Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopia’

We’re not out of Africa yet, we’re in Egypt, which has a distinctive Northern African/Middle Eastern feel. And so it feels as though we’ve left Africa behind us now, although the continent will surely stay with us for years to come.

We’ve covered roughly 20,000 km overland, across 12 different countries (excluding Egypt), not really knowing what to expect as we moved from one to the next. We enjoyed every country we visited, but a few definitely stand out in our minds, namely Namibia for its spectacular desert scenery, Malawi for it’s warm and friendly people, and Ethiopia for it’s unique culture and breathtaking mountains.

Here are some of the small things that will remind us of our time in Africa:


The Ethiopian landscape

Ethiopia feels unique amongst the other 11 African countries we’ve visited so far. The borders separating Ethiopia from its neighbours feel natural, whereas most borders in Africa were created for the convenience of the colonizers — mashing together or splitting apart a multitude of different tribes and religions under one flag. As soon as we crossed over from Kenya into Ethiopia, things were decidedly different. We started climbing. The scenery in Ethiopia is some of the best we’ve seen anywhere in the world. It rises to a plateau, spanning most of the country in a spectacular highland of mountains and valleys. No wonder Ethiopia produces some of the world’s top runners! There are endemic plants and animals found nowhere else, including the very cool gelada baboon, the mountain ibex and the Ethiopian wolf.


The Simien Mountains

Fogged in at the viewpoint

The last stop on our little tour of northern Ethiopia was the Simien Mountains National Park. We arrived in the small city of Debark the night before our scheduled trek, and took advantage of the hot showers and fresh coffee available there. The following morning we piled into our bus and began the slow, winding drive into the park itself. The roads were something else: being the rainy season, we were often driving axle-deep through puddles of mud and water, and we even pulled a couple of semi-controlled slide/drifts around some of the muddy switchback corners. That’s a little unnerving when the valley below you drops away a thousand feet sheer. Luckily we had a very good driver, and he successfully negotiated all of the dangers without incident.


Ancient Axum

Inside the tombs of Axum

After reluctantly saying goodbye to Lalibela we made our way to Axum. The marathon journey took us a full day and a half to complete along winding switchback mountain roads. Once we finally arrived, Mark was relieved to lie down on a bed and recover from a stomach bug he picked up, while I ventured out with the others to see the sights.

I’m not much of a history buff to begin with, let alone Ethiopian history, so this was another place not on my radar. Axum, Axumite: these words sounded somewhat familiar. I probably read about Axumite kingdoms on a museum plaque once upon a time, not really registering their significance. Once again, I can thank my travels for enlightenment. This ancient kingdom was a truly significant civilizations for almost a thousand years, from around 200BC to 8th century AD, before outside religions took hold of Ethiopia. The Axumite were traders, thriving on the Red Sea. The city of Axum was the centre of their kingdom.


Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela

We left the Oasis truck in Bahir Dar for a 6-night tour of Northern Ethiopia by bus. Although we left the truck, 20 of the 23 people on board opted to do the same tour, so it was the same crowd (mostly), but a different vehicle. We were in for a driving marathon, spending 43 hours on the bus and covering nearly 1200km in 7 days. We were on a mission to visit three significant destinations: Lalibela, home of the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia, Axum, the ancient centre of the Axumite Dynasty, and the Simien Mountains National Park. Lalibela was our first stop on the loop, and the one that I was looking forward to the most. We would be visiting 11 churches there, each one carved by hand into the solid rock of the surrounding landscape. According to one of the guidebooks we read, these rock-hewn churches would be one of the 7 Wonders of the World, if only they weren’t in Ethiopia. I suppose what they mean by this is that the churches simply aren’t that well known outside of the country, and had they been in, say, Egypt (perhaps alongside the pyramids), they would likely have attracted much more attention, along with much larger crowds of tourists. The hidden advantage of the situation is that the churches are not yet overrun with outsiders and sightseers, and many of the churches are still functioning as they always have. We felt like an extremely large and unwieldly group as we made our way through the small underground passageways that connected the buildings, but we felt (perhaps paradoxically) fortunate not to have to share the sites with any other large and unwieldly groups. Such is the joy of visiting a tourist attraction not yet discovered by tourists!


Day 3: Northern Kenya

We’re back in civilization, in Addis Ababa, after going off radar for a week, traveling up through Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia. Yes we were ragged and filthy, but it was phenomenal. Over the course of seven days, on one long, straight road, we passed through the lush foothills of Mt. Kenya, along escarpments looking out over the Great Rift Valley and crossed the equator. We crossed dry savanah and volcanic desert. In Ethiopia we climbed up and down through coffee-growing highlands scattered with beautiful grass huts and villages to taunts of children shouting “you you you!”