On Sunday I finally made it out to the countryside. Andy, Marcel and I took a walk out to the Chele Anka waterfalls, just south of Mekelle. The directions we had were slightly vague… turn left out of the house, keep walking straight on for about 7km, then you’ll come to the village of Debre, at the village find a guide (one of the local kids) and they’ll take you the rest of the way (for a bit of money obviously).
However vague these directions seemed, they did work well for us, it’s only a short walk from our house to the edge of town, and the track to the village was easy to find and follow – it was quite amazing how quickly we felt like we were actually in the countryside (rather than just the outskits of town). Once up out of town the route was very flat, through fields of tef (the staple grain here, that’s used for injera). A guy with his donkey walking the same way insisted on carrying my water for me, and to every other Ethiopian he saw said something along the lines that he’d got some ferengis. All seemed to find his comments very funny, so I’d probably missed the actual joke!
Once at the village we attracted quite a few kids, who all wanted to show us the way, though none actually said up front that they’d want money to be guides. Our water carrier was still with us and he passed the bottle to two of the kids, which we took to be an indication that they were going to be our guides for the rest of the day.
Both of our guides were called Hargos, aged about 10 (Hargos 1) and 8 (Hargos 2), but only Hargos 1 spoke much/any English. Despite already having guides several others tied to tag along – presmably in the hope of getting some money, but we did make it very clear that we only needed (and would only pay for) the 2 Hargoses.
They took us through to the edge of the village, which consisted of small stone houses – some with the traditional thatch, others with new tin roofs. Then we arrived at steep gorge, with the waterfall and church in the distance, and started the descent to the bottom. It’s around 200m deep and very steep, some stone terracing to stop it all collapsing but not really any path to speak of. At the bottom we could see how much greener it was due to the river passing through and the crops being planted down there.
Basically we scrambled down the gorge then walked along to the river to the pools at the bottom of the waterfall. The waterfall is about 100m with plenty of water, especially considering there’s been no rain here for at least a month. next to the falls at the top is an impressive stone church. Lots of locals were out having a swim. Whilst having our picnic, loads of other (teenage) kids joined us, who we suspect were also attempting to be our guides even though we’d already arrived.
After some lunch we started to make our way back, then, just before we started to climb back up through the gorge, some of the older kids started to hassle us for money. Essentially they were saying that the Hargoses were too young and wouldn’t be able to protect us properly. All that we could see that we actually needed protection from was the older kids themselves (we’d previously heard that sometimes kids will throw rocks at the tourists). In the end we gave up trying to argue with them, having explained that they hadn’t actually done anything and we already had guides, and started to make our own way back up. The Hargoses seemed a little intimidated by the older kids and so caught up with us a little later on as we were about halfway back up.
Back at the top we were escorted back to the track back home, where we paid each Hargos 10 birr each (about 1 USD), even though they then went on to demand more – something along the lines of wear and tear on their shoes. 10 birr is a very good rate, given that it’s near the average daily wage for an adult and they’d only been with us for a couple of hours.
It was great to get out of the city for a while and see a bit of the countryside, though slightly spoiled by the hassle and demands for money – but I guess that’s what comes with being a foreigner out here!