by Ian Gason
Almost 4 years had passed since I left Tokyo to spend time with my father in the final stages of his life. Tough as it was, I will always be glad I made the move. During my time in Melbourne, my wife Ai studied cooking and worked in two of Melbourne’s best restaurants. Me, I just plodded away in a warehouse selling “antique” Chinese furniture, until that went well and truly pear shaped. I played cricket with the Abbotsford Anglers, a bunch of guys that don’t take themselves or the game too seriously. Other Wombats to line up there include John Sutherland, Prabhat Kumar, Richard Cosway and (finally) Steve Burke, as well as Shizuoka’s Matt Sharpe. Another great Wombat in Melbourne is Peter Hosking. I was also able to catch up with the Tasmanian Ambassador Rob Mann on his home turf.
In May, Ai and I left Australia for a planned six month trip through Africa. We could have gone to Asia, but we wanted to get out of our comfort zone and dive into the deep end. It’s been awesome. And slow. 6 months looks like becoming 7 or 8! It’s a hard slog though, not all beer and skittles. 8000kms and 100s of hours spent on shitty clapped out buses, knees pressed up against the seat in front for 10 hours, while Ethiopian pop blares away. Lugging a too heavy pack through bus terminals and strange towns in search of hotels, the likes of which you wouldn’t put your mother-in-law in. Stayed in the worst hotel of my life (and before Chuck says it, yes, a cheap bastard like me has stayed in a few Barry Crockers!). But it’s all worth it. We have had some awesome experiences and been to some way out places.
Africa is stunningly beautiful in many different ways. We spent 2 months in Ethiopia, possibly the most beautiful country I have ever been to. Day after day on buses the scenery was breathtaking-mountains, deserts, forests, lakes, villages. Pity though that Ethiopians are prone to motion sickness- haven’t seen such avid spewers since Indonesia. (Quickest chuck was 9 minutes.) We spent 6 days hiking in the Simien Mountains between 3 and 4000m. We also spent 4 days in the Danakil Depression, the hottest place on the planet, where tribesman drive 20-camel trains 17 days through the desert taking salt to market, and temperatures reach the mid-50s. The wildlife in Ethiopia is also good- not the Big 5 of East Africa, but plenty of antelope and monkeys, as well as the world’s rarest dog, the Ethiopian Wolf. Birdlife there would turn the hardest cynic into a fully-fledged bird-nerd too.
We made a side-trip to Somaliland, the republic that broke away from Somalia 20 years ago (but no country recognises). There wasn’t much to see, but it was interesting. The people were amongst the friendliest and most helpful I have met, and probably the most conservative Muslim country I have been to. Had the pleasure of chewing qat with the Minister of Tourism.
We have just come down from the western highlands of Kenya, a richly fertile area bordering Uganda, and are now at Lake Victoria, where with a good pair of binoculars and a vivid imagination, we can see Tanzania and Uganda. Food has been mediocre, but who goes to Paris to look at lions? Ironically, it was our frequenting an Ethiopian restaraunt in Footscray that brought us here! North Ethiopia there was almost no variety- greasy fried lamb on injera bread. In the south it was a lot better, with fresh veggies and fruit, but even there some times the only food in town was spaghetti. Any takers for spaghetti with camel meat?
One of the most amazing things we saw was the Hamer tribe’s Bull Jumping ceremony, a man’s initiation into manhood. Being there was like walking through the pages of National Geographic. 40kms from town over acacia covered hills, women singing and dancing and whipping themselves for hours, before the man has to jump naked over 6 bulls to be allowed to marry. Kenya has been great too. Even before setting foot in a national park, we had seen giraffe, zebra, elephant, jackal, ostrich and more. We spent a couple of days getting to a place called Loyangalani, miles from anywhere and cultural world away too. Tribesman on that road, if you call it a road, live as they have for millenium. The town was nothing much, but Lake Turkana is the world’s largest desert lake and and one of the more amazing sites I have seen in my life. We have been hiking in several national parks, and mountain biked through one complete with zebra, buffalo and giraffe- plenty of stuff here for my inner bird-nerd too. And the food here in Kenya has been good too. The other day we were camping by a lake, and eating steak and pizza by night!
From here with head cautiously to Nairobi, collect a rental and head to Masai Mara, for some of the world’s greatest wildlife watching. The wildebeest migration is taking place at the moment. If we are lucky, they will still be crossing the Mara river and being eaten by crocs. From there we head to Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and finally Namibia. It’s been hard work. The roads are usually awful, the driving scary.I don’t know where I will be sleeping from night to night. I have mypassport and cashed in a money belt stuffed down my pants and one eye out for pick-pockets and scam artists most of the time. The food,apparently will get worse from here too. But we are having a great time, seeing stuff that blows our minds day after day. I hope to find a virus free net cafe and send some pics soon.
All the best from Africa.