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Posted (edited)

Mr. SafariChick and I have been back about a week from the three-country 20th anniversary trip that we'd been planning for over a year. Still not entirely caught up on sleep and haven't been through all the photos yet, but thought I'd best get started on a report before too much time passes. I have decided to write the report in three separate parts, since each part of the trip took place in a different country. (And also because this allows me to use different fun trip report titles. This title was provided by Mr. SafariChick).

 

Here is our oldest daughter hugging me farewell after she drove us to the airport to drop us off (a first for this almost-18-year-old)

 

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This trip was an ambitious undertaking, visiting three countries in 12 days - and with each country, our destination for wildlife viewing required a drive of some significance to reach from the airport in which we landed.Nowhere was this more true than our first stop, Ethiopia. After a flight from SFO to Heathrow, a 6-hour layover (at least spent in a very comfortable United lounge with some decent food and beverages), and another flight from Heathrow to Addis, which were about 24 hours total of travel, we arrived at Addis at 6:30 a.m. local time. We obtained our visas without much trouble, changed some money, picked up our bags, and went outside to find our driver, Demiss. Demiss was waiting for us and had us packed up into the car quickly. He was a very nice fellow, with good English and great knowledge of Ethiopia and its history, geography as well as it’s endemic animals. We knew we were to be assigned a guide employed by Bale Mountain Lodge once we arrived there, but having Demiss along was almost like having a second guide, which was great.

 

We asked if there was somewhere to grab a quick bite to eat, not a sit-down place but just something to serve as breakfast. Demiss was a bit unsure what we might want and we tried stopping at a Supermarket called Safeway which amused us since we have a chain of supermarkets in the U.S. called Safeway. We ended up getting a piece of banana bread to share and getting on the road.

 

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The drive to Bale Mountain Lodge had been described to me as everything from 6 hours to 7-8 hours to an “all day trip” so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Even though the road was paved most of the way, the trip actually took us closer to about ten hours including about an hour lunch stop and a couple of short bathroom stops. It was pretty brutal after the air travel we had done, I have to say. In retrospect, it really would have been better to break it up with an overnight half way or at least have had an overnight in Addis first. But we were concerned about not being away from home too long, both because we were leaving our teen girls for the first time for more than two days (with their former babysitter staying at the house) and being away 15 days was about as long as Mr. Safarichick felt comfortable being gone from work.

 

We stopped for a sort of brunch late morning at a restaurant that was quite good. (I am trying to find out the name from Demiss and will post it when I do). I had scrambled eggs and toast, and I don’t recall what everyone else had except that Demiss ordered a macchiato. I was surprised this was something they made in Ethiopia as I think of it as Italian (and co-opted by Starbucks and the like). But the coffee in Ethiopia was delicious and nice and strong and Demiss told us about the history of Italians having attempted to colonize Ethiopia – twice. He and our guide Biruk and some of the park staff would say “Ciao Ciao” to each other to say “goodbye” and he said that came from the Italians who lived in Ethiopia.

 

The drive was made longer and more difficult by the many villages we had to pass through, each of which was populated it seemed by large numbers of humans and their cattle, sheep and goats, as well as cart horses pulling little buggies with people in them. We had to slow to go around all these obstacles and I became somewhat queasy from this and probably from my all around fatigue. In addition to the animals being moved along by people, there were many animals just hanging around at the sides of the road on their own, usually trying to eat something it found on the ground like this goat eating some orange peels.

 

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We passed through the park headquarters at Dinsho I think at around 3:00 pm and purchased our park tickets for the next four days, and I was surprised when Demiss told me we still had about two and a half hours to go to get to the lodge! And we actually still had to go through some populated areas even though we had entered the park. There are villages and people living around the park so you will be in what seems total wilderness but then come to a village before getting back to wilderness. The first wildlife we saw was some aggressive baboons that came right up to the cars, seeking a snack, and some warthogs and Mountain Nyala. I didn’t get great photos but here are a few:

 

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You have to drive up to and over the Sanetti Plateau, which would be our viewing grounds for the wolves, in order to get to Bale Mountain Lodge. We were hopeful that we might possibly get a glimpse of wolves on this first trip across the plateau but were dismayed to find it started raining and then hailing as we drove through the plateau! This was unexpected as it was not even the rainy season and we hoped it would not continue during the rest of our stay. (Luckily it did not!)

