Afroalpine Leas: Seven Days Trekking in Bale Mountains

Afroalpine Bale Mountains Ethiopia

Waking up within a small tent, surrounded by frosty ground, and in unbearably cold weather, was an instant reminder of being on the roof of Africa – which actuates you to venerate the warmth of sun as if it’s for the first time. We had coffee, scrambled egg, home baked bread with locally made honey for breakfast, before continuing our second day trail to go deep within the Afroalpine Leas.

Walking from the park headquarters Dinsho (Juniper woodlands) and slowly entering into the heart of the Bale Mountains – Sanetti plateau –, while passing through the Upper Web Valley, unfold impressive eye vistas.

The first few kilometers before entering into the Bale Mountain National Park, was walking through charismatic villages with bamboo fenced compounds complemented with full of character huts, villagers, cattle, horses and donkeys. Surrounded by rocky hills and beautiful mountain ranges as a backdrop of farm fields.

Village and farm field Bale Mountains EthiopiaLeaving village panorama behind, following the Web Valley track road, which parallel to the Web River, presented memorable moments of crossing the river and witnessing it superbly passing through beautiful valley and under naturally made stone bridge.

Upper Web Valley Bale Mountains Ethiopia

We stopped at the top of an Impressive gorge for our first sight of the endemic Rock Hyrax locally known as Osolee (in Afan Oromo) or Shikoko (in Amharic).

Rock Hyrax Bale Mountains Ethiopia

Rock Hyrax

Climbing steep hills and being rewarded by wide open spaces surrounded by astonishing mountain range started to take place. Clear beautiful sky, breezy but warm weather and sunny day brighten up the surrounding for more magnificent scenery. The tranquil energy brings out stillness from within.

The Bale Mountains are one of the best places to have exceptional birding experience in Ethiopia. According to the Bale Mountains National Park Traveller’s Guide book, it is rated by the African Bird Club as the number four birding site in Africa, and it is home to 310 species of birds.

The Moorland Chat (Alpine Chat), Thekla’s Lark, Chestnut – naped Francolin, Augur Buzzard, Tawny Eagle and Common Kestrel were birds we were fortunate enough to witness along the way.

Birds In Bale Mountains Ethiopia

Moorland chat and Thekla’s lark.

Even though the Finche Habera waterfall – which locally known as Woman’s urine – ,  was not at its peak due to the timing of the visit, but the swamp underneath was hosting the jewel of Bale Mountains – Blue winged goose – our first view of this captivating creature made the whole day trail worthy.

Blue Winged Goose Bale Mountains Ethiopia

Blue-winged goose – Endemic to Ethiopia.

While getting closer to the campsite, we are being able to spot the flagship of this impressive habitat from afar – Ethiopian Wolf.

Finch Habera waterfall Bale Mountains Ethiopia

The campsite in the wilderness seemed far away from everything and hallowed in serene aura. The temporary kitchen set up was where resourcefulness being tested. The tent was where the art of simplicity being expressed. The wilderness was where the spiritual practice of accepting what is and being one with life naturally applied.

Finch Habera Campsite Bale Mountains Ethiopia

Traditional handmade three lagged stools, decorated with colorful painting of the Mountain Nyala and Red Hot Poker plant – Signatures of the Bale Mountains – was a luxury in the wilderness. All these materials were carried by the people and the animals accompanied us, so every item which happened to be at the wilderness were venerated.

Towards the end of the day, the temperature dropped instantly to freezing, which made changing cloth a defying task. The darkness brings out not only bright stars but a feeling of surrender.

Day Three: From Finche Habera Campsite to Wassyma Campsite 

Frosty morning Bale Mountains EthiopiaWaking up early in the morning in a wild, covered by frost, started to become familiar. It was a holiday so our guide gave us an imaginative and much appreciated gift which brighten up our day – bouquet of everlasting flower.

While having breakfast and enjoying the sun, we were being able to spot the Ethiopian wolf preying from far away, which was another teaser of a spectacle of the Afroalpine meadow.

Every day and every step of the trail was taking us higher – from 3,000 m to 4,000 m above sea level.  Artemisia Afra pervaded a strong and sweet aroma in the wild which reminded me Guassa Grassland where the smell of wild thyme enlivening the overall experience of trekking in Ethiopia.

