Ethiopia is an amazing country. With a history so deep in time, it’s the cradle of mankind, while 3.5 million years ago the oldest of our ancestor, the Australopithecus Lucy was walking around these grounds. The captivating story of Abyssinia goes back into centuries, at the era of Queen Shiva, to the medieval emperors and wondrous monuments, until the last emperor Haile Selassie, the mythical “messiah” of the religion of Rastafarianism.
Ethiopia, the second most populous state of Africa is a rapidly developing country that has left behind the humanitarian crisis of the 80s, while the modernization has not yet exhausted its remarkable authenticity. My two trips there was for me overwhelming, so rich in images and Experiences! I definitely hope to be there again.
Ethiopia is composed of many heterogeneous population groups. The basic population is characterized by dark-skinned, light-colored African features and amber eyes. People are handsome, proud and above all, kind and hospitable. Poverty, unlike other African countries haven’t led these people to crime, resulting in Ethiopia as a very safe place for visitors, regardless of their color. The majority of population are Christian Coptics and Muslims. In the remote border points of the country one will encounter many more races and tribes.
In the south, on the border with Kenya and South Sudan, the famous valley of the Omo river, the anthropological interest is unique. Here they live since ages, at least eight sub-Saharan tribes numbering around 200,000 souls. This unique African tribes are resisting modernization, keeping their -weird for us- traditions while their primitive appearance is characterized from striking to shocking. The government refuses to grant them legal citizenship and their environment, the future of their existence is threatened by the construction of a giant dam on the river, intended to be the biggest in Africa. The tribes are plagued by shortages of goods and survival often involves hostilities in claiming land and animals.
In the southeast, on the border with Somalia, the Muslim Somali People, indigenous or expats, are more closed to themselves, more distant and sometimes more irritable.
To the east lies the land of Afar. The Danakil depression, one of the hottest and most inhospitable places on earth hosts this tough, unruly people, who survive by breeding animals in an area that almost no vegetation exists and the land spews from her wounds sulfur and lava. As outcasts of this world, Afars collect mineral salt, carried by camel caravans forming an endless line in the desert.
Addis Ababa. The capital, with a population of 3.5 million, is a fast growing African city. Do not imagine skyscrapers and impressive buildings, at least for the moment. The city is a jumble of dust, dirt roads, houses with sheet-metal roof and ugly concrete buildings of colonial influence reminiscent of earlier decades. Despite the suffocating traffic and the few attractions, Addis emits a fascination. It’s a must to visit the Merkato, the largest open market in Africa, enjoy local or international cuisine in Piazza and make a visit to the National Museum to see face to face… the skeleton of humanoid Lucy. Transportation is done with old and dirty taxis or squeezed and dirty as well minibusses. A brand new overground train system, the only in sub-Saharan Africa, was launched in September 2015. I look forward to popping back in Addis and try it. The Chinese investment on large projects in Africa, here are particularly booming.
Arba Minch is a city built near the shores of Lake Chamo and one should not miss a ride on motorized canoe, to have the chance to see from a close distance, numerous crocodiles, hippos and the scavengers marabou.
Konso is a beautiful village with huts made of stone and roofs made of grass or sheet-metal. Christian and local customs mix uniquely with featuring anthropomorphic wooden totem called wagas, dedicated to the memory of the dead. You will see some scattered across the village, at least those escaped by the tempting dollars of tourists. Women and young children sell their wares on the street, tropical fruit, bananas, guava and passion fruit.
After two days of a dusty trek, you arrive in Jinka, the starting point for the tribes of the south. It’s a small town consisting of scattered houses, dirt roads and a grassy airstrip which is occupied by cows, stray dogs and young People enjoying a walk surrounded by a cloud of dust. From here routes lead to the tribes Mursi and Surma in the west, to the national parks Mago and Omo and the homonym river till the remote border of South Sudan. More southern towards Kenya and Lake Turkana, there are many more tribes like Hamar, Arbore , Bana etc, each with unique characteristics.
Bahir Dar. A city built on the shore of Lake Tana offers beautiful Places to stroll. Bahir Dar is famous for its monasteries that are built on the lake”s islands. They not alike European monasteries but more like big wooden huts with very beautiful paintings in bright colors. At one spot of the lake, the water feeds a river, the longest in the world. It’s the Blue Nile, starting here a long journey, joining the White Nile in Sudan and continuing it’s flow to the Mediterranean sea. Near the sources of the Nile hippos gaping, a stone’s throw from the busy city
Gondar is the old capital of the Ethiopian empire, the city of castles, the “Camelot of Africa”! The fact is that in a continent absent of human monuments, (with the exception of the Egyptian marvels) in Gondar one revives the mythical era of black emperors. The castles are kept in very good condition and are now a world heritage site, reminding the flourishing of arts; music, literature and painting from the past.
Simien mountains. Offering vast, stunning views, a mountain range that stretches to rugged mountain peaks fading in the horizon, they’re quite popular for one-day to multi-day hiking excursions.
Lalibela is the most famous destination of Ethiopia and one of the sacred cities. The marvelous site full of monolithic churches will leave visitors impressed. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 by Muslims, King Lalibela envisioned ambitious project of setting up a new Jerusalem. Each one of the 11 churches are rock hewed in a huge scale but with geometric precision from a single piece of rock. Biblical figures of priests and pilgrims in white costumes one encounters at the churches, mentally transferred to the era of Jesus. The religiousness is so intense that outlandish rituals are practiced.
The walled city of Harar is mainly Islamic, considered the fourth holiest city for Muslims.A unique tradition happens every afternoon here… Feeding wild hyenas. The regular daily feeding of the notorious carnivorous started in the 1960s by a farmer who tried to prevent attacks to his livestock. Now only two old men are still practicing this, offering visitors the opportunity to dare this experience. The jaws of the dotted hyenas are among the strongest in nature, much stronger than the lion and regardless it’s actually coward animal, if in a herd they can become quite dangerous. Harar is full of colors, smells People. In the “Christian bazaar”, a countless number of women selling their goods scattered on the ground. In “Muslim bazaar” shops selling from fabrics to Chinese Radios. At butcher shops you can buy camel meat but you have to supply it on your own to the restaurants if you wish to taste it. Workshops of coffee are scenting the city’s air.
Jijiga is the capital of Somali region and the starting point of a cramped minibus to the border with Somaliland.
The Danakil depression, 300 meters below sea level is one of the warmest and most inhospitable Places on earth. Here ends the Rift Valley, the great volcanic arc that stretches across much of eastern Africa. Unfortunately my two visits in Ethiopia were lacking enough time to visit this amazingly unique landscape that doesn’t remind at all planet earth. Vast salt lakes, landscapes with bizarre colors because of volcanic chemical elements and the highlight… the unearthly Erta Ale volcano. One of the just four active volcanoes on earth where you can stand by the edge of a crater filled with a permanent lake of liquid lava. Getting here is not easy, nor absolutely safe as they have been deadly attacks, even on the guarded caravans of tourists. Rebels from Eritrea but also from separatist organization of Afar are still active here.