This photo shows a winding road cutting through the mountainous landscape of northern Ethiopia.

One of the main joys of our recent trip around Ethiopia was seeing the landscapes and catching glimpses of ordinary lives through the windows of our truck.

Rural life just outside Addis Ababa


As we left Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s bustling capital city, on the first morning, the busy streets and signs of new development soon gave way to more rural vistas.  We began to see people in traditional dress, rather than the western attire favoured by the residents of Addis.  Eye-catching colourful blankets known as gabis  were worn by both men and women.  The area seemed relatively prosperous with healthy-looking crops and animals.
Traditional dress
Street scene, Debra Markos
Apart from the town of Debre Markos, where we had an overnight stop, these rural landscapes continued until we reached Bahir Dar.  Here, we saw many more flowers and trees, especially palm trees.  Probably due to its proximity to Lake Tana, the area was less dusty, greener and more lush.  This was particularly noticeable when we drove to visit the Blue Nile Falls.  There were lots of crops being grown and people seemed to have their own small vegetable patches, too.
Everywhere we went, people were walking


Greener scenery near Bahir Dar
Typical village scene on the road to Lalibela
As we drove from Bahir Dar to Lalibela, we noticed that people’s dress began to change.  The headgear was more elaborate, but the colours of the clothes were more subdued.  The houses changed, too.  Up to this point, we had seen square and rectangular dwellings, but now most of the houses were round.  We also saw more two-storey buildings.  Later on in the journey, as we climbed higher, the landscape became much drier and dustier.  There were hundreds of people walking along the verges, often with their animals – cows, goats and donkeys.  Ethiopians walk everywhere – personal car ownership is very rare.
Round houses


Chinese roadbuilders’ settlement
Throughout our Ethiopian journey, we were struck by how much road construction is going on.  All of these projects are funded by the Chinese and we saw many Chinese engineers living and working in the areas we drove through.  They live in purpose built camps, usually in the middle of nowhere.  There’s no doubt that the natural landscape is being scarred by these huge earthworks.  Many times, the route of the new road passes directly through existing settlements and houses in the way are demolished.  Local residents live in a permanent building site, with all the disruption that goes with it.  I hope they are being adequately compensated for the inconvenience, and, more so, for the devastation of losing their home, but I don’t know as nobody could answer my questions about this!
Lush countryside at altitude
From Lalibela to Alamatta, we climbed to an altitude of over 3000m.  We found ourselves in the middle of the low clouds.  The temperature dropped considerably.  The round houses were once again replaced by square ones, but this time more of them had individual gardens.  As we drove into a more Muslim area, we saw more covered women, more mosques and painted houses with bright colours and Islam-influenced patterns.  From these dizzying heights, we descended again and, once more, we saw a much drier landscape and, for the first time in Ethiopia, camels – lots of them! 
Camels on the road to Mekele
The next day, we drove on to Mekele.  The landscape remained arid, but the scenery was spectacular with lots of mountain peaks.  We continued to see hundreds of camels.  From Mekele, we climbed higher to Wukro, driving along hair-raising roads.  The colour we saw from the window of the truck was predominantly orange – the earth, the buildings, the rock.  Wukro itself sits on a rocky plateau which is very flat and very dry. 
Stunning scenery


Structural cacti


From there, we journeyed on to Aksum.  The land was still very dry and we began to see lots of cacti.  Some of these were huge and structural.  Others were smaller and covered in lots of brightly coloured flowers.  The Muslim towns and villages we drove through were characterised by lots of flat-roofed painted houses and elaborate mosques.  The scenery was spectacular with sheer, sparsely wooded cliff faces and deep ravines.  As we approached the town of Aksum itself, we saw that man has tried to tame these cliffs for horticulture.  Steps have been carved out of the rocky mountainsides and planted with vegetables.  They all looked incredibly dry!
Epic roads
The day we left Aksum, we had a long driving day to Debark, the gateway to the Simien Mountains National Park.  It took us 11 hours to cover 270km!  At the start of the journey, we drove through a large area used for growing tej, the cereal used for making injera, the ubiquitous Ethiopian staple.  We then climbed higher still and stopped several times to photograph the stunning mountain scenery.  We all marvelled at the incredible feat of engineering required to lay a tarmac road through this unforgiving landscape.  At one point, the road dropped steeply down to a shallow river which we crossed before ascending again to the dizzy heights of the mountaintops.  Our breath was quite literally taken away by our first sights of the peaks located within the national park.  The final 45km of the day’s drive was on dirt roads.  The dust meant that we were all ready for a shower by the time we arrived at our hotel in Debark.


First view of the Simien Mountains
The dry dusty conditions continued the next morning as we made our way into the park itself.  Once we entered the park, though, we were blown away by the most dramatic and spectacular scenery of the entire trip.  Jagged mountain peaks flanked deep valleys and high altitude plains where only grasses, junipers and giant lobelias grow.  The days in the park gave photo opportunity after photo opportunity, none of which did justice to the sheer scale and majesty of the reality we were seeing.  It was simply stunning!!  After several days of this sensory overload, however, we were quite relieved to find ourselves once again on a tarmac surface and finished our tour of northern Ethiopia driving through a comparatively mundane landscape.
Inside the Simien Mountains National Park



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