Published: January 11th 2012January 11th 2012
Their goats did battle briefly with the baboons before both sets of creatures settled in to forage together.
The children of Ethiopia are both a source of joy and of consternation in this place. We both enjoy their smiles and their constant waving, but also find their pestering wearing. Children come up to you, say "hello" and then reach their hands out, or ask first "give me pen?", to which you reply, "No, I don't have one". They don't miss a beat "give me money." In Lalibela where kids are least likely to hassle you owing to policies of the town, kids simply waved and said "hello, money." One young girl, who was maybe four cam running up to us with the most intense look on her face and yelled "give me money!" We had discovered Ethiopia's answer to Will Ferrell's Pearl (I tried putting a link in, but it screwed up the whole blog, so just Google it. In retrospect we should have taken her picture, but we were so taken aback with the demand, that we missed it all together. We have refrained from the giving, and this is exactly what Ethiopians wish you would do. Older Ethiopians look down on the begging (interestingly when there are a lot of adults
"It's ok, we have many."
This was the response of the guide after a German woman tried to explain that they shouldn't use their bare hands to touch 1400 year old texts. In fairness she came across as rude (as Germans sometimes do when they speak in English)....she wasn't a douche, just a Deutsch. Of course she is right, but it came across as a little condescending.
out and about, the begging declines). But also, both our guidebook and guides told us that it draws students from school. A pair of organizations, one in Gondor and one in Addis Ababa allow you to buy meal tickets to hand out to street children at pennies on the dollar.
Although I am quite used to this dynamic from my other travels, Jenn has found it a bit agitating. That said, not all of our interactions have been bad ones. On one occasion a toddler ran up to me, arms wide and smile beaming to shake my hand before running back to his mother. A group of teenagers asked if they could feel our hair and were surprised that it was "so soft". Another little girl in Axum ran up to us in silence and held on to Jenn's hand while we walked. Looking at her snotty nose and big eyes, we broke and gave her a package of crackers - we should have cracked them open for her to eat. You know what they say about hindsight. Also in Axum, a group of kids between 4 and 10 "helped" us walk up the hill to see
The stunning stelae recently returned to Ethiopia from Italy is the largest human carved free standing monolith in the world (apparently). It is really impressive.
the Lioness of Godebra, a carved lion in a rockface. Their efforts can best be described as helpful encumberance; it was much harder to walk up the hill, but we appreciated their efforts, and they made the hike a memorable one. One even made a Hurculean effort to grab Jenn on the one occasion she did stumble.
Axum was a fantastic stop that is just riddled with history (as we might say all of the North is). Axum represents perhaps the most well known early civilization in Ethiopia. Older yet is Yeha, which sits close to the border of Eritrea, but has much less known about it. We visited tombs of famous kings, the ruins that sit atop of the palace where the famed, and prehaps fabled, Queen of Sheba resided. When we walked up to the viewing deck children sang "Welcome-Welcome-Welcome, Welcome-Welcome-Welcome, WELCOME-welcome, Welcome-Welcome-Welcome". Then the same song with Good-bye as the only lyric as we left. We visited the tomb of Balthazar (one of the three wise men who were said to have visited Jesus). Our guide Sisay (see-say) was very exciteable, and talked joyously about his son, who loved animals and
Jenn and I in front of the stunning Lalibela cross, one of the many rock-hewn churches in Lalibella.
pictures of animals almost as much as I would say Jenn does. The one negative thing I have to say about Axum is that it fires my desire to play Civilization
. An endless source of entertainment and equally endless drain on my time.
To be sure, the rock hewn churches of Lalibela are stunning in their own right, but navigating them with tens of thousands of pilgrims who have flooded into the city for Ethiopian Christmas makes it an
experience not to be forgotten. For me the throngs of people were simply exciting, for Jenn, who has issues with claustrophobia, the veritable crush of people was a source of stress. People push and
squeeze past each other, I helped old ladies up and over large entry ways, and bowed to priests as we maneuvered through the architectural relics. At one point two teenagers tried, and failed to pick pocket
us. I chastised them and they harassed me for some time until I bid them peace about an hour later. It was enough to convince them to lay down their feud with me. We had an excellent guide, Mesele, who waved
off swaths of people to make way for
This gives you some idea what the crowds in Lalibela were like
us. We also were nearly trampled by a runaway bull, one who was obviously displeased by its purchase, he pulled behind him a young man who shouted wildly as people dodged the animal. I was only aware of it as a young girl threw herself into my backside and Jenn was even touched by the bull's back end as it drove past. This may be owing to the fact that we don't know what "get out of the way or you might get gored" is in Ahramic. We'll consider ourselves lucky.
