Previous trips can be accessed by clicking the following links:

Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Denmark

Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Highlight Reel 4: Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe

After the opulence of so much of Oman, it was a bit of a shock arriving in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on November 8th. Many people questioned why we chose to tour the country which is on the 'tourist map' for more adventurous travelers. We almost didn't go because of travel advisories from the US government warning travelers of the recent violence that beset regions of the country. Even though it was the most unsettling nation of our trip in the sense of grinding poverty and the locals always regarded us as walking ATMs, discovering Ethiopia was one of the top highlights of our entire trip.

The day after our arrival, we upgraded to a hotel a minute's walk from where Steven stood as the first one was a far description from its listing.
It was humbling seeing women practice their faith by lying prostrate on the ground in front of religious icons just before entering churches.
We were lucky to tour the very untouristy Addis Merkato, routinely listed as the largest market in Africa, with a young local guide, Addis
Something neither of us had seen previously was banana paste.
The word 'recycling' had a new meaning as we walked through the Merkato where every formerly discarded item was remade into something to be sold again.
On November 10th, we took buses and tuk tuks from Addis Ababa to see the crater lakes near the town of Bishoftu. It was clear that animals had the right of way as the road saw so few cars.
At Green Lake near Bishoftu with Addis:
Walking long distances to obtain water brought home to us how terribly lucky we are.
Once back in Addis Ababa, it took over two hours and five minibuses to reach Entoto Maryam, the church behind me in the capital's northernmost suburb. The thrill was not the church itself but the adventure getting there!
The unfinished stairs monument at the former Haile Selassie Palace was just one symbol marking Mussolini's rule and Italian domination of Ethiopia.
One of our highlights in Ethiopia was being able to attend the Saturday weekly market in the town of Lalibela on November 12th as we hadn't known about it before arriving. Being able to witness a culture and way of life so different from everything that is known and familiar to our lives back home is what keeps us on the road for long stretches of time.

Lalibela is described as arguably the one place in the country no tourist should omit from their itinerary. The draw for tourists is the collection of 13 rock-hewn churches and chapels that functions as a kind of living shrine to King Lalibela, the saint accredited for excavating them in the 12th century. The most stunning example was St. George Church or Bet Giyorgis.

My trusty pair of cheap river shoes was about to give out so I went shoe shopping in Lalibela at the only shoe store in town. I was given the choice of just two pairs of shoes in my size - luckily I liked one of them.
On November 13th, we hired a tuk tuk driver in Lalibela to take us to Asheton Maryam, another rock-hewn church atop the town. After being dropped off at the closest spot, we had one of the most beautiful and peaceful hikes of our entire trip the rest of the way. Part of that was due to the fact we only saw one other tourist the whole time. There aren't many places in this fabulous world that we have come across that are as relatively remote and aren't overrun with tourists just like ourselves!

Another part of the church's lure was driving up the incredibly bumpy road was akin to receiving a massage. This one was better, though, as we didn't have to pay any extra for our 'Ethiopian Massage'!
Days later, we were in the city of Gonder, where the most celebrated sight was Debre Berhan Selassie or Mountain of the Enlightened Trinity, one of the most beautiful Ethiopian churches.
From the moment we had entered the grounds, we could hear over the loudspeakers priests chanting and drums being played. Actually seeing and hearing them sing and play the various instruments in the back of the church was a riveting performance as we hadn't been fortunate to have witnessed that in any of the other churches we had been to in Ethiopia.
The ceiling, with its rows and rows of winged cherubs, representing the omnipresence of God, was what drew our eyes. There was space for 135 cherubs, though 13 had been erased by water damage.
The most common painting in all Ethiopian churches was of St. George Slaying the Dragon.
By November 16th, I was in desperate need of a haircut and found a salon in Gonder. The woman spoke some English but had never cut a Western woman's hair before. I was generally quite pleased with the cut except for the chunk cut out on the right side. Oh well, I couldn't complain as it only cost $2.50 with tip!
The next day, we took a day trip to Simien Mountains National Park. The park was established in 1969 and was the second site to be made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 after Yellowstone National Park. 
Park rules required everyone entering the park hire both a guide and an armed  guard even though there were just the two of us. If you wonder if we felt more than a little disconcerted by having a gun-toting guard always bringing up our rear, you are absolutely right!
 Being able to walk within six feet of the gelada baboons was a surreal experience. It was so incredible being able to watch these and many other animals with no other people around.
On November 19th, we traveled from Nairobi to Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. En route, we drove through The Great Rift Valley, the name given to the continuous geographic trench, approximately 3,700 miles in length, that runs from Israel to Mozambique in southeastern Africa.

The Maasai men and boys wore checked blankets that were tied at the back of their necks and open in the back as they tended to their oxen, sheep and goats. Our guide cautioned me not to take pictures of any Maasai from the front.
We were there months after the summertime Great Migration when 1.5 million zebras, elephants and lions travel from Tanzania to the Mara River in Kenya. The Great Migration must be a sight of a lifetime but we were blown away with the huge variety and numbers of animals we saw. Plus, we were so lucky as there were few other tourists there then.  

Thomson's Gazelle:
Eland Antelope:


This was probably the sweetest image we could imagine: that of a baboon family with the father combing the fur of the mother baboon while she was holding the baby.
It was so much fun watching this baby elephant gently being nudged along. He was so little, he was almost invisible in the tall grass.
Just a few feet away from the van, we saw two female lions eating their kill. How very lucky we had been having seen all the animals especially the cheetahs as they were normally so hard to spot. Some days, tourists see no animals at all, our guide said.
On November 23rd, we arrived at Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls, the 7th Natural Wonder of the World. Steven stood on Victoria Falls Bridge which connected Zimbabwe with Zambia.
Photos from our hike to the Falls the next day:

This view certainly rivaled any I think we've seen at Niagara Falls.

Spending Thanksgiving visiting Victoria Falls had been a huge amount of fun even if we were unfortunately away from family and friends on that special day.

Next up: South Africa, a country needing its own Highlight Reel.

Posted on May 27th, 2017 from Grayton Beach, Florida.

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