On arrival in Ethiopia I spent a few days in the capital, the ‘New Flower’ Addis Ababa. The third highest capital city in the world didn’t automatically strike me as a particularly attractive city, it’s spread out and full of pick pockets, chancers and general weirdos. During my first walk out of the lodge I was approached by someone who shouted in my face “YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST” and almost pick pocketed in a double pronged attacked. Little do they know I’d read the warnings on forums and in guide books so had nothing in my pockets but empty tab boxes filled with dog shit.
One thing I was interested in seeing was the Museum of National History, it took me a while to find the place by foot, but I did ask for directions off a shoe shiner who told me to “walk forward 200 centimetres and it’s behind you”. The museum houses Lucy, a humanoid skeleton of the Australopithecus afarensis species, when Archaeologists discovered the oldest ever humanoid skull (3.5 millions years) it caused a complete rethink over human genealogy and proving that our ancestors were walking the earth 2.5 millions years earlier than originally presumed.
Addis served its purpose for getting me settled in Ethiopia, but I was happy to get out, my first stop North is the medieval monastery of Debre Libanos.
The 800 year old monastery was the head of the Ethiopian church for four centuries until the actual church was destroyed and hundreds of monks slaughtered by Italian fascists in the mid 19th century. The new church, built by Haile Selassie is far from impressive, but the monastery itself has a very special feel about it and after witnessing an exorcism, I can see why it remains an important pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians. Set in a 700m high canyon hundreds of monks live in the nearby caves.
A cave on the other side of the river where Tekle Haymanot, the founder of this monastery, prayed until his death at the age of 98 is now a shrine where one can go and be blessed, providing you’ve not eaten that day. I was gullible enough to believe the priest when he said I should walk over to the cave with an armed guard for safety. Nothing bad was ever going to happen, as there were pilgrims everywhere, this is just a racket they have going on to earn the guard a bit on the side and if anything, having a babbling old man pointing out ‘trip hazards’ with the end of his rifle is rather annoying. I gave him 33p which he grumbled at and them grassed me up to the priest, so I made it 50p.
From Debre Libanos I hiked to Ras Darge’s bridge, built by Menelik II some 200 years ago using limestone sealant and crushed ostrich shell. The Portuguese bridge as it is communally known, arcs over the Gur River, which runs over the gorge and into the Jemma River, a tributary of the Nile. With the bridge and waterfall behind you, and the canyon in front, this really is a stunning setting. There’s a few fresh pools formed by the waterfall, seen as there was no one about I thought I may as well take all my clothes off and jump into the icy cold water, and I mean freezing!
After climbing out and bursting into a fit of laughter, I remembered it was New Year’s Day, what a way to spend New Year’s Day!
I walked back to the main road and flagged a lift to the next town Finche, 15km North, to settle down for the night. Finche was nothing more than a stopover and a bed for the night, nondescript. I’ve no idea what Finche means but if I was to hazard a guess, I would say it could be an Amharic word for burning, as that is exactly what the town smelt like, Happy New Year folks!