Friday, September 21, 2012


WEATHER: 18C and overcast with a touch of fog!

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Back in the road again

BUMMER OF THE DAY: 12 hours on the road is a long day

WORD OF THE DAY:  Zna-rain in Amharic


It’s Saturday today and time to head back to Addis Ababa today.  We have a long drive ahead with it only being broken towards the end of the day at Debra Libanos and the Portuguese Bridge just out of Addis.  I do like drive days as there is so much to see and being in the front seat I have my camera next to me at the ready and I can just snap away as we drive through.  I try and take care in when I take photos as I don’t want to be in people’s faces with a camera, it is part of my East Africa coming out of me where they HATE having their photo taken which is to do with superstition, the Ethiopians are more likely to see it as unpaid revenue than anything else, especially from children.

We were on the road at 8am this morning having paid the hotel bill and breakfast.  Bahir Dar is a busy town and I do like driving around as they have more baja’s (tuk tuk’s) than cars driving the streets.  I love those things and to see so many all the time driving around is really cool to see.  As we head out of town it is market day for this region today, so the roads are busy with the usual traffic but there seems to be more donkey and carts with long branches of wood trailing behind them today.  So of the village men are standing on their carts and directing their animals, others are running beside theirs.  I love market day as there is so much to see.  Another thing I saw a lot of were chickens being carried.  There are several different ways that this is done.  On a stick over the shoulder is one way.  They tie the chicken feet and then hook them over the branch that is on their shoulder.  Some just carry the chickens by their feet and some chickens sit high in a basket like the Queen of Sheeba with its feet tied so it can’t go far.  I have to say the chickens don’t look like they are in pain or stressed out but I guess they have been carried like that all their life, put an Aussie chicken in there and it would probably be a different story.  It’s cold this morning (13C) so all the villages are rugged up in blankets as they make their trek to the markets.  I saw yesterday and now this morning there are women and girls wearing silver looking coin around their necks.  I want one.  So Zeme stopped a few times to ask them where they f=got them from and they literally are an old coin that they have made into a pendant.  They suggested the market, but if you see that place when we drive past there are thousands of people in there.  We may have to look into it a little further when I get back.  Maybe I could get Minalu to have a look around on his next tour south.  We stopped at 11.45 at Debre Markos and we had lunch where we stayed last time we were here.  I ordered chicken breast and you should have seen the size of this thing when it came out-it was massive.  It must have come from a super chicken!!!!   

We really were just hauling arse back to the capital today and at 12.30 we were back in the road.  It is interesting to see how much and how people carry their goods on any day, nit just market day.  Not everyone has a donkey so they just carry as much as they possibly can the best way they know how.  The women will have baskets on their head and if they have a lot to carry will also carry things on their back wrapped in a blanket that they tie on their fronts and also the 10kg of water is carried on their backs with both their arms supporting the yellow jerry can hunched over.  The men carrying the sacks of food or charcoal carry the bags on their shoulders, some of these sacks are massive and they use the length of a stick to take most of the load from their shoulders and distribute it onto the stick-quite smart really.  So most ways it leaves their hands free for small children or to keep their herd of sheep and goats in line.  The usual rule applies as we pass through, Zeme gives a toot if there is a car coming the other way or if the village people stray too far onto the road, and it must just be instinct the second they hear that noise they move over straight away, including 95% of the time.  The donkeys can be a bit of an arse (ha ha ha ha) sometimes and we have to stop or some stray goats cross over.  The small villages we have to go slow as they are packed with people and animals and there were even some police officers stopping traffic to let people cross the road it was that busy.  I seriously have seen nothing like it before anywhere.  The push of humanity all in one spot is just surreal. 

Crossing back across the plateau before getting back to the Abbay Gorge we hit fog!!!  It was 1.30pm in the afternoon and you should see the line of fog ahead, like a brick wall and then we drove through it for about 20 minutes.  It was so thick in places we couldn’t even see past the bonnet of the car.  It was really eerie and we had to be careful as we couldn’t see people on the side of the road till we were right on top of them, but then we couldn’t serve too far on the road because you couldn’t see what was coming the other way.  Who would ever think you would get fog in Northern Africa, but then we are quite high up-I would say higher than 1500m above sea level so I guess you would expect it at some stage.  The country Ethiopians are always prepared for the rain.  There are a lot of umbrellas floating around but there are also what look like plastic sacks and what they do is they wrap them in the shape of a hat (looks like a pirate shape) and they wear them on their heads and then when it rains they unfold them, find a tree if possible to hunch under and then they pull this 1m bag over their heads to keep themselves dry till the rain passes.  I have found when it rains it doesn’t hang around all day.  It may rain more than once, but they get a down pour and then it stops and then it rains again.  There hasn’t been a day that I have been here that it has just rained all day continuously.  

