It’s a road trip through Ethiopian highlands, heightened by the magnificent picturesque landscape to an impressive destination. It’s a road trip unspooled series of treasured images, history and unique signatures of towns and villages studded along the way. It’s a road trip allured wanderlust via serendipity into the rhythm of enlightenment.
On the way to The Bale Mountains
As the Great Rift Valley split the dome of Ethiopian Highlands, a journey to the Bale Mountains requires travelling through Ethiopian highlands which are divided in two portions by the main Ethiopian rift valley and this particular journey is towards the southeastern highland.
The Bale Mountains resides in the Oromia region – regional states of Ethiopia, covering 284,538 square kilometers. The Oromia region shares a boundary with every region of Ethiopia except for the Tigray region. Thus this journey required traveling through four zones of the Oromia region – East Shewa, Arsi, West Arsi and Bale.
The Bale Mountains are the lineal home of the Oromo – the largest single ethnic group in Africa. Pastoralist, farmers and famously known for their equestrian skills to name the few and which all can be witnessed while traveling through this full of character region.
A day before the actual seven days trekking started in the Bale Mountains, we drove from Addis Ababa early in the morning before the rush hour hits. There are two ways to reach Bale and we took the one which we haven’t done before to make the journey as interesting as the destination with an off the beaten path.
The other way of reaching bale from Addis Ababa – the one we trade to honor the off the beaten path– is via Shashemene and 40 km longer. It’s a pathway many travelers takes as it comes with driving through Ethiopia’s rift valley which dotted with plenty of beautiful rift valley lakes and definitely very interesting in spite of huge traffic. It’s a unique way of arriving to the Bale Mountains as it takes travelers through different kinds of major towns and small towns with their very own unique characters and unique landscape – from savanna portrayed with acacia trees to green forest and always topped with beautiful distant view of clustered hills or high mountains.
On this particular journey we embarked up on towards Bale via Asella, is 400 km from the capital city Addis Ababa to the head quarter of the Bale Mountains National Park which situated in one of Bale’s small village Dinsho.
It’s a journey which took us through different kinds of major towns and small villages with their very own interesting signature. Bishoftu (Debre Zeyit) with its crater lakes, Mojo with its lively but at times chaotic atmosphere as being transport hub and Adama with its locally famous gastronomic delight of delicious meat.
Once we reached Mojo, instead of going straight on the primary road which can take us straight to Shashemen, we rather diverted towards east via the expressway to Adama. After Adama we took the primary road which takes us straight to Asella.
As we continued, slowly the hustle and bustle of city life started to fade away and replaced by panoramic vista, serene village life and people. As always cracking a local tune goes very well on a road journey in Ethiopia or anywhere else for that matter as it’s going to end up being the soundtrack of a cherished journey.
Road trip and good company guarantees very lively journey and on our case, the universe assembled two Ethiopians and a Belgian on a road trip in Ethiopia. Endale with his cordial energy was the one behind the wheel and a very good family friend of the two passengers – myself as a traveler in her own country and my Belgian husband as wanderlust passionate.
While we were immersed in the liberating feeling which road trip provides for little while, one of the other characteristic of road trips presented itself – serendipitous. A scene which forced us to slow down and eventually to stop. Looking at this thrilling scene through the windows of the car was not enough, so we had to get out of the car and get closer.
The earth literally cracked open for almost a km long. We didn’t say much to each other we were just gazing with dropped jaw and trying to analyze the scene with our logical mind. We tried to capture the thrilling scene which the road trip provided not only with our lenses but with our mind.
Obviously, once we are back into the car, we couldn’t help to have one of those road trip conversations, which involved little bit too much of an imagination. And we couldn’t help talking about, that far-fetched it seemed topic which has been surfacing around the media for a little while now – The breakup of Africa into two land masses.
We don’t know for sure what we witnessed has got anything to do with that, but all we know that the scene cracked open our imagination and urged to entertain the idea – as an African and Ethiopian being separated from the continent in spite of the fact that geologists asserting that it takes millions of years for it to happen.
Though what we witnessed, might not be created by tectonic movement, rather by erosion of soil beneath the surface due to heavy rain, it induced a conversation about how it can affect the life of local people who lives around and hoping for more disclosure to be inspected in order to regulate preventable damages from seismic hazards.
As we continued, eye grabbing wide farm fields kept stretching before us as the lower slopes of hill sides have good fertile soil. Thus the area largely inhabited by farming people, most of the land of the region has been transformed to agriculture and mostly Barley – which signaled us we are in an area locally known as the source of Ethiopian local beer.