 

The plateau is quite other-worldly looking in any kind of weather, but the hail really made us feel we did not know where we were.

 

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We were very glad to finally arrive at Bale Mountain Lodge 10 hours after we left Addis! We were given a room called a Tree House that was a free-standing little house up a half-flight of stairs about a five-minute walk from the main lodge where meals were served. It was r private and in the trees, but there were a few problems with it that would cause us to move to another room halfway through our stay, but more about that later.

Edited by SafariChick
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Soooo looking forward to this! Wow, what a long journey, you really must have been knackered when you finally got to Bale.

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Thanks, @@michael-ibk - we definitely were knackered!

 

Here's a photo from the day of arrival that I should have put in the last post - the sky was clearing before we arrived at BML.

 

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Our tree house, #7, proved to be a bit farther from the lodge than we would have liked when, after we went to get settled and freshen up before dinner, it started pouring. We had asked the person who showed us to the room if there was an umbrella, and were told he would bring one but that did not occur so we wore our rain jackets to walk to the lodge for dinner and didn’t get too wet. (Luckly we had them for the Rwanda portion of our trip – we weren’t expecting rain here!) And we did get an umbrella at the lodge to bring back to the room with us, though we never really needed it again.

The food at BML was mixed. There was some confusion before we arrived in that there’s a booking person who had not gotten the final details to the managers. A few days before we left, we received an email from Guy who is one of the owners to confirm we had Demiss driving us (he had recommended him) and we confirmed that yes that was right. I then reminded Guy that I am a vegetarian which the booking person had been told ages before, but I figured that might not have gotten to Guy. He replied and copied Shelley on the email mentioning that I was a vegetarian. However, when we arrived, I mentioned it again to Shelley (who is now the on-site manager, Guy and his wife Yvonne having movI ed at least for now to Addis) and she had no idea, she’d not seen the email. She said sometimes they just don’t get emails there, and I guess I can believe it as the wifi is rather spotty. However, she told the kitchen right away when we checked in and they managed to always make me a vegetarian meal despite apparently lack of notice, so that was good. I recall the soups and bread being delicious, and the main courses more hit and miss. It was all European style food, no Ethiopian and it would have been nice to have Ethiopian some of the time. The breakfasts were also very good. There were only a few other people staying there the first night or two so we enjoyed a quiet dinner and went to bed happily to recover from our travels.

The rooms at BML can be quite cold at night and in the morning but they have a fireplace in each room and they come and start a fire in your room while you’re at dinner each night, and then each room also has either an electric blanket or they put a hot water bottle in the bed, so you are cozy and warm while in bed. We had a problem with our shower in that it was separated from the rest of the bathroom by a shower curtain that did not reach the ground and the floor of the shower was level with the rest of the bathroom. The drainage must not have been designed quite right because the water went out into the rest of the bathroom, getting the area in front of the toilet all wet. So at dinner we requested an extra towel to mop that up, and we happily fell sound asleep.

 

The next morning dawned beautiful, bright and sunny. We’d met our guide, Biruk, the night before and told him we’d like to go try to find wolves the next morning. He advised, as we’d heard before, that the wolves are not super early risers like you see when you go on safari elsewhere in Africa so we didn’t have to be up there at the crack of dawn. The Lodge serves breakfast starting at 7:00 though you can request it earlier if you really want to, and they will also send a packed breakfast with you if you request that. We decided to have breakfast at 7:30 and I think the plan was to leave at 9 but we didn’t end up leaving until about 9:15. Our driver Demiss was staying the the staff quarters and brought the car over and we piled in and headed up to the Plateau.