We hit the Abay Gorge again in the afternoon and I don’t think it matters how many times you see it the views still take my breath away.  There are trucks coming up the hill just jammed packed with locals, like seriously you couldn’t fit a small child in there it was that packed and as we hit the bottom of the valley there were people everywhere, buses, more trucks loading with people (seriously they are just standing in the tip trucks tray) just mass moving people.  There was a church tucked away at the bottom that O hadn’t noticed before and there was a festival on there hence the mass of people around.  There were like 3 people here 2 days ago and now there were hundreds.  We crossed back over Japanese built bridge over the Abay River.  It was financed by a 14 million dollar Japanese government grant, the new structure has been constructed alongside a 60-year old bridge built by an Italian construction firm; the government of Italy covered the cost of the older bridge as a compensation for war damages it had caused during its brief occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s.  The new bridge is 55 meters high, standing 22 meters above the existing one and you could see the old bridge was very busy with foot traffic today due to the festival. 

The Northwestern and Southeastern plateaus of Ethiopia are separated by the Rift Valley. Along the western margin of the Northwestern Plateau is the Blue Nile Gorge aka Abay Gorge and this is where we found ourselves for the second time in 2 days and we now needed to ascend this massive mountain.  The Abay Gorge spans an altitude range of 2500m to 1200m and is over a mile wide and deeper than the Grand Canyon of the United States of America. The Abbay or Blue Nile Gorge is known to be the most stunning gorge in Ethiopia and I really can see why.  You aren’t supposed to stop on the road, but at one of the best vantage points on the climb and where it was safe for us to pull off the road; we stopped and got some great photos of the view with the bay River in the background.  I should pull out my March photos to just show you the remarkable difference between the wet season and dry season of the same area.  It really is like you are in a different world.  With a wave to our baboon friends we wound our way up the escarpment back to cooler weather leaving the chaos of the festivities behind us. 

We arrived at the turn off to Debre Libanos just before 4pm.  A big day of driving and we still had another 2 hours or so to go after this stop.  Driving our way down it is a little more than four kilometers long to the church we saw some Gelada monkeys.  This is a pretty big deal as they can only be seen in numbers in the Semien Mountains further north.  The gelada, sometimes called the gelada baboon, is a species of Old World monkey found only in the Ethiopian Highlands. Like its close relatives the baboons, it is largely terrestrial, spending much of its time foraging in grasslands.  The gelada is large and robust. It is covered with buff to dark brown, coarse hair and has a dark face with pale eyelids. Its arms and feet are nearly black.  The gelada has a hairless face with a short muzzle that is closer to a chimpanzee's than a baboon's.  It can also be physically distinguished from a baboon by the bright patch of skin on its chest. This patch is hourglass-shaped. On males it is bright red and surrounded by white hair; on females it is far less pronounced and is endemic to Ethiopia, they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.  We were able to stop briefly on the way down for some snaps but they didn’t hang around too long.  I also noticed on our way down that the small village we had to pass through had a different feel to it.  The people here seemed sick, walking on sticks, older and half of them had some deformity-the Debre Libanos is known for the amount of miracles performed here and they all wait here in the hope of being cured.     

