My Ethiopian Adventure: Lake Tana, Where the Nile Begins–Part Two


As the sun set and the moon rose, Lake Tana glittered.

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The hotel, known for its gardens, provided lighted pathways for evening walking.  The next morning as we sat on the patio for breakfast, company arrived.

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We crumbled toast to see what would occur.  These weavers loved the treat.  A hotel employee, viewing them as pests, ran out and drove them into a nearby tree.

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Fisherman still use the same papyrus boats used during the time of the pharaohs. The pelicans at Lake Tana display snow white plumage.

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These fisherman customarily row two hours out into the lake to fish and when finished, two hours back.  Yes, I said row, no motors. Talapia is the primary catch.  After boarding at the hotel dock, we made our way across a tiny portion of the lake in a relatively small boat powered with a motor.

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Lake Tana is huge.  The ferry that crosses from Bahir Dar to Gorgora takes ten hours.  When we boarded the motor boat, it never occurred to me that we would actually go to the place where the Blue Nile begins, but suddenly here we were.  Just thinking about it as I write this makes me shiver.  I am here again, where the river of all rivers, the Nile, actually begins.

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And suddenly we are on the Nile, no longer in Lake Tana.

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The light colored objects along the river bank are papyrus boats.

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The tall plants in the background are papyrus.  In Addis I saw them used as ornamental plants in the gardens of the Sheraton.  Here they grow wild along the Nile exactly as they have for millennia.

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Just past this point, we rounded a slight bend in the coastline.  A naked man bathing in the water quickly scrambled up the bank and pulled on a pair of pants.

We zoomed here and there so rapidly that at times I remained uncertain as to whether I was in Lake Tana or the Nile.  No matter, it was warm, the company was stellar,  my body smiled.  What could possibly be better than this!!!

My Ethiopian Adventure: Lake Tana, Where the Nile Begins–Part One


From Gonder to get to Lake Tana, you must retrace your route to go to Bahir Dar, the largest city on the lake.  The road around the west side of the lake is not a major highway so we traveled back past the Finger of God, past my favorite castle, through the valley with miles of rice, through Addis Zemen.  Altitude declines the closer you drive to Bahir Dar.  Although Simien Mountain National Park remains one of the most scenic places I have ever visited and Gonder is a city filled with unique history and beauty, I felt happier and happier as it became warmer, more tropical.  In keeping with the previous week, the emerald landscape continued.

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Here cattle grazed in the seemingly endless pastures.  As usual, livestock walked along the road.  The species of livestock varied with altitude and locale.

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When you drive through towns and even larger cities, expect to dodge people and animals.  Even in Addis, we saw goats.

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These intensely yellow flowers in the foreground grew everywhere.  No one seemed to know their name.

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Dino wanted to buy the hat so we stopped to talk to this boy herding his animals along the roadside.  He told Dino he spent two days making it.  The hat along with baskets and other items bought on the trip took one and one half months to arrive in the US after being shipped from Ethiopia.

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In this area, these same yellow flowers appeared everywhere and in some places so close together as to make a fence.  Upon detailed inspection, I concluded they are some type of thistle. Later, we learned they are poisonous to the touch and cause massive swelling.  And to think I seriously concerned touching them. Finally, we arrived at Bahir Dar and drove onto this street.

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We reached a promontory overlooking the Nile.  The Nile!!!  All my life I have heard of the Nile.

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Here below me, flowing out of Lake Tana, the source of civilizations thousands of years old, the Nile begins its long journey to the Mediterranean  Sea.  We drove further down a dirt road to this overlook.

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Unlike the previous point, no one was here except two youngsters and us.  We watched cattle graze along the Nile, a couple walk on a pathway along the river, and a hippo cross from the near bank to the larger island, but too far away to capture with my iPAD.  Even now I can feel the emotion, an overwhelming, indescribable sense of amazement–the Nile, river of rivers, laying there below me.

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I stood spell bound for a long time, watching, feeling, thinking:  I cannot believe this, I am looking at the Nile.  Later, on the way to the hotel, we crossed a bridge over the river where hippos lounged.  We stopped, hoping to take photos, but the river guard said no.  We could look but no photos–he explained it is a strategic bridge.  We checked into our hotel on the shores of Lake Tana.

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Still, now, writing this, I feel the magic, the mystery.

AP: More than 5,000 dead in C. African Republic


Juliana Lightle:

How will the world ever get better if people continue to hate so extremely over religious differences?

