Discover the Ethiopian Highlands on horseback. Riding in traditional style on local horses we ascend from a starting point of 2400m through various eco systems and dramatic scenery. As we climb the vegetation changes and gradually we leave behind the traditional villages that characterise the lower slopes until we enter the National Park which is inhabited by many rare endemic species of wildlife and traversed by the semi nomadic Oromo people. Here we can see the rare Abyssinian Wolf, Menelik's Bushbuck, Mountain Nyala and many more. We encounter nomadic Oromos with their herds of cattle, goats and sheep. Draped in capacious white shawls, they cross the vast horizon on their inexhaustible horses. Slender and fine-featured, they were semi-nomadic pastoralists, traditionally horsemen who use their horses as mounts or as draft/pack animals.
To complete our visit of Ethiopia we visit Lalibela, a religious treasure unique in the world, the spirited high place of Abyssinia. The site embraces several dozen churches cut into the rock, still frequented with fervour by Coptic Christians. This is an adventure of a lifetime for intermediate riders onwards.
Read a personal account of this trip by David LO Smith.
Read an article on the Ethiopian Highlands from Selamate Magazine
Read an article on the peoples of Ethiopia from Selamate Magazine
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from FF of Ringsend on 17/12/2016
Fly from London to Addis Ababa, arrival in Addis Ababa the following morning.
You will arrive in Addis Ababa in the morning and will be met by a representative/guide and be transferred to Debre Damo Hotel (4*) or similar for check-in. After lunch there will be a half day of sight seeing including the National Museum where you can see different archaeological findings including "Lucy", the 3.5 million years old skeleton. You will be driven to a panoramic viewpoint of the city from Entoto Mountain (3200m) before visiting "Mercato", one of the largest open-air markets in Africa. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
This morning you will take a 6 hour drive through the Ethopian Great Rift valley, stopping en route at Lake Langano for lunch. You will then proceed to Dodola. Overnight in Bale Mountain Motel.
From Dodola we drive 30km to the Changiti forest edge. We are now at 2400m altitude (7,500 ft). Here we find our horses waiting. As we ride in the forest we are surrounded by exotic bird sounds and colobus monkeys jumping from tree to tree. On your trail we come across Tarura Plain - ideal for those who want to enjoy a gallop. The Ethiopian horses are not used to the same signals as European horses, however it is not difficult to control them. En-route we stop at Wahoro hut. After a brief break the route takes us Angafu Via Tulu tute at 3,750m altitude (11300ft) from where we are rewarded with an astounding view. In the afternoon, we take a short walk along the ridge to Delume. Overnight at the Angafu Eco-hut.
The day unfolds at between 3000 and 3400 metres, where a forest dominated by huge African Junipers and spectacular Abyssinian Hagenias unfurl in full bloom in November. This is the domain of warthogs and baboons, mountain nyalas, and a multitude of birds. 5hrs riding.
After an early breakfast we ride to Mololcho hut over about 5-6 hours. We travel through dense primeval jungle to start with. What may surprise you the most is that familiar species known to be shrubs in Europe grow to towering trees here. We leave the forest at around 3400m, onto the great afro-alpine humid meadows, its undulating territory spiked with wild hyacinth, and everywhere you will see giant Lobelias looking oddly like palms. They grow around 3100 to 4300 metres, can reach 2 or 3 metres in height, and are as perfectly adapted to the intense solar radiation as they are to the great fluctuations in temperature. This sometimes lunar landscape reminds us of the tundra with its cushions of lichen and its lava flows.
A multitude of rodent species live here - a bonus for many kinds of predators. Amongst other we find eagles, buzzards, falcons and Abyssinian wolves, the rarest canines in the world. About 600 survive here in the Bale plateau. November is the whelping season for Abyssinian wolves, as it is also for the nyalas. Night at the Mololicho refuge hut. 6hrs riding.
The mornings ride takes around seven hours through mainly Erica vegetation. Carpets of yellow flowers make the riding extremely attractive and there is a most impressive view at an altitude of 3350m. On your way to Duro you cross the Meribo river which flows all season long, and we walk the final metres to Meribo as the trails are not suitable for horses. The beauty of the camp can be glimpsed through the window of the hut at all times. In the late afternoon walk along the ridge and discover the scenery more and more. After dinner make a camp fire, meet the villagers and enjoy their traditional coffee ceremony. Overnight Duro refuge.