Debre Libanos is a monastery in Ethiopia.  Founded in the thirteenth century by Saint Tekle Haymanot, according to the belief, he meditated in a cave for 29 years. He is frequently represented as an old man with wings on his back and only one leg visible. There are a number of explanations for this popular image that the saint "having stood too long, one of his legs broke, whereupon he stood on one foot for seven years.  The monastery's chief abbot, called the Ichege, was the second most powerful official in the Ethiopian Church after the Abuna.  The monastery complex sits on a terrace between a cliff and the gorge of one of the tributaries of the Abbay River. None of the original buildings of Debre Libanos survive.  Current buildings include the church over Tekle Haymanot's tomb, which Emperor Haile Selassie ordered constructed in 1961; a slightly older Church of the Cross, where apparently a fragment of the True Cross is preserved; and five religious schools. The cave where the saint lived is in the nearby cliffs, which is around a 20 minute walk away. This cave contains a spring, whose water is considered holy and is the object of pilgrimages.  Emperor Haile Selassie's interest in Debre Libanos dates to when he was governor of the district of Selale. The Emperor notes in his autobiography that during the reconstruction of the church at Debre Libanos, an inscribed gold ring was found in the excavations, which he personally delivered to then Emperor Menelik II.  Following the attempted assassination on his life on 19 February 1937, governor Rodolfo Graziani believed the monastery's monks and novices were involved in this attack, and unwilling to wait for the results of the official investigation, ordered Italian colonialists to massacre the inhabitants of this monastery. On 21 May of that year, 297 monks and 23 laymen were killed.  We paid our entrance fee for the church and the extra money for me to be able to take my camera in and the entered the 1950’s Emperor Haile Selassie's built church.  As impressive as the church looks, it doesn’t have that much historical value, but once inside there were paintings and relics from the original 12th century and following churches after that time.  I kept asking if it was okay to take photos as I didn’t want to offend the guide that was taking us through.  After the tour of the church we made our way to the museum also on the church grounds and got a tour of that as well with more relics from the other churches that were on this site.  We weren’t allowed to take photos in here and after 20 minutes as we were leaving there was security and church staff near the door and they asked if I would like to sign the guest book.  As a joke (I hope) they said I need to put my name, my country, a comment and my weight…. Yes my weight.  I told you I am a bit of an attraction myself, so I took it in the form I hope it was given and told them I would be happy to sign less my weight with a laugh.  When people stare I know it is not out of meanness with me being larger, they are just intrigued-I am yet to see an over-weight Ethiopian and Minalu once said that Ethiopian men like the ‘larger’ women so I just have to take all in my stride and get used to it, unless I lose 60kg and then they will need to find someone else to stare at.  I have plans of getting to a gym or walking when I move here, but that will just have to wait till January.  By this time it was nearly 5pm and we didn’t have enough time to climb to the cave where the Saint Tekle Haymanot meditated for 26 years and I had a feeling from what Zeme was saying that it wasn’t an easy climb and maybe I will just have to come back one day to see the cave.

Our last stop as the day stated to fade was the Portuguese Bridge.  The dirt road for the bridge is right near the Debre Libanos turn off so it was only 10 minutes away.  There is accommodation located at the top of the walk that drops down to the bridge and the view from here was breath taking overlooking a massive canyon.  It would be magic to stay here and may need to add that to the list upon my return.  Because we were so high up and we were going to see a bridge, I didn’t know just how far we had to trek to get to the bridge, it was a long way down to the valley floor and for a fleeting moment I was wondering if we had to walk to the bottom of the valley, which is crazy because that would have taken days and after asking Zeme it was a 15 minute walk.  So we started out and to get there we had to hike along a rocky slippery path that lead down slightly before it evened out for a magical walk in the side of the mountain.  The path seemed rather close to the edge of the 1000 meter cliff and Zeme freaked out when I took a step closer to get a photo.  There were no guardrails and I wouldn’t want to be there with active children. You normally have to pay as you pass through a gate to get to the bridge but the ranger guy wasn’t there and we got a guide to tell us a little about the bridge.  He also came in handy as the path (or lack of) was very steep, no steps and full of small and large rocks so with Zeme holding one hand and the guide holding my other hand I made it down safely to be able to walk across the bridge.  The bridge was intriguing.  It is said to be partially constructed from eggshells and constructed in the 16th century by the Portuguese but the most impressive thing was the view.  The river flowed roaring underneath the bridge and then the water fell 30m away down a waterfall that we couldn’t see.  It looked like a natural ‘infinity’ pool that you see in fancy hotels, but the view that followed the ‘infinity’ pool was SPECTACULAR.  After some magnificent photos I had to climb the neck breaking rocky slope to get back to the top and I had a man and sheep overtake me on this, and we circled back to the accommodation buildings and to make the most of the view Zeme and I bought a beer each and just kicked back and soaked it all up.  I was speechless, it was so beautiful.

But we still had around 110km to go, around 2 more hours, and as it was nearly 6pm we would be driving the last section into Addis in the dark.  It doesn’t seem like such a big deal but there are no street lights on this country road and not all the cars had their headlights on as the sun set.  I was on high alert.  There were a few brave souls walking along the side of the road, but I think they know it is unsafe to walk the roads at night and we didn’t have to worry too much about people but rather cars now that the sun had gone.  The truck look even scarier at night and when they try and overtake on these dark roads I can see how easy it is to have accidents out here.  I was a little nervous to be honest and it had nothing to do with Zeme’s safe driving but what other people do on the roads.  But just after 8pm we made it back to our home in Addis, Baks Hotel and it was good to be back.  We were checked back into ‘our’ room and I was able to get all my bags that I left behind tomorrow.  Needless to say dinner was at the hotel and after a few beers was in bed by 11pm.

What an amazing 3 days.  I love getting out of the city as it is so different and there is so much to see and keeping in mind this was my third trip back I never get tired of seeing the friendly people doing their daily routines and it just reiterates back to me just how lucky we are with what we have and I am more determined than ever to help out some way, somehow upon my return in January.   

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