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Grand Tour of Ethiopia's Historic Route
by Jerry W. Bird

During two remarkable journeys to Ethiopia for the Africa Travel Association's Jubilee year program, our agenda was arranged through the offices of the Hon. Yusuf A, Sukkar (below) , Ethiopia's Tourism Commissioner. It turned out to be one of the best organized trips we have ever experienced and it provided enough memories to last a lifetime, plus souvenirs galore, purchased at a wide variety of marketplaces and souks. As an introduction to the charm and mystery of Ethiopia, we joined ten other journalists from the USA on a week long trip which included Lalibela, Gondar, Bahir Dar and Lake Tana and Harar. On the second flight to Ethiopia we followed the Rift Valley south from Addis Ababa. Several pages on this site cover the various segments of our Historic Route journey. 80 Our full story will be presented in an updated edition of Africa Travel magazine. For some basic background on Ethiopia, we present the following item compliments of Selamta, Ethiopian Airlines in-flight magazine. The photo (below) shows the contrast between modern and ancient modes of transportation. It is from Ethiopian Airlines' beautiful coffee table book "Bringing Africa together," an apt title considering our focus on Peace Through Tourism.

Ethiopia is truly a land of discovery; brilliant and beautiful, secretive, mysterious and extraordinary. Above all things, it is a country of great antiquity, with a culture and traditions dating back more than 3,000 years. The traveler in Ethiopia makes a journey through time, transported by beautiful monuments and the ruins of edifices built long centuries ago. Ethiopia is truly a land of discovery-brilliant and beautiful, secretive, mysterious and extraordinary. Above all things, it is a country of great antiquity, with a culture and traditions dating back more that 3,000 years. The traveler in Ethiopia makes a journey through time, transported by beautiful monuments and the ruins of edifices built long centuries ago.

Here is what the official sources have provided
as background for your visit.

Ethiopia is also a land of natural contrasts, from the tops of the rugged Simien mountains to the depths of the Danakil Depression, at 120 meters below sea level one of the lowest dry land points on earth. The cornucopia of natural beauty that blesses Ethiopia offers an astonishing variety of landscapes: Afro-Alpine highlands soaring to around 4,300 meters, deserts sprinkled with salt flats and yellow sulfur, lake lands with rare and beautiful birds, moors and mountains, the splendor of the Great Rift Valley, white water rivers, Savannah teeming with game, giant waterfalls, dens and lush jungle -the list is endless.

Ethiopia's many national parks enable the visitor to enjoy the country's scenery and its wildlife, conserved in natural habitats, and offer opportunities for travel adventure unparalleled in Africa.

Awash National Park is the oldest and most developed wildlife reserve in Ethiopia. Featuring the 1,800 m Fantalle Volcano, extensive mineral hot springs and extraordinary volcanic formations, this natural treasure is bordered to the south by the Awash River and lies 225 km east of the capital, Addis Ababa. The wildlife consists mainly of East African plains animals, but there are now no giraffe or buffalo.

Oryx, batea red fox, caracal, aardvark, colobus and green monkeys. Anubis and Hamadryas baboons, klipspringer, leopard, busbuck, hippopotamus, Soemmering's gazelle, cheetah, lion, kudu and 450 species of bird all live within the park's 720 square km. The Bale Mountains with their vast moorlands- the lower reaches covered with St. John's wort- and their extensive heathland, virgin woodlands, pristine mountain streams and alpine climate remain an untouched and beautiful world. Rising to a height of more than 4,000 meters, the range borders Ethiopia's southern highlands, whose highest peak, Mount Tullu Deemtu, stands at 4,377 meters.

Bale Mountains National Park
The establishment of the 2,1400 square km Bale Mountains National Park was crucial to the survivals of the mountain nyala, Menelik's busbuck and the Simien red fox. This fox is one of the most colorful members of the dog family and more abundant here than anywhere else in Ethiopia. All three endemic animals thrive in this environment, the nyala in particular often being seen in large numbers. The Bale Mountains offer some fine high-altitude horse and foot trekking, and the streams of the park-which downstream-are well-stocked with rainbow and brown trout. The Baro River area, accessible by land or air through the western Ethiopian town of Gambela, remains a place of adventure and challenge. Traveling across the endless undulating plans of high Sudanese grass, visitors can enjoy a sense of achievement in just finding their way. This is Ethiopia's true tropical zone and here are found all the elements of the African safari, enhanced by as distinctly Ethiopian flavor. Nile perch weighing 100 kilos can be caught in the waters of the Baro, snatched from the jaws of the huge crocodiles that thrive along the riverbank.