Originally posted on Buh, Oscar Hokeah said, "I'm a literary fiction writer seeking support." This guy! Just stink! Tell him, "Don't walk in a rainstorm or you'll drown!":

WireAP_ac389bac4a85464890ac1966cf38de0e_16x9_992

Associated Press

GUEN, Central African Republic (AP) — There are no headstones to mark these graves, no loving words, nothing to tell the world who lies in these two giant pits full of bodies, or why. Yet a handful of village elders are determined that nobody will be forgotten.

These old men, their eyes clouded by cataracts and their ears hacked by machete blades, sit on dirty straw mats at a church and gather the names of the dead from broken survivors. They write each name carefully in Arabic with faded blue ink on lined paper, neatly folded and stored in the pocket of one man’s tattered kaftan. The list is four pages long.

At least 5,186 people have died in Central African Republic since fighting between Muslims and Christians started in December, according to an Associated Press tally gleaned from more than 50 of…

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My Ethiopian Adventure: The Fasilades Bath Palace and the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie


Gonder’s treasures take time to explore because there are so many of them.  Although the Fasilades Bath Palace remains empty of water most of the year, a huge crowd appears during the annual Timket (Epiphany) baptism celebrations when it is filled with water from the Gaha River.  The area around the church fills completely with water and people. I saw photos with thousands of people in the water.  Since we were there in July, the area around the church remained dry except for puddles left by recent rains.

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Obviously, given the manner in which it was built, the priest stands on the balcony when the bottom is full of water and people.  On the wall around, huge fig trees grow.

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Zuriash and I could not resist a photo with these incredible trees.

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The area around the Bath Palace creates a bit of green paradise with grasses, trees, and wildlife thriving in profusion.

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One rarely sees a horse so revered that his owner creates a special tomb just for him.  However, King Fasiledes owned just such a horse. The building in the photo below illustrates how much King Fasiledes loved his favorite horse, Zobal, who saved him in battle.  This Tomb of Zobal awaits restoration.

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The Ethiopian Orthodox Church thrives in this area of Ethiopia.  Young men continue to desire to learn and become priests as illustrated in the photo below showing a large group of young men training for the priesthood.

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The grandson of King Fasiledes, Eyasu I, built this church.  The name means Trinity Mountain of Light.  Famous for its ceiling, it is the only church in Gonder remaining after the siege of Gonder in 1888, when the Mahdist Dervishes from Sudan invaded the city.  They burned down all the other churches.  Legend claims a swarm of bees descended on the church compound and the Archangel Michael stood at the gates with a flaming sword to protect the church.  Notice the spelling in the sign differs from the spelling I have used for Gonder.  Since Amharic is a totally phonetic language, it cannot be translated directly into English.  Therefore, spelling sometimes differs.  I use the spelling from the official map printed for Ethiopian tourists.

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The compound around the church is large, green, lush.

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The concept/symbolism of the Lion of Judah shows up everywhere.  Here on top of the arch is the tail of the lion.  Its head is toward the front of the church.  We saw so much so quickly that sometimes by the time I grasped what I needed to photograph, we had passed it.  Other times we saw things totally unexpected, like the buzzards in the tree below.

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The church decorations barely moved in the little wind.  The guide informed us, a special celebration would soon occur.

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Like many Ethiopian churches, this one is somewhat circular with a hall around the entire church between the outside and inside walls.  The paintings inside left me totally awestruck.

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The ceiling for which this church remains especially famous is detailed, colorful.  Every picture tells a specific story from the Bible or Ethiopian Christian history.

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As in the other churches we visited, ornate draperies cover the areas where the sacraments are kept where only to priests may enter.

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When you walk through the church gates, you face this scene:  one giant tree.  Yes, just one tree.

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When lunch time arrived, our guide on the left in the photo, took us to the Four Sisters Restaurant.  The ceiling here duplicated the ceiling in the church.  The food as well as the decor was fabulous.  The guide and Alemu ordered a plate with a little of everything on it.  By this time on the trip I had acquired a taste for a favorite food, shiro.  The rolled up tortilla like food on the plate is injera, usually made from the grain teff.

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The guide decided I needed an Ethiopian name so he gave me one as illustrated above with Amharic on the top and my name phonetically written in English on the bottom.  It means Good Gold.

