Thursday, December 4, 2008

Travels in Ethiopia

Our trip from the Sudan arrived at Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after dark even though we left around 3pm. It seems it gets dark early there this time of year, even in Africa. We made an ATC-guided approach to ILS and landed uneventfully.
The next day we got an early start, leaving HAAB in the C-130 before 7 A.M. for a small dot on the map called "Fincha." The landing at Fincha was not difficult. The landing strip is set on a flat plateau beside a lake, which provides plenty of eacy access space to make the visual approach. Unfortunately, there was nobody there to meet us, as apparently the government notification had not been sent. You can see the plane parked here beside the landing strip - just a dirt runway - with the lake beyond. We canceled flights for the rest of the day until our itinerary could be confirmed.

The next day we set out early again, this time heading south instead of north. According to reports, food shortages in Ethiopia are particularly severe in the southern part of the country where people survive mainly by subsistence agriculture, and the droughts have drastically reduced food production. Not surprisingly, as you can see in this photo how desolate the land looks, even given that it is fall. We arrived at HASD, a dirt landing strip north of the town and lake of Awasa. Google Earth has many pictures of the area, and it seems to be a lovely lake. The local town has interesting architecture.

As you can see from the following image, the landing strip is located several miles north of the town located on the east side of the lake. It's not unusual for airports to be located away from the town they serve, but usually we expect the airport to be more clearly linked to the town. In this case, it's just a hard-baked clay piece of unmarked land that you would know is an air strip only if you were a pilot with a map to tell you where it is.
Nevertheless, after several difficult attempts to make the approach over top the hill to the north of the field, we did finally manage to set down on the ground, park, and open up the tailgate. Townspeople who had seen the plane arrive gathered soon after, and the visit was very succesful.
We continued on for one more trip that afternoon, to Arba Minch, which is farther to the south. Arba Minch has an asphalt runway long enough for jets. The landing was easy. There is a local village there, but the community also consists of rural settlements spread out over a larger area. We dropped another 5,000 lbs of food there, nearly 200 25-lb bags of rice and grain. Then it was back to Addis Ababa to load up the plane for another day. Tomorrow we would head north again into the mountainous regions north of the capital.

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