The white-eared kob also haunts the Baro, along with other riverbank residents that include the Nile lechwe, buffalo, giraffe, tiang, waterbuck, roan antelope, zebra, bushbuck, Abyssinian reedbuck, warthog, hartebeest, lion, elephant and hippopotamus. The Simien Mountain massif is s broad plateau, cut off to the north and west by an enormous single crag over 60 km long. To the south, the tableland slopes gently down to 2,200 meters, divided by gorges 1,000 meters deep which can take more than two days to cross. Insufficient geological time has elapsed to smooth the contours of the crags and buttresses of hardened basalt.
Wildlife: Within this spectacular splendor live the Walia (Abyssinian) ibex, Simien red fox and Gelada baboon-all endemic to Ethiopia-as well as the Hamadryas baboon klipspringer and bushbuck. Birds such as the lammergeyer, augur buzzard, Verreaux's eagle, kestrel and falcon also soar above this mountain retreat. Twenty km northeast of Gondar, the Simien Mountains National Park covers 1279 square km of highland area at an average elevation of 3,300 meters. Ras Deshen, at 4,620 meters the highest peak in Ethiopia, stands adjacent to the park. The Simien escarpments, which are often compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States of America, have been adopted by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. Far to the southwest lies Omo National Park, the largest in the country, with an area of 4,068 square km. It is a vast expanse of true wilderness, adjacent to the Omo River, which flows southwards into Lake Turkana and is one of the richest and least-visited wildlife sanctuaries in eastern Africa. Eland, oryx, Burchell's zebra, Lelwel hartebeest, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, waterbuck, kudu, lion, leopard and cheetah roam within the park's boundaries.

The Omo Valley is virtually free of human habitation but it is rich in palaeo-anthropological remains. According to scientific research conducted in 1982 by the University of California at Berkeley, hominid remains from the Omo Valley probably date back more than four million years. Much of Africa's volcanic activity is concentrated along the immense 5,000-km crack in the earth's surface known as the Rift Valley. It is the result of two roughly parallel faults, between which, in distant geological time, the crust was weakened and the land subsided. The valley walls- daunting blue-grey ridges of volcanic basalt and granite - rise sheer on either side to towering heights of 4,000 meters. The valley floor, 50 km or more across, encompasses some of the world's last true wildernesses. Ethiopia is often referred to as the "water tower" of eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off its high tableland, and visit to this part of the Rift Valley, studded with lakes, volcanoes and Savannah grassland, offers the visor a true safari experience.

The Omo River tumbles its 350-km way through a steep inaccessible valley before slowing its pace as it nears the lowlands and then meanders through flat, semi-desert bush, eventually running into Lake Turkana. Since 1973, the river has proved a major attraction for white-water rafters, The season for rafting is between September and October, when the river is still high from the June to September rains but the weather is drier. The river passes varied scenery, including an open gallery forest of tamarinds and figs, alive with colobus monkeys. Under the canopy along the riverbanks may be seen many colorful birds. Goliath herons, blue-breasted kingfishers, white-cheeked turacos, emerald-spotted wood doves and red-fronted bee-eaters are all rewarding sights, while monitor lizards may be glimpsed scuttling into the undergrowth. Beyond the forest, hippos graze on the Savannah slopes against the mountain walls, and waterbuck, bushbuck and Abyssinian ground hornbills are sometimes to be seen.

Abundant wildlife, spirited rapids, innumerable side creeks and waterfalls, sheer inner canyons and hot springs all combine to make the Omo one of the world's classic river adventures. East of the Omo River and stretching south towards the Chew Bahir basin lies the Mago National Park, rich in wildlife and with few human inhabitants. The vegetation is mainly Savannah grassland and bus, extending across an area of 2,160 square km . Mammal species total 812, including hartebeest, giraffe, roan antelope, elephant, lion, leopard and perhaps even a rare black rhino.

Several of Ethiopia's more remote areas are excellent for walking safaris, which are offered by several good tour operators in the country. Walking tours, best planned for the dry season, offer the traveler the opportunity for awe-inspiring vantage points from which to view many of Ethiopia's natural wonders, cultural riches and architectural heritage. In Gondar, there are fairy tale castles dating back to the 17th century. In Harar, the visitor can enjoy the incense-flavored mysteries of narrow alleyways and towering minarets.

Journey to the Roof of Africa Continued

Jerry W. Bird is President of ATA Canada Chapter, Editor and Publisher of Africa Travel Magazine, and Webmaster for the ATA site He is also Publisher of Air Highways Magazine, the Journal of Open Skies, featuring aviation, tourism, transportation and business worldwide. His career began with the Edmonton Journal Daily Newspaper, and expanded into the full spectrum of media - radio, television, magazines and Internet. He has won international awards for creativity in audio visual and print production.



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