Although wonderful paved roads exist in most of the northern half of Ethiopia, the government forbids a good paved road throughout Simien Mountains National Park. Since we went during the rainy season, a muddy mess prevailed. At times I thought, “This is hopeless; we will never make it through.” I was so wrong! Alemu persisted; we always arrived where we were headed in spite of the roads, the trucks, and the mud.
We came up on one of the first obstacles on the road here. We parked, got out, and watched. The Al-Qaeda truck had a flat tire–the truck in the front. The Obama truck, after unloading the passengers, tried to pass with this result.
It slid into the Al-Qaeda truck. The women passengers and we climbed up to the grass and waited. The men surveyed the situation and decided to solve the problem.
They attached a rope to the front of the Obama truck and pulled successfully. Everyone climbed back in the truck and headed on down the road. This allowed us to continue on our journey. As we drove along, the guide noted the duikers along the road.
See the two brown spots in the middle? Duikers. I admire real wildlife photographers. With the exception of the gelada baboons, getting good wild animal photos seemed quite a task. Either they moved too fast or they blended so well into the landscape, you could only see them when they moved.
Here we stopped to hike to the highest waterfall in Ethiopia. Once the guide explained where we would walk, I decided to hang out with Alemu and the driver of another vehicle stopped here with four people from New York, some of the few people we met from the US. Most travelers to Ethiopia appear to be Europeans. The other driver liked to talk and regaled me with stories, one of which was about a German woman who decided to trek (visitors can elect to go on either 3 or 10 day treks here). It was cold, they camped in a heatless (what else is new!!) building. She requested her guide sleep with her because she was so cold. This continued for days. Apparently, she became very cuddly and the guide misinterpreted, etc. etc. Luckily for the trekkers, depending on how “primitive” they want to trek, men like those in this photo, take food and other supplies from one camp spot to another. The other driver knew a lot about Ethiopian birds and pointed out one called a bone crusher. A raptor, it captures its prey in its talons, flies high, drops it on a rock to kill it, waits until something else eats off the meat, and finally gets the bones, flies high again, and drops the bones on a rock to break them open. It eats only bone marrow.
Because people lived and farmed in these mountains long before they became a park, visitors see villages and farms in various areas of the park. We were told that the government planned to eventually move everyone out of the park. Our guard lived in the park in an area like this one. We dropped him off on our way out. I also noted electric lines in areas where it looked impossible to build. The guide informed me that a lot of Chinese died building the lines.
Here and there gelada baboons appear. This photo shows a typical view of the muddy road we traversed.
Another stop waiting on Al-Qaeda and Obama trucks. I never quite figured out why Obama trucks are called this. They haul people from place to place but not long distances–buses do that. I never saw an Obama truck wrecked. Al-Qaeda trucks haul goods, supplies, anything commercial. Like here in the US, apparently time is money so those drivers hurry. If something is in the way on the road, drivers may drive off the road to get around it and if the load shifts, over they go. We saw Al-Qaeda trucks wrecked everywhere–they are the terrorists of the road.
Above timberline, the landscape changes to this. The plants in the foreground are giant lobelia. Ethiopia contains the fourth and fifth highest peaks in Africa. Much of the time we drove above 12,000 feet.
Frequently, we drove through thick fog, but truly lucked out when we reached the area immediately under the fifth highest peak in Africa where rare walia ibex reside. Alemu and the guide told us often visitors come here to see the ibex and see nothing.
If you look closely, you can see several ibex in the middle of this photo. We counted 23 on this mountainside above 14,000 feet just a few hundred feet below the fifth highest peak in Africa. Ibex blend into the landscape so well, they are extremely difficult to see unless they move.
By the mountain stream red hot pokers (see middle of photo) thrive. I was shocked to see them growing wild here, having always thought they are desert flowers.
Finally, on the way back out of the park, we stopped so I could see the highest waterfall in Ethiopia.
Initially, we had planned to go no farther north than the city of Gondar. However, in the pretrip planning, I came across photos of Simien Mountain National Park and knew I had to go there. I told my friend Dino to take a look; we went.
The road from Gondar to Debark, the city where one gets the pass, the guide, and the guard to go into the park is typical of the Ethiopian highland country, high, wet, and green.
We kept saying things like “Are you sure we aren’t in Ireland?” Nothing seemed to fit the stereotype everyone in the US seems to have of Ethiopia.
Acacia trees like these out the front window must surely be among the most picturesque trees on the planet.