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Zuriash decided she had to have one of these big baskets even if they were not for sale.  We stood around while Dino bargained.  The hotel where we stayed had a wonderful view over the city and, as I previously noted, a great shower.  The two nights we stayed there (not in succession) a nicely wrapped tooth brush and tooth paste lay beside the sink.  I brought the tooth brushes home with me rather than using them there. What a mistake!  The best tooth brush ever, no kidding.  My teeth were never so clean as they are now and to get more, I guess I will have to go back to Gonder.

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My Ethiopian Adventure: the Castles of Gonder


Nestled in the foothills of the Simien Mountains, Gonder, founded by King Fasiledes in 1636, remained the capital of Ethiopia for 200 years.  Its castles, built in the 1600s, housed royal family members and reflect architectural influences from Axum, Portugal, and India.

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The first and largest castle housed King Fasiledes and his family.  Because of restoration, visitors can climb to the various floors and look at the different rooms. The castle compound remains popular with locals, especially for taking family photographs, weddings, etc.

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The arched castle windows seemed perfect for framing photographs.

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On the second story, the floor, now restored, gleamed in the late morning light.

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Seven castles remain inside the compound walls.  They were built my successive rulers, descendants of King Fasiledes, several of whom came to reign after having other family members, including one father, assassinated.

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Dino, and our guide, outside the original castle, looking down into…

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Many of the original buildings, crumbled by time and weather, still stand, surrounded by lush greenery.

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In the middle of the photo background stands the Hotel Goha, where we stayed, looking down over the castles.

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If you look closely, you can see a buzzard in the top window of the castle in the foreground. These castles stand witness to the strength and endurance of stone.

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The old and the new:  two young men text on the 450 year old stairwell.

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Frequently, for centuries, Ethiopian royalty kept tame lions.  Their cages still stand.  Ethiopian lions possess different characteristics than lions farther south in Africa; they are smaller with much darker manes, often referred to as black.

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The friends with whom I travelled.  Dino grew up in Dire Dawa.

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The royal stables remain intact complete with their wooden doors.

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The banquets hall’s ceiling sagged so the Italians tried to repair it with cement.  Disastrous results–it crumbles and sags.  Originally, Ethiopia architecture/construction did not use cement.  Their methods, as evidenced by many of these castles and most definitely by the still used churches in Lalibela, stand the test of centuries.

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A very forward thinking woman, decades ahead of her time, the Empress Mentewab, built a school for women to learn various trades so they could support themselves. Like many other buildings in the castle complex this too remains under restoration.

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The perfect place to stroll, contemplate, and…

My Ethiopian Adventure: The Roof of Africa, Part Two


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here and there gelada baboons appear.  This photo shows a typical view of the muddy road we traversed.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Finally, on the way back out of the park, we stopped so I could see the highest waterfall in Ethiopia.

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My Ethiopian Adventure–The Roof of Africa, Part One


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.

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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.

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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.

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Acacia trees like these out the front window must surely be among the most picturesque trees on the planet.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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After checking in, we headed out for an afternoon hike.

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The hiking was relatively easy, not too up and down, but in places very wet and slippery.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The views never failed to astonish me.

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IMG_0578After five o’clock the baboons disappear, climbing down the cliffs into caves to protect themselves from predators–leopards and hyenas.

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Michael, the guide on the left, and the guard, fearless–these drop-offs are routine.

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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.

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My Ethiopian Adventure–on the Road from Lalibela to Gonder


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.

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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.

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The invasive eucalyptus trees and pastoral mountain villages show up everywhere.

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Most villages have their own church.  The building with the round roof in the distant middle is one such little church.

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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.

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Up in this high country, farmers grow wheat, barley, and oats.  Horses and cattle graze in large pastures.

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The mountains appear to continue forever.

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Buildings, like the one in this photo above, usually house animals at night to protect them from predators such as hyenas.

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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.

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Houses here seemed bigger, usually two story, with rocks used as a main building material.

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We drove by two men galloping along on horseback, their horses adorned in fancy tack.

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As we began a long descent into a huge valley, common baboons appeared along the road.

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These huge rocks left my millions of years of erosion, provide a dramatic contrast to the intense green.

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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.

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The villages in this area are built higher–above the rice paddies. And then as we climbed out of the valley…

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The name of this rock really surprised me, the Finger of God.

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A big later, suddenly Alemu turned off on a dirt road and this appeared.

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The sign says:  Guzara Palace, G.C. 1563-1597.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fabric, stretched over a frame slides back and forth so you can slide it to cover the window.  This hotel possesses fantastic, modern showers.

 

Robin Williams and a Few Thoughts on Major Depression


Juliana Lightle:

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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