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  • Scaling Simien: Budget mountains for beginners in Africa

    Simien National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. (Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey)

    When it comes to hiking in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro claims all the fame: Snow-capped and wreathed in clouds, it’s the highest peak on the continent and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. As an adrenalin junkie and a hopeless romantic I admit to being tempted, but the price of a climb – up to $4,000 – forced me to look for cheaper alternatives.

    I stumbled upon the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia and within a few minutes was utterly sold. A series of jaw-dropping peaks, plateaus and valleys in the northern Ethiopian Highlands, the range is part of Simien National Park, a 1978 UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hills are home to the socially adventurous gelada baboons, the elusive Ethiopian wolves and the shy but regal walia ibex, a goat found nowhere else in the world. Years of plateau erosion have created one of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth, and if you’re a beginner on a budget like me, few mountain ranges can offer you more.

    The national park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. (Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey)

    My journey began by haggling a price with online tour companies, which quoted me between $600 and $2,000 for an all-inclusive four-day hike. This looked like a bit of a gimmick to me, and I was sure the agents would charge me as much as they could from behind their computer screens. I was proven right, and through the grapevine learned that the cheapest way to book a climb was last minute, upon arrival in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar.

    I took a chance, and at the airport in Gondar met a sprightly young booking agent named Bocata. We negotiated our deal in town: $435 for a four-day hike including food, accommodation, porters, a guide and round-trip transportation from the city to the park. I ordered a beer to celebrate my bargaining skills, sat on a patio and watched livestock scurry through the crumbling streets (I later learned that another couple got the same package for $375 by forcing multiple agents to compete for their business).

    My mountain adventure began in the small town of Debarq, also known as “the Gateway to the Simien Mountains.” I joined a group of other tourists, accompanied by an experienced guide named Lej and a gun-toting scout who, to our great surprise, climbed the entire range in a pair of plastic sandals. We hiked at our own pace over challenging but manageable terrain, and camped overnight in tents at designated checkpoints. Every meal was a veritable smorgasbord, and we were provided ample break time for lunch, water and photography throughout our climb.

    Gelada baboons are just one of the species that can be observed on the climb. (Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey)

    The Simien Mountains are almost uniquely diverse in their geological formation, boasting rippling highlands, cliffs and gorges of overwhelming natural beauty. The scenery changed every few hours from winding forest on the cliffs to rolling hills of yellow barley, almost biblical in appearance. We passed some of the most beautiful flora and fauna I have ever seen – rich eucalyptus groves, giant lobelia, icy-white everlastings, red hot pokers and mountain palm trees. We stopped for a drink at the great Jinbar Waterfall, which tumbles more than 500 metres into the bottomless Geech Abyss, and had lunch by the cool streams that run down the mountain.

    Read the full article at The Globe and Mail

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  • Ethiopia races to preserve 'Africa's Jerusalem'

    Archaeologists face a race against time to save 800-year-old structures crumbling away from moisture damage. 

    Conservationists are facing a race against time to prevent one of Ethiopia's most sacred religious site from crumbling away. 

    The ancient churches of Lalibela in northern Ethiopia have been a place of pilgrimage for local Christians since they were constructed 800 years ago. 

    The 11 churches were carved out of the mountainside during the reign of the priest-king Lalibela, who hoped to give Ethiopians a place for pilgrimage inside the country and help them avoid making the dangerous journey to Jerusalem. 

    However, moisture is eating away at the structures and the sacred site is literally crumbling away. 

    The geological properties of the sites mean traditional tools and materials used to restore sites cannot be used. Instead, conservation experts are using improvised techniques to hold the structure together until they can strengthen it. 

    The methods include bandaging parts most at risk from rain damage until they can be treated. 

    The site was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978, but its importance to Ethiopian Christians extends beyond its archaeological importance. Many pray that the site will be preserved.

    Source: Al Jazeera

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  • Ethiopia: A tale of two countries

    Ethiopia provides that wonderful feeling of strangeness. It reminds one that travel can still broaden the mind.

    The famine-torn Ethiopia of 1984-5 is a distant memory, although this is still a very poor country and very much two countries in one. There is the massive building boom in the capital, Addis Ababa, where modern glass buildings are going up side by side with tiny street lock up shops. Many of the women dress like in any European capital. People talk on their mobiles. There are good restaurants and hotels.

