MY INCREDIBLE HOLIDAY IN ETHIOPIA

 

529097_492968597423448_1665472634_nWhat kind of holidays are the  most amazing?  Which place in the world you have ever visited is the most inspiring ? For me- the places which were rarely seen by the tourists eyes. The places which I can get known about  reading an articles with experiences from other single travellers . Usually,  when I see the pictures of extra ordinary places, I decide that I have to see it myself and after, I try to do as much research as I possibly could and find the way, how to make my dream come true. That is how, after reading impressive and interesting articles of N. Hulo, Ryan Salm, and seeing unreal pictures on the website about hotest inhabited unique place in the world, I made my decision to visit Ethiopia. An articles and pictures were about the Danakil Depression with the Dalol crater located in just there.20120101_175029 Pictures really inspired me and not left me alone. For a while, nobody from Lithuania was organizing any tours to that place of Ethiopia because of non stable politican situation (as they are having some terror incidences with Eritrea which is located beside The Danakil ),safety reasons and lack of interest from the other tourists. I have found a local travelling agency which was organising the tours to this wild, undisturbed by civilization place. Really to say, I was afraid of being fooled, did not want to  be  left without nothing, so kept searching on the internet ,looking for reviews from other travellers and tryed to find the very best and reliable travelling agency. I took a lot of risks as I decided to travel alone. But on the other hand,  mostly I'm travelling alone. As I am sole traveller, my major concern was safety, given "do not travel alone "status given by my reliatives due to killings, robbery and something else. Since I wanted to visit not only a Danakil Depression, but also a places of the Christian heritages- like  marvellous  Rock Hewn churches of Lalibela ,stelaes of Axum which  are knowing as a place where The Ark of Covenant is being kept, I went there using an individual travelling program which was put together by travelling agency called "Origins Ethiopia Tours & Travel". I am so glad, that everything went smoothly . They took very good care of me. The flight from Vilnius to Frankfurt and then to Adis Abeba took about 8 hours. Trully to say, I felt a slight pang of concerrn -who knows will be I meeted at airport and what would to do if not? But the guest service officer was waited me and I was taken to the hotel. There I was met by mr. Samson Teshome  Demena ,the main head of the travelling agency .We got few details of our trip sorted and the next morning I was ready to take my local flight to the north,city called Mekele from  where I started my journey to Danakil. I was the only one European at the airplane but the locals were so pleased seeing me and kept asking where are  I am from and why and  where I travel alone. _DSC4435At   the Mekele I joined other travellers- a couple from England, german professor of vulcanology and teacher of geography from US. We were leading by three guides ,had a three 4WD  and began our journey After short driving on a paved road we had to turn on  the wild one and for the rest of the day we just continued going through the sandy desert. The heat was hard to handle, all the dust and circling sand created an impression of a surreal world and it makes you feel like a dust yourself and realize, that only water has a real value here. Sometimes it looked as if we're entering a storm at sea. For a while we reached our main campsite, cars had no possibilty go further because of the lava fields. We took only our essiantials for three days (another needed gear was carried by camels) P1080234and continued walking by feet to the first main destination – Erta Ale volcano . In the local language Erta Ale means "A steaming mountain".IMG_0330 This volcano is still active, the last eruption had happened  on   25th.of January,2017.  Erta Alle, Danakil Depression and the Lake Assale  (or lake  Karum ) creates the Afar triangle.On the top of this volcano there is a lava lake. The only five volcanos in the whole  world  are having this tipe of thing. Walking through massive stones of lava was very tiredning because of the dusts, heat and the thirstiness which you can't avoid even drinking plenty of water.  We finally reached our campsite at the bottom of Erta Ale.The plan was to start climbing to the top at the middle of the night  because the weather is going to get cooler at that time. Campsite was undisturbed by civilization, little sheds made by branches looked like being _DSC4445here since the times of D.Livingston when he was travelling around the Africa, looking for the origins of the Nile 170 years ago. Sky was bright and cloudless, through the holes in the roof we could count the stars. Food was incredible:national ethiopic bread "injero " with the rice, pasta and vegetables on top.

