Tag Archives: Simien Mountains

A Partnership Project

5 Aug

So my friend Sally from Bonga down south, has started a fundraising campaign for a project that involves Gondar. It’s basically a training program for environmental tourism. I’m a co-signer on the grant and have helped her with contacts in Gondar and the Simiens. Please send it along if you want/and donate at the link.

Bonga, Kafa Zone, Ethiopia

Bonga, Kafa Zone, Ethiopia

Here is her/my project:
Hello friends! I send my best regards and hope that you are well. I am
writing to ask for your help and support. I need to raise funds for a
sustainable development project as part of my Peace Corps service.
Please find details below, and the link to my project here:
https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-663-028

“Whenever we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to
everything else in the universe.” -John Muir

We are one world. Try as we might to preserve one little corner of it
– a national park here, a bird sanctuary there – that effort is lost
without thousands of similar efforts far away from us; we are all
connected. Many of us who work in environment-related careers remember
a formative experience as an intern or volunteer, learning both love
of nature and the skills to communicate that love to others. This
project intends to provide such a formative experience to promising
young environmental leaders in Ethiopia, by sending interns from the
newly formed Makira Tour Guides Association in Bonga to  learn with a
more established tour guide operation in northern Ethiopia.

Bonga is a developing town of around thirty thousand in the southwest
administrative zone of Kafa. Nestled in breathtakingly beautiful cloud
forests, Kafa Zone was recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
This designation recognizes Kafa’s complex ecosystems supporting
natural coffee and abundant wildlife; it also aims to provide means
for sustainable development and poverty alleviation for Kafa’s one
million inhabitants. As the population here grows, there is more
demand on forest resources; work is being done to promote sustainable
use of these resources, as well as to introduce alternative
livelihoods such as ecotourism. Well over a hundred thousand hectares
of forest here preserve millions of tons of carbon dioxide, besides
supporting unique biodiversity and a landscape known as the
“Birthplace of Coffee.”

Members of the Makira Tour Guides Association here were trained two
years ago through a project run by Naturschuzbund Deutschland and the
Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society. However, while these
and other organizations have been working hard to promote Kafa as a
tourist destination, the new guides have not had much practice. A
refresher training I ran this year as a Peace Corps Volunteer shows a
group of eager, but untried guides, with little knowledge of how to
structure a tour, provide for customer needs and comfort, or market
their product to the world. By contrast, Simien Mountains National
Park in Ethiopia’s north has been welcoming tourists for decades. The
leader of Simien Trek Tour Company (www.simientrek.com), Shiferaw
Asrat, has an easy command of the tools of his trade. He has agreed to
accept two representatives of Makira TGA to intern with him for four
weeks, observing and apprenticing with him, then drafting their own
two-year plan to bring back to their association in Bonga.

So many fundraising efforts by charity organizations in the developing
world involve acquiring stuff: food, construction materials, water
filters, medicines, supplies. This effort aims to spend money on
building capacity, by forging connections between Ethiopians
themselves. It is a relatively small investment – the total I need to
raise is under $2000. But this small amount could get this business
off the ground and help these rising leaders to benefit their local
community in a sustainable way.

Thank you for all that you do for the environment and the development
of our world.

More Day Trips from Gondar, and My 100th Post!

16 Jun

Recently some friends visited me and I finally crossed those elusive random touristy things off my Gondar list. Here are some awesome trips you can do within 1 day from my site.

1. Simien Mountain Trek.

Last time I did the Simiens was for the Big Kahuna – Ras Dashen. This time, it was a short jaunt to Sankober (the first camp) with lots of selfies with the baboons along the way. This trip was much cheaper, shorter, and had a lot more monkeys. And per usual, the Simien views were amazing.

well, it was a little foggy at first

well, it was a little foggy at first

but the views got better

but the views got better

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so many selfies

so many selfies

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2. Boat Trip on Lake Tana

Just 3 hours south of me is Bahir Dar, the regional capital and city on the south of Lake Tana. A boat ride is cheap and fun, and if you time it right you may be able to see some hippos! People usually do the boat tour to see churches and monasteries around the lake, but having lived here long enough to know they all look the same we crossed our fingers for the wildlife. There was also some great bird watching. The best time to go to see hippos is around 4pm or so, when they come up to eat and it’s not so hot.

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These kids lived on an island in the lake. Coming home from school, this traditional papyrus boat takes them across twice a day.

These kids lived on an island in the lake. Coming home from school, this traditional papyrus boat takes them across twice a day.

 

3. Blue Nile Falls.

This was a big tourist check. I had planned to go with my family back in December, but flight schedules and the promise of a dry riverbed dissuaded us. I was skeptical if the falls would be impressive so close to the end of dry season, but we saw something even cooler. With the heavy rains over the past few weeks, in the 30 minutes or so that we were at the falls we actually saw them grow! The river visibly swelled minute by minute. I will definitely have to return in September when the falls are at their full force.

We arrived the local way, which was much cheaper. Most hotels or tour companies will sell you a driver for multiple hundreds of birr per person. We simply went to the bus station and caught a big bus for 14 birr per person to Tis Abay (the village that is a 20 minute hike from the falls). This was great, until on the way back, an axel broke. We caught a ride the rest of the way on a tuk-tuk type truck. Super uncomfortable, but I sorta feel like the boys enjoyed their Type 2 fun (at least there was a great story.)