Fences are relatively rare in Ethiopia. Usually, animals are herded by boys and girls rather then enclosed by fences. To get into Simien Mountain National Park, you must stop, sign in with your name, age, address, and passport in Debark. After you do this, your party is assigned an official guide and a guard. Yes, a guard. These two men stay with you everywhere you go except your room and when you eat in the dining room at the only lodging inside the park.
My room at Simien Park Lodge with traditional Ethiopia textiles for curtains and bedspreads. This lodge resides at 3260 meters (nearly 11,000 feet) above sea level. There is no heat in the rooms. To keep warm, each guest receives a hot water bottle to put in bed to keep warm. I piled on two blankets and crawled in, but before doing so…
I tried a new drink, Romana Sambuca, here in the highest bar in Africa. We were told that normally, when the British owner is here, the locals, the guides, guards, drivers, etc. are not allowed either in here or the dining room. We were glad he was not there so everyone could hang out around the fire together. Even with this, Alemu could not eat with us in the dining room. Such rules made us quite unhappy. This sort of elitism seemed totally inappropriate and insulting, especially since this is their country.
Knowing all I would have to keep me warm at night would be the hot water bottle and blankets, I felt reluctant to leave this fire in the bar.
After checking in, we headed out for an afternoon hike.
The hiking was relatively easy, not too up and down, but in places very wet and slippery.
Our guard carried an umbrella (we all did and had the opportunity to use them) and a Kalashnikov and never let us out of his sight. He spoke no English so only Dino could actually chat with him. He seemed very nice and helpful. Yes, it was cold. I wore four layers.
Finding familiar plants in a different form fascinated me. This plant, a type of thistle, bristles with thorns both on top and on the underside of its leaves. Herbs grow everywhere.
And then the cliffs and vistas overwhelm. I have been all over the Rockies in the US and some of Canada, have driven through some mountains in Kashmir, and flown in and out of Nepal with a view of the highest mountains in the world. Nowhere have I seen mountains like these: endless cliffs falling thousands of feet, endless vistas, and endless emerald green.
Frequently we walked or drove above various bits of clouds. Sometimes the fog became so thick we could barely see where we were going. I am moderately brave regarding heights but it was wet and slippery. Sometimes while the guard and my friends climbed right on the cliff edge, I chose to go higher with the guide. In at least one instance, this strategy really paid off because we walked right through the middle of this huge group of gelada baboons.
These baboons exist only in four places in Ethiopia. I travelled in three of the four places. The males have a big red heart on their chests and heavy lionlike manes.
The views never failed to astonish me.
Michael, the guide on the left, and the guard, fearless–these drop-offs are routine.
The heights did not bother Dino. He scared us with his ability to walk right up to the edge except in one case where he and Zuriash decided it was even too daunting for them.
Since there is only one road in and out of Lalibela, we headed back to the main road after an 8:00 breakfast. By this time, after three times on this road, the heights hardly bothered me.
We drove through mountains a large part of the day, through the large towns of Nesfas Mawcha, Debre Tabor, and turned north at Wereta. By this time, I had become accustomed to seeing endless beautiful scenery, hardly knowing when to take photos.
The invasive eucalyptus trees and pastoral mountain villages show up everywhere.
Most villages have their own church. The building with the round roof in the distant middle is one such little church.
Excellent roads, mostly built by the Italians years ago, crisscross this part of the country. Some newer roads have been built by the Chinese. Many Ethiopians made jokes about this, implying they do not expect them to last long. After reaching a high plateau, we drove through endless pastures and fields of green.
Up in this high country, farmers grow wheat, barley, and oats. Horses and cattle graze in large pastures.
The mountains appear to continue forever.
Buildings, like the one in this photo above, usually house animals at night to protect them from predators such as hyenas.
Whenever we stopped, children ran up sometimes asking for pens, occasionally for money. Dino and Alemu, the driver, usually scolded them in Amharic for begging.
Houses here seemed bigger, usually two story, with rocks used as a main building material.
We drove by two men galloping along on horseback, their horses adorned in fancy tack.
As we began a long descent into a huge valley, common baboons appeared along the road.
These huge rocks left my millions of years of erosion, provide a dramatic contrast to the intense green.
It took more than an hour to cross this valley. As usual cattle, goats., burros, people mingled with vehicles. What a surprise: Rice fields as far as I could see on either side of the road.
The villages in this area are built higher–above the rice paddies. And then as we climbed out of the valley…
The name of this rock really surprised me, the Finger of God.
A big later, suddenly Alemu turned off on a dirt road and this appeared.
