POV

Fish Eats Man in Ethiopia. Really. (Part 2)

By Eric Hill - http://gowitheric.com
Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Everything with Diboutian border guard went just like he had promised other than a subtle request for some money. Once I got into Somaliland though, things got complicated again. My main purpose for taking photos is to capture the beautiful people and beautiful things, but obviously in this region, many of the journalists stories that come out can be quite the opposite. If only they knew my heart, they would have made things easier. Instead it felt a lot like my first two days in South Sudan (see blog on my arrest in South Sudan.) I was causing a little commotion from the minute I got out of the pickup. I was told it was rare for a westerner to take public transport to the border and even more rare to be walking around the Somalia border town of Lawyacado. Plus whenever I pulled out my camera it caused quite a stir. Some people were calling out for a picture. They would yell out simple English words like “hello!” or “thank you” or “I love you” at random times and then say “picture picture” so I would come take a picture of them. Others would cover their face with one hand and shake their other hand angrily if I even made eye contact with them to make it clear they wanted no picture.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

The people that were welcoming were so great! They let me get in on some daily chores they were doing and put on some traditional clothes. We only spoke a couple words of each others languages, but somehow, like in so many other places, we spent most of the time smiling and laughing while we communicated and joked with simple points and gestures. Even some of the locals that were shooing away the camera at first warmed up quickly and joined in curiously with the welcoming groups. I was still guessing my picture taking time would be cut short due to some falsely assumed reasons for my presence. I somewhat frantically tried teaching my guide how to take pictures and told him to just keep pushing the button so I could have at least some record of my experience to share. I was right to do so. Only a couple hours into the foot journey when we stopped for some soup at a restaurant-shack made of sticks and plastic, an officer of some sort with his fully armed men walked under the shade and asked firmly with a scowl on his face, “what is this?” pointing to my camera. “Journalist?” Then he spoke to my guide in some unpleasant tones which my guide translated for me into “if you take another picture, I’ll take your camera.” Ok ok, tough guy. Someone must have really done some bad things with a camera there before. So I put away my camera, finished my soup, walked out of the shack and out of the country. I had my backflip, handstand and high five and I got a little taste of what the people were like. I’ll have to come back again someday. That was one of the briefest visits to a country yet!

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Though I was thankful even for my short experience in Somalia, it was back in Djibouti that a couple dreams came true. In all the scuba diving I’ve done, I somehow have managed to avoid all shipwrecks. Finally, in the Gulf of Aden, I had my first wreck dive! It took us a while to find by GPS because the buoy that normally marks the site had been ripped away. Once the GPS said we were right on top of it, my dive master managed to locate it by sticking her masked face in the water until she could see the sunken ship. We geared up and the second I jumped in I could see the massive 125m ship lying the same way it had been since the 1970s: on its side with a huge hole ripped in it’s hull from a massive engine explosion. The biggest difference from 1970s was the amount of sea life teaming in and around it in an otherwise barren sandy ocean floor.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Though it was a incredible thing to see, the wreck was definitely trumped by a snorkeling experience in the Gulf of Tadjoura. I timed my visit to Djibouti perfectly with the return of the whale sharks in the bay. I wanted to highlight the work of a really cool NGO out of the Seychelles, The Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCSS). They log and track of these majestic creatures through some pretty high tech means. The animals are monster sized, but relatively little is known about the habits of these graceful giants. Even the tracking devices the NGO uses often are ineffective at the depths that the whale sharks can dive (over 700 meters!) With increased funding the research can move more rapidly and the mysteries of these beautiful beasts may someday be revealed. Mysteries or not, I wanted to see these animals firsthand. It would have been a success in my mind to even see one. I kept my hopes low, but this time luck was on my side. Not only did we see one but over 25! At one point we could count 17 all in one spot!

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

The sharks seemed to have different moods. Some seemed completely unaware of my presence. I could swim circles around them while they carried on gulping massive amounts of water as they filtered out the small particles for sustenance. Others would react to my approach or change swimming directions when they sensed me. Some disappeared into the dark blue below running away from me the moment I tried to get close. Imagine that: a shark 300 times my weight running from ME. I chased a couple thinking I could keep up. Once I chased one straight down distracted from the fact I only had a snorkel. When it went out of sight below and I looked up I had what looked about 40 feet of water and I was out of breath! No worries though. I float in salt water Their graceful movements made them look like they were moving slowly. It was clear as they faded off into the distance even though I was chasing full throttle that they were deceptively fast. I didn’t get to tag any of the sharks this time, but maybe if I time my visit to the Seychelles right, I’ll be able to get involved directly with the efforts of the NGO. Tagging or not, swimming with whale sharks was even better than I imagined and definitely something I will never forget. It was the perfect end to a rough patch the journey to every country.

 

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

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Courtesy of Eric Hill

Source: http://gowitheric.com

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One Response to “Fish Eats Man in Ethiopia. Really. (Part 2)”

  1. Dan Cowan says:

    Eric Hill: Indiana Jones meets Abercrombie & Fitch meets UNESCO meets The Bachelorette. What a life.