A Walk in the Woods

On Day 3 in Ethiopia, I had arranged a day trip out of Addis. I headed south of the capital at 0530 hours with two guides and drove a little more than 100 kilometers before we arrived at our destination. On well groomed highways we could have made the trip in one hour. Our trip instead took three hours. We left early to avoid the notoriously overcrowded, single four-lane road headed south to Djibouti. After one and a half hours south, we left the pavement and proceeded to drive over bone jarring, country roads that had previously been washed out in the rains.

It was great to see Ethiopian countryside and the local animal life. My guides excitedly pointed out a herd of camels. A camel was the last thing I wanted to see.

On the country road leading to the mountain climb.

After an hour and a half of rough, off-road driving, we arrived at a small village at the base of Mount Zuquala. I'm not sure if the mountain is itself sacred, but this is a place of pilgrimage once a year where thousands climb up the trail and pray at the three monasteries that are spaced along the trail.   

We arrive at the small village at the base of the mountain.

We arrive at the small village at the base of the mountain.

We parked our car and spoke to the villagers. A young kid from the village joined our little band of ill-prepared hikers. I thought we were going to drive up the mountain. After arriving, I'm told, no, we're going to hike for three hours up to the monastery. I knew then this little foray into the wilderness was going to end badly for me, but, like a dumb-ass tourist, I trudged up the hill in my street shoes and the only pair of trousers I brought on the trip. Did I mention that we also had no water or power snacks?

After an hour and a half of hiking up some very scenic mountain terrain, we arrived at the first monastery. These little churches dot nearly every mountain top and hillside across the country. These country churches are small, circular, and have one to two monks living on the compound. In my next post, I will discuss the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the predominant faith of the Ethiopian population.

The trail up to the monastery had water flowing down it, so we hopped from rock to rock as we ascended. I looked down at my pants and I noticed that I'm beginning to get covered in mud. My shoes already were caked with sticky mud I collected from slipping off the rocks and into the mud channel. My interest in continuing the climb faded. I'm sure the rest of the mountain would have been nice, but next time I'll take a helicopter to the top.

We began our descent back to the village.

About midway down, a little kid appeared on the trail. He was mired in the mud. My hiking companions went to the rescue, freed him from the mud hole he was in, recovered his lost shoe, and dusted him off. Then one of the guys surprised me by bending down and kissing the young boy on the head before sending him on his way. The kid seemed fascinated by the old, white guy standing before him in muddy clothes. I'm sure he hadn't seen too many of them crossing his path.

We made it down the mountain and began the bumpy ride back to the main road to Addis. I wish I had more time to explore other areas of Ethiopia, but this one-day trip would have to do until I return someday.