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We sat round the table and all dipped pieces of the bread into a single dish containing a powerfully delicious the all kind sauces. After that- amazing Ethiopian coffee called "buna ". Around 3a.m. we started walking. It was 13 km. walk through the lava field and 630m. climbing up on the top of the volcano.In the moonlight our walk was very mysterious. This took us 4 hours ,but the scenery was worth all the slight  tiredness we had to experience during  this walk. Note:for those,who feel that will be difficult to walk , there are camels.IMG_20170125_054339 Lava was bubbling, little fires sparkling and the steam going up.13124733_978065392247097_25520375290111044_nThe view was amazingly hard to explain or even to picture as in the photo you can't feel that strong smell of sulfur, sound of boiling hot, bubling lava. That's why the locals started calling this place "the gates to hell ". I couldn't image hell being very different .After walking back and having some rest, me and the rest of my group went to different ways. They continued the journey and went to see the other volcanos. I, together with my guide, went back to the campsite , took our 4WD and started driving to the most unique place in the world – the crater of Dalol located at the depression of Danakil. This had been found by europeans by 17-18 th century but unfortunately after that nobody never organized any tours as the heat was dangerous together with an acid lakes and toxic steams. Because of isolation and non stable political situation ,ferocious tribes  living nearby, nobody was visiting this harsh, inhospitable place , only in 2005, the French explorer and documentalist N. Hulo introduced the the depression of Danakil to an audience. Depression of Danakil is the lowest point on Earth, 136,8m. below the sea level, temperature can reach +45-55 C degrees._DSC4758 This volcano creature is the most eccentric in our planet, which is being known because of very interesting geological structures like hot and soar water, hills of sulfur, little geysers of gas and salt poles. Word "Dalol "in a native Amhar language means "cracked, crushed "_DSC4735. Sometimes geysers and springs are steaming together with the poisonous gas.Non stable base is a real danger for an animals and human beings. It happened after the many floods and low tides by Red sea, created by the sun, wind, sand and salt. I have been to many places in the whole world, climbed volcanos in Guatemala,  Mexico, Hawaii, Reunion, Iceland and so on, but I have never seen anything that awesome landscape , who, looking from afar ,  was similar to an enormous old Persian carpet.P1080336  Place looked so surreal , mesmerizing and absolutely incredible. I was surrounded by lava, salt rocks and the green-blue -orange coloured lakes. I have never seen this before and shall treasure the memory of it. It is  difficult  to reach the Dalol crater. You have to walk about 5 km. through the desert, leaded by the armed security and local people as intermediary, as it is dangerous place since the  intensive situation between an Eritrea and Ethiopia happened. I reckon, that is why here are not creating any infrastructure for tourism  trying to attract  the tourists. The last settlement before lake Assal is village Hamed  Ela._DSC4629_DSC4634 The village is poor:there are no phone connection, no electricity, water supply. Locals live in a tiny  shacks  built by branches ,water is carried in the special canisters from the well in the desert. But this didn't made any inconvieniences to me. In my travels I do not worry too much about my living conditions, meal and another things. What about a meal here, in our living at Hamed Ela? The food, prepared by the guide Habtom and driver Semenh was deliciuos,drinking water was enough. _DSC4652 Local people earning money selling the salt at the closest market in the city Berhale which they are getting from the salt lake using a very difficult manual way._DSC4875 It is incredibly tough work of the salt miners , extracting salt pieces tens of thousands of years ago from this harsh, inhospitable land. I think so  it looks only for us, not  accustomed to see such an unusual to our eyes landscape. The locals love their native land and their hard work. For the transportation they use a camels. When the sun is going down , it's very nice to see an endless convoys of camels carying the massive bricks of salt on their backs. They are leaded by the proud , straight teamsters ,most of them are barefoot or wearing flip-flop sandals ._DSC5004 Apparently their feet are used to be soaked in the salty lake water. The camels draw closer moving with a careful gait, noses upturned, as if finding the whole thing intensely distasteful. Seems like they are being hipnotized by their daily journey, however looking very graceful in motion and in repose.Their long eyelashes can envy any girl .Whenever  we left the most awful place in the world- the crater of Dalol , headed to explore the other, no less  interesting part of Ethiopia :lush history of Ethiopia, amazing heritage of religion,marvelous nature and local people.P1080514 Indeed, the local people are beautiful here :the women are tall and graceful, carying loads on their heads ,are walking with that classic grace which Europian women seem to have lost.

