Day Trip! Hike in Menagesha National Forest

Spending all week commuting to work in crowded and smoggy Addis has most of us interns craving fresh air on the weekends. We were thinking about going to Wenchi Crater, but that is too far to be a day trip and there’s something to be said for sleeping in your “own” bed. As a compromise, we planned to go on a day hike to Menagesha National Forest, which is only about an hour and a half drive from Addis.

Even though it is so close, our driver had never heard of it (though there’s a pretty good chance we were pronouncing it wrong OR that our description wasn’t adequate.) Nonetheless, our driver Solomon is awesome and got us there no problem. Even though we told him he didn’t have to, he waited for us at the park HQ, sitting in the shade on camping chair reading the Bible. He was a welcome sight after a long, sweaty and occasionally muddy hike. (Solomon is also the morning driver for half of the interns, though not for me.)

Menagesha was EXACTLY the kind of retreat from Addis we needed, especially after a wild night out for some of our little group. (I stayed at home, still trying to kick the cold that plagued me in Awash.)

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Solomon dropped us off here because we were worried his van wouldn’t make it up the road without 4WD (a common concern here is “Do we need 4WD to get there?”)

Wilderness explorer, before her poor knee gave out.

Wilderness explorer, before her poor knee gave out.

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Compare this scenery to the pictures from last post about Awash National Park…two completely different landscapes! (A forest like this was a sight for sore eyes.) If Tigray reminded me of Arizona, this seemed more Pacific Northwest to me: very green and wet and cool, like the temperate rain forests on the Pacific coast in the US. I don’t think there’s anything quite like Awash in the US.

 

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Following a side trail.

Following a side trail.

Many of the trees were very twisted and covered with moss. It looked like a movie set.

Many of the trees were very twisted and covered with moss. It looked like a movie set.

Oops

Oops

The dark line in the center of the photo is MILLIONS of ants, marching from one anthill to another.

The dark line in the center of the photo is MILLIONS of ants, marching from one anthill to another.

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Very tall trees

Very tall trees

Menagesha is actually the oldest protected area / National Forest in Africa. As a well established National Park dork, I was very excited to get a chance to visit. It has been protected since the 1600s, when it was the personal royal forest of an Ethiopian emporor.

SO much green

SO much green

Other half of the hiking crew!

Other half of the hiking crew!

Can you tell which one of us had a late night?

One half of our hiking group, in what we think was some sort of forestry project before we got to HQ.

One half of our hiking group, in what we think was some sort of forestry project before we got to HQ.

The park only cost 50 birr to get in (so, about $2.50) and was absolutely stunning. In addition to the billions of ants, we saw more baboons (ugh) and what we termed “skunk monkeys”. They were too far away to get a proper picture, but they were black and white (but I’m sure you guessed that) and jumped from tree to tree, missing their target quite a bit and falling through the branches.

We got back in the van muddy and exhausted, and it was so nice to come home to a hot shower. A day full of fresh air is worth any amount of mud in my book!

Awesome Awash: Part 2

Despite our big plans to hang out, drink some wine, and play cards after dinner, my  tukul-mates and I ended up showering and crawling into bed, safe under our mosquito nets. Our day had been very long, and we were scheduled for an early morning (6am) Game Drive to look for some of the amazing animals that live in the park.

Amazing, indeed!

Blurry Oryx, but so close to the car! When you see an oryx alone, you know he is an older male who is alone because, in the words of our guide, "he has given up on life."

Blurry Oryx, but so close to the car! When you see an oryx alone, you know he is an older male who is alone because, in the words of our guide, “he has given up on life.”

A pair (male and female) of oryx.

A pair (male and female) of oryx.

Mama and baby warthog

Mama and baby warthog

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The balls in the tree are bird nests! Some trees had what looked like hundreds.

The balls in the tree are bird nests! Some trees had what looked like hundreds.

My personal favorite animal we saw, the tiny Dik Dik. They are like deer, but with stubby little horns and about the size of small dog.

