Afambo to Abhebad

It took almost three days to reach the Boha River. In that time we settled into life on the road. 
A diet of dates, lentils and pasta, cooked in purified Awash River water, nightly Afar visitors, wind storms and dreaded hyena encounters. Although they never tried to enter our camp, they came close enough to keep me wide awake, one hand resting on my sharpened bamboo pole.

The banks of the Boha were buzzing with life as goats, cows and camels waited their turn to cross the crocodile-infested waters either by swimming or riding an ancient rusted boat. Long-haired, sharp-toothed Afar herdsmen huddled in the shade drinking shay and breaking gambo. All eyes were quickly fixed on the ferengis. Our crossing was a several-hour ordeal, at the end of which we were forced to pay many times the local fare before piling in the filthy boat weighed down with burlap sacks, stacks of reed mats and dripping boys falling over the passengers as they pulled us across by a rope connecting the other side. For the return crossing, we made plans to build a raft and bypass the Boha monopoly.

Once across we sat down beneath a cluster of acacias to reach on a deal with an Afar trio. Muhammad and Thoreau were both young and fit, only "essential flesh and bone" as Thesiger once described the Afar, and seemed much friendlier than the other candidates we'd met. The third was much older, and promised to contribute wisdom and an insider's knowledge of our route. After shaking hands on the our new fellowship, we never saw the old man again, but Muhammad and Thoreau proved essential to the expedition. Each carried next to nothing and was as confident with camels anyone in these parts. On our first night together we camped in an abandoned Derg airfield, not far from a ruined old tank. Heat rash from dirt, sweat and the baking ground made it difficult to sleep, and David and I welcomed a rainstorm that chased Muhammad and Thoreau off into the barren wilderness to look for shelter. The midnight rain came several times on the trip to Abhebad. Each time David and I rejoiced and our Afar friends scurried off into the dark.

Within just three more days we could see the glimmering strip on the southern horizon that was Lake Abhebad. Instead of taking the one-day route south, David decided we'd stick to Thesiger's route, circumambulating the volcanic mass of Dema Ali. Appearing out of nowhere, another red-eyed old man joined our team, also claiming intimate knowledge of the terrain we hoped to cross. His expert advice put anywhere from 4-6 more days on our trip to the lake. Together we circled Dema Ali's blackened wasteland, its jagged rocks drawing blood from the camels' poor feet, making the journey in just two days. Talk of Issa (Somali) raids to the south, hippos on the banks of the Awash, hyenas on the slopes of Dema Ali and a fierce "demon government" that ruled the area kept things interesting. On the second day, David's watch thermometer passed 40° by 8am. A few hours later it reached well into the 50's. Our water was running dangerously low.

Finally Abhebad came into view to the east, the Djibouti shoreline a faint watermark on the horizon. We paused to take in the view Thesiger once traveled so far and suffered so much to see. Next, like a mirage in the distance, a small patch of date palms came into view over a ridge called Hobo Mountain. The approaching sound of rushing water almost convinced me I was dreaming. Soon the camels were lapping up cool water from the Awash and our crew was stripping down to bathe in the oasis's flurry of streams, cascading into pools beneath the shade of date palms. We felt we'd arrived in paradise, a long-forgotten Eden at the end of the world. A cluster of aris and stone huts set a stone's throw to the north of the oasis was to become our new home: Harissa.


Shery said...

It seems that you and the mosquitoes had good times:-). The photos are amazing,as usual. The lying down camel is my fav.so far. Do you know that there is a dessert called "Harissa"?. Good Job,Joey. Waiting for the rest.

Brooke said...

Your last couple of posts took my breath away. Wonderful.

Anthon Jackson said...

Thanks Shereen and Brooke. It did feel like a real adventure.