massages & creature encounters at lake langano

Monday, October 29:  After our morning of birdwatching, we each have an hour-long massage in the massage hut. It’s wonderfully relaxing, except for the deep tissue kneading the masseuse does on my calves.  They feel bruised and beaten after all is said and done.

the massage hut at Bishangari Lodge

the massage hut at Bishangari Lodge

Behind this door lies a great massage!

Behind this door lies a great massage!

our masseuse doubles duty as a waitress

our masseuse doubles duty as a waitress

After our massages, we take another walk along the lakeshore, where we see a couple of scary-looking birds that appear to be right out of some prehistoric age.  They’re Abyssinian ground hornbills, and they don’t seem frightened of us at all.  They just strut their stuff confidently under the acacia trees and across the pumice rock.

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

While the strange black birds strut around like they own the land, a yellow-billed stork sits quietly on the lakeshore.

yellow-billed stork

yellow-billed stork

yellow-billed stork takes flight

yellow-billed stork takes flight

yellow-billed stork

yellow-billed stork

And we see a companionable little group of spur-winged plovers and Senegal thick-knees relaxing on the pumice stones.

spur-winged plovers and Senegal thick knees

spur-winged plovers and Senegal thick knees

grassy land beside the lake

grassy land beside the lake

As we stroll back through the forest toward our cabin, we hear leaves rustling overhead and find some elusive black & white Colobus monkeys darting about through the branches.  This one sits still just long enough for us to capture a blurry image of him on camera.

Colobus monkey in the forest

Colobus monkey in the forest

And later still, as I swing on the hammock by the lake, this black bird comes into the branches directly overhead.  I’m not sure what he is, but he’s possibly a Northern black flycatcher or a fork-tailed drongo.  I don’t know about the forked tail though, as his tail doesn’t look very forked to me.

Northern Black Flycatcher or fork-tailed drongo?  Not sure... :-)

Northern black flycatcher or fork-tailed drongo? Not sure… 🙂

Here at Lake Langano is the first time I have ever done any birdwatching, and I find it quite fascinating, especially as Ed knows his birds and has a book about birds of Ethiopia.  I love being out in nature at this place along Lake Langano.

Categories: Acacia trees, Africa, bird-watching, Ethiopia, Forest, Lake eco-zone, Lake Langano, Pumice stone eco-zone | 3 Comments

a dawn birdwatching expedition at lake langano

Monday, October 29:  This morning we wake up before dawn to go on a guided birdwatching stroll.  While waiting for our guide near the lodge dining area, a scaly francolin with bright orange webbed feet hops about on the ground and on the low branches of trees.  Wild horses graze near the lodge dining area.

a Scaly Francoline outdoors near the dining area

a scaly francolin outdoors near the dining area

wild horses graze near the dining area

wild horses graze near the dining area

another wild horse

another wild horse

Once our guide arrives, we spend two hours traipsing in the acacia zone by the lake and then through the forest.  We cross a big open field, and then wander along the fringes of the forest. Yellow-fronted parrots flit about in trees near the lake.

yellow-fronted parrots

yellow-fronted parrots

The bird of paradise alights only upon the hand that does not grasp. –John Berry

In the forest, we marvel at the huge gnarled ficus trees, and as we walk out into the open field, we come across a group of baboons romping around and grooming each other.  We nearly stumble into a hole dug by an aardvark, and up the trees, we spot three black & white Colobus monkeys watching us like spies from the treetops.

red shoes & wildflowers

red shoes & wildflowers

ficus tree in the forest

ficus tree in the forest

Olive baboons groom each other with care

Olive baboons groom each other with care

an aardvark hole

an aardvark hole

three black & white Colobus monkeys watch us from the treetops

three black & white Colobus monkeys watch us from the treetops

Lines of schoolchildren, books under their arms and dressed in colorful mismatched clothing, pass by us in the field on their way to school.  One elderly gentleman accompanies his children on horseback.

renewal of the mind: going to school

renewal of the mind: going to school

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an elderly gentleman accompanies his children to school on horseback

