My Ethiopia

The Extended East Route

An International Symposium on the new cultural, naturalistic tourism route in the Ethiopian East concluded

We Have started work on a new Tourism Route. The long expected alternative to the Great Ethiopian North, designed in.. 1966. A concrete possibility of income for many thousands, of fresh needed foreign earnings for Our Land.

This section covers over 40 pages, list of contents:

- Harar Symposium programme

- Ten points to realize the new Route

- What is the Extended East Route?

- First notes on the Somaliland leg of the Route

- Birdwatching, preliminary scientific enquiries, partecipation to a significant ornitological congress. Proposal to realize a Bird Guide to the Ethiopian East.

- Why the Kundudo is a focal point of the East Tourism Route

- The two most recent discoveries on the Kundudo range

- Notes on the first steps undertaken, about a visit to the Oromia State President

- A visit to the Kundudo, in... 1853

The Harar Symposium

What we did: September 25, early morning. Departure from Addis Ababa. Lunch in Nazaret, brief visits along the way, like at the Giulietti pass Caldera, lake Beseka, along the Amhar mountain chain. Night in Harar. Guests of the local Cultural and Tourism Office, for some experts, at the Home of Dr. Nasib, an Harari personality.

26th, First day. morning: Presentation by Rowan Mac Taggart: The Extended East Route in Context, its value to tourism development in Ethiopia. Panel forming and group discussions. Presentation by Marco Vigano’: The EER route in Detail, alternative routes and main destinations. Choice of the 'rapporteurs' per group and comments. Afternoon presentations: Ato Cherinnet: Arts and Crafts development along the EER. Gjundeer Elstrom: eco sanitation and new lodge design.

27th, Second day. Ahmed Zacariah, Harari culture and heritage sites. Giorgio Bulgarelli: Albergo Diffuso, a concept applicable to Harar for sustainable accommodation development. Adem Gobena: The potential of Tourism and its intervention needs in Eastern Oromia and Marco Vigano’ The proposed Kundudo Park. State of advancements. Evening Harar visit.

28th, Visits, in two separate groups: a- Kundudo, the new discovery, b- Harar and its environs. Koremi. At participants’ choice.

29th, return to Addis, visiting Dire Dawa on the way.

Accomodation in Harar and food provided. Sixty participants took part.

Symposium Main Host: Murad Abdelhadi, Harar State President.                    Moderators and facilitators, Prof. Ahmed and Marco, Almaz Terrefe.                                     

Organizers: OROMIA, HARARI, SUMALI, DIRE DAWA AND AFAR REGIONAL STATES.

Participant panel's main focus has been on the practical aspects of the route realisation, promotion, local sustainability and a pro poor attention where just envisageable. WE HAVE STARTED DESIGNING AND PROMOTING THE NEW ROUTE.

  A satellite view of the whole route

 

   The Extended East Route Map, three Countries, 3000 km!

This has been a first tool to assemble ideas and prepare future actions to set up the new route.  Participants from the WB and the Spanish cooperation have pledged to offer assistance.

WE WILL USE THIS SECTION OF THE SITE TO KEEP YOU ADJOURNED

A DETAILED TOUR PROGRAMME FOR THE EER IS HERE.

 

Ten points to foster the Extended East Tourism Route

The new East Route is set up in particular for naturalistic and culturally oriented tourism, with a view to save some marvels that are endangered, and to a great extent have not been studied yet.

Some recent discoveries in the area, the urgent need to provide an alternative to the classic Great North Route has prompted interest and the preparation of an International Symposium held in Harar at the end of September 2009.

I here give my view on the basic needs to help it develop, to offer the Ethiopian Government a tool to better its trade balance, locals a reliable way to better their lot, us all a better chance to see Ethiopia.

1)       Further studies are needed on a number of locations, just in terms of definition of the new sites, their potentials, further academic research on their naturalistic, geological, speleological, historic, archeological and sociological values. Rapid intervention is required to save the Kundudo Horses and the Kuni reserve

2)       The Somaliland leg of the Route in particular has not been developed, and ways to integrate the two States, Ethiopia and Somaliland in one route must be clearly spelled: visas, common facilities, interaction of tour operators, common publicity.

3)       New Lodges are needed in at least five localities now totally uncovered: around Kuni, Koremi, the Kundudo and two Somaliland sites at least. More and better accommodation will be required in other localities. Good roads rendered the whole route accessible, though some amelioration is envisaged. What is required off foreign co-operations and authorities at al levels is in the following points.

