OMO RIVER OR HIPPO HIGHWAY
In the Czech Embassy we are looked after as children. The staff complies with all our wishes. We receive from Mr.Dobiáš, Czech Ambassador, the invitation for a banquet in the most luxurious hotel in Addis Abeba, on the occasion of National Holiday of Czech Republic.
We are Czechs and are far from our Home, so we have to celebrate this day together.
The second Czech water-men expedition for „clay river“ is invited, too. ( today, they are at home, so many greetings and thanks for nice evening!).
After celebrations we continue in our expedition planes – this is Omo-river for this time.We wish to go down approximately 200 kilometres of upper stream in a closed canon. According to the local information, nobody descended this section on kayak up to now, so we leave with mixed feelings and are curious what exactly is waiting for us in this deserted canon.
At six o´clock in the morning we are starting our journey . We nearly sleep when we leave the hotel and reach the bridge across the river towards nine o´clock. The water is coloured as a cocoa and a band of black men does not bring us a pleasure in descending the river. We are changing our clothes in silence and are doing our best to put all food, belongings and object for sleeping into a boat. Immediately behind the turn there is damaged and fallen bridge. The stream drives us directly on it. We try to keep away from steel construction and see that the flow is closing among the rocks. The eruptive formations and non- transparent water form a feeling that we are on way to primaveral age.
In the first lagoon among the rocks start to appear the heads of hippopotams. Nobody of us expected that they will be here so soon, so we do not know where to drive through. We are doing our best to get behind the stone , where it is a small passage , in order to render more difficult for our „ tons comrades“. We are very afraid of coming minutes and observe where the hippopotams come out. They sank only – good luck! – and remain under the water level on the same place, we are of this opinion. The first meeting with these animals is safely over and we continue to swing on the waves. The rapids are not difficult and can be easily read from the water. The estimated difficulty is WWII – WW III. The banks are owergrown and inaccessible, full of strange birds and running baboons brings us the feelings that we arrived to animals´ paradise. We forget the hippopotams for a while. And this is not worth while for us. At the driving out the big stone appears a couple of meters distant from us - in a small pool – so big hippopotam, whom we did not see up to now. A gigantic colossus having several tons of weight at least starts moving directly against us. This made our blood curdle in that moment. We are paddling away as quick as possible. The animal is only a small piece distant from us. To the fortune,he is slower as we in kayaks . Frankly speaking, we never experienced such fear. We look around carefully since this moment and all possible pools drive round with a bend. In each calm winding there are lounging hippopotams basking in sunshines. We dosturb them from their quiet rest. So, when they see us, disappear immediately under the water level. However, you do not know, from where or when they emerge. They protect their territory. We start to understand how to behave on a river. We carefully approach each pool ,in order the paddles splashing could not to be heard. Now, we can watch these animals , and in a moment they take notice of us, we are distant from them.
We start to enjoy the river with „ full gulps. It is one of little places on Earth where the animals are living free out of natural reservations , and the people do not destroy their environment. It is someting extraordinary to see the hippopotams families bathing in quiet waters of Omo river and it is no touble for them that the crocodile is basking on a bank not far away.
The stream is closing among eruptive rocks and we can see less and less of hippopotams.These animals need for their quiet life the calm pools and sandy banks. So further, we are accompanied with hum of water and singing of birds. We do not have any idea, how many kilometers we went during the whole day. The moment of dusk is coming , so we look for the place suitable for sleeping. On the left side there is nearly dried tributary with clear water , which will be needed for adding of our empty bottles. We leave the boats downstairs at the water near to the stones. We are making the fire and build our tent in sandy floating.
Dried meat, energy drink a soup – all this is our dinner. The boys are putting their belongings to the boats, before they go to bed. As to me, I do not care for it , being of the opinion that the thing become dry in the meantime. We put the wood to the fire up to the morning, so this acts dissuade the animals visitors´ from coming to us.
In the morning I am waked with Paul´s voice: „ Get up, the water is rising and the boats are sailing away!“. We run out the tent down to the boats, and indeed: my boat as well as George´s boat are swinging near to the bank. Paul throws all things back to the bank. However, his boat is swinging downstairs. I get him my boat to mount in, saying: „ Go ahead, I run along the bank!“ Paul goes down, I and George stumble over the stony bank behind him.
However, the stream here is very quick. We do not see Paul at all as the mounting along the bank is quite slow. Anyway, after one kilometer of distance, we see Paul drawing the boats to the bank. But the return way with boats on our back is much worse. It takes us half an hour at least to arrive to the tent. We find here, that George´s paddle is missing. This was drifted away, unfortunately. We have, to the fortune, one piece of folding paddle, as a supplementary piece, in a boat.
After a quick breakfast we mount the boats. The river continues in its nature scenery. We see a crocodile on small sandy beaches from time to time , he disappears under the water level as soon as possible. The crocodiles here are more afraid of people as those on the Blue Nile. It is true that we are pleased . Some crocodiles are of five meters of lengts.
