Walking in Dian Fossey’s footsteps… Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

“When you realise the value of all life, you dwell less on what has past and concentrate on the preservation of the future” – Dian Fossey

A silver back sitting eating in the Volacnoes National Park, Rwanda

A silver back sitting eating in the Volacnoes National Park, Rwanda

It seemed fitting to finally trek and visit where Dian Fossey or Nyiramacyibili, as local Rwandans call her, had spent her days researching and working so hard to protect the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and neighbouring DRC and Uganda.

So a few days after our climb in the DRC we were meant to hike to the top of Bisoke to view the crater lake but with sore and tired legs we decided to take a smaller hike and visit Karisoke and the area Dian Fossey had spent so much time in working to protect the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

Sunrise over Sabiyano Volcano

Sunrise over Sabiyano Volcano in the Virunga Volcano Range

We set off early in the morning ahead of the groups trekking to the Gorillas – hoping maybe we might stumble upon them first and have a wee glimpse at the great apes she had worked so hard to protect.

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Walking through farmland towards the park and Bisoke

“Little did I know then that by setting up two small tents in the wilderness of the Virungas I had launched the beginnings of what was to become an internationally renowned research station eventually to be utilized by students and scientists from many countries.”  — Dian Fossey, writing in her book “Gorillas in the Mist,” about the founding of the “Karisoke” Research Center, a name she created from the nearby Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Visoke (Bisoke). 

There were signs along the trail that one of the Gorilla groups were near. We saw prints and fresh pooh but they stayed hidden from us amongst the forest and we were all hoping to catch a quick glimpse of them but it was not to be.

Gorilla prints fresh on the trail

Gorilla prints fresh on the trail

I can’t recommend this hike enough. I have been up into this range of mountains three times prior to this, each time on a different mountain and every time has been different in the trail and the experience. The jungle on this trek was nothing short of stunning throughout the hike, that alone and the views of the mountains (we did have an exceptionally clear day) were truly breath taking – along with knowing you were trudging the trail a true legend had many times before.

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Becoming at one with nature

At 2967 meters the trail splits, with the left branch leading to the grave site of Dian Fossey and the right climbing to the summit of Bisoke.

IMG_9808_thumbWe reached the area Dian Fossey and her team lived in worked in which was a  relatively flat area that was being reclaimed by the forest. There were many pieces of the old buildings still remaining in place and we could see why she had chosen such an amazing spot to live and protect the gorillas.

IMG_4990Dian Fossey spent 18 years in and out of the forest studying and trying to protect the Mountain Gorillas. She brought much attention to their plight and surely without her efforts they would certainly not be around today. In 1967 she founded Karisoke research centre – those two tents she first set up were the beginnings of a world known research centre. Sadly on December 27 in 1985 Dian Fossey was killed at the age of 54. There are many theories on her murder but it was never determined who killed her.

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Dian Fosseys grave – known to the people of Rwanda as Nyiramacyibili

The Gorilla graveyard was the final place we stopped at on our visit to the area. It was quiet and peaceful with beautiful light coming through the trees. Dian was laid to rest along one of her favourite gorillas Digit who she had met in 1967 but was brutally killed by poachers in 1977.

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Her beloved Digit’s gravesite right next to where Dian Fossey was laid to rest

Learn more about the Volcanoes National Park here and other treks you can do or visit Rwanda Tourism to learn more about activities in Rwanda.

To book your trek to visit and pay respects to Dian Fossey visit  contact reservation@rwandatourism.com

The trek costs $75 usd and you will need to have your own transport as you have to meet at the park head quarters in the morning and be transported across to the trek.

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Exploring Lalibela with Mika

In May we decided it was time to take on our first real adventure as a team – Mika and I. We headed to Lalibela, Mika in the backpack, for a long weekend with a friend visiting Ethiopia, Jenn, who I had taught with in India and Chris a friend and colleague from school in Addis.

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Standing in front of St George Church

It was certainly a different experience for me and I was grateful to help friends to help us out along the way as I developed my new skills of how to travel rough with a baby. Lucky for me Mika is such a social wee girl, loves being in the backpack and is up for as much as an adventure as I am.

