Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mountain Climbing Adventures in Tigrai (a very late post)

Ileah and I wanted to explore other regions of Ethiopia and so we sought out a well recommended tour guide named Luigi, Who runs his own tour company here in Addis Ababa and he recommended for us a trip to the region of Tigrai to visit the Gheralta Mountains and other surrounding mountains. Aside from the unique shapes, formation, and look of these mountains, another interesting aspect about them is that most of the mountains have a rock church on its peak that dates back to the 4th century. Most of these churches are a part of the mountain and have been carved out from a single rock or chunk of the mountain like caves. They sit on the tops of most peaks gleaming in the sunlight like precious jewels.
                We left Kalalaa, early in the morning on November 3rd, for the airport and boarded a 1 hour flight into Mekele, Tigrai (located in the northern region of Ethiopia). From Mekele, it was another 2 hours drive to our camp site. A couple from Norway (Carmen and Arvey) and their friend (Walter) were also doing the same trip as us so we became five in total (not including our driver or local guide).
This was going to be a camping style trip and we were told that there would be a tent really for us, a hired cook to make our meals, a guide to show us the attraction sites, and to just enjoy ourselves because we would be well cared for. In my mind, when people mention camping, I tend to think of my camp meeting days in Wisconsin where me and a few of my friends (usually about 4 or 5 of us total) were crammed into a tent that claims fits 6 people but in actuality more like 3 comfortable and 4-5 if you wanted to feel like sardines in a can. I was thinking that our meals would be cooked over a camp fire. To my amazement when I arrived at the camp site, I could stand fully upright in my tent. Ileah and I decided to share a tent together but that tent could probably have fit a family of 6 comfortable. There were very comfy cots for us to sleep on, shelves for our belongings, a table and 2 chairs all nicely set up in our tent. They even put 2 pairs of slippers near the entrance! This was quality service! We had our own outhouse and toilet (although it was more like a hole in the ground with a toilet seat above it but still it beats going in the brushes).  Our meals were served in a large size tent (well decorated the Ethiopian style) by a profession chef (food was always delicious) decently set tables. It felt more like I was staying at a hotel rather than going camping. There was even an area set up so we could take showers. This was Luigi’s idea of luxury camping and he was the one who came up with the set up.

When we arrived close to our destination, it was already mid-day. We decided to visit one of the oldest churches in the region. For this first church, we did not have to climb any mountains to visit just a set of stairs. The entire church was carved out from the mountain and when I entered it, I just had this odd feeling looking at the ancientness of it all from the paintings on the walls, the tall pillars in the room, to the carved designs on the ceiling. I can quite explain this feeling but it was just so interesting looking at an artifact that’s so old but has been preserved throughout the ages.
That evening, we talked along a dirt road just sight-seeing. the mountains were so beautiful in the evening sunlight and we even saw a herd of camels passing by. The second day there, we climb the first mountain which took 2 hours to get up with the help of local guides, but the view was magnificient and that evening we took a walk through the quiet country side. The area was just so remote and far from the business of the city that it seemed a world away. The mountain we climbed on the 3rd morning was the most challenging. There was on section of the mountain that was a vertical 90 degree slop straight up (like climbing a wall)! And we had to do it bare foot cause the monks viewed that area as holy ground. That same day, after lunch we climbed another mountain but thankfully this one wasn’t as steep. Two mountains in one day was pushing the limits of my ability slightly…
 (I really wish I could upload more pictures of the trip but my internet is just too slow.)

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