My personal favorite animal we saw, the tiny Dik Dik. They are like deer, but with stubby little horns and about the size of small dog.

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Another oryx, but not so blurry!

Another oryx, but not so blurry!

We then stopped to check out a scenic overlook at the site of what was a camper spot owned by Germans. They even had a pool and restaurant, with the pool having this view:

The Blue Nile meeting the Awash River to flow on to South Sudan and join the White Nile

The Blue Nile meeting the Awash River to flow on to South Sudan and join the White Nile

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Listening to Mohammed, our guide

Listening to Mohammed, our guide

Kelly Konjo!

Kelly Konjo! (You can see what used to be the swimming pool to the left.)

Vina, and a really great jump photo if I do say so myself! (Vina interns at ACDI with me!)

Vina, and a really great jump photo if I do say so myself! (Vina interns at ACDI with me!)

These are the interns I hang out with the most (We all got hooked on the show Nashville together), minus Camille who was in the field!

These are the interns I hang out with the most (We all got hooked on the show Nashville together), minus Camille who was in the field!

Far, far below, we could see some Dafar people herding their sheep and goats to drink from the river.

Far, far below, we could see some Dafar people herding their sheep and goats to drink from the river.

Sitting on the side of abandoned swimming pool hearing Mohammed's tales about hot air balloon safaris in Tanzania and Kenya.

Sitting on the side of abandoned swimming pool hearing Mohammed’s tales about hot air balloon safaris in Tanzania and Kenya.

Why doesn’t anyone develop this camp-site, or make a new resort or lodge there? It turns out, whoever purchases the facilities would have to pay the back taxes all the way back to the early 1980s, when the German owners abandoned it! Not the most forward thinking or investment-focused mindset, I must say.

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Some sort of African eagle

Some sort of African eagle

The Korie Bustard, the largest flying bird in Africa. (It spends most of it's time on the ground, with another smaller bird on its back)

The Korie Bustard, the largest flying bird in Africa. (It spends most of it’s time on the ground, with another smaller bird on its back…this one has two red ones)

After the drive, we parked at park HQ where they have a small museum full of stuffed animals from the park, skins, and skulls. It was very interesting, if a bit gruesome. From HQ, we left on a short walk along the river to see the vervet monkeys and look for turtles and crocodiles.

These are the kind of monkeys that weren't super creepy. Just wait til you see the baboons...

These are the kind of monkeys that weren’t super creepy. Just wait til you see the baboons…

I didn't catch the name of this stork-like bird.

I didn’t catch the name of this stork-like bird.

You can't see the babies clinging to her back but they're there! (Holding on for dear life)

You can’t see the babies clinging to her back but they’re there! (Holding on for dear life)

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A boy and his pet camel (not exactly wildlife, but close enough)

A boy and his pet camel (not exactly wildlife, but close enough)

After our walk, we returned to the tukul to pack up and check out.

A shot of our beds and mosquito nets inside the tukul, just to give you an image of what it looked like inside.

A shot of our beds and mosquito nets inside the tukul, just to give you an image of what it looked like inside.

We had time for one more short walk down to the base of the waterfall! It was so nice to feel the cold spray on what was a hot, hot day. (And of course because we were all used to Addis weather we packed sweaters and fleeces instead of tanktops and shorts!)

At the top of the falls

At the top of the falls

As close to the edge as I'd get...

As close to the edge as I’d get…

Descending to the base of the waterfall, aka the baboon lair...

Descending to the base of the waterfall, aka the baboon lair…

Large mama baboon (their babies hold on to their stomaches while they walk)

Large mama baboon (their babies hold on to their stomaches while they walk)

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Baboons everywhere! (They blend so well into the rocks)

Baboons everywhere! (They blend so well into the rocks)

Brandon hung up his hammock in the tree. The lodge used to take guests down the river in that boat, which didn't look all that seaworthy!

Brandon hung up his hammock in the tree. The lodge used to take guests down the river in that boat, which didn’t look all that seaworthy!

