We have taken so many pictures in Ethiopia that we are going to split it into two posts. You may then vote on whether you think Tara or I wrote the better Ethiopia post. Also, we learned today that the Ethiopian government has blocked all blogspot sites because the opposition party once said something mean about the ruling party on blogspot. So, we are sorry that you can't read this if you are actually in Ethiopia. (Showing their lack of technical know-how, they failed to block the page creation and posting--just the viewing.)
This is the St. George Cathedral in Addis Ababa. It seems famous because 1.) It is dedicated to St. George, who is revered in Ethiopia almost as highly as Obama and 2.) it is in the shape of a stop sign. It seemed boarded up when we were there, but tons of people pray outside and they must open it sometimes. The grounds were peaceful with benches for the weary.
Outside another, less important, church, they decided to try to erect these giant seagull-like doves to compete with the more popular St. George's down the road. We didn't really see people surrounding this church to pray, so it doesn't look like the publicity ploy is working, but Tara liked the doves enough to take a picture.
We needed to find an ATM, of which Ethiopia has few, so we headed to the poshest hotel in this part of Africa, the Addis Ababa Sheraton. We went through much better security than an airport just to get into the hotel. It is decorated like London, complete with phone booths and rubbish bins. Rooms are only $400 per night, but we decided to eat 400 Ethiopian dishes instead of stay there.
The National Museum has mostly junk, but also has the famous Lucy skeleton that helped prove the evolution of man from apes. The original stays in a vault in the basement, but this is a cast. The original was found in Ethiopia along with tons of other important skeletons to trace the ancestry of humans.
This is the Lion of Judea, symbolic of Jesus, but also of Ethiopia. A prevalent theme in the country with several statues.
Meskel Square is the main square of Addis and the road in front of it has seven lanes of traffic in each direction. An unbelievable number for Africa. You can see the signs in the background in Amharic. Many signs have both Amharic and English, but many also only have Amharic, which never helps us much. Based on the picture in this one, I'll guess it is for an escort service.
Here is looking down from the top of the park. It is a popular place for runners who run back and forth on the different levels. And the main part is mostly filled with people playing soccer with anything remotely round.
Hidden behind a park is one of the few remaining communist statues that we have seen. Most were probably torn down after the communists lost power, but this one and the female version of it next to it somehow survived.
Once we left Addis and started our trip north, we were shocked to realize how green Ethiopia is. After watching hundreds of kids starve before my television-viewing eyes, it turns out that after the rainy season (now), the country is greener than the Emerald City.
Our next stop was Gonder, which does have a castle like Gondor, but no longer rules Middle Earth. We were greeted to the castle by the crazy Ethiopian pigeons that have a red dot around the eye. It is like a bulls eye if you were trying to shoot it. Doesn't make much evolutionary sense to me to put a bulls eye around your brain.
The castle of Gonder, built almost 500 years ago, is filled with the Star of David. While the country was mostly Christian by that time, the area had a very strong Jewish influence and was a somewhat multi-cultural project.
The grounds of the castle actually contain the ruins of several smaller castles and buildings built by other emperors over the years. This one had a staircase up to this great arch window, but the floor was missing. Probably not a staircase that would have been open in the US...
Here is a picture of the main, restored castle of Gonder. Apparently rather dilapidated after centuries of bad upkeep, UNESCO has given a bunch of money to restore it over the years.
In the old bath houses, about all that remains are the cow horn hooks that they used for hanging their clothes. Not bad since the bath house hasn't been operational in 300 years.
On the grounds of the castle, we saw this amazing blue lizard. Why aren't more lizards blue? Well, probably because animals eat blue lizards, but humans might be less likely to kill them.
Here is another shot looking up at the main castle. It has three main levels plus some basement areas. A respectable size, though my castle will be bigger one day.
Also in Gonder, we visited the Debre Selassie chuch, famous for it's 17th century paintings. The church itself is a decent structure, also. The ceiling is covered by dozens (102, I think that I read) cherub heads, all with a slightly different disembodied expression.
We also learned from where the inspiration for Where the Wild Things Are apparently came. Here is the devil and his demons as depicted in the church. Makes me want to meet him.
