Round Ethiopia with God and Garlic

13th February 2020


Recently, travellers Anna Quarendon and Richard Draper joined us on the Ethiopia Timkat Festival tour and in place of providing us feedback, Anna wrote us a lovely poem of their journey, accompanied by some beautiful images taken by Richard. Together, we feel they've perfectly summed up one of our most beautiful, culturally enriching tours. With thanks to Anna, Richard and tour leader Dario for making such an impression! 

With half a day in Addis

We’ve little time to waste

So off we go to see some sights

To give us all a taste

First, we visit Lucy

In a special glass-built case

Her tiny prehistoric bones

And forward thrusting face

Photo by Richard Draper

And then to the Cathedral

With sistrum and with drum

The stained glass is amazing

We’re already glad we’ve come

And home through the merkato

With its many thousand stalls

From “cameras to Kalashnikovs”

And dealers making calls

And women selling spices

Garlic, rosemary and rue

Alongside parked up motorbikes

Checked in white and blue.

Photo by Richard Draper

And next day, rising early

We take another plane

But just a few hours later

We’re on the road again

Photo by Richard Draper

We stop to do some threshing

The cows are circling round

Carmela lends a hand as well

Forks hay piled on the ground

The villagers are generous

And share Discussion bread

As we stand and glimpse a moment

In a rural life long led

Photo by Richard Draper

Our home that night, Gheralta Lodge

Where skies are blue and wide

A small bird calls as sunset falls

So fabulous, I cried.

Photo by Richard Draper

The next day on our mountain walk

Our guide says “take your time”

So, under olive trees we stop

To break the uphill climb

Right at the back comes Anna

Who’s feeling rather sick

But Aaron comes and holds her hand

Which quite soon does the trick

Before we’ve even started

There’s a massage for Carmela

When her calves are checked out

By our senior guiding fella

Photo by Richard Draper

A bell hangs in the cemetery

Which tolls for mass and war

And also rings for those who’ve died-

And, by the open door,

We leave our shoes and go inside

Where on the chiselled walls

We see the ancient paintings

As the honeyed shadow falls

Photo by Richard Draper

And down below a family waits

The wedding of their son

To toast with coke and roasted goat

As it has long been done

We’re offered popcorn freshly made

Slightly salted, hot

We scoop it up in handfuls

And between us eat a lot

Photo by Richard Draper

Then on to Dugum market

Where, lying all around,

Are piles of dark red chillies

Spice and garlic on the ground

Where chicken sit in baskets

And women ply their trade

Shawled beneath umbrellas

As they try to make some shade

Photo by Richard Draper

At the church at Wokecherkos

We go through the wooden door

Inside are painted frescoes

And carpets on the floor

And George who slayed the dragon

Is pictured on the wall

And, in the street below the church,

Small boys are playing ball

And little girls with school books

In colourful apparel

Are to be found all hanging round

To show their work to Carol

Photo by Richard Draper

We see quarried stones at Yeha

With channels for the rain

And gullies dug to catch the blood

From sacrificed remains

And from there, round the many bends

Lekun drives with care

Til he brings us safe to Aksum

And, once we’re finally there,

We see a ruined palace

For Kaleb and his son

Where Kaleb lived until

He thought his days as king were done

And tho his family’d prepared

A lavish regal tomb

He died on Pantelion

So, he didn’t need the room

 

I’m not sure that my facts are straight

But, for more factual quotes

You’d better speak to Wendy

Who’s taken lots of notes

She’s hung on Dario’s every word

And now can take the lead on

Sistrum, stelae, monkey heads

Ge’ez or boustrophedon

 

We saw this form of writing

On a carved Rosetta Stone

And we saw it at the stelae fields

Where one of them lay prone

The emperor was insistent

That his was super tall

So, one thing that we learned

Was that pride comes before a fall

Photo by Richard Draper

And here, and at the many sites,

Frank is not caught napping

His camera’s always poised

To do another bit of snapping

Photo by Richard Draper

So, we head on out of Aksum

Toward the National Park

With Lekun at the wheel

Until it’s well and truly dark

We pass a refugee camp

Where thousands who have fled

Their homes across the border

Sought asylum here instead

They changed one life for another

And have no choice but remain

Checkpoints on the nearby roads

So, they can’t leave again

Lekun stops at all the checkpoints

And for cows along the way

Avoids the potholes and the bumps

And more than earns his pay

Photo by Richard Draper

And on our longer road trips

While we’re travelling in the van

George compares his lens size

With Richard man to man

And Wendy’s got the Werthers

And Stuart shares his treats

Providing Aldi humbugs

And bags of liquorice sweets

And should we need to get some more

And need a bit of cash

Then Jeff’s the man to go to

As he’s got quite a stash

A pile of pristine 5 birr notes

He handed out like candy

For you simply never know

When change might come in handy

 

From Debark we drove off

Along with two scouts and their guns

To walk into the National Park

And sit amongst baboons

They sat there in their hundreds

A fantastic sight to see

And certainly a highlight

Both for Richard and for me

Photo by Richard Draper
Photo by Richard Draper

And George is our recorder

Frames memories that we’ll keep

Of people in the landscape

Tending cattle, goats and sheep

Of sorghum fields and threshing

And donkeys plodding by

And goatherds standing with their crooks

And camels reaching high

And the widely smiling faces

Of the children who come running

With their cries of “money!”, “pen!”

