Community Tourism trek through remote villages

Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
Trip End Aug 25, 2006

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Friday, November 4, 2005

We stayed Sunday night in Woldiya and, after asking around in a few hotels, found a lift with a 4WD to our rendezvous at a restaurant in the small town of Gashena where we met up with our guide Berihun, and our two trekking companions Anne-Marie and Alison.

The trek is organised by TESFA (Tourism in Ethiopia as a Sustainable Future Alternative) and is funded (and backed) by Save The Children UK. The cost was $35 per day ($20 for the first day as the site isn't properly established yet). 100% of the money goes to the villages. The villages have an elected committee who organise their village's part of the trek themselves (with help from TESFA) - ie hire the local guides for that day, arrange food to be cooked, make sure the accomodation is set up correctly and is clean, and to pay each of the villagers for the services they provide. All left over money is the profit for the villages. The first and third village we went to are saving up for a grinding mill, and the second village was putting the money towards a seed bank and loans for village farmers. TESFA's aim is to hand total control of the project to the villages within three years.

The first day was an easy 2 hour trek. We went down small valleys and over fields of rocks and flowers. We were only the second group (ever!) to do this first trek and our guide knew no English, so we had a great old time communicating in our limited Amharic. Two hours later and our guide pointed to two tents hovering on the edge of a cliff on the top of the world at 2900m altitude... We were absolutely stunned with the location and settled into our tents while the local villages welcomed us with pancakes and pizza! All the while we were in awe of the scenery around us....

After a quick rest our guide took us into the village to have a quick look around. We were very warmly greeted with most of the villages coming out to have a look at the farangi. We were in luck - Oct 31st 2005 of our calender is February 21st 1998 by Ethiopian calender (go figure!) and every month on the 21st is a big Orthodox celebration of St Maryam's day. All the villages had gathered at various local 'pubs' scattered around the village and were enjoying the local alcohol (brewed for 15 days from barley) and bread. We were invited to join them at two to the 'pubs' to celebrate with them. Many had never seen a white person before and we were asked such questions as "why is our skin black and yours brown?" We were also asked if we were there to convert them. We had a wonderful few hours laughing and chatting away before heading back at sunset to our campsite.

The next morning I was up to complete my ablutions (behind a rock) as the sun rose. I watched the cooks making our breakfast over an open fire and chatted away.

Our guide loaded our donkey to the tottering point, then we set on our way again at about 9am. The trek this day was slow-going in the morning - over rocks around the cliffs. The view was spectacular all morning.

We stopped for lunch in a forest clearing, changed local guides (the guides from the second camp) and set off on a much easier walk over roads and through villages.

A few hours later we started heading downhill, and found ourselves in the quaint and friendly village of Wajela. This time, again, we were breath-taken with our campsite. The Wajela project is at stage 2 of the Community Tourism Project and as such the campsite had been transformed from tents to well-constucted Ethiopian bungalows. We had our own private room, and an eco-friendly toilet. The shower was, unfortunately, still under-construction.

The site was yet again perched on top of a cliff overlooking villages far below. We settled outside the huts and chatted away with our three charming cooks - Yeshi, Yeshi and Mulu. Well, chatted as much as we could when they spoke no English and our Amharic consisted of only a handful of words. But boy did we learn a lot that night!
The next morning we were up before the sun again. I went to the kitchen and chatted again with the cooks and watched them cook our breakfast and lunch, and then we set on our way again.

This time, we were a lot more tired and the trek felt a lot longer. It was only about 7 hours, but with the sun beating down on our backs it felt a lot longer. We waved at the children and stopped to view community wells and enjoyed the walk. We changed guides again and ate lunch under a tree with the sheep, again perched on the side of a cliff.

What a finale! And a pleasure to visit the third and completed site of the project. Brad Pitt was the first name in the visitors book (!!) and mine was 54 :-) There was less interaction with the villagers here, but the view was absolutely spectacular. We were on a small penninsular far above the rest of the world. We sat and watched as the sunset over our camp.

The next day, we spent the morning trekking back out to the main road, back to electrity, words of rioting and people shot dead by police in Addis, and to reality.

Without a doubt, this Community Trek has been the highlight of our trip so far. We saw not only spectacular scenery, but also felt so extremely priviledged to see the different stages of development of this Community Tourisn Project. Most of all though, we enjoyed the priviledge of seeing and interacting with the villagers in their own natural environment. Anyway who has the opportunity to visit Ethiopia, do it! The TESFA website is as below. From their you can contact Mark Chapman (via the e-mail link) who will set you up with available dates.

TRAVELLING BACK - A baby born!
Our adventure was not to end there... We caught a tightly packed bus to Woldiya and had the journey of a lifetime. The bus kept stopping to pile more and more people, chickens, timber and goats on board until Kirsty and I both started to worry that we would topple over. At a stop we moved up to the front next to our funky bus driver, and sang Ethiopian songs as we stopped for peas and carrots (for the entire bus), as well as one very pregnant woman.

Kirsty and I started to worry when her labour pains got down to 1 minute apart (and we were still 10km from the hospital) - and then she screamed 'the baby's coming' (in Amharic of course). The bus screamed to a stop while all who could streamed off. We were stuck in the front, less than 1 metre from the woman, and watched as she lifted her skirts while her husband got behind her, and next minute, watched in complete fascination as he ripped off some cardboard to use to cut the umbilical cord. A baby boy had been born right before our eyes and in between the chickens! Everyone streamed back on the bus again and we raced to the hospital and delivered baby, father and mother (trailing placenta behind). Kirsty and I were speechless.


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