We find scores of different birds.  Most of them I’m not able to capture on film. Blue-breasted bee eaters flit about on some bushes. Greater blue-eared starlings hop about in the field.  A red-headed weaver industriously builds a nest.

blue-breasted bee eater

blue-breasted bee eater

blue-breasted bee eater

blue-breasted bee eater

blue breasted bee eater

blue breasted bee eater

In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence – Robert Lynd

Greater blue-eared starling

Greater blue-eared starling

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. –Chinese Proverb

a red-headed weaver builds his nest

a red-headed weaver builds his nest

Later, as we have breakfast at the lodge, Ed identifies all the birds we saw on the walk: speckled pigeons, lemon doves, African paradise flycatchers, white-rumped babblers, Grey-headed bush shrikes, fork-tailed drongos, red-checked cordon bleu, white-throated seed eaters, African dusty flycatchers, Eurasian hoopoes, common red starts.  And many more elusive little birds with colorful names.

Categories: Africa, bird-watching, Birds, Ethiopia, Forest, Lake Langano | 3 Comments

fine feathered friends along lake langano’s shores {sunday}

Sunday, October 28: We spend some time walking along the lake shore where we spot birds of many feathers.  This is where I really discover either my camera’s or my own shortcomings.   My camera takes a lot of great photos, but it doesn’t do certain things well:  1) It doesn’t take good night shots; 2) it doesn’t take good macro pictures; and 3) it doesn’t take good pictures of small things at a distance, like birds.   The zoom lens basically sucks.  At some point, I will definitely need to buy a new zoom lens for my little Olympus PEN  EPL-1.  Either that or upgrade my camera completely.

a Great Cormorant

a Great Cormorant

Great cormorant takes flight

Great cormorant takes flight

Along the lake we wander. We admire the birds, we stare out over a horizon heavy with gray clouds, we listen to the choppy waves hit the shore.  We take pictures.  Ed, being a veteran bird-watcher, knows his birds and educates me as to what is what.  He points out a Great cormorant, a Senegal thick-knee and some spur-winged plovers.

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Senegal thick knee

spur-winged plover

spur-winged plover

spur winged plover

spur winged plover

spur-winged plovers

spur-winged plovers

the spur winged plover takes flight

the spur winged plover takes flight

After our afternoon of exploring the pumice stone area, the beach, and the lakeshore, we head to the Tree House bar where we share a bottle of Gonder Ethiopian red wine.  We toast to our safe arrival at the lake.  We eat a dinner of mushroom soup, black olive salad, pan-fried fish served with French fries, vegetables and pasta, and a crepe suzette for dessert.  Cicadas chirp in the background, a musical serenade.

Lake Langano

Lake Langano

another view of Lake Langano

another view of Lake Langano

acacia tree along the lakeshore

acacia tree along the lakeshore

 

Categories: Africa, Bishangari Lodge, Ethiopia, Lake eco-zone, Lake Langano | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

the beach at bishangari lodge

Sunday, October 28:  It’s a little too cool at Lake Langano for swimming, but that doesn’t stop us from swinging in the hammocks by the lake, listening to the waves roll into shore, and enjoying the chatters & chirps of the birds.

the beach at Bishangari Lodge

the beach at Bishangari Lodge

the sun loungers wait for the sunshine

the sun loungers wait for the sunshine

sticks tied together to make primitive boats

sticks tied together to make primitive boats

loungers and hammocks ~ everything for relaxation :-)

loungers and hammocks ~ everything for relaxation 🙂

groovin' on a Sunday afternoon...

groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon…

chairs near the beach for lake viewing

chairs near the beach for lake viewing

Ed in his hammock :-)

Ed in his hammock 🙂

Monday is a sunnier day at the Langano Lake beach

Monday is a sunnier day at the Langano Lake beach

...but there are no cushions on the loungers

…but there are no cushions on the loungers

the glittery beach

the glittery beach

Categories: Africa, Beach, Bishangari Lodge, Ethiopia, Lake Langano | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

the dry pumice stone eco-zone at lake langano

Sunday, October 28: One of Lake Langano‘s eco-zones is a dry pumice stone area on a piece of land that juts through the lake like a gnarly finger, separating the lake proper from a wetland area. On our first afternoon at the lodge, we take a walk through the area, encountering numerous birds and acacia trees. It feels a little like a walk on the moon, somewhat surreal but lovely .