After two hours of driving there are no rocks any more, but the hippopotams are appearing again. We are used of them, so the drive is calm. After some time period we hear the sound of motor. We do not know what is it, according to the map it would be here nothing special.
We find that the electric power station is being built here. We trust that it will be flowing through only, no dam will be arisen. Otherwise, all nice panoramas what we passed would finish under the water! Let´s trust that the needs of a man on energy do not probably destroy a rest of beautiful parts of the world , where animals live in their „Wildlife“.
After this construction start the wild rapids of difficulty WW III-IV. We take advantage of great waves where there are no hippopotams or crocodiles. After several kilometers we reach between perpendicular walls where the water is not flowing. On stone-sandy sediments there are lounging tonal beasts . They are approaching immediately when they see us. We are quite distant away.
In one left-rotatory bent we meet the commercial rafting expedition having a picnic there. Upon leaving the boat, suddenly a big hippopotam appeared several metres behind us, watching us all the time and giving out vocal sounds , in order to show us who is a Master here and whom belongs this pool. We are on the bank and the animal remains in the water.
We meet a man speaking Czech who lives inVancouver. We are informing each other about the experience regarding the river and about Ethiopia in general. The have GPS , so we are informed where we are situated approximately and how long distance remains to the finish.
We have to drive 120 kms at least. The noon is over, so we have to reach one tributary more, in order to camp here and the next day arrive to the bridge where the way is to be ended. We say bye-bye thanking for refreshment, prepared for us. The flow becomes to be enlarged and there is more of calm passages. The hippopotams are lodging lazy in the water and when we approach they hide their heads under the water.
We see a crocodile from time to time vanishing in the water. Our fands are soaked and soften, we are bited from gadflies, attacking us in quiet passages in troops on our not covered parts of our bodies. They are smarting us even via thinn neopren on sleeves. I and George have swelled our elbows from smarting. Paul is emitting in a long smock-frock but he is not smarted.
It is nearly five o´clock, no tributary is reaching, so we are trying to find a safe place for camping.. We always find a suitable place , the traces of hippopotams are here. We do not know, however, if the animals will pass through in the morning, so we try to find something else. We find the right suitable place in half an hour on the left bank , where the animals cannot climb. We make a fire of floated wood and prepare – just in dark – our traditional food, a soup with dried meat. A hippopotam gives us a sign from the water to go away , here is his territory. We are extremely tired, creeping into sleeping bags. In the night, I am waked with strange sounds. It is something nearby, but it stops in a while. I pun on some wood on a fire and fall asleep.
In the morning we leave early. at eight o´clock. We have to drive at least 80 kilometers. Immediately after the first turn the tributary is appearing. We fill up the water into our bottles as we do not drink the Omo-water. Nobody has the pleasure to paddle , so we are let to be carried by stream ahead. On a bank a small herd of Kob-animals is running about. The river is quiet and flows slowly, but we have to drive some distance. We are full of pain and our energy is getting down. We see the dead body of hippopotam in one of small rapids,seized on old trunk of tree. A terrible bad smell of spreading body forces to to quicker paddling.
It is three o´clock and no bridge is to be seen. We start to think over about our next nigth in a canon. We are decided to drive as long time as we can in order to reach it before dusk. Finally, at four o´clock we are at the bridge! It is situated quite high over us. The watchmen with machine-guns are walking round. They are watching us how we go out of boats and change our wet clothes. We clamber up the path overgrown with high grass on a bridge.
Now, we have to catch the car to Awasa, where our second group is waiting for us- in field of activity of foundation „ Human in Hardship“ . We wish to shoot a film-document there about a school in Africa.
Upon leaving the boats along the way, the watchmen are arriving. They do not want to know what we do here. We show, according the map, where we are and how to get to the place we wish. They leave us, while we are waiting for a car. A pick up with two pieces of sheep on wicker-work carriage is coming in half an hour. We discuss with the drivers the conditions regarding departure to the nearest town. Finally, we find that the driver goes up to Awasa. We are very pleased that we shall be sleeping in beds and order a good meal.
However, the drive is not easy, as the back wheel dropped, it happened nothing to anybody, good luck! The driver is a very calm man , as he secures a truck for us , which bring us directly to the town centre. On a wicker-work carriage there is so cold that we have to be packed in our sleeping bags, in order not to be freezed completely. Finally, we arrived to the town before midnight.
A young man behind a wheel of a truck stops in front of a noisy bar. He enters and reserves an accommodation for us. We are informed in the morning bthat we slept in local brothel(prostritute hotel) where the 14 years old girls offer their services in the bar situated below.
The next day we finally meet in the rooms of foundation „ Human in Hardship“ and their small home. Now, a school in Africa and tribes on the lower flow of Omo river is waiting for us.
For the next time, bye-bye!
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