I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down down down, but the flames crept higher,
And it burns burns burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire.

And the earth’s gaping maw swallowed me whole

Joke: A Swede, Two Spaniards, an American, A Russian, an Ethiopian, and a handful of Afar tribesmen are sent to the hottest places on Earth.

The Russian receives disability payments from Israel for insanity. The Spaniards, after years spent traveling have a deep-ground mistrust of Africans, The American has been coughing for two weeks and the Swede gets grumpy from time to time. The Ethiopian speaks limited English, and the tribesmen want nothing more than your money. All of it.

A recipe for success?

Day 1: After buying a couple crates of fruits an vegetables in addition to rice and pasta we began the lengthy drive to Berahile. 4 hours on dirt mountain road and we arrived a little past lunch. Feasting (fasting) on beyanitu we returned to the guard station. Alas, no guard was to be found.

So…a Russian, a Swede, 2 Spaniards, and an American wander to the hottest place on Earth. And there is one Ethiopian. Sensitive but ultimately hapless in the face of discordant multinationalism. After a late start caused by dithering, black market transactions, general shopping, fruit shopping, and bidding farewell to our guide’s family we started the bumpy trek to Bera hile. After several stops we arrived to find the man with the key for the room where we needed an “official” piece of paper to be missing. With the man, the key, and the official piece of paper out of our reach we settled down to a game of competitive pick-up sticks with the local community. Ultimately, it turned out that the man and the key were 26 km in the direction from whence we came. Ultimately, the guide and the Russian were sent back (the Russian as collateral) to retrieve either the man or the key. 3 hours later they returned and we dispensed with 3 minutes of bureaucratic paper work in order to provide justification for a thoroughly unnecessary governmental position. Unfortunately, by the time this process had been completed darkness had descended upon us and we were unable to proceed into the night. (for fear of the wild things…and falling off precipitous cliffs.)

Thus began the first bout of haggling that would ultimately save us hundreds upon hundreds of Birr (~50 USD). We had already paid for 2 scouts and a guide for the day which were legally required for proceeding past Bera Hile. Surprisingly after nearly an hour of valiant arguing from our guide, Hoptem, and myself (modest aren’t I) we retrieved 300 Birrr. In Africa this is triumphant indeed! We had been refunded money by the civil service. WOW.

Flush with success the Russian, Erik and myself opted for a spot at the “hotel” – someone’s house quickly emptied of their belongings and converted into a place for faranji co-habitation. At the price of only a dollar this was a steal. Once our bags touched the floor the priced was quadrupled and incensed we left.

Returning, to the guard station we equivocated and finally settled on staying at the locally elementary school. Sometime soon after this our guide threatened to quit on us and call his manager to have another driver sent. After a couple beers, dinner, excessive cuddling with local children and 4 hours later Erik and I approached Hoptem about the next morning’s plan. After some heavy handed bargaining (i.e. Erik saying “let’s leae at 6 am” Hoptem – “No”. Erik – “Let’s go at 6. Hoptem – “No” Erik – “so 6 it is” Hoptem – “OK”) we arranged to leave early the next morning.

So that night we spent in Berahile, miles from nowhere and miles to nowhere. Somewhat confused about our experiences the Russian attempted to sum everything up with a pat “T.I.A” – This is Africa. However, that worn traveler’s saw doesn’t quite fit, and never did.