4)       Soft loans for investors, tour operators and those locals foremost, who could be interested in opening up the lodges. Nowadays loans in Ethiopia have a 12% interest and are only conceded as short to very short terms, not a situation that can lead to investment on a new Route.

5)       Blueprints are needed for the prospective investors: we need location studies and appropriate lodge design, for example. Off the shelf, ready consistent projects ready for consulting and use by operators.

6)       The whole sector badly needs training, in Hotel and Tourism related issues, Conservation, and critical local community Empowerment to foster a pro-poor approach. Not only most investors will be local, but the villages have to profit and will grow with the tourism business.

7)       A pro poor strategy comes from attention to the issue from the very planning, participation of considered local leaders in every step of involved processes, explorations, lodge construction, replanting and conservation, sites protection.

8)       No one is the master of himself, let alone of a rapid tourism development unless he is free from enslaving poverty. Community centres, possibly based on the new rural training State facilities must be a critical focus of attention. Providing better varieties, follow up, extension services, education, commercial facilities must be envisaged as only an integrated development approach can deliver a bettering of social conditions, on what is both one of the world’s high potential areas for sustainable tourism and the site of chronic, worsening poverty.

9)       The new route spans the fiefs of two major Religions living in peace, Cultural heritage and amazing beauty, new discoveries and fascinating environments, green mountains and impressive deserts, a seven million people buzzing capital, ancient forgotten desert towns and long untouched beaches. This alone does not suffice. They are the pull factor to ensure visits, but we need to provide quality services, accommodation, capable guides, and to capitalize on local souvenir and cultural crafts.

10)   As we develop the Route, promotion is badly needed, in many forms, as some packages are getting ready, mainly for “adventure tours”. The very first step has been the recognition that Harar does not pull tourists, as unique as it is, without a whole route that sees the Harar destination cluster -about ten localities of value in the environs- as the key mid way puller, on the Route that spans from Addis Abeba and the Christian Highlands to the Somaliland Sea coast.

What is the Extended East Route?

Prof. Marco has taken inspiration from a string of successful explorations around the Kundudo, and his last seven journeys to the environs with different teams of experts and with innovative tourists, to set up a path for future visitors.

We believe Ethiopia, a marvelous Country with an obvious potential to increase tenfold its present visitors from 200.000 to two millions over the next twenty years or less has not yet developed a viable alternative to the Great North Route, essentially comprising Lake tana, Gondar and Lalibela.

Though that route offers space for growth too, with only a fraction of those visiting Lalibela visiting Axum or the Tigray rock hewn churches, it is clear in some periods of the year locations on the North Route have nearly reached capacity.

Nearly 80% of visitors, those visiting the North, go back to their countries with a special feeling. This should be capitalised on. They usually realize they have only visited a fraction of what our Country has to offer. The alternatives, though, are practically not there.

In the early sixties of last century, an experienced tourism developer, Arthur Miller, after setting up the North Route for the Emperor in detail, including the siting and suggestion for the styles and names of the State Hotels that follow it, went back to the USA and wrote his favourite Country, the one that needed more work was our Ethiopia.

That very man had set up in those years the basic tourism routes in Morocco and Egypt. Morocco has more than ten million visitors a year, Egypt, one of the world's top destination, has well over thirty. Over half of that huge Country's revenue is in tourism!

In the late seventies Uganda, our neighbour, had around 60.000 visitors, whilst we had 79,000. Nowadays our growth has passed 200,000, judging form Lalibela. But Uganda has not only surpassed us, but is boasting an attempt to reach one million tourists within a couple of years.

To try and catch up, we desperately need to valorise our unique cultures, that do not just lie in Lalibela.

Further, we need to save some absolute pearls we are neglecting, like the Awash and some other National Parks, Pristine forests, Archeological sites never excavated, the vastest Karstic cave systems in Africa.

Tourism is the obvious motor to start bettering our own attitude to our land, because it produces a concrete economic alternative to further environment destruction.

It does not come alone, though discoveries and explorations help greatly. They are a starting point on which to build. That is why we are actively collecting experiences, gathering new facts and collecting knowledge to set up the EER.

Professor Marco is convinced we should use the clear success of his findings, that include on Kundudo Mountain alone two archeological sites, over twenty rock paintings hitherto unknown to science, a forest to be saved, two ancient mosques that had gone unnoticed, probably the best cave system found in Africa so far and the now famed Kundudo Feral horse group to transform the whole area in a Community Conservation Area. THe Country's First.