    Out in the country, one steps back in time to wooden ploughs drawn by oxen, women in traditional dress, children offering to shine your shoes for pennies, poverty but with enough to eat. I never saw a child with a bicycle. I saw kids kick around, but never with a real football. Half-used ballpoints were accepted with enormous gratitude. And no one wore glasses. There were very few dogs or cars. Pets eat food.

    The new Dreamliner Boeing 787 service from Addis Ababa to Dublin and on to Los Angeles and back beginning in June will open up Africa to Irish travelers. From Addis you can fly on to forty nine African destinations. I had a great night's sleep on the Dreamliner. It is noticeably quiet and the flatbed in business class is a treat.


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  • CNN: Can you guess the world's top tourism destination?

    (CNN) - You would be forgiven for thinking it was Spain, Thailand or Italy. But this year the accolade of World Best Tourism Destination has been given to a surprising candidate: Ethiopia.

    The country been praised for its outstanding natural beauty, dramatic landscapes and ancient culture, leading the European Council on Tourism and Trade to select it out of 31 countries as this year's top holiday spot.

    Visitor numbers in the country have increased by 10% over the last decade, according to the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Last year, more than 600,000 tourists visited Ethiopia, attracted by its fertile national parks, 3,000 year-old archeological history and nine UNESCO world heritage sites.

    Tourism contributed an estimated 4.5% to the country's GDP last year, generating nearly a million jobs and over two billion dollars in revenue, according to the World Bank.

    CNN - Flick through CNN gallery of stunning Ethiopian sites to find out more about the country (Ethiopia) that has been chosen by industry experts as the top place to travel to this year.

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  • Ethiopia Selected Winner of World Best Tourist Destination for 2015

    Ethiopia is selected the winner of World Best Tourist Destination for 2015 and  receiver of the Favorite Cultural Destination Distinction for 2015 by the General Assembly of the European Council on Tourism and Trade(ECTT). 

    According to the report issued on June 25, 2015, the reasons for awarding World Best Tourist Destination for 2015 Prize to Ethiopia were the excellent preservation of humanity landmarks such as the ruins of the city of Aksum, the heart of ancient Ethiopia; Fasil Ghebbi, the residence of the Ethiopian emperors during the 16th and 17th century; Harar Jugol, 82 mosques, 102 shrines, and unique interior design in the townhouses; Lalibela, holy site encompassing eleven medieval stone carved churches from the 13th century; Konso Cultural Landscape (containing 55 kilometers of stonewalled terraces and fortified settlements); Lower Valley of the Awash where humanity made his first steps and where was found the Eva of all mankind---Lucy fossil’s; Lower Valley of the Omo also containing fragments pertaining to early humanity development and the fossils of Homo Gracilis. 

    All thete sites were recognized as being of world significance and registered as UNESCO World heritage monuments. 

    It further stated that the rich cultural and historical legacy of Ethiopia is not confined to the previous presented list, and new prominent landmarks such as Sheik Hussein, religious, cultural and historical site; Melka Kunture, paleolithic site in the upper Awash Valley; Gedeo Cultural and Natural Landscape; Bale Mountains National Park; Sof Omar Cave, the longest cave in Ethiopia at 15.1 kilometers long and the longest system of caves in Africa---sacred for Islam and for local Oromo population were added. 

    In order to fully grasp the natural potential of Ethiopia’s natural parks and natural reservations we must look at the potential of Simien National Park garnering mountain peaks, deep valleys, and sharp precipices dropping about 1,500 m, it also noted. 

    Community based, social-oriented tourism, promoted by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, is a perfect way of sharing revenue, growing income and supporting marginal and rural communities development, according to the report. 

    It further stressed that all these regions and national parks are a model of achieving ecological and green tourism that must be recognized throughout the world. 

    Ethiopia is also a perfect center for safari and adventure tourism, offering large areas suitable for this special kind of tourism, and the necessary infrastructure to welcome the adventure seeker, its safety and peace, makes the country, one of the world’s top adventure destinations. 

    Besides, it was pointed out that the safety of the country and the huge hospitality potential of Ethiopia are revealed by the acceptance of the invitation for a familiarization visit of high ranking members of European Council on Tourism and Trade to Ethiopia. 

    “Ethiopia is from today a perfect, safe and outstanding place to visit, the countries gates are opened and all world tourism experts have expressed their confidence in the potential and future of tourism in ETHIOPIA,” Professor Anton Caragea, President of the European Council on Tourism and Trade concluded.

    Source: ENA

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