Gondor was by far the location I was most excited about. There were castles built there during 17th Century by several Kings who reunited, for a time, much of the Ethiopian Empire. I really enjoyed walking through the complex and admiring the stunning architecture. Our guide was an interesting fellow, although there was something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn't put my finger on it, but it may have been his lack of nuance, explaining that several of the roofs of the buildings within the complex had been bombed by the British in WWII (true) while fighting the Italians (true) because they were
Super impressive architecture. Destroyed by "jealous" Britons (details inside)
jealous of Ethiopian's architectural heritage (questionable). Although his interpretation of history may be - interesting - it does reveal the historical, and potentially current, xenophobia with which Gondorians view Farenji. On the surface their is a friendliness, but it seems that their is a strong undercurrent of suspicion which I did not detect elsewhere.
Outside of Gondor are the magnificent Simien Mountains which are well worth the several hours to drive out to them. The towering vistas and the human friendly (ie. paying no attention to us) wildlife like the bleeding heart baboons make for a memorable hike through. Our guide who had promised to arrange a drive up to the point where we could see ibexes obviously did not follow through; we are so glad. The walk through the mountains, which we would have missed, is breathtaking (both figuratively and literally - at 3100 meters). It was one of our best days. Do not miss this gem if you travel here!
Sadly, on the way home we stopped for lunch in a small town whose name I do not even know. We had lunch. The place was dusty and a little unloved, the food was okay, but
Home to many endemic species, this is only one of the many outstanding views from the top of the volcanically formed Simiens. Wow.
not amazing. It would be entirely unremarkable if not for the most rude tourists I've ever met. I missed most of the exchange because I was in the bathroom, but apparently they had told the tour guide that they would not eat in such a disgusting place and then went on very loadly to point out all the ways in which the place did not meet their standards. The staff scurried to clean up a bit, but in a country starved for water and without the ready availability of the usually toxic cleaning supplies the West uses regularly, it is little wonder it's not as clean here. It's Africa, if you want spotless, stay home. They make all Farenji look bad. Their poor guide was beside himself, telling us that for the last 18 days they have complained about everything. The owner of the small cafe said, "what do they expect? This is a small town?" Jenn and I gave their guide our deepest and sincerest condolences making sure that he knew we also thought their behavior was unacceptable, then we stewed about it for a good part of the ride home. We both regretted not ripping a strip off
Bleeding Heart Baboons
All I can say is that it's a good thing we didn't have actual film. We would have run out of money and had to have come home early.
of them. I am getting angry about it just thinking about it again. I am calm, I am calm...
Bahir Dar and Lake Tana:
Bahir Dar is nestled up to the giant lake, Lake Tana, which is famous as the headwaters of the Blue Nile "discovered" by a European centuries (perhaps millennia) after locals had known the answer. We had a great guide named adane (firstname.lastname@example.org) who is training to be a clinical nurse, but also made a fantastic guide; we recommend him wholeheartedly. He took us to view the monasteries on the peninsula and then to see some hippos at the mouth of the Nile. This was a highlight. Most everyone has seen them in their little cement pits in zoos, but to see them in the wild was impressive. We watched for a while from a safe distance before retreating after the large male bellowed a warning bark at us. Our guide and boat captain both looked unconcerned, but turned the engine on very quickly after the bark and backed us away, driving off into the sunset. Apparently hippos are scared of the sound of on-board motors. In Australia I learned that crocodiles are attracted to
Sunset on Lake Tana
As we reached the headwaters of the Blue Nile, I snapped this out of the back of our boat.
the sound, thinking they're other crocs. My own unsubstantiated theory: Hippos are actually scared of crocodiles and believe we have crocodile powered boats.
The Blue Nile Falls were also beautiful, but being the dry season, and the fact that 85% of the water is diverted for hydroelectric power, you can see how large the falls would be at their full force. We saw only a small fraction of its glory. In order to maintain the power, Ethiopians have resisted a UNESCO designation for the falls. Perhaps in the future when other sources of energy become available and affordable for Ethiopia, the falls will again return to its roaring heritage.
Next up - Djibouti.
There are more photos below