A Trip Up Mount Entoto

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.
Addis Holy Day
Packed bus in Addis on a Holy Day
Pilgrimage on Addis Ababa road
Cars and people in Addis
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.
Near miss with the donkey coming up behind
Tyson the ferenji
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!”

Inside a minibus
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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.

Strong Ethiopian woman
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.
Boys on Entoto
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.
Meadow on Mount Entoto
Boy with the pink balloon
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.
View of Addis on the way up Entoto
Overlooking Addis
Ali on Mount Entoto
Tyson and the Carisches
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.
Walking down Mount Entoto
Mama and baby goats on the roads of Addis

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.

Liv in van windowAddis Ababa local shops

About the Author

Tracey Carisch

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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11 Comments

    1. Excellent narrative regarding your mini-adventure. Felt like I was experiencing it from my LaZBoy here at home. Your photos highlight the extraordinary cultural differences existing there.
      Jim

    2. Rusty, for the first day we were here I actually thought these vans were called “bulay bulay”, because that’s what was being yelled out a lot. Pretty similar to dala dala. However, it turns out they were actually yelling out the suburb of Bole, a popular destination many of the vans stop at on their routes. :-)

    1. Haha! Yes, it does kind of look like that. In reality, she’s not on his foot, but rather she’s dodging out of his way as he chases his donkey that’s about to run into me. If you look down at my leg you’ll see part of the donkey’s leg coming up right behind me. This was the “before donkey drama” shot. :-)

  1. Tracey, I just started following your blog. You and your family are so inspiring!
    Funny coincidence, I have a friend who just started selling jewelry for Noonday Collection – a company dedicated to creating economic opportunity for the vulnerable and ethical trading practices. One of the stories of a worker they highlight is a woman from Addis Ababa and Mount Entoto. It says Mount Entoto is a sacred mountain that many believe has healing waters and that it houses over one million Ethiopians who are HIV positive. It was amazing to have just read your blog from yesterday about a place that I’m sad to say, didn’t even know existed, and then see a story from an individual there as well. I just had to share. :) I wish you and your family safe travels. Blessings to you all,
    Cara

    1. Cara, that is a bizarre coincidence. Maybe the universe is trying to tell you to come to Addis. :-) We had heard about the sacred meaning of the mountain and knew about the many monasteries on it, but didn’t know so many of the residents were living with HIV. It truly doesn’t surprise me though. The disease has been devastating here. In working with a local orphanage we’ve learning that the majority of the children up for adoption were orphaned when their parents died from it. So sad. Thanks so much for following the blog. All the best to you.

  2. Just spent 18 hours in a layover between Johannesburg and Frankfurt Used some of the time to climb Entoto. Experienced much the same as you enter toute in the taxis, mini bus taxis, as well as the municipal buses Avoided the eucalyptus forest though. Planning

  3. Omg! This looks amazing! I’m doing a project about places to go in countries, I got Ethiopia. I never knew Ethiopia would look as beautiful as this!

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