Relaxing and reading by the base of the falls

Relaxing and reading by the base of the falls

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Goodbye, Awash Falls Lodge!

Goodbye, Awash Falls Lodge!

Awesome Awash: Part 1

[I’m starting a trend here with alliterative blog post titles.]

A big group of fellow interns and I, excited to get away from the big city, decided to go to Awash National Park, the closest national park to Addis. While it is close in terms of kilometers, the ride there seemed almost interminable, for various reasons. Some of us were hungover, some were carsick, and others (myself included) were just plain sick. At times, the road was being worked on, which required detours on dusty gravel roads, which we were slow to traverse in our Toyota Cruiser (which does not have 4WD). Especially in the outskirts of Addis, there was a lot of traffic. It took us so long to get there that I started to get paranoid that the driver thought we were going to Awassa, far south of Addis, rather than Awash.

Beautiful lake view at a hotel we stopped at for a bathroom break.

Beautiful lake view at a hotel we stopped at for a bathroom break.

When we finally limped into the park, we were a sorry bunch. At the park gate, it did not look like much, either…just a dry and dusty landscape studded with acacia trees. After paying our entry fees, we pushed on in our trusty Cruiser towards the lodge.

The inside of the Cruiser (don't we all look thrilled?)

The inside of the Cruiser (Only Alex looks excited..)

All our fears were unfounded, once we were deeper into the park and especially at the Lodge, where we were welcomed with orange juice. I think we must of looked like we had traveled for days to get there. The Awash Falls Lodge is built on the bluffs overlooking the falls, and the views were absolutely amazing. Our group had rented a couple “tukuls”, traditional style cabins with four bedrooms. Ours was two floors and even had a balcony overlooking the falls, where I would have been content to sit and read all day.

All our tukuls had animal names! We were in Oryx.

All our tukuls had animal names! We were in Oryx.

Our balcony and the amazing view!

Our balcony and the amazing view!

 

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That, however, was not the reason we went to Awash…we went to see some wildlife, and were not disappointed. On the drive in alone, we saw a  rare Greater Kudu with its distinctive spiral horns. Then, as we were sitting on our balcony just after arriving, we saw a mama warthog with 5 little babies. The grounds of the lodge are also home to a pair of domesticated ostriches, as well as a troop of not-so-domesticated baboons. The baboons have been known to go into tukuls left unlocked and do lots of damage while clawing through people’s stuff for food. I found the baboons rather creepy, but it was cute to see the babies clinging to their mothers’ stomaches to get around.

English: Male Greater Kudu, Kruger National Pa...

Male Greater Kudu, (Photo credit: Wikipedia) This is not my picture…my reflexes with my camera are not this fast.

After a very small lunch at the Lodge restaurant, which had outdoor and indoor pavilions, I opted to take a very relaxing nap back in the tukul. The cool breeze coming off the river and the sound of the water rushing over the falls made for some great sleeping. When I woke up, it was time to do my job as trip coordinator and collect money from every one so we could pay for the rooms. Everyone found it quite amusing that I even brought a clipboard, so I was looking extra bossy and official.

Our view during lunch at the restaurant

Our view during lunch at the restaurant

The highlight of the day (evening, I suppose, at this point) was a trip to the hyena caves. We went with a guide from the Lodge named Mohammed, who is actually Zanzibari! I was able to practice some Swahili with him, a chance I did not expect to get in Ethiopia! The trip to the hyena cave was long and bumpy, as we had to go back along the road towards Addis…and then had to leave the road altogether. Mohammed would tell our driver, “Follow that road!” and we’d all look at see nothing that resembled a road, or even a dirt track. Once we arrived, however, it was worth all the fear that our Cruiser would get stuck and we’d have to walk back to the Lodge.

We got out of the van and walked the rest of the way to the caves, jumping over fissures in the earth where the land is splitting apart. Awash is at the northern end of the Great Rift Valley, which is slowly expanding by a few inches every year. In thousands of years, East Africa (including half of Ethiopia) will have broken off from the rest of the continent, and we got to see where it was happening!

