OnSafari: Dispatch from Ethiopia

OnSafari: Dispatch from Ethiopia

dispatchfromethiopiaBleeding heart baboons, some of the rarest animals on earth and some of the most stunning scenery, together with Africa’s very ancient culture. That was Ethiopia hosted by EWT owner, Kathleen Morgan, completed today.

They then spent two days in the very remote Simien Mountains.

“The Simiens were wonderful. Incredibly beautiful scenery,”Kathleen emailed.

The group had a “wonderful” experience with the Geladas, the rare (although not endangered) “bleeding heart” baboon found only in these mountains. The EWT group basically sat in a field amongst them, taking pictures and watching them interact.

They also saw the endangered walia ibex and perhaps the rarest of all, the Simien Fox!

Few visitors ever see this rarest of the world’s wolves. There are fewer than 400 and, in fact, most of those are actually found in a southern Ethiopian range, the Bale Mountains, so this group was particularly lucky!

There is only one lodge in the Simien. “The lodge is ok, but it was absolutely freezing. The water heater and underfloor heating are charged by solar panels. Only two rooms had hot water, one had warm water, and the others had only cold water. Everyone’s floors were freezing. We had lots of blankets and duvets and hot water bottles! The food was ok,” Kathleen reported.

While there are not safari vehicles in Ethiopia of the sort common in East Africa, it was necessary to use 4-wheel drive Nissans to climb the 11-12,000′ into the high roads of the Simiens which Kathleen described as “awful!”

“Narrow, barely allowing two normal cars to pass, and all this with a steep drop at the edge of the road – thousands of feet down to the bottom of a valley. The drivers were incredible.”

“The drive out of the park and to Axum is stunningly beautiful,” she continued. They stopped to photograph colobus and vervet monkeys on the way. EWT guest Joan Lieb who is a veteran traveler of Africa and wild parts of the world, said the villages along the road were the poorest she had ever seen.

Ethiopia was the only country in Africa never colonized, and so it retains absolutely intact its ancient culture. That culture is eclectic, a mixture of very ancient Christianity and animism.

The common “cultural triangle” begins in the city on the southwest tip of the great Lake Tana, where ancient Coptic island monasteries are still overseen by native priests who speak and write a language, Gheez, that has existed for more than a thousand years.

On the northeast corner of the lake is Gondar, where some of the first European settlements (in this case, Portugese castles and churches) built as 15th and 16th century missionary priests, mostly from Portugal, tried to find the mythical Prester John.

After the Simien Mountains, the group spent two days in Axum. The priests who oversee the Church of St. Mary’s claim to be stewards protecting the Arc of the Covenant. When Kathleen’s group arrived, the choir was singing and chanting with their drums and sistra because it was a holy day.

The EWT group was beckoned forward into the choir area. The women sat off to the side, but they motioned Ed Walbridge over to a bench amidst the singers. They gave Ed a prayer stick (those tall ones you can lean on) and a sistrum. He stood and swayed and paid very close attention and swung his sistrum at all the right times.

“Everyone thought it was wonderful!” Kathleen emailed, although Joan Lieb and Kathleen expressed serious disappointment when the priests brought out a precious 500-year old Bible to show them and seemed not to treat it with the care of an antiquity.

After Axum the cultural tour ends with its climax at Lalibela. In the 13th century the dynasty of kings in Ethiopia changed when the rebel Lalibela successfully came to power, claiming he was actually more closely related to the Queen of Sheba than the previous kings.

In thanks to god he vowed to build a new Jerusalem in Ethiopia. This was Lalibela. It took 32 years and begins at the top of the ground and goes down as far as 80 feet, eleven churches carved out of a single massive sandstone.

The combination of very rare animals, remarkable scenery and ancient culture is not something easily experienced on an African safari, but Ethiopia is the place to do so!