Today we head to Morba at 3750 m on a full day horse riding through alternating heathers and vast plains on a relatively unchanging route on a plateau. After some 5 hours on horseback along which we may, with some luck, see the fawn coloured Abyssinian wolves (harmless to people), we encounter the Berenda ridge falling abruptly from an altitude of 3 600m. After 5 hours we take a break at the Habera waterfall before continuing to Moroba. Today is the longest day with 8 hrs of riding in total. Overnight Anjenje Refuge.
From now on we ride inside the Bale Mountain National Park. Skirting spectacular lava flows we ride on through the last pass and the wide Morobawa Valley opens up. Here we camp with infinite views. 5:30 hrs riding.
We ride along the river valley, the vegetation is open and conducive to a few gallops. We will probably meet small groups of Oromo families going to the market or moving their cattle. We overnight camping at Sodota in a valley dotted with lobelias, an excellent site for observing the Abyssinian wolves. 5 hours riding.
We leave the Wasem river valley which is inhabited by colonies of baboons riding up into more canyons that are concertinaed into a giant amphitheatre and head onto basaltic plateaus to 4000 m. A long valley leads to the wild mountains, the highest land mass, here we camp overnight at Wasama after 6 hrs of riding.
This morning the trail takes us to Gebre Guracha. It is referred to in the local language as Black Lake. It is the home of many endemic bird species, particularly water birds such as Pelican White Collared Pigeon. Then we ride to the Saneti Plateau, also know as the island in the air. We prepare for a day in the cold - Saneti is at an altitude of 4000m and is often shrouded in fog with rare sparking blue-sky. On todays trail towards we are likely to come across the red fox and warthog. We pass through a forest of hagenias and African junipers, our path bordered by yellow flowers and bright red Kniphobias which cover the slopes of the hills. We are on the edge of the Bale mountains. At 4000m (12 000ft) the air is fresh and clear, with luck an unrestricted view towards all horizons. The most spectacular is the South: the Herenna escarpment, plunges for more than 2000m towards a vast tropical forest extending all the way to Kenya. Overnight camping at Saneti. 7 hrs riding.
4WD cars will take us down from the high altitudes, via Goba and Dinsho, the headquarters of the Bale National Park, then to Shashemene. Arrive late afternoon at Lake Langano for a good hotel and swim in the mineral waters. The bath is well deserved.
On the way back to Addis visit the Abjata and Shalla National Park to enjoy watching thousands of flamingos, pelicans and other water birds. Late afternoon there is time for shopping and sightseeing or free time to relax. Farewell dinner will be at the best traditional restaurant in town with coffee ceremony and cultural dancing. Overnight Saro Mari Hotel.
Transfer to the airport for your flight back home.
Lalibela Extension - This option requires an arrival 3 days prior to the standard itinerary.
Morning arrival in the capital, Addis Ababa. You will be met from your flight and escorted to your hotel and after settling in taken on a guided tour of the city. Addis Ababa means "New Flower" in Amharic and it is an intriguingly indigenous African city. Unlike many other African capitals, it's founding, growth and development, are not rooted in colonisation. Founded in 1896 by Emperor Menelik II, Addis Ababa is the last in a succession of capitals of the great Abyssinian empire dating back to the pre-Christian Axum and this big, sprawling, cosmopolitan, hospitable city still bears the stamp of his exuberant personality.
Overnight at your hotel.
Morning flight to Lalibela. Named after its 13th-century royal founder, Lalibela is a small town of about 15,000 inhabitants. Found at an altitude of 2,500m and surrounded by a rocky and dry area where farmers grow their crops in the rainy season. It is a friendly and traditional village with circular shaped houses.
After the decline of the Axumite Empire, lamenting their lost grandeur, Ethiopias rulers retreated with their Christian subjects to the lofty escarpment of the central uplands. There, protected by mountain battlements more formidable than anything the hand of man could fashion, they were able to repel and confuse their enemies in the precipitous maze of valleys that intersects the high plateau.
