My Ethiopian Adventure: On the Road from Bahir Dar to Debre Markos


After coffee and a walk around the grounds at Kuriftu Resort and Spa on Lake Tana–see last photos of previous post, we headed south.  This was not the kind of trip where I could stop whenever I wanted to take photos so many of the photos you see on these Ethiopian posts were taken from a moving car. IMG_0897 A typical house along the roadside.  Eucalyptus may be invasive; nevertheless, its uses here seem endless–the house, the fence. IMG_0899 A new housing development along the road all framed in eucalyptus.  In fact, nearly everything is made from eucalyptus except the metal roofs and the final coats of mud on the outside.  I wondered about the advisability of the modern use of metal.  Since no one heats or air conditions, metal can be both hot and cold whereas the traditional roofs act as insulation.  Of course, they take a lot more work for upkeep. The land immediately south of Bahir Dar is flat.  Farmers grow eucalyptus commercially.  They use irrigation canals and grow onions and tomatoes as well as other vegetables. IMG_0900 If you want to drive in Ethiopia, you must learn to dodge people and animals because the highways remain the primary transportation routes for everything, not just modern vehicles. IMG_0904 Although the houses may be mostly mud plastered with dirt floors, nearly everyone has electricity. IMG_0913 So many rivers nearly overflowing during the rainy season, it is hard to keep track of which one is which.  Even the official map does not contain all the rivers we crossed.  This one is often referred to as the Little Nile (Lesser Abay).  Some even claim it is the real beginning of the Nile (Abay) because this river feeds into Lake Tana from which the Blue Nile flows. However, the Lesser Abay is not the only water input into Lake Tana. IMG_0916 Few overweight people can be found in Ethiopia.  Why?  They walk; they carry heavy loads. IMG_0920 Bridge over the Little Nile. IMG_0924 For most of the day we drove through heavy rain.  This huge rock suddenly appeared, sticking up among the grass and fields.  Except for  water everywhere, it reminded me of things one sees in the western United States. IMG_0927 When I tell people that I have never seen so much green and rain or experienced so much cold in a three week period in my life, they seem amazed this occurred in Ethiopia. IMG_0929 We stopped at this lovely lake, not only because it is beautiful but also because Colobus monkeys live here.  I tried to photograph them and gave up; they fly through the trees with incredible rapidity. IMG_0930 Lake Zegena between Injibarra and Bure at 2529 meters altitude.  Here it even rains during the dry season. IMG_0933 The incredible number of plants and mosses growing on the trees made me think of Costa Rica where as many as 150 different species of plants can grow on one tree. IMG_0936 Dino and Alemu appeared very excited to see this for sale.  Yes, it is edible–tiringo.  They cut up slices and ate them with big smiles on their faces.  I tried it; too sour for me.  The flesh is somewhat like an apple but tastes more like lemons.  However, I am not a fan of citrus fruit–these are a type of citrus–so was not surprised to find I could do without this one. IMG_0938 In this area charcoal is made and sold commercially everywhere along the road. IMG_0940 We stopped to buy a bag of limes from these girls. IMG_0942 Most of the day we drove through lush agricultural country. IMG_0944   IMG_0949   IMG_0950 IMG_0953 We arrived in Debre Markos in the perpetual rain.  Although the hotel where we stayed was only two months old, not everything functioned. I had to change rooms and even then, the bathroom door would not shut and a tile was missing just above the door.  By this time, I had come to the conclusion that the really old things in Ethiopia, not unlike elsewhere in the world, were better made than new construction.  The 1000 year old churches in Lalibela still function perfectly.  This hotel definitely will not last 1000 years. Like everywhere in Ethiopia, no heat existed anywhere in the hotel.  Aesthetically, the hotel received a very good score.  Beautiful linens, lovely decor (everything had been painted by Dino’s sister’s company with the exquisite paint she imports from Italy), a well stocked bar.  I hung out in the bar a while with Dino drinking sambuca romana trying to get warm.  It failed to work.  Sleep seemed impossible–too cold.  Finally, after lying in bed cold for over an hour, I arose, put on two pairs of socks and tried again.  Finally warm enough to sleep. IMG_0956   The view out my hotel room in Debre Markos demonstrates a typical Ethiopian city view–the contrast between the new and luxurious and the elemental.

My Ethiopian Adventure: Bahir Dar and the Nile Falls


My Ethiopian friend with whom I travelled asked me about a week ago, “Where would you like to go back to if you go back to Ethiopia?”  With a little hesitation while various places flitted through my mind, I answered, “Bahir Dar.”  Why?  Bahir Dar’s climate suits me perfectly, tropical but not all that hot, lush flowers everywhere, Lake Tana, the Nile.  What more could one ask for?

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You can drive down streets that look like this and go to restaurants along Lake Tana with beautiful scenery and gardens plus a lake view.