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The most special part of the hyena cave experience, besides seeing an animal I’d grown up thinking marched around listening to lions and singing (kudos to the Lion King), was how peaceful it was just to sit in a big group and be absolutely quiet. With 17 interns, you don’t always get moments of peace and quiet. Here, we had to be still and quiet so as to not scare off the hyenas. Watching them emerge from their cave and run off to hunt was an experience I don’t think I will ever forget.

My animal pictures aren't the best, but here you can see one of the warthogs having just ran off a hyena.

My animal pictures aren’t the best, but here you can see one of the warthogs having just ran off a hyena.

Listening to Mohammed talk about hyena biology and behavior.

Listening to Mohammed talk about hyena biology and behavior.

 

When we got home from the hyena cave (in the dark), we went right to dinner, which we had ordered before we left. We sat around a fire in huge carved wooden chairs and listened to the thunder rumble in the distance and of course the soothing sound of water rushing over the falls. It was a beautiful end to a day that started out long, hot, and stressful.

After uploading my pictures, I realized I don’t really have any good shots of the hyenas: they kind of blend into the surroundings and my camera is not that advanced. Maybe I’ll see if my friends got any and post those.

Interesting notes about the hyena cave:

  • Contrary to the wise lessons of the Lion King, hyenas actually live together with warthogs in this particular cave. The cave provides such good protection that neither are willing to give it up, and so they live together in an uneasy truce. Both parties are equally afraid of the other, which we sort of got to witness when we saw a warthog scare off one of the hyenas who was getting too close to where it was sitting.
  • The lodge is required to notify the local community of Dafar people before people go visit the hyena cave. (They just call them on a cell phone, which pretty much everyone uses.) Then, the community sends some representatives to sit with us and collect a small (for us) fee and ensure we don’t poach the animals we see. The community is thus very invested in keeping the ecosystem healthy, because tourists coming to see the hyena caves are a source of income. In our case, the representatives were 3 young boys who were maybe 12 years old. They had to walk a few miles to come meet us, as their people are nomadic, and then a few miles back in the pitch darkness. Mohammed thought it was very funny that some of the interns were concerned about them walking alone in the dark, something they have been doing their entire lives!

Mekelle Memorial

On my last day of my field visit, I was able to spend the morning visiting the Martyrs Memorial, which overlooks the regional capital of Tigray, Mekelle. Tigray was the location for the primary areas of resistance against the Derg, the Communist regime that deposed the imperial government and ruled Ethiopia from 1974-1987. Although this is a comparatively short time when you look at other military juntas around the world, it left a profound mark on Ethiopian culture and people. This is especially true because many of the most educated and prosperous citizens were executed or fled the country in fear. 

When many people hear “Ethiopia,” their first thought is the famines of the 1980s. While weather and drought did certainly play a part, the Ethiopian famines of that time can largely be attributed to government action (or inaction, really). Famine conditions existed in the country for only a very short time, but famine persisted because of the Derg’s failure to mobilize food distribution. Whether this was  done intentionally or unintentionally is debated, but I think the fact that the famine was the worst in the areas that were in rebellion against the Derg is telling. The starvation of citizens was used as a weapon of war. 

Today, the TPLF (Tigrian People’s Liberation Front) has erected a beautiful and moving monument to the fight or flight response to the brutality of the Derg.

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One half of the memorial, depicting Ethiopians fleeing the Derg. Most of those who went on foot went to Sudan.

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The other side of the monument that depicts those who fought the Derg. My favorite statue in this collection was the female soldier, of course, (3rd from the left), but the man hugging the woman (6th from left) was also very moving.

This is the center of the monument, with the two groups of statues flanking it on either side. It overlooks the whole city, kind of like the St. Louis Arch (but really looks a lot more like the Sun Sphere in Memphis, visually at least.)

