Today we continue the drive north - we are travelling up the eastern side of the Rift Valley, and it takes us through coffee country. The landscape is practically subtropical, and coffee trees grow everywhere - right up to the side of the road.
Along the way we stiop at a couple of the establishments that process the coffee beans - but it is too early in the season. Harvesting doesn't start for another couple of months, but finally we find one where there are some people in attendance, and they give us a quick tour.
Further up the road, we find yet another container that has died at the side of the road - there is a staggering number of them in this country. It's not that hard to see why - the trucks in this country don't have the securing pins on each corner of the tray. They throw a steel cable back and forth over the the container a couple of times, and torque it up, and off they go. Of course, if there is any strain on the cable, over she goes.
The rest of the trip to Yirga Alem is spent marvelling at the landscape and occasionally stopping to get a couple of photos. The locals are very friendly and inquisitive - often just clustering around and looking in and using the opportunity to practice their English (which in a lot of cases is quite good).
The day ends when we arrive at our lodge in Yirga Alem - once again, extremely well appointed and comfortable, in the tuple fashion. One of the staff takes us on a bush walk for a look at the small monkeys, colubus monkeys, and vultures. After this we head back to the bar for a beer or two.
Just before sunset, the girls in the restaurant put on a traditional coffee ceremony - it is quite a performance: they first roast the beans, then grind the beans, then make the coffee and finally serve it up. Fantastic.
While this is going on, the gardener comes out with a basket of bread crusts and throws them around, which attracts a flock of vultures. The small monkeys also venture down to get their share - and the surprise is that the vultures are wary of them. If the monkeys make a move, the vultures jump out of their way. At dusk a group of about 3 or 4 spotted hyenas also show up, but they pretty much keep their distance.
Over dinner we have a chat with an Irish guy who works for one of the few useful NGOs in the place (one that is funded by the Bill Gates Foundation, so presumably they are accountable for how the money is actually spent). It is useful in the sense that for an NGO, he does actual field work - working with the coffee growers to help set up co-operatives and improve the quality of their product. He reckons that Ethiopia could double the amount of coffee beans that they produce without planting a single additional coffee tree - just by improving how they maintain existing stock by proper pruning, clearing and so on (much like they did in neighbouring states like Rwanda). However, working with goverment agencies is a chore here (Tell me a country where it isn't).
It is interesting to chat with someone who has on the ground experience here in Africa (nearly 15 years) and he provides a bit of insight into the politics and economics of Eastern Africa. Over several beers, we manage to solve quite a lot of the problems that beset this area of the world.