Harar alone would not draw, so far, not much more than 5,000 visits a year. Because it is distant and special, but perceived as an isolated entity.

Harar is instead the focal point of a whole destination cluster: Harar, Dire Dawa, the Kundudo, The rock paintings scattered in the environs, Koremi, Mount Hakim, Gursum and Ejersa Goro, the Dhakata Valley and the immense Babile Elephant reserve.

  A view inside Harar Jugol (A.Vascon)

On the way to Harar, visitors pass a brilliant set of volcanic lakes at Bishoftu, or Debre Zeyt, continue via active and charming Nazareth to an amazing lava field at the Giulietti Pass, overlooking lake Beseka at Metahara. There, a vast flow of black rock intermigles with a lake that borders the Awash National Park. The park itself, as well as the lake, have freshly built smart ecolodges. A first step in the right direction to save the area's rich ecosystem.

In Awash park, you will find -easily spotted from the main Harar road itself- lie over 700 orixes, amongst other rare beasts, the biggest concentration on this planet of the beautiful beast with the longest horns, to be found just two hundred kilometres from a huge capital city.Then a partially active volcano, the Fantalle, hot springs, the peculiar Afar people, over 300 species of birds, crocs, baboons, other gazelles and antelopes.

After crossing the rift valley beyond the Awash, the route coasts Asebot Monastery, isolated Christian shrine on the slopes of a peculiarly crested volcano, in the midst of Islamic Oromo land, before climbing on the Amhar mountain chain, that will accompany the journey to near Harar. 

On the Chain lie passes above 2,500 m, long climbs, crests where the roads passes between two gorges, each over a thousand meter deep, and the Kuni Muktar Mountain Nyala Animal Sanctuary. In an untouched last patch of forest, over 80 of the world's finest, biggest and rarest antelope fight a desperate battle for their own survival with encroaching peasants and a damned poacher who says he has right to sell their trophies, for about fifty thousand dollars each, in their very fief, the only reserve man dedicated to them in the world!

After the greenery, villages and small towns, views and mountain fresh air of the Amhar ridge, the road crosses, on its last ramparts, the Kulubi Shrine. A more modern church, wanted by Haile Selassie where his father Ras Makonnen was assassinated, is at present Ethiopia's main pilgrimage site. Over 120,000 are said to gather, twice a year for prayers and overnight vigils. They lie scattered all over a vast area, covered mainly in white cotton Shemmas, awaiting the morning chants, entertained by a variety of local monks, clergy and curious street preachers.

 

The Harar destination cluster comprises ten sites, including two major towns, Harar and Dire. Other destinations include the Kundudo, Gursum and Ejersa Goro: Haile Selassie's birth place, a mountain with a view and a dense patch of forest.

On the roads between Harar and the Kundudo lie a good part of Ethiopia's best rock paintings, the others being next to Dire Dawa, the amazing Dhakata Valley granite formations and the Babile Elephant sanctuary. This latter, after a damaging plantation by Israeli investors had encroached onto it, is regaining interest after their departure.

Dr. Yirmed has counted over 300 elephants, of a slim appearance but substantially of similar genome to that of the East African Elephant, and has managed to put gps collar on a few huge, four metres high bulls. Finding them is a lot easier now, while they roam totally free over three long valleys were man has not encroached.

  We want to save the Babile Sanctuary, WE JUST LOVE IT, WOULDN'T YOU!

Koremi is an original ancient Argobba village, of those who first came to the Ethiopian Highlands from the Arabian peninsula. A poor, yet enchanting environment.

Dire Dawa is a railway town,warm, now endowed with some fine climatised hotels, one with a modern open air pool. It looks and feels a bit like some small active Arabian towns. It dates from just before 1910.

   Dire Dawa's relaxed,warm atmosphere, shaded roads, old Peugeot 404 taxis

Gursum is at the base of the Magic Kundudo, a pleasant quiet trade town where to experience real, remote, fascinating day to day life. Similarly, lower and hotter Jijiga, in a somali social context, offers on top, a particularly colourful market.

Extended East means in particular one can reach from Harar via Jijiga the former British Somaliland, now a fully fledged state, and its main attractions in Hargeisa and the sea port of Berbera. Hargeisa and its faboulous Laas Geeli cave paintings are at just one hundred miles, 160 kms of tarmac inside Ethiopia and very good gravel roads, from Harar. Variants for those with a few more days to spare include visits in the Guassa Plateau, akin ecologically to the Semien Mounts, and to the Rift Valley Lakes. 

