Blue Nile Falls “Tissisat”
Tissisat, “Smoking Water”, is a spectacular waterfall, over 13,000ft wide at the end of the rainy season (October to December), plunging 30 miles over a basalt cliff causing a smoking mist to moisten the countryside up to a kilometre away. On either side of the vent ofLake Tana‘s depths are fields. In front grows a perennial rainforest. The Tis Abbay tourist office offers maps of the falls which can be reached by walking through Tissisat village where local guides and musicians will entertainingly point out sites of historical interest, or one can cross the Blue Nile by papyrus boat.
As the capital of Ethiopia, the focus of the Highway Network, location of an international airport and the terminus of the railway leading from the Gulf of Aden in Djibouti, Addis Ababa is an inevitable stop on the trail of exploration. It is a bustling metropolis of four million people founded in the late 19th century by Emperor Menelik II, 7000ft high in the pleasant climate that exists in the foothills of Mount Entoto. Multifarious buildings and traditional homes interspersed with sky rises line the nameless streets (a definite disadvantage in terms of orientation). The diversity is not limited to the buildings; languages (Amharic, French, English, Italian…), and industry (printing, textiles, asbestos) are varied in the district, as are the type of shops and markets.
Traditional Italian patisseries, a relic from the brief Italian occupation in the late 1930’s, offer a contrast to the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony that one may encounter in the private sector. The famous Addis Ababa Mercato trades in the finest Arabica coffee, leather, tobacco, dairy products, fresh produce, and traditional metalwork.
Addis Ababa offers an intellectual and political insight into the state of Ethiopia and Africa as a whole. It not only houses the Headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (in the stunning and modern Africa Hall, whose famous stained glass windows were designed by native artist Afewerke Tekle), the UN Economic Commission for Africa, The Addis Ababa University (founded 1950), and the National Museum (with the earliest skeletal remains of mankind, “Lucy”, and her older sister Homo Ramidus Afarensis at 4.4 million years of age). Also of interest is the Ethnographic Museum at the Institute of Ethiopian studies, which allows visitors to view the history of Ethiopia’s intricate cultural development.
Entoto is 3 miles from Addis Ababa. The Entoto National Park forms a horseshoe shaped ridge offering panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside. Menelik II had previously established hs capital here before descending into the valley. The Entoto Maryam Church has a small museum, and its holy areas are accessible to women (a rarity in Ethiopia).
Another small town accessible from Addis Ababa (30 miles away), Debre Zeit is pleasant, warm and at 500ft above sea level serves as an excellent base for visiting the nearby volcanic crater lakes. All of the many lakes are renowned for the array of bird life, but Lake Bishoftu is the most accessible, and Lake Hora the most beautiful.
500 miles north of Addis Ababa, the 17th century capital of Gondar stands atop a 7000ft escarpment, commanding a view over 25 miles of farmland to Lake Tana in the south. Two streams flow on either side of the town, filled with Axumite castles and medieval churches. Inside the most famous Fasilidas Castle (built by King Fasilidas in 1640) is the immense royal enclosure; the other castles of the town were all built within 100 years of this one. Also of interest is the Bath of Fasilidas, the emperor’s bathing pool, and the ruins of the palace ofKusquam. Five miles from town is a Falasha (Ethiopian Jewish) village, which although supposedly historic and legendary is now deserted by its former inhabitants who have mostly immigrated to Israel.
Simien Mountains National Park
The Simien Mountains, accessible from Debareq (70 miles from Gondar), hems in Africa’s fourth highest peak and Ethiopia’s highest point, Ras Dashen at 13,000 ft (ascendable by mule). Night temperatures fall below 0°C and the mountain is regularly coated with snow and ice. The lower slopes are cultivated and grazed, the higher Alpine regions are forested. The park, excellent for trekking by foot or by mule, is home to animals endemic to Ethiopia such as Gelada baboons, Walia ibex (an endangered wild goat), the Simien Fox, and the rare Lammergeyer (a predatory bird). The fauna includes fescue grasses, heathers, Red Hot Pokers, and Giant Lobelia.
Harar, founded in 1520, is the fourth most Holy city in Islam, a surrogate Mecca, a centre of Muslim learning and it has the honour of its own language. Inside the walls (a UNESCO heritage site) are 99 Mosques and, oddly enough, a lively society scene of bars and luxury and government hotels. The best way to get to Harar is via Dire Dawa, an hour away by bus. The trip is worth the views for its varied terrain: mountains, rock face, wooded plateaux of acacia, eucalyptus, cactus, and descents into deep ravines. Harar is fed by fertile cropland, coffee plantations, rich water sources, and a bit of the mild narcotic “chat” (or khat) plant. An odd tradition that takes place at the edge of town is the hand, and sometimes mouth to mouth, feeding of wild hyenas. Visitors are welcome to observe and partake in the event that takes place every evening. It’s not all harmless show, though – it has been reported that orphaned children are left to be killed by the hyenas outside of the town.
Bahar Dar is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana, 20 miles from the Tissisat Falls. Its Saturday market is renowned for weavers and woodwork. The local fishermen use traditional papyrus boats which can be viewed on a cycle path three miles downstream from the bridge on the Blue Nile’s east bank. The path continues to a hillock upon which rests a former palace of Haile Sellasie.
The reservoir from which the Blue Nile springs before its journey to Khartoum and the Mediterranean is a holy lake; 37 islands pit its surface and 20 of them accommodate churches and monasteries with paintings and ancient artefacts. Unfortunately only men will have the privilege to explore these buildings, the most famous of which are Kidene Mehret on the Zege Peninsula, Kebran Gabriel, and Debre Maryam.
In the south east corner of Ethiopia, a vast plateau of rocky mountains, streams, grassy plains, and the Harena Escarpment are the Bale Mountains. They border with Kenya and Somalia. Here serves as the home to the Oromo tribe. The National Park is dotted with hot springs, rivers, and woodlands reached by 4×4 vehicle or pony. A fishing club at the headquarters in Dinsho allows access to streams with rainbow and brown trout. Endemic species of flora and fauna such as St. John’s Wort, Giant Lobelia, Mountain Nyala, Duiker Warthog, Menelik’s Bushbuck, Simien Fox and leopards grow or roam. Nearby are the resorts of the Rift Valley in the west Sodere. In these resorts one can bathe in the natural hotsprings of Wondo Genet or swim inLake Longana, one of the Rift Valley volcanic lake trio, and the only bilharzias-free (infected) lake in Ethiopia. Also nearby are the Sof Omar caves, 80 miles east of Goba, massive caverns and chambers which, when visited with a guide, reveal an Islamic shrine.
By Alyssa Moxley