||| Wild Geladas, a modern monastery, and a long drive north

Freelance and Editorial

It’s far too early on a Saturday morning to be thinking of anything sensible, so early in fact that the sun isn’t up yet. Dinner seems an eternity away.

We leave in a hire car, our driver smoothly navigating the waking roads of Addis with ease. We pass through the early morning throngs of fruit and vegetable markets, Mercato still setting up and before long have descended into the plains north of the city. There’s nothing but broken roads and open space for miles around and it’ll be a long drive north to our destination, so we settle down and watch life pass by in the dust bowl of Ethiopia’s summer.

Our first stop, like most who come by this way, is the Ethiopian Orthodox monastery in Debre Libanos. The imposing, white-washed structure is hard to miss in the arid landscape, yet the natural springs bring an oasis of green vegetation to the valley. It’s a calm afternoon after a very busy morning, the large wooden doors to the church may be closed now but revellers still pile on outside, standing and kneeling by the entrance, praying and celebrating in a quiet trance. We take the obligatory tour inside the monastery and stand marvelling at the modern stained-glass windows which make up much of the structure, the background audio filled with tall stories and history courtesy of the guide – we’re the only ones here and he has our full, undivided attention.

After eye-balling ancient Ethiopian objet-d’art in the monastery museum, we hop back in the car and soon arrive at a small deserted cafe overlooking Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley. Shouldering cameras and water we set off down the side of the cliff line looking for a small pontoon named The Portuguese Bridge.

Thirty minutes later, after having been circled by Eagles for most of the trek, we arrive at the tourist hot spot named #1 by most locals in Addis – yet there’s not a soul in sight. Probably too hot. We rally a snoozing guard from slumber, hand over what seems like an extortionate fee for a chaperone and then head off in the opposite direction to the bridge. No, we’re not here to see a small bridge held together by egg, we’re here for the wild Baboons. Geladas, to be exact.

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