Keith, John, and I at Blue Nile Falls

Keith, John, and I at Blue Nile Falls

The suspension bridge that you have to cross

The suspension bridge that you have to cross

Willy Wonka Chocolate River much?

Willy Wonka Chocolate River much?

 

Playing Tourist – The Castles of Gondar

11 Jan

So I finally did it. I took a tour of the Fasil Gibi Castles in Gondar. It has been 13 months of avoidance, excuses, bad timing, and stinginess, but I held off for my family. The irony is, the one time I was actually being a tourist in Gondar, no one treated me like one. The tour guide at the Fasil Castles lives in my neighborhood and recognized me. Walking around Gondar I had street children hanging off my arms. We were invited into friends’ homes for buna ceremonies and wot. It was really fantastic to introduce some idea of my life to my family – there is only so much blogs, emails and phone calls can relate. We even stuffed all five of us and a duffle bag into a bajaj (tuk tuk). Real life, sorta.

The Fam at the Fasil Castles

The Fam at the Fasil Castles

I finally put together the mish-mash of histories I had heard while living here over the year. Apparently, the ruins in the compound aren’t from age, but from British bombs in World War II. The Italians had used the compound as a military headquarters. There at six castles inside all built at different times over a couple hundred years, the oldest built in the 1600s by different rulers when Gondar was the seat of power in Ethiopia. They draw from architectural inspirations as varied as Portuguese to Moor/Islamic to Indians.

Queen Mintwab's castle, she later moved to Quasquam near the Gondar University hospital

Queen Mintwab’s castle, she later moved to Quasquam near the Gondar University hospital

the Italians used this space for a combat hospital

the Italians used this space for a combat hospital

Mickey in the lion's cages

Mickey in the lion’s cages

three of the six

three of the six

a bombed out great hall

a bombed out great hall

Mom and the brothers checking out the ruins

Mom and the brothers checking out the ruins

through the peephole

through the peephole

some of the newer buildings, "Building of Love" (because the king was awesomely popular?) and the library

some of the newer buildings, “Building of Love” (because the king was awesomely popular?) and the library

After the castle tour we took a half day hike to a Simien Mountains look-out. I could even see my friend’s site from there- Tikel Dingay, noticeable by the unique split rock that looms over the town. We chased baboons through the forest, and of course had to take some jumping photos.

overlooking the Simiens

overlooking the Simiens

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the whole fam

the whole fam

David is a giant

David is a giant

We ended the Gondar part of the trip with a dinner at my favorite local cuisine restaurant Four Sisters, who of course brought us up to dance. My mom held her own, but David definitely showed me up for local integration – he can skiskista with the best of them.

a double gorsha for love

a double gorsha for love

Inspector T'ena was showing me up

Inspector T’ena was showing me up

Me and my brothers at the TImket baths

Me and my brothers at the TImket baths

A Simien Day Trek

22 Aug

Only 30 minutes north of my house are the beginnings of one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world – the Simien Mountains. At least according to Planet Earth, their “Mountains” episode features the Simiens. Truthfully, I had never heard of this range before I came to Ethiopia, but that could because I had Colorado snob syndrome and will only ski on powder and hike the Rockies in the summer. I even caught myself saying “Ras Dashen isn’t even a 14er…” to someone… Rocky. Mountain. Snob.

But there is nothing like this topography in the Rockies. They call this area the “Grand Canyon of Ethiopia,” and for good reason. The sheer cliffs, crevices, and peaks are anything but typical.

A Panoramic View

A Panoramic View

So since the Cameroonians were in town, we jumped on their half day hike with our good friend and tour guide Robel. (Family, we will do this hike… bring yo boots!) We were able to see three endemic species (Lammergeyers aka vultures, Chilada baboons, and Colobos monkeys).

A Lammergeyer (vulture endemic to the Simiens) in the mist

A Lammergeyer (vulture endemic to the Simiens) in the mist

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So. Many. Baboons.

So. Many. Baboons.

Chilada Baboon in the mist (also endemic)

Chilada Baboon in the mist 

We hung out with some of the local farming kids (this whole Amharic speaking thing can be awesome). And circled around a herd? group? gaggle? of baboons. And clearly we had to do some photoshoots.

These kids were like mountain goats, I was so sure they were going to fall off the trail running after us!

These kids were like mountain goats, I was so sure they were going to fall off the trail running after us!

The whip sounded like gunshots

The whip sounded like gunshots

Me and my Morgans

Me and my Morgans

Ciara (Peace Corps Cameroon and fellow Boulderite and BUer) came to visit

Ciara (Peace Corps Cameroon and fellow Boulderite and BUer) came to visit

Cleary we had to do a jumping photo

Cleary we had to do a jumping photo

So I still love my Rocky Moutains, but I won’t complain about mountain withdrawal during service. In October we tackle the “big one” – Ras Dashen – the highest peak in Ethiopia. And turns out I was wrong… it is a 14er at 14,928 Ft (4,553 meters) though google seems to be conflicted (I saw one estimate at over 15,000 ft). Even the most solid things are contested here. I mean, I am still in Ethiopia.

 

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