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Saturday, November 09, 2013

Discovering the Beauty of Wenchi Crater Lake - Ethiopia

I finally finished my report cards yesterday! It took several late nights at school and several hours out of my weekend to finish grading, assigning marks, and writing comments, but I finally feel more relaxed! I went and pampered myself with a pedicure yesterday to celebrate. My next challenge will be to plan for the new quarter - but not today!

I was doing so well on my Ethiopia recaps - so now I need to finish them! I can't wait to re-read these posts in a few years and remember my trip. These recaps will also help me down the road when I do these pages in my photo albums. I'm currently six years behind, so it might be awhile!

Without further ado - my recap from my third day in Ethiopia!

We woke up bright and early and left our hotel at 6 a.m. Our bus from the previous two days had to be switched out for a smaller bus to help us over the rough terrain. That's never promising! I felt incredibly sick as we drove out of Addis, but I felt better when we got to the highway. A few hours later we stopped Ambo to find coffee, washrooms, and snacks. The snack debacle was one of the frustrating parts of this trip for me, as our trip information clearly stated to bring snacks for the long days in the bus. My roommate and I stocked up on snacks the night before leaving Dubai. After walking around the streets of Ambo for awhile, people eventually found something to eat and we could move on.

The next hour or so took place on the worst road I have ever experienced in my life.

Here's a picture of the road. I honestly felt like I was in a video game - it felt like Frogger as our driver swerved and drove all over the road and avoid the crazy divots. I took a video of the experience! This is my first time uploading a video to my blog... not sure how it's going to turn out!

A video of the rough, rough terrain.

Several members of our group felt extremely nauseous. I was very grateful I had taken anti-nausea pills.

We finally arrived at our destination, Wenchi Crater Lake! It's only 155 km west of Addis Ababa, but with the stops and terrain it took 4 hours to get there. The crater is an extinct volcano and contains a large lake, hot mineral springs, waterfalls, and beautiful valleys and farmland. There is an old monastery with a church situated on one of the lake islands. Approximately 4000 people live within the crater.  It was absolutely stunning.

The view from the top - taken with an iPhone 5. Click to expand the beauty!

Based on the original trip itinerary, I knew that there was an option to ride on horseback at the lake. I was not interested. I have ridden on horses before and not enjoyed it one bit. They are big, uncontrollable, and uncomfortable. There was one other man who didn't want to ride the horses since he is allergic. We were going to hike. Little did I know how physically exhausting this day would be!

Our starting altitude was about 3300 meters above sea level. Both Brandon and Dubai are practically at sea level, so I really struggle with exertion at high altitudes. We managed to keep a pretty good pace coming down the crater. The rest of our group was following behind on the horses. The horses were actually quite small, and each horse had a guide with them. None of the horses were going faster than a simple walk. I thought to myself, "this isn't very scary horseback riding", but I continued to trek down the crater.

Local guides walked down with us. One little boy, Maasai, gave me a walking stick to use. His brother, whose name I forget, carried our lunches down the entire crater on his shoulder.

Eventually, the crater actually got too steep for the horses to walk down with people on their backs. Everyone in our group had to hike down. It was actually quite precarious - you really had to watch where you were walking, which was sometimes difficult because the beautiful scenery would distract you. The locals were literally running down the paths with minimal protection on their feet.

We finally got to the bottom of the crater and my group members were reunited with their horses and guides. As you can see from the following picture, the bottom of the crater is full of small bodies of water and mud. All of our guides were wearing shoes that they didn't mind getting wet and muddy, but most of us were wearing pristine running shoes!

The bottom of the crater. I'm probably walking somewhere on the far left.

While everyone was riding their horse across the bottom, I was still walking alongside the edge of the crater. It was incredibly difficult, and my foot was completely submerged in mud. Eventually, one of the guides told me I should get on a horse to cross one part of the river. I was frustrated - it was either face my fears and get on a horse, or have my new white and pink running shoes be completely covered in mud. I begrudgingly got up on the horse, uttering a small scream in the process.

It wasn't actually that bad. The horse was quite small. Look at how close my feet are to the ground! The guide in the red also stayed with me the entire time, his hand clamped around the back of my knee to push the horse forward.

After a few minutes, I actually found myself beginning to enjoy the experience. We saw locals doing their laundry in natural mineral hot springs, which were a vibrant shade of orange.

Hot springs

We saw a type of water mill system that reminded me of pioneers.

We saw tons of animals, both being lead by locals or roaming free. I heard a goat yelling like a human, and I couldn't stop smiling.

Goats in the way! 

We eventually got off of our horses, ate lunch, and continued to hike. We were hiking right alongside the lake. I twisted my ankle at one point which caused me to curse, quite loudly, and startle a few of my group members. I walked it off, and it was fine for a few hours.

We took a boat ride across the lake to visit the island lake with the monastery. We didn't think we would all fit in the boat, but we did. Four local guys were paddling. The lake is apparently extremely deep, so we were all a little bit nervous while on the boat.

Our reliable, safe boat :)

We had to climb all the way to the top of the island to see the monastery. We weren't actually allowed to go in, so we just listened to one of the guys talk about the monastery and religion. Most of us tuned out, since we had just seen a monastery the previous day. For me, seeing the outside of the monastery was not worth hiking up and down that island. I was seriously feeling the altitude at this point and was breathing very heavily.

The outside of the Monastery - not worth the exertion!

One notable memory is that I kept slipping on something while hiking down the island. It was some type of plant like a pinecone. Dan was holding my hand at some point when I just slipped, and I just kept sliding until I was basically doing the splits. One of the guides was pretty concerned and took my other hand, so I was helped down by two guys! I hadn't been slipping while hiking all day, so that was pretty strange.

We took another boat right back to the other side of the crater. There was absolutely no way I could hike back up the crater, so I jumped back on the horse. The ride up was still gorgeous, but we were all exhausted by this point. I didn't take any pictures, but here are few from my friend Sarah as we rode up:

Donkey! :)

Riding up the crater

Look at all of the green colours!
The bus ride back to our hotel in Addis was long. Apparently people who do the Wenchi Crater Lake trip often stay in Ambo overnight. I would definitely recommend this!! Most of us managed to get some sleep on the bus. There had been talk about going back to the jazz club earlier in the day but by the time we got back, we were just too tired. We ate a nice dinner in the hotel and I went to bed. A few people stayed up and had a few drinks, but I just needed sleep.

It was an absolutely exhausting day, but I saw some of the most stunning scenery in my life and overcame a significant fear (although it barely counted as real horseback riding!).

My fourth and final recap will cover our "free" day in Addis Ababa where we finally got to go into the heart of the city. I also had a moment where I felt like an Amazing Race contestant - all I needed was the cameraman! Stay tuned :)

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