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IamFisheye

The Endemic Wildlife and Culture of Ethiopia (Simien to Bale Mountains) - October 2015

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IamFisheye

Ethiopia 2015

 

This trip had been in planning for a long time. Whenever it found its way to the top of our bucket list something else came along and trump it. Ethiopia for us, Angela my wife and myself, started as a desire to visit the rock hewn churches and other “old world” cultural attractions that we had seen on Dan Cruickshank’s Around the World in 80 Treasures. I have several friends who have visited the country and have claimed it be one of the best countries they have visited in Africa including an ex-colleague of mine who did one of those long overland trips from Cairo to the Cape and claimed that Ethiopia was one of the trip's highlights.

 

We hadn’t considered the country as a wildlife destination, we knew of its reputation for birders but as this trip report starts to unravel you will start to realise that we most certainly are not birders. Our interest in African Wild Dogs brought the plight of the endemic Ethiopian Wolf to our attention, Africa’s most endangered canine. After some research we found the country has a large number of endemics including Gelada Baboons, Walia Ibex, Mountain Nyala and Bale Monkeys. This is mainly due to the isolation of subspecies as a result of region’s geography (I’m currently reading Jonathan Kingdon’s Island Africa). There is also other African wildlife on offer but tends to have a reputation of being rare, skittish and in low densities.

 

We started planning this trip with our agent around 2 years before we travelled. I had to fit it into 2 and a bit weeks leave from work and we knew that we couldn’t fit everything we wanted to see in without the trip becoming an unenjoyable whistle stop tour. So we focused on the areas we wanted to visit Lalibela, Axum, Simien Mountains for the Gelada and the Bale mountains for the Wolves. We pushed the national parks that offer ‘big game’ safaris, Awash, Gambella, etc off the list as we were concentrating on the endemics. We would also have loved to have visited the Danakil Depression and the Omo Valley but these were so far off our focused route we would have needed to add another couple of weeks to the trip. Maybe these are good enough reasons to revisit in the future?

 

We linked these areas together with other places we were interested in visiting either for their cultural sites or just for a few days of relaxation. We knew that Ethiopia is a huge country and even with the luxury of internal flights and a reasonable road system we were going to struggle with the amount of time spent travelling. This was a holiday after all and we were entitled to a bit of a rest.

 

Our original itinerary looked like this

 

2 nights in Addis Ababa

1 night at Lake Tana

3 nights at Simien Mountains NP

1 night at Gondar

2 nights at Lalibela

2 nights at Lake Langano

4 nights at Bale Mountains NP

2 nights at Haile Resort

1 night in Addis Ababa

 

We had to drop Axum as there wasn’t enough time to include it and it meant yet another internal flight.

We had originally planned to go in March 2015 as it’s a time of year we usually like to travel, there is no definitive season for Ethiopia although most literature on the subject recommends avoiding the rainy season from June to Early October. Our plans changed in August 2014 when I impulsively booked a photographic trip to Laikipia to photograph wild dogs. We chose to push the trip back to October as it was the end of the rainy season and there would hopefully be lots of nice flowers still in bloom. The country would also be nice and green.

 

Then we heard from our agent that they were moving their operation solely to South Africa and that Sue who had been working hard on our itinerary would be leaving the company. So we took our business to another UK based agent and they turned the whole itinerary on its head. The main rationale was that by doing Lalibela before the Simien’s would give us time to acclimatise to the altitude which sounded sensible to us.

 

As an aside we wanted to visit a few charities that operate in Ethiopia that we have supported for many years. We contacted Born Free, The Donkey Sanctuary and The Brook Hospital (the latter two promote the wellbeing of donkeys, mules and horses at a local level) with the hope of visiting one of their operations in the country.

 

The final itinerary was as follows;

Day 1 Fri 2 Oct Fly London Heathrow - Addis Ababa

Day 2 Sat 3 Oct Addis - Arrive 06:20 hrs. Met on arrival and transfer to hotel, day at rest.

