The Bishangari Lodge, on Lake Langano, an eco-lodge that Hillary had found on the internet sounded good. The website had nice pictures and the word “eco”, so we decided to go. Not a whole lot more research went into it. It wasn’t until we were about three hours into our drive, and heading onto a rough dirt road for another hour or so with Bodie bouncing around with an irritable I-should-be-napping whine, that we realized that we should have asked how far it was.
The car, an old Toyota minibus with bordello red cotton curtains and a red velvet dashboard cover with fringe, creaked on half-bald tires over rutted dirt roads. We drove for over an hour past small villages of round mud huts and thatch roofs. Children ran out at us, waving, smiling. Only occasionally the idyllic image was punctuated by a few kids shouting, “give me money”.
Lake Langano is large with milky tea-brown water as a result of mineral deposits. We arrived as the sun was setting over the lake, and hopped into a horse drawn cart to go to our cabin. Bishangari Lodge truly is eco. It has 10 cabins, all with hot water and power from solar, and is on a preserve, so is lush with wildlife. It also has a tree bar, literally a two-level bar built into a 500 year old tree.
It is remote and beautiful. We woke on Tuesday morning as a baboon jumped on the cabin door handle to climb up to the Christmas wreath and snatch the shiny gold ornament. Four baboons, sitting on the porch studied the ornament, testing it and finally biting it. One pushed his face against the window looking in, like a kid making a squishy face.
After breakfast, we went on a trek with a guide. The birds are incredible, with over 450 species identified. We saw silver cheeked hornbills, looking like they carried large fuselages strapped to their heads, white-headed African eagles, herons, egrets, pelicans and more. We learned to identify the sounds of the African bubu versus that of the plover or the red-eyed dove. We saw warthogs and black and white colubus monkeys swinging in the branches high above.
Bodie, who has become increasingly talkative, chose this quiet nature walk to talk and talk and talk. “Why is he making that sound?” “Why are the ants doing that?” To our guide, “Hakim, what bird is that?” and on and on. I finally suggested that we all be quiet to listen to the birds and he quickly upbraided me, “papa, I need to talk.” I have no doubt that Hakim went home to his six quiet children gladly.
Bodie and I took our swimming show on the road and braved the tea brown waters of the lake. Bodie waded in first and taunted me, without even knowing how to taunt, me to swim with him in the cold waters.
The afternoon ended as we sat in a round hut for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Coffee originated in Ethiopia, and it is still prepared probably much as it has been for a thousand years. The cherries are dried in the sun, and then the beans are roasted in a small pan over a fire, then ground with a large wooden mortar and pestle. Incense is burned and accompanies the aroma of the coffee.
Then time for hippo spotting. We walked a mile along the lake to where a rocky peninsula shelters a small bay. Apparently hippos come out in the evening and don’t like wind, so this was a prime spot. We perched on the rocks as the sun set. Just in front of us a baby hippo started turning summersaults with its mother lumbering right behind chomping grass. All in all, it was an amazing Christmas Eve.
We woke for Christmas morning and Santa had miraculously set up a small tree in our room. Or I had gone out at night and pulled a branch from a tree – certainly a fine thing to do in an eco-preserve - and wedged it into one of my shoes. Hillary decorated the tree with ornaments she’d brought from Dar and arranged gifts underneath.
Bodie was thrilled that Santa had come to our cabin and opened his presents with true joy. He was beaming and marveling at his new wooden airplane.
Later that morning, after we had gone for a walk in the forest, Hillary was testing changing the format of her Nikon, not realizing that the word “format” on a digital camera is used as it would be on a computer. More than 900 pictures were quickly erased. A slightly tearful but resolute Hillary marched us back to the cabin to recreate Christmas.
We have pictures of Bodie, tears just wiped from his cheeks as he didn’t want to get back into his jammies, opening his presents with encouragement from us, “show real surprise. Look happy. Pretend that you’ve never seen the plane before.” In the end, Bodie valiantly re-opened each gift and gave an Oscar-winning performance.
Our Christmas has been re-chronicled and, in the future, Bodie will never know the difference.