 

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Mika sitting in the entrance to one of the churches

It was a great weekend exploring the city and churches and I was glad for the company and support to help carry Mika around in the heat. She loved the priests and their crosses.

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Making friends everywhere

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The markets are always one of my favourite places when I travel. I love seeing what is for sale, how people go about their sales and trades, the movement and conversations. This market did not disappoint it was bustling with so much activity and friendly faces welcoming us.

On Sunday morning Jenn and I got up early to head down to one of the cluster of churches to see how busy it would be when service was happening. We weren’t disappointed, around every corner there were floods of people praying, priests blessing people and movement in and out of the churches.

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Young girl we met outside one of the churches

 

We had a great weekend exploring the town, churches and markets — this girl is always smiling, always waving, always happy… thank you Lalibela for your warmth and beautiful people just like my little Habesha.

Trekking in Tigray…

A few friends and I spent a four day weekend at the end of May trekking in Tigray organised by Tesfa Tours. It was a few days that felt like weeks away from the bustle of Addis and work and we were treated to hiking in some of the most stunning landscape I have ever seen.

Views from top on Day3

Views from top of the plateau we hiked up onto Day 3

A quick flight up from Addis Ababa to Axum and then 2 hour drive East to the start of our trek not far from Adigrat. We pulled off the side of the road and were met by two local men and their donkeys who would carry our bags for the day up to our first guesthouse perched at 3,000m up at Enaf. We stepped out of the van and within ten minutes set off up the trail.

Donkeys loaded up

Donkey loaded up with our shared bags

The walk up for the first day was gradual and once we got off the gravel road the landscape changed and we could see amazing views across the valley ahead of us. As we negotiated our way along the plateau it opened up and we were met with children herding goats and sheep home for the night and excited to see guests approaching before the hurried off down the steep side of the cliffs to the valley below and home for the night.

Panorama view of the valley and guesthouse

Panorama view of the valley and guesthouse at Enaf

As we stood on the cliff top gazing at the breath taking views across the Agame massif and villages below you couldn’t help but feel tiny as the huge and stunning landscape reached as far as the eye could see. We settled into the guesthouse, had a quick dinner and headed to bed early falling asleep to the sounds of donkeys calling out in the valley below.

Sunrise on the start of day 2

The sunrise at the start of day 2

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise which slowly revealed the stunning valley and landscape below. As the sun got higher more mountain peaks started to appear and we could see in the far distance where we were headed over the next few days.

Stunning views across the valley below

Views across the valley below

Looking out the doorway from the guesthouse

Looking out the doorway from the guesthouse

Before we set off walking we ate our breakfast of scrambled eggs and bread on the rooftop of the guesthouse. As you can see the view wasn’t too bad from up there.

Breakfast on the rooftop of the Guesthouse at

Breakfast on the rooftop of the Guesthouse at Enaf

One of the ladies who took care of our meals at the guesthouse

One of the ladies who took care of our meals at the guesthouse

Another of our stunning cooks from the guesthouse

Another of our stunning cooks from the guesthouse

The guard at the guesthouse pulled his gun out to pose for a photo

The guard at the guesthouse pulled his gun out to pose for a photo with a view

As we made our way along the edge of the plateau we shared the trail with donkeys, cows, sheep, goats and their minders making their way up the paths towards higher grazing areas. We then started the long decent down into the valley below and continued along it and up towards our next guesthouse.

Heading down into the valley

Heading down into the valley

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Heading along a trail

Finally down in the valley

Finally down in the valley

We arrived at the next guesthouse, Gohgot, which was tucked in at the bottom of a cliff.  After a hearty lunch meal of shiro and injera and rested for a few hours in the afternoon in preparation for another hike to a nearby rock-hewn church.

Panorama from guesthouse 2

Panorama from guesthouse at Gohgot

young girl at day 2 guesthouse

Young girl at the guesthouse

In the afternoon we took in a two hour round hike to Gohgot Eyesus church which was tucked up in one of the nearby valleys. We had to hail the priest to bring the key and climb with us so we could go inside before climbing up to the entrance.

