I need to confess: I’ve been keeping a secret from you. You had to have been wondering about our spring break, right? We’re at an American school, we had a spring break last year, and we’ve been burning the midnight oil since January.
We had a spring break. What a spring break we had.
We went to Ethiopia.
I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to build any anticipation. Some people don’t like excess anticipation, and we had the trip planned for months. Ethiopia doesn’t have as much background knowledge with people, and I thought it would be a nice surprise : )
Now that we’ve returned from our trip, I can boldly say that I have gone where no Wisconsin-Middle-School-Teacher-Working-In-Kuwait has gone before. We booked the flights in early November, and had months of scouring the internet, staring slaw-jawed at pictures of baboons, castles, mountains, and waterfalls.
Why Ethiopia, you ask? It all started one lackluster evening in Kuwait; I had finished my lesson plans for the following day, swallowed my hummus, sipped my tea, watched my episodes, and reclined on the couch, nibbling on baklava, staring at a map of the world. (Yes, this series of events is a frequent occurrence in my life. Admire or pity me, your choice.) I noticed that Ethiopia was considerably closer than I had originally thought, and that there was a patchwork of national parks and mountain ranges. I called up my girlfriend Abby, and an hour later we booked our tickets.
We couldn’t have made a better choice.
I don’t know how to describe Ethiopia, it was unlike anywhere we’ve ever been.
One of the largest mountain ranges in Africa
Giant smiles and waving hands
Platters of delicious food, meant to be lovingly shared with friends
Pure, simple life and love.
We hired a driver, and are so glad we did. His name is Demiss Mamo, and really felt more like a good friend than a business. We spent all our meals with him, hiked with him, laughed with him, told stories with him, and learned more about Ethiopia with him than we ever could have alone. Demiss was the best driver I’ve ever had, and actually miss him quite a bit. He is a unique soul. Check out his website at http://www.ethiopiandriver.com – he’s even driven for Reuters, BBC, and Oxfam.
Shall we get to the first round of photos?
Snapped out of the car window as we drove from the capital city, Addis Ababa, up to Bahir Dar on Lake Tana. A simple home, a bit nicer than most we saw in the countryside. I can’t believe the hardened mud walls hold up so well, even through the rain.
Our first stop was at an overlook to the Jemma River Gorge. We had a coffee (Ethiopian coffee, mind you! More on that later…) at a lodge that was perched right on the cliff; it was really beautiful.
Our friends Kyle and Abby overlooking the gorge. We have grown really close with them this year, and had a blast with them in Ethiopia. They are a couple that we would love to stay in touch with forever; hopefully we can find space in our new school in Cambodia for them…
The Jemma River is a tributary to the Nile. The gorge is over 1,000 meters deep. The weather was just perfect, and the coffee tasted just right. Paradise.
After our coffee, we began a short hike along the rim of the gorge. There were Gelada Baboons everywhere! We were terrified at first, but our driver laughed and told us they are harmless.
Our hike took us to the Portuguese Bridge, built in the 16th century by the Portuguese. It is still used as a traveling route on market days. They say it was constructed out of limestone and ostrich eggs!
After our diversion in the Jemma Valley, we continued driving North towards our destination, Bahir Dar. I shot the above photo out of the van; like I said, our driver was fantastic! We had a van to ourselves, it was so relaxing and great to be able to spread out. We felt so safe the whole time, and it was so nice to have someone who knew all the directions and the good places to stop and eat.
In the above photo, you may notice the yellow water jugs. We saw them everywhere; it was really humbling to realize that people walk miles each day to get to their water source. They then walk an hour or farther back to their home, only to carefully and meticulously ration the water they’ve transported. And here we are in Kuwait (or America) taking twenty-minute showers. It made me really disappointed in how carelessly we use water in a large part of the world. How easy our lives are, and how mindlessly we are able to live.
From the Jemma Valley we continued north and eventually reached the Blue Nile Gorge. The magnitude of this gorge is inconceivable. I had to find some statistics online after returning, just so that I could conceptualize how large it actually is:
The Blue Nile gorge is 250 miles long.
The Grand Canyon in America is 277 miles long.
The Blue Nile gorge is 1,500m deep, that’s 4,921 feet deep! (If that doesn’t make sense to you, I’ll say that from the top of the gorge to the bottom is almost 5,000 feet. Or that the walls of the gorge rise 5,000 feet from the bottom of the canyon.)
The Grand Canyon is 1,800m deep, or 6,000 feet deep.
As you can see, they’re comparable in size. We visited the Grand Canyon of Africa. Pretty cool, huh?
The Blue Nile River at the base of the Blue Nile Gorge. (Those cliff walls are the first in a series of steps of walls; it is far to vast to capture in a single photograph!)
We stopped in a town called Debre Markos for lunch, and Abby and I discovered the most delicious meal on the face of the earth: Beyaynetu. Beyaynetu is an Ethiopian staple food, and is perfect for vegetarians like myself. It is served on injera, which is a sour pancake-like bread. You eat it with your fingers, using the bread as your serving utensil. You pull off a piece of injera, scoop up some lentils/veggies/shiro of your choice, and pop it in your mouth.The whole time we were in Ethiopia Abby and I split beyaynetu, as it was massive each time we ordered it! Needless to say, we ate beyaynetu for every meal.
Another meal of beyaynetu on our trip, complete with local Ethiopian beer. I particularly liked the hot green paper, stuffed with minced onions. Every different item on the injera had it’s own unique flavor and texture. We absolutely devoured it. You will see many more photos of food before I finish talking about Ethiopia…
A fascinating rock sculpture called the Devil’s Nose.
Sean and I passed many hours in the van playing cribbage.
A selection of Ethiopian beer (and Kyle very excited in the background). I particularly liked the Dashen beer, on the far left. Sean preferred St. George. Everyone liked Bedele. Okay, after two years in Kuwait we love any beer.
We spent an afternoon relaxing on the shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. It was so lush and green!
Here’s another food picture, this time an action shot of Abby and I eating injera. This meal, however, is not beyaynetu, but something called shiro. Shiro is made from powdered chickpeas or broadbeans. We would sometimes order a whole platter of shiro and injera, as seen above. Yum!
The Blue Nile Falls.
Sean and I at the Blue Nile Falls.
Hiking to the Blue Nile Falls, I just had to capture this quintessential African tree…
Abby, Kyle, and I waiting for Sean on a bridge near the Blue Nile Falls. It was market day so everyone was taking their animals to the market near Bahir Dar.
A crowded bridge (foot traffic only) on the way to the Blue Nile Falls.
After the Blue Nile Falls we stayed in a gorgeous bed and breakfast called the Lodge Du Chateau in Gonder (Gondar). It had a beautiful terrace overlooking the mountains. We spent many hours playing cards and sipping coffee up there. Paradise.
Storytelling and recapping the day at our hotel in Bahir Dar.
The first night, in Bahir Dar, we stayed at a place called “B & B The Annex”, which felt most like a homestay to me. We woke early in the morning to symphony of birds dancing through the trees. Sean was reading his book, sipping fresh mango juice, and I was giving serious thanks for this gorgeous life we live.
That wraps up the first two days of our trip in Ethiopia! Stay tuned for photos of what has been called the “Camelot” of Africa, the Simien Mountains, baboons, and much more!