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 too 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 ( 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). 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 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 just ending up 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. Birham 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 cream de menthe as an offering. Birham 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 .

Black Canyon Trail—Thanksgiving Weekend 2018

We had a great weekend biking the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona. What made it especially nice was that the six of us pretty much stuck together evne though our abilities varied. Also nice was that over the four nights and four days we stayed in only two campsites. The first because we arrived Wednesday evening and the next day did an out an back and stayed in the same site. The third night we stayed as planned at Bumble Bee Ranch which provided hot showers, good shade and a pleasant environment. After scouting the planned fourth night possibilities we decided the 20 or 30 minute drive back to Bumble Bee Ranch was less time consuming than breaking camp and the possibilities for camping at the next trailhead were limited.

The night we arrived we had dinner at the Arcosante cafeteria. A good meal at an interesting place. Thanksgiving night we enjoyed Louisa’s turkey tetrazzini. The following nights we had food prepared by Rich and Steve.

Louisa has posted a video slide show of our adventures on Vimeo. The slides make it look like an easy ride. Although it’s not a double-diamond technical ride, the loose rock makes for tough climbing and the warmer than usual weather didn’t help either. But no rain and sunny weather is nice too.

We await Shadowman Mike’s GoPro video and Steve’s compilation of photos from the trip. Maybe they’ll show more of the challenges. And Rich will likely post photos on SmugMug.

The first day out and back north from the Big Bug trailhead was disappointing. Rolling over the desert, but a not well used or maintained section which meant we got shredded by cat’s claw, palo verdes and other thorny plants. Protection is in order for this section. The following three days were much better. More terrain variety as far as scenery and biking interest. And well maintained, so although we got some scratches, nothing like the first day.

Small tidbit: at the end we all stayed with family cousins—three of them.

Thank you Louisa for organizing this and to everyone else for a successful adventure. I hope to add to this post with more details, but Rich will likely have a good write up and REI’s MTB Project has good info on this IMBA Epic ride.

Mugu Peak Hike

Anita, Bob, Louisa and Greg got out after the recent rains and took a local hike. Weather turned out to be good, a bit windy, but otherwise fine. And much better views than we expected. This posting is in part a test of new to me easier photo posting in WordPress. Boney MountainBoney, Anita, Louisa at maritima

Sunset from the Pacific Coast Highway seen on our drive home. Lots of cars were stopped to view and photograph this sunset.

Kochi and Munnar, Kerala, India

Today is our last day and we’re leaving on a good note. Shopping at Barefoot. A delicious lunch at the Galle Face hotel—in continuous operation since 1864. Situated right on the water and next to a large green and boardwalk.

We then met with Tissa, the head of the Fulbright Program in Sri Lanka. Anita worked for the Fuibright in the nineties and Bob and Anita volunteer for some activities. Tissa and Anita met professionally. Tissa has worked for the program for 22 years and has a great perspective on the program and Sri Lankan and US politics.

Yesterday visited the National Museum which has many of the antiquities from the sites we’ve visited and a recently undated displays. The museum put some of what we’d seen in perspective.

We did some shopping yesterday too and saw the Sri Lankan middle class. Many people at a Macy’s like store busy buying stuff.

We’ve enjoyed our trip. Many interesting things to see, clean, and friendly helpful people.

Anita and Bob did a fantastic job of organizing the trip and have been great to travel with.

Now we’re off on our own for a month in South India.


Saturday. After spending yesterday bird watching which means a bit of walking and lots of standing and looking, we opted to try for more of a hike today. We went peak bagging! Took a short hike to a peak. Was nice to get above the canopy and see the countryside.
It seems like the jungle is held together with roots. Hanging roots and so many tree roots that they make nice steps. The peak was 760m (2500 ft.). Mt. Mulawella.

On the way down our guides stopped us for a while and with an MP3 player, played bird songs. After about half an hour they found a small rare owl, named serendip (photo below).

Our local forest guide charged about $10 per day. Not much by our standards. From the little we’ve seen Sri Lanka doesn’t look that poor, but with wages like that it is. Seems to be a good bus system. Many busses even in the country side.

Women wear both western clothes (jeans and blouses), shirts and blouses, and dresses. Not the same styles as California, but maybe would not look out of place in the Applachians. Eomen also wear saris. Men wear western clothes and many wear sarongs, more so in the country side. The mens sarongs are colorful—woven large plaids, solid colors with wide borders. The lengths vary from knee to floor. Short more for work and long for dress. Good because they’re cool.

Found out that the low temperatures we had a couple of days ago were the lowest for the day in 61 years, about 20*F lower than normal. Getting warmer now.

Driving through the countryside, it’s surprising how many people there are, frequent villages, tuk-tuk running back and forth, seemingly buses every few minutes. And in one area dense with tea plantations, many private cars—mostly compacts.

I’ll have to sort out the two Buddhist groups. Anyway, the Sri Lanka form is the same as Thailand—no prayer wheels and not many flags.