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Gohgot Eyesus church

Priests hands

The priest clasps his cross

Mother & baby on the trail

Mother & baby on the trail

On the third day the scenery changed we trekked across the valley for a few hours passing schools, people busy farming, and by children running out to greet us before we started our climb up another mountain.

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Donkeys carrying water joined us as we crossed the valley and approached our next climb

The climb led us along trails that weaved along the edge of the cliff and provided spectacular views across the valley where we had come from over the past few days.

Panorama of the trail

The donkey comes along the trail while Meghan waits up ahead looking over the valley we have just crossed

Heading up day3

Nathan heading up the final climb to the plateau

Sheep on day 3

Some sheep who greeted us at the top

The plateau we were staying on for the last night was quite small with only four families homes on top and the guesthouse. This offered us stunning views of the Gheralta Mountains in the distance, where we would be heading the next day to visit one of the rock-hewn churches, and all sides of the valleys around us.

Views on day 3 top

View out one side of the plateau

The guest house of day 3 at Shimbrety

The guest house at Shimbrety perched on the edge of the plateau

We visited with a family who lived next to the guesthouse and shared the always great Ethiopian hospitality, coffee and conversation. One of the young boys from the family had joined us earlier in the day as we had explored the edge of the cliff and watched a family of Gelada baboons make their way around the cliff edges, playing, eating and enticing one another.

The hoodie gang

The hoodie gang

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One of the girls from the family

One of the girls from the family

pooh pile

A pile of cow pooh once dried used for lighting fires and building walls

Again the next morning we woke up early and looked like someone had taken a paint brush to the sky and then keep spraying new colours across the canvas as the sun rose. The low cloud made for some spectacular scenes as it wrapped itself around the cliffs and covered the valley below.

sunrise was stunning

Sunrise…

sunrise with the mist

Low clouds over the valley

Sunrise

A young girl came out to meet us as her dog barked and warned us to stay well clear of her home. It was a sweet exchange as she asked for her photo to be taken and once she saw flashed a smile it headed back to her house pleased. (The photo will make its way back up to her in the new trekking season after the rains!)

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The colours she was wearing matched the landscape

Young girl

The polaroid came out for the final time and we took and shared some photos with our great hosts  before we headed off down the side of the mountain and onto our final adventure and climb to Abuna Yemata church.

From the final guesthouse

Loads of beautiful people and smiles

Day 4 heading down

One of the final views as we reached the valley below

I would recommend this trip to anyone who loves nature, people and doing something that will give you a real taste of Ethiopian culture and the beauty of this country. I would go again tomorrow…. Want to make this journey too? Contact Tesfa Tours based in Addis Ababa – community based tourism. Email info@tesfatours.com http://www.tesfatours.com/contact-tesfa-tours/

Also helps to have great friends along on the journey!

More than FAITH needed – Ethiopia

We picked up our local guide Gebre from a small town as we headed towards the Gheralta Mountains. After four days of trekking through breathtaking landscape of Tigray in Northern Ethiopia we were headed for our final adventure before heading back to Addis, our visit to the rock-hewn church of Abuna Yemata Guh tucked away in some cliffs a hair raising climb away.

Starting the walk towards the rock face we need to climb

Starting the walk towards the rock face we need to climb

The churches in the Gheralta cluster of churches, around 30, are believed by locals to have been built back in the 4th to 6th century but its more commonly thought they were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. Either way they are phenomenal in their location, structure and certainly not built for those afraid of heights. If you’re wanting to get closer to God and have your prayers sent on up – you’re certainly in the right place by taking an adventure here.

A young girl herding the goats

A young girl herding the goats

Even though I had visited the area and this church five years earlier, and had been rambling on about it to my friends for weeks, nothing looked familiar. When we pulled off the road to park I still couldn’t make out the rock face we had climbed years earlier and was convinced we were in the wrong place. However, as we started our walk across the flat valley towards the rock face my memory partly restored and the landscape reveled a glimpse at the climb up ahead of us.