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Men long legged and proud, often with sticks in their arms, seemed they are swimming while   walking. Faces are wery symetric , some of the  older people have crosses tattooed on their foreheads.Their skin has a beautiful coppery tint._DSC5436 We were driving past the Great Rift Valley (it's a real miracle created by nature which starts from Lebanon and extends to Mozambique in the south), hills and mountains,and little villages with poor looking huts beside the road. It was already  somebody on the road -walking people, cows, goats or sheeps were always crossing it.P1080476 The road here belongs to everyone._DSC6069 Whenever we stoped to take pictures – kids started surrounding our car , really out of nowhere. We were heading to the Axum city, it was the capital of Ethiopy when the legendary queen of Sheba (or Makeda) was in throne. She met the  king of Israel Solomon after that gave a birth to the son Menelic. Qeen of Sheba is still the main character of religious art. Even Hollywood made a movie called "Solomon and qeen of Sheba". As a legend says – Menelic stole the Ark of Covenant from Jerusalem , where the two tablets of 10 Gods commandments are kept. He brought the Ark to Ehiophy, and at first hid it in the island of lake Tana. After a while it was  moved to Axum st. Mary Sion chapel and it's being kept there since now  even knowing , that nobody ever seen this. Replicas of the Ark are kept in every Ethiopian Ortodox church ,hidden behind the curtain and only a  priest is allowed to see it. An original Ark of the Covenant is looked after only of the one priest and nobody else in the world , any other human being is not allowed to go there and see it. Nobody but that one priest had never seen the Ark . It's the real story or a very deep faith? Nobody can tell. ._DSC5324

_DSC5355The most famous thing in Axum are  the monolitic stelaes which can be found in various sizes. From 1 meter to 20-25 meters high. As researches found it was used as a tombstones. At the 4th century after the christianity was accepted in Ethiopia, building of stelaes had stopped. During the Mussolini invasion in Ethiopia (1935-1944), one of the stelaes was stolen and taken to Rome but in 2005 returned back and restored at  the same place from where it was stolen. Kings and dynasties were changing , time was passing and it changed the lifestyle of the African people, however, the faith, rituals and churches stayed the same since the begining of christianity. Syrians brought the christianity to Ethiopia at the 4th. century. For a while, the community of religious people was very closed, they made very own with  unique traditions an ortodox Tevahedo church. Ethiopians are very religious even nowadays ,everybody can be sure to say that Ethiopia is the realest stronghold of christianity in the whole world._DSC5313_DSC5298

_DSC6258The stone churces of Lalibela are surrounded by the secrets and myths, they are build at the outlying highlands of Ethiopia. Historicans says, that  the churches were built by medieval warriors while coming back from the Saint Land. (G. Hancock, exploring the history of Ethiopia) ,but locals believe, that more than 1000 years ago churches were built by the imperator Lalibela who was helped by angels. It is said, that in one church there is a pillar wrapped in canvas where Lalibela described the construction of the churches , but it is blasphemy to remove this and nobody dare to do it. 

There are 11 chuches altogether built in Lalibela and the biggest one is called "Beta Medhane Alem"(residence of Emanuel ),it takes 800 square meters and is the biggest monolitic building in the world. The majestic casing is held by 72 columns. Half of them inside, half- outside. Incredible thing is "Beta Georgis", st. George church is called after st. George, guard of Ethiopia. The cross shaped church is the miracle of an art of building. Church is made inside a big hollow, after builders had  finished with the windows and the doors they created a space inside. All the churches are connected by the tunnels and it is like a very confusing maze- narrow coridors, underground passages and raillings which are connecting all the churches together. They don't look in their best condition but still  are working. Every church has own priest who is always pleased to show the patrimony of the church- old,around 700 years old Bibles written in an ancient  languages._DSC6221 Piligrims often come visit Lalibela from every place in Ethiopia, some of them just sit on their own and read the Bible. At the very first, the plan was to make Lalibela to  be the new Jerusalem because at this time Jerusalem was occupied by muslims , even the river, which goes through the city was named Jordan.

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_DSC6019After leaving an amazing churches of Lalibela ,started going ahead to Tana lake. This lake is the biggest in the Ethiopia and one of the biggest lake of the highlands in the world. There could be find various tipes of plants and animals :crocodiles, hippos, loads of water birds and twenty islands with the unique churches and abbeys. We went on a boat and reached the most famous abbey church Uda Zidane Mhiret  with unique collection of icones  from the 16-17 century. 30 km away from there are the waterfalls of the Blue Nile called "Tis Abay "-streaming water. Water is falling from the 45 m. high ,creating the river from deep between the rocks which from the Blue Nile streams into the White Nile and from then being called just a Nile. Coffee trees are growing in the _DSC5910islands of Tana lake , the word "coffee"was made because of the city called "Kaffa"in Ethiopia. The coffee drinking ceremony is a real ritual and it is made only by women. They are roasting, grinding and preparing only after when coffee is already ordered and it's made in a very tiny cups, sweetened. Beside is placed a little stand with myrrh insence which smell is making a very euphoric atmosphere while enjoying coffee. 

