by Jenny Makepeace

Our little tent had mattresses and two sleeping bags each.  Despite this we were frozen,view Simien Mountain looking across at John I saw that he was wearing his hat! We had thermals and sweaters but not enough and began to laugh until we cried.

It was apparent that at some point I would have to get out and find another pair of trousers.

John made use of his travelling wee bottle at some point but found he could not operate lying down.  Not the best of nights. Hot water bottles would help.

It seems that much could be done to improve this camp site.  The wind howls through the open sides of the central building, windbreaks of canvas or plastic could be used and rolled down when needed.

We have seen some efficient mud built ovens in some villages and a row of these would not only be useful for cooking but would stay warm for ages, providing a little comfort for the staff who sleep in here.

Semma thought it might lead to squabbling amongst the cooks.  In mountain huts in the Alps, timber is usually left for the next needy traveller, I suppose up here it would get taken by the locals.

Whilst waiting for supper to cook two small girls – about 10 and 7, one with a baby hitched to her back with a cloth, were struggling with heavy plastic water containers, the older one had plastic shoes with no laces and was having a bad time trying to carry water and a baby.

The younger one had her water strapped to her back with a rough rope running over her shoulders. I picked up both lots and  walked up the hill with them, their mother was ‘at the bank’ ?!  They live in a group of stone tukals on the side of the mountain.

Poor little things, they probably do this several times a day.

Breakfast was good, peanut butter, honey, scrambled eggs with green chillis and tea.  Still very cold, poor Semma had spent the night in the truck, wrapped a sleeping bag round him at breakfast.

He took us to see the view and spot any wildlife whilst the others struck camp. Back at Debark we ate a picnic lunch prepared at the campsite and set off for Gondar on rough roads but through spectacular landscape.

Semma sweetly gave us a copy of Dervla Murphey’s  Through Ethiopia with a Mule written years ago – describing her journey through this area.

Semma lives with a friend who is sponsored by an American and longs to go to  college and get the necessary diploma for travel agency, maybe a truck first so that he can begin to earn money whilst he is studying.

It seems tough when he already knows enough to give people a really rewarding experience. He treks up to eight days and knows the country intimately.

It seems a nonsence to inflict rules upon people who are obviously so bright, already have fluent English and just need to get on with their lives, micro loans would be a far better idea and has already proved a huge success in India.  Reducing tax on vehicles which is prohibitive would also help the economy.

Tea on the terrace at the Goha Hotel, black kites are wheeling in the skies and look wonderful against the stunning sunsets.  Tea was followed by a hot bath into which went all the dusty, dirty clothes – the water was like mud.

We’ve lost John’s little pillow and the headlamp, which the cook took a shine to – not surprising as it’s a great bit of kit.  The pillow turned up later in Addis, the torch is probably still being used by the cook – good luck to him.

Long wait at the airport for the flight to Axum, scheduled for 7.15 took off at 10.30 for the 26 minute flight to Axum – the hotel overlooks the Steles.  We drove down a wide main street with trees in the centre.

axum great obelisk Axum appears to be in a bowl surrounded by flat topped hills, it has grown in four years from a population of 35k to 75k.

The stele were erected in pre-christian times as monuments to the dead. They have tombs beneath them, accessed by tunnels with doorways hewn from single pieces of granite.

Most of the tombs are still blocked as archeologists deem them unsafe.  Like the Eygptians these rulers took things with them when they died, some of which are displayed in the excellent small museum nearby.

The main Stele Park used to be a market place with houses built on top of the tombs, the Germans cleared them in about 1906.  A marvellous dry stone wall surrounds part of the park dating back to about 300 AD.  The steles are hewn from single pieces of granite from a nearby quarry and weigh up to 500 tons.

It is believed that slaves and elephants were used to haul the stone to the site and pull them upright.  One of the largest lies broken and it is thought that it collapsed whilst being uprighted as the base was  too small to support it.

The major ones are carved with architectural features representing monkey beam ends, windows and doors.  The largest of them was taken to Rome by the Italians during the occupation but has recently been returned, whilst the guide said it was in one piece, literature suggests it was cut into four to transport.

They are truly remarkable obelisks really, intricately carved with what tools it isn’t known. But thought to be obsidian or similar – suggesting trade routes to the Mediteranean, as obsidian was found in Sicily and was the source of many blades exported all over the known world.

One of the larger ones is being stabilised with massive engineering.  There are plain ones too, quite narrow and absolutely straight.

The one which the Italians returned, lay in its four pieces whilst a geological survey took place as they were worried that the original site may not be strong enough to support it – the ancient Axumites of 2000 years ago knew a thing or two!

No mortar is used in the construction of the tombs, just beautifully cut and laid stones.  One or two sarcophagi remain in place, the most puzzling is one which has no joints and yet sounds hollow when tapped with stones.

The Christians ousted the pagans in about 400AD.  From the visible cleat on one of theaxum obelisks tomb site stones it seems iron had been discovered, it was not rusty and we therefore wondered if it might be bronze.

The museum was under construction when further tombs were discovered underneath it, these are visible from within the building.

Early coins, some with readable inscriptions and kings heads date from 300AD – mainly gold.

Pots, jewelery and axe heads found in the tombs are displayed together with ivory objects, some of these things are dated from 600BC.  There are amphoras from Turkey or Egypt, some beautiful glass goblets or perfume jars – cloudy coloured glass with applied decoration exhibited.

John was extremely impressed by these ancient monuments, the accuracy of their forms and sheer majesty.  It is very difficult to do justice to them in guide books.

The nearby ‘Queen of Sheeba’s Bath’, has been dated to more recent times and equates to an Indian tank, constructed to catch and hold water.

This one is hewn from rock and is used by the locals to bathe, wash clothes and collect water – this last activity with much difficulty as the sides are steep; plastic containers are used and then carried or loaded on to donkey carts

Poor little donkeys are hauling forty or so 5 gallon plastic drums on an already heavy flat bed trailer. A bad piece of restoration using concrete has rather spoilt this tank which is hewn from solid rock.

Dungar, or the Queen of Sheeba’s palace has been excavated and suggests there was at least one more floor.  Its construction is of small undressed stones set in a timber frame work. The kitchen area has the remains of a large brick fireplace.

Archeologists date this to the 6th or 7th century – 1500 years after the Queen of Sheeba.  There is a spectacular candleabra euphorbia nearby.

King Ezana’s inscription is a large upright stone discovered by a local farmer in 1981, it is protected by a little shack and has been left where found because the inscription contains a curse suggesting that anyone moving it will meet an untimely death!

It dates between 330 and 350 AD and is inscribed in Sabaean, Ge’ez (the language of the church) and Greek.

It records King Ezana’s Christian military campaigns in Ethiopia and Southern Arabia, as well as a request to return the Ark to Axum from Lake Tana.  Two Greek, British educated tourists were able to read some of the Greek.

If you want to read the continuation of Jenny’s exciting Ethiopian experience
Click here for the fifth part of her story

Click here for the 1st part of this story

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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