Today you will have the opportunity to explore this extraordinary town with a local guide.
Overnight at your hotel.
After breakfast you will visit the famous churches of Lalibela. Eleven ancient churches carved from solid rock can be seen. These architectural wonders are named after a 12th century king who aspired to build a ‘New Jerusalem’.
According to a legendary account, King Lalibela was ordered by God to build these monolithic churches, and the 11 medieval monolithic cave churches of this 'New Jerusalem'.
The churches were hewn from the soft rock of the Lasta Mountains. Some are carved into the mountainside, but others, known as monolithic churches, are entirely detached. Several are surrounded by deep trenches and connected by underground passages.
Lalibela is a UNESCO World Heritage site, visited annually by thousands of pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.
Afternoon flight to Addis Ababa.
The rest of the afternoon is free. Dinner with a traditional show in the evening and night at the hotel.
You will join the riders who have not opted to take the Lalibela extension on day 2 of the standard itinerary.
OMO RIVER VALLEY EXTENSION - 8 days
The South of Ethiopia is inhabited by a large number of fascinating ethnicities. Here we find original social systems, well preserved ways of life and traditions, heavily stressed values, each ethnicity upholding with care the cultural and aesthetic peculiarities which differentiate them from their neighbours, at the same time their brethren and their rivals. By comparison to the North, whose history and civilisation go back to origins in the Christian era, the South remained for a long time inaccessible and uncontrolled by Abyssinian empires, and distanced from Islamic expansion.
We have decided to concentrate our tour on 3 of the ethnic groups in distinctly different regions, admittedly leaving aside certain things, but thus avoiding touching lightly on too many tourist affected areas. The often seen desire to see all the ethnicities of the South means that one cannot spend more than 30 minutes per stop, during which time one can take a few unrelated pictures, buy some trinkets, and then leave again for long hours in a 4X4….
On this trip we are privileged to spend quality time with the Karo, Hamer and Konso peoples, with whom we will try to spend several hours of conversation in their shady huts, and to spend days walking with them, in order to learn as much as we can about their ways of life, and to see things from their side.
We Provide: A guide who specialises in the region, having lived there for long periods at a time t, and who understands some of the languages of the tribes visited as well as speaking Amahric.
This extension stands for a respectful attitude towards peoples who have not changed their way of life since the 16th century, with real exchange and interaction.
Stop-over for 3 nights at the Turmi, where the village and its inhabitants become accustomed to us (thus we get to know each other!)
ITINERARY DAY BY DAY
After Langano we take the road to the South. After Debre Zeit we enter the Rift Valley, that great tectonic fault line which cuts across East Africa. In all this part of Ethiopia, however, the Rift is too vast to be truly perceptible. Rather, the numerous conical volcanoes and the long connecting string of large lakes bears witness to it. Life along this main trunk road is a source of constant spectacle, which makes the day very enjoyable. In the middle of the afternoon we reach the shores of the magnificent Lake Abaya to the east, and beautiful mountains to the west. We are at Arba Minch, one of the principal towns of the south. Check into a comfortable hotel.
We pick up the road which rapidly becomes a mere track. At Konso we leave the main road. Having crossed the Konso hills, we leave the farmlands and enter a drier environment, much tougher and wilder, where extensive stock breeding predominates. The people bedeck themselves with jewellery and other decorations – we are indeed in the region of the famous southern peoples. We go along alongside a big escarpment in the direction of Lake Stephanie, then via a lovely valley we pass through the mountains of Turmi, the principal town of the Hamer territory. Night at an organised campsite under canvas on the outskirts of Turmi.
A day in Karo country. We leave Turmi first thing in the morning and cross sparse bush country, and after several hours on the road we reach the River Omo. The Omo has its source in the high plateaux of Ethiopia, and never runs dry. It runs into one of the branches of the East African Rift Valley to flow into the immense Lake Turkana via a tortuous delta. We arrive in Karo country, at only 450m above sea level, it is very hot…the ideal time to rest and take stock. We spend the afternoon on foot, discovering the banks of the Omo, and observing the farming practices on the shores of Lake Diba, and getting to know the Karo, with whom we will drink “bunno”, the traditional drink made from coffee husks. Night at an organised campsite near Karo village.