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The museum, while a little rough around the edges, was very interesting and a moving testament to these people, who were fighting against the second largest army in Africa, and one that was supported and supplied with advanced weaponry by the Soviet Union. According to the museum, most of the weapons the TPLF used were actually captured from the enemy. 

One of the most moving displays was the images of the people who died in the region. There were many pictures of women, which of course intrigued me, and it was sad to see how young many were. 

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The text under the pictures reads: “Some photos [of] martyrs who sacrificed their lives to bring democracy, freedom, justice to their people.”

Of course, I don’t mean to lionize the TPLF completely, as no such organization is without flaws. However, they are heroes to many Ethiopians and the Downfall of the Derg is a national holiday. 

In the Field: Visit to Alamata, Tigray Region

Last week, I was given a chance to get some time “in the field” as we say, meaning go on a trip that took me away from the office and out of Addis. I was accompanying our Honey Value Chain Specialist to a Beekeepers Training in Alamata, Tigray Region.

Below, a view of Alamata town from the road. The little three-wheeled motorized carts you can see are called “Bajaj”, which is actually their brand name. (They are all imported from India)

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Going on this trip was stressful for a few reasons. For one, I found out on Monday that I’d be leaving the next day. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel like airplanes, and this trip would be by plane, and a prop plane at that. Needless to say I spent quite some time researching the specs of the plane we were taking. Fortunately, Ethiopian Airlines operates an incredibly modern fleet of planes, and their short range planes are some of the best in the air. For short journeys like this, they are even safer than jets in many ways.

It was exciting to see Ethiopian Airline’s Dreamliner, proudly (and correctly) touted as “Africa’s First Dreamliner”. It is really interesting how much national pride is tied up in the airline here, and I think it is well deserved. The standard of service and the destinations served by EA are really first class. (ha.ha.) Forget a drink, when’s the last time you were served a sandwich and snack on a flight that lasted maybe 1 hour max?

Anyway, enough about the airplane, though I could talk about it all day probably.

After our 1 hour flight, we had to actually drive about 3 hours south to get to our destination, which was in a pretty rural location. The road, however, was excellent and brand-new. (Maybe Chinese built?) It connects the northern regions of Ethiopia with the port in Djibouti. (Ethiopia is land-locked, of course, and must rely on it’s not-always-stable neighbors for access to trade with the rest of the world. It’s one reason Ethiopian Airlines is so strong: it also maintains a huge cargo fleet and just built two giant refrigerated warehouses for storing fruits and vegetables before being shipped to Europe and the Middle East.

The scenery on the drive was really astounding. It sort of looked like Arizona, or at least that’s what it resembled most from the States. I tried to take pictures but I really don’t think they captured the stark beauty. Here are some:

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The training went really well, and I think that had a lot to do with the trainer, an American volunteer who has been beekeeping in Colorado for more than 25 years. He gave a lot of really practical advice, including cheap solutions to common problems beekeepers face (honey badgers are more than a meme here, I was surprised to discover) that could easily be replicated in rural Ethiopia.

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The training was done through translation into two languages, Amharic and Tigrian, the regional language. That gave me enough time to take copious notes  ; I learned more about beekeeping than I ever would’ve expected. I helped with the training in little ways as well, mostly doing the writing for any flip chart posters and tasks like that. The real purpose of me being there, however, was to see firsthand how training in the field works and to get some insight into the state of Ethiopian beekeeping at the smallholder level. I also provided entertainment during the tea breaks: there were beautiful blue birds all around the garden where we took our tea, and people found my eagerness to get a pictures of one quite amusing. But hey, I was successful!

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Everyone was very friendly, and based on their comments (through translation) the training was very helpful.

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For me, it was just nice to get out of Addis and to see somewhere quieter and less polluted. It gave me a chance to see “the real Ethiopia,” or so I’ve been told. Addis is often seen as a world onto itself, and understandably so. And fortunately, I like shiro [an Ethiopian dish that consists of tomato-chickpea stew/broth served with injera, the ubiquitous bread-like product here. It has the consistency of a pancake with sort of a sourdough bread taste], because in the small towns like Alamata, it is usually the only available vegetarian option. [Fasting season had not yet begun when I was there, unfortunately.] I think I ate it for 10 straight meals.