  The Laas Geel paintings, Berbera youngs enjoying ever sunny unending beaches.

Whilst the obvious starting point is Addis Ababa International airport, visitros can join the route from Djibouti, thus including it in the variants as a second starting point. Harer ca be reached from there either via a longer perfectly tramced road that joins the main rout at Awash, or through an all weather track that reaches directly Dire Dawa. 

A Good reason for the Route name, Extended to SOMALILAND

 Somaliland is the Former British Somali Protectorate. Before The UN confied the whole of former Somalia to Italy, it had had no reference to Mugadishu at all. the local resident, and its independent but still largely unreconglised Government would never ever concede to any dependance to unsafe former Italian Somalis, for sure.

This is what Wikipedia has on its geography and tourism:

Geography

Map of Somaliland

Somaliland is situated in northwestern Somalia in the Horn of Africa. It lies between the 08°00' - 11°30' parallel north of the equator and between 42°30' - 49°00' meridian east of Greenwich. The Somaliland region is bordered by Djibouti to the west, Ethiopia to the south, and the Puntland region of Somalia to the east. Somaliland has a 460 miles (740 km) coastline with the majority lying along the Gulf of Aden. The region is slightly larger than England and has an area of 137 600 km² (53 100 sq miles).

Somaliland's climate is a mixture of wet and dry. The northern part of the region is hilly and in many places the altitude ranges between 900 and 2,100 metres (3,000-7,000 ft) above sea level. The Awdal, Saaxil and Maroodi Jeex regions are fertile and mountainous, while the Togdheer is rather semi-desert with a few fertile greenery around. The Awdal region is known for its offshore islands, coral reefs and mangroves.

   Mayd Coast            

Ten kilometres to the north of Ceerigaabo are the remains of a juniper forest, running along the edge of the escarpment which looks down to the Gulf of Aden. The escarpment is about 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) above sea level, where the road from Ceerigaabo drops down to the coast. Two kilometres (1114 miles) to the west it rises to the highest point in Somaliland and Somalia alike; At 2,416 metres (7,930 ft) high, it is known variously as (Somali Shimbiris or Shimbir Beris) meaning in English the abode of the birds.

Due to the fertility and greenery of some of the regions of Somaliland, wild animals (e.g. zebras) come to the area either to breed or to graze on the grassland savanna. There are many animals which are native to Somaliland. Prominent animals are the Kudu, wild boar, Somali Wild Ass, warthog, antelope, the Somali sheep, wild goat and camel. Moreover, many birds and different types of fish are also found in and around Somaliland.

Extreme recorded temperatures range from −3.3 °C (26 °F) at Ceerigabo to 47.7 °C (117.9 °F) at Berbera. The combination of a yearly average temperature of 31 °C (88 °F) and the high level of humidity makes Berbera the hottest city in the world.

  Typical Hargeisa Countryside

Tourism

The Somaliland region of Somalia has a budding tourist industry and is home to what is often considered to be one of the most interesting attractions in the Horn of Africa, the Laas Gaal cave paintings. Currently, a small number of tourists travel to the region to see this sight. The paintings are situated near Hargeisa and were discovered by a French archaeological team in 2002. The government and locals keep the cave paintings safe and only a restricted number of tourists are allowed. Other notable sights include the Freedom Arch in Hargeisa and the war memorial in the city center. Natural attractions are very common around the region. The Naasa Hablood hills are twin hills located on the outskirts of Hargeisa that Somalis in the region consider to be a majestic natural landmark.

The Ministry of Tourism has also encouraged travellers to visit historic towns and cities in Somaliland. The historic town of Sheekh is located near Berbera and is home to old British colonial buildings that have remained untouched for over forty years. Berbera also houses historic and impressive Ottoman architectural buildings. Another equally famous historic city is Zeila. Zeila was once part of the Ottoman Empire, a dependency of Yemen and Egypt and a major trade city during the 19th century. The city has been visited for its old colonial landmarks, offshore mangroves and coral reefs, and its towering cliffs and beach. The nomadic culture of Somaliland has also attracted tourists. Most nomads live in the countryside.

 A travel log on the somaliland tract of the Route is Here.

 WE HAVE INVITIED SOMALILAND AUTHORITIES TO THE SYMPOSIUM IN HARAR.