A day in Hamer country. Return to Turmi in the morning. We will spend the day with the Hamer people, the biggest ethnic group in southern Ethiopia in the Omo region. It is market day, and all the Hamer people of the region are there. We get the latest news, renew old acquaintances, and watch this tiny world go by. Later in the afternoon we leave for a walk in the bush and alongside dried out river beds bordered by tamarinds and figs. Brightly coloured birdlife and monkeys abound, and everywhere are the flocks of the Hamers at watering holes along the route. Soon we are invited to drink “bunno”. In chatting, in watching each other, little by little we come to understand a little of these Hamer people, warm-hearted, and with so astonishing and so simple a lifestyle. The huts are round, and constructed of natural materials, and all utensils are such as those used for generations; ox hides, pottery, metal, calabashes, millstones…The presence of our guide Francis, who speaks Hamer, is vital. Night in Turmi.
In Hamer and Konso territories. Return due east in 4X4. We climb into the Hamer mountains, rwching 2400m, bordering a branch of the Rift Valley at 450m above sea level. We descend from the escarpment following the wanderings of the dried out bed of the beautiful and spectacular River Kajino. In the rainy season this river flows into the marshes around Lake Chew Bahir (formerly Lake Stephanie). The Arbore and Tsamai cultivate a part of this arid landscape thanks to the flooding of the river Woito. We climb again from the bottom of the Rift Valley, and again cross the mountains to arrive in Konso territory at the end of the morning. A ramble in the terraced hills, which support extensive agriculture. We meet the Konsos in their fields and their fortified villages. Night in a very simple local hotel with private bathroom, or under canvas on the land of the locals.
Konso territory and Lake Langano. As we have found during the course of our travels, the Rift Valley is a very complex system in southern Ethiopia. The Kenyan Rift, which ends in Lake Turkana, continues thereafter for a further 250km into southern Ethiopia where the river Omo flows. Further to the east is the Lake Chew Bahir (formerly Stephanie) Rift, which divides into two, one of its branches forming the Great Rift, which crosses the whole of Ethiopia, taking in lakesChamo, Abaya and Langano, and ending in the “Afar Triangle” and Djibouti. This is an age-old highway, largely because of the preserve of water, and it is not, therefore, surprising that in our day route should be asphalted. Towards the end of the afternoon we arrive on the shores of Lake Langano, the only lake in which one can swim without fear of contracting bilharzias, thanks to certain mineral properties the water possesses. Night in a good hotel with a beach. Bathing is highly recommended.
In the course of our morning return to Addis Ababa we will stop on the shores of Lake Zwai. Unlike Langano, this is a freshwater lake: fishermen and waterfowl are everywhere. We visit Addis in the afternoon, mainly to see the Museum of Ethnography which plunges us for the last time into the world of the peoples of the south. In the evening, transfer to airport, and night flight to Europe.
There is a code of conduct that we must observe; the constant presence of populations for the most part isolated makes it incumbent upon us that we behave with the utmost respect. Certainly southern Ethiopia has its visitors, and such contacts have on occasion brought with them deplorable behaviour, where “photographs for cash” has the only form of cultural exchange. When meeting the people it would be best to keep the camera under wraps in the short term, as it can distance the very people we wish to engage. Only after protracted contact in a village, or with our guides, can we take a few portraits – in exchange for a few coins, to be sure, but the rapport will be different. It is indispensable that you listen to the advice of your guides at all times.
We have chosen not to visit the Mursis, where the famous “plate women” live. These people are frequented by hordes of tourists, cameras at the ready, all come to take a picture. All possibility of real contact is destroyed. The Mursis live far from the places authorised for visiting, and this picture-making business is simply a supplement source of income for all of them, and nothing more.
It is possible to run this ride for small groups of 2 riders onwards. If the minimum number of 5 is not reached riders who have booked will be given to go ahead with the ride if they are willing to pay the supplements indicated. If they do not wish to pay the supplement a full refund will be given.