-We’re sure they’ll all be stunning

And Richard has a gallery too

With many stylish shots

There’ll be thousands we can choose from

As between us there’ll be lots

Photo by Richard Draper

At the church of Debre Bihar

Priests chant in ancient tongue

Stories from the bible

Which for centuries have been sung

And darkly haloed angels

Look down from painted beam

As white robes men shake sistra

And boys beat time with drum

Photo by Richard Draper

And we see the Emperor’s palaces

With hammam and with halls

For banqueting and concerts

Where, carved into the walls

Are niches for the instruments

Musicians played outside

And dining rooms where walls

Were hung with jewels and lion hide

Photo by Richard Draper

And we fly to Lalibela

And see a church or two

In fact we see eleven

Which is really quite a few

Photo by Richard Draper

And Carol’s not so very keen

To walk about in socks

As it can be quite slippery

When climbing well-worn rocks

But it’s quite alright for Anna

With a help mate in these places

For Taweke guides her down the slopes

(and also ties her laces)

And we climb up to a cave church

Where, in a hall of stone,

Lie several thousand people

Who now are skin and bone

Photo by Richard Draper

We’ve stayed in huts with stunning views

(At least, we had from ours)

Photo by Richard Draper

We’ve stayed in rooms where

Richard did his best to fix the showers

(He never travels anywhere

Without a handy pin

He thinks that not maintaining showers

In hotels is a sin)

We’ve tried out Ethiopian food

And shared a fasting dish

And one night, Stuart also tried

Some “lovely” sizzling fish

And some have tried out Shurro

And some have tried out tej

And some have tried the beef and goat

While others stuck to veg

And when we went to Wubit’s house

We ate injera there

Sitting round a dish

It took her four hours to prepare

Photo by Richard Draper

And more injera on our walk

Which we began next day

And some cups of hot, strong, coffee

To help us on our way

With our overnight belongings

Bundled into sacks

And loaded up on donkeys

We followed in their tracks

We walked across the grassland

Thro fields of chick-pea stubble

We walked thro open farmland

And on paths of dust and rubble

Where golden haystacks clustered

And old men stopped to talk

And children ran to shake our hands

As we began our walk

And at night we heard the dogs bark

But no sound of any cars

As we turned our faces upwards

To the thousand thousand stars

Photo by Richard Draper

And on the second day

We walked with Adisu and heard

The mocking cliff chat calling

Saw the white-tailed starling bird

And by two tents beneath the trees

Epiphany draws near

Men stir drums of chic- pea sauce

And some drink barley beer

And soon we’re drinking beer as well

At the rock bar where we rest

The sun sets on another day

When we’ve literally been blessed

Photo by Richard Draper

And blessed again by several priests

Among the crowd next day

To celebrate Epiphany

The highlight of our stay

We follow to the waterside

After mass is said

And, after the baptising,

The crowd wait to be fed

Umbrellas bright in sunlight

In glittering brocade

Protect the priests and faithful

As they start on their parade

With beating drum and sistra

The tabots lifted high

While girls in white are singing

As the vast crowd surges by

Photo by Richard Draper
Photo by Richard Draper

And Timkat’s not the end

For we have still to see the Falls

Where the Blue Nile tumbles

White down vast rock walls

And later, on Lake Tana,

Pale Pelicans fly high

On our boat trip to the island

Before we say goodbye

Photo by Richard Draper
Photo by Richard Draper

There’s so much more that could be said

But really, to be frank,

There’s only one important thing

And that’s the man to thank

Photo by Richard Draper

For Dario’s fixed our problems

And sorted out the glitches

And made sure our stay has been

Without too many hitches

His biggest test was probably

When Frank’s bag went astray

But Dario worked his magic

And he had it back next day

 

And all the while, mile after mile,

Driving through this land

Dario has helped us all

To try and understand

A little of the culture

The politics, economy

The way that local people live

And something of agronomy

A little bit of geography

A little bit of history

A little of topography

And something of the mystery

Of ancient times and rituals

Of palaces and kings

And emperors and despots

Of so very many things

That, though we’d read the guide-books,

We now know so much more

About his Ethiopia

Than we ever did before

And this is down to Dario

Our quite fantastic guide

So, to our Super Dario

We say thank you for the ride

Check out more of Richard Draper's photos here >

Poem by Anna Quarendon.

Check out our Ethiopia tours here >

Hayley Cleeter

Hayley would have to thank the multi-culturalism of London for first sparking her interest in travel. She remembers dressing up in saris from India, e…

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