ETHIOPIA, AFRICA

HOT NEW TRAVEL PROD­UCTS

DRIFT Travel magazine - - Inside This Issue - BY: RUSS WALSH

A jour­ney to Africa’s horn.

Tran­scend Drive­pro 520 Dash Cam­era

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The Paq Carry-on Travel Bag

Per­fect for those who want to make the most out of their carry-on item. Ro­tat­ing buckle al­lows for easy trans­for­ma­tion be­tween back­pack and duf­fel bag. Shoul­der and hip belts to move freely keep­ing the paq in the most er­gonomic po­si­tion as you walk. paqbags.com

SCORKL

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Ever since I started working in travel, Ethiopia set­tled it­self in the back of my mind as the ul­ti­mate “naya” desti­na­tion. Grow­ing up on the op­po­site side of Africa, I was in­trigued by this seem­ingly dif­fer­ent and mys­te­ri­ous coun­try that shared my con­ti­nent. As a univer­sity stu­dent of com­par­a­tive re­li­gion, I stud­ied Abyssinia’s colos­sal past, its mil­len­nia of his­tory in­ter­twined with the spread of Ju­daism, Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam. I mar­veled at Ethiopia’s knack for keep­ing to its own on a con­ti­nent that was rav­ished by col­o­niza­tion.

Af­ter launch­ing Naya Trav­eler a year and a half ago with a port­fo­lio of des­ti­na­tions that high­light the ‘places we call home,’ my part­ners and I were faced with the ex­cit­ing chal­lenge to de­ter­mine where to ex­plore next. Our travel phi­los­o­phy is deeply rooted in the value of rich cul­ture and her­itage, and thus, it was al­most too easy to agree on Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is one of those des­ti­na­tions that requires trav­el­ers to be prepared on many lev­els, not only phys­i­cally, but also emo­tion­ally and spir­i­tu­ally. The sa­cred spa­ces, di­verse peo­ples and be­guil­ing land­scapes de­mand readi­ness and re­cep­tiv­ity on the part of the trav­eler. Thus, early this year, we prepared our­selves for some­thing ab­so­lutely re­mark­able, and our ex­pe­ri­ence was noth­ing short of that.

Among all the sa­fari trips, glamp­ing ex­pe­di­tions and wild ad­ven­tures that are steal­ing the show in to­day’s travel in­dus­try, Ethiopia seems to take the back­seat. How­ever, rapid growth and de­vel­op­ment is see­ing the coun­try open up to tourism, while re­main­ing raw and un­touched. The cul­tural di­ver­sity of Ethiopia al­lows for a very dy­namic and en­light­en­ing travel ex­pe­ri­ence that takes you from the an­thro­po­log­i­cal be­gin­nings of mankind and the pro­found his­tory and spir­i­tu­al­ity of Chris­tian Or­tho­dox be­liefs, to the tribal heart of the African con­ti­nent in the Omo Val­ley, all nes­tled amongst the nat­u­ral beauty that paints the coun­try north to south.

We ven­tured across the coun­try’s im­mense north­ern plateau and the tribal re­gions of the south in the com­pany of our guide and friend, Yared Zer­i­hun. We flew above arid land­scapes and rocky moun­tains, drove through val­leys and na­tional parks, and hiked along dirt roads lead­ing to small vil­lages fringed with wel­com­ing smiles.

In the “No­ble North”, we glided along the blue wa­ters of Lake Tana to greet the monks and nuns of the 500-year old is­land monas­ter­ies. We strolled through the cu­ri­ous medieval cas­tles of Gon­dar and trekked along the rock hewn churches of Lal­i­bela in traditional clothes. We walked along the 3000-year old path­ways of Queen of Sheba’s palace in Axum, and dined on mouth­wa­ter­ing En­jira and Tibs.

To the south, an en­tirely dif­fer­ent cul­ture and peo­ple wel­comed us. The Omo Val­ley is rough and raw - per­haps one of the most ethno­graph­i­cally di­verse re­gions in the world. Our jour­ney along muddy roads took us to the small towns of Arba Minch, Konso and Turmi where we had the op­por­tu­nity to wit­ness some of the last liv­ing tribes of our time. The chief of the Dorze tribe showed us his fam­ily home and in­vited us to a meal in his beau­ti­ful vil­lage. The women of the Hamer tribe gra­ciously gave us shel­ter in their hut as we waited out a rain­storm. The Karo tribe told us stories over a camp­fire.

Ev­ery day of­fered an ex­cit­ing and trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. In fact, one of the most re­mark­able travel mo­ments of my life took place dur­ing an early morn­ing mass at Bet Gabriel in Lal­i­bela. Thanks to Yared and his ap­proach­able per­son­al­ity, we were al­lowed to en­ter the heart of the lime­stone church set in the hills of Lal­i­bela, dur­ing this aus­pi­cious cer­e­mony. In this cramped, sa­cred space over­flow­ing with in­cense and seren­ity, I was sur­rounded by pil­grims and priests who were too en­thralled by their own singing to care about the in­trud­ers. I moved with the ebb and flow of the gen­tle crowd, and

knew this was a mo­ment I would never for­get. Yared walked us through his coun­try’s his­tory with great pride. Trac­ing its roots to the 2nd mil­len­nium BC, Ethiopia is fa­mous for be­ing the first in many ar­eas. It is widely con­sid­ered as the re­gion from which mod­ern hu­mans first set out for the Mid­dle East and be­yond. Of course, we also have Ethiopia to thank for the cof­fee bean, which was dis­cov­ered in its fer­tile val­leys. As he leafed through a 500-year old bible at the Ark of the Covenant in Axum, Yared ex­plained that Ethiopia’s an­cient Ge’ez script is one of the old­est al­pha­bets still in use in the world.

Not to give in com­pletely to cliches, but Ethiopia re­vealed it­self as a di­a­mond in the rough and shine it did. Its ex­cep­tional cul­ture and tra­di­tions sur­passed my ex­pec­ta­tions, leav­ing me to re­de­fine to­day’s overused term of “ex­pe­ri­en­tial travel”. Ethiopia is per­spec­tive-shift­ing with its in­de­struc­tible iden­tity and proud peo­ple, of­fer­ing a jour­ney of a life­time.

For more in­for­ma­tion on guided travel to Ethiopia, visit nay­a­trav­eler.com

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