We're avid readers here at Unicorn Trails and have selected several books connected to this ride. If you're interested in reading more about the area before you travel, or want to get into the cultural background, here are some suggestions that may inspire you. Click on the links for more information.
The Barefoot Emperor; An Ethiopian Tragedy - Philip Marsden
The Pale Abyssinian; The Life of James Bruce - Miles Bredin
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
Your mounts will be those of the Oromo tribe. Many are pastoral nomads in the Bale region, moving from place to place with their herds, packhorses, a caravan made rainbow coloured by their brilliant clothing and horses ridden by all the family. They shelter in temporary huts with thatched roofs, or even in caves. Some have settled in semi permanent villages. Oromos horses are distantly related to Arabs, though on average a little smaller (the largest being about 15hh). They have an attractive conformation, with an expressive eye. They are confident, sure-footed (they’re ridden unshod) forward going, docile, and sweet tempered. You will discover the Ethiopian riding style, with a single rein, no bit, and mounting from the right – one gets used to this quickly. The traditional saddle is fortunately provided with a padded cushion, although bringing your own seat saver will add comfort. We recommend you bring your own stirrup leathers and irons as the local style are often too narrow for western boots and the leathers cannot be altered.
Riders must be of an adventurous nature, fit and able to ride for up to 8 hours on one day, preferably have some experience of camping, able to mount and dismount unaided, and at ease at a walk, trot and canter.
It is essential you are in good physical condition to do this ride; you will be riding into an altitude reaching 4200m but with gradual acclimatisation. There are some long hours in the saddle that demand a fair amount of endurance and some walking on steep ground. There are no drop offs.
This is an adventurous trip with untold rewards for those fit and flexible enough to come!
The weight limit for this ride is 13 st/187 lb/85 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Accommodation in Addis Ababa is in a 4 star hotel with double rooms, very clean but simple hotels with hot showers. During the ride you sleep in two man modern lightweight dome tents provided with foam mattresses. On some nights mountain huts are available. These have a capacity of 8 persons, or tents may be utilized. The local villagers manage these huts directly, and will come to prepare the traditional “injera” or coffee for the group enabling you to exchange communication. The refuge huts also have a toilet and bucket shower available. Meals are in local restaurants or picnics during vehicles portions of the trip. Meals are prepared by a cook and his assistants during the rides. Baggage is carried by pack horses in the Bale mountains, and by 4X4 in the Omo region.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
British nationals require a visa to enter Ethiopia. If you are flying into Ethiopia for as a tourist you may obtain your visa on arrival at Addis Ababa (Bole) and Dire Dawa International airports. If you are arriving by other means, or at another airport, you must obtain a visa prior to arrival, even when travelling from countries without an Ethiopian Embassy or Mission. Visa applicants in the United Kingdom should contact the Ethiopian representation in the UK. Penalties for overstaying your visa can be severe.
Since 1 November 2005, all airport departure taxes for international flights departing Ethiopia and for internal flights within Ethiopia are no longer collected on departure as they are now included in the price of airline tickets. If you are visiting Ethiopia either on a long or short-term basis you should register with the British Embassy in Addis Ababa on arrival. Full details are on the Embassy website. Please ensure that you keep your entry up to date.
The British Embassy in Ethiopia is found at Comoros Street, Addis Ababa; Postal address: PO Box 858; Telephone: (251) (11) 661 2354; Facsimile: (251) (11) 6610588, (251) (11) 6614154
Consular/Visa Section; Email: BritishEmbassy.AddisAbaba@fco.gov.uk;
The Ethiopian Embassy in London can be found at: 17 Prince's Gate, London SW7 1PZ; Telephone: (020) 7589 7212-5; Facsimile: (020) 7584 7054;
Ethiopia's seasons are reversed. Spring begins in September and summer runs from January to mid-March. The first rainy season lasts from February to Apriland a more substantial rainy season lasts from June to September.
The major portion of the country consists of a high plateau, which results in a mild, sunny climate. There are months of guaranteed sunshine, yet the altitude keeps the climate bearable with upland temperatures remaining steady.
