Ethiopian village hike part 1

The most eventful hike I’ve done. I spent three days walking a ~43km loop in the Ethiopian highlands a couple of hours drive from Lalibela. Run by TESFA, the travel arm of a local NGO, 60% of the money from the trek goes to the local community, a good example of sustainable community trekking. Since starting in 2004 they have established 11 camps and 7 lunch spots, and also operate in East Tigray. On the walk there was some incredible scenery and the opportunity to see Ethiopian village life relatively unaffected by tourists.

The hike started on a Saturday, which is market day in Ethiopia. On the drive to the start of the hike we stopped in Dubko for a memorable explore of the main and animal markets. We were the only non-locals there and were amazingly and thankfully almost completely ignored. Despite the seeming chaos, there was an order to it, and it was much quieter than the photos might suggest. In the animal market a bull would cost about USD630 and a donkey about USD180. It was an incredible experience, the opposite of a modern supermarket, but how much of the world works.

After storing our large bags in Gashina we were dropped at the nearby village of Filakit Gereger, where we would return close to in three days time. We had expected four donkeys and rice sacks to put our small bags in, but being Ethiopia three donkeys without any gear other than pieces of rope turned up. We had a great local guide, but he wasn’t the guide we’d been dealing with before the trek in Lalibela, but a last minute replacement. The previous guide had made his own business cards seemingly promoting himself to General Manager, rather his actual guide status. This was going to be a memorable hike…

After a few minutes walk we left the school children who had gathered around us for our “10 minute walk to lunch”, which took 40 minutes. Along the way we came across an old lady lying on her back with firewood scattered around her. We tried to help her to her feet but she was very unsteady, so we left her sat up to recover a little. It’s hard to know what to do in situations like this, with no common language to communicate.

With this we’d lost sight of our donkeys and had to hope that our belongings hadn’t disappeared with them.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but probably not fields of recently harvested wheat being winnowed to remove the chaff.

We reached three tukuls, traditional Ethiopian buildings, which housed the kitchen, toilet and eating area at our lunch spot. We were served injura, which Ethiopians eat 2-3 times a day, but most visitors are reluctant to eat more than 2-3 times in their entire trip to Ethiopia. It is definitely an acquired taste which I found just about edible. It became more endurable once I was able to break the rules and borrow a spoon to eat the lentil and potato dishes directly off the top of the injera.

After lunch we walked along rocky paths with towering cacti like plants along the sides. We were also passed by two men carrying a litter with the body of an 80 year old local man who had just died, covered up with blankets. The first dead body I’ve seen hiking…

There were a few buildings like this along the trek, with a slight lean…

Ethiopians are very religious, and we passed a number of churches, but only got close to a couple. The round church made of a mud mixture is very typical, the colourful modern one far less so.

There was remarkably little litter around, a welcome change from travelling in India or South-East Asia. There were however endless eucalyptus trees around, which were introduced as they are fast growing and are good for firewood. They need a lot of water though, which isn’t ideal in an often dry country.

After a few hours walking we reached the escarpment, which offered panoramic views of the landscape below. This was quite typical of the hike, most of which was spent crossing relatively flat, if often extremely rocky, farmland and through villages, before arriving at the edge of an escarpment with epic views.

Heading around the escarpment, with the path scarily close to the edge in places, after spending the afternoon walking ~15km we arrived at Mequat Maryam, our home for the night. Brad Pitt stayed here in 2004 when it was just established.

It would be hard to find a more scenic spot in which to spent New Year’s Eve, though we were all so tired from the walk and the heat during it that none of us made it anywhere near midnight before turning in. We stayed in tukul’s with surprisingly comfortable concrete beds.

The site had a loo with an incredible view, though reached by a set of steep steps close to the edge, not ideal when one of the group who had been feeling unwell fell down them…

There had been a shower tent but it’d been blown away, there were only four glasses for seven people, and not enough plates or cutlery. A few small things that would make the experience slightly more comfortable if less memorable.

To end with a quite spectacular sunset.

Author: jontycrane

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