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And I could drink the only beer I have ever tasted that I actually liked.

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Saint George Amber Beer.  Yes, Saint George is everywhere, even beer.

To get to the Nile Falls, you have to drive through the countryside on less than fabulous roads and park in probably the dirtiest, most dismal village I saw in all the places I visited in Ethiopia.  Part of the dirty appearance, I know, was due to it being the rainy season with puddles and mud everywhere.  Once I walked away from the village on the path to the falls, lush farmland lay before me.

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Fields of beans and corn.  Off and on all my life, I have raised corn.  This corn is as good a crop as I have seen anywhere.

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On the path to the Nile Falls, youngsters show up everywhere selling various items.  This young man walked all the way to the falls and back with me.  I bought this flute for my grandson.  We have all tried to play it, my daughter and grandson, and I.  We cannot make a sound.  This young man made it sing.

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He also spoke very good English which he learned in school.  He could explain all the crops, when they plant, everything as we strolled along.

The falls, although impressive, failed to meet my expectations.  After seeing numerous photos of them, I expected something grander.  They used to be.  Now, 80 per cent of the water is diverted from the Nile before it reaches the falls.  Ethiopia produces enough hydroelectric power to export it to nearby countries.  85% of the people in Ethiopian have electricity.  As you drive by villages, you can see dishes for TVs on rooftops.

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We were told that the falls used to be so large they covered everything where we stood.

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My friends took a different route to get to the falls than I.  I crossed the Nile at another location to get there.  They hiked around some large hills and crossed this footbridge made by the Portuguese years ago.

Children of varying ages crowded around us selling various types of items.  My friend, Zuriash, is in the middle with the hat.

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Twice that day I crossed the Nile in this boat.

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The morning we left Bahir Dar, Alemu took us to this restaurant at a fancy resort on the lake.  The owner’s story remains one of those success stories one hears off and on in Ethiopia.  He came to the US, worked for a big hotel here, learned the trade, saved his money, returned home, and built a couple of very successful luxury hotels.  This is the restaurant at the one in Bahir Dar.  All the rooms, the landscaping, everything deliberately duplicates African traditional architecture and gardening, a certain, special atmosphere.

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These hand carved chairs may look uncomfortable but they are not.  Somehow they fit the human body perfectly.  The following is a view of the pool and some of the rooms.

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My Ethiopian Adventure: the Monasteries of Lake Tana


Of the 37 islands on Lake Tana, 20 shelter churches and monasteries, very old monasteries, many of which remain in use today.  While some are closed totally to women, we visited Ura Kidane Mihret with no problem.  It is part of a larger complex, the Convent of Mercy founded in the 14th century.  Various buildings date from that era to more recent times.  To reach the monastery you have to climb in a boat and ride across Lake Tana to the Zege Penisula.  We boarded our small boat at the far end of this garden at the hotel–there were four of us and the helmsman–and headed across the lake. IMG_0809 On the way we passed a number of fishermen paddling their papyrus boats. IMG_0817 We also sailed past a couple of islands like this one where one monk lives alone.  On another island lives a priest.  Women are not allowed except on one, just at the edge near the dock.  We did not go there. IMG_0818 Once you arrive at the dock you hike up a hill past various vendors selling everything from religious paintings to hand woven scarves. IMG_0820 This young man used all natural materials to paint small replicas of the paintings found in the monastery itself.  In retrospect I wish I had purchased at least one; I never saw anything quite like them again. Like most religious buildings in Ethiopia, all the buildings in this complex are round.  The only place in Ethiopia where I saw rectangular churches was in Lalibela. IMG_0821 Every piece of space on the interior walls is painted with religious scenes from the Bible and Ethiopian religious history.  The current paintings date from 100-250 years ago when, as the paint began to deteriorate, they used a special process to repaint them.   This particular monastery is noted for these incredible paintings. IMG_0822 IMG_0824 IMG_0826 IMG_0827 The tops of all the buildings are adorned with different symbols for peace.  Sometimes they also represent the disciples of Jesus as well or other religious symbolism. IMG_0829   IMG_0830 A new visitor center remains under construction; it seemed nearly complete. IMG_0831 The visitor center is the rock building on the left, the monastery the building in the rear. IMG_0832 On the path back to the boat dock vendors sell scarves and jewelry.  I bought several scarves, one of which was totally different from any I saw anywhere else.  If I had only known just how unique it would be, I would have bought the other one–she had only two.  These scarves are hand loomed and in some cases the yarn is also hand spun. IMG_0833 Finally, back near the dock we stopped for coffee, indulging ourselves in the totally Ethiopian experience of their coffee ceremony.  You have not truly sipped coffee until you participate in one of these.  There is nothing anywhere quite like it. IMG_0836

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 Oscar Hokeah:

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…

View original 1,890 more words

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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