Day 3 Sun 4 Oct Addis

Day 4 Mon 5 Oct Addis - Lalibela

Day 5 Tue 6 Oct Lalibela

Day 6 Wed 7 Oct Lalibela - Gondar - Simien Mountains

Day 7 Thu 8 Oct Simien Mountains

Day 8 Fri 9 Oct Simien Mountains

Day 9 Sat 10 Oct Simien Mountains - Gondar

Day 10 Sun 11 Oct Gondar - Bahir Dar

Day 11 Mon 12 Oct Bahir Dar

Day 12 Tue 13 Oct Bahir Dar - Addis - Lake Awassa

Day 13 Wed 14 Oct Lake Awassa - Bale Mountains

Day 14 Thu 15 Oct Bale Mountains

Day 15 Fri 16 Oct Bale Mountains

Day 16 Sat 17 Oct Bale Mountains

Day 17 Sun 18 Oct Bale Mountains - Lake Langano

Day 18 Mon 19 Oct Lake Langano

Day 19 Tue 20 Oct Lake Langano - Addis

Day 20 Wed 21 Oct Addis - London

 

Day 1 Fri 2nd October

Home - London Heathrow - Addis Ababa

 

First things first we got our two dogs off safely to our friend’s house. Back home we packed, lots of warm gear for the high altitude destinations. Camera gear decided on;

 

  1. Nikon D7100 + 18-300mm, 35mm F1.8, 300mm F4 PF & TC 1.4 iii

  2. Olympus EM-1 + 9-18mm, 14-42mm, 17mm F1.8, 45mm F1.8, 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 & EC-14

  3. Olympus TG-2

 

Our car picked us up after lunch and we made it to Heathrow in plenty of time for our 9pm flight. The flight, with Ethiopian Airlines, wasn’t the best we’ve ever experienced but we tried to sleep through most of it anyway. There was no breakfast or even a cup of tea before we landed.

 

 

Day 2 Sat 3rd October

Addis Ababa

 

Arrived at Addis on time. We were scanned for Ebola as we got off the plane, there were plenty of comments on it being some 12 months too late! Then the Visa fun started. There are no signs to point out where you need to go to get your visa so there’s a lot of confused people milling around trying to figure out where to go. It turned out that the Visa applications were down the stairs on the way to the baggage reclaim and immigration. The process as it generally is with these things was convoluted and timely. We eventually got our visas and got through immigration.

 

Next stop was baggage reclaim. We waited for ages for our bags and only one had arrived, I went and bought some local currency (about $100 worth of Birr) while Angela stayed with the reclaim belt. When I got back Angela had found the other bag. It had fallen off the belt and it was by pure chance that she had spotted it when she changed position. When we finally got out into the arrivals area, it was 8:15!

 

Our local representative was nowhere to be seen, we waited and waited, still no one. I called the local agent the driver was apparently on his way and was stuck in traffic. We waited and waited and over the next hour I called the office another 3 or 4 times and was given various stories. Angela was getting very upset.

 

Eventually a driver showed up with a board with our name on it and we were taken to the car. His English was not good but from what we could understand he had been waiting in the car park for us for as long as we had been waiting inside for him.

 

On the way to the hotel we made a stop and picked up someone from the local agents, Mrs Bethlehem. She was very sweet and explained to us what had happened, the driver who usually can get into the arrivals area was refused today. Airport security is tight and this happens from time to time. If we had known upfront or had been instructed during one of our calls we could have made our own way outside.

 

Addis is a growing, bustling African city. There is a lot of development going on with the building of much needed infrastructure in the way of roads, railways (very impressive), factories and offices. Alongside houses, condos and shopping Malls. Of course there is still a lot of poverty, shanty towns, people sleeping rough, livestock on the streets, etc.

 

We reached the hotel, Jupiter Kasanchis, and met out Addis guide, Thomas, just as breakfast was ending so we went straight to breakfast. Everyone was very nice to us and got us whatever we needed. At the end of Breakfast Thomas and Mrs Bethlehem joined us and we worked out the itinerary for the next day and a half whilst we were in Addis.

 

The rest of the day for us was an at leisure day. We took a welcome shower and crashed out for a few hours. Despite us having a room on the 7th floor and at the side of the building it was noisy.

 

In the late afternoon we headed down to the busy bar for a couple of beers. The bar is a popular hangout for locals to check their e-mails and surf the web. There were dozens of lone people staring at laptops and nursing a beer.

 

The flight and the morning’s stress had knocked us for six so we ordered a bottle of (local) wine and headed up to the restaurant for an early dinner. The wine was excellent the food hit and miss.

 

We crashed out by 9pm, the night was restless. It was Saturday night and there was a bar across the street. The noise spilled out into the road and there was screaming and shouting into the small hours.

 

Our first day in Addis didn’t quite go to plan.

 

Day 3 Sun 4th October

Addis and surrounds

 

We were up at 7:30 for a splendid buffet breakfast and met by Thomas at 9:00 for a drive out to the Born Free centre in Ensessakotteh.