In this one (sorry, couldn't use a flash), the devil is leading Muhammed to hell on a camel. Apparently, the devil looks much more angelic when he comes above ground. Why is Muhammed naked? Don't know. Maybe that's how everyone used to ride camels.
From Gonder, we headed north to the Simien Mountains. While most of Ethiopia was surprisingly green, the Simiens were even greener. With deep valleys everywhere, the views were magnificent. However, the fields that are in the picture cause many problems between the park and the locals. Vague plans exist to throw all the people out of the park at some point, yet the government continues to improve infrastructure at the cost of the park lands at the same time. A strange situation.
Little kids throughout the park and many adults take time from their livestock tending to try to sell souvenirs--mostly this silly hats--to tourists. If we were coming home directly, many of our family members would have certainly received these hats for Christmas.
For much of our first day, a heavy fog rolled in, which is apparently par for the course in the Simiens. With it came just a bit of rain, but it was all gone by late afternoon. This is Tara with a lovely valley behind her. Use your imagination. If you have no imagination, consult one of the greener pictures.
One of the primary attractions in the Simiens is the gelada baboon, aka the bleeding heart baboon. As the only vegetarian baboon, and one that sleeps on the side of a cliff every night to avoid being eaten, they are one of the more interesting monkeys. For those who are fans of the Planet Earth series, they are featured extensively.
Even their crows look cool. These crows are very common there and sound almost just like a frog. Or maybe this one just had eaten a frog and still had it in its throat.
The valleys get deeper and deeper. According to our completely independent guide, "these are the most beautiful canyons in the world. Much better than the Grand Canyon." No, he hadn't been to the Grand Canyon, but he had seen a picture once.
Because we were there right after the rainy season, wildflowers were in bloom everywhere. These are called red hot pokers. I liked them even before finding out the name, but the name escalates them to the blog.
Back to baboons. This one does not have a very bright chest, which I think means that it is probably a juvenile.
The park has a massive waterfall. I had no idea it was so large and just wanted to hike to what was marked on the map as Waterfall. I don't even know if it has a name. But, after seeing it, I suspect that it is the tallest waterfall in Africa. The guide said it is close to 500 meters tall, which I believe. Really nice.
So, we met some American baboon researchers who were all terrific. They fed us, entertained us, and taught us about baboons. One of them, Noah, was really nice and took us out to show us some of the baboons that they are studying. They name them all and we got into a conversation about Harry Potter. This gave him the idea to name the newest born "He who shall not be named." I believe that is now the name of the baby pictured.
The area had over 300 baboons when we went with him, which is a huge number. Most are used to the researchers and allowed us to get within a foot or two of them. They live in smaller groups, normally with one or two males and 2-10 females, but the groups often come together for longer periods. Here is a group of females still waiting on their male to come up the mountain for the morning. He arrived soon after.
This baby is a few days old. Cute isn't really the right word, but his looks did make us want to pick him up.
When asked how we could help, Noah asked if we were sure we wanted to help, then assigned us to follow Deborah the baboon until she pooped and then call him to come get some of it. Ah, the life of a researcher. While following Deborah around, I took many pictures of her group. This is the male of that group.
Here he is with a more contemplative look.
After 45 minutes or an hour, our hard work paid off and Deborah the baboon left a present for Noah. Tara and I decided it wouldn't be right for us to have all the fun, so we let Noah take the actual poop sample.
On the hike back, we went down through the valleys between parts of the mountain. Here we are taking a short break. Where are our guides? Not sure because the park has some stupid rule that if you have food out, the guides have to run and hide so that you don't feel like you have to feed them. We had pulled out some cookies, so they were off hiding behind some rocks or something.
That concludes the first half of Ethiopia. While tons of kids (and adults) asked us for money (About 80% of kids greeted us with, "Hello, money?" as though our name was money.), we did not see any of the starving people from the famine advertisements. We did, however, see tons of homeless people, especially in Addis. Tara will write more about it, but the country seems to have lots of problems with poverty, but fewer with famine at this point. USAID, the US program to give mostly food aid is also everywhere in Ethiopia. With that, I'll stop and let Tara take over Ethiopia.