Western Ethiopia is the corner of the country that is mostly ignored by travellers for a few reasons, its lack of well known sights, the proximity to South Sudan and our fear of the unknown. All these were good enough reasons for me to head out there. The nine hour bus journey takes you through a landscape that will abolish all preconceptions about Ethiopia being a land of desert and famine, as even during the dry season the Western Highlands are lush and green with a tropical feel that I’ve yet to experience in this country.
Jimma is the largest town and capital of the Kaffa region and has few sights, but there are some decent day trips out into the surrounding area. Lake Boye a few kilometres outside of the town isn’t exactly a lake but a bog, is a reliable place to see hippos. The Hippopotamus’ name derives from a Greek word for ‘river horse’, you would expect finding these huge beasts to be a simple task but you really need to know where to look around the river. Thankfully for a small fee you can hire some young boys who work as semi professional hippo locators to help you find the Hippopotamus amphibius.
Hippos are the deadliest animal in Africa and are responsible for 300+ human deaths per year. I did see one hippo behind a tree on the other side of the riverbank but decided to get a little closer in search of a National Geographic style photo. Hippos are extremely aggressive and easily frightened so by the time I got close enough it made a mad dash into the water. They can run as fast as 30mph on land so sadly even with the help of the hippo locators who threw stones at the beast I was unable to get that vital shot. But for those of you who are unsure of what a hippo looks like I have attached a photo anyway…
My wildlife hunting escapades continued when I’d heard about a reliable place to spot Hyenas on the outskirts of town. The Hyena belt as it’s known is no wildlife sanctuary, just a strip of garbage. The best time to catch the laughing mammals is around dusk, to the locals it must look funny seeing a Farenji wandering around in a sea of plastic bags repeating the word ‘Djibb’, which is Amharic for hyena. They never turned up, guess they got the last laugh.
Kaffa is the region where the Arabica strain of coffee originated. It’s thought to have been discovered by a young herdsman called Kaldi when his goats became hyperactive after eating the wild leaves and berries. Kaldi then integrated the coffee into the local monastery where the monks first laughed at the idea that anything growing on tree can give a stimulating effect, so threw all the berries into the fire. It was only then that the monks became seduced by the fumes from the fire that they decided to give it a go. The rest is history and now coffee accounts for 70% or Ethiopia’s annual foreign revenue.
In this famously coffee mad country I wanted to visit a coffee forest in the area. Sadly it’s not the right time of year so there were no berries in bloom, in fact I think we were more interest to the locals than the forest was to us. It did give me the chance to create an Ethiopian Abbey road though.
Getting away from Jimma was the most psychologically demanding journey I’ve done in the country. What should have been a three hour bus ride took closer to seven. The public bus wasn’t full when leaving so stopped every couple of minutes to let people on or off and seen as it was a Friday, stopped for around 45 minutes for all the passengers to pray. This is generally the type of laid back, no urgency attitude I’ve come to expect from Africa and if anything this journey has taught me that getting annoyed or being impatient isn’t going to help and certainly isn’t going to make things different. Just sit back, things will happen when Africa decides it will happen.
The town of Weliso en route back to Addis was a suitable place to stop and recharge my brain after sitting on the never-ending bus all day. The church here, Weliso Maryam, attracts many sick, disabled and mentally ill pilgrims who are said to be cured from the holy water that flows into the church. As it happened my embarrassing case of piles that I had from sitting down too much on long Ethiopian bus journeys had miraculously disappeared. Now I’m a belieber!