Elephants, camels, hyenas — oh, my

1 Aug
While in Harar, we went wild. As in, we experienced wildlife to the fullest.
Before dealing with the live animals though, Hailu, our exceptional guide, took us to try camel meat from the market.   Check out the lack of refrigeration in this Youtube link: Raw camel meat.  You can see that camel meat is both darker and redder.
We, of course, bought some and walked it about 20 meters away (that’s very close) to have it cooked with rosemary and injera.

Camel’s on the menu.


While we waited for our camel meat to cook, people offered us RAW meat!  They were eating it as is.  Both Patrick and I politely declined — it was already a big day for our stomachs.


Celebrating hump day the right way.


Overall, it was pretty good!  The glass bottle cokes and spicy sauce added to the experience.  


All gone.



So, now that we had fed on an animal, it was time to do the feeding…..

Fast forward to nightfall:

We walked outside the city walls to participate in a nightly feeding of the wild hyenas.  A NIGHTLY FEEDING OF THE WILD HYENAS.  Insane.  Something I had never heard of.  They do this, not for tourists, but to keep the hyenas happy in the hopes that they don’t attack the town.   In fact, Harar even has hyena doors built into the city walls (have I mentioned? It’s a walled-city.) so that the hyenas can come and go as they please.


Hyenas are nocturnal.  This gave me the full day to contemplate my decision to save $1,500 USD and not get an anti rabies shot…which, in my defense, only buys you 48 hours.  If you are suspected to be infected you MUST go to the hospital in the capital city (very far away) for painful shots otherwise rabies has a 100% mortality rate.  Before my trip, the nurse who gave me this information cautioned me that rabies is transferred through saliva, not an actual bite. So we had to be extra cautious — even of stray puppies who could scratch and drool into a cut. Don’t touch the animals.  Pretty solid rule to follow when you travel.
Anyway, I stayed clear of puppies and headed straight to the wild hyena den.


We saw how the community literally coexists with these hyenas, which, by the way are HUGE.  People casually walked by as 5-6 (but definitely 6) hyenas came around us and howled. It was the first time I can remember ever actually wanting someone to have a gun. But alas, guns are illegal in Ethiopia but feeding wild hyenas from your mouth isn’t. Shrugs.

For the first time in my life, I heard a wild hyena laugh.

I could not believe I was seeing hyenas in the wild.  What does an animal with rabies even look like…?? 

What did I decide to to?
Well, Africa is lawless, honestly, and this was seriously such a unique opportunity.  I was hard pressed to say no…So I didn’t.  This was something we’d remember for a lifetime!

One man called the hyenas over, loudly and with intensity.   They didn’t look like they had rabies but we couldn’t be sure.  The only thing was not to get saliva into an open cut.  We began the feeding,  And now… for the moment you’ve all been waiting for:



Making eye contact.


A size up.


The experience was INSANE. INSANE INSANE INSANE!  During the second feeding I did get some hyena saliva on my cheek, pretty much the only thing I was definitely not supposed to do.  But it wasn’t an open wound so I told Patrick, shrugged, and wiped it off.



It was truly unforgettable.


The next morning, we headed out bright and early (ok, just early — it was still dark outside) to go to an elephant sanctuary with Hailu. It was massive, with a big African sky, sounds of nature, and swarms of beautiful African birds.


Question: Where was this gun when the hyenas were around…



Extreme bird watching:  The only thing that makes it extreme is that we went all the way to Africa to do it.

On the way, I took a look on our map and saw how close we were to what I thought was Somalia. I learned, however, that it was Somaliland, which is a country recognized by only 7 countries including Ethiopia. However, our state department does not distinguish between the two too much; it says, in no uncertain words, if you go there, “prepare to die”.  Like, leave a DNA sample behind.   Needless to say, Patrick and I didn’t go there.
Instead we went trekking where we saw 3 wild warthogs, kingfishers — Patrick’s favorite bird –, and 7 wild elephants!! These animals did not want to be around humans (who can blame them). We didn’t get great footage but it was majestic. The elephant’s big, huge ears move with them as they walk — it’s adorable.
We also saw some wild-ish cows; it was their first time seeing a car.  And we spotted a rock hyrax on a… well, rock. 


Searching for elephants.  PS.  Intentional camouflage?


We LOVED spending days with Hailu– heck, we loved Hailu! Not only as a guide but also how he gave back to his community everywhere we went. We felt like he helped us be more responsible tourists, giving money directly to people — which always the goal.
Hailu also taught us an Ethiopian idiom which described Patrick: “A lion will not go back on the way it came.”

After our wild elephant trek, Hailu took us off-the-beaten-path, to a camel market. It felt like thousands of camels were for sale, and there may well have been. The sellers and buyers made secret deals under their scarves and shook on a price. 


Smile! You’re on camel camera!


We didn’t see a single other tourist at the market, and were grateful to Hailu for showing us this marvel (and for his generosity). We left feeling pleased at having contributed to the local economy (not that we bought a camel..but you can imagine we discussed it) and having seen this phenomenon.

Camels foam at the mouth to assert their dominance; IE, there was a lot of foam.  So while we were at the camel market it was a fun game of “Rabid or Dominant?”  No matter the answer, we tried to avoid their saliva.  Gross.


The local community.

There were other things at the market besides the camels. The locals were selling goats and, I guess, what one might call snacks.
I’ll throw in another Hailu quote: “If you can manage goats you can be around anyone”.



The safest street food in town.


On the drive back to town, we fed baboons bread out the car window.


The high-fashion/scary models of the animal kingdom. Just look at those cheekbones.


As we got back in the car, we stopped for one (or six) more avocado and mango juices before taking public transportation and arriving in Dire Dawa to catch our plane for Djibouti (what. a. day.).  I will mention, the mango juice was SO good — and, for my own memory, while we were there, the man at the table next to us ordered a mixed juice — avocado and mango — AND a slice of cake. A grown man who really knew how to order. I couldn’t look away, I loved it so much.  In the end, he even shared his remaining juice with a homeless man. So much inspiration.
Anyway, we finally got to the airport and Ethiopia sent us off with that classic airport B.O. and an official whiteboard with all of the flights written on it. Just one whiteboard.  One. For the ENTIRE international airport.

While Patrick and I waited for our flight, we met a nice guy in the army from the U.S. and swapped stories… which made us take inventory of all our Ethiopia highlights, here they are in an order that I remembered them in: 
Here they are:

  • Eating camel meat at a market
  • The memorable cultural dancing
  • Hiking to / Climbing to that church
  • Renting a donkey
  • A coffee ceremony with popcorn on Lake Tana
  • When we went flood chasing
  • Hippos in the wild, feeding pelicans
  • Ranking the places we stayed
  • Shoe cleaning (aka the height of luxury)
  • Seeing Lucy!
  • Those natural toothbrushes
  • Wild coffee
  • Baboons
  • An elephant sanctuary on a private safari
  • Incredible camel market, plus a 3 day old camel
  • Avocado juice, avocado juice, and where can we get more avocado juice

So basically… all of it. The whole thing was a highlight.
‘mi 🙂




Committed to a life full of adventure.

2 Responses to “Elephants, camels, hyenas — oh, my”

  1. Katie Barbaro February 22, 2020 at 11:13 pm #


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