Mortal Danger in Ethiopia – Dying of Thirst (2/5)

“Treasures From The Pioneer Era” – Continuation from the book by Ernie Tanner: “Where Angels Fear To Fly”

We were stranded at an abandoned airfield and had run out of fuel. We had no choice but to set out on foot to get help.

A dirt track led to the edge of the plateau. We followed a footpath that led straight to the road by the river. Again and again, we came across the corpses of camels that stared at us from their empty eye cavities. The sun wasn’t yet high but the heat was already almost unbearable. Halfway down the path we saw three huts on the riverbank. Between the huts and the road, the forest was flooded to a width of almost half a mile (500 m). We filtered some of this water, filled our water bottles and hit the road – as we thought – to Gode.

The road kept leading away from the river. We trudged in the scorching heat of the sun through a vast area of drought with occasional patches of scrub that were never tall enough to offer any shade. We covered our heads with our pajamas to protect ourselves from the piercing rays of the sun. We rationed ourselves to one sip of water every half hour. Georg climbed a small hill but there was no sign of civilization anywhere to be seen. Vultures circled above us, waiting for us to die.

Suddenly there was a rustling in the bushes next to us and a large wild boar scuttled across our path, then disappeared back into the bush. Luckily, she had no young with her, or she could have been very dangerous. Gradually we realized that we were in great danger. Our water reserve was just about enough to get us back to the river. If the distance to Gode was any greater than the way we had already covered, we would run out of water and die of thirst in the ever increasing sweltering heat of the sun. It was hard, deciding to turn back, accepting that we had failed, and to have to wait until somehow, we were rescued. But we made that decision. As we discovered afterwards, we would never have reached Gode without water – and anyway, the next town was Kelafo – and would have died of thirst in the wilderness.

In silence, we plodded back along the laborious track, sunk in dark thoughts. At last we came to the flooded area. I filtered some water and drank and drank until my stomach was almost bursting and I had to throw it all up again. That day, I experienced the true meaning of thirst.

A wide footpath seemed to lead up to the three houses through barely knee-deep water. I examined the ground and was surprised to discover fresh footprints. So, there must be people in these houses! And where there are people, there’s safety! We climbed up the footpath until we could see the houses. I found a long stick, wrapped my aluminum sheet around it and waved it to and fro, carefully watching the huts. For a brief moment I glimpsed something pale move behind a door. We yelled for help as loud as we could but no one gave any sign of life. So, we returned to the road and my companion offered to wade through the flooded forest to seek help. I stayed with our things. We arranged that if he found help he would give three cheers: if it was dangerous, he would shout once. Then I would follow. 

I watched apprehensively as he waded through the water and then disappeared from my sight.

(To be continued)