The last 4 days of our Ethiopian trip were spent with a tour company who took us to the south of the country to explore Bale Mountains National Park and explore Sof Omar Cave, the longest cave system on the African continent. Our driver Bir (short for Birhanu) was a cool guy who did his best to give us everything we wanted. When we decided we were not big fans of the hotel’s packed lunches for us, he got us peanut butter, bananas, and bread as we asked for daytime picnics. We also had a guide who I could almost swear had superhuman powers to detect any bird species or rare animal from a very long distance without the aid of binoculars. Our hotel was also one of the only ones around for tourists to stay in, which was interesting to me because it is a beautiful area that more people should visit. On the way down to the mountains, we got stuck in the town of Nazreth for 2 hours while a bike race blocked every exit out of the town, but we also had a beautiful breakfast overlooking one of the Rift Valley lakes.
The Bale Mountains, including the Harena Forest and Senetti Plateau was a wonderful adventure into the animal species of Ethiopia. We saw many endemic and rare animals, such as the mountain nyala and Ethiopian wolf. There were many uphill climbs that my legs felt afterward too. We had a picnic one day in the forest and saw an entire part of the forest covered by bamboo. It was much colder in the mountains than the other parts of Ethiopia that we had visited. However, when we went to Sof Omar, the weather returned to its usual hotness.
Sof Omar Caves is a site of pilgrimage in Islam. The caves are absolutely spectacular. We explored the 15km of it with the aid of a local guide and flashlights. The river that comes down from the Bale mountains to cut through the caves made it so that we had to cross it 7 times, with one of those crossings being a bridge that was really just some large twigs someone had fashioned a “bridge ladder” from. It was probably one of the least stable things I have crossed. The crossings were made easy with the help of our guides and driver helping us across the slippery and often pain-inducing river rocks and stones. It took us almost 3 hours to explore the cave. I have also never seen so many bats in one place in my life. After exploring the cave, we ate a picnic lunch and fed a precocious monkey who dared to come very near us.
On the journey back to Addis Ababa, we stopped in the town of Shashamene, which is home to the Ethiopian Rastafarian community. For anyone who does not know, Rastafarians think of Ethiopia’s emperor Haile Selassie as a god, or at least a highly honored man. We went to the Banana Museum, which is owned by a man who makes art out of all the parts of the banana plant. It is pretty incredible what he does. Many of the inhabitants of the town are from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean. They were very happy to know that I was from Grenada and now lived in Africa. I was like a kindred spirit to them minus the excessive use of marijuana. Bir also took us to see gigantic cranes on a pond. I promise you that they are the size of small humans. It was a wonderful tour and it was great to not have to worry about anything for the last part of our journey.