Birdwatcing on the EER. Preliminary studies. Why we need a photographic Guidebook to Birds of the Ethiopian East.

        A Kingfisher on an acacia branch. A common sight on the EER

Ethiopia, and some areas in particular, like the Rift Valley, the Eastern plains, the South and west forests are an absolute birdwatchers' paradise. But no one has ever developed a complete, or even a proper tourist bird guide. We still have not tapped at all a potential brilliant field of visit, an easy source of tourism revenue.

Dr. Andrea Viganò, a prominent Italian ornitologist and ecologist has visited the EER in July 2008. I publish here temporarily his full checklist. Impresive, over just ten days of observation, moreover most of which spent travelling rapidly and not observing, he has seen 166 species, identified 152, of which 7 endemics, of birds alone. He is presenting his visit with a proper scientific paper at the Italian National Congress of Ornitology this October. Andrea is proposing to develop a Field Guide to Birds of the Ethiopian Extended East Route. We need the guide to promote tourism, non just ornithological visits. We welcome his contribution and have proposed him to develop a minimal cost project, we would love to be able to find a sponsor for. GRAZIE ANDREA!

A brief report on his visit has been published here, on the Gursum Site: http://gursum.com/menu/Kundudomission3.pdf

These photogalleries on this site show some birdlife on the EER:

http://etio.webs.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=5011877 (second section), http://etio.webs.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=3547414 http://etio.webs.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=3564538

 

Why the Kundudo is a focal point of the East Tourism Route

 

Whilst the new cultural and naturalistic tourism route has its focal point in Harar, we propose the Kundudo range as its temporary final destination.

Harar has its own magic. Since it was first perceived by Richard Burton in 1852 from the Kundudo northern pass, it has meant exotic, distant and special for many, particularly in the Anglophone world.

  The Kundudo North face

.

Yet it is now visited by a meagre 5,000 a year, possibly increasing, I have to say I hardly believe recent estimates that put the visitors’ numbers at over 10,000.

Lalibela in the Amhara Region has well over 200,000 visitors a year, increasing over 10% yearly of late.

Easy to say, few would travel 510 kms from Addis just to see Harar. The towns’ originality is at times disputed and attacked by property development, even though greater care is now taken by its Administration.

The Harari State Tourism commission has rightfully indicated a few sites in the area worth attention and definitely a visit.

Yet it is the whole tourism route that needs development. Harar and its surroundings represent the main destinations cluster on the route.

 

Recently, a conference has indicated a great potential in the road project to connect Arba Rakitti to Sheik Omar, thus opening a possibility to reach the Bale ranges and National Park via the Harar road.

An interesting future development, but a lot more is ready to exploit now on the direct East Route, without expecting future developments. Consider also the average tourist does not spend more than 13 days in Ethiopia. How could he spend a day in Addis and one and a half traveling to Ethiopia, see what is around Harar, the Awash Park, the Kuni Muktar Mountain Nyala reserve, come back AND go to see the Bale Ranges?

 

Take seriously the Kuni reserve as an alternative to looking for Mountain Nyala so far in the Bale ranges. One can literally leave at noon from Addis, see the Ethiopian symbol antelope, the biggest and rarest in the world in the evening and spend a comfortable night in Asebe Teferi, or possibly even come back by night. No need to spend four-five days in the Bale! Provided the quite strangely obtained license to kill them for profit is taken from the hands of Mr. Mattanovich and family, or he understands paying moneys around (which I have proved in at least one case has happened around Kuni) should not be enough to destroy a totally unique, though weakly sanctioned animal sanctuary.

Provided the Oromia Wildlife Commissioner, friend and active member of our Gursum Action Group helps us build some pressure.

I am convinced the case can be solved with a handshake and the final, much needed chartering and mapping of the only Mountain Nyala Animal Sanctuary.

 

Save the Awash National Park, as a necessary step to promote tourism in Harar!

Only a few hundreds more than the total numbers of visitors in Harar pay an entry ticket at the National Park. The two are clearly linked. You may preserve Harar for humanity. Unless you save the Awash park from degrading into grassland contested by the Itu and Kereyu, or at least zone it to make livelihood possible for all, no one will seriously visit Harar from Addis.

 

Nearer Addis, Debre Zeyt offer a growingly attractive stop, a beautiful night, much more relaxing than polluted and chaotic Addis, on the shores of marvel volcanic circle lakes. Enjoying the bird life.