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first encounter with the pumice stone

pumice under the clouds and an acacia tree

pumice under the clouds and an acacia tree

Pumice stone may have had a more important historical role in our lives than just scrubbing dead skin off feet.  Scientists claim the rock, which is produced as volcanic gases bubble through lava as it solidifies, may have been responsible for the birth of life on earth more than 3.5 billion years ago, according to a 2011 article from The Telegraph: Humans may owe more than smooth feet to pumice, claim scientists.

a whole spread of pumice

a whole spread of pumice

I think it does look like some prehistoric landscape.

more pumice along the lake

more pumice along the lake, not unlike a moonscape

me in pumice land

me in pumice land

Palaeobiologists believe the essential cocktail of chemicals that make up all organisms on earth could have accumulated inside the pumice pores, while other chemicals commonly found within could have kick-started biological reactions under ultraviolet light.

Ed takes a seat on a pumice chair

Ed takes a seat on a pumice chair

dramatic pumice landscape

dramatic pumice landscape

pumice meets lake

pumice meets lake

I’m amazed by this landscape, especially as the light wanes in the afternoon.  We walk along the rocky surface, checking out the birds preening and flitting about along the lakeshore:  pied kingfishers, spur-winged plovers, Senegal thick-knees, Great cormorants, Nyanza swifts.  I’ll feature some of our fine-feathered friends in another post.

and seen in a different light, as the sun goes down

and seen in a different light, as the sun goes down

The next two days, we explore the pumice-stone area a little more, marveling at how it appears in different light.

further down the finger peninsula, along the lakeshore

further down the finger peninsula, along the lakeshore

and shadowed by acacia trees

and shadowed by acacia trees

I love this stunning and peaceful place, where there are only a few quiet and relaxed inhabitants.  Namely us.  🙂

Categories: Africa, Ethiopia, Lake Langano, Pumice stone eco-zone | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

the bishangari eco-lodge at lake langano, ethiopia

Sunday, October 28:  We stay for 2 nights at the Bishangari Eco-Lodge at Lake Langano, Ethiopia.  Here, we explore the wetlands, the beach and lake, the forest, an otherworldly pumice rock landscape and an acacia shrub zone replete with birds, horses and baboons .  We eat the Menus of the Day, posted before each meal with curlicue writing on bark signs. We go birdwatching in the dewy forest as the sun rises, encountering multitudes of birds, Colobus monkeys, and baboons, as well as children walking to school with books in their arms.  We get relaxing oily massages.  We walk along the beach and then swing in hammocks beside the lake. We sit on the porch of our cabin and peruse bird books, jotting down the birds we identify.  We take a hippo-spotting hike where we don’t spot any hippos, but we encounter a simultaneous sunset and moon rise over the wetlands in a glowing blue light.  We watch the staff while the hours away by playing checkers using bottle caps. And at the end of each day, we share Gonder Ethiopian wine at the lovely Tree House bar with the sounds of birds twittering, chirping, chanting and singing all around us.

The weather is a fabulous 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees C) during the days.  At night I burrow under blankets and sleep like I’ve never slept before.

From the Bishangari Lodge website:

Imagine a natural retreat of outstanding beauty that combines five unique ecological zones, a secluded setting that is host to over 400 bird species, a diverse range of wildlife, spectacular array of plant life and un-spoilt biodiversity. Bishangari Lodge is less than 250 kms South of Addis Ababa, situated on the shores of Lake Langano, Bishangari’s secret has been safe thanks to its inaccessibility.

The lodge has been designed on sound environmental principles utilizing solar power and biogas for energy. The lodges have been constructed using natural materials and traditional techniques, without compromising on the quality and luxury of the accommodation. It is a natural retreat of outstanding beauty that combines five ecological zones;- wetlands, beach and lake, the forest, the dry pumice rocks and the acacia shrub.

I’ll feature each of the ecological zones in upcoming posts.

Click on any of the images below for a full-sized slide show.

