Home, Home on the Range: All-Day Horseback Riding Trip in the Entoto Hills

After our hike on Saturday (see previous post!), getting on a horse for a 6 hour ride was not the most appealing thought. However, a horse trip with Equus Ethiopia was something I had wanted to do since I knew I was going to Ethiopia. I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass! 

Camille and I left for the stables around 8am Sunday morning; I couldn’t convince anyone else in the group to come along. It was hands down one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced: this was not the kind of trail ride where all the horses walk in a line, one after the other. Instead, Camille, Laura (who we met at the stable and was flying out of Ethiopia for home in Kansas City that night), and our guide (his name sounded something like “Elias”: my name was so hard for him to say he ended up calling me My the whole time) spent the whole day cantering through open fields, slowly picking our way down ravines, and trotting through eucalyptus forest. 

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Camille on a horse she didn’t end up taking (which is a good thing too because they didn’t get along!).

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Laura trotting ahead with Elias

We even had to take shelter in a village when it started to rain too hard for us to continue riding (typical rainy season). We rode our horses right through a family’s front gate, and sat in their metal-sheeting-roofed house to take shelter from the rain. We were able to talk to the teenage daughter, she just graduated high school. There was a moment of hilarious confusion when Laura saw her wearing a ring on her left ring finger and congratulated her on being married. The girl was very puzzled…it turns out she was just wearing it for decoration. (In the villages wedding rings on the left ring finger aren’t standard.) 

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Camille, Master Horsewoman

Another interaction with locals was not as pleasant, unfortunately. One part of our ride took us through some open fields that on Sunday are host to about 20 games of soccer. Most people were friendly and waving, but some teenage boys (they really are the worst, aren’t they?) thought it would be funny to kick their ball at us. It hit my horse, which startled him into springing up and taking off. I quickly had him under control, and no harm was done, except to the teenage boys. Elias was not pleased, and rode down the kicker to berate him. (They also got a scolding from the adults in the vicinity.)

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Perfect scenery

I was pleased to see that the horses at the stable, true to everything I’ve read about the company, were really well cared for. All the equipment was first class as well. Ethiopia has a long history of horsemanship, being one of the few countries in Africa where horses could thrive, given the high elevation of the highlands. The Abyssinian pony is an ancient breed, and Ethiopians on horseback are discussed in Egyptian and Mediterranean texts. 

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A highlight of the trip came after we had cantered down a wide lane surrounded by eucalyptus trees. We all were feeling like champion horsewomen, when from down the road behind us came a boy of maybe 6 or 7 full-out galloping on his horse with no saddle and only a rope for a bridle. He waved as he flew by, and we realized we were definitely outmatched by kids who have been riding since before they could walk (Elias was one such kid, it turns out.)

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Horse-whispering with her loyal mount

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Fitsum, my horse, enjoying his lunch during our lunch break

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A perfect day in the highlands, even with the rain!

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.

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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!

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?

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!

Exploring Addis: Blue Donkeys and Lucy

Today, my fellow interns and I decided to explore a different part of Addis, more in the center of the city and not in our “up and coming” neighborhood of Bole. Transportation in Addis is either through taxis or communal minivans known as “blue donkeys” (on the left).

English: Bole Road, Addis Ababa.

English: Bole Road, Addis Ababa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The price difference is pretty noticeable: we were quoted 200 birr (which we negotiated down to 150) to get to the Arat Kilo area by a taxi driver, which we paid because the blue donkeys driving by were mostly full. On the way back, as we were in one of the city’s transportation hubs, we were able to hail a blue donkey (you just shout your destination at the young boy hanging out the window, or he shouts where they are going at you) and paid 4 birr a person.

Our first stop was the Hilton, because all the guidebooks say that’s where the best ATMs are and some members of our party still needed to exchange money. We walked around the grounds of the Hilton a little bit and made plans to come back to use the pool one day (a guest pass costs 250 birr, or about $14), but it’ll be worth it on a hot day. As expected, the Hilton was quite ritzy. The guards were friendly though, especially when we used our newly gained Amharic skills (“thank you” and a complicated series of “how are you?” words, which differ depending on who you’re speaking to; that is very similar to Swahili, though the words are of course completely different).

After getting a somewhat helpful map from the Hilton front desk, we made plans to walk to some nearby churches, the significance of which we didn’t really realize until we were there for about 15 minutes trying to compare the map to the guidebook. The majority of the streets, except for a few big ones, are not named, and if they are, no locals use them. The church turned out to be Beta Maryam, the burial place of Emperor Melenik II. As we were walking up the path to the church, we realized the entire compound was surrounded by walls with guard towers when one called out to us in Amharic. We finally got that we weren’t supposed to take pictures! Good to know. The church is actually surrounded by the grounds of the prime minister’s residence and offices, thus the heavy guard presence and the prohibition on picture taking.

However, other visitors didn’t seem to get the memo on pictures, so I’ll include their photos:

Here’s the imposing view as you walk up:

And a closer shot of the entryway, with people praying.

We didn’t go inside, because it seemed not to be open, at least to tourists. Also, as we hadn’t planned on a church visit that day, the ladies in our company weren’t prepared with scarves or head coverings. Though some people have told us that those aren’t necessary, we decided it was better to be prepared and extra respectful. Thus, we didn’t actually see the tombs or the interior, but we do have two more months!

We then headed on a long walk to the National Museum, during which we picked up a local who said he was a student in Addis. Although his English was solid and he helped us navigate the the Museum, we were all wary that this was some scam. (None of us felt like we were in any danger, as we were in a large group, we were just worried we were gonna be asked for money or something). As it turns out, when we got to the museum and were being patted down (well, the guy in our group was, the guards don’t pat down women), a younger boy who was with the guards was clearly trying to get our attention. One intern went over to speak with him while the rest of us waited with our tagalong tour guide. The boy, who spoke excellent English, explained that he recognized the man as a khat seller who tries to lure people to khat dens. We at first had no idea what “khat” meant (it is not pronounced like it looks) so the boy did a pretty funny impression of a person under the influence. The guards then chased off our tagalong and the little boy ensured us he would wait around to see if he came back. Sadly, we were worried that the boy was a part of another scam; it’s disappointing that it is so hard to trust people, even young children. However, he never tried any tricks nor did he ask for money, and provided great entertainment. Maybe we should have given him a few birr for helping us get rid of the first fellow…

Anyways, while in the museum we were able to visit our great great great x 1000000 grandmother Lucy, one of the most complete hominin skeletons ever found. She lived 3.2 million years ago, and her presence in the National Museum is a big source of pride, as she was discovered here. The exhibited was titled “Lucy Comes Home” and is definitely just one of many interesting exhibits there. I really enjoyed the different imperial outfits and Haile Selassie’s huge throne. It is good to see these valuable pieces of history in an Ethiopian museum, as the Italians had taken them to Italy during the occupation of Ethiopia.

Alas, my connection doesn’t seem strong enough to upload my museum pictures, and I’m running out of patience. I’m very excited for orientation tomorrow! It will be our first day “on base” (as people refer to being at the embassy). The motorpool picks us up at 8am!