Last week I wrote about experiencing the holiday of Timket. As I said, it was incredibly authentic — the first time I felt like Bonga was my town. I felt that I was part of the way of life here, not just a spectator. Yesterday I had a similar experience, A day that rivaled Timket in its spectacle and cultural significance. Dave, myself, and our two best friends decided to try and hike to the ‘Daddiben’ –the hot springs of Ginbo.
Dave and I had attempted this hike a few months ago, but the Jungle got the best of us. It is a 20 Km hike (12 and a half miles) from the town of Ginbo and we had gotten a late start. In the middle of the Jungle, night was falling. We flipped a coin and fate decided that we should turn back. It was the right decision at the time, we were in the heart of the jungle, several miles away from the main road. We walked through the night, in the rain, back to town. Dave and I considered going to a hut and asking for a place to pass the night. It was an eerie, frightening, and awesome experience.
Yesterday we got our revenge.
We woke up at 5 and witnessed a killer sunrise as we headed to the Daddiben. In the 2 months I have been here, the landscape has undergone a complete transformation. We are in the height of the dry season, the driest in many years. Two months ago, the hike was wet, muddy and I felt as though I was in Costa Rica. Yesterday felt more like Africa. The sun was powerful; the earth dusty, and the dark greens of the rainy season had been replaced by the uninviting yellows of the dry season.
The straw and mud huts that lined the road reminded me of my former African stereotype.
However as we descended down into the valley, the rainforest showed its colors. Broad leaves, palm trees and Monkeys lined the 2 foot wide path. A local farmer with a machete walked ahead of us, cutting the branches to make our walk easier. We arrived at a small clearing, the same spot where Dave and I had turned back.
The Daddiben was less than 50 meters away.
To the left of the spring was one of the harshest sights I have seen in Africa. A tiny village of 20 people lived here. They lived in 4 foot houses made of twigs and straw. These were people whose main goal in the morning is to survive the day. This tribe has likely lived here for centuries. Spiritually connected to the Springs, they will likely never leave.
These people were very welcoming, giving me a tour of the springs. They took me to the source, a boiling spring full of iron. Here, elders gather and drink the hot water, believing it prolongs health. I had pictured a still body of water but this spring flowed like a river down the sloped valley, cooling as it traveled downstream.
At a small falls, the water achieved the perfect temperature. I’d guess it was roughly 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Here all the locals gather to revel in the spiritual awesomeness that is hot water. 2 months since my last hot shower, I shared their enthusiasm.
I really wish you all could see what I experienced. It was too real and ancient, too cultural and profound for words. If Peace Corps and National Geographic had a love-child, it would be this day. 20 or so locals were lounging in the rumbling spring, with the elders at the most coveted spots. As I approached the water, two women passed me, bare-breasted, carrying buckets of water on their head. The naked women and men were completely at peace with their own nudity.
ALL eyes were on me. Everyone was staring at me, perplexed. As I stripped down, a crowd had gathered around me to watch. I had no choice but to pretend I was as comfortable in my birthday suit as they were.
After getting over their initial curiosity, the people were very warm and receptive. They laughed hysterically as I winced in the hot pain. They showed me the best places to relax. I spoke with some of the men who spoke Amharic and I made some friends. I gave them shampoo. They washed my shirt. They loved my company and I loved their culture. I looked around at all the old wrinkly women staring at me, the men who had left their spears on the banks to enjoy the water and it dawned on me how utterly unique this opportunity was. I was surrounded by Africans who had come here for perhaps thousands of years. A strikingly pale American in a sea of tribes people, I felt very much a part of this African life.
I could write another thousand words on how cool this was but I’ll let these pictures talk for me: