Ethiopia

Highlands of Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Highlands are a continuous landmass of rugged mountains and plateaus between 5,000 and 15,000 ft. It is the home of coffee, distance runners, and of an ancient sect of Christianity. Our first stop was Lalibela, home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of monolithic rock churches. These churches date from the 7th to 13th centuries and are hewn from solid rock. We spent a day running and hiking through the mountains around Lalibela with a local guide, Desta. We were able to cover a 3-day trekking loop before dinner because running is awesome.

We then traveled by car to Aksum, the ancient capital of the Aksumite Empire, and onward to the Semien Mountains. We were eager to see the Gelada baboons because of the segment about them in the BBC Planet Earth series. They are large herbivorous monkeys with sculpted faces, large teeth, and a luxurious coat. By coincidence, the manager at the Limalimo lodge in the Simien mountains was an old friend of a friend. He had played lacrosse in college with Dylan Bowman. Small world!

Ethiopia is a country with tremendous potential. In the capital, Addis, there is a hum of excitement about future ventures. But it is not the easiest country in which to travel. The roads aren’t that great and although we loved the food, not everyone does. We got fleas when we visited the churches in Lalibela, and it can be difficult to say no to every boy and girl that asks for help so they can continue their studies. But the Ethiopia we saw may not exist in 10 years, and I am so glad we were able to experience it and am excited to see what comes next.

Ethiopia adopted Christianity in the 4th century, making it one of the first nations to do so. At the time, people were encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once in their life. But with the spread of Islam starting in the 7th century, it became very difficult to do so. Consequently, the king commissioned the construction of a new 'domestic' Jerusalem, and so it was that the rocky mountains of Lalibela came to be the religious center of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia adopted Christianity in the 4th century, making it one of the first nations to do so. At the time, people were encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once in their life. But with the spread of Islam starting in the 7th century, it became very difficult to do so. Consequently, the king commissioned the construction of a new 'domestic' Jerusalem, and so it was that the rocky mountains of Lalibela came to be the religious center of Ethiopia.
Sean Pont
The pillars and archways are hundreds of years old, but you can still see the chisel marks.
The pillars and archways are hundreds of years old, but you can still see the chisel marks.
Sean Pont
The trails around Lalibela are in excellent condition because they are the main thoroughfares for the farmers in the area. There are no roads up here; all goods are transported by foot or by donkey.
The trails around Lalibela are in excellent condition because they are the main thoroughfares for the farmers in the area. There are no roads up here; all goods are transported by foot or by donkey.
Sean Pont
YiOu at a weekly farmer's market. Stable weather and enviably fertile soil allow for surprisingly high populations even here, high up in the mountains above Lalibela. This market is at 12,000 feet.
YiOu at a weekly farmer's market. Stable weather and enviably fertile soil allow for surprisingly high populations even here, high up in the mountains above Lalibela. This market is at 12,000 feet.
Sean Pont
Look closely at the opposite side of the valley and note how every arable piece of land is under cultivation. Terracing began thousands of years ago and was one of the key factors that led to the formation of the Aksumite Empire, which was essentially the Rome of East Africa.
Look closely at the opposite side of the valley and note how every arable piece of land is under cultivation. Terracing began thousands of years ago and was one of the key factors that led to the formation of the Aksumite Empire, which was essentially the Rome of East Africa.
Sean Pont
Some of the trails around the stone churches were pretty wild.
Some of the trails around the stone churches were pretty wild.
Sean Pont
In the highlands of Ethiopia, you are never alone. No matter how far you roam, no matter how many mountains and valleys you traverse, there are always people around you. There are no tractors to plow the land or cut the hay. Just humans. 100 million humans, and it seems that they all want to say hello. It's endearing, but to be honest it can also become tiresome.
In the highlands of Ethiopia, you are never alone. No matter how far you roam, no matter how many mountains and valleys you traverse, there are always people around you. There are no tractors to plow the land or cut the hay. Just humans. 100 million humans, and it seems that they all want to say hello. It's endearing, but to be honest it can also become tiresome.
Sean Pont
A typical village outside of Aksum.
A typical village outside of Aksum.
Sean Pont
YiOu looks out over the Semien Mountains, home to the Gelada baboon (which is actually a monkey, not a baboon).
YiOu looks out over the Semien Mountains, home to the Gelada baboon (which is actually a monkey, not a baboon).
Sean Pont
The Gelada eats grass and lives in giant social colonies of 100 members or more.
The Gelada eats grass and lives in giant social colonies of 100 members or more.
YiOu Wang