The sign says: Guzara Palace, G.C. 1563-1597.
When a person goes on such a trip, sometimes places hold your heart, places unexpected. I loved this place. It seemed magical. With no other people around, it felt private and special. It becomes obvious quite quickly why a king would build a castle here. You can see forever, for miles and miles, all the way to Lake Tana in the background.
We climbed up to the second story and could see Lake Tana even more clearly in the distance. I felt a sudden rush of emotion, looking at Lake Tana, my first glimpse of where the Nile River begins.
On the other side of the castle, looking toward the mountains, the remains of the old wall around the castle show up clearly. The part of the wall on the path to the castle has been restored. This part still awaits restoration. We drove on to Gonder. We stayed there two nights at Hotel Goha, but not in sequence. I found the window coverings so unique I had to take a photo.
Fabric, stretched over a frame slides back and forth so you can slide it to cover the window. This hotel possesses fantastic, modern showers.
In the midst of my “fun”, enlightening posts about Ethiopia, I feel I must reblog this. The best vet I ever used for my horses hung himself–serious depression. It is very sad that with all the advancements in modern medicine, individuals continue to suffer so badly from depression that life is no longer worth living.
Originally posted on 20 Minutes A Day:
I was very sorry to read the news of Robin William’s death yesterday. What a sad ending for a man who has brought such joy into people’s lives through laughter. How ironic that such a “funny” man could end his life by his own hand, communicating to the world that his private world had become decidedly unfun, unmanageable and out of control. His publicist stated that Williams had been suffering from a severe depression over the past several months.
There are several messages that can be discerned from William’s suicide:
One is obvious: appearances can be deceiving. A public image is not the same as the private person and it is inaccurate to assume that seeing celebrities at a distance offers any real glimpse into the angst they may be facing. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s recent drug overdose comes to mind regarding this. However, this is not confined to celebrities: that…
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After we left the first group of churches, we had to walk to reach the one that is probably the most photographed.
Like all these churches, this one, Bet Emanuel, was carved and dug out of solid rock and is built so that the top is level with the slope of the land. Thus, it is purposefully nearly invisible unless you are quite close to it. To get to the bottom and go inside you have to climb down rather steep steps. Built in the Auxumite style (Auxum was the original “capital” of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church), some art historians consider it to be the most impressive church in Lalibela. It is 18 meters by 18 by 12 (58.5 feet by 58.5 by 39).
The guide explained that because this church is of harder stone, it has no protective cover like some of the first churches we entered.
Like the first group of churches, this one also has a drainage trench around it.
A pool of holy water–I saw a boy go up to one of the pools and fill a bottle with water.
A holy space where only priests can enter. Every church has a copy of the Ark of the Covenant and a symbolic Bethlehem.
Saint George and the Dragon appear everywhere. Saint George is the national saint of Ethiopia. There is even St. George beer.
In this second group of buildings, two were definitely designed as churches. However, even though others are currently used as churches, there is some question as to whether that was their original purpose. The guide told us that one building is believed to have been the residence of King Lalibela and his family. Unlike most of the other buildings, its layout does not appear to have been designed as a church. It also does not contain the usual paintings and artwork.
Another sacred space. Before we could go on to see the other churches in this group, we had to climb out and walk by the River Jordan.
All the trenches that drain water from the churches during the rainy season flow into this River Jordan. The design of the churches, the symbolism, this River Jordan, everything was designed to duplicate to the extent possible he Holy Land, to create another Holy Land in the highlands of Ethiopia, a new Jerusalem.
The road by the River Jordan. Until recently people lived in the traditional houses you see on the right. In front of one we saw a group of young men being trained as priests.
The land near the churches looks just like anywhere. You cannot see the churches until you are really close to them. We were told they were built this way intentionally to protect them from invaders who had destroyed earlier visible churches.
On both sides of the River Jordan are cemeteries. The dead from the tombs in the walls opposite the churches (see Part I and II) were moved here.
Unlike the first group of churches shown in Part I, not all the churches in the second group are connected by trenches or so close together.To see some of them you have to climb in and out from one to another.
The guide took this photo. Why am I wearing my socks over my jeans? Fleas. It is common knowledge that the carpets and bamboo mats on the floors of the churches contain lots of fleas. We were told to tuck our jeans inside our socks and spray everything below our knees with insect spray.
Between this latter group of churches, there are some passageways so you do not always have to climb in and out. There is a third type of church in this area, churches built in caves, one of which is 40 kilometers from Lalibela. Churches such as these exist nowhere else in the world. The only way in and out of Lalibela is that steep road below my hotel room.
