Mar 20, 2016

Ethiopia: Wollo Mountain Trekking

It's a truth known among long-time travelers, there are a plethora of "ok" tours out there. Charging lots of moolah and delivering a "meh" experience that could probably have been better constructed by the traveler themselves.

Tesfa Tours, operating "community treks" in northern Ethiopia, is NOT one of those companies. For the first time in awhile I felt like I truly got my money's worth out of a unique and well-planned tour experience.

Our trek started in Lalibela, where a mini-bus picked us up and drove us a few hours north into Ethiopia's dry mountain-scape. This area is dealing with drought and famine, and has recently been the benefactor of US Aid. The road was rough and un-paved, though they are working to pave it. At several points along the way up the mountains, we drove past Chinese camps of workers building the road literally around us.

Tesfa treks are designed to support the communities that the treks walk through. We were fed and housed by two different communities who split up the donkey-supplying, lunch and dinner making, and upkeep of each overnight camp site. It was like we were entering their world, quite literally, and were being cared for by the people who live in this arid, barren land. In return for the experience, we paid a decent sum. It seemed like such a great idea for travelers and the communities alike!

(The only small issue was that around this point in the trip I got a parasite/food poisoning/something in my gut that wasn't happy and I was having trouble keeping food in - which meant less amazing food and no amazing Ethiopian coffee for me....and lots of make-shift bathroom stops in the fields...bummer).

We trekked for two whole days. Donkeys carried our bags and an english speaking, super fun guide nick-named "Z" walked with us. Each afternoon, we stopped at a campsite whose views rival any views I have ever seen. I felt like we were sleeping in rock huts on the edge of Africa. In each location, there was a wooden box "toilet" in it's own rock hut. A bucket of water was placed near a tree that had bamboo wrapped around it for bathing privacy. (Although, at this point of living in Africa, bathing just doesn't always seem necessary. Wash your feet, wipe your pits and under your boobs. Use a face wipe if you're feeling fancy. Done. )

After arriving the second day to our camp we did what any normal, tired trekker in rural Ethiopia would do...we blasted Toto's Africa, danced around like the white girls we are, and drank crappy Ethiopian beer while wondering how the beer got brought in to the edge of the world. Typical African mountain side behavior.

At dinner time, a fire was built on the concrete floor of a separate rock hut and we sat around it on wooden benches. We were first brought a soup and a large slice of warm Ethiopian bread, followed by a home-cooked vegetarian meal. The community members who prepared the meal for us watched us eat first, which was super awkward and weird. We kept asking when the others would eat and were assured they would eat after we left the hut.

Following dinner, we retired with candles to our huts and slept in the itchiest beds I have ever been in. We checked for bed bugs, but it seemed like just fleas. There is not much to do on a mountain-side with no electricity, so 8pm bedtime was perfect. (And actually something we are all used to by now).

In the morning, we were treated to bread, eggs, and coffee sitting on benches overlooking the mountains. Donkeys grazed beside us, waiting to be loaded with our backpacks. Surreal.

On the hike out to the main road on our last day, we passed donkeys loaded with beer boxes. So that is how they get the provisions out to the camps, we thought, ...donkeys!

The actual walk itself was leisurely, though long. We walked through fields of animals (so much livestock in Ethiopia!), were followed by children, passed schools and churches and straw huts along the way. People were just doing their daily thing - raising animals, raising bare-bottomed children, living within the realm of relying on the sky's provision of water for their harvest. (That hasn't come this year...)

It felt semi-invasive to take photos. A few times I felt like a giant white alien marching around someone's home turf with a huge camera. It just didn't feel right. The photos I do have, however, give small justice to the grandeur and beauty of the landscape and mountain views.

Have a look...remember the people of northern Ethiopia who are going through drought...recognize climate change and ponder what you can do about it (don't waste water!)...and enjoy these snippets of beautiful Ethiopia...

Rural church

Where we took our meals. Unreal. 

Beer donkey. 

Give me a D! Give me an I! Give me an ARREA! 

shower, anyone? privacy not included. 

Waking up for sunrise is always worth it. 

another rural church

arriving to day 1 campsite


If you ever find yourself with a little cash, good shoes, and a few days of free time in yourself a favor and go on a Tesfa trek. Experience of a lifetime.

walk slow. xoxo.

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