Categories: Africa, Bishangari Lodge, Ethiopia, Lake Langano | 5 Comments

a drive to lake langano in ethiopia

Sunday, October 28:  Ed and I wake up early this morning for our 3-hour drive to Lake Langano, south of Addis Ababa.  I feel better today, after being sick all day yesterday.  I think it’s because I discontinued that malaria medicine and it’s finally clearing out of my system.  I still don’t feel perfect, but there is a noticeable improvement.

the landscape south of Addis Ababa

the landscape south of Addis Ababa

Once we escape the crowds, dirt, and  poverty that swarm around us everywhere in Addis, we suddenly emerge into beautiful countryside.  I’m amazed at how stunning Ethiopia’s landscape is, with its acacia trees, tukul huts that rise naturally out of the land, undulating hills and patchwork of greens and golds.  I could fall in love with Africa.

pumpkins bring the flavor of fall to Ethiopia

pumpkins bring the flavor of fall to Ethiopia

Northern Carmine Bee Eaters

Northern Carmine Bee Eaters

After about two hours, we pass through an area that is more dry and arid than the first 2/3 of the drive.  It’s not nearly so pretty here, but it still has its charms, with the locals, dressed in mismatched colorful clothing, always in motion along the dusty roads.  Many of them are burdened with some kind of load, carrying firewood or sacks of grain on their heads or backs.

interesting cacti (?)

interesting cacti (?)

landscape on the way to Lake Langano

landscape on the way to Lake Langano

a nice little goat on a tree

a nice little goat on a tree

more cacti

a Rüppell’s Starling perched on some cacti

more Greater Blue-eared Starlings

more Rüppell’s Starlings

When finally we get to the turn-off to Bishangari Lodge, the eco-lodge where we will stay, we have a very rough drive over a bumpy dirt track for about 15 kilometers. It’s slow going, but this is where we see rural Ethiopians prodding their livestock along, sitting outside their tukul huts, or just playing in the dirt.  We also pass cool trees, cacti, flowers and birds.  We even see a goat up on a fallen tree, having a bit of lunch.

locals having a day out in the yard

locals having a day out in the yard

a boy tending the hay

a young man tending the hay

acacia trees & tukuls

acacia trees & tukuls

It turns out that Lake Langano is my favorite part of Ethiopia.

residences near Lake Langano

residences near Lake Langano

Categories: Africa, Ethiopia, Lake Langano | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

the lalibela saturday market

Saturday, October 27:  This morning, I wake up feeling sick.  I don’t know what it is, but it involves severe cramps and a wicked headache, as well as general malaise.  I blame the malaria medication I am taking.  At the advice of doctors in Nizwa, I was to begin one medication on Thursday, upon arrival in Ethiopia, which I did.  However, on Friday, I was supposed to take another medication, and then switch back on Saturday to the first medication.  Whatever they gave me for Friday obviously has some bad side effects, as I wake in the middle of the night feeling horrible.

It effects my entire day today.

I cannot even eat breakfast.  As Ed eats a delicious-looking omelet, I just sit and nibble on some plain toast.  He asks if I want to skip our visit to the Lalibela Saturday market, but how can I?  I love local markets and I can’t bear the thought of missing it. So I tell him, no, I want to go.  We have a flight back to Addis Ababa at 12:45.  I will just put one foot in front of the other and visit the market.

The market is spread out over a big dirt area in the middle of the town.  The villagers have set up tarps or temporary stalls made of eucalyptus poles and textiles. Some just sit under umbrellas to hide from the sun.  Some people spread out their grains or vegetables or textiles on tarps or blankets on the ground.  It’s hot, dusty and chaotic.

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

 

People are selling everything imaginable from firewood to salt blocks.

Up to this day in Ethiopia, salt is a precious commodity for people and their animals, and is even used as a kind of currency, according to Lonely Planet Ethiopia & Eritrea.  Afar nomads and their camels, even today, travel to the salt lakes in the Danakil Depression in eastern Ethiopia, where they cut by hand rectangular blocks of salt, known as amole, and then spend weeks traveling by caravan to market, where they barter with the bars.