First a couple of photos of the view in the morning from the Lodge

 

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Ah, that view made it worth all the flying and driving! I messaged our daughters and the older one wanted to see our faces so we took a selfie with the view:

 

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Posted (edited)

It's said to be about a 45-minute drive from BML to the Plateau and that is probably about right, to get to the very start of the Plateau, but to get to the part where the wolves were seen by us was morel like a one-hour to 75-minute drive. This day, I wrote that we left at 9:15 and arrived at the Plateau at 10:07. The lodge is located at 2380 meters or 7808 feet, but at least part of the Plateau is at 4000 meters, or 13,123 hence the title of this section of the report! I did not notice any ill effects from the altitude while sitting in the vehicle (we were in an S.U.V. type vehicle that was fully enclosed with windows that rolled down with a hand crank, the old-fashioned way - not ideal for game-viewing but good for the long drive from Addis when we needed to block out truck fumes (I forgot to mention the trucks!) and so on. Also, one frustration we had with the Plateau is that the road that goes through the entire Plateau connects many villages to each other. People travel from one village to another for market days, to buy and sell wares, and to visit relatives presumably. So there are buses traveling back and forth through the Plateau on this road. Many of these buses have loudspeakers on the outside which Demiss said are designed to be used during festivals or religious ceremony times to play music that people outside the bus could hear, but it seemed that the drivers would keep the loudspeakers on continually, so you'd be out on the Plateau without hearing a sound, just gazing at the beautiful desolate wilderness, and suddenly blaring music would be heard getting louder and louder as the bus came closer. This definitely scared away wildlife we were observing on at least one occasion. Additionally, this road also connects to Kenya and Somalia -- so as you can imagine, there are trucks carrying goods that are going back and forth through here. This is really an unfortunate situation and while it's not constant traffic, it would be much better without this. Fortunately, Demiss and Biruk told us that a new road is being built that will go around the park (I think it was being built by Chinese contractors, if I recall correctly) and when that is done, supposedly only tourists visiting the park will be using this road through the Plateau. That will be a much better scenario.

 

On your way from the Lodge to the Plateau, you drive through an area where it's possible to see Colobus and the endemic Bale Monkey. We never saw the Bale Monkeys but we did see Colobus frequently - not well enough to take photos as they were hidden in treetops but it was fun to see them. This is the area where you can see the monkeys, called the Harenna Forest:

 

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Further along on the way up to the Plateau:

 

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When we first arrived up on the Plateau we did not see wolves, but we drove slowly and kept looking around. Some species we saw were:

 

Blue-winged goose

Common rat

Blick's grass rat (endemic)

Steppe eagle

Wattled ibis

Red-billed duck (teal)

Golden eagle

Augur buzzard

 

and ... yes, we did see wolves! It took a little while but by about 11:15 we saw our first wolf!

 

 

As has been written about on Safaritalk, there was an outbreak last year of Canine Distemper Virus that greatly affected the population of wolves in the park. I've heard different figures but perhaps as many as half the adult population of wolves on the Plateau was killed. Because the population is so endangered, the park and the local researchers, the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Project, really discourage watching the wolves from anywhere but your vehicle/the road. You certainly cannot drive off road and it's discouraged to walk very far off road either. So our sightings depended on how close to the road the wolves decided to come. Binoculars were a must and I was wishing I had a camera with better than 24x zoom at times, but we did the best we could with photos:

 

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What a magnificent animal, and in this gorgeous, almost surreal setting, it was quite a sight to behold.

 

Mr. SafariChick surveying the scene, just off the road:

 

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Suddenly it seemed, as soon as we saw one wolf, we saw more! There were three on one side of the road and three on the other side of the road, not far from each other. The wolves live in family groups or packs but they hunt separately. However, we did see a few of them interacting at different times. These six were all from the Nyala pack, and there was a reason they were called that but I'm fuzzy on why - I feel like Biruk and Demiss told us they were first seen near some Nyala but that sounds wrong because the nyala are not found right near this area. Anyway, I will just post some photos now - as I said, some are better than others but if I post blurry ones it is because I thought the behavior was worth posting. I like these first few as the one wolf was acting rather dog-like:

 

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After we saw the three on either side of the road, we saw a 7th one, a female, and it was a bit closer than the others had been.

 

Most of the time we saw them either resting and looking around on their own, or hunting, on their own.

 

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We had brought packed lunch with us and after we observed these wolves for as long as they'd allow, before they went off out of sight, we meandered our way over to the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program campsite. Researchers will camp out here when they are doing research, and I am not sure but it may be available for the public to camp at certain times, but would need to check on that. It is ok for visitors to come eat lunch there and we appreciated having a little room to sit down in to eat as it is rather brisk and chilly up on the Plateau, especially when the wind is blowing. We had brought hats and gloves and I had a scarf, and we wore them all at various times.

