At times over the past ten days, I’ve felt our extended road trip through the hinterland of Ethiopia may have been a bit too adventurous, given we’re almost seven months into our journey and feeling quite travel weary. For example,
– The time we drove for five hours at an average speed of 20km per hour over what can best be described as the debris of a 100km-long avalanche. In fact it’s the site of road construction, but beyond any sort of reason, traffic continues to pass. At one point we arrived at a hairpin turn where a digger was removing some large boulders from the road. No warning. No flag people. The equipment operator spotted us and reversed a few feet – just enough for us to pass. And pass we did. We can now say we survived the Limalimo Road!
– The day we drove for 10 hours, mostly on “dirt” (read: rock) roads and narrow mountain passes, where mere inches (and air) separated us from drops hundreds of metres to the valleys below. Passing the occasional wreckage of a truck that missed a turn and tumbled down the mountain-side served as a sober reminder of the very real risk.
– On more than one occasion, being kept awake late into the night (or wee hours of the morning — the worst was 4am) by raucous music playing in bars across the street from the guesthouses we stayed at. Who knew Ethiopians liked to party so much at night!?
But – and it’s a major but – Ethiopia and its people have a way of capturing your heart. And so they have. Our experiences are too numerous to recount, but include:
– Our quiet, yet profoundly kind and seriously cool tour driver (Getu), who has shepherded us across this country.
– The family that welcomed us into their modest mud-floor home and served us coffee… and wheat snacks… and injera and wot. When they saw that the kids loved the snacks, they rushed outside to roast a kilo for us to take away with us.
– The owner of a tiny, below-ground restaurant who embraced us (literally and figuratively), serving the most delicious food and making us feel at home. On the second night we ate there, her young son taught the kids how to make injera. In fact, they ended working as servers.
– The universally joyous response from everyone who learns Meskerem is Ethiopian and adopted into our family.
– Watching countless people, young and old, carrying weight well above their own (water jugs, wheat stacks, wood)… and walking distances difficult to fathom.
– And the children. Oh, the children. Kids have waved and smiled and danced for us everywhere we’ve traveled. Each time we stopped the SUV on the side of what appeared to be a deserted road to take a break or a photo, kids appeared out of thin air. Most remarkable are the children, some who look as young as 5, herding large numbers of goats and cows and donkeys – all alone.
– The stunning geography of this country (we had no idea it was so mountainous), and its remarkable political history. This was the seat of one of the world’s great civilizations. Ethiopians are rightly proud of both – and the fact that, unlike many African nations, they have never been colonized.
– And perhaps most breathtaking of all – the architectural genius and spiritual devotion that inspired the stelae, tombs and rock-hewn churches in Aksum and Lalibela. (Note: If you haven’t been to Lalibela, especially if you are Christian, you really should add it to your travel wish list. If you’re not on a tight budget like us, you don’t have to travel the roads mentioned above – you can fly direct!)
Being in this country, though at times difficult for us pampered Westerners, has truly been a master class in the capacity and generosity of the human spirit.
We’re are exhausted, but more than that, we are humbled.