 

But only the Kundudo so far offers the potential attractive of Nature and History alike, and naturally closes the Extend East Route, before a future development and better security conditions may allow opening it to Hargeisa and Berbera. Giving travellers the enviable opportunity to see arguably the world’s best rock paintings in Laas Geel and reach the sea shores long denied to Ethiopia.

The feral horses will soon be restored to its astounding flat top humid grassland, its pristine forest can be restored to the incredibly rare beauty that made Burton exclaim it is a “Vallombrosa”, a shaded valley like a famous one in Italy.

Trekking and climbing are already the activity of the first fortunate explorers and experts that have been working on it for the past year or so. Canyoning can be practiced on the Immis water falls, the top, with the ease to choose the right jumping point according to the day’s winds is an ideal platform for paragliding and other airborne sports.

 

Discovering under it, in its miles deep limestone base, Ethiopia’s best cave, one of Africa’s best and unanimously one of the few best ever visited by the international team who assisted me in the exploration last week only confirms the attraction of the place, and makes Ethiopia the next frontier of exploration speleology.

A massive fossil field just above, over the distant and awe inspiring views over Somaliland and Hararge under the Immis falls should be managed with attention.

  The Immis falls    

                                                                       

It requires the setting up of an appropriate small display point to organize specimen classification and preserve it from probable looting activities that may ensue its discovery, again last week.

 

Koremi on the way back, next to Harar, offers a glimpse on what the original local houses really were, and on the ancient Argobba lifestyles. At least twelve rock painting sites litter the area between Harar and the Kundudo and its whereabouts. I happened to find two previously unnoticed by the sector experts. Harar and the surrounding localities mentioned here form a cluster of destinations: rock paintings, sites, Koremi, Gursum and the Kundudo area. A lodge is needed on the Kundudo, whilst points where visitors could rest and enjoy seeing coffee and chat plantations will valorize the places, and create local revenue.

 

The two most recent discoveries on the Kundudo range

Just a piece of stones to locals, until the other day. Two 50cm plus ammonites, a set of shells, altogether apiece. We unveiled a particularly large, varied fossil field.

  A few concretions in the still unnamed, partially explored new cave.

The three ‘K’s on the route, Kuni, Koremi and the Kundudo all require simple lodges, and in a near future will also see some investment in the higher steps of the tourism accommodation industry. The communities will benefit in different ways. Education and some necessary participatory steps are much in demand. The whole original feral horse area and forest will have to be managed communally by its present possessors, the Bedada and partly Adem Goba communities for the top, YayaGuda and Mederro for the west forest slopes.

 

A version of this note, with more photoes, is on gursum.com

 

                                                                          Prof. Viganó, A.A., Feb. 25th, 2009

 

LATEST DISCOVERY; A DENSE SET OF ROCK PAINTINGS 

 On April 3rd, Easter's eve, 2010 we uncovered, directed by Anwar Abdella, of the Gursum Administration, a peculiar set of rock paintings. According to Dr. Luca Bachechi, the oldest are of a style that could be dated a maximum of 5000 years, while others, without other proof, dating or excavations, could be even contemporary.

    

The anfract, under huge granitic stones, is named Goda Roriisso, and it stands in sight from Gursum, at a few kilomtres. The trekking there is pleasant and full of trees, shrubs, birds, giant tortoises and some larger mammals. 

    

 Images of the trekking area and of the paintings HERE

 

Of an appointment with a very prominent Man

Our efforts over about two years, and five experts' missions are beginning to shape up a new cultural and naturalistic tourism route in Ethiopia.

A needed complement to the now renown Great north Route essentially in Amhara regions and partly in Tigray, mainly covering Lalibela, Gondar and the Tana Lake.

We found easily why the Ethiopian East and Harar, the walled town itself attract fifty times less tourists than the established Great North Route. Our new discoveries give a sense to the study, preparation, implementation of the new route, and to the realization of  lodge and hotel infrastructures:

We have to save, first, a unique environment and lost bits of history that build up the whole route.

I have been received today, Jan 22th, at the Oromia Presidency, I have been directed to the State Office for Tourism and Culture and will, through the help of the many experts in Ethiopia and in other Countries who are helping me, do my best to continue this special voluntary task.

President Abbadulla Gemmeda's attention and rapid response really encouraged me.    I think the difficult case of the Kundudo feral horses, and other significant conservation problems the preparation of the new route imply will be now seriously tackled. My special thanks go here to Him and to his Culture and Tourism State Office.