 

Outside of the EWCP hut:

 

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After enjoying our lunch, we headed back outside. Near the hut was where we saw our first Giant Mole Rat. The wolves' main prey is Giant Mole Rats, which were surprisingly hard for us to see. When we did see them, they tended to just be sticking up their head out of a hole and would duck back down before we could take a photo. They also are very well camouflaged. We saw lots and lots of little rats, common rats I guess, or Blick's grass rats, running around all the time. The Giant Mole Rats proved extremely hard to photograph well, even when we weren't so far away - just seemed hard to get their little faces showing where you could see the eyes and all. Most of the time, they looked to me like a blob of fur - but a cute blob!

 

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This might be the best shot of one we got:

 

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We were driving up the path that leads out of the EWCP campsite and towards the main road, not looking around too much, thinking we'd had a great morning with our 7 wolves when suddenly, someone shouted "Wolf!" - and there right near the car in this sort of little valley area was another wolf, a male, and this was the closest yet - what luck! We grabbed our cameras and tried to snap a few photos before the wolf disappeared. (They were not too nervous about the car, but they do keep on the move typically if they don't see prey).

 

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We sure were glad we'd decided to go have lunch in the EWCP hut and come out right at that time!

 

At this point, we felt we'd had a good morning and decided to head back to the lodge. On the way, still in the park, we encountered a boy herder with some animals and decided to take their photos as well.

 

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On the way back to the Lodge, you pass through a little village and the kids there seemed pretty interested in us and our vehicle. Biruk stopped to buy something from the village and I took a few photos.

 

This little girl was shy and so cute:

 

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And some other kids:

 

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It wouldn't be a SafariChick trip report if I didn't lose something - and this time I managed to lose TWO things (maybe because Mr. SafariChick was along?) and the first one was my hairbrush - and I managed to lose it before we even set foot in Ethiopia. I remember using it on one of the plane rides, but once we landed at Addis, it was nowhere to be found. Since we were stopped in the village, I asked Demiss if he thought they might possibly sell a brush there. He went to check and came back with a plastic short-toothed thing that wouldn't work for my long thick hair at all, so I declined to buy it. I worried my hair would be a total rats nest by the time the trip was over. (and given the number of rats in the area, this was rather an alarming thought).

 

A guy who Demiss and Biruk knew came by with some honeycomb. It's a common activity here to build beehives and collect honey. He gave Demiss and Biruk each a piece of honeycomb and we were offered some too but we declined, not being huge honey fans.

 

Demiss and then Biruk enjoying the honey

 

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At last, we wended our way back to the lodge. It was about 3:30 by this time and we went back to our room to have a little rest.

Edited by SafariChick
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You didn't try the honeycomb @@SafariChick?

 

looks like an amazing trip and look forward to the rest of the report...

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@@madaboutcheetah ha ha - no I was a bit unsure what I would think of it and I'm not even a big fan of honey when it comes in a bottle, so I decided to pass! Thanks more to come soon :-)

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Massive and daunting journey, but a great first morning. That view from the lodge is beautiful.

 

Maybe you can start tying things to yourself or your luggage? Sunglasses on strings, haribrush on a string, gloves on a string, hat on a string ... that sort of thing. Used to work a treat with me back in primary (elementary) school. .

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Love the view from the lodge (really looking forward to that!), and fantastic you found the Wolves on your first day!

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I found out from Demiss the name of the place we stopped for a late breakfast/early lunch/brunch on the way from Addis to BML, in case anyone wants to try it. It was a hotel with restaurant attached called Derartu Tulu Hotel in Assela which is about 160 km from Addis. Demiss says the owner is a very famous female athlete named Derartu Tulu (a two-time Olympic Gold medal winner and Silver medal winner) so the hotel is named after her.

 

That afternoon, I wanted to take a drive on the road to look for some of the more rarely seen residents of the Harenna Forest such as lions, Giant Forest Hogs, and leopards – there is even a melanistic leopard that has been seen in the area! Biruk said that around 6 p.m. would be a good time to go look for them. The only way to search for them was by driving along the road, which is heavily forested on either side. We went out to look and drove along slowly for about 45 minutes, and stopped in a clearing to listen and look around for a while, but no sightings. It was so thick on either side, it reminded me of driving in India and looking for tigers – maybe thicker than that. I think you have to be pretty lucky to see any of these mammals.