It was another warm sunny day and the bottled water we were carrying with us stayed cold and pleasant to drink, which reminded me the opposite experience that I had in the Danakil Depression , where the bottled water stayed warm – experiencing two extremes within a country beautifully diverse in so many ways – Ethiopia.

Spectacular landscape with magnificent mountain range and unique Afroalpine vegetation kept unfolding before us. Here and there colorful lichen-clad rocks, as a reminder of trekking in Bale Mountains, breathing clean air.  Walking through magnificent valley and next to impressive rock zenith pervades a sense of humbleness.

Afroalpine Trekking in Bale mountains Ethiopia

Somewhere on a rocky hill, we took a lunch break and we were surprised by the gracious Bearded Vaulter (Lammergeyer) flying over us, hovering around the hills preying. To witness this memorable spectacle up on the blue sky of the Bale Mountains, we stopped eating the savory avocado sandwich which we were carrying with us prepared by our cook Idris for a moment.

Birds In Bale Mountains Ethiopia2

Augurd bazzard, Tawny eagle and Common Kestrel.

Chestnut-naped Francolin Bale Mountains Ethiopia

Chestnut-naped francolin – Endemic to Ethiopia and Northern Somalia.

We continued our trail and within an impressive Wassyma Valley we spotted a Giant Lobelia plant, which signaled that we were getting closer to the Sanetti Plateau. The Wassyma Mountain, locally known as the mountain which attracts wind started to unveil itself from afar. Crossing frosty streams and seeing snow way on the top of the hills were all indications of ascending higher.  

Afroalpine Trekking in Bale mountains Ethiopia2Mount Wassyma Bale Mountains Ethiopia

The crew already reached the destination and set up the kitchen within a naturally created space on one of the hills and our tent was on another smaller hill where  Wassyma Mountain was a backdrop – we were actually within the view, living it.

Wassyma Campsite Bale Mountains EthiopiaAnother cold night appeared but ironically it was soul warming – as gathering around a campfire with strangers whom wanderlust brought together in the wilderness and celebrating a holiday somewhere on the roof of Africa is a sacred experience.

 

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Timket: Ethiopian Epiphany Celebration In Gondar

In honoring Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany) Celebration, I present an excerpt from an article published on The global S.E.E Africa Magazine about Timket and a video showing the highlights of Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany) celebration in Gondar.

” Timket is centuries – old but still existing spectacular tradition of Epiphany celebration that displays great worship. It is the holiest Ethiopian Orthodox Christians festival commemorating the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in river Jordan.”

” Timket is three days festival. The annual Timket celebration takes place across Ethiopia on January 19th (20th in a leap year). It is during Ketera (Eve of Timket) that the holy Tabots (replica of the ark of covenant) is taken from the altars of every church, being carried by priests, escorted by devotees in huge colorful procession to the main sites of the festival around water – baptismal pool known as Timkete Bahir. “

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Ethiopia, Festival, Gondar, Holidays, Religous Holiday, Timket, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ketera: Ethiopian Epiphany Celebration In Gondar

In honoring Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany) Celebration, I present an excerpt from an article published on The global S.E.E Africa Magazine about Timket and a video showing the highlights of Ketera (The eve of Ethiopian Epiphany) in Gondar.

” Timket is centuries – old but still existing spectacular tradition of Epiphany celebration that displays great worship. It is the holiest Ethiopian Orthodox Christians festival commemorating the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in river Jordan.”

” Timket is three days festival. The annual Timket celebration takes place across Ethiopia on January 19th (20th in a leap year). It is during Ketera (Eve of Timket) that the holy Tabots (replica of the ark of covenant) is taken from the altars of every church, being carried by priests, escorted by devotees in huge colorful procession to the main sites of the festival around water – baptismal pool known as Timkete Bahir. “

To Be Continued…

 

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Christmas: Chocolate Yule Log With Ethiopian Coffee

Yule Log and Ethiopian Coffee

It’s one of the eloquent details of interracial marriage, where two cultures come together, to create something unique.

This traditional combination emanates from a home, where two Christmas celebrations are taking place on different days.