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The church entrance is tucked around the backside of the right hand rock pillar and completely out of sight until you enter the cave door. Unless you have a local guide you would possibly never find it as once you reach the rock face there is no clear path showing the way.
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The walk across the valley floor leading up is gradual and starts to reveal how steep the final parts of the decent will be but its not until you hit the end of the trail that you realise what is potentially ahead of you. It was mid morning when we reached the face and already hot when we started to use our hands to help negotiate the first section of the climb over the rocks.
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Once we reached the free climb section which consisted of sandstone walls we were asked to take our shoes off and leave them in order to continue the climb. At this point we had reached what was considered the church grounds and taking our shoes off also provided much needed grip for the 90 degree rock face we were ascending.
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The pack of men who had joined us and we had all been thinking the same thing “I can carry my own bag and I really don’t need your help”, soon became our safety nets and mules for safely carrying our bags and supporting us up the rock faces. They placed themselves ahead and behind us offering protection and guidance for every small foot and hand hold we could use. This is when my battle with keeping my camera out and the men looking at me slightly flustered asking to take it began. My stubbornness versus their extensive knowledge and climbing ability were a fine match which they eventually won and only the iPHONE stayed out.
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I had warned my friends that there was one tough section that really was like rock climbing but I hadn’t remembered it being as challenging or long as it seemed this time – maybe my age was catching up to me, I certainly didn’t feel as nimble as I had years earlier but also was on my own so wasn’t thinking about others.  I worried about the stress I was putting my friend through and hoped that I hadn’t built the view and church up to something more than what it was and I had remembered. I wondered if maybe the exhilaration of the climb had made the church and its location seem amazing and I did my own little prayer that they would be as impressed and amazed by the whole experience as I was.
The entrance to the church is along this ledge

Friends and Gebre peaking out the entrance to the church is along this ledge you make the final walk

So many questions entered my mind again as I reached the final ledge that you have to walk leading to the cave like entrance of the
Why? How? Why was it built here? How did they do it?
The view out the doorway of the entrance

The view out the doorway of the church entrance

As we rested in the church looking at the paintings, catching our breath and pondering how difficult the climb down would be seeing where you were headed, Gebre told us about the history of the church. He mentioned and showed us where the elders would rest and how baptisms happened at the church – mothers would climb with their babies up to have them baptised. We all looked at each other as if he was possibly joking – no joke. I certainly sat humbled at people’s conviction to their faith and the heights they would go to in order to get their blessings and have their prayers heard.

9 of the 12 apostles on the roof of the church

9 of the 12 apostles on the roof of the church

Old paintings cover the walls

Old paintings cover the walls

The priest shows us old texts

The priest shows us old texts

Old texts inside Abun

Old texts

The climb down was epic but not as frightening as anticipated. With our new built trust in our guides and the adrenaline still pumping we were all pretty pleased to reach our shoes and resume the walk on more level ground.

Is the climb worth it? Yep… I’d do it a third time for sure!

The climb down

Meghan & Edy negotiating the climb down

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!

As I look forward I glance back…

So its about to happen… I am moving!

Well to be honest I haven’t really been settled anywhere for the past 2 years and have essentially lived out a of a backpack with no fixed abode – its been an adventure! Moving somewhere new isn’t a huge drama – except those loved ones you leave behind each time. I am incredibly excited to be moving to Ethiopia and building a new place to call home. For now just a weeks stopover to meet some amazing colleagues, a new school, position & start setting big goals for the year. Then back to Rwanda for the remainder of summer before settling into life in Ethiopia in late July!

I thought I would dig up a couple of old images from the time I spent traveling to see a small part of Ethiopia in 2010 which blew me away! As you can imagine I am looking forward to get back to the rich culture, amazing food and people and throw myself into everything the country has to offer and learn so much more. I hope over the coming months and years I can break down some of the misconceptions you may have about Ethiopia and the images that come to mind when you think of this part of Africa.

I will start here…

Cool shades

Creativity & entrepreneurial – handmade & for sale – cool shades!

Tucked away after a climb up a huge cliff to a church in a cave...

Tucked away in a hidden cave… in the hands of an 80 year old who climbed like spiderman up the cliff

Stepping into the light

Stepping into the light from a church in Lalibela

Beautiful children

Beautiful children in the golden end of day light

Taking a break

Taking a break

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On a journey

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Can’t wait to step away from the ‘tourist’ type shots and show you some everyday Ethiopia!