There are hospitals in Addis Ababa. Elsewhere medical facilities (including dentistry) are extremely poor. The British Embassy has its own medical facility, which tourists may consult in an emergency only. Waterborne diseases are prevalent. You should take necessary precautions including boiling water before drinking, or using bottled water. You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date. NHS Direct (0845 46 47) can provide you with advice on vaccination requirements for Ethiopia. For further information on endemic diseases such as malaria, health outbreaks and vaccination requirements for Ethiopia you should check the websites of the NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel.
An indispensable preliminary is a visit to the doctor for a check up and inform him you will be undertaking activity at altitude. A visit to your dentist is advised.
At the time of the Bale ride the altitude ensures that we are in zones where mosquitoes are very rare, hence there is little risk of Malaria or Yellow Fever. This is also true for Lalibela at the time of our trip. However Yellow Fever inoculation and malarial protection remains advised if you are travelling to the Ethiopian lowlands (not Lalibela). Be up-to-date with the following vaccination: diphtheria, tetanus, polio myelitis, typhoid. Consult your doctor for definitive up to date advice and his/her consideration of Hepatitis A and B, and Meningitis.
Electricity: 220V 50Hz; Electric Plug Details: South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin or a European plug with two circular metal pins.
There is electricity in hotels but not on the camping portion of the trip. We advise taking enough batteries or solar chargers (these work well as there is plenty of strong sunshine). On occasion you can recharge in the vehicles in use during the trip (12volts).
There is good mobile coverage in populated areas but not on the Bale Plateau portion (4 days).
Baggage is limited to 20kg, all of it in one or two strong, flexible bags (not suitcases). Please no hard bits (e.g. wheels) as the bags will be tied together and put onto pack horses. As always we recommend you put your camera equipment, glasses, medications and any other items you cannot manage without into your cabin baggage in case of loss of baggage on your International flight.
On horseback, use a bumbag for small objects to be carried by hand, and a daypack/backpack to carry your water, lunch and rain clothes. No saddlebags are available – the saddles are not adapted for these.
Stirrup leathers & irons - local irons are generally narrow and leathers adjustable.
You can, however, leave some articles in the back up vehicle.
In all circumstances, whether on horseback, in camp, or hiking, wear reasonably sober and conservative clothing (no deep cut necklines, short shorts or mini skirts) in order not to offend local sensibilities. Ethiopia is an essentially Muslim country.
Take high altitude clothing for fresh to very cold nights (temperatures below zero at altitude). Days have strong sunshine at altitude so good sunblock.
A four seasons sleeping bag with either silk or fleece lining
Sleeping matts are provided although some people like to bring their own)
T shirts and blouses – 1 or 2 with long sleeves.
1 or 2 jumpers
Several pairs of jods or riding trousers
Light clothing for warmer regions (shorts, sandals)
Warm nightwear and undergarments
A padded jacket
A wind breaker and/or waterproof 2 piece (the rainy season ends in October but there is always a risk of rain in the mountains)
Walking boots and chaps
Comfortable shoes to change into for evening/after riding
A wide brimmed sun hat
Hat, scarf and gloves for cold weather
High factor sunscreen and lip salve
An eye wash as it can be dusty
Pocket knife, electric torch, batteries (or wind up torch)
Your usual medications, aspirin, eye wash, wet wipes, immodium, wide-spectrum antibiotics, mosquito repellent, medication for altitude sickness (Diamox – on GP advice only)
Set date once yearly in November. Private tours for groups of 4 or more can be arranged in the dry season from November to February - 14d /13n /8d riding
21 November (Lalibela extension takes place before the ride)
You should see the rare Abyssianian Fox (also know as the Ethiopian Wolf) and the giant mole rats and other rodents they hunt, on the Bale Plateau. The large number of rat holes mean the pace can be slow in areas they populate. The Bale Mountains are home to over 282 species of birds, including 9 of the 16 species endemic to Ethiopia. Furthermore, over 170 migratory birds have been recorded within the park. Bale Mountains National Park is home to almost every highland Abyssinian and Ethiopian endemic. Due to the diversity and density of rodents, the Bale Mountains are also an extremely important area for resident as well as wintering and passing raptors.