Besides Dec 25th Christmas celebration, Ethiopian Christmas (Genna), which takes place on January 7, is the second Christmas celebration for this household somewhere in Europe.

Yule Log and Ethiopian Coffee 2

A chocolate Yule Log (Bûche de Noël), traditionally eaten in France and Belgium as a Christmas desert. In this household it’s known as ‘Kerstsronk’ in Flemish.

Flemish usually pare this traditional Christmas desert with coffee and this is when a traditional Ethiopian coffee (ye Jebena Bunna) comes in – representing an Ethiopian and a Flemish celebrating Christmas as one.

Merry Christmas!

 

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Hidar: Annual Feast of The Archangel St. Michael

Annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 1

Hidar is the third month of a yearly Ethiopian calendar which contains thirteen months.  It’s a month when the spirit of new beginning celebration gives away to the anticipation and preparation of the coming big events and celebrations – Genna (Ethiopian Christmas), Wedding Season and Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany) to name the few.

It’s that time of year, when the memorable seasonal flowers fading ways. mud replaced by dust, rainy days replaced by strong sun, fountains clearing up and start reducing.

In Ethiopia religion is the soul and religious celebration is culture. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church dedicates each day of the month to particular saints, angels, martyrs, apostles and to the Lord.

Even though the scope of these celebrations varies, it definitely kindles a unique vibe almost every day. These less known religious celebrations which seem reserved for locals, interestingly puzzles tourists who follows guide books fervently, makes a day of a tourist who’s tour guide is serendipity for unique experience practiced by locals, makes some getting used to for expats because of early morning prayers sounded from the church and unexpected traffic, reminds a particular date for locals (devotees or not) and for the Ethiopian orthodox religion devotees these days mean more obviously.

From an early morning Divine Liturgy sounded from the churches to devotees flocks to the church wearing white. Colorfully decorated churches with flags and goods being sold outside the church – from candles to fresh cut grass – all are the eloquent details which makes up a unique scene of this kind of religious celebrations. It’s more pronounced for the annual celebrations of a particular date which can happen twice a year.

annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 2

The twelfth day of each Ethiopian month is dedicated by The Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church to commemorate the Archangel St. Michael. The Annual celebration takes place On Hidar 12 (November 21) and Sene 12 (June 19).

annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 3

According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, feast days remembers a particular event from the holy bible or other written books with miracles performed by a particular angel or saint. Thus the annual feast of The Archangel St. Michael on Hidar 12 (November 21) is specifically in remembrance of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt with the help of the angel according to the church.

annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 4

St. Michael (Kidus Mikael in Amharic) is believed to be the head of heavenly host, who stands beside the throne of God, guardian of the soul of saints and martyrs and interceding on behalf of human.

The paintings of St. Michael in the Orthodox churches of Ethiopia, portrays the angel beautifully as the commander of angels wearing graceful worrier attire with sparkling long sword on his hand.

annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 5

In addition to the Holy Bible, there is a holy book which contains the miracles of St. Michael which devotees revere fervently and believe the continuation of these kinds of miracles to happen in their own life because of the interceding.

On the annual feast of the archangel St. Michael a special mass held at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church dedicated by the angels name. The replica of Ark of the Covenant taken from the Holy of Holies and presented to the procession inside the church compound. Mentioning the miracles The Archangel St. Michael operated in prayers, sermons and hymns which inspires women’s joyous and celebratory ululate.

annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 6

There is a common ritual practiced by the devotees in order to commemorate, worship and give thanks. Ethiopian traditional home baked round bread – Difo Dabo, roasted barley – Kolo and traditional home brewed beer- Tella in the name of St. Michael are being prepared and shared with family, loved ones and even with fellow devotees in the church as an offer that can’t be refused as it is consider to be sharing a blessing.

annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 7

annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 8

The other ritual is neighbors getting together forming a group in the name of a particular angel or saint in commemorating together. The ritual involves the group to come together in one of the group’s house for the feast in rotation.

This particular group formed to commemorate and share the feast together locally known as Ye Tswa Mahber which includes collections of miniatures as a movable shrine – paintings of a particular angel or saint they choose to commemorate specifically and the Holy Trinity and St. Mary.