 

The next morning we decided to go out earlier. I’d heard that very early in the morning one might be lucky enough to see a wolf family or pack hanging out together before heading out to hunt individually. I wasn’t sure how early that would be though. After talking to Biruk the night before, we decided to take a packed breakfast with us and leave about 6:30 a.m. As we started driving to the Plateau, we were lucky to see two male Menelik’s bushbuck together. They are beautiful, so dark in color. (I forgot to mention but we had seen one on our way to Bale Mountain Lodge as well). Didn’t manage a photo though.

It was nice going through the village at this early hour – no one was up and about except one boy carrying water, so we didn’t have to make our way through people and animals.

 

The view on the way up to the Plateau was really beautiful today. It was foggy and cloudy and felt rather different than the day before.

 

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When we arrived up on the Plateau, we noticed there was frost on the ground, it really seemed like a little snow.

 

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When we got to around the area we’d seen wolves the day before we stopped and looked around with our binoculars and sure enough we saw a couple of wolves. We got out to stand just off the road and look a little closer as they were moving farther off. It happened that Biruk, Mr. SafariChick and I had walked a little way up the road and were standing in one spot and Demiss was standing in another spot closer to where the car was parked. Suddenly we hear Demiss shout “Puppies! I saw the puppies!” as he ran towards us. We all got excited and started walking quickly back towards the car but when we got there, the pup Demiss had seen (he had really seen one) had gone back in the den, which was apparently quite close to the road. Then we heard a wolf, probably the mother, barking off in another direction. Biruk thought she was possibly trying to create a diversion so whoever had been making noise near her den would go look in another direction. In any case, Demiss was so upset with himself for shouting about the pup – he has been coming to Bale Mountain Lodge and driving tourists around there for years and he really knows he should talk softly but he just got excited! (Reminded me of Michael-ibk in his recent trip report about the rhino). He said the pups were still dark colored – I think they were only a few months old. We never did see them, sadly.

 

However, we did see wolves that morning, including some different behavior than we had seen before. We saw a wolf with a dead mole rat in her mouth running along – possibly she was bringing it to the pups but we never saw her go into a den. We also saw a subadult male greeting an adult male and it was very interesting to see behavior that reminded us of a wild dog greeting ceremony. We couldn’t hear sounds being made but the subadult acted submissive, running up to the adult with ears back and head lowered and tail wagging, then licking the adult. Here are some photos.

 

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These few are very blurry but I include them just to show the greeting behavior:

 

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Why did the wolf cross the road?

 

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This one said I'll just stay on this side and sunbathe, thank you very much

 

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Ah this is why he crossed the road - to look for better prey

 

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Wolves were not the only large mammal we saw this morning -- Klipspringers!

 

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But wait ... Klipspringers were not the only thing on these rocks - another wolf!

 

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The Klipspringers seemed a bit nervous of the wolf, and they scampered off, as did the wolf. But we did see another as we started to drive back the way we'd came

 

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We went by the EWCP campsite again to see if any wolves were hanging around there, but no luck there today. Here are some horses that we saw drinking from this pond at the entry to the trail to the campsite for the second day in a row – no owner in sight - and a little rat - a Blick's?

 

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No more wolves to be found, so we decided to wend our way back to the lodge. One more landscape shot first:

 

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Not again..... wolf pups too.Ouch!

 

Loving the lanscapes - beautiiful area. Those wolves are pretty far away if you are shooting at 600mm equivalent (assuming that is what your 24x zoom is).

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@@SafariChick, wow, you can really set yourself up for disappointment when you head to a remote location with your heart set on a particular rare species, but you scored big time. How exciting for you both to see not just one, but plenty of Wolf action. The landscapes are beautiful. What a brilliant start to your trip.

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Ethiopia looks like a popular country this year! Excellent sightings, @@SafariChick , wolfs and landscapes.