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Lion King, any one?

St Michael’s Day

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Above: The view from my desk. The other desk belongs to Vina, my fellow intern.

Today at work, I was sitting at my desk in my (glass-walled) cubicle when a coworker asked me if I wanted to go “eat some bread.” I was confused but eager for a distraction so I followed her to the conference room.

Turns out it is St Michael’s Day, and for reasons Google is unable to explain, it is a tradition to eat homemade bread on this day. One of my coworkers baked this bread and brought it in to the office so we could all celebrate.

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Google also told me that every 12th of the month is St Michael’s Day, so I have this to look forward to in July as well. For those of you scratching your heads at home, Ethiopia, especially in the Orthodox Church, still uses the Julian calendar, which is about one week and 6.5 years off of the Gregorian calendar. The date in Ethiopia is June 12, 2005. [I wrote this on the 19th and am publishing it now.]

However, especially as Ethiopia becomes more integrated with the world economy, the Julian calendar is used less frequently. It is never used in my office or in government buildings. When I was in a more rural area last week doing training for bee keepers, however, we did hand out the schedule in the Ethiopian Calendar format. It’s a rather poignant demonstration of the two Ethiopias, with one literally lagging behind the other.

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Above: Coworkers enjoying their St Michael’s Day bread

Update: I also meant to wish my dear sister Eileen a happy birthday. Finally 21!

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Blog Post Backlog 1: Climbing Entoto!

My apologies for the delays in posting; the internet was spotty for the second half of my first week here and I was in the field (in Northern Ethiopia) for most of last week. I’ve had these posts in the wings for awhile, and hopefully all the pictures will cooperate and upload!

One week ago, though it seems like a month at least right now, a big group of my fellow interns and I climbed up Entoto, the largest hill/mountain right outside Addis (I’ve heard it called both hill and mountain. It’s a big hill, at the very least). Entoto is famous not only for being a peaceful respite from the smog and congestion of Addis but also is historically important as being the place where Melenik II founded his capital; Addis grew from there. The church on Entoto is very famous and important for Ethiopians as well. 

Here is the view of Addis below, after only about 10 or so minutes of walking. (This portion of the trip wasn’t so much of a hike as it was a steep walk up a paved road. There are other ways up but this was the simplest.)

ImageThe hill is also famous for its eucalyptus trees, which women carry down in huge bundles on their backs. It smelled wonderful.

ImageHere is my new friend and fellow intern, Camille, eyeing some of the ferocious wildlife: 

ImageAnother nice view of the scenery: 

ImageThe reward at the top is Entoto Maryam church, built in the hexagonal style that is typical of Ethiopian Orthodox churches. You are supposed to walk around it counterclockwise. Also on top of Entoto is a really small but interesting museum with artifacts from Melenik II’s reign, as well as other items of religious interest. It’s also where a few of Ethiopia’s Olympic gold medals are housed, as the runners pledged they would dedicate their medals to the church if they won. [You are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum]

ImageThere’s a bullhorn on the church because Orthodox churches here have a call to prayer similar to mosques. Also, there’s not nearly enough room for everyone who would want to attend services here inside, especially on holy days (of which the Ethiopian Orthodox faith has plenty), so people can still hear outside. 

ImageAs you can see, there’s really only ever one color scheme.

Also on the top of Entoto is the palace (really more like a small house, he kept it small and not grandiose for political reasons) which is now occupied by some cute goats:

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After touring the palace and church, some of us decided to continue on a hike into the hills: ImagePictures don’t really do it justice, but it was amazingly beautiful and so green. Nice to be out of the city, even if it was for just a couple hours. Afterwards, we realized we had probably hiked about 10 miles total, and rewarded ourselves with a trip to the Beer Garden, a restaurant close to our hotel that has its own brewery and serves towers of beer. A very nice end to our first post-work weekend!