A traditional small clay pot and straw weaved basket, covered with colorful costume. The clay pot contains Tella (home brewed beer) and the basket contains pieces of bread as a representation of the holly blood and flesh.  The collection of miniatures moves from one household to the other. The next host receives it and keeps it at the household until the next month get together in celebration to commemorate.

annual Feast Of Archangel Saint Michael. Ethiopia 9

Where religion and tradition intertwined, witnessing and being mesmerized by unique practices of particular society is a guarantee. These rituals are more than compilation of mundane details, rather the electrifying energy around it is powerful enough to shine a light on the opaqueness of everything is connected and permeate with the universe.

Happy Celebration!

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Grietfilet and Dame Blanche In West Flanders

food and memoir

The Dutch word Grietfilet which simply means Brill fillet but for me it’s a reminder of how living my life in different and interesting places can be a very humbling experience – from figuring out what’s on the menu to learning how to order food from a scratch because it’s different language and things work differently from place to place.

Food is an experience indeed and usually the meal we have comes with interesting stories which is going to turn into memories if we are present enough to honor the details and savor the meal.

künefe obviously reminds me Istanbul (Turkey) as Tiramisu can take me back to Venice (Italy). Well in Belgium I usually tend to go for La Dame Blanche as it’s a classic Belgian dessert which usually reminds me that I am in chocolate world because of its special warm chocolate sauce served with Vanilla ice cream and whipped cream to be drizzled up on.

On one sunny but chilly and windy Autumn Sunday afternoon, a family gathered in a local restaurant with private dining party rooms in Zuienkerke – the municipality of four villages in west Flanders – to celebrate 50th marriage anniversary. The home feel like cozy restaurant with big beautiful garden is where locals not only wine and dine but celebrate big occasions like marriage or birthday with family and friends and goes by the name of De Grote Stove (The Big Stove).

Besides children, grandchildren and in-laws, the Mayor of the municipality honored the ceremony by reading short overview of how these two souls meet somewhere a nearby Brugge (Bruges) and their journey together so far to reach this monumental golden year of marriage.

Obviously food is a powerful key to connect people, the family gather in one big dining table to share a meal in celebration of love somewhere in West Flanders and this is when Grietfilet happened to be on my table and forever to be remembered.

The flatfish with dark brown skin cooked to perfection to savor its white, creamy and sweet underside with a good bite of its firm texture. The savory sauce with hand peeled Belgian grey shrimps and mushroom takes this dish to the next level. The comforting and creamy mash potato definitely complemented this divine experience of this particular meal energized with beautiful memories and good times with family.

And this is a tribute to Food and Memories.

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Flemish: Ethiopian Gastronomic Journey

eels in green sauce Flemish dish 1

Opening the gate to the rich culture and history of Belgium with Flemish regional delights as a key, is still a specific but overwhelming experience for me. ‘Paling in ’t Groen’ is one of Flemish dishes which attracted me first by its deep green color which suggests nature, environment, life, energy and plethora.

eels in green sauce Flemish dish 2eels in green sauce Flemish dish 3

Actually, it’s not the first time deep green color either attracted me or surprised me like this. I remember discovering this particular green Crater Lake located in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, carpeted with algae deep within a caldera, dotted with white and pink flamingos feasting on the green abundance, was the most soul brightening experience I had in the crater lakes heaven Debre Zeit (Bishoftu).

Green Lake Debre Ziet Ethiopia

After pounding the cobblestones of Brugge, while immersing in a culture and working on an appetite, two attempts to discover the eel swimming in green sauce in one of the restaurants in Brugge memorably failed. The first attempt started with so much enthusiasm while discovering it on the menu and actually having it because not all or many restaurants serves this particular dish. I ordered it without any hesitation and waited with so much anticipation.

The pretty presentation of grilled eel on top of a drizzled bright green sauce with bit of golden brown butter oozed out of the sauce along with salad and Friet (Belgian Fries) gave me mix feeling as it was a surprise. Little bit disappointment sets in as I was looking forward the traditional way of eels in green sauce and maybe the waitress saw that little bit of a surprise on my face and asked if I need more green sauce. The eel was not well cooked so it was bit of struggle to separate it from its bone but I was rewarded with the green sauce which was delicious , which adds up even more curiosity to keep chasing the eel swimming in green river.