Ancient Abyssinia bears witness to the geological genesis of the planet, and also the origins of mankind. Lucy, the oldest humanoid skeleton was found in Ethiopia and a visit to the Ethnographic Museum of Addis Ababa is included in the tour.
Amongst the many ecosystems of Ethiopia, that of the Highlands of the Bale plateau is one of the most remarkable because of its exceptional diversity, and offers us 8 days on horseback across a most unusual countryside. Formed of great volcanic masses thrown up before even the African Rift was formed, remodelled by glacial periods, isolated and scarred by deep valleys, the Bale massif is a natural sanctuary for numbers of plant and animal species; high rainforest, humid heathlands with giant heather where also flowers the endemic Giant Lobelia, refuge for rare species such as the Nyala Antelope and the Abyssinian Wolf.
The sparse inhabitants of the Bale are Oromos people, the most numerous ethnicity among the 80 peoples who make up Ethiopia. They have a long history of equestrianism and are delighted when outsiders show an interest in their horses and lifestyles here on the "roof of Africa".
In bygone days redoubtable warriors would take part with other nilotic peoples in the practice of initiation ceremonies, and a social organisation according to age. Islamic or Christian, they nonetheless adhere to their rites, their traditional social organistaion and their belief in a creator-god: Wak.
Draped in capacious white shawls, they cross the vast horizons on their inexhaustible horses. Slender and fine-featured, they were semi-nomadic pastoralists, traditionally horsemen who use their horses as mounts or as draft/pack animals according to need. We will meet them guarding their herds of cattle, goats and sheep, or watering them at some salinated mineral stream.
To the North of Addis Ababa we disover Lalibela, also known as the Black Jerusalem. A religious treasure unique
Ethiopia is twice the size of France. It is landlocked, sharing borders with Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan. It is divided into nine ethnic-based regions plus the capital, Addis Ababa and the city administration of Dire Dawa. It covers an area of 1.13 million sq km (437,794 sq miles) and has a population: 74.2 million (UN, 2005).
For much of the 20th century Ethiopia was ruled by Haile Selassie. His long rule ended with the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974. Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam emerged as the leader of the Provisional Military Administrative Council (known as the Derg) in 1977. He established a brutal Marxist dictatorship that evolved into an authoritarian communist system dominated by the Worker's Party of Ethiopia. Ethiopia was wracked by civil war for most of the Derg period. The population experienced massive human rights abuse and intense economic hardship, including acute famine. The Derg was overthrown in May 1991 when rebels of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) captured Addis Ababa.
Meles Zenawi took the leadership. In a decisive break with Ethiopia's tradition of centralised rule, the new institutions are based on the principle of ethnic federalism, designed to provide self-determination and autonomy to Ethiopia's different ethnic groups. Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won bitterly contested elections in May 2005, despite a swing to the opposition. The win paved the way for his third five-year stint as prime minister.
Ethiopia's economy revolves around agriculture, which in turn relies on rainfall. The country is one of Africa's leading coffee producers.
Bale Mountains is the true ancestral home of the Oromo-speaking farmers and cattle herders, the largest single ethnic group in the Horn of Africa. Living as pastoralists and farmers, the population grew quite quickly and expanded to different corners of the country beginning in the 16th century. Currently people subsist mainly on agriculture. They follow a traditional transhumance system know as the Godantu system, where livestock, particularly cattle, are sent to higher grazing grounds during the months when crops are growing in lower altitudes or into the forest for shade during the dry season. Bale houses are circular in shape and locally referred to as “Mana citaa.” Juniper and sometimes Eucalyptus are used to make the walls and roof. The roof is covered with thatched grass cut from “citaa” (tussock grass) or stubble, especially barley, and supported by a wooden pillar, which stands in the middle of the floor. The house is divided into portions by walls made of bamboo or mud mixed with stubble of barley or grass. You should come across several in your journey through the Bale Mountains.
On a more practical note Ethiopia uses the metric weights measures system so kilograms and kilometres rather than pounds and miles. It is 3 hours ahead of GMT and the international dialling code: +251.