Entrance into Abyssinia - Altercation between Takruries and Abyssinians at Wochnee - Our Escort and Bearers - Applications for Medicine - First Reception by his Majesty - The Queen's Letter Translated, and Presents Delivered...
Heartily sick of Metemma, and longing to climb the high range so long a forbidden barrier to our hopes and wishes, we soon made our preparations, but were delayed a few days on account of the camels. Sheik Jumma, probably proud of his late achievements seemed to take his orders pretty coolly, and, had we not been more anxious ourselves to penetrate into the tiger's den than the Sheik to comply with the King's request, we should no doubt have remained many a day longer at the court of that negro potentate. By dint of courteous messages; promises, and threats, the required number of camels was at last forthcoming, so that on the afternoon of the 28th December, 1865, we passed the Ethiopian Rubicon, and halted for the night on Abyssinian ground. On the morning of the 30th we arrived at Wochnee, and pitched our tents under some sycamores at a short distance from the village. This, our first stage in Abyssinia, led us through woods of mimosas, acacias, and incense-trees; the undulating ground, waving like the ocean after a storm, was covered with high and still green grass. As we advanced, the ground became more irregular and broken, and we crossed several ravines, having each its small running rivulet of crystal water. By-and-by the rounded hillocks acquired a more abrupt and steep appearance; the grass was no longer tall and green, but fine and dry; the sycamore, the cedar, and large timber-trees began to appear. As we approached Wochnee, our route was a succession of ascents and descents more precipitous and very fatiguing, as we trudged through deep ravines and climbed the almost perpendicular sides of the first range of the Abyssinian mountains.
At Wochnee we found no one to welcome us. The cameleers, having unladen their camels, were going to depart, when a servant of one of the officers sent to receive us by his Majesty arrived. He brought us compliments from his master, who could not join us for a few days, as he was collecting bearers; he told us that we must proceed another stage by the camels, as no bearers could be obtained in the district of Wochnee. A serious altercation then took place between the governor of Wochnee and the cameleers. They declined to proceed any further, and after a short consultation between themselves, each man seized his camel and walked away. But the governor and the officer's servant had also been consulting together: seeing the cameleers departing, they went to the village, and, as it happened to be market-day, soon collected a good number of soldiers and peasants. As the cameleers were passing close to the village, on a given signal, the whole of the camels were seized. I regret to say, for the honour of the Arabs and Takruries, that, though well armed, they did not show fight, but on the contrary, ran away in every direction. Unwilling to lose their precious beasts of burden, the owners returned by twos and threes. More consultations followed: at last, on the promise of an extra dollar for each, and a cow for all, peace and harmony were satisfactorily restored. After a couple of hours' march, we reached Balwaha. I can understand the difficulties the cameleers raised, as the road is exceedingly bad for camels, passing as it does over two high and steep mountains and across two narrow ravines densely overgrown with tall bamboos.
At Balwaha we encamped in a small natural enclosure, formed by beautiful foliaged trees. Three days after our arrival, two of the officers sent by Theodore to meet us at last made their appearance, but no bearers. We had unfortunately arrived during the last days of the long feast before Christmas, and we must, said the chief of the escort, have patience till the feast was over.
On the 6th January about twelve hundred peasants were assembled, but the confusion was so great that no start could be made before the following day, and even then we only made the short stage of four miles. The greater part of the heavy baggage was left behind, and it required a reinforcement from Tschelga to allow us to proceed on our journey. On the 9th we made a better stage, and halted for the night on a small plateau opposite the high hill fort of Zer Amba.
We were now fairly in the mountains, and had often to dismount to descend some precipitous declivity, wondering how our mules could climb the opposite steep, wall-like ascent. On the 10th the same awful road, only worse and worse as we advanced; and when at last we had ascended the almost perpendicular precipice that leads to the Abyssinian plateau itself, and admired the grand vista that lay at our feet, we congratulated ourselves upon having at last reached the land of promise. We halted a few miles from the market town of Tschelga, at a place called Wali Dabba. Here we had to exchange bearers and consequently to wait several days till the new ones arrived, or anything like order could be introduced. From that day my troubles began.