Ethiopia is the only East African country in the book. The country is unique to the continent in that it was essentially spared from colonisation, with the exception of Mussolini’s occupation from 1936 to 1941.
We arrived in mid-january, during Timket, the countrywide Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of the Epiphany. We spent our first day running through the crowded streets of Addis Ababa to witness a parade of priests decked in brocade robes in a rainbow of hues, carrying replicas of the Ark of the Covenant. It is primarily a Christian country and there is an intense religious devotion among the Ethiopian people. Axum, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Africa, lays claim to housing the Ark of the Covenant, the cornerstone of the
Ethiopian Orthodox religion.
After Addis, we spent the first part of our journey driving around the north, visiting Axum, Yeha, Mekele, Lalibela and Gondar, as well as exploring the vast countryside and villages that link these points. The roads were rough and the landscape was breathtaking: arid, steep mountains with monasteries precariously sitting on the tippy tops, massive cactus trees and jagged red rock formations reminiscent of the American Southwest. Cars and buses were sparse and we shared the roads with herds of camel and other livestock, ox-drawn carriages and pedestrians – long-limbed men in sandals and shawls with majestic posture, carrying their ever-present walking sticks, accompanied women in hand-loomed cotton dresses with clay jugs on their heads and babies on their backs.
The Omo Valley in the southwestern part of Ethiopia, bordering South Sudan and Kenya, was one of the highlights of our trip. It is home to about two dozen culturally distinct tribes who have inhabited the valley for millennia and, for the most part, lived an isolated existence that remains unchanged. The tribes are predominately pastoralists who have led nomadic lives on the productive land near the Omo
River. The building of dams in the region by the Ethiopian government is threatening their way of life and their dependence on the river for survival.