01-Jan-2005 -- Although we did dance a bit around the bonfire, we decided not to wait up for the New Year to arrive and went to bed before midnight: our planned confluence visit in the first morning of 2005 was far more important than any celebrations, and besides we were pretty exhausted after visiting Lalibela's stunning 900-year-old rock-hewn churches.
The GPS showed the Confluence to be just 5.2 km southwest of our guest house as the crow flies, and we wanted to tackle it on foot. Under a clear blue sky, the confluence expedition team, composed of elephant enumerator and GPS-bearer Julian Blanc, USAID regional advisor Jack Myer, and local tourist guide Gashaw Melese (recruited by virtue of his extensive knowledge of the area and vastly superior command of the Amharic language), set off at 9:20 a.m. in pretty good spirits. We followed goat trails down an escarpment, but soon determined that the direction marked by the GPS more or less coincided with the old (now disused) airport road, so we decided to take it.
Along the road we came across a procession of hundreds - if not thousands - of people, goats, sheep, cattle and donkeys, coming from villages far afield, on the way to trading (or being traded, depending on species) at Lalibela's Saturday market. As we were the only ones going against the marketward flow, we could not help but to feel that everyone we met - including the donkeys - was thinking "these faranjis are nuts". This was no doubt reinforced by Jack's delight in taking numerous photographs of donkeys laden with USAID food aid sacks, recycled to contain local produce. Jack was pleased to see that his organization's efforts don't just get passed down the communities' intestines.
After walking for an hour, the road continued to meander gently with little deviation from the straight path marked by the GPS. This brought on mild fears reminiscent of a previous confluence visit in Uganda - fears which could have otherwise been avoided altogether, were it not for a persistent bad habit of not checking beforehand whether a Confluence has already been visited - but we nevertheless pressed on undeterred. We finally came to the point where the GPS indicated we were at a right angle to the Confluence, and we had to leave the road and veer to the left: the Confluence was just 220 metres away! We walked along the hilltop ridge in trepidation, and finally hit our target at around 11 a.m., having walked 7.8 km. The Confluence was under an acacia on the steep north-eastern face of the hill, at an altitude of 2138 m, very close to the summit.
We took a picture of the GPS and a view from the Confluence, but as there was little visibility in other directions, we stepped out in order to take panoramic shots of the area - less than two metres from it the visibility improved drastically. Satisfied with our success, we proudly posed before the camera, built a small mound of rocks under the acacia to mark the spot, feasted on biscuits and water and enjoyed the view - which was rather nice, particularly from the top of the hill, less than 10 metres from the Confluence. As we walked back towards the road, we noticed another mound of stones, larger than the one we'd built, and the fears of Confluential duplication returned for a moment. Gashaw was nevertheless still quite hopeful that he'll be able to bring scores of paying tourists to the Confluence without the need for a GPS.
The way back to Lalibela took considerably longer - the road was now largely uphill and the sun was getting progressively hotter. The thought of ice-cold beer gracefully flowing down our dry and dusty throats made us realize that we should have brought along our own donkey fitted with a case of the stuff.
People were beginning to trickle back from the market, some with unladen donkeys and cash in hand, others with unsold goats. The monotony of the climb was briefly interrupted by the unusual and amusing sight of a young bull tripping and landing strepitously on its face as it descended the escarpment, and then walking on nonchalantly but unable to conceal its embarrassment.
Eventually, we made it back to Lalibela, where a visit to the market, still in full swing, temporarily postponed our urge to resample the local brew. A copious Ethiopian lunch and several cold ones later, and with the nagging reminder - courtesy of our feet - of the 16 km we'd just walked, we were ready for a long afternoon nap.