_DSC5687Trip was reaching the end, but before I visited Gondero city on my way back. It's  a city from 16 th. century, the capital of  Fasilido empire. Well preserved Fasil- Ghebbi fortress the residence of dynasty of Fasilidu. Inside of the fortress -churches, saunas, swimming pool  which is filled with water during the Timket Melkat (christening) celebration for christians -ortodox could renew their christening sacrament.

Last day of journey was dedicated to the capital- Adis Abeba. (in Amhar language- White Flower ). The city was built in1887 by imperator Menelik the second. As every city of  Africa, Adis Abeba is very chaotic and full of contrasts.  Beside the new buildings, luxurious hotels poor looking houses, streets are very busy and loud.  Driving here requires a great skills from the driver. The noise is creating so much chaos, that you want to go back to the wild and silent nature. Main symbol of the city – baroque church of _DSC6540Three Saints , National and Etnografic museum filled with collections showing the lifestyle of various religions, cultures and traditions of various tribes. Also here is  the famous sceleton of austratropithecus Lucy. I had look around king Menelik the second residency which is made of clay, st. Marys chuch where the imperator was crowned , church of st. George, where all the treasures are being kept. Vibrant and autentic local market "Mercato "is so crowded, you even want to run away before you got  there. The _DSC6595last lunch with my beloved travel companions Habtom and Semenh at the first hotel of Adis Abeba  "Taitu Hotel "  after  the last look to Adis Abeba from the peak of Entoto mountain which is overlooking the city and late at night  flight back to Europe.

It was my fifth time I had been visiting Africa. While plane was going up my memories turned out about an orange Namibian dunes, orange coloured girls  from Himbu tribe,the heards of antilopes and buffalos in national parks of Kenya and Tanzania , Ngorongoro crater, majestic Victoria waterfall , Fish River canyon,  Dragon  and Atlas mountains. I could see the river of lights under  the plane wings. I left  the full of contrasts ,big and interesting land. Tribes from the valley of Omo river I left unseen with all their  unique culture ,paintings and extended tunnels under their  lips, Abaya and Chamo lakes , Nechsar  national park. But it was not the goal of my trip. This country is too big , too interesting and it is impossible explore everything at once. I am very glad, that my dream came true and I had a chance to see a trully unique place in the world – Danakil depression and Dalol crater, to visit a land of the legendary qeen of Sheba and see the churches which still are keeping their archaic identity. Watching praying  rituals of priests  I was feeling like I actually see the live images from an Old Testament. Ethiopia had never been colonised that is why Ethiopians managed to save their African identity for  which they are really proud. That's why Ethiopia is never called British or Francofonic Africa. It is the real Africa. I am very surprised that the tourists from the West  slowly explore the unique nature of Ethiopia yet. They are coming to see the religious places and tribes. And I'cant get one thing out of my head -to come back and explore this full of contrasts land again. It is full of everyting- nature, ancient culture, history. It is nice to have a dream….A dream about Africa….. 

_DSC4893I would love to say the big thank to the  manager of the company "Origins Ethiopia Tours&Travel " Samson Demena Teshome for the perfect organization of my travel, tour guide  Habtom Addis whose  deep knowledge about his country was surprising  and  our     super tough driver Semenh  Getahun .  It's impossible to thank everyone who helped me out the road.P1080325

Afterword

I wonder  that more Western tourists haven't heard of the Danakil depression ,as it is one of the most extraordinary place that I have seen in all my travels across the world. I wish everyone has possibility to visit this the most uninhabitable place on Earth, also the most beautiful and mesmerizing place. But I wonder – Afar region people working so hard  and being so poor having so awesomes landscapes similar to Yellowstone, Canyons of America , New Zealand, South America- why not turn this into tourism industry ? The locals could make much better living if they would start developing what they have.Otherwise, the mystery of Dalol remains largely intact. That is why I write a lot of articles in Lithuanian and English telling about this wonderful land, believing  that more and more tourists will get interested and will help to the Ethiopians to create a better life for themselves .

Leonarda Sarakauskiene , solo traveller , travelled on Feb. 2017

info@sarakauskiene.lt

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