 

The drive was very scenic once we got out of the centre of Addis. Lots of green fields, kids playing football and plentiful birdlife. Thomas, as did all of guides during the trip, asked us if this was what we were expecting Ethiopia to be like. The western conception still seems to be very much a remnant of what we saw in the 80s through the Live Aid events which is not very representative of the country at all. Fortunately we were a little better informed.

 

We reached our destination around 9:45

 

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and were hooked up with one of the centre’s guides. I’m pretty useless at remembering guides names but it was something along the lines of Milli. He was really animated and enthusiastic about the centre as we made our way up to the main building and took a tour of the new visitors centre. Which was still WiP but looking very impressive.

 

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The area is reclaimed farmland that Born Free are managing and allowing to grow back into forest. It is already attracting wildlife from the surrounding area with regular visits from leopard and hyena after dark. There is also abundant bird life it would be a great place to overnight and wake up to a dawn chorus. They just need a lodge or a couple of tents and someone to host.

 

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We spent a couple of hours walking around the grounds and visiting the various animals that had been rescued from illegal trade, orphaned or injured.

 

Baboons

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Lions

 

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And lots of orphaned Cheetah cubs, victims of smuggling and destined for the pet trade in the middle east. Ethiopia is a transport hub for these poor creatures.

 

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We bumped into newly appointed animal care manager Stuart Robertson a couple of times on our tour and had a great chat with him about the centre and oddly honey badgers of which he is a great fan (he has looked after the infamous Stoffel in the past).

 

We left left around 12pm, I think Thomas was expecting our visit to only last an hour. We made our way back to Addis via a dam, didn’t stop as it was getting late, and took lunch at Lucy’s which is right next to the museum and has a lovely garden.

 

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(We sat under the TV you can see in the right hand corner which was a tad annoying).

 

I had my 1st taste of injera with a spicy chicken stew (wat). The wat was as advertised a nice thick broth with a single skinny chicken drumstick and an egg. I did not enjoy the injera at all. Injera is a spongy textured pancake made from fermented tef, a very fine grain unique to Ethiopia. It has a sour taste which I did not enjoy one bit.

 

After lunch we spent a good hour or so exploring the museum and it’s grounds

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The skeleton known as Lucy is on the ground floor

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There are plenty of examples of paintings, artifacts, robes (and plenty of dust) , etc from across the ages

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Next we visited the “Trinity Cathedral”

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and was surprised to find the grave of Sylvia Pankhurst

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We had a quick look around inside as a congregation was due to start we didn’t have long. The church also houses the mausoleum of haile selassie and his wife tucked away in a dark corner.

 

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Eventually we returned to the hotel, tried to order a cup of tea but ended up with tea with milk (hot milk with a teabag dunked in it which was pretty horrendous).

 

Dinner was a little better than the previous evenings. The soup had flavour tonight.

 

Another restless night with some impromptu sax playing coming from over the road. We didn’t sleep much.

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optig

@@IamFisheye I can't wait to see more of your report. After Dzsanga-Sangha National park in the Central African Republic and Zakouma National Park in Chad there's literally nowhere in the world I'd like to visit more for a wide variety of reasons. I'm especially excited because Ethiopia's tourist infrastructure is improving.

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Atravelynn

Wonderful you saw Lucy. Your account of the arrival and visa procedures is helpful so we know what we might encounter. The animals in the Born Free operation look healthy. Did you get to the donkey sanctuary? Your itinerary is comprehensive and impressive.

 

Thanks for the distemper info. I know there had been a bad outbreak.

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pault

Sylvia Pankhurst and Haile Selassie seem strange bedfellows.

 

A year to get to the first activities has to be a record. Very welcome though. I had stopped looking forward to this but I'll start again now.

 

 

Edit: Not so strange bedfellows as it turns out. I wasn't aware of the Ethiopia thing. Very interesting!

Edited by pault

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xelas

And after reading your detailed part 1 of your trip report, also the rest of us will be better informed about Ethiopia! It was a long hiatus, but obviously well worth to wait!

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optig

I noticed the photo of a painting which has a hammer and sickle painted in it. I have done as much research about the

"white terror" which went on during the reign of the derg led by the infamous Colonel Mengitsu. It's estimated that a

minimum of 300,000 Ethiopians were victims of it and probably far more. They died from famine,civil war,torture and arbitrary

imprisonment. It was during this period that Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia after a long civil war.

