After a 10-hour drive that day, we enter Harar in the dark (once again) looking for a suitable place to stay. This seems to be more difficult that initially expected. The girls, Nele and Val, suggest after having checked several hotels, to simply book a room to use its bathroom but to camp outside on the parking – to the astonishment of the hotel employees.
Harar is located on the far East-side of Ethiopia, close to Somalia. A Muslim community, it is considered the fourth holiest city for Islam and its high doors were closed to non-Muslim people until the 19th century. Counting no less than 90 mosques, we walk through the streets of the old city with stone houses or white-washed walls, before reaching the colorful market. With its picturesque scenes of daily life, women selling out of small stands and lots of children running around, we start to understand why the French poet Arthur Rimbaud chased this place to settle down at the end of his life.
Harar is famous in the overlanders’ community for the Hyena man Yussuf Pepe. Every evening, he feeds 15-20 wild hyenas in front of his house, just outside of the walled city of Harar. We visit Yussuf in his fields that afternoon to make an appointment for the coming evening, we want to see what it’s like. Arriving at night under the dark African sky, we distinguish Yussuf’ shadow, he’s getting ready and he looks as if he’s in some sort of trance. He sits down under a tree and start calling the hyenas by their names. One by one you see them emerging from the dark. No more than 10 meters away from us are about 12 hyenas. As time is passing by, more and more hyenas arrive to be fed by Yussuf or one of the visitors that joined him. Bjorn said he wouldn’t feed the hyenas, but he is in fact the first to hold the stick with some meat! Kneeling down, being at eye level with these powerful animals is scary at the beginning but most of all exciting. Putting the stick in your mouth to feed them is even better; the hyena has to come within 30 cm from your face to grab the meat off the stick. Getting up scares them away immediately, even though at no time we feel unsafe. They’re slightly bigger than a domestic dog but shy as a little cat. A great experience to cherish forever!