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very spooky landscapes @@SafariChick and what wonderful wolf sightings. Except now i have "its the wolf its the woluf" in my head

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@@SafariChick

I have been looking forward to this report! It is great that you saw the wolves, and lovely for us to see them after the concern about the disease that killed so many. The landscapes are also amazing.

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@@Towlersonsafari you're going to have to enlighten me on what that song is that you have in your head as it's not ringing a bell! I know "Hungry Like the Wolf" but not this one!

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Posted (edited)

@@pault I'm not good at distances but Mr. S. says the closer sightings were maybe 60 meters when the one was crossing the road and the one we saw by the EWCP was the closest, maybe 30 meters, but sometimes they were as far as maybe 400 meters away? Mr. S. just thought about this when I asked him and then converted this in his head to meters as we use feet so could be all wrong, and also Mr. S. says It's so flat that its really hard to judge distance - well for me, it's always hard to judge distance.

Edited by SafariChick
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@@elefromoz that's exactly right, I was worried that if we went all that way and didn't see wolves it would be incredibly frustrating! I forgot to mention but on that second day we saw seven wolves.

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@@SafariChick I'm so glad that you got to see the wolves!! Ethiopia is high on list of must do destinations,especially since i just spoke to a Swedish lady who has been living in Addis Ababa

for about a year. She advised to fly around Ethiopia using Ethiopian Airlines because it's far cheaper and more convenient than going everywhere by road. Since it appears that i won't be going to Zakouma next year I may be going to Ethiopia next year.

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@@SafariChick Oooo, what a lovely way to while away a dreary evening in Manchester. Looking forward to the rest of the report(s). As for Woolufs @@Towlersonsafari are referring to are those giants of animation Hanna Barbera https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MFYomQylE6E

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@@optig there used to be a flight you could take from Addis to near Bale Mountain Lodge but my understanding is it's not operational at the moment. Otherwise, I was seriously considering that instead!

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@Id1 Oh ha ha funny - not familiar with it! When I was a kid, I was only allowed to watch one hour of TV per day and so I missed out on a lot of stuff!

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@@SafariChick that's what YouTube is for, all the stuff you weren't allowed to watch! The Wooluf was a firm favourite along with the Hairbear bunch, the latter in my book was entirely educational 🎶 in the wonderland zoo, dooby-do-do-doo.

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Hurrah @@ld1 and @@SafariChick the wolf- whose aim was to catch and eat lamsy, but who was always thwarted by her faithful sheepdog protector was called-I looked it up- Mildew wolf and was voiced by the same actor who did The Hooded ClawSorry I'll stop now but just wanted to say " Oh no its the wolf"

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@@SafariChick

 

I've been looking forward to this report ever since you first posted your ambitious itinerary. I'm not sure I could have made that 10-hour drive after the flight from the U.S., but it certainly appears that everything fell nicely in place for you.

 

Great wolf sightings and the area around Bale Mountain Lodge looks spectacular.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for all the comments, folks! Here are some photos from the village as we drove through it on the way back to the lodge. They were having a market day so there were more people around than usual and the women were mostly dressed in colorful outfits.

 

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Some of the kids were very friendly and outgoing and came right up to the car to say hello

 

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When we got back to the lodge, we decided we really would like to change rooms. There was an odor coming from the bathroom, seemingly from the shower drain, that was getting worse. It was sort of a mildew or wet clothing smell and the night before it had been very bad, making me feel nauseated even when we closed the bathroom door. The manager had someone come to look and try to determine what the problem was but also offered us that we could move to another room so we decided to take her up on that. She offered us a choice of another treehouse or one of the rooms closer to the lodge, and we decided to go with the latter. These rooms are made to be handicapped accessible but that didn't bother us in the least, and we loved that it was close to the lodge. Also, the treehouse floors were such that when anyone walked on them it could be felt in the rest of the room. These were more stable. And when we saw the name and logo for our new room, we knew we'd made a good choice:

 

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View from our new room:

 

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As a bonus, you're only supposed to be able to get wifi in the main lodge but this room was close enough that sometimes we could get it from the room! :P

 

This is a photo of the view from the main lodge out one of their windows - in fact it is a view of Mt. Gusharelle, also known as Elephant Rider since it resembles a person riding an elephant, and Mr. S. was to hike this hill the following day - but more about that soon.

 

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Edited by SafariChick
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