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optig

http://allafrica.com/stories/201701240748.html

 

This is welcome news because it shows that the Ethiopian government is continually upgrading it's infrastructure in an effort to attract more investment. I'm already

seeing that Ethiopia's tourist infrastructure has been upgraded and without a doubt it will improve further. I have no doubt that more parts of this vast,gorgeous and varied

country will be open to tourists. I also hope that the government cuts out hunting of either endangered species or animals which have too limited a population in Ethiopia

to make hunting them a viable option; leopards,and lions.

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IamFisheye

Day 4 Mon 5 Oct

Addis to Lalibela

 

We were up at 5am for a spot of breakfast and a 6am pick up as we had a 7:40 flight to Lalibela. The roads of Addis were empty and it only took 15 minutes to reach the airport. However it seemed like the whole of the city were at the airport. The main entrance to the domestic airport was absolute chaos. There were a couple of x-ray machines and a number of queues for them. No one knew in advance what they were supposed to remove and put into the trays for scanning so everything was being removed at the last minute when airport security asked. It was a real scramble to get through and keep hold of our luggage but incredibly we did without incident.

 

After checking in and several more security checks we made the flight and after at least one stop we reached Lalibela by 10am and met our guide and driver (names forgotten). The airport is someway from town in a beautiful rural area, which by the amount of development going on won’t be for too long.

 

On the way to Lalibela we stopped off at a viewpoint which looked over the valley from where we had driven. It was a popular tourist spot as other people that came in our flight had stopped there too and the enterprising locals had a few sheets laid out with the hope of selling their wares.

 

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We continued up the hill and into town. The first thing any tourist coming from the airport is going to see is the tin roofed houses that stand on the edge of town. The local people have been displaced by the ministry of culture. They have been compensated and moved out of their beautiful round houses from the centre of town and down the hill. The older round houses are now to be used as artisan workshops, tourist centres, etc. but were empty at the time of our visit.

 

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We reached the hotel in good time and had plenty of time to relax, get cleaned up and have a hearty lunch. The Mountain View hotel lived up to it’s name, it’s on the far side of the town and overlooks another valley. Here’s a view from our balcony.

 

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After lunch, one of the best we had had in Ethiopia so far, we were met by our guide at 2pm for our first tour of the rock hewn churches, the Northern cluster. On the way from the airport to the hotel Angela had mentioned to him that she was interested in the Falasha and would like to visit one of the remaining abandoned villages. When we met him at 2pm he gave Angela a book to borrow. It was written (and had been recently signed) by an American friend of his that helped the last of the Falasha move to Israel in the 1990s. On Wings of Eagles: The Secret Operation of the Ethiopian Exodus by Micha Feldman. More of which later.

 

Our visit to Lalibela had just missed a major pilgrimage and the entrance to the 1st church was a little like the day after Glastonbury. Not quite a campsite but plenty of sleeping mats and blankets sprawled over the area leading to our 1st church. This picture doesn’t really show the scene too well.

 

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Almost all of the churches in Lalibela are working churches, as in people come to worship regularly. There does not seem to be a time for tourists to arrive and leave by and as a consequence there seems to be a little conflict between tourism and worship. With regular worshipers and pilgrims becoming easy props for tourists photographs. I always find this kind of thing invasive and do not feel comfortable in photographing people praying, etc. There are also a few tourists that are completely unsympathetic and I was quite shocked to see photographers with enormous lenses poking them into people's faces.

 

There is also little to no control over who can go where and in what direction. So you have people clamoring over the structures, battling to get up and down rather unsafe and steep stairs or around very narrow ledges in both directions. This can not be good for the rock and will result in unnatural rapid erosion.

 

The other thing you will notice is that the majority of the churches are covered with good quality roofing suspended by sturdy steel structures. This is all part of the conservation of the churches. It seems like the Italian’s attempt to preserve them during their brief occupation was fairly poor and unsympathetic, i.e. using concrete to seal cracks, they caused more damage than they cured and as a consequence some of the churches weather sealing that had stood for 100s of years had been compromised.

 

Outside Biete Medhane Alem

 

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Pilgrims, Biete Medhane Alem

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Exit, Biete Medhane Alem

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Inside Biete Medhane Alem

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Inside Biete Medhane Alem

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Inside Biete Medhane Alem

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View from Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary)

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Tourists, Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary)

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inside Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary)

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Pilgrims, Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary)

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Door hinge, Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary)

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Shoe logisitics

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Shoe guardians

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Pilgrim

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Saint carved into the wall of Bet Golgotha (access for men only)

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After the tour it was back to the hotel for a couple of beers on the balcony and watch the night close in.

