The World Starts and Ends in Ethiopia
Beginnings and endings have captured human imagination for eons. Creation stories run a dime a dozen and generally tend to be quite energetic, drawing the audience into a narrative of big bangs or women made from a rib. They are a lesson in creating something from nothing, creating humanity from small elements, a marvelous achievement - but also a constant reminder of our inherent fragility. Which brings me to endings, I love a good romantic ending and I also believe that energy is eternal. My favorite stories on endings are those that involve re-incarnation. A rebirth, a promise of something new once the old has passed.
If you are to think of a destination that gets one waxing philosophical and lyrical on beginnings, endings and the sheer awe of human history, then Ethiopia is it. Ethiopia is God’s country in many ways. As the birthplace of Dinkanesh a 3.2 million foremother of the human species, a holy land for several global religions and a destination that holds significant history on human civilization. To travel to Ethiopia is to pilgrimage, it is to pay homage and witness to the depth and breadth of human history, religious identity and practice. It is to connect with a people and culture that is unique and vastly diverse and travelling here will involve falling in love with the beautiful scripts of Amharic that dot the country’s landscape. Ethiopia is a place where the old co-exists with the even older.
My first trip into Ethiopia was for about 5 days. I packed in a busy itinerary that moved from Addis Ababa-the capital and headquarters of the African Union plus Dinkanesh’s home-into the Danakil Depression. The Danakil Depression is the hottest place on earth and is the only place in the world that has the exact same environment as planet Mars. Think gem blue sulphuric pools surrounded by the brightest yellow coral like formations and that is Dallol-smack bang in the middle of Danakil.
Danakil also hosts Erta Ale and several large salt lakes (similar to those in Bolivia and Peru). Basically there was a lot to satisfy my adventurous heart on this trip! I was really excited.
Booking the trip was pretty easy online through ETT a popular travel agent in Ethiopia for several travel routes. They responded quite quickly and a line caught my attention in their email back to me on my inquiry;
“Here is the itinerary in detail. Please note that if you are going into the Danakil, there are no hotels. You will need to be comfortable sleeping in the open air in Afar villages. On the day of the volcano sighting you will have to hike up to it at night behind camels carrying your sleeping mattress, rest there and go down to see it at 2am and return back to the main village camp to leave for Dallol. Please confirm if this is okay?”
So I had:
1. Going to the hottest place on earth
2. Going to Mars
3. Going to a place with no accommodation/modern amenities and facilities
4. Walking behind camels to go see a live volcano at 2am in the morning
5. Swimming in numerous salt lakes and pools
This was definitely up my alley! And I immediately signed up for it. Leaving Addis to head to Danakil by road was also an amazing experience. Watching as modern life melted away and the plains and spaces in between got wider and wider with a steady stream of large mountains and hills dotting the way.
My highlight was stopping at the roadside restaurant kiosks, a seat on their little plastic stools and you would immediately be surrounded with the waiters taking your order for the delicious assortments you wanted piled on your anjera (a fermented flatbread made of tef flour). This being Ethiopia’s calendar year for Easter meant that folks across the country were fasting so your meals were all served vegetarian with no meat. No problem as the options of curries, stir fried vegetables, potatoes and lentils were seemingly endless. You would get these in portions laid out on a large tray with the anjera laid on the bottom as a base to soak up all the flavours. There is also anjera on the side that you use to scoop up combinations of everything that you have selected, so no bite ever tastes the same as the combinations you can make are quite a few.
All of this could be washed down with delicious local beer dug out of crates filled with ice, or you could opt for a coffee ceremony. Which would entail watching local women coffee brewers create little delicious cups of thick, strong black coffee that they then serve with popcorn in small adorned cups painted with images of Ethiopian Saints. Your coffee, depending on how much you connected would also be served with lots of stories or shy smiles and comments to your tour guide to translate that she thinks Kenyan women are beautiful as she giggles.
Like all great romances my love for Ethiopia began and did not end on that trip of magical other-world experiences. It simply began and I am excited to be welcomed back to go on the historical route.