Ethiopia – in hindisght we can’t even remember how we first formed the idea to go there. I guess I wanted to go back to Africa and Martin was shy of the tropical heat so we settled on Ethiopia as a good compromise. One of Martin’s collegues is from Ethiopia and he praised the hospitality of its people, its high green plateaus and alpine peaks and its diverse flora and fauna. Somehow, we took the plunge – and never looked back.
While my initial research made traveling in Ethiopia look rather tedious due to bad road conditions, we soon learned that Ethiopian airlines offers a great network of domestic flights with a 50% discount for all passengers holding an international airline ticket by Ethiopian airlines. While this created a huge carbon footprint for this trip, it certainly allowed to make the most of our two weeks in the country since we did not loose too much time on the road.
We started in Gondar with a 4-day trek in the Simien mountains with a great local agency and the best team. The scenery was breathtaking, as was the altitude, our trek started at 3200 m and led us up to 4400 m above sea level. The flora and fauna around us was ever changing, from lush green forests to dry grasslands to trees covered in moss, along with gelada monkeys peacefully grazing on the cliffs and culminating in the rare sight of an ibex.
We then passed through Lalibela, the cultural center of Ethiopia with its rock-hewn churches. Built some 800 years ago under the reign of King Lalibela, these churches are excavated out of the ground, a technique unique to this region. The sheer idea of carving out a church out of a monolith is perplexing, the complex of 13 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela with all the worshippers and singing creates a very special atmosphere.
After Lalibela, we drove overland to Mekele to get down into the Danakil depression, some 120 metres below sea level. Temperatures were rising. While it was pleasantly warm in the mountains during the day and cold at night, we were now approaching the 40°C bench mark in the desert. We were driving through no-man’s-land, the conditions seemed hostile in the scorching heat. We climbed a volcano at night and were mesmerized at the sulphur and potash mining fields at Dallol where, after a few days of barren desert, the sulphuric colours were otherworldly.
The final leg of our trip took us to the south to Arba Minch for some green scenery and some rest. After the whole trip had gone surprisingly smooth by African standards, bad luck hit us in the end. The national park with hippos and zebras we were planning to visit was closed for an undeterminable period and it was impossible to schedule any visit. However, this allowed for some extended pool time but we were still a little bummed out that we did not get to go to any of the NPs. TIA – this is Africa, they say, it’s an adventure and this one was a really good one.