It was drier around Lalibela because the rains were late. We headed to the cave church of Yemrehanna Krestos for the afternoon.
One disadvantage of traveling to Ethiopia this time of year, especially in the north, is the weather, cold and rainy. On the positive side, often we were the only tourists.
The climb up to the church was long and a bit steep but with good steps and handrails. Rain had made the stones a bit slippery. The churches have served an unintentional good in that around most churches in the country the original forest is left to hide the church. This was one of a few places where we could see what the land looked like before deforestation and before invasive species were brought in from elsewhere.
The guide who took us through the churches in Lalibela came with us here. I walked with him and Dino and Zuriash walked with the priest who did not speak English.
This is what you see when you first arrive at the top. Like in all the churches, you have to take your shoes off.
An entire church resides inside the cave. We were told that the white marble and wood were brought from Egypt by elephants. The church dates to the 11th century.
The cave is big with lots of space around the church.
The decor and carvings inside the church are very detailed and elaborate. Services are held here weekly and at certain times of the year many pilgrims journey here some walking for many miles.
The priest who resides in the village. This is “his” church.
Behind this fence at the back of the cave lay the bones of pilgrims who died here.
The Ethiopians believe that one of the Three Wise Men came from Ethiopia.
The tomb of Yemrehanna Krestos resides behind the church inside the cave.
The road to this church is relatively new. Before pilgrims had to either walk or ride a horse or donkey to get here. The road continues above the village, but we turned around and headed back to Lalibela.
There were two shops in the village that sold sacred objects and souvenirs. I bought this cross which has St. George and the Dragon on one side and the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus on the other. Mary is exceedingly important in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
I like to bargain and generally did quite well with it when purchasing various items. However, the man in this shop for this particular item refused to come down. I really wanted it because it seemed quite unique so bought it at his price. Nowhere else did I have to do that.
On the road back to Lalibela we decided to stop and admire a couple of huge fig trees.
This is the first of the monolithic churches we visited. Because the churches were built from the top down and actually cannot be seen until you are very near them, you have to climb down a lot of steps to get to the bottom level from which you can enter into the interior. The “trenches” around them are the same depth as the churches are high because they were carved out of the solid stone. As you look at these photos, you will notice multiple cross designs, including Greek, the type found in Axum, those referred to as Lalibela. Every carving, every painting, every design possesses an explicit symbolic meaning. I wish I had been able to record all the information provided by the guide. This church, Bet Medhane Alem, is the largest of this type. It’s approximate size is 33.7 meters by 23.7 meters with a height of 11.5 meters (109.5 feet by 77 feet with a height of 37.4). All sides have columns.
These churches are not mere tourist attractions. We saw many people walking around, praying, and worshipping. Services are still held here. Carved into some of the “trench” walls opposite the church are tombs. Those buried in these tombs have been removed and their graves now lie on either side of the River Jordan–photos of that later.
The interior decoration includes detailed carvings, elaborate drapes, and paintings.
Certain areas, like this one behind the drapes, only priests can access, mainly because they contain the sacraments. The floors of all the churches are hard rock so all contain coverings of cloth, Persian type rugs, and bamboo. Accessing the interior requires a lot of climbing up and down very worn, slick, stone steps.
While smaller trenches and areas separate this first group of churches from each other, the entire group is surrounded by the deepest, large trench. This is the next church we visited. It lacks outside columns.
At first the sight of swastikas everywhere startled me until I remembered how old these churches are and the original meanings attached to this symbol. Our deacon guide explained that they symbolize everlasting life (the circle of life) and also mentioned its meaning in ancient Hinduism–the continual, everlasting cycle of birth and rebirth.
This is the fertility pool. It is so deep that the priest must be lowered into the water attached to ropes as are the man or woman who wants treatment in this holy water. At one point, someone realized that the pool was no longer as deep as it was originally. When they investigated, they found the pool had been filled with dirt below where it could be seen. When this dirt was excavated, a cache of ancient, holy artifacts were found. They had been buried there to protect them.
Ethiopians wrap themselves in white not just to go to church, but in general. I constantly marveled how they keep these garments so incredibly white in spite of dirt and rain and walking through mud everywhere. The person on the right is our guide, a deacon in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He knows the meaning of every carving, every painting, every symbol. The extent of information explained was not only detailed but extensive.
Only some of the churches possess paintings on the walls as well as carvings. The wise men, Mary, everyone looks Ethiopian at least to some extent.
