Monday, October 25, 2010

Danger in Ethiopia.

This is one way to cross a river when the bridge has collapsed. Just climb in the bucket and off we go!
Health and Safety officers would have a fit if they saw this happening back home.

Rainy season in Ethiopia in August,and roads get washed out, or bridges just can't cope with the volume of water. Travelling on our Gap Adventures DEN  Ethiopia Explorer we'd hit a traffic jam and groaned at the knowledge there was no other route around, and a backtrack would take days. Traffic had backed up for miles on both sides of the broken bridge. We got out to take a closer look.

I forced my way through the crowd to take shots of the action going on. The concrete approach had collapsed because the torrent had scoured out behind the side abutments  severely weakening it, and leaving a huge gaping hole where the approach road used to be. You can see the support to the left end 
of the bridge has also been compromised and if that moved, the whole bridge could go.

An excavator was bucketing river gravel and rocks up from the riverbed, filling the trucks and they were
dropping the gravel on the bridge. Then the excavator would come up and push the river gravel into the hole to try and fill it up enough to create a temporary road across the bridge. But it seemed to me that if you piled more weight on that weakened end of the bridge, it could cause it to move and collapse. That was a huge hole behind the retaining abutments, and fill that up, get more rain, and the weight against that weakened wall could push it out. While the truck was dumping on the bridge, the excavator would load up with people and carry them across the river. Crazy stuff going on.
But cross your fingers guys and pray because we have to get across!

We sat in our Gap Adventures bus and waited, confident our resourceful guides would figure something out. Meantime, I fed the dog......
This scared  but beautiful looking dog wandered timidly along the line of traffic, scavenging any peeling, crust or food scrap thrown out the windows. You have to harden your heart to the plight of dogs in some countries. Here in Ethiopia their life wasn't as bad as many countries. Locals depend on their livelihoods from sheep, cattle and goats, and dogs are essential to help protect their animals, so they are looked after by a family. In many parts hyena and even leopard will be out during twilight taking down that stray sheep or goat , or maybe a child out at night. A dog for an alarm is very useful.
There's a curious relationship between some inhabitants of Harar and  spotted hyena, feeding them by hand for the tourists. I guess feeding them is better than having them attack their animals or even their children, and way better than killing them as a nuisance. Every animal has a part to play in this world. Hyena have a valuable role in clearing the countryside of animal corpses before diseases can break out. But like much of Africa's wildlife, numbers are dwindling as habitat loss, exotic diseases and predator competition pressures them. It was scary but at the same time heartening to see many indistinct shapes lurking in the gathering gloom as we travelled late during twilight some nights.

Biscuits, drinks and nibbles were coming in one side of our bus and I amused myself firing biscuits out the other side for my friend.The locals from the village 5 kms back were traipsing up and down the long line of vehicles making the most of their captive customers. It was a long wait.

Finally our guide returned.He had waded across , found a similar bus on the other side, hired it and we were to walk over. How? Across the bridge. One of the sidewalls of the approach ramp was still standing, a mere pathway a metre wide, above the gaping hole and the raging torrent.
We had noticed a surge of people with bags on their heads coming up the road, and at the same time bus passengers on our side were grabbing their bags and walking down through them to the bridge. Since the buses couldn't cross over they were going to turn around and head back. The passengers were continuing their journey by walking over and swapping buses. Armed soldiers were allowing this mass of people to cross over on top of the only remaining metre wide sidewall of the approach, one way traffic at a time. It was our only way over. Our newly hired bus awaited on the other side. Our guide had probably blown the Gap Adventures budget for this trip!

Grabbing our daypacks , our group crossed over, all the time I'm thinking  "Anytime this  bridge  could go."
"What about our main bags?" I ask.
"We'll go back for them"  our guide responded.
"We'll help." and with that, back over we go. I crossed over 5 times to make sure all our bags got through. Scary, but I was confident I'd be OK. Why? Because I had my custom made shoes on, with a really good treaded sole I had made especially for this Ethiopia tour. These are the shoes I custom made for my travels this year-The Extraordinary Taxi Ride In Western Australia and Ethiopia
BTW enter my competition! I'm trying to give away a pair! New and handcrafted. Drawn when this site gains 100 Google friend followers.

Gap Adventures operate small group adventure tours through Ethiopia. Please click on their advert on the right side of this blog. If you initiate your booking from that add and book online, this site earns a small commission. I guarantee that any money this site earns , less tax, will be donated to wildlife conservation. So hit that add !





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6 comments:

David Jr said...

Gosh, must be really amazing to experience going through the life in Ethiopia. Thanks for sharing this though I would one day like to visit this place. Not anytime soon.

David @ MalaysiaAsia

adventureswithben said...

What a riveting story. The first photo tells the whole story. But I'm curious, the bus on the other side of the road, was it just sitting there waiting to be hired?

Jim said...

I've just added this para. in explanation.
''We had noticed a surge of people with bags on their heads coming up the road, and at the same time bus passengers on our side were grabbing their bags and walking down through them to the bridge. Since the buses couldn't cross over they were going to turn around and head back. The passengers were continuing their journey by walking over and swapping buses. Armed soldiers were allowing this mass of people to cross over on top of the only remaining metre wide sidewall of the approach, one way traffic at a time. It was our only way over. Our newly hired bus awaited on the other side. Our guide had probably blown the Gap Adventures budget for this trip!''

zablon said...

it must have been an exciting adventure, i am impressed with the whole story. its sad the bridge gave way. the dog in the story looks happy. its a good thing the army was there with you

kevinwheeler said...

Great story and quite a adventure, not sure I'd have had the nerve to cross myself :-)

Jim said...

It was very hairy Kevin, but this is where you just got to go for it! (And have good shoes):-)