Silently, Tamam pokes at the brown, freshly turned earth. His eyes are big and intensely concentrated. To me, the dirt looks... well like dirt. But I give him a knowing confirmation nod. He waves us forward and ducks under the curved trees in front of us.
For 10 minutes we lightly jog away from town and the path to the lodge. Where is he taking us? We then stop in a clearing and look down to a small field of brown, worn grass. We pause for a minute in silence. I’m starting to think we lost the hunt, or question if there was a hunt to begin with. Then, I see it. Head bobbing low into the grass, a long slender dog with black spots is near the edge of the field. Collectively our heart rates rise a hundred beats and we’re in full pursuit, it’s a lone hyena. Jostein and I trail our mountain guide as he elegantly dodges holes and mounds while keeping his gaze up ahead. We pause every couple minutes to make sure not to lose the predator, hearts still blazing with the pursuit. We make it down to the grasslands and are in full stride. Tamam runs with little effort, his body barely wasting any movement at a pace I feel he could keep all day. With all the adrenaline pumping through my veins I’m temporarily in a similar state. We are catching up. The grass here is the perfect hunting height for the dog, hiding all but the tops of its head. We are signaled to stop on a cleared cattle path. It’s silent as we scan the grass in front of us. Tamam snaps his fingers and points repeatedly. Ears:
It’s a blurry and rushed photo, but I’m still surprised I could think to use the camera. Jostein later told me he locked eyes with the hyena, one of the most successful predators in Africa. Just being that close was exciting enough, and as the dog darted off and escaped our gaze, it set in this was an experience I wasn’t to forget. We wandered the tall grass for several more minutes hoping to get another tail or trail, but we were finally duped. It was great to see Tamam as excited as the foreigners, it really added something, like this wasn’t an everyday run in. He confirms this saying that hyena’s, as nocturnal hunters, are rarely seen at 2pm. Moreover, this must have been a lone male, exiled for not sharing a previous kill with the pack.
8:30 that morning and Jostein and I are waiting on the deck of the lodge. “That is the weirdest hiking outfit I’ve ever seen” Jostein tells me after we met Tamam, who will be with us the next two days. He’s wearing a Mickey Mouse polo with a black blazer, jeans, and white Nike’s with a red swoosh. Our plan for the day is to take a hike in the northern part of the park which makes up the grasslands and some small mountains. After a stroll through the town of Dinsho we’re out in the open fields with the green rolling hills around. It comes to mind that some of the oldest humans were believed to come from Ethiopia. Did the ancestors of modern man walk fields similar to this? The landscape now takes on a different feel as I try and imagine the connection to our humanity, genome, and sense of wonder for nature that this place - or at least one like it - may have help bring about.
“It’s in my blood, when I see a peak, I want to stand on top of it” Jostein tells Tamam as we decide to make the hike to a nearby mountain. “It doesn’t look too high anyways” he has now sealed our fate for a hard climb. Up we go, and on the other side of the ridge we see the biggest nearby village. Even from the distance we are, making houses look ant-sized, deep ruts can be seen ground into the red-orange earth. This village has been here for many, many years we are told, and the paths are used every day by the people. Even the trail we walk on now is not ‘meant’ for getting to the summit but one for livestock and livelihood. “How do they get water?” I ask Tamam. He tells me, “Where there is water, there is man”, implying that many of the rivers and streams in the area will be accompanied with clay and straw huts, fields of vegetables, and humanity.
“Is that the summit?” Jostein asks. I naively reckon it is, sweat now cool on my back. Of course it’s not the top, as we now see where the actual conquered-it spot lies. It’s a classic mistake of the hiker, asking how far is left or pondering on where the summit it. Rarely does this reduce the pain in the legs or burning in the chest. Jostein pushes forward, calling upon the Nordic gods of calf power and reaches the top shortly before me. We have a nearly 360 degree view of the surrounding park, and after a solid high-five of summit solidarity we soak it in. It’s silent up there, and our only guests are fluttering about:
Not a bad place to have lunch, and we do so sharing our packed sandwiches with Tamam. With no rush, we spend some time overlooking the valleys and watch a herd of cattle with a villager a couple hundred meters below. Farmers at nearly 4000 meters. In the distance we spot a lammergeyer, and if you’ve watched the TV show ‘Life’ or ‘Planet Earth’ you may know what a bad-ass creature of the air this is. Also known as a bearded vulture, these guys grab left over bones, bring them up, and boom! Drop them repeatedly on sharp rocks. Once down to a sufficiently small size, they gobble them up. Really, they tilt their head back and swallow the bone pieces whole. Their stomach acid – stronger than the stuff at a grateful dead reunion bus tour – disintegrates the bone and leaves the nutritious marrow. Watching this massive bird soar above, I take a deep breath and close my eyes. It’s silly to say nature is peaceful, as it is clear that we humans are just hectic. If given back to the planet, nature is in harmony much of the time. If we took some time to sit in the woods or on a mountain, we’d see all we have to do is let it come to us.