Notice the Star of David. This symbol is everywhere because the Ethiopians believe they are descendants of Solomon and Sheba. As a consequence, the paintings, carvings, all the symbols reflect not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament.
Every church has this curtain behind which only a priest can go. Every church has a copy of the Ark of the Covenant. They believe the original was taken by Menelik I, the son of Solomon and Sheba, to its current location in Axum in a special treasury next to the Church of Saint Mary of Zion. It has been safely kept there through the millennia.
Protective roofs cover some of the churches. The guide explained that the hardness of the basalt varies. Because some of the stone is softer, churches carved out of this softer stone had begun to deteriorate. The coverings protect and preserve them.
To get from church to church in this first group of churches, usually we walked through these trenches. To reach the actual church entrances requires climbing up steps. These trenches enable water drainage into the River Jordan during the rainy season. The floor of the churches remain above the water.
Walking through these churches kept me in a constant state of awe. They were built more than 800 years ago without modern tools. And there are eleven of them all here, carved out of solid stone.
St. George and the Dragon hold a prominent place in Ethiopian Orthodox symbolism. The dragon represents paganism. St. George slated the dragon.
We left this group of churches, climbing out from this trench and headed to one of the most photographed.
We encountered two walking funeral processions complete with chanting. I took no photos because it seemed disrespectful.
The final climb to Lalibela nearly terrified me–switchbacks up and up, no guard rails as I recall, and drop-offs more than a thousand feet. This photo, taken from my hotel room patio, fails to really show just how far down the drop really is. The other buildings in the photo are also hotels. Having been told that only one really good restaurant exists there, we ate at the same place two evenings. It rests at the end of a narrow unpaved road at the edge of a cliff.
The second evening there, we met the owner, an older woman from Scotland who originally came to Lalibela at the request of a friend to teach. She stayed, bought this land, and hired two young architects from Addis to design the restaurant–to look like a flower.
To get to this restaurant from the hotel, Alemu had to turn the corner as tightly as he could, backup a bit, and then proceed on this road. Immediately below where we backed up, there is a steep cliff. I asked him if anyone ever fell off. He said a friend of his did. I assumed he had died, but no, his vehicle was caught by a tiny ledge and he survived.
The road up to Lalibela as viewed from my hotel patio. We stayed at the Maribela Hotel which was one of the nicest on the road trip. They were still building a restaurant but served an excellent breakfast.
Lalibela is to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church what Jerusalem is to Jews and many western Christians. It is famous for its eleven churches carved from solid rock. It has been called the New Jerusalem, a New Golgotha. In approximately 1200 AD, King Lalibela, one of the last kings of the Zagwe dynasty, came to power after God told his brother, who was king, to abdicate. The name Lalibela comes from honey, sweetness because when a baby, King Lalibela was surrounded by bees which prophesied his future greatness. The story becomes quite complicated but in essence, angels took his soul to heaven and showed him the churches he was to build. They were built in twenty four years with the help of angels. Lalibela then became the holy city. Like the ancient rulers from Axum (the original holy city where they believe a church holds the Ark of the Covenant), the Zagwe dynasty traced their origin to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
In Lalibela two types of rock churches still stand: rock hewn monolithic churches which were cut out of solid basalt from the top down with trenches surrounding them and rock hewn churches which were cut inward from a cliff or by using a natural cave or indentation in a cliff as a starting point. The architectural and technical building skill required is clearly evident. The churches are on several levels and built in such a way that they drain to carry off the heavy rain flow during the rainy season. The trenches around the churches also serve to feed the River Jordan–an area made to duplicate the original River Jordan. The architecture of the monolithic churches exists nowhere else in the world.
To tour the churches requires a professional guide who knows the history and architecture intimately. Our guide held the position of deacon in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. While many Muslims live in parts of Ethiopia, Lalibela is a Christian town in a heavily Christian area. Deacons and priests can marry, but if a male wants to become a bishop, he cannot marry. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, like the traditional Catholic Church with Latin, has its own ancient religious language, Ge’ez. The alphabet of modern Amharic is the same as Ge’ez. Priests learn to read Ge’ez. Later, in Gondar, we were able to get a priest to chant from a religious text in Ge’ez. For more details regarding the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a list books in both the New Testament and Old Testament, as well as other sacred texts and hymnals, go to: http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org. There are many more books in the Orthodox Bible than in those used by European and American churches.
