“Don’t get out of the car” Tamam demands in his monotone, calm demenor.
“Is it because it’s not safe or to not scare them off?” I ask. He simply puts his index finger over his mouth and points out the window
There are approximately 400 Ethiopian wolves left, 280 of them in this park. Tamam tells us this with confidence as his last job was working as a conservation researcher following the wolves. At times he would walk 30km a day to track their movements and behavior. He tells us the lifestyle was one of solitude; his fellow wolf-chasers only met in the evenings after long days of running in the sun. The endangered species biggest threat is now from other members of the dog family. Namely via rabies, killing dozens of the wolf each month. Looking through my pictures, I notice that many of the dogs have tags on their ears. Curious, I ask Tamam. “Tag means they have vaccine. Many more need tags”
This was my first encounter with a endangered species, and it was a special one. The wolves have a incredible sense of smell, able to pick up our scent nearly half a kilometre away. However, they have no negative associations with the landcruiser or any other big stationary hunk of metal and are completely unaffected by our presence. When Tamam stops the car, I have no clue what he is on about. After a minute of pointing, I see three dots in the distance. It’s incredible he was able to spot them in a moving car. The plateau we’re on, nearly 3,500 meters above the sea, is a martian-esque landscape and the wolves blend in with the shrubs and rock. “It was the job, not skill you lose.” Within a minute of stopping, the wolves are in camera range and continuing our way. They trot with grace, stopping every 50 meters or so to scan the horizon and look for dinner; one of the dozens of rat species that make up this landscape. Walking around on this massive plateau and you see the rats routes and holes, with the little guys darting between them with gusto and rigour. The pack of three wolves come even closer, without giving us a glance they cross the road. Snapping away, I put my camera down for a moment and simply take in these creatures. It’s heartbreaking to think in a few years time the species may never recover.
“When we drive by, you take photos? Yes?” I roll down my window and a flood of colors enters my lens. Fresh cabbage and carrots laid out on the red earth, women dressed in rich, deep grab. Sheet metal dons the small shacks and buildings, vibrant and bright. Even the plastic tarps bring sharp hues.
We’ve just finished my favorite meal of the trip. It was humble, fresh, and delicious. Local honey, the kind that makes you want to take the word organic and put it in a blender to never be used again. Taken from wild bee’s nests in the forest, the stuff is unlike any other. Cabbage-like greens grown in the backyard of many houses here, simply prepared and salted. Both are eaten with Himbasha, a focaccia-pita type bread that does a noble job complimenting these flavors. We’re also given this bread fried up in butter, honey, and some red-orange spice. A young boy brings us the food, ducking under a the small entrance of a straw hut. Fresh coffee follows This rural village stands out in rural villages. On our trip being a westerner draws instant attention, but this was show-stopping. Old men came and sat on stools nearby and just looked at us. No words, simply taking in our white skin and strange clothes. On par with what I’ve come to expect the children were the most curious, running over when we got out of the car. The village itself isn't longer than 50 strides from Usain Bolt, but is covered with people, color, and life. As we soak up the honey, some bee’s come by to take part. Or maybe they are trying to take back what was first theirs. Regardless, Jostein is not having it, quickly noting ‘bad childhood experiences’. The towering Viking man is brought down by these cm creatures of the flower and air. So it goes this strange dance we’re all in.
We’re in the forest now, and I must say I have high standards for this term. In England I’ve been to a couple so called forests that represent more of a county park or bunch of trees. A forest should be immense and overpowering. A large blade should be required to get through once the path ends. We’re in a forest today. Life sprouts from the sprouts of the branches of the branches. Ferns grown on the shoots dead trees and flowers pop up from the floor to the canopy far above. Rain is daily here, feeding the non-stop cycle of flora and fauna that make up the Harenna forest. There is even a forest lion here, a god damn forest lion. We saw a couple colombus monkeys, with their tuxedo colors and long bushy tails. They’re extremely shy and unintelligent, but pretty, kind of like that first crush who doesn’t respond to your note you sent during recess. Jostein can’t help but swing on the tarzan branches that surround us, giving this place a feel very different from the forests I’m used to in Washington. Our time here is over too quickly, and Tamam remind us that we could have stayed in the village, in the straw huts near where we ate. Next time, next time.
Instead, Jostein and I find ourselves taking turns sending high-frequency screams into the stratosphere during our freezing cold showers. We're in the little town Robe, equipt with a teachers college and a bus stop to Addis. “In Ethiopia, you get American movies before warm showers” Jostein tells me, as he turns up the volume. The movie on the screen is cliché as it gets: the state championship football game, final play, our star the quarterback is injured, but you betcha he’ll tough it out. The announcers remind us of his rough n tumble childhood and single mother - cut to a shot of her now, drinking by herself, crying to the radio. Back to our star, calling an audible on the last play after looking into the eyes of his sweetheart, a hundred yards away. He takes the ball himself, dives.. and! The movie cuts to 20 years later and he’s the good guy sheriff in the same little town, married to his sweetheart, reminiscing about that state championship. The water is cold on my armpit.