 

New developments on the hillside

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pault

Oh this is really nice. Gives me a great feel for the place - and the logisitcs too. Looks quite a bit chaotic and quite a bit amazing in those churches. Was half a day there enough for you?

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IamFisheye

Thanks everyone for your comments so far.

 

@@Atravelynn we visited the Donkey Sanctuary while we were in Bahir Dar, so I’ve yet to get to hat part of the journey. Yes there was distemper and I heard there was a bad outbreak in Bale after our visit. The Wolf project are fighting the threat carried by domestic dogs alongside the rabies threats. The wolves that you will see in my later posts have different coloured ear tags to identify what shots they have so far received.

 

@@pault we did two nights in Lalibela, which equated to around 1 and 1/2 days around the sites. The 2nd day I will cover in my next post.

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IamFisheye

Day 5 Tue 6 Oct

Lalibela

 

Today’s tour starts at 8:30 with a visit to possibly the most famous of all the rock-hewn churches, Bet Giyorgis (St George's). As we got there so early we almost have the place to ourselves except for the prison detail who are employed to keep the grass back and are busy at work.

 

​Old tree on the approach to St Georges

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This one of the few churches that is not yet covered to preserve it. To access the church you enter a deep channel to the rear of the structure. It’s quite narrow and steep. The church is a little disappointing on the inside. It holds similar artefacts to the others and is dark inside.

 

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I liked the modernisation of this chest. The original design has a number of threaded wooden ‘bolts’ that screw into the top and need to be undone to open it. Someone had just taken a hacksaw to the side and put in a hinged and padlocked plywood door to save on the hassle.

 

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Next was a walk along the road to look at a cemetery in the valley from afar and a hill above us that had some significance that I can no longer recall. The road was also being surfaced as part of the new infrastructure that will be changing the town forever.

 

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We doubled back and walked down to what looked like a small pasture. I thought we were going to stop and have a rest but as we got to the far end of the field and up to the rock face that bordered it we came to a small entrance that led into a dark cavern that we needed some light to guide us through. On the other side we came to a path cut into a channel in the rock. We passed an underground water supply where we found a priest and his helpers collecting some ‘holy’ water in a couple of old yellow plastic cans (Still regretting not getting a shot of that).

 

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Angela making a speedy exit from the dark cavern / tunnel (shutter speed was way too slow)

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The channel is part of a network of ‘secret’ paths that lead from one church to another. We eventually came to a wide opening where there was a large number of pilgrims queuing before another dark hole beneath some rather rickety looking scaffolding where we waited and rested for a while while the pilgrims posed with us and had their photos taken with us.

 

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Pilgrims went in and different pilgrims came out. The hole was the opening to a tunnel that would lead us from ‘Purgatory to Babylon’. It was pitch black, we were not allowed to use a torch or any other light source and it took us a very long time to move what I imagine was not very far. We could hear the cheers of other groups of people as they emerged into the light at the other end. The journey finally delivered us to Babylon or Bet Gabriel-Rafael, part of the Southeastern cluster of churches. Where some serious chanting was in full swing inside the church.

 

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Some of the artwork on the church walls

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We had another grand tour of the churches, three or four more I lost count. The crowds were like the day before ridiculous with people clambering over parts of the structure. There are no rails to help people or prevent undesired footfall. This was low season I would hate to visit at Christmas or Easter when the crowds arrive.

 

Angela beside the stairs we had just descended to get to Bet Emanuel

 

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Pilgrims, Bet Emanuel

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Exit hole from Bet Emanuel into the natural trench that surrounds the churches

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Inside Bet Emanuel

 

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Natural trench

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Tree outside the trench

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Stalls outside Bet Mercurios

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Inside Bet Mercurios

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outside Bet Gabriel-Rafael

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Bet Emanuel

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Graves, Bet Emanuel

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Bet Emanuel (exit hole to bottom left)

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On our way out we visited another graveyard,

 

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IamFisheye

Day 5 Tue 6 Oct

Lalibela - continued ...

 

Then we made our way to attend a coffee ceremony. Another big thing in Ethiopia, it’s not just for the tourists, but how they take their coffee. Beans are taken from a fresh state to the liquid in your cup over a sequence of convoluted processes. Everywhere you go there will be an open fire, even inside airport departure lounges, roasting coffee beans.

 

The coffee was accompanied by some rather nice homemade snacks and Arak, a homemade honey wine which I didn’t like too much except that it was rather strong.

 

Angela checking out trinkets at the coffee shop.

