My Harari Adventure

I first came to Ethiopia in 2010… I only had a month to adventure around this incredible country, it wasn’t long enough!  Extending my visa seemed like too much effort and I left absolutely gutted to not get to Harar.  I thought about coming back to Ethiopia for years just to go see what I had missed.  However, when I decided to move here last year I knew I would be able to finally go and a few weeks ago my dream came true. I will admit I was worried I had built it up in my mind and might be disappointed… was I? Not at all… it was amazing!

One of the original gates to the city daily hosts a busy colourful market

One of the original gates to the city daily hosts a busy colourful market

I think my best decision was to drive the 500km from Addis Ababa to Harar…

“You’re driving? Why not fly?”
“You’re going on your own? You should fly! ”

This was what I was asked time and time again before the trip…

Here’s what you don’t get when you fly…

You don’t get the cool mountain air blowing in the window as you steam across passes. You don’t get the smell of eucalyptus trees on a plane, you can’t hear the children yelling “you you Faranji”, or see the smiles, waves and heads turn as you drive past. You don’t get the waves or the yells and whistles from the truck drivers as you pass them in blocked up villages. You don’t get the chance to harness your driving skills to dodge cows, goats, sheep, donkeys and camels, while young boys who can barely see over the backs of the cows pull their tails to drag them back off the road. You don’t see that every second man has a huge bag of khat (qat) and have them try to fling at you. You miss the chance to be sold birds, charcoal and wood as well. You can’t see the rolling hills and the deep valleys. You miss the women taking the donkeys with jerry cans to wait in a huge line at the village well to fill up with water for the daily chores. You miss it all on a plane – there is no sensory feast like I got… so when I can I will take the road – the journey is as good as (sometimes better than) the destination !

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The journey east can take anywhere from 7-9 hours depending on your luck with khat trucks, buses, camels, overloaded donkeys, and other life stock crossing the road. The drive once you are past Awash is amazing as you enter the drive up through the Chercher and Abra Gugu mountains and finally down into Harar where the gates to the walled city greet you filled with colour and movement. I managed a 8 hour drive over and a quick 7 hour trip back with a quick stop in Awash for petrol and a coke.

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Termed the ‘City of Saints’, Harar is a predominantly considered a muslim city with over 80 mosques hidden in its alleyways and considered by many to be the 4th holy city of Islam. Despite its Muslim appearance in 2003 UNESCO awarded Harar the City of Peace prize for existing with all of its varied religious group in harmony for so long. In the center of the city you can come across the grand mosque, a Catholic church and an Orthodox Church all within a stone throw from one another.

One of the many mosques hidden int he alleyways of the city

One of the many mosques hidden int he alleyways of the city

Its a maze of 368 alleyways inside the walls and a fun place to get lost – although you can always find your way back to the center. The alleyways are filled with people and activity and around any of the gates you will find busy markets in the late afternoon.

Children playing while women are busy carrying goods off to the market

Children playing while women are busy carrying goods off to the market

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I would have had little chance navigating the alleyways as behind many gates were hidden sites to check out.  I was recommended Biniyam from a friend at work, not someone who usually takes a guide I worried that he may not get what I was about and try to take me go and see things I really wasn’t interested in. This was not the case and we immediately hit it off talking like old friends, joking and enjoying each others company.

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She knew how to work the camera

We spent some time while walking with my polaroid camera taking photos and giving them to the children we met. We found some real characters along the way who knew how to work the camera with no prompting!

My great guide Biniyam using the polaroid camera so we could print out some pictures for the young girls

My awesome guide Biniyam using the polaroid camera so we could print out some pictures for the young girls.

So much character

So much character!

The best smile we met for sure

The best smile we met for sure

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Yellows

I loved just picking a spot by the gate and sitting watching the women dressed so birightly going about their business and shopping. They were happy (through translation) to engage in conversation, many of them were not from the city but had walked a long way to come in and sell their goods and would after sunset be taking the walk home.

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Busy market

Busy market

Chillies

Chillies

They say no trip to Harar is complete without meeting the ‘Hyena man’ – Yusuf. We drove along the wall of the city and then headed for a few minutes off road past Yusuf’s house and into a field. As we approached the lights from the car shone and we could see a lot of eyes shinning back, amongst all the eyes a man and a young boy sitting feeding the twenty hyenas who had gathered. We were the only ones there and Biniyam informed me that the hyena man came out every night to feed the hyenas even if there were no tourists. If he doesn’t then they come to his house and hang about waiting to be fed.

Biniyam shows me how its done - just a casual hyena on your back being fed!

Biniyam shows me how its done – just a casual hyena on your back being fed!

Yusuf has been doing this for years and they way he handles the hyenas immediately sets you at ease. They respond to his scolding and he pushes them off like misbehaving dogs, once I had watched him for a few minutes I felt more than confident being in their presence despite the fact they are wild animals. It was interesting to watch the dominant females feed while the others had to wait around for scraps to be thrown their way – they didn’t dare challenge the bosses of the pack.

Eye contact while I squat down only a meter from this hyena

Eye contact while I squat down only a meter from this hyena

I took some adventures outside of the city of Harar as well and I highly recommend Biniyam if you are looking for a guide on your adventure to Harar. He will tailor your experience to meet your needs, which may include taking in all the ‘tourist’ spots or just sitting in a market watching life move around you. His email is feresmegala@gmail.com – send him a message and let him know when you are heading over!

