The next day it was marked by another of those very early rises that Ethiopia is notorious for. I had been recommended to report at the bus station at 5, then someone else conceded half an hour of sleep more, saying 5.30 would be enough. I played the middle choice and arrived at 5.15, but it was a near miss: the bus was already full, and they were taking out stools to accommodate more passengers in the aisle. I managed to get a proper seat, but even so, those horrible cramped buses make the 6 hour journey to Arba Minch never ending. When I saw the surprising mud-coloured waters of lake Abaya, I knew arrival was in the offing.
I get within a stone's throw from Nechisar National Park, but for an unlucky turn of the events miss the chance to see it, although my imagination more than compensates for the loss.
The town merges perfectly in a dream-like setting. There are no high rise buildings, only metal roofs stand out for their colour from the green environment. Soon the renovation in progress will give Arba Minch a tidier new look and redeem the dusty central roundabout from that far-west feel. At the café overlooking the circle punters sip excellent coffee or avocado juice and eat a sweet while getting powdered over. Touts loiter at the roundabout stalking for the rare individual tourists and propose hotel accommodation or tours to the national park. I avoided them and went straight to the upper part of town.
Nechisar National Park is at a stone's throw, but there is no competition among the travel agents. There may well just be one, and they ask for a monopolist's price. I didn't find anyone to share a costly jeep for the park as there were virtually no other travellers at the time of my call. I could only see elderly white visitors cruising along in caravans of 4x4's that let ordinary people breathe the dust raised by their wheels. I had a sinking feeling I would have to give up Nechisar.
From the roundabout the backdrop of mountains looked like a painting with boosted contrast in the low afternoon light, but I was curious to embrace the view over the lakes and went up to the Bekele Mola hotel, one of a chain founded by an enterprising man from Harar who came to own a dozen establishments all over Ethiopia. From its terrace there is a tremendous panorama over the two lakes separated by a mountainous isthmus called the Bridge of God. I knew the huge lake to the left had russet waters, and Lake Chamo on the right had blue waters, but from there the difference was imperceptible.
Knowing by then that I would not get into the national park added to the magic of the place. The last rays slanted on a couple of lovers on the terrace, on the three college students that had come to drink a coffee with a view, like me. The sun was setting on the horizon and nature in the dusk acquired a mysterious feel and suggested the dangers of this pristine environment populated by wild beasts and rife with tropical insects. In the unattainable proximity I imagined the crocodiles at the river estuary and packs of zebras about to be enveloped by darkness. In less time than could be expected everything would be swallowed by an unforgiving night and would have to wait a new astronomical revolution to have light again at the next sunrise. That was the nature at its purest.