Early Sunday morning (Oct. 23rd) a group of us (me, Ileah, and some of the villagers) set out for adventure. The destination was Mount Yerer, the tallest mountain near Addis Ababa at 2,285 meters above sea level. I had noticed this mountain (before I even knew its name) early on while exploring around Kalaala and had taken several pictures of. I remembered how this mountain appeared to be the tallest mountain I could see with my naked eye on my walks around the village but the thought of climbing it never crossed my mind. Several weeks ago, Ileah had expressed her desire to run to a mountain and back so the villagers decided to take us there on a Sunday that would work for them. I had only wanted to spend some time getting to know the people I’ve seen around the compound and decided to join them on this hike for fun.
From Kalaala, Mount Yerer looked very far away. Although it stands tall like a watch tower amidst the miles of flat fields, I was a bite spectacle of the idea that I would reach the mountain at all, let alone climb to the top peak. We all gathered in front of the house and by 7am and started off on a journey that none of us had ever made before. I was told that if we left at 6am, we would be back by 12 noon so I didn’t bother to bring a flashlight, just my camera, cell phone, and a water bottle. Before long, our group had split up into three groups: the fast speed walkers, the medium paced hikers, and the out of breath lagers (can you guess which group I fell in?). Within an hour I couldn’t see the groups in front of me anymore and was now getting to know my fellow lagers. As pathetic, as it may seem, I found comfort in the ability to sympathize with Bizunesh who was struggling to keep up as she had started to develop stomach cramps and Kibret who didn’t mind our slower pace and allowed us to take breaks when we got too tired.
The further we got from the village, the more I saw of other villages, their inhabitants, and the land that stretch before me like an endless stroll as far as the eye could see. Soon we were in desolate territory where there were no roads and the only means of travel was by foot, horse, or donkey but the fields of wheat, teff, and other crops never ceased. Ever so slightly I felt that we were walking on an upward incline. Once in a while we came across a house or a small village and Kibret would visit with them or ask for directions and I would offer to take pictures of their family. Some of the people we met along the way offer us beans to eat. We keep walking and snacking along the way. When one of us got too tired, we all took a break to sit down and rest our legs. We just took our time and enjoyed ourselves. After about 3 hours of hiking, I was starting to tire out and the mountain look no closer to me than when I had first set out but Kibret keep urging us to go on. I started to realize that coming back at 12 noon was just not going to happen.
Soon we came to a river and found the rest of our group already there, sitting, chatting and relaxing but as we arrived, they were just about ready to leave, so once again we fell behind them but I really enjoyed our pace and got to take pictures with the locals. After what seemed like hours (probably noonish) the mountain finally started to look bigger like it was just a few miles in front of us and I could see the different colors on it much clearer. We than had to walk down a steep hill and through at least a mile of fields before we arrived at the foot of the mountain where once again we were reunited with the whole group. But as I mentioned before, since they had arrive earlier than we did, by the time we got there they were ready to start up again.
For the next part of the hike, we had to start going up the hill that was the base of the mountain which was steeper than I had thought it to be. My leg muscles were already strained but I had to keep going up, up and up. When I reached the top of the hill, I was ready to give up and just be content with making it as far as I did. Two of the other girls weren’t interested in climbing to the peak so I thought this would be the perfect time to just relax on the hill with them and wait for the rest to journey up the peak and come back for us. But at the last minute I decided to go up further thinking “I’ve already made it this far. It would be a shame to say I didn’t climb to the very peak of the mountain.” So up I went.
The slope now was even steeper but when I made it to the top of the second hill (which sat on the first one) I found that there was an underground orthodox Christian church. There were two priests standing outside and we were told that we couldn’t take pictures of the church. When we told them that we were trying to reach the top of the mountain, they gave us instructions, pointed us on the right path, and told us that it takes about 20 minutes to reach the top. At such high elevation, these priests were use to the altitude and so for them it’s very possible to run to the peak in 20 minutes but for me it took over an hour. The higher we climbed the more my heart rate increased and the less oxygen I was breathing in. We lost our trail, got separated from two of our hikers, wound up in bushes, had to head back, re-find the right trail all the while shouting for our lost hikers, and climb up what appeared to be an 80 degree slope with me slipping and sliding. FINALLY, we were there, sitting at the peak of Mount Yerer overlooking the vast view of the landscape, Even Addis Ababa appear far away now.
Sheer terror over came as I sat on the side of the peak of the mountain for I could now see clearly just how high I had climbed and remembered how terrified I was of height! My knees would not stop shaking. The rest of the hikers wanted to see what was on the other side of the peak and so they climbed even higher but I refused to take one step higher so I sat by myself as they went to explore the other side. They were reunited with the two lost hikers. When they were ready to climb down, I felt such a sense of relief and had to keep repeating in my head, “You’re going down, soon it will be flat ground.” Some of the boys just ran down the mountain like nobody’s business but I scooted down most of the way on my butt with the aid of someone holding my hand for balance. My body was spent, my legs would not stop twitching in complaint of what I was forcing them to do but what choice did I have but to keep going? Slowly, slowly, I made it back to the foot of the mountain and just claps on the grass in exhaustion. I only got to rest for about 15 minutes before we had to go on our way again for it was already past 4pm and we still had a long ways to go.
The sun sets around 6pm so we needed to cover as much distance as possible before it got dark. This time we had to tread through the fields without a local guide. The ground was uneven with stones perfect for tripping on and difficult to spot pot holes just waiting for ankles to twist. I don’t know where I found the energy but I picked up my pace and kept on walking. For me, my motivation to walk faster was the setting of the sun. I knew we had miles to go yet and once it got dark I would be tripping over rocks with the threat of being attacked by hyenas or wild dogs. None of us brought flash lights with us since no one anticipated the trip would take as long as it did, but Kibret had a flashlight on his cell phone which was running low on battery. Once it got completely dark, we were able to use his cell phone for a little bit of light.
We came across the river again and this time was had to cross it in the dark but there weren’t enough stepping stones for us to cross the river without getting wet so the boys had to carry us girls on their shoulders while crossing the river in the pitch darkness of a moonless night with only a small cell phone flash light to guide them! (I’m telling you this is one adventure I have never encountered before!) We all made it across the river, kept walking in the direction of the night lights of Addis Ababa and when Kibret’s cell phone dead, we just sat on the side of the road in front of a house. The residents of the house were kind enough to bring some injera for us to eat and refill my water bottle. They then lead us further down the road while carrying sticks in their hands in case a hyena got to close to us.
A few of the villagers got back to Kalaala and had told Solomon (our maintenance guy) where we were, and asked for him to pick us up. I was so happy to finally see a car or any type of moving vehicle that could take me back to my bed in Kalaala. On the ride back (about a 35 minute car ride which would have taken us 3 more hours on foot) I felt so wonderful so be sitting and not have to move a muscle. When I got back to the Learning village, I gave Tisgay (the cook) a big hug. “There is no place like home I thought to myself” and then I thought “This is the first time I have thought of the Learning Village as my home!”
I don’t know how many miles I walked that day. I asked several people and got very different answers. Some guessed it was maybe 30 kilometers, others 50 kilometers. My guess is that it was probably 40 kilometers or maybe 30 to 35 plus miles. Whatever the distance, it was an adventure I will never forget. I don’t regret going, for it was truly a wonderful experience and the best part of it was that I got to know the people at the Learning Village better and we grew closer as friends. I wouldn’t go as far to say I’m up for another mountain climbing adventure next weekend though. Who ever knew that Ting, a girl from mid-west America, could climb a mountain and live to tell about it? I certainly didn’t!