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To the unknowing, Ethiopia is synonymous with drought, famine and war, but to those blessed to have savoured its wonders, Ethiopia is nothing less than "Denkenesh" (you are wonderful), the Ethiopian Amharic name given to Lucy, the four and a half million years oldest, most complete hominid skeleton ever found in the world. The discovery of the remains of Lucy in the Awash valley, makes Ethiopia the region from where the earliest upright walking hominids originated from. Ethiopia is therefore the tree where Man was born. Maybe Darwin was onto something ...
And the more recent discovery of the remains of the Kibbish Man who lived about 150,000 years ago in Ethiopia's mid-west, contributed strong evidence that he was the immediate ancestor of anatomically modern humans, with DNA similar to us. Therefore, this tribal lady from deep within the south western belly of Ethiopia, may well be the distant cousin of you and I, a hundred and fifty thousand years removed:
And this man, an Ethiopian orthodox Christian pilgrim, standing by a window in his mud house in Lalibela, may well be your distant cousin too. For the information of newbies, directional window light like this, is the best light for indoor portraits.
Rich in history, wildlife, and cultural traditions, the relative obscurity of Ethiopia surprises those who are brave enough to travel in this country. Every place you go rewards you with a sense of adventure and discovery. The landscape in the north is littered with rock hewn churches, mighty castles, and isolated monasteries. Lalibela was built to be a replica of Jerusalem.
This is the Church of St Georges in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Hewn out of solid rock in the shape of a cross, this church is 30 meters high and 25m by 25 m wide. According to Ethiopian history, Bete Giyorgis or the Church of St Georges was built by King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty, who claimed Saint George and God gave him instructions to build it. It is the most well known and last built of the eleven monolithic rock hewn churches in the Lalibela area. It is claimed by Ethiopians to be the Eighth Wonder of the World, and it is a magnificent building. King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela had been to Jerusalem in his youth. When old Jerusalem was captured by Muslims under Saladin in 1187, it was said that King Lalibela attempted to build a likeness of Jerusalem at Roha, his capital in Ethiopia. The town was later renamed Lalibela. As such the layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted, especially by the local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem. Many of the town's features have Biblical names - even the town's river is known as the River Jordan.
There are deserts and desolate volcanic regions where the inhospitable landscape is almost Martian like. Yet the Afars live here, mining salt, and sending the salt out on camel caravans of hundreds of camels at a time, and they've been doing this for hundreds of years. How any human being can make the Danakil Depression their home is beyond me. BBC did a documentary of the Danakil Depression, and the call it the Cruelest place on earth.
This is Mt Erta Ale, the most active volcano in Africa, It has a fascinating permanently boiling, gurgling lake of molten lava in its crater. Located in the cruel Danakil Depression, the lowest point in Africa at 120 meters below the level of the Red Sea, you can hike up this volcano in about 6 hours or less if you are strong and brave enough to withstand the 45°Celsius prevailing temperatures in the Danakil Depression ... at night. In the daytime, the highest temperature I recorded when I was there, was 53°C
In the Bale Mountains, the last sanctuary of upto 500 almost extinct Abyssinian wolves who live there hunting rodents, one might think one is in Europe, with its vast rolling landscape of farmland cultivated with grain. It certainly isn't a region of famine and poverty as many might imagine.
And in the Kaffe region, there are huge tracts of land covered with coffee plants. Ethiopia is the only place in the world where coffee grows wild, and where all the the world's coffee plants initially came from. And if you venture further south into Ethiopia's South western belley, you will encounter more than 80 different tribes who are still living life much like their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, herding cattle, and engaging in tribal customs which will shock you. They occasionally steal each other's cattle, and this ends in skirmishes in which people are killed. But then, the Suri's often kill each other in a violent sport they call Donga Stick fighting, which the government has banned, and which no foreigner are no longer allowed to see. Although Donga stick fighting is banned, it still goes on. And you can tell there's a donga fight when you hear gunshots in the distance, as you travel through Suri lands.
Other interesting facts - Suri men walk around stark naked. Their women cover their bottom half and they don't believe in washing between their navel and their knees. Women wear plates in their lower lips while men wear them in their ear lobes.
Both men and women scar their bodies, as scarification is regarded as beautiful. Hamer women allow themselves to be whipped till they bleed, in order to prove their love and loyalty to their men. And their men jump naked over cows in a coming of age ritual. Fresh cow dung are often rubbed over the body and face as a beauty aid. And hands are often washed in fresh cow urine before milking. They regularly drink the blood of their cows, often mixing the fresh blood with milk. And you wouldn't believe what they do to stimulate cows to produce more milk. Wait till I post photos of the process.
It was fascinating watching the process of bleeding a cow, collecting the blood, mixing it with milk, and drinking it. A major blood vessel of the cow is first punctured with an arrow fired from a small bow.
The blood is then collected in a bowl made from the dried skin of a pumpkin. BTW, almost all Suri young men and boys walk around stark naked. Suri Women usually cover that part between the navel and their knees.
The wound on the cow’s neck is closed by rubbing something on it, and the blood is either mixed with milk, or consumed directly from the bowl. In a gesture of friendship I was offered a gulp, but I politely said no, thank you.
And then there is one tribe that often rob graves to eat the corpses ..... and there are a lot more that will fascinate you ...
Travel in Ethiopia can be tough but it will be enormously satisfying .... and you wont have to worry about hordes of tourists, yet ..
Edited on Jul 02, 2014 at 10:32 PM · View previous versions