Hot springs and mountains

November 23, 2013 - London, United Kingdom

We call Mezid to pluck us from paradise in search of real altitude. Addis and it's local regions sitting at around 2000m, we don't notice any real effect, travelling to the Wenchi crater at about 3400m we want to seer how this affects us. Rich foreigners take a helicopter over Mt Wenchi, most take 4x4's for obvious reasons. We have Mezid's can van which takes an absolute hammering on the non roads. We see one other vehicle on the 30km ride. Distracting me from Mezid's losing battle trying holding his uninspiring grey fur on the dashboard in place is the incredibly fertile, classically African scenery. Perfectly set up for industrial scale farming it is presumably small holders that keep the landscape awash with a variety of crops. We are lucky as this is the harvest season, i am also lucky it's not malarial season, naturally I'm not prepared for any rogue insects. In addition to the Great Ethiopian run this weekend, Tim has timed this wedding impeccably! Mezid's navigation technique is to pick up locals wanting to travel in our direction, notably usually young women. I only start to object when we have two women and pit stop to pick up a speaker and box of text books- surely not unreasonable to ask them to subsidise our ride!
Mezid is full of gems, as we close in on Ambo we are informed this is an area where the slave trade still operates. Slaves kidnapped or bought from North Ethiopia, Sudan or South London are tied to household and farm labour here. The isolated communities reinforce this practise, whilst in Addis the slaves fight for their rights, here they are branded to prevent escape.
Mezid receives a phone call, it's his niece, a housekeeper in Saudi, she reports being forced to flee the country. Our copy of the economist confirms this report with the Saudi government expelling 9million unskilled immigrants from a handful of countries. Part of Saudisation, an attempt to increase the number of jobs for natives. It's highly unlikely that the Saudi's will stoop to this kind of labour. 'Rowdy Ethiopians' getting a particularly bad report, their maids being amongst the most stubborn - a claim that Tim could assign some truth to, but violent eviction is nonetheless unjustified. Mezid's niece plans to try for maid work in Bahrain.
Ambo is the source of all of the bottled sparkling water we've been drinking. The guidebook describes as if its sparkling at source. Put to our resident encyclopaedia Dr Coley 'you can't defy the laws of physics' and on discovery of a factory, we presume this is not the case. There is however no such thing as a cold tap in Ambo, all sinks have only one feed- hot. Even the toilets are flushed with hot water- a discovery to which we shall spare the details here. Centred on natural hot springs, we bathe before breakfast.
High -fiving kids on runs has become standard practise, sometimes also participating for a few metres. Yesterday tailing a horse and cart, the kids were enjoying the attention of self propelled foreigners (Emma also on bike), this was upgraded this morning when overtaking kids hanging out of 'the next generation of school buses' for a high five. At least this subprime vehicle was not branded with a sickening 'USAid' propaganda sticker. Noticed only thus far decorating villages on creepy billboards and the sides of flashy Japanese 4x4's driving like Ethiopians under western time pressure. 'Save the Children' have cleverly, heavily marketed their schools. Well-positioned on the primary busy route between Addis and Ambo, with no evidence of their presence on minor branching roads. Surprise, surprise I am skeptical about aid, especially in its current form of delivery.
Pictures will not do the Wenchi volcanic crater justice. The deep pool  surrounded by green and yellow blooming mountain sides and islands. We make the climb down to the crater with one 'guide'. As the number of 'guides' snowball every slip (frequent) is monitored and supported. Preferring to make my own mistakes, it is Polly who descends with a permanent ten year old curled around her arm. He leading her away, for a change -however arguably slightly on the young side even for Polly! Whilst taking a boat to a monastery we play with the locals. Solomon, our primary assigned 'guide' has minimal english, on telling us he's 18 we invite him to guess our ages. He is incapable, but another trailing economic opportunist seizes his chance. Myself and Matt (both 25) are branded 20 and Emma (29) is given 25. Less pleased is Tom (25) stung with 30 and Polly (25) is taken as 15! Making us a very strange travelling group! Polly is noticeably calculating whether her latest is now  an acceptable target, we advise against ((age/2)+7).
After quartering the price for the boat, I am still not happy but the others settle to save further aggro. When we don't go where we want, I am less happy but the agreed price was eventually paid by the banker -put down to mis-communication (scamming). We evade all offers of horses to climb back out of the crater, atypically putting the fitness of our guides under pressure, we hear them panting alongside but they persevere not wanting to lose sight of the money. Still not noticeably cardiovascularly challenged we question whether we are at 3400m but assume running at threshold would soon sort us out.
On the way back, Mezid is exercising his fingers unsurprisingly bordering on contracting hand-arm vibration syndrome. If he was on a uk construction site, he'd (theoretically) only endure 15min stints. We pick up and old bloke walking out of the crater then on 30km to Ambo (he expresses his gratitude by spitting donated pineapple over my seat, luckily seconds after I'd left for Mezid's right hand side) presumably it was the gift of the medical deworming plant he offered MeId that secured his seat. Two more women also get lucky.
We spend the night at a petrol station, opening up to be a surprisingly pretty motel. The next morning a boy in an 'acliclas' jumper directs us to a national forest. Monkeys are seen leaping from tree to tree, knowingly keeping distance from Emma's attempts to kidnap. Polly exclaims 'Roach look there are horses in fancy dress.' One particularly proud bloke did resemble a bear but would probably prefer to be classified under the 'traditional dress' label.
Following difficulty, Salem had kindly given us her SIM card, we are called regularly by ramdomers. Usually taking the calls for their entertainment value but generally the responsibility of holding the phone has been one all attempt to avoid. Following another call from 'Wandi' a particularly persistent harasser, Emma mentions that she harbours some concerns following reading some of the sent messages -not indicative of a long, happy marriage. After an uncharacteristically mad scramble for the phone acquisition by Matt, he reveals that the messages maybe from him. Emma is doubtful but it turns out he's a dark horse. Given the increased phone value it has since been kept under a watchful eye in Matt's pocket.
After Mezid refuses to pick up a gunman, we breathe a sigh of relief and we return to Addis unusually without company.

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