I don’t easily give up so in another trip to visit family in West Flanders and as always visiting Brugge, I made another attempt. After discovering the medieval postcard like city on foot from one museum to the other, admiring old buildings, visiting beautiful churches, shopping and stopping for hot chocolate and waffle or beer the day went by so quickly.  We went to one of my husband’s favorite restaurant where locals frequent as the west Flanders being his home turf.

Beautifully set up, small wooden chairs and tables, the rustic feel with candle lights makes it so cozy, home like and romantic. The place is known for fondue and eel dishes so my choice was clear until the waitress told me so nicely unfortunately that they had everything but that on that day.  We ordered another dish and had great time with good food and good wine which leads to a decision that I had to have this particular dish the classic Flemish way cooked by my Flemish husband at home with love.

My curiosity lead me to a little cook book with interesting title – Wat zit er in De Vlaamsche Pat (What’s in The Flemish Pot) – from my husband’s cook book collection. It is written in Dutch, so my husband had to translate, which is one of the opportunities everyday life presents to interracial couples to strengthening their bond I believe.

Love the story behind this dish even more than the recipe. Legend has it, this was one of the favorite dishes of Emperor Charles V. The very devout catholic Emperor insisted that 12 different kind of herbs being used in preparing the green sauce, 12 herbs representing each apostle – Mint, Parsley, springs of tarragon, Basil, Sage, Watercress, Chervil, Lemon balm, Sorrel, Bay leaf, Savory and Nettle (now replaced by Spinach).

It reminded me the sound of church bells which almost becomes a soundtrack for my traveling experience in European countries and everyday life while living in one. It also reminded me the scattered St. Mary statues accompanied with Jesus on the cross here and there almost in every village, typical Flemish household and even in vineyards in the Moselle region of Luxembourg.

Gathering the ingredients was a memorable experience by itself. Having great conversation about it during family visit in west Flanders with a family who loves cooking, laced the conversation with traditional tips and leads to the bountiful garden to collect the available herbs. A garden somewhere in west Flanders which is adorned with colorful flowers as well and one happens to be originally from Ethiopia like me.

Ethiopian Plant

Besides the herbs from the garden, as we always do every year we get to take home delicious apples, pears, berries and rhubarb with us. Every time we go back to visit family from neighboring country Luxembourg where we live, the return trip is usually with stuffed car from the trunk to the back seat with vegetables, fruits, homemade Flemish dishes, few things my husband strictly like to have from his home turf and of course things we couldn’t find in Luxembourg except Belgium.

The trip to the store and the shopping experience for the remaining herbs was not anything like grocery shopping as translating from Dutch to English either with my phone or my husband which is quite an experience by itself sometimes funny, frustrating but rewarding for an expat learning another culture. Finding eel was not that easy due to unavailability and being too expensive. We didn’t want to replace it with dogfish as it is becoming common thing to do these days so we went after frozen eels which turned out to be very good.

eels in green sauce Flemish dish 8

Flour coated pieces of silvery grey eels, slowly turning into golden brown while cooking in a butter. Adding finely cut shallot and then white wine and fish stock starts bringing out tantalizing aroma – the smell of cooking fish, caramelized onion, and bit of acidic smell from the wine. While the eels simmering slowly, pouching the greens in boiling water for seven minutes. Obviously, to retain the beautiful deep green color is important so putting the slightly cooked greens under cold water, adding Sorrel towards the end and replacing Nettle with spinach worked out perfectly.

Once the eels simmered down and cooked perfectly, seasoned with bit of salt and pepper, and adding the green sauce, drizzling lime and mixing it right before serving.

Experiencing subtle flavors from the green sauce – hint of grassy from parsley, freshness from the versatile mint, lemony from Sage, spicy from Basil, anise flavor from Chervil, peppery from Summer Savory and earthy from Spinach. Well citron and fish, fish and white wine, fish and green, fish and butter, green and butter makes up greenish, creamy, earthy and rich dish.

eels in green sauce Flemish dish 9

What makes it even more satisfying is the fact that it was spurred by memorable details emanated out of the process and of course Love!

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