Mountains pervade everywhere it seems. We continually drove up and down mountainsides. Eucalyptus is not native. They were brought in by the Australians many years ago and became invasive. They are a mixed blessing–grow rapidly and have many uses, but they take a lot of water and drive out native species. When simply cut down, they grow right back. In some places, we saw preserves where the original species of trees still exist and are protected. Otherwise, eucalyptus reign.
And there are several species of eucalyptus as you can see here. Not only do the leaves differ, but also the color of the trunks.
Almost all the mountainsides are covered with fields. Ones, like this one, may have been just plowed or just planted. In the mountains barley, wheat, and oats are grown and sometimes teff. Barley seems to ripen first.
At first, I suffered minor terror because of the steep roads and huge drop-offs, sometimes thousands of feet. However, eventually I became rather used to it.
These roads, mostly built a long time ago by the Italians, remain excellent and do have guardrails. The Chinese have built some of the newer roads. The Ethiopians make jokes regarding how long they think these Chinese roads will last.
Eventually, we rose to a high plateau area across which we drove for hours.
The endless shades of green, indicating different crops, or in some cases, the gold of ripening grain.
Winnowing grain the old fashioned way.
Houses on this high plateau seemed mostly built of rocks which lay everywhere.
Amelu asked us if we wanted to see inside one of the houses and visit with some people. Of course, we said yes.
This couple had a somewhat older child who was out herding their animals–cattle as I recall. At night they bring the animals inside their house to protect them from predators, e.g. hyenas. They also provide body heat which helps them keep warm. He explained in Amharic that he did not own land, but was saving up and when he could, would build a separate house so that their animals would be able to stay in one and his family in another. I thought Amelu knew these people, but he did not. His own children had outgrown some of their clothes. He had brought them to give away so he gave them to this family.
After we crossed the plateau, we dropped down and crossed a river. Because it was the rainy season, rivers raged everywhere, running dark with mud.
The little shed is for the river guard. We did not see anyone here when we crossed, but major rivers have guards often armed with an assault rifle.
Almost to Lalibela–we discovered later that the rains were late and people were very concerned. Crops had been planted and they were waiting.
The first photo in Lalibela–the view from my room at the edge of a cliff–the Maribela Hotel.
Although the Sunny Side Hotel’s rooms in Kombolcha seem elemental to say the least, the food there is some of the best I had in Ethiopia. One of the reasons for this may be their extensive gardens which not only hold flowers, but vegetables and fruit trees.
That’s a papaya in the middle.
Dinner consisted of fresh talapia–Lake Tana is full of talapia and is a common item on menus, perfectly grilled, julienned vegetables sautéed in sunflower oil and seasoned with a sprig of rosemary. The next morning we headed for Lalibela. The first larger city through which we drove is Dese. As in most Ethiopian cities, new construction could be seen everywhere. They do not use steel for scaffolding. They use eucalyptus as in this building.
We continually climbed switched back roads. Usually, terraced fields lay as far as we could see on the mountainsides.
Not too far from Dese, we came to the smaller town of Hayk. Hayk is the Amharic word for lake. The town is named after this nearby lake.
Seven species of acacia grow in Ethiopia. These, higher in the mountains, appear considerably more lush than those farther south in semi arid places. You cannot swim in this lake because, like many bodies of water in Africa, the schistosomiasis parasite lives here. There is a cure, but not very pleasant. Huge fig trees and acacias provide a setting like one sees in movies.
This monastery resides on a small peninsula that juts out into the lake. The sign says no women allowed. Foreign male visitors may enter for a fee–locals free. Lush fields surround the lake.
Yes, that is cactus on the right–not exactly a place I expected to see cactus. On the road out of the lake, we saw this girl walking and asked to take her photo. She is carrying dried dung. Houses are first framed in eucalyptus and then plastered with a mixture of dung and mud or just mud. Sometimes they are left the natural dark brown color. Some home owners prefer to paint them bright colors.
This is a typical house in most areas left unpainted with a metal roof. Everywhere people worked the fields the “old” way with a beautiful result.
We passed villages and towns of all sizes.
And always children as well as adults drove animals along the road.
Eighty languages are spoken in Ethiopia. Some, like Amharic and Oromo, are spoken my millions, others by only a particular small tribe. Everywhere we went people knew Amharic, an Afro-Asian, Semitic language (like Arabic and Hebrew) which originates in the ancient language of Geez, a language now only used as the sacred language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. English is taught in elementary school, which is compulsory through the eighth grade. Because of too many students and too few schools and teachers, especially in rural areas, school is half a day. One group goes in the morning and another in the afternoon.