Trekking in Ethiopia

Thank you Laurie. After a day in Addis Ababa we flew north to Mekele in the Tigrai region which borders Eritrea. After a night in Mekele we drove a couple of hours in a minivan with our tour operator, Solomon Seyoum, to Idega Arbi. The countryside was rolling with some small valleys. We saw some agriculture and animals but it didn’t seem to heavily used semi desert. The road was not very good with detours around former mud pits and much bottoming out. We arrived a small desert outpost with a tiny store and a large dirt plaza. Ariga Arbi is a weekly market town, we later learned means “Friday Market.” Our three donkeys with split barrel saddles were awaiting us. Our donkeys and loads were tended by two men from the village near where we would be staying that night. They would stay in their village with their donkeys and returning the next mornilng to go half way with us and turn us over to next two donkey wranglers and their three donkeys. And most important to our survival was our bubbly guide Berhan. Solomon and her made arrangements talked about payments. Solomon also entrusted Louisa with the tips for the donkey wranglers and guest house operators. Solomon was going on to a town near our put out point, Adigat. He would be busy on the phone and computer making arrangements for future tours. There aren’t a lot of tourist resources and so the operator has to stay on top of reservations for food lodging, treks, local guides, etc. If you haven’t noticed this will be a series of digressions. Tesfa Trekking (https://www.tesfatours.com/tour/community-trekking-in-tigray/) was started in about 2011 by Mark Chapman and Berhan has been with them since the early months. She is the only femaie guide in this region. She was our guide because Laurie thinks she is the best guide. (You’re asking who is Laurie, well you should). As I’m am writing this on the second morning we all agree with Laurie. But back to our starting point Idega Arbi. A dusty plaza with a few dozen buildings surrounding. But most spectacularly we are entering a series of valleys below a mesa, much like the Four Corners of the United States. Red and white sandstone cliffs one to two thousand feet above the valley floors. Idega Arbi is at the confluence of many valleys and subvalleys. We will be going up several of the valleys, going part way up to churches and ending up on top of the mesa (plateau). Seheta (Siheta). After good-byes between us, Berhan and Solomon; filling of water bottles, we start off down a local wide path. We only see one motor vehicle the rest of the day, a small motorcycle. My first impression is of a semi-desert, but come to realize that people are everywhere, some coming and going, some in the fields cutting crops. It’s harvest season, the crops are millet, tef, barley, sorghum and wheat with some corn, beans, hops. Also lots of cactus, the fruit of which is eaten. In hard times the “leaves” are cut up and feed to the animals. Other desert plants—agave, euphorpia, aloe—are common. As we progress along the path and we soon learn that a “Salome” is all that needed to being a smile and responding salome. And requently a handshake. Almost everyone is very friendly. The kids are like kids everywhere—some shy, some very friendly and wanting to try out there “how are you, I’m find”s and some wanting to converse and learn about where we’re from. We pass a school that’s reassembling after recess and Berhan shows us into a classroom. Very spartan—no obvious notebooks or paper, the walls covered with simple lessons in English and Amharic. Pictures with matching English. Other English is relation words—mother, father, etc ending in short sentences, e.g., the mother of my father is my grandmother. After a couple of minutes I decide to take over the classroom and lead the students through repetions of that page. They do fine with the short phrases, more work would be required for longer phrases. Afterwards the teacher said he wished he had a library—we didn’t find out what he meant—did he want primer type books or a real selection of various age appropriate books. We would like to follow up on his request. Berhan related that the local public teachers weren’t that good and those in the cities that could afford it sent their children to private schools. It’s easy to believe she is right as many words were mispelled on the lessons on the walls. We kept meeting people coming back from a celebration of life of a 90 year old who had died a year ago. We came to find out we were going to the celebraton. We bought a bottle of a local creme de menthe as an offering. Berhan is from this area and knew the family. She has also been guiding in the larger area and has met and knows many of the people. Anyway the celebration was held in a temporarily covered area that would hold maybe 100 people around small tables. We were seated at one of the tables. We were first offered local millet beer. Then a communal table with a dish covered with injera which had a raised platter with mashed garbonzas with a dollop of seasoned sauce in the middle. Then a young lady came with a dish piled with barley flour dough which she made ¾” balls which she placed on the injera under the raised platter. We were then given skewer to stab the barley balls and dip in the mashed garbonza and sauce to eat. After a few rounds we got into offering the dipped balls to each other. It’s common in Ethiopia to feed the other people in this way. The millet beer helped make for a fun activity. Various family members would come by and get into the mutual feeding. One of the six sons of the deceased stopped by a number of times and talked with us. Others came by also and joined in. We were there about an hour but the celebration goes on all day. Starts with a mass and then people drop by when they can for conversation and eating. I don’t think any of us thought the barley paste balls too exciting, but the garbonza and sauce are good.

You’re still wondering who Laurie is. Louisa and Greg met Laurie Scott and his wife Louise in Lee Vinilng at at campground. They were on a year long tour of the US and we were skiing at Tioga Pass. They then stayed with us in Redondo Beach when they passed through. Several years later Laurie was promoting his friend, Solomon Seyoum, from Ethiopia who was starting Anini Tours. Laurie is a geologist or mining engineer who had met Solomon when he worked in Ethiopia. Several years after that Rich Henke picked up the ball and worked with Laurie and Solomon to put together this trip. Thank you Rich and Laurie. Mark Chapman deserves thanks too for founding for founding Tesfa Treks. Mark organized the building of community run guest houses in the Tigrai region. He also organized Tesfa treks which provides the guides and arrangements with the guest houses. The guesthouses are generally on the edges of the mesa with amazing views, but usually a bit remote from the local housing. He arranged the training of the managers and cooking and maintenance crews of the guest houses. He wanted to help the economy of the region.

We were all surprised how beautiful the region is, how friendly the people are, and how interesting viewing the rural life is. We are here in harvest season so lots of activity—cutting the grain by hand, stacking the grain, threshing with cattle and then tossing the straw so it blows away to separate the grain. To me that is more interesting than the main tourist attraction in Tigrai, the churches carved in the rock cliffs. Some are fairly simple but others have the walls painted with murals. Christianity came to Ethiopia before Rome. Some of these churches date back to about the 5th century and have operated since.

Photos have been posted to Smugmug, http://knobby.smugmug.com

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