We see these salt blocks for sale, along with teff (the local grain used to make the Ethiopian staple bread injera).  The low quality teff is dark and course, while the more expensive, high-quality teff is pale and smooth.

Also for sale are dried peppers, cabbages, onions, peas and lentils, whole wheat, collard greens and numerous other grains and greens.  Also for sale is chat, made from the leaves of the shrub Catha edulis.  Deemed by the WHO as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychic dependence, it is banned in most Arab and Western countries, according to Lonely Planet.

At the market, we also find traditional clothing, colorful textiles and blankets, live chickens, and long eucalyptus poles used for construction.

People come from miles around, mostly on foot, to the Saturday market.  The lucky ones have donkeys to carry their goods, but most people carry their goods on their backs or their heads.  It’s amazing even after we leave the market how we pass hordes of people heading to the market, from literally miles and miles away.

The rest of the day, I feel miserable.  We catch our plane to Addis Ababa, but we have to endure an extra hour flight as the plane makes a stop in Gonder.  When we arrive back in Addis, I take a long bath and a long nap.  I have decided to stop taking the malaria medication.  I will just take my chances.  Tomorrow we head to Lake Langano, about three hours south of Addis by car.  I don’t want to be sick for that trip!

Categories: Africa, Ethiopia, Lalibela, Saturday Market | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

evening in lalibela

Friday, October 26:  After leaving the Lalibela churches, we head back to the room, where I take a little nap.  Then we go up to the terrace for a bottle of Ethiopian wine: Gouder, produced in Addis Ababa.  There we run into some colleagues of Ed’s from the embassy and chat with them a bit.  We sit and enjoy the sunset and the wine over the beautiful valley of Lalibela.   Dinner follows at the Mountain View Hotel, probably one of the few places to eat in town.  It’s typical tourist hotel food, and not at all memorable.  I don’t even bother to take a picture!

Below are pictures of the town and landscape right outside the Lalibela churches.

leaving the Lalibela churches

some crazy hordes of cacti 🙂

And on the terrace of the Mountain View Hotel.

Ethiopian red wine – Gouder

the view of the Lalibela valley from our hotel as the sun is setting

a view in a different light

me relaxed and topping off the day 🙂

and a little different light

me at the top of lalibela land

sunset…

 

Categories: Africa, Ethiopia, Lalibela, Mountain View Hotel Lalibela | 5 Comments

lalibela’s southeastern churches

Friday, October 26: After lunch at the Mountain View Hotel, we head out again with Masala to the southeastern group of Lalibela churches.  On the way, Masala points out The River Jordan and Mount Tabor, named after Jerusalem’s holy sites.  Heading to Bet Gabriel-Rufael, we climb a path alongside of which is a sliver of hewn rock known as “The Way to Heaven.”

We enter Bet Gabriel-Rufael from the top of the church, walking over a rock-carved bridge that crosses a deep trench. Scholars think this church may have been a fortified palace for Aksumite royalty in the 7th and 8th centuries.  The monumental facade is the most interesting thing about this church.

We make our way through a pitch-black tunnel, which Masala likens to the experience to descending into hell.  We emerge into light (likened to heaven) into Bet Merkorios, which some say may have once been the town’s prison.  This is because of ankle shackles found within the church.  Inside is a fresco representing the three wise men, possibly created in the 15th century.

The freestanding Bet Amanuel is a finely-carved church and may have been the royal family’s private chapel.  Its building style is like Aksumite buildings; its projecting and recessed walls of stone mimic layers of wood and stone found in Aksumite buildings.

Finally, we visit Bet Abba Libanos, which is a hypogeous church.  This means it is under the earth’s surface.  In fact, the church is attached to rock at the top and bottom.  Legend says it was built overnight by Lalibela’s wife with the help of a few angels.  It seems to grow sandwiched between slabs of rock.

Here is a gallery of the southeastern churches.  Click on any of the images for a full-sized slide show.

Categories: Africa, Bet Abba Libanos, Bet Amanuel, Bet Gabriel-Rufael, Bet Merkorios, Ethiopia, Lalibela, Lalibela rock-hewn churches | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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