At this point in my journey, I was happy to finally be immersed in nature and to stay in one place for more than two days. Bonga was quickly shaping up to be the highlight of my trip, but there was one small pest that plagued the town and provoked my patience.
I can walk around in the heat all day long and not complain once, but dear God, the flies. When I say "flies," I mean insects that resemble small houseflies except found outdoors in swarms. Whereas houseflies buzz around harmlessly in a mildly annoying manner, maybe bumping into you once or twice as they search for an escape route in your home, these things are relentless motherfuckers.
The flies (whose proper name I do not know, so let's stick with "motherfuckers") clung to each and every person, head to toe, strolling about in Bonga. Unlike me, however, Ethiopians are zen masters when it comes to tolerating these motherfuckers hitching a joyride on their bodies (including Atirse). But the feeling of them landing on my bare skin and repeatedly dive-bombing into my face when I was dirty and sweaty was both maddening and distracting.
I was well-shielded by wearing sunglasses, a hat, scarf over my mouth and nostrils, long pants, and sneakers, but even still, you would need full-body armor in order to be indifferent to their onslaught. Except for in the dense parts of the forest, there was no escaping them outdoors.
But I didn't let these motherfuckers spoil the fun.
On my second day with Atirse, he picked me up at my hotel early and we set out for the forest by minibus. We walked through the dense, vibrant foliage to a naturally formed bridge known as "God's Bridge," pausing periodically to listen to the subtle sounds of rustling leaves and chirping birds, and occasionally catching sight of the fleeting silhouettes of colobus monkeys swinging through the treetops when they detected our approach.
The cave underneath the bridge
We continued onwards to Mankira coffee forest, accompanied by the owner of the grounds and another guy who hoisted around a machete. Among the wild Arabica coffee trees growing here, the "Mother Coffee Tree" (said to be the oldest living coffee tree in the world) inconspicuously thrives.
Indeed, the moss-covered trees in this peaceful part of the forest give you the sense that you are among something ancient and wise. Butterflies flutter gracefully along the forest floor, adding to the intrigue of the surroundings. We sat here for several minutes to take in the ethereal atmosphere.
Mankira Coffee Forest
The Mother Coffee Tree (center)
After re-energizing with avocado juice and coffee back in town, we hiked up a long, winding dirt road to Bonga's Open Air Museum. The site of the former palace of the last king of the Kafa kingdom, the grounds have been reconstructed to resemble its original design and is currently used for large celebrations such as Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash, September 11th). Baboons eyed us suspiciously from the bushes, but getting a clear snapshot of them was just as futile as photographing the elusive colobus monkeys in the forest.
The Open Air Museum's lookout point
We were both exhausted by this point and decided to call it a day. After two nights at Coffee Land with no running water (Bonga periodically undergoes water shortages, apparently lasting up to several weeks sometimes), and having an allergy to something in the room (likely the dusty mosquito net, which resulted in constant sneezing), Atirse suggested that I relocate to the Kafa Development Association guesthouse. Located on the outskirts of town, the grounds are lovely and quiet, but my room lacked a mosquito net—there was a hook for one, but the net I brought with me was much too small for the high ceiling and large bed.
The Kafa Development Association Guesthouse grounds
Since it's the dry season in this region of Ethiopia, mosquitoes are still pretty scarce, luckily, but I did get a few insect bites overnight in the form of tiny, non-itchy red dots. On the plus side, the room had running water (even hot water) and was clean, bright, and spacious.
On the neutral-to-negative side, long-legged spiders (which I assumed were harmless for my own peace of mind), appeared in the bathroom at night. At first I was a bit unsettled by their presence and kept my eyes glued to them from the toilet, but they seemed to read my mind and always stayed on their territory, so I could tolerate them. Despite the better room, I still slept like crap, tossing and turning endlessly in the heat.
The next morning, the plan was to hike with Atirse to the hot springs in a neighboring village called Dadiban. With little sleep and stomach cramps, I was not feeling so hot from the get-go and debated whether to rest or plunge forth into the heat and flies. I sucked it up and chose the latter option, so we ate a breakfast of spicy ful (which I knew I would shortly regret) and began our journey.
Ful, a spicy bean dish typically eaten for breakfast
As predicted, the hike to the hot springs was a struggle not because of the difficulty of the terrain but my sickly state (the ful quickly proved to be a bad idea). When we arrived at the springs, I crouched into a hunched-over squat (a position that offered some kind of relief), clutching my stomach beside the water while Atirse took a dip with the local families bathing (nude or semi-nude) and washing clothes, regarding me with curiosity. I managed to smile but couldn't do much else. The walk back was a determined slog with motivational encouragement from Atirse, and I collapsed into bed as soon I got back to my room, my ears ringing and stomach aching.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
I had been battling with abdominal cramps followed by bouts of strange-looking diarrhea (yes, there is such a thing as normal-looking diarrhea) for the better part of my trip but remained functional, so I didn't take it too seriously (I strategized by not eating before a bus ride). Although I had temporary relief during the three days I took the antibiotics I had packed, my symptoms returned with a vengeance as soon as I stopped medicating. I took this as my cue to see a doctor.
On my fourth day in Bonga, I had Atirse bring me to a doctor whom he trusts. As you might expect for a small town in Africa, the clinic was not the most sanitary facility and I had to deliver my mucousy mass onto a tiny piece of cardboard in a rather nasty toilet littered with rogue stool samples, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
For a grand total of 35 birr, I had a consultation with a doctor, lab testing (which took about ten minutes), and a prescription for tinidazole (which, unlike antibiotics, kills protozoa). Of course I self-diagnosed before I came in, and I was actually correct (a small point of pride): amoebic dysentery!
Although obviously unpleasant, it wasn't actually as bad as it sounds. A few hours after my first dose of tinidazole, I rejoiced over my solid stool. We meet again, old friend!