Weaving our way through a massive pilgrimage of tens of thousands of people. Winding along a steep mountain road in a decrepit minibus. Hiking through the forest while avoiding piles of human feces with every step. These were just a few of our experiences on the day we went to the top of Mount Entoto. Needless to say, it turned out to be an epic adventure we won’t forget.
Looming over the north side of Addis Ababa, Mount Entoto reaches a height of 10,499 feet. Accompanied by our housemate, Tyson, our family began the journey to the top by walking up a road in Addis and searching for one of the minibus stations. As we were walking, we started seeing more and more locals clad in white shawls going in the opposite direction. Soon the road was filled with these pilgrims on their way back from religious services. Slow-moving buses lumbered through the crowd at a snail’s pace packed with those who opted for a ride instead of a walk down the hill. We were like salmon swimming upstream as we crept our way through the river of white.
The six of us were the only ferenji (the Amharic word for a non-Ethiopian) so we stuck out in the crowd like sore thumbs. In fact, at one point a group of laughing boys organized themselves to yell in unison, “What you doing here?!” which was followed by more laughter. A little while later, as I turned to pose for Brian’s photo, Alison and I almost collided with a fast-moving donkey carrying a bulging pile of wood. Simply getting ourselves up the street was a memorable experience in and of itself.
We eventually reached a minibus station and climbed into a working, albeit decrepit, vehicle. As we made our way slowly up the mountain road, our friendly driver pointed things out in broken English. “You look dare! Dare big goat herd! Look up dare! Dare big church! See dare! Dat Addis!”
On the way up we also passed women hauling their family’s supply of firewood. With tattered strips of cloth holding massive eucalyptus branches across their backs, the women’s small bodies bent under the weight as they slowly made their way down the hill. Linebackers would have had trouble managing those loads.
After we reached the top, climbed out, replaced the floorboard which had fallen to the ground and paid the driver, we were quickly joined by a group of local boys. Ironically, one of them was wearing an over-sized Tennessee Volunteers sweatshirt. We aren’t sure our explanation that we used to live in Tennessee made any sense to him. He might have thought we wanted to buy his shirt.
We explored a rural road with our new companions. The wide open fields and fresh mountain air were a nice change from the crowded, polluted streets of Addis.
On the way back we decided to take a trail cutting through the eucalyptus trees along the road. Bad idea. Very, very bad idea. Evidently this area serves as the community’s natural latrine, so we spent our short hike through the beautiful forest dodging human excrement with each and every step. We might have a hard time convincing the girls to go for a walk in the woods any time soon.
As we walked back down the mountain we ventured over to some rocks overlooking the city. Surprisingly, there we found a young Swedish man playing the guitar and singing. With the view, the group of local children following us and the Swedish serenade, the whole situation felt a little surreal and dreamlike.
As the sun got lower in the sky we decided it was time to start the journey home. We passed more women carrying wood and a few herds of goats and sheep along the way.
When we arrived back at the minibus station our friendly driver from before found us again and offered a good price for a ride all the way back to our neighborhood. While the standard minibus system is certainly cheap and relatively easy, managing the walks to different stations with three tired kids just didn’t seem worth it. Instead we sat back and relaxed in our decrepit minibus and watched as the lively streets of Addis went by. Our friendly driver shouted out the sights we passed along the way. “Look dare! House Prime Minister!”
Another eventful day in Ethiopia.