It was a delight to witness one of the ingredients of Ethiopian local beer out in the field at a particular time of harvesting. Bundled up straw drying out under the sweltering sun of Africa after good harvest in a golden stubble field crowned with the highest point in Arsi – Mount Chilalo with an elevation of 4036 meters above sea level – as a beautiful backdrop was a feast for the eyes.
While seemingly endless golden stubble field kept stretching before us, we kept talking about Barley and its special connection with this particular region. The Arsi highland is home to many long distance runners and Olympic medalist of Ethiopian athletes, so we raised an insider in our road trip conversation – that locally it is assumed, the secrets for the strength of these long distance runners, from this particular area, is Barley.
The beauty of road trip is providing an opportunity of tasting a regional delight as people are selling along the road or in small shops in one of the villages or towns studded along the way. Talking about Barley, we were hoping to come across roasted Barley snack (Kolo) in which one of Bale’s villages Dinsho is known for.
We continued on a smooth and quiet ride to the southeastern highland of Ethiopia decorated with impressive landscape which makes any journey as interesting if not better than the destination –typical road trip anywhere in Ethiopia.
After 100 km from Adama, the journey curtain opened to reveal Arsi’s major town which lies at 2400 m altitude. Asella was the capital of Arsi Province before relegated to the Oromia region, however Asella still maintains being an administrative center of Arsi zone. Asella is also a special place which strongly associated with the incomparable, Ethiopia’s very own and Olympic medalist Haile Gebresillasie as Asella is his birth place.
Once again we are back to the bustling city life scene – building, the white and blue tuk tuk bajajs, minivan taxis, shops, hotels and restaurants. Asella town was once an overnight stopover to explore the Bale Mountains – way before the paved road all the way to Goba (Another Bale’s town) and comfortable express bus service from Addis Ababa introduced. However, Asella still can be an overnight stopover for travelers with plenty of time and interested in the off the beaten path.
As Asella is obviously perfect lunch or coffee stopover for the particular journey like we were on, we wanted to have lunch, feel the ground and hoping to grasp Arsi’s spirit. We picked a hotel owned and goes by the name of another Long distance – runner and Olympic Medalist Athlete Derartu Tulu herself – who is one of Ethiopia’s treasures the Arsi highland gave birth to. Besides the obvious connection we were glad to have lunch at this spacious and clean hotel restaurant with friendly staff and good food.
We continued our journey and the city vibe faded away quickly on a smooth quiet journey which took us to Arsi’s small town lies at an altitude of 2,800 m above sea level and 56 km from Asella.
Bekoji – a name bigger than what the village appeared to be as it equally shares locally famous signature of being the birth place of many long – distance runners and Olympic medalist who put Ethiopia on the spot light with their victory in an international arena – Derartu Tulu, Fatuma Roba, Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele.
One of the most memorable scene of this small town is colorfully embellished horses galloped by the skilled horsemen swaddled in warm shawl on an evocative frosty moorland. It was one of the thrilling reminders of being in an Oromia region.
The next small town which welcomed us, is where the Shashemene and Asella road converge in West Arsi zone. Dodola set an elevation of 2,400 m covered with Afromontane forest and afro alpine moorland. Dodola is the northwestern extension of the Bale Mountains which its magnificent mountainous forest and beautiful trees signaled the Bale Mountains as we were getting closer.
The Dodola road swiftly took us through the West Arsi zone in to the other Oromia Region zone where The Bale Mountains resides – Bale. As the road traverse one of the five habitats of the Bale mountain national park – Gaysay Grassland – driving slowly required with all the signs of animals along the road signaling that we might encounter the animals crossing the paved road to the other side of their habitat.
At this point our curiosity raised up. After few meters drive, we were welcomed by one of the animals lives in Gaysay Grassland – the olive baboons. Our excitement to see the olive baboons quickly replaced by puzzled curiosity, as the baboons aggressively run towards the car almost to bang the window as if they are looking for something and even jumped on the car as if to stop it, then we all got hit by some kind of awareness right away as we realized and finally conformed from our tour guide the next day the sad truth.
The animals unconsciously conditioned by some irresponsible people in spite of signs and common sense throwing food to the animals, as a result the animals keep doing this every time a car pass by. This particular unexpected incident actuated a heated conversation about awareness in conservation and how we humans play a role.
Finally we reached the mountainous village which locally famous for one of gastronomic delights of Bale – Dinsho kolo (roasted Barely snack) – perfect for road trip and trekking in bale mountains. Our Destination Dinsho lies at 3,100 m altitude and it is a village where the head quarter of The Bale Mountains National Park resides.
In the honor of Road Trips!