Awaiting Africa: A Quick Look at What Awaits Me in 2020 - Part One: Ethiopia

Coffee Capital of the World by John Iglar

Coffee Capital of the World by John Iglar

Next year I’m going back to Africa. This time on the mainland, spending most of my time in East Africa and what is collectively known as the “Horn of Africa”. I’m fascinated by the variety of cultures and wildlife that the continent hosts, and I’ve been eager to see as much of it as possible. I’ll be starting my journey in Ethiopia: a country that always seems to trigger images of famine and extreme poverty -- likely due to the events between 1983 and 1985. It was so widespread across the media, that a charity supergroup was formed and a dual-venue musical event was executed by Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof in ‘85. The country has come a long way since then, and could actually be considered to be thriving; with it’s flourishing, but only burgeoning, tourism industry.

I’m beginning where most people do, in the capital city of Addis Ababa (Addis, as it sounds, and ABBA -- like the band -- with an extra “ba” on the end). I’m arriving in the early morning of February 20th, and plan to use that day to recuperate and get my bearings. The next day, I have a half day city tour booked, again, to help me get used to the area. Next, I’m doing my first day trip from Addis to Debre Libanos, a 13th-century monastery southwest of the capital city. It’s a two-hour drive through the Entoto Hills which I’m sure will make the drive much more tolerable. Lunch will be served on the Jemma River Gorge, which I’m told is a Mecca for endemic birds and the gelada baboon. I’m very afraid of baboons and their freaky little vampire teeth but am excited nonetheless. Another highlight is the Ras Darge Bridge, which was built in the 1890s. The following day, I don’t have anything set in stone, but I’m looking at potentially checking out the Menagesha Suba Forest, which just so happens to be the oldest forest in all of Africa.

Church of Saint George - Royalty Free Image

Church of Saint George - Royalty Free Image

In the morning, I’m heading back to the airport to catch a flight to Lalibela -- a medieval and holy Ethiopian town. Upon arrival, I’ll be shuttling to my lodge and once again catching my breath. The main point of my excursion to Lalibela is to see the famous UNESCO rock-hewn churches. From the UNESCO website:

Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a ‘New Jerusalem’, after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land. Lalibela flourished after the decline of the Aksum Empire.

They’re incredibly intricate and have truly stood the test of time. That night, I’ll be having dinner at what is surely one of the most aesthetically unique restaurants anywhere: Ben Abeba.

Camels in the Danakil Depression by Lesly Derksen

Camels in the Danakil Depression by Lesly Derksen

The next couple of days will be mostly transit. The part of the tour I’m admittedly most nervous about is my two-night trek into the Danakil Depression. This may seem incredibly vain, but, you see, I have extraordinarily thin hair (made thinner by PCOS), and because of that, it gets oily very, very easily. For this reason, I do not like camping. I feel gross and… my normally light hair feels heavy and unclean. Dry shampoo does not work for me either. I also do not like extreme heat. And I pee all the time. So for those three reasons alone, you may think I’m an absolute idiot for wanting to go on a camping expedition, that has no toilets, to the hottest place on earth. Yes. You read that right. The single hottest place on the face of the planet, in terms of year-round temperatures. I will definitely get a migraine, and I will definitely be a disgusting sweaty mess, but I will also likely never have the chance to see the alien landscape of Dallol (I suggest another quick Google search) and the glowing red lava of Erta Ale again. I can suffer for two nights, right? Famous last words, yes, I know. I’m predicting that the overnight at Erta Ale, a continuously active basaltic shield volcano, will be the toughest. The hike will take place at night, as the temperatures during the day are too high. There are mixed reviews detailing how strenuous the actual hike is, but what I’m more concerned about is the actual camping. It’s a dirty area littered with old water bottles and just… general uncleanliness. There are no tents, just mattresses and sleeping bags. I should also mention that due to the area’s proximity to the Eritrean border, it is required that every tour have several militia members on the trip with them. It’s very sad that this is at the bottom of my priorities list when it comes to worrying.

Erta Ale photo by Marc Szeglat

Erta Ale photo by Marc Szeglat

Assuming I survive that little outing, I’ll be flying back to Addis Ababa to spend the night and shower for as long as possible without draining a former drought-ridden country’s water supply. Apologies in advance to whoever may sit next to me on the plane.

The following morning I’m catching another flight, this time heading to the south end of the country. My destination: Arba Minch. I’m going to be spending four nights at a lodge which works with NGOs to help improve the living standards of the local community. I’ll spend the following days recuperating while visiting and helping out local families, visiting schools, learning to weave, and doing some hiking and boating. After my few days are up, I’ll say goodbye to Ethiopia and hello to Uganda!

Travel, WorldEmily Koopman