by Tariku Teshale (Dr.)

“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” said a well-dressed English teacher at freshman once. It was at ” Four kilo university”, in Addis. A naughty student then commented: “That is an indirect way of defining the unpretty” (- and got himself in trouble at midterm!)

Well, is beauty always in the eyes of the beholder?
How about beauty where the beholder is unimportant, insignificant?
Or where words simply cannot suffice and pictures become unrepresentative?
Is there such a thing? Can we experience raw, nascent beauty without any
goggles or telescopes and beyond the scope of language?

The answer is a simple no! Mental pictures live or depicted, are all interpretations. There is no way you can experience perception without your brain medling as an interpreter!

But still, I wonder:
Imagine you are standing in the middle of an immense grassland covered with short tuffts of grey grass, kilometers wide, with patches of bluish white weed leaves between them….you are standing at an altitude of 3,5
kilometers with even a higher peak watching you a few hundred meters to your west. You “wad” through the sea of lush grass, scaring away beautiful small birds.

When you finally stand on the top of the hill, you are met
with the most spectacular scene of an endless chain of small hills below, deep and wide, high and low! They are all covered with thick forests except for patches of small farms with adobes neatly demarcated in the center. Your eyes won’t be able to take in all that is out there – there is
no limit, the horizon is invisibly far, further than the sky.

Is there any way this could be interpreted as other than beautiful, irrespective of the beholder?
We had just returned from a short journey to the breathtaking scenery of the great Smien mountains! We were still shuffling through the thousands of snapshots in our heads when our friend, the insatiable traveller,

Eskinder, owner of Highway Tours, came up with a new suggestion. He wanted us to explore a competitive place, a new beauty spot rivaling Smien! If Eskinder who has traveled extensively depicts the landscape in
superlative terms, there was no way we’d miss the chance.

So we went. The preparation took us only a few hours – grab some food, water, warm clothing, a camera! (We stashed in the pack some qolo, cheese and a bottle of Ethiopian Acacia
red wine- just in case!)

At 6 a.m. the next day, we heard Chuchu’s Toyota at our gate, the motor gently rumbling, faintly audible through the concrete-blasting noise from the megaphones of the church only a few meters outside our
residence! Boy, how eager we were to escape from this electronic cacophony from all angles, emitted by competing religious groups , that wake us up every morning at 5 am!

Guassa got its name from the particular Afro-alpine festuca grass that grows here. At first sight, my immediate association was that it looked exactly like the hair of the endemic Gelada baboons that domicile in this
area, in Menz! The grass is so well protected by the inhabitants; there has always been strict rules governing its care and use for centuries. (The Qero system.) The multipurpose guassa grass is cut periodically as agreed by the village committee.

The Guassa conservation is about 300 km from Addis, via mostly asphalt road. In other words, practically only a couple of hours’ drive away. Butntime, while traveling in Ethiopia, coins its own definition. It is
difficult to measure it by distance or speed. A km could take you half an hour, if geography decides so, and your heart might stop the car altogether when your eyes simply refuse to move away when a captivating scenery exposes itself at the turn of one of the many curves.

Your jaws drop and you find yourself mesmerized, maybe even levitated! (I can tell you, this is a common feeling while traveling in Ethiopia.) You don’t know whether to laugh or weep out of joy! Nature has its ways of affecting its members- sometimes embracing you, and sometimes teaching you a lesson by reminding of how small you are!

Chronological time as such is elastic. Think of sitting and waiting for the next gush of molten stone at Erta Ale ( a place I often dream of) or suddenly finding yourself at the foot of an endless chain of mountains topped with thick forests, their tops covered with fluffy white clouds. ..

The cloud formation between the mountains of Menz was unbelievable! Across the dark green forest line, and between the mountaintops lies a compact, white moat of clouds making an astonishingly straight line, as if someone
drew the line from above! How can clouds form a straight line? And that is not all. This snow-white layer of clouds turns into evenly painted crimson at dawn, without any visible sunset anywhere! It’s like by a magic wand.

When these mystic clouds ultimately give way to darkness, a whole new dark universe opens up! The pure, clear Ethiopian sky of the virgin countryside, undisturbed by city lights and smog exposes zillions of densly populated
twinkling celestial bodies, their presence more pronounced by the total silence of the landscape!

Now, I know I am carried away by all this beauty making you believe I am walking in paradise. Well, I am not, since five minutes of gazing into the heavenly bodies at night turns your feet and fingers into a block of ice! In fact, drops of water were hanging down like stalactites from the
washing basin, in the morning! Yes, Guassa is cold; at times -10°C! The nights are Siberian but of course human adaptability can turn anything into memorable, pleasurable moments!

Pain and comfort are in the eyes of the beholder!

And so, we imaginative humans started a huge campfire. The lodges are built like any ordinary lodge, suitable for the stereotypical equatorial hot weather, without the luxury of air-conditioning, The rooms, except for the two huts, have no toilets, which meant you had to wrap yourself with 4 blankets every time you wanted to take a pee in the common toilet outside!

I know you’re laughing biut this is nothing to laugh about! Besides a possible awkward and unexpected encounter with an Ethiopian wolf in the middle of the night , there’s the annoying inconvenience of fidgeting to
find your thing behind all those blankets!

But you actually forget all this inconvenience sitting around the campfire, eating Ato Laaygefut’s delicious bowl of spaghetti, drinking wine, with cheese to enhancing the taste, cracking jokes. ..listening to the crackling
sound of the furiously burning zigba/ accasia wood….and occasionally looking at the clear, starry sky while running to the toilet!

By the way, Ato Laaygefu, the brilliant and amicable cook, lived in one of the villages down, down there , a small spot in the valley between the mountains in a most bucolic surrounding. I wondered how it felt to live
surrounded only by boundless scenic beauty all around and without the luxury science and technology offers us! I couldn’t survive here due to difficulties of altitude discomfort that steals my breath.

(Some people are simply like that! ) Even Ato Laaygefu himself found it difficult going up from his village to his job at the lodge. But c’est la vie – this is one style of living, no less or no more than any other style, exhibited by the ever-adaptable Human species!

This is definitely a spot for eco-tourism – especially for the young and the curious or for those seeking an ascetic retreat!

But I’m slightly worried how polluted the environment of Guassa will be when spoiled tourists, with the synthetic life style of consume-and-throw find out about this virgin spot on Earth!

At any rate, I shall definitely revisit Guassa!

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
Turning Your Dream Vacation Into a Reality

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