Ethiopian Adventures: A Southern Mountain Trek and Cave Exploration

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.

Bale Mountains National Park
Bale at sunrise
Mountain Nyala
The warthogs were everywhere
Very bushy monkey
We witnessed a fox kill a sheep
Harena Forest
Bamboo growing in Harena
Picturesque mountains and stream outside Harena
Senetti Plateau
Senetti watering hole
Multitude of cute small palm-like trees
Posing at the top of the plateau

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.

People living in the valley on the way to Sof Omar
The river scene outside the caves
These camels were ready for their close-up
Descending into the cave
Mesmerized by the beauty inside Sof Omar
Close up of a cave opening
Nature's design at the top of the cave
With our tour driver Bir in the cave
Opening at the end of the cave
Feeding monkeys outside Sof Omar
This bold monkey stole Tristen's peanut butter and banana sandwich
Playing with the boldest monkey we encountered

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.

Tristen helping the Banana Artist with his map of Africa (He had forgotten a few countries)
Comparing my size to the birds
Close up of the (in my opinion) scary birds
Birds about to take flight


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