I take the chance here to thank those sons of Gursum and Harar in the diaspora and in Addis who sustained me from the word start.

This is the text of a letter I addressed to the President of Oromia, it explains my job and the difficulties we all have encountered:

 

Let us act fast, our land is being degraded every day.

 

An open letter to His Excellency Abbadulla Gemmeda, President of the Regional State of Oromia.

On matters pertaining to my attempt to open a new tourist route to Harar and the Ethiopian East.

 

 

Dear Sir,

 

My name is Marco. I married an Oromo, and have lived in Ethiopia for fifteen years. During the last year or so, thanks to some luck and serious dedication, and through the help of a number of prominent experts I have managed to measure Ras Dashen, find the Feral Horses of the Kundudo or whatever is left of them, and new caves and rock engravings unknown to science in the same area.

I also published a few things on the whole Harar area on some internet sites and prepared a number of  interdisciplinary studies to support the new touristic route.

I am convinced -within a short time- the sum of History, Peoples, amazing Mountains and pristine Wildlife we studied, the sense of distant and awesome, and the due completion of the Christian north with the Islamic Oromo and Harar areas will attract new tourists by the thousands.

 

The Extended East Route covers:

 

  1. Debre Zeyt and its volcanic lakes, some of unique birdlife, experimented ornithologist attractions.
  2. The Awash Park, needing some attention like the renewal of the Ras Hotel lodge and ways to impede masses of Kereyu pastors from spoiling wide areas with their cattle.
  3. The Kuni Muktar Mountain Nyala Animal Sanctuary. The animals were declared extinct there in 1996. We found quite a few in 2008, but we are still fighting a poacher decided to kill many of the eight remaining bulls on one side of the reserve, through the help of Dr. Tewelde G/Igzabhier of EPA amongst others. It is by far the nearest area where Mount Nyalas can be easily seen, 315 kms from Addis. A lodge is badly needed there.
  4. Harar is being studied and many measures to preserve its vital originality are being devised. Also two friends from two research Institutions in Italy and Saudi Arabia are offering their help.
  5. Gursum, the Dakhata Valley and the astounding Kundudo represent the new frontier and a deserved last leg of the new route. In times of political calm extending a leg to Hargeisa and Berbera in Somaliland is envisaged. Apart from the feral horse, who are though now in a sorrowful state, we discovered an active cave with rock formations unequalled in Ethiopia and programmed a number of trekking, canyoning, climbing and paragliding activities that would also require a community tourism lodge near the summit. The famous Abyssinian Elephants are now a bit far, due to one biofuel investor activity.
  6. The Route has a number of variations, including the Menz Guassa plateau, presenting the same endemics as the Semiens. This is made possible by the fact that a decent route, though now disused reaches the Awash Park via Ankober. This latter is also a significant tourist attraction.
  7. In my experience all my experts enjoyed a last leg, after more adventurous areas, in the northern part of the rift valley, including lakes Koka, Zway, Langano, the Rift Valley Lake Park, and Awasa.

 

Tarmaced roads cover now the whole of the Extended East Route, including its farthest leg in Gursum, with good tracks in the parks. I have planned a number of action-research activities on community tourism in which experts plan and try out new activities all over the route. As an example, in March this year a group of British and Italian cyclists will go through good sections of it by bike, culminating in a first mountain bike climb of Mt. Kundudo.

I am ready to serve Your State and Ethiopia in conjunction with the different teams of experts I have taken through the new route, five times last year alone.

I would like now to stress only one much needed action: pastors in three small localities on the North face of the Kundudo, unfortunately under two separate Woredas, Gursum and Jarso, have possessed themselves of the since a few years ago free feral horses, and above all have taken more than sixty cows permanently up to the extremely delicate, limited and unique ecosystem of the top.

Two mares and a colt on the Kundudo slopes in Bedada. They are now in the hands of careless peasants

The same have in a recent past destroyed 9,000 hectares of pristine forest there.

We will replant a part.

 

Our water purification engineering expert of the last tour, still ongoing these days, the first explorer of the amazing newly found ‘Hubat’ cave, Dr. Rivolta, has pointed out a serious health hazard. The cows, apart from impeding any tourist or other use of the Government land of the top, have gravely polluted the water sources. A real epidemic event may occur or has probably already occurred from intestinal water borne disease in Gursum, Fugnan Hujuba, Bedada and a number of localities.

We have proven a cave system and many inner conduits link the flat top, now littered with human, ass and cow excrements, to most or all drinkable water in a vast area.

