We have left the so-called Historical Circuit – the north of Ethiopia, the historical heartland – behind us, and we are heading north and east now, to the less explored Somali part – Somali as in the eastern most province of Ethiopia, as well as a short entry into Somaliland, a semi-autonomous part of the country Somalia (in fact Somaliland is an independent country, for all intents and purposes, except that it has not been recognized as such by anybody).
Heading north-east means two things, one is that we have now come down from the highlands, and it is a lot hotter here. And two, because of his, conditions become even dryer, it seems, that what we have seen so far.
First stop is Dire Dawa, the town built at the beginning of the 20th Century to accommodate a stop halfway the Addis Ababa – Djibouti railway. In those hundred years or so the town has grown to the second largest in Ethiopia, although you wouldn’t say. Dire Dawa has a very relaxed atmosphere, with tree lined streets providing the necessary shade, with brightly painted adobe-type houses in the back streets, and with the ever-present market sprawling on the left bank of a wadi that cuts the town in two halves. Pleasant enough for a little walk.
But we had come to Dire Dawa to see rock paintings. Not very well advertised in guide books (who concentrate much more on the Historical Circuit), there are in fact at least four caves in and around town that contain reputedly interesting rock paintings of humans, and domestic and wild animals. Determining the age of these is always problematic, but from artefacts found in the caves somebody has estimated that they could be perhaps up to 70,000 years old – which I find hard to believe, 5000 years is another estimate I read, and more reasonable.
Unfortunately you need a permit to visit these paintings. Unfortunately it was a public holiday, so government office was closed. In any case, because it was a public holiday, the tour operators were also not working. Well, we managed to contact several, but none could even arrange a car: the car rental agencies were also not working. By 2 pm we gave up, accepted our loss, admitted failure, and moved on to Harar.