Saying goodbye to Addis at 8 in the morning, we headed northeast and later north toward Kombolcha–spelling differs, depending on whose map you view. The official Ethiopian map spells the town as Kombolch. Addis is high, the second highest capital in the world. We drove northeast all morning across rivers and through green fields.
Not far outside Addis we saw this scene, a river with many people near it. Our driver, Alemu explained this river contains holy, healing water and all those people you see through the window are pilgrims coming to be blessed by the resident priest and hopefully healed by the river waters.
Who would know this is Ethiopia if no one told you? Not what I expected at all honestly.
Most of the farmland is very rocky. Farmers gather rocks, in some places make fences out of them or just pile them up. Even with these efforts fields remain full of rocks.
We drove for hours through this type of farmland.
This is a typical country village which appeared off and on continuously along the highway. Traditional buildings are usually round with thatched roofs. More and more people have begun to use metal roofs which forces the building shape to rectangular rather than round. We heard a story about a thatched roof house that caught on fire. Nothing but the thatch burned because underneath the thatch was a meter of mud.
Most Ethiopian farming is done the old way: either horses or cattle pull the plow with a man guiding it usually through a lot of rocks. I commented about seeing no tractors so then every time we saw one everyone shouted, “Juliana, there’s a tractor.” I think I saw only five of them in ten days and only one was actually working in a field. It became obvious rather quickly how totally impractical a tractor and its equipment would be in much of the farmland: too many rocks and as you will soon see, too steep. The tractor would fall over.
Eventually we started climbing higher and higher. To the left was one of Ethiopia’s high peaks near or over 4000 meters–13 to 14 thousand feet.
And then, there it was, Menelik’s Window. This was the first area we saw with numerous gelada baboons. However, these ran away unlike the ones later in Simien National Park.
That’s Dino down on the edge. At this point in the trip, I was still quite horrified by all the steep cliffs and stayed way back. He was trying to get a good photo of the baboons. Menelik II, the last Ethiopia leader to be able to claim himself as a direct male descendant of King Solomon, found this place special, a view into the real Ethiopia across miles of mountains. He is known for defeating the Italian invaders, expanding the kingdom, and especially for modernizing Ethiopia.
My grandson now owns this hat. This boy and his friends spend their days chasing the baboons away from the tufts of grass, which their families use to make the thatched roofs, and making hats for sale.
You can see the selection of different styles of hats on display on the grass. On the mountainside in the back lots of herbs grew, including thyme. The boys also sold packets of herbs they had gathered and dried.
We dropped down on a winding mountain road through eucalyptus forests. Eucalyptus is not native to Ethiopia, but grows everywhere there. It is used as a basic material for building their houses, for scaffolding to build tall city buildings, for just about everything. Several different species grew along the road.
Ethiopia’s main highways are excellent. Many were built years ago by the Italians, more recent ones by the Chinese. Ethiopians make jokes about how long the Chinese roads might last.
Eventually, we dropped down out of the mountains into an area that was much drier.
A typical town with all sorts of shops right along the road. When driving in Ethiopia, dodging people, cattle, camels, horses, burros, and goats is the norm. Everything it seems likes these good roads.
A boy driving camels down the highway. Loose animals, like the burro on the right, roam seemingly unattended. I saw few fences.
In the small towns in this semi arid area, we saw several totally veiled women, faces covered totally except for their eyes. Alemu informed us that this was a new thing, not seen until the last few years. He seemed to think it had become fashionable to copy Saudi women.
We stopped to look at certain plants beside the road.
Dino recalled playing with these pretty green balls as a child with this forewarning, “Do not eat them, do not touch your eyes or you will go blind.” They are called the Apples of Sodom.
At this juncture near the beginning of this adventure, I had not yet realized how everything in Ethiopia possesses symbolic meaning.
We drove along this immense, lush valley for miles. Alemu said this huge herd of cattle belonged to a semi nomadic group who brought their cattle here during the rainy season to graze and fatten. A bit farther down the road the land belonged to one of the richest men in Ethiopia, indeed the world, Al Amoudi. It was the only place where I saw a tractor actually used in a field.
Arriving in Kombolcha, we saw this new college in the process of creation. This became a common sight–new buildings, new schools, construction everywhere.
My first hotel room in Ethiopia at the Sunny Side Hotel in Kombolcha complete with mosquito netting–the blue blob above the bed. At least it had a shower and toilet. Many places use the style of accommodations one finds in a lot of Asia. Forget toilets as you know them–just a tiled area with a hole in the ground and the ever present water with which to wash. We carried our own toilet paper just in case. However, many places had both so customers could choose.