The National Parks of Ethiopia
Bale Mountains Park Part I
By John Graham
The Bale Mountains seem off the beaten track not because they are that remote - they are much closer to Addis than the Simien Mountains - but because the season to see them is so short. The Bale highlands have a long rainy season, from March until October, with roads which are defined as all weather only for the most determined.
I only made it to Bale myself on the second attempt, but once there I kicked myself for not coming more often, and Ive been again a number of times. The place is wonderful. It is full of wild animals. It is high, clean and clear. It is not like most of the rest of Ethiopia, which is understandably devoted to agriculture.
Im really reluctant to talk about the lodge at the Bale National Park. I want to keep it a secret. It is simply wonderful. Its a very modern stone structure, with a roof that looks solid enough to last for a hundred years. There is a vast living area with a big fireplace, a sitting area and a dining area. There are nine bedrooms around the place, with enough beds and bunks to sleep 32 in a pinch, apart from camping. None of this is luxurious, its just a pleasant surprise when compared with most local accommodation in Ethiopia.
Warthog in Bale
Almost immediately on arrival you see buck and wart hogs in the lodge grounds. In a two hour walk from the lodge with a guide you can follow a herd of 20 Mountain Nyala (big with spiral horns), and see lots of reedbucks, bushbuck, duikers, and families of the largest and best looking wart hogs Ive seen (compared to my experience in Southern Africa).
Your host is Ato Abdullah, the Ranger/Lodge manager. Things are nicely set up. The price list is beside the front door. Park entrance is 30 Birr for 48 hours for resident Ferengis, 10 Birr for Ethiopians. We had a group of 6 adults and 3 kids, and paid 836 Birr for 3 nights, including park entrance, accommodation, firewood, kitchen, bedding and sauna every day. Wow, what a good deal!
Ato Fekadu, the Park Warden, told me that they have about 2000 overnight visitors per year staying at the lodge (including campers). One year (1998-99) they had only had about 600 due to 2 reasons - the war and the ban on trout fishing.
There are very few Ethiopians, apart from students from Addis or elsewhere (there was a group from Wendo Genet when we were there). This is a shame. The remainder are fairly evenly divided between foreign residents and tourists, with tourists dominating from October except for the Christmas season when residents dominate.
Bale Mt Tullu Deemtu American tourists
Despite a 20% occupancy rate, when you take into account the empty time during the months of intensive rain, and the concentration at the holidays, it can get crowded. Once we were there at Easter. We left Addis on Friday, arriving Saturday before anyone else. We then became the irritating people who had taken over the place. Several other groups stayed or came through, but it never felt crowded. You can book in advance through the Wildlife Service in Addis, who will radio to the Lodge at Dinsho, which I normally will do.
For entertainment you can go horseback riding there is a wonderful 20 km. round trip with lots of game. You should also drive through Robe and Goba back into the Southern part of the park, up onto the Saneti Plateau. There is a cloud shrouded wonderland of highland meadows - reminiscent of Scotland or the Rocky Mountains for me. You go up to 4,100 meters (13,500 feet) from where it was a 30 minute climb to the top of Tullu Deemtu, said to be the second highest peak in Ethiopia. Its cold up there! On one trip is was so cold that there was snow lying on the ground, and two American boys had made a little snowman at the top!
You would be unlucky not to see two or more Simien (or Abyssinian or Ethiopian) wolves, Ive seen at least that many on each trip to the Saneti Plateau. They are wolves, not foxes or jackals, by the way. The Park biologists had spent five years doing genetic tests and showed that they were wolves. Now we know! They really are marvellous animals - we saw a bright red one close up - and perhaps the rarest member of the dog family in the world at less than 500 left.
Driving to Bale is easier than I thought, but still takes some preparation. Two days are better than one. Through Nazareth and Asela is supposed to be shorter than through Shashamene, but takes longer because of road conditions. I got stopped on the way after Asela by mud in my first attempt to reach Bale in October 1998. The road is great until Asela, then quite awful afterwards. I was glad I tried again and made it, as the scenery is marvellous with the Rift Valley Lakes on one side and the Arsi highlands on the other. The Shashamene road is more reliable, and is fully paved so there is not a problem during the rainy season. We managed to cover the 160 kms from Shashamene to Dinsho in 3 hours in good conditions.
Although the lodge and park are quite wonderful - there are two minor problems. There is only one bathroom to serve the whole place - no en suites. There is another bathroom outside in the back if you get desperate. The other problem is there is no place to sit outside at the lodge, apart from hard concrete. If you can tolerate those inconveniences go and take a look!
An alternative for visiting the Bale area is to take a horse ride trip starting from the town of Dodolla to several shelters built high in the mountains. This is not in the Park, but you can enjoy the same type of scenery and wildness. I havent taken advantage of this tour myself, but friends have told me about it (and my son went with them!), and they found it most enjoyable. The tour was started with the help of donors, so the shelters are quite nice, although at least one is suffering from lack of attention and maintenance. It is easy to locate the start off and booking place in Dodolla, from the big sign on the main road about mountain trekking.
Next week we continue our tour of the Bale Mountains
Contact John Graham with your questions or comments at