I have lived in Ethiopia a long, long, long time and spending a few days trekking in the Bale mountains remains one of my favorite things to do. If you like stunning afro-alpine scenery, walking for 5/6 hours a day (or horse-riding), being away from crowds and dirty air, and want to catch a glimpse of highland Ethiopia “off the beaten track” then this is a trip to do.

Planning:

You definitely need 4 days as a minimum. To make sure all is in order and to avoid disappointments contact the booking office via email. The office is very good about responding promptly, and if in doubt our long time guide and friend Hussain Deko will always be happy to assist.

How to get there:

From Addis Ababa it is about a 4 hour drive. There are two options. The first, through Modjo then down past Langano and left in Shasamene is longer (about 5 or six hours depending on traffic) and more hectic. The better route is using the new toll road to Adama (70 km) then take a right towads Assela (180 km) and this road will take you right to a T junction in the road. Take a left and after 5 kilometers you will be in the town of Dodola (the first town you reach after the T junction). The “headquarters” of the operation is on the left hand side of the road (look for a sign of a guy slounched over on a horse)

The route:

Once there you have the option of taking your car to the “base-camp” (recommended) or walking from Dodola if your vehicle isn’t up to the task. Usually you hike up to the first camp camp of Wahoro on day 1, followed by the stunning afro-alpine hike across to Angafo on day 2, then on to the Mololicho campsite on day 3 from where you usually (fingers crossed) are able to spot mountain Nyala and Simien wolves. At this point most people return back to Dodola on day 4, but there is the option of continuing on to two more camps. The hikes to/from most camps are about 15/20 kms in length with a sizable elevation difference and equates to about a 5 hour hike per day on average. If you don’t feel up to the task you can always get on a pony.

Provisioning:

The huts are equipped with beds, blankets, kerosene stoves, and pots, pans, and utensils. However, we prefer to bring our own gear and camp (especially a proper camping stove) since a normal kerosene stove flame will take hours to bring a pot of water to boil! Speaking of water – it is available in jerry cans at the camp-site but I recommend either boiling it, or filtering it just to be sure.  In terms of what to bring for food.  In years past we experimented with fresh food.  The end result was a lot of time spent cooking, squashed vegetables, oozing fruit over clothes (you get the picture).  It won’t be fancy but my recommendation is just lots of canned food and couscous.  We basically lived on a combo of couscous, beans and tuna for three days and oats for breakfast.  And don’t forget salt, sugar, and coffee/tea!

When to go:

The rainy season is basically July-October. The later in the rainy season you go the more green the scenery and muddy the ground (and you get some stunning thunderstorms!). Over January to March it is usually dry and also much colder in the evening. Be prepared for the cold, temperatures in the daytime go up to the 25C mark but at an altitude of 3,000 meters (on average) the temperatures can drop to close to freezing in the evenings and the UV index is very high so bring sunscreen.

Transience:

The last time I went trekking here was in 2012 but after the first night we got a call that my grandmother had passed and had to cut our trip short. Our son was five at the time and it was the first time a person that was close to him passed, and the first time I had to have the conversation with him about people dying. Lots of tears that day and plenty of time for introspection. Fast forward three years and my son and I are back in the Bale mountains (Dawn, my wife decided to stay in Addis to prepare the girls for their volleyball tournament).

It is also just four months after my father passed away. As I stare at my hiking boots through the mesh in my tent I remember my father’s hiking boots. Dark brown with streaks and stains from miles of hiking that he used to do. His boots are a bit stiff now but solid and still wearable (though not my size) and I am going to keep them. Why? In one word, transience. Defined by Google =) as “the state or fact of lasting only for a short time” it reminds me that we are all, in the end, mortal. But what remains? Memories for sure but those fade, I notice it already, and in the end I am not sure if what I am remembering is what really was or what I would like to remember it to be. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but a pair of boots is real. His boots. I remember my father in them, the hikes we used to take, the annoying squeak the right boot would make at every step, every day, and year after year every time he would wear them. It gives me something to anchor to, something real, something tangible. Something that is not transient. At least for now, because really everything is transient – it all depends on your time horizon. Do you measure the passing of time in years, decades, or millenniums? Eventually everything becomes “transient” because everything is.

I always used to believe that “stuff” is “stuff” and material possessions are just that – material. But maybe I was wrong all along. Why do I care so much about my dad’s boots? Because they were his, because I associate memories with them, because even though he is not with me in the present, his memory lives on and is made stronger by the “stuff” that we had in common and the shared experiences we lived. As I take stock of where I am now in my life and the wonderful experiences that I am having with my son and my wife, I wonder – what will I leave behind? What are the memories they will cling on to and what is the “stuff” that will make me live on? If not forever then maybe for just a little bit longer… maybe my boots? Perhaps one day, many years from now, my son will remember the night in the Bale mountains when the heavens opened up and our small tent started leaking (dripping perfectly on dad’s head side of the tent in fact). Many chuckles and rolls of duct tape later we were all happy and dry. Will he remember? Perhaps best if I polish up my boots just to make sure they last … or better yet save the empty roll of duct tape =)

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