The long running war with the Tamil Tigers was ended a couple of years ago. But the taxes have gone up since the war. The taxes increase the prices by as much as three fold according to our guide, but by observation not true for everything. Some of it goes to infrastructure and supporting the environment, but also apparently to lining the politicians pockets.

Still writing this a couple of days later. We’ve seen several electrification projects. One gets the impression that most of the country is electrified. Our lodge at Sinharaja had a water small turbine generator, but power lines were being put up nearby. Cell phone coverage wide spread as elsewhere in the emerging world.

Last two nights stayed in a hotel used in the Bridge Over the River Kwai. And yesterday visited the site of the bridge used in the movie. The bridge is gone (it was really blown up for the movie), but the abutments are still there. And it really is jungle. Thick vegetation. Hot and humid even in winter. Misty mornings. Not much rain here now. Although we’ve heard about the major flooding in the northern part of the country—forty days of rain. We don’t think it will affect our planned trip, although we still have to recheck our northern most destination.

Birds and Forest Reseves

Off the grid today and tomorrow for sure. Alreeady Friday afternoon and we left Monday morning. We apparently arrived in Colombo Wednesday mornining, Jan. 12. For the first week we’re traveling with Jewings Tour which is well regarded for their birding tours. Louisa and I aren’t particularly birders but we enjour tromping around in the woods and seeing birds. Anita who arranged the trip is a budding birder and this is her first birding centric tour.

We spend the first night at Villa Talangama on a lake of the same name on the edge of Colombo. Beautiful house built as a private house, but now the original owners are B&Bing. Wonderful hoults. Both are retired, he was a construction project engineer and she a psychiatrist, both in England. Built their dream house on the lake. Excellent food. The Caplans, our driver-guide, UL and us did a little birding on arrival. The lake is more like a swamp with water buffalo and therefore cattle egrets, purple heron, and many other birds as well as mongoose and water mionitor (lizards). The weather started unseasonably cool, dropping to below 70°F at night.

Thursday we got going at 7 to go to the Bodinaagala Forest Preserve which surrounds a Buddhist monastery. About 12 monks reside here. The monks take care of the grounds and meditate. They do have electricity and talk (many monks takes vows of silence). They do receive food and alms from their devotees. Instead of walking around a town or village, they come to building at the edge of the monaatery were people bring them a 10 a.m. morning meal. On the day we were their a family consisting of maybe three women, a couple of children, and a man had come to prepare a meal for the monks. They used a provided kitchen to prepare the meal. At 10 a.m. about 7 seven monks came down to the building with their begins bowls. They sat down in a line and received their food. All but one of the monks then left after some prayers (or whatever they are). The remaing monk conducted a service for the food providers and any visitors. Before it was over we went out to vied watch and tour the monastery which had building spread over tens of acres. We met one monk who we found out had been their for 18 years, and then talked to another monk (with our guide translating). The second monk was younger. He goes home once a year to visit his family. After some conversation he offered to perform a blessing and tied blessed strings on our wrists. We then returned back by the kitchen building and were offered lunch by the devotees. They had probably eaten after the monks left and were kind enough to give us lunch. And it was very good. Teh usual dahl and rice, but several good vegetable dishes and chicken. Their generosity and friendlyness proved what we’d heard about the Sri Lankans beign friendly and genreous. We then drove a couple of hours to the Sinharaja Rainforest, going by four wheel drive for the last few kilometers to Martins Lodge on the edge of the forest. Martin, a sixty of seventy something owner/host was one of the key players in improving the protection of the area which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was started in the 1870s, but has also been logged and used for other purposes, but logging has been stopped. Today we went our out on a birding walk with UT and another required guide. Between the two of them we saw at least 20 bird species as well as many flowers including orchids.

After our deluxe first night we now in more pedestrian digs. But we do have power and hot showers, and we’re in a beautiful rain forest.

Sri Lanka and India

We’re picking up our postponed trip to South India and also
joining Bob and Anita for a month in Sri Lanka. We plan to post
blogs and some photos while on the trip. Presuming WiFi so we can
post with our phones and occasionally Internet cafe stops should
make it possible. We have two house sitters while we’re gone:, my
brother, Steve and a Susan a friend from New Mexico. Both are
escaping cold climes.

In the air now. Just passed by St. George, Utah and Cedar Breaks. Lots of snow.

The airplane is nice. We’re on Emirates with a layover in Dubai. If we’re not too tired we’ll have time to explore a little.

Several inches of legroom compared to domestic flights and well equipped seat back, that is, well equipped screen and 110V and USB charging plugs. The plan is about half full which is a surprise these days. But this is a slow season. Hope to post this in Dubai.

We plan to blog this trip which shouldn’t be too hard technologically, just have to make the time. I didn’t have the time or technology to post on the Nepal trek and didn’t finish writing up the trip, but I did cover more than half the trip and posted on our blog at Links to photographs also from the Nepal trip are on the blog.