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In Travels in Ethiopia, David Buxton wrote that the country “rises up from the wastes of equatorial Africa like an island from the sea.” A particularly beautiful and unexpected island, in time as well as geography. Ethiopia’s history is immense and unique, spanning religions as diverse as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and a host of philosophies we used to blithely call paganism (not to mention Marxism, a grim secular faith Ethiopia wrestled with for years and finally discarded). This trip takes us wide and far in a madly interesting, scenically booming country that “confounds every expectation,” as Philip Briggs writes in his Guide to Ethiopia .“It is the most welcoming, enjoyable and uplifting country I have ever visited.” Local scholar, translator, and friend Worku Sharew helps draw together our observations of this unique history and society with illuminative evening talks in Addis.
We wander in Addis’ churches and museums, and ponder the remains of Lucy, until recently the oldest hominid ever discovered, at the National Archaeological Museum. Now north to Bahir Dar and massive Lake Tana (the source of the Blue Nile—which explains Ethiopia’s strong links with the ancient world of the distant Mediterranean) and on to Gondar, gateway for our excursion into the lofty (just under 15,000 feet) Simien Mountains. (Pay a visit to the “Mountains” episode of the dazzling Planet Earth series, and if you can tear your eyes away from the very compelling cavorting gelada baboons, you will notice that the little-known Simiens are breathtakingly unusual and beautiful mountains.)
Then we wing our way to Lalibela, a mountain stronghold and pilgrimage site of 13 monolithic churches carved out of living, underground rock. North of Lalibela is Axum, a major center of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (its Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion supposedly houses the Ark of the Covenant, and the Queen of Sheba is among the town’s favorite sisters). Completing our historical northern circuit, we fly back to Addis and then far south to Arba Minch and the utterly dissimilar world of Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, where until relatively recently the very existence of a place called Ethiopia was a distant rumor. For the next four and a half days we’ll visit this entrancingly remote area and its sometimes shockingly handsome tribal peoples—the Hamar, Ari, Bena, and Mursi, among others—getting to know their ways and their vast, dry, and beautiful land. Our visit to this as-yet-undeveloped region is made practicable with stays in modest lodges and, for a couple of nights, a well-staffed private mobile camp.
Itinerary at a Glance
- Day 1: arrive in Addis Ababa
- Day 2: sightseeing in Addis
- Day 3: fly north to Bahir Dar, boat to Lake Tana moasteries
- Day 4: drive to Gondar
- Day 5: excursion to Simien Mountains National Park
- Day 6: fly to Lalibela
- Day 7: Lalibela
- Day 8: fly to Axum
- Day 9: fly back to Addis
- Day 10: fly to Arba Minch
- Day 11: drive to Turmi in Lower Omo Valley
- Day 12: excursion to Murelle
- Day 13 : drive to Jinka, Lower Omo Valley mobile camp
- Day 14: excursions to Mago National Park and Key Afar market, Lower Omo Valley mobile camp
- Day 15: visit artisanal village, fly to Addis
- Day 16: Addis touring, depart for home.