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Tongariro Crossing New Zealand

I have lived outside NZ now for 14 years…. insane! I decided every time I go back I have to do something new that I haven’t done so I can be a traveller at home. Relive the beauty and experience what travellers I meet around the world keep telling me when they learn I am from New Zealand – “Oh my god its the most beautiful place I have ever been”.  I always feel so happy and proud when they go on to tell me about how friendly and hospitable people are and what an amazing time they had visiting.

So I decided to do the Tongariro Crossing with my best friend from growing up last year when I was home. A 20km day hike, one of the most popular in the country, heading up and over some craters, past volcanos, incredible scenery and will take you  7-9 hours.

Start of the trail from

Start of the trail

The first section is a easy climb up from the starting point at Mangatepopo car park to Soda springs on some really nice board walks.

Nice path cuts through

Nice path cuts through the long grasses and old lava flow

Once you reach Soda springs you have a pretty quick 200m climb up to the South Crater which is a huge flat expanse and you can take a nice break walking across it. Some keen people take the side detour and head up and down Mount Ngauruhoe – I wasn’t up for the challenge but next time will for sure take it on. It’s all volcanic rock so a challenging scramble on your hands for some of it!

Looking back across the crater to Ng

Looking back across the South crater to Mount Ngauruhoe

Once across the South crater you make a climb up onto an exposed ridge that can be windy and cold. You get stunning 360 views back over Mount Ngauruhoe and across the crater and out over the valley below as well. Our day was picture perfect… a few clouds but a beautiful clear day!

iPHONE panorama of he view overlooking the South crater

iPHONE panorama of the view overlooking the South crater

Daph checking out N

Daph checking out Mount Ngauruhoe

At the peak there is another option to head up onto Tongariro or you can continue along the crossing path and head down towards the red crater.

Top of the crossing before heading down past the Emerald lakes to the red crater

Top of the crossing before heading down past the Emerald lakes to the red crater

I decided to put my camera away for this decent which was a good idea as the rock was really loose under foot and I bit the dirt when I was just standing admiring the view. There were a few people I saw take some good slides down.

Views of the Emerald lakes, red crater and up to the Blue lake

Views of the Emerald lakes, red crater and up to the Blue lake

Minerals from the rocks around give the Emerald lakes their colour. There is a distinct sulphur smell in the air which comes from the vents near the lakes.

iPHONE panorama overlooking the Emerald Lakes, Red Crater and up to the Blue Lake

iPHONE panorama overlooking the Emerald Lakes, Red Crater and up to the Blue Lake

We had a laugh at what we thought this looked like

Some interesting landscape as a result of volcanic activity

Taking a short break enjoying the views

Taking a short break enjoying great day and views

Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes

The Emerald lakes are a great spot to take a lunch break. Once you leave them you continue across the red crater and start the last wee climb up towards the Blue Lake.

Looking back across the red crater

Looking back across the red crater

The blue lake is considered Tapu (sacred) so its disrespectful to drink and eat – so don’t stop here for a break, even though it looks really inviting to take a dip.

Heading around the blue lake looking back

Heading around the blue lake looking back

Daph coming around the blue Lake

Daph coming around the blue Lake

Down the final section

Down the final section looking over Lake Taupo and Lake Rotorua

Final leg home

Final leg home

The final leg is from the North crater down to Ketetahi Hut and the car park. This for me was the most challenging part of the trek as it is a number of switch backs, where you can see the trail the whole way and feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

I think the camera went away at this stage and we just got into the grind of finishing the hike. Was a fun day and as long as you have some sort of base fitness you will be fine doing the walk – the scenery and good company will see you through!

Finding Shambala… Eastern Tibet

In 2008 I led a student cultural trip with a great friend and teacher to a place that is very special in his heart and soon became firmly planted in mine. Kham is the region, Eastern plateau of Tibet where Buddhism is alive and watching it practiced you can’t help but be moved. I still remember the sounds and emotions I felt watching the devotion people showed – it was a complete privilege to experience.

While there were many moments on this trip that made me speechless, there was one in particular that moved me to tears. We arrived in a village at a special time when a lama (high priest) was in the small town and this had brought many people into the sleepy town from the surrounding countryside. The faces and prayers going on with the prayer flags on surrounding hills and around the meeting grounds created a calming and  scene.

Prayers flags sending messages

Prayers flags sending messages of  peace and harmony out into the world

At Mani Gompa, near Tagong in Kham (Eastern Tibet) we had just stepped out of he car and we were faced with 15 nuns coming down the road towards us. The sound, movement and up down motion was incredible to watch and as we watched them slide on their chests fully committing themselves to the process and hard ground surrounding the monastery.

The Nuns coming down the road

The Nuns coming down the road

The nuns were doing a wide kora (circle) around the monastery in preparation for a six month journey, prostrating all the way, to Lhasa (over 1500km). Up hills, down dusty rocky banks and hard roads… nothing slowed them up even as one almost disappeared over the side of the bank.

Here is the video footage Rishi shot while I was busy clicking images…

UP and down

Up and down

The sound of their wooden planks attached to their hands and the robes scrapping on the ground signalled the dedication to their pilgrimage and true conviction to their religion.

Sounds of them scraping across the ground

Scraping and sliding across the ground

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No race here… just dedication

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The gathering in the center of the village to hear the visiting Lama

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A woman shows us her prayer wheel

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Monks heading up to the monastery

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The nuns continue prostrating their way across the hill top

Motion

Dedication in motion

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Sliding down the hill

Sliding down the hill

Rishi's beard was a main attraction

Rishi’s beard was a main attraction with the locals

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People circling the monastery

The nuns coming into the monastery

The nuns coming into the monastery