 

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We had an option for lunch, we could either go back to our hotel. Which was way back up at the top of town or we could stay in the valley and go somewhere close by. We chose Hotel Lalibela, it was good but not as good as the Mountain View.

 

After lunch we had an out of town excursion to the cave monastery, Nakutolab. We had already passed it and seen it from a distance on the way in from the airport. Now it was time to take a bumpy ride through a settlement and head on down a steep set of stairs cut into the hillside. Before that we were invited to take a look around the museum.

 

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While I was taking my shoes off and preparing to enter the building our guide handed Angela his phone. We thought it was another call from our ground agents who had been calling us every other day to make sure everything was still running smoothly after the airport incident. It was however Micha Feldman who was in the country and working leading a tour of American tourists. They had a bit of a chat and he gave her some advice on where best to see a Falasha village.

 

Ticket Office

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And the Monastery, tucked inside a cave

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The outside of the monastery

 

Chimes

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Granary

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Old man under a tree

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The cave is sealed off by a modern brick wall. A door in the middle hides a courtyard and a church.

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The church has some of the usual imagery

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And a collection of stone bowls that catch the dripping water from the ceiling collecting holy water..

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Outside of the church there is a metal cabinet where all the churches riches are stored

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The priest modelled a selection of crowns and sceptres for us

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And then showed us a few pages from his bible

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Visit over and done it was back to the hotel for another sunset, beer and an excellent pizza for dinner.

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xelas

Those churches are as fascinating as those in Meteora! Great photography again.

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pault

That latest set of pictures is really nice. Fascinating places.

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IamFisheye

Day 6 Wed 7 Oct

Lalibela - Gondar - Simien Mountains

 

Today was another day of travel (so not many pictures). We were up for breakfast at 7:30, packed by 9:00 and off the airport by 9:30.

 

Lalibela airport must have one of the most pleasant roads in the world. Lined with green fields and colourful flowering aloe vera of various colours.

 

On the other hand the airport security was extreme, we were the only people there this early and we still had our passports checked twice before we even got into the building. No one was at the check in desk and we had to wait for some time to check in. The plane was also late, we waited for around 3 hours for a flight that was going to take 20 minutes. Eventually it arrived, another security check to get from the main airport building to the departure ‘lounge’ and then straight onto the plane.

 

Arty high key shot of the plane at Lalibela

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Plane plus scenery

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Gonder from the air a beautiful patchwork of green fields

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Plane on the ground at Gonder

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Gonder on the ground did not look anywhere near as nice as it did from the air. It’s a sprawling city slowly spilling over into the countryside.

 

We were met by guide number three who took us to meet guide number four, Getch. We had a nice lunch at the four sisters restaurant

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which had some rather entertaining salt cellars.

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Then it was a lengthy 3 hour drive up into the Simien Mountains. As we were running late and had to get to the National Park office in Debark before it closed there was no time to stop and photograph the wonderful scenery. The landscape was very lush and green not too different from parts of England and Wales.

 

We reached Debark in good time, Angela went over to the Park office with Getch to register while I stayed with the vehicle and watched the local traffic pass by. Registration seemed to take an age and when Angela and Getch returned I was introduced to our new travel companion, A mandatory SMNP scout who was to accompany us on our travels through the mountains and offer us protection from “bandits”. We made a detour on the way out of town via the police station where the scout picked up a vintage AK47.

 

Eventually we were back on our way to the mountains and the Simien Mountain Lodge. We arrived at last light where it was already getting chilly. There were a number of vans with tour groups that the lodge clearly caters for, it being the only option,at the time of writing other than the campsites that are used for walking holidays.

 

Dinner was a decent buffet, then it was off to bed for an early start.

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IamFisheye

Day 7 Thu 8 Oct

Simien Mountains

 

We were up at 6:45 and I wish I’d got up just that little bit earlier for the sunrise as the colours in the sky were impressive and it was a promising clear start to the day.

 

Our first view of the Simiens in daylight through a misty window

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Breakfast was at 7:30 and we were out of the lodge at 8:30 for a walk along the escarpment.

 

Camera choice today was D7100 & 18-300mm for convenience while walking. EM-1 and 50-200mm in my backpack for any wildlife encounters.

 

We were around half way between the lodge and the cliff edge when we encountered our first improvised tourist stall and found out about the local mountain kids tendency to stalk tourists and try and sell them their handicrafts by laying a small selections of trinkets in their path.

 

Down at the escarpment we were treated to stunning views across the valleys and up the hills above us.

