Claire A Davies
Twitter : @dispatchesfrom1
December 18, 2019
Ethiopia’s capital coffers plenty of entertainment but a day trip out of the city is an easy way to appreciate the diversity of the country’s terrain.
Most hotels can make the arrangements for a car and driver(it is virtually impossible to hire a vehicle for self-drive).
The more adventurous can brave the pre-dawn buses in the central Merkato (not a place for the faint-hearted in the hours of darkness). Once safely on board, people will be somewhat amused by the presence of a ferenji (foreigner, precisely Caucasian )but will be friendly and Ethiopian buses follow the rule of one seat per passenger.
Here are a few ideas for those needing light relief from city life:
Strictly still part of Addis,this mountain just north of the city gives a glimpse into life in the highlands.The road snakes up through eucalyptus forests while people drive mules and women walk bent double from enormous loads of wood.The air here is cool.Concrete houses peter out to become dwellings of wood frames plastered with mud.
Entoto Mariam Church is a traditional Ethiopian Orthodox octagonal church where Emperor Menelik was crowned in 1882.
Opening times of the interior are limited to after morning services but there is a small museum dedicated to the Emperor and his wife Empress Taitu.It’s worth visiting just to wander around appreciate the peace and view the city in the valley bowl below.
On the way back,stop at Shiromeda,the main textile market for the city.
Entoto Beth Artisans
In another direction from the mountain, this social enterprise employs local women affected by HIV/AIDS. Previously most worked carrying wood for a dollar a day,they are now engaged in making jewellery from melted bullets and artillery casing.
It’s possible to tour the workshops(photos of the women not permitted) before visiting the shop which also sells woven baskets and leather goods.
Next door,the upmarket Muya sells high-end homewares such as bedspreads,pottery and cushions in an atmospheric old villa with polished wooden floors that once belonged to royalty.
Just 45 minutes drive south,the highlands end and turn into a cluster of lakes set in old volcanic craters. The town of Bishoftu (also still known by its old name of Debre Zeit) is unremarkable in itself but has a choice of lakeside hotels ranging from budget to luxury with pools and spas.
Boat trips and kayaking are possible as well as lakeside walks.Ethiopia has a staggering 857 species of birds and the lakes are good places to spot herons, grebes and hawks.
If birds don’t interest you,then the Kuriftu hotel chain has recently opened a water park complete with wave pool and boomerang slide.
Heading north again, the church at Debre Libanos is about 2 hours by car and set in an attractive steep wooded valley.The church is built on the bones of Tekle Haimanot, one of the most important Orthodox saints and is an ideal spot to appreciate the intensity of religious fervour that permeates Ethiopian culture.
Tekle Haimanot reportedly fasted for seven years while standing on one leg,sustained by a single seed a year fed to him by a bird.
While the church exterior is unremarkable(the original was destroyed by the Italians during occupation),the site is filled with the murmuring voices of pilgrims and those who come to drink the holy waters,thought to have healing powers. The interior of the church is particularly atmospheric, with sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows.
A priest will point out the sign at the entrance forbidding entry to menstruating women and those who have had sexual intercourse within the last 48 hours.
Nearby, you can visit Takle Haimanot’s cave (there are still monks and nuns living in the cliff caves).There is also a Portuguese Bridge with fine views over the gorge.
Look out for baboons, woodpecker and the majestic bird of prey, the Lammergeyer.
Menagesha National Forest
Travelling east this time,this national park is reached via the turn off from Sebeta.
Wooded trails lead through forests of redwood and juniper trees.Hiking to the top of Mount Wuchacha, a 3380 meters extinct volcano is possible. Wildlife species include the black and white colobus monkeys in the treetops, bushbucks and yellow-fronted parrots.
An alternative is the slightly closer Gullele Botanical Garden, kust outside of the city, off the road north towards Bahir Dar. A joint venture between the university and the city administration,the garden has collected hundreds of species of indigenous plants and more of a wild area than a formal botanical garden in the western sense.
Some projects such as the aviary are a work in progress but there are great views of the city and mountains beyond.
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