sar National Park. On the lake we rode near crocodiles and hippos, yellow-billed storks, tall herons and maribu storks. We landed on the bank in a wilderness area in the park and took a safari walk. We were accompanied by a guard with a big rifle.
In the parklands we saw herds of zebras and kudus and were able to walk surprisingly close to them. We were told there are lions and cougars in the area, but they are scarce during the daytime. Those who want to see them need to stay overnight in one of the lodges so they can take early morning and evening game drives on the edges of the time when the nocturnal predators are active. We were just there for a quick glimpse.
We also encountered a family of baboons.
That afternoon we took what might be characterized as a trip back in time along the path of human development.
Konso Village has been in its present location near what is now the Ethiopian town of Konso for 500 or 600 years. The Konso people in the village number about 10,000 and live much as they have for hundreds of years, farming on the intricately terraced hillsides and the open plains of the area.
The area is known for its fossil beds, which are the source of significant archaeological findings of early hominids and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.
A guide from the community took us through the village along narrow, winding pathways between the closely packed thatched huts. The paths were thick with reddish brown mud after the first rain in six months had drenched the region that morning.
Walls constructed of small stones stacked without mortar or intricately woven pieces of irregularly shaped timber divided one plot from another and from the walkways. The village was surrounded by a wall to protect the community from cougars and lions, though the big cats have retreated as the surrounding area has become more developed.
As we walked through the village, a crowd of children collected around us like an entourage and grew in size, following us from place to place as we walked. They were dressed in tattered and dusty clothing, mostly Western T-shirts, jackets and jeans. They were lively and inquisitive, playing and laughing around us, trying to engage us. Some started conversations with individual members of our group of North Americans. Some made gestures to ask for pens or money. Some just asked our names and wanted to talk to us.
Storm clouds gathered as we toured the village and the rain started while we were still there, so we ended up hurrying back up the long, muddy walkway to the nearest road, where our coach was parked.
Drenched, we got on the bus and headed to our hotel, Kanta Lodge, which was built to emulate the village. The owner, Fredy Hess, is a third generation Ethiopian of French and Swiss ancestry. He was born in Addis Ababa and after living and being educated abroad returned to Ethiopia 22 years ago.
Kanta Lodge was built at the junction of five well-traveled roads near the Sagan River in southwestern Ethiopia where there are few hotels. Opened four years ago, it helped to answer the demand for lodging in the area. There was never a shortage of guests from when it first opened. It started with nine bungalows and has grown in size steadily to accommodate what Hess calls “overwhelming demand.”
Most of the hotel’s clientele are from Europe, Hess said, with an increasing number coming from Asia. Very few Americans have yet discovered the place.
The grounds are cultivated with bushes with brightly colored flowers, so that the whole area is like one big garden with modern thatched huts built into it.
The lodge is built on principles of sustainable tourism. The hot water is 100 percent solar heated. The gray water used in showers and sinks is gathered, filtered through sand and recycled for the organic garden on the premises, which supplies much of the food for the lodge.
Much of the power for the lodge comes from a recently installed biogas system that draws energy from waste.
Kanta offers two categories of rooms, including a series of 29 cottages with thatched roofs, which rent for $78 per night, and 15 standard rooms to meet the need for budget accommodation in the area, which rent for $45 a night.
We were nearing the end of our trip and growing weary, but each day brought new revelations and wonders. Ten days, nine hotels, seven flights, many drives, many sites, many experiences, many meetings. It was a lot to pack in. But we had a lot to see and we could rest when we got home and then try to assimilate all we had seen.