 

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The paths were not only precarious in places but tough going with hidden tree roots and slippery rocks. We were shown plenty of interesting flora and fauna some familiar from home, fennel, asparagus, thyme, sage, some interesting flowers

 

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or elsewhere in Africa such as this Sodom Apple

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There were plenty of birds hovering on the thermals, we were lucky enough to spot a white backed vulture fly by (not a great shot)

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A small troop of Gelada were having some fun on a hillside below us.

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We waited for them to get closer but they started to move up the hill towards the same part of the path that we were walking towards. So we just carried on walking.

 

Photography was difficult on the approach as the light was behind them

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But we managed to get past and onto the small meadow where the troop was grooming and grazing. I sat in the grass amongst them pulled my other camera out of my backpack and spent sometime photographing them. They are gentle and tolerant creatures and really didn’t appear to be disturbed by our presence.

 

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IamFisheye

Day 7 Thu 8 Oct

Simien Mountains pt 2

 

It turned out that we were fairly close to the road and our car came and picked us up and drove us a short distance to our lunch spot, which was another short hike along a hillside. The views should have been spectacular but we fell victim to some heavy cloud cover.

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Similar bench to our picnic bench, taken from our picnic spot

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View from our bench, balanced precariously on the edge of the cliff

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Getch and a bit of a view

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Signs like this can be found all over the Simiens

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After lunch we walked back to the road to meet the car and then took another short drive to Campsite 1 where we took another short stroll to take in another stunning view.

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Angela at campsite 1 with the scales that are used to prevent pack mules and donkeys being overloaded when transporting camping gear, supplies and luggage from camp to camp.

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Then it was time to head back to the lodge for some well deserved rest. On the drive back I spotted three klipspringers that managed to slide into the bushes before I got a decent shot of a couple of them

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There was a large troop of Gelada just outside the lodge and we spotted a small group of bachelors behind our room that were easy to get close to through the long grass

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Our room/cottage/hut, we had the last one in the row

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Sunset

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A few well deserved beers before dinner

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The restaurant was heaving with groups from France, Holland and Germany. Dinner was another good quality buffet. After dinner it was time to hit the sack, a heavy fog had descended upon us which made the path back to the room a little difficult to negotiate. It did however keep us concealed and we spotted a common jackal sniffing around the huts by the shadow cast by the lights on the path.

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pault

I am really enjoying this - and glad that you're giving us so much detail to enjoy.The flowers in the Simiens! So lovely. And combined with those views it looks stunning. Brilliant trees too.

 

I'm guessing that you're pausing here to get another batch of photos done, so a couple of questions (if not, save your responses until later -or just craft them into the trip report :))..

 

Firstly, I suffer from vertigo - as a physica balance thing at height, rather than a fear of heights - in fact I quite like heights and certainly enjoy views. But obviously being alongisde really steep drops for any extended period of time can be really uncomfortable, and even dangerous (or at least it feels dangerous!). Are there ways around the Simiens for me?

 

Secondly, how do people react to being photographed in general? Both as individuals and as part of a scene? You took a lot of shots in Labelia - revisited the Labelia part befoire reading the latest additions too, and it was even better second time around. Pretty amazing place.

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michael-ibk

Gorgeous shots of the Simien mountainscapes, just beautiful. And of course I do love the Gelada pictures - and the Klippspringers!

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SafariChick

Beautiful photos of the Simiens! There is now a new lodge in the Simiens as well called Limalimo Lodge. It looks lovely from photos.

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optig

Did you see Walia ibex? When I go to the Simien Mountains I'll be staying at Limalmo Lodge because they not only offer walking but drives by 4x4. Thus I'll be able to see not geladas, and klipspringers but also Walia ibex and hopefully lammergiers. I'd like to stay there for five days.

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IamFisheye

@@pault Thanks for your kind words. I don't think your vertigo would be too much of a problem, just talk to your guides and they will take you on easier routes. There are gravel roads that cut through the region. You might want to give the waterfall that I'll detail in my next installment a miss tho'.

 

Regarding the photography, I think most people in the tourist areas are use to it. If they don't want their picture taken they will let you know (hand on face, pull a weird face or just shout no). There are also those who will hassle you for a tip after a shot. I hear the Omo valley is becoming notorious for tipping.

 

@@SafariChick @@optig we were planning on using Limalmo but at the time of travel it still was not open so had to opt for the only option.

 

@@optig we did see Ibex and a Juvenile lammergeier, they will be in my next installment (no pics of the lammergeier).

