Ethiopia

Condé Nast House & Garden - - TRAVEL -

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.

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