Nechisar National Park, Ethiopia

A photo overview of today in Nechisar National Park.

We were advised to prepare early for our trip to the park. The was the early sunrise as seen outside our guest room at Paradise Lodge.Image

The sunrise quickly progressed to this. The scenery here is outstanding.20131130-_DSC3448

Andualem (Andy) picked up up at the guest lodge and we drove first to get a permit to visit the park, and then to pick up our ‘guard’. Over an hour later, we arrived at the park entrance. Upon entering the park, we saw this little guy. He’s a vervet monkey and if you look closely, his testicles are turquoise. Permanent blue balls, how cool is that?Image

A closer look at him20131201-_DSC3462

We drove down rutted and twisty paths in the park, finally arriving at the boat dock where  we met our boat captain and our guide. We said good-by to Andy and, comforted by multiple promises that he’d return for us,  we walked / waded down the rotted wood planking and through murky waters to board a well-loved boat with our three new companions.

These guys were the first large mammals we saw, and they were irresistible. I know they’re  dangerous, but OMG, look at those faces! So much personality…20131201-_DSC348720131201-_DSC349820131201-_DSC3505

These were big and much more colorful in person, with purples and blues around their giant beaks. They were Great White Pelicans, according to our guide.20131201-_DSC3562

Our blue boat, our captain, and behind him, the brown waters of Lake Chamo.20131201-_DSC3571

Our guide, Temesegn aka Tom, who was incredibly knowledgeable about local birds.20131201-_DSC3574

And our armed guard. The park has hyenas, cheetahs, and poachers, and an armed guide is a mandatory companion for any visitor to the national park. Luckily, the arms proved unnecessary during our visit.20131201-_DSC3671

Starting out, the boat ride was smooth and comfortable. However an hour or so later, the water became very very rough. To keep our spirits up and our anxiety down Heather and I laughed with every wave that came overboard, and we sang the Gilligan’s Island theme song as we scrambled to protect our equipment; I think our guard was amused. We couldn’t help but notice that the other boats on the lake had turned around long ago, we were the only people as far as we could see as our little boat pitched and rolled in the croc-infested waters.

Eventually, we reached the shore and were led up a brushy incline to a group of men perched on the side of the hill. They live here under a tarp. There was nothing on the hillside except the tarp, a small fire, a steel pan of fish pieces, and the men. We were invited to share the fish they had caught, which was luke-warm and mostly raw. I’m not crazy about seafood, but when you’re alone in the African wilderness with a bunch of fishermen who want to share their catch, you don’t ask a lot of questions; you just smile broadly and appreciate the fish. So the man on the right, the armed guard, fed me raw pieces of Blue Nile Perch by hand. His fingers felt rough and weather-worn on my lips, but the spirit of companionship and generosity in the sharing of this valuable food was unforgettable. Heather, a vegetarian, concentrated her efforts on the unleavened bread that they’d made over the fire, so I ate the fish with enough enthusiasm for both of us. The flesh of the fish was very soft and somewhat salty, but it wasn’t bad. We expressed much gratitude for the fish and bread, but neither of us could accept the muddy-looking fish broth we were offered.

These men live alone here among the crocodiles and the hippos, a day away from the market where they sell their fish. It’s dangerous work; they reported that two of their friends were killed by crocodiles during the previous month. It appears to be an extremely difficult life for these men.

20131201-_DSC3580

This is the leader of their little tribe. His nickname is Ito, which means Rat.20131201-_DSC3587

The fishing boats used by the men are made of grass reed. The paddle is a piece of hammered metal attached to a stick. -Hardly any protection from the crocodiles that we were soon to see.20131201-_DSC3654

Look closely. These are the terrifying beasts that these men live with. I can’t begin to explain how huge these are, and how absolutely scary. When one ran toward the boat from shore (yes, he RAN) I could think of nothing other than wanting to flee. This first guy that we saw was easily over 10 feet long.20131201-_DSC3705 20131201-_DSC3707 20131201-_DSC3728 20131201-_DSC3738

Zebras.20131201-_DSC3625

Grant’s Gazelles20131201-_DSC3617

I think these might be called Weaver Birds, but I didn’t catch it for sure.20131201-_DSC3635 20131201-_DSC3639

Photo credit for next photo: Heather Binns1401734_10153558564110529_1379262750_o

Dry, dusty plains in the interior of the park, this was the route back to our boat. Nechisar is Amharic for “white grass”.20131201-_DSC3595

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