 

Also worth an additional mention is our Guide Getch. We were not his usual clients he usually leads adventure tours rafting in the valley or walking between Lalibela and the mountains. He told of us about his mountain biking groups too. He doesn't ride but runs in front of the bikes. Here's a film he was involved in, he's the guy on the right in the blue top.

 

https://www.pinkbike.com/news/ethiopias-simien-mountains-giro-2015.html

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Atravelynn

Now I want to go to Simien Mountains! Love the Geladas in their various daily activities.

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IamFisheye

Day 8 Fri 9 Oct

Simien Mountains

 

Another early start today, 8:30, with a drive across the mountains to Chenneh to look for Wolves and Ibex. The first planned stop was a walk to see a waterfall, Jinbar, but before we got that far we spotted a small group of Gelada on the side of the road where a couple of other cars had already stopped.

 

The small strip of land between the road and cliff edge made them very easy to photograph (no idea who the photographer on teh left is)

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I loved this little guy’s antics

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Another 5 minutes along the road we got out of the car again and began our walk to the water fall.

 

Across a meadow

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Down a steep hillside and across a stream

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Up the other side and over a precarious stack of rocks, that I crawled over. It was about 1000 feet straight down on the left and not much better to the right. I went over on my hands and knees.

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The reward was this view from a tiny strip of rock and grass, sadly the sun was right in front of us making photography very difficult.

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There were plenty of birds taking advantage of the thermals

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And a few Gelada below us on the rock face

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Then it was back over the rocks the way we came, (view looking down from the safer side of the crossing).

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And then back down the valley and back up the other side of the hill

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Looking back at where we had come from, it was now getting busy with the people we had passed on our return journey

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We got back to the car and continued our drive to Chenneh. The scenery was spectacular with red hot pokers lining the road, giant lobelia, great valleys and draw dropping cliff faces.

 

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We had a wander around the campsite, checked out a few mole rat holes but no sign of any wolves or Ibex.

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Campsite to the right in this picture, you can just see the roofs of some of the huts

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We saw a juvenile bearded vulture (lammergeier) circling in the thermals, no pic, and an alpine chat hopping around the foot paths.

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No ibex in the valley below

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Another flower I do not have the name of

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Lunch was taken once again on a bench precariously placed a couple of feet away from a very steep vertical drop. The view was stunning. We were joined for lunch by a thick billed raven, Getch had pre warned us that these birds are habituated and will steal any unguarded food so we had to be very careful with our packed lunch!

 

Picnic spot was approx to the left of centre of this picture.

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Thick Billed Raven takes a bow

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Picnic Bench

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View

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IamFisheye

Day 8 Fri 9 Oct

Simien Mountains pt 2

 

After lunch we decided to drive on a little further to continue looking for the Walia Ibex as there had been no sightings that morning. We travelled perhaps a mile or so up the hill when a herd came out of the bushes on one side of the road and crossed on a bend.

 

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Angela and I got out of the car and walked along the road towards them, they were settling on a dusty pocket of land. A lorry/bus full of locals passed us and I was worried that the ibex may run off luckily they stayed put and we were able to get closer and watch the youngsters frolic and practice their rutting skills. The male was a handsome fellow indeed with a fine set of horns.

 

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Then they just got up and went back into the bush the way they had come.

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Back down the hillside and just past the campsite we had another surprise a reedbuck was winding it’s way around the outermost huts. Quite rare for this region apparently and very skittish.

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The journey back was as picturesque as the journey out.

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It’s hard to believe that these red hot pokers we grow back home grow almost like weeds on the side of the road.

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As we can around a bend and down a slope we came across a large group of Gelada moving across a small hill and meadow. A few cars had already stopped and we followed suite, traversing a large ditch to get onto the hill and in front of the ‘herd’ as they came down the hill.

 

A couple of wide angle shots taken as we climbed the hill

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It was similar to being parked in the middle of a migrating herd of antelope. I just sat as I had the previous day in the grass and took in the action and photographed as it happened. We had youngsters playing hide n seek around the bushes, babies hitching a ride with their mothers, adults grazing and a few batchelor boys trying their luck with taking over leadership of the group.

 

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A challenge for leadership

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No idea who these guys were filming for

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We were back at the lodge early enough to get cleaned up and enjoy a few beers before dinner again. This evening the lodge were showing Chadden Hunter’s insightful documentary about the Gelada, it would have been lovely to have seen this before we had met the apes.

 

Another superb buffet dinner and then off to bed.

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