Ethiopia: Trekking in the “Tibet” of Africa

12th Century monolithic rock-hewn church of Bete Giyorgis [St. George’s] in Lalibela, Ethiopia Photo by Sam
12th Century monolithic rock-hewn church of Bete Giyorgis [St. George’s] in Lalibela, Ethiopia
Photo by Sam McManus
Even the most dedicated hiker should take the time out to visit Lalibela. There is a mandatory $50 entrance fee for tourists and it is well worth hiring a local tour guide to explain the historical significance of the sites. Although one of the major attractions of the country, the town has a very peaceful atmosphere and there are a selection of good hotels.

Hidden frescos high up in the Gheralta Mountains

Further north, the Gheralta Mountains combine long acacia-filled plains with mountain ranges so picturesque that they look like Hollywood ‘African’ film sets. There are a number of higher-end lodges around the mountain range and guides can be procured from the villages of Hawzen and Megab for some of the best and lesser-known hiking in the country. The people are very friendly and, hiring a lone guide, I did a five-day trek, choosing to sleep in local farmsteads where I received much warm-hearted hospitality.

In one homestead — a longhouse with a number of sheep pelts laying around or hanging from its tree trunk pillars — all six children gathered around my bed, the eldest son Hamben took down their masinko (single-stringed violin) and played while the others clapped, led by their mother Gabriel.

The younger daughter Terhaus did a little dance in the middle, wriggling her shoulders and stomping her feet. It was like a rendition from the Ethiopian version of the Vonn Trapp family and we all had a lot of fun. In the morning Gabriel performed the traditional buna [coffee] ceremony, carefully roasting the beans and waving the smoke over my head as a blessing.

We visited many of the churches cut high up into the mountainsides. The frescos inside Abuna Gabre Mickail Koraro (St. Michaels) were my favorite; with a blue and yellow theme, they leapt out from the high vaulted ceilings and twelve delicate pillars in a cacophony of martyred saints. I rested with the priest and my guide on the cool floor after the steep climb while the hot sun blazed outside.

The Sanetti Plateau – walking across the rooftop of Africa

Located in the south of the country, tours over the plateau can be arranged from the one-street town of Dinsho, with Dinsho Lodge picturesquely placed just inside the national park grounds and some cheaper hostel accommodation also available. I hired a guide, a cook and two porters, trekking for ten days across Africa’s rooftop – an altogether humbling experience.

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