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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Baboons, Bridges, and Monasteries - Exploring the Ethiopian Countryside

I hope you enjoyed the first post of my Ethiopia recaps! It was such a great trip with so many unexpected surprises, and I really wanted to highlight the country in these posts. This was my first time in Africa (5 continents down, only 2 to go!!!) and I want to share it with my readers!

I posted pictures on Facebook and they've since gotten a lot of comments and buzz, but for me, it's even more about the story behind the pictures. I've also included more photos for you this time :)

Here goes!

On the morning of our second day we woke up bright and early to begin our journey. We saw many children on their way to school in colourful uniforms.

Colourful uniforms!

We spent the morning driving on our tour bus. I think the trip was around 2 hours, but with our frequent stops, it was more like 3 hours. We realized early on that asking the bus driver if he could stop for a bathroom stop meant pulling over on the highway and trying to find a tree. Our first experience was pretty awkward—5 or 6 ladies trampling into the trees for some privacy. Little did we know that this would soon become the norm, and group highway bathroom stops were a frequent occurrence throughout the next two days (sorry if this is TMI!)!

We finally got to our first main stop, and were blown away by the stunning scenery.

We had the opportunity to visit a local family, and see how they live. It was definitely a sight to see. They had a two-bedroom home which seemed to be mostly constructed of mud, and covered with grass. They had several family members living in the home. There was a family fire, and a kitchen and storage room. They had a few chickens outside. I’m doing a terrible job of explaining, but it was eye-opening, especially since I think their home was probably quite nice compared to other ones we could have seen. Here are some pictures:

We kept driving, and reached our next major stop. We started to walk down a trail. Several of our group members had flip-flops on, but I had runners in the bus. Looking at the trail, I realized that I should probably change my shoes. I have never made such a wise decision in my life. Seriously. The hike quickly got pretty intense, and we were clambering up and down over rocks and steep inclines. The other ladies who had remained in their flip-flops had to get a lot of help from the local guides. We heard a screeching type of sound, and realized there were kids on the other side of the valley. We then realized that they were chasing baboons!! These baboon are gelada baboons which are endemic to Ethiopia! COOL.

The Portuguese bridge is a seemingly random bridge in the middle of nowhere, connecting two valleys. It’s old and crumbly, and very cool J We spent the next hour or so just hanging out on the cliffs – walking close to the baboons, playing on the rocks, climbing up the valley for a perfect photo opportunity, and sitting on cliffs. This hour was absolutely the highlight of the trip for me. I had so much fun climbing around, seeing the baboons, climbing behind the waterfall, and taking ridiculous pictures – both in terms of stunning scenery…

And just plain ridiculous fun! I only wish that we had been told to bring swimsuits, because I would have loved to jump in the water!

After we hiked back up, we ate a delicious lunch (injera again!) and were on our way. An hour later, we arrived at the Debre Libanos Monastery. This is the oldest monastery in Ethiopia, although none of the original buildings remain. We took a guided tour of the museum from a man who I believe was a priest, a monk, and the curator. The tour was quite long and boring, especially since we couldn’t take any pictures. After this, we waited outside the monastery until the current service was over. It was almost eerie to see all of the people praying outside the monastery. It’s an Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Being a non-religious person, I didn’t understand a lot about the religious group I was seeing. The people outside were all extremely devout and seemed to be spending all day outside praying.

Once the service was over, we got to go in after removing our shoes. It was definitely unlike any church I’ve seen before.  The stained glass was stunning. There were several sections in the church and we were invited to look around, take pictures, and pray. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:  

The monastery experience was unique. I had never seen a monastery, and I don’t necessarily think I would go visit a monastery on my own again. However, I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit this one. Ethiopia is known as the birth of Christianity, and although I’m not religious, I can appreciate the incredible amount of faith that I saw.

It took another three or so hours to drive back to the hotel. Most of the bus was sleeping on the way back. When we got back, it was time to go eat dinner and go to a jazz club! I was overly excited to go to a jazz club. The roots of jazz music are based in West Africa (thank you, History of Jazz class), and I was so excited!

 I was a little disappointed. I think my expectations were too high. For one thing, the jazz band just simply wasn’t as good as I was hoping. That’s okay. I’m used to hearing fairly professional jazz musicians who play on professional model horns. Another thing that slightly annoyed me was how touristy the place was, including the music selections. Several of the pieces of music were not authentic jazz at all, and were simply being played for the audience’s benefit. It also took forever for our drinks to come, and I ending up accidentally spilling someone’s drink by colliding with a waitress. It also took a very long time for me to settle my bill. Oh well! It was still an experience, and I still did hear some good music. The singers were especially good. We took our first cabs in Ethiopia back to the hotel after some bartering, and fell asleep.

Our third day was by far the most tiring day yet. Come back tomorrow to read about how I overcame a fear, climbed on the side of a crater, and thought I was going to pass out from altitude sickness. Fun times!

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