 

The cows and some resident encroachers should be pushed below the 2500m line approximately, possibly lower, and the remnant feral horse pack rapidly restored to the top. Scores of tourists already attracted after my campaign through world media, the BBC included, are finding a dismal scene of cows, their excrements and total degradation, instead of the promised unique horses.<!--[endif]-->                             

                                                               Prof. Marco Vigano’, Gursum, Jan. 7th, 2009

 

A 1853 significant visit to the Kundudo

Richard Burton was a fortunate man indeed. He visited the Ethiopian East and studied Harar for just eleven days. He wrote a book on his travel almost any learned Anglo phone had read or at least heard about. His "First Footsteps in the African East or, the Exploration of Harar" brought him such fame and revenue he lived off it, as did his family, for two generations. Quite something, considering Harar was not a dangerous place for a clever disguised foreigner, as traders visited regularly especially from the Arab peninsula.

He first saw the walled city from the North face of the Kundudo, he calls with an older name, Kundura.In fact he was within one hour from its magic flat top.

In those days, and until the early nineties just past, the area was a vast dense and semi pristine forest. Where a traveler would have not dared enter, off his track, in fear of ambushes. Yet our man indulges in a description of its beauty:

"After an hour’s ride, we reached the foot of a tall Table-mountain called Kondura, where our road, a goat-path rough with rocks or fallen trees, and here and there arched over with giant creepers, was reduced to a narrow ledge, with a forest above and a forest below. I could not but admire the beauty of this Valombrosa, which reminded me of scenes whilome enjoyed in fair Touraine. High up on our left rose the perpendicular walls of the misty hill, fringed with tufted pine, and on the right the shrub-clad folds fell into a deep valley.

The cool wind whistled and sunbeams like golden shafts darted through tall shady trees—

Bearded with moss, and in garments green—

the ground was clothed with dank grass, and around the trunks grew thistles, daisies, and blue flowers which at a distance might well pass for violets.

Presently we were summarily stopped by half a dozen Gallas attending upon one Rabah, the Chief who owns the Pass. This is the African style of toll-taking: the “pike” appears in the form of a plump of spearmen, and the gate is a pair of lances thrown across the road. Not without trouble, for they feared to depart from the mos majorum, we persuaded them that the ass carried no merchandise. Then rounding Kondura’s northern flank, we entered the Amir’s territory: about thirty miles distant, and separated by a series of blue valleys, lay a dark speck upon a tawny sheet of stubble— Harar.

Having paused for a moment to savour success, we began the descent. The ground was a slippery black soil—mist ever settles upon Kondura—and frequent springs oozing from the rock formed beds of black mire. A few huge Birbisa trees, the remnant of a forest still thick around the mountain’s neck, marked out the road: they were branchy from stem to stern, and many had a girth of from twenty to twenty-five feet.

After an hour’s ride amongst thistles, whose flowers of a bright redlike worsted were not less than a child’s head, we watered our mules at a rill below the slope." Ch. 7.

We passed recently on Burton's footsteps, from below Fugnan Hujuba to Harar, through the "Blue Valleys" he mentions. The first spring, at Biyu Negeya before Fugnan Hujuba, comes direct from the astounding active cave we started to explore a couple of weeks ago. Water is permanently flowing there, and in the rainy season most of the waters flow directly from the cave's narrow entry we penetrated. It is likely this is the spring on the sides of the mountain Burton mentioned in his book. We proved the inexhaustible source has dozens of reservoirs in the heart of the Kundudo slopes, excavated through the hundreds of thousands of years by water itself in limestones. We. like him, reached Harar through sceneries of lonely rocks, river crosses amongst permanent greenery. Like Richard Burton, we will pass again there, in just a few days, to continue with the exploration of the special cave, most probably the first of its kind to be measured in Ethiopia. Our traveler of old passed the same way after his Greatest Eleven Days, in Harar, to reach Berbera:

"Passing Gafra we ascertained from the Midgans that the Gerad Adan had sent for my books and stored them in his own cottage. We made in a direct line for Kondura. At one P.M. we safely threaded the Galla’s pass, and about an hour afterwards we exclaimed “Alhamdulillah” at the sight of Sagharrah and the distant Marar Prairie." ibidem, ch.9.

Gafra Guda is one Kundudo site where the ancient town of Hubat of historical memory may have lied, below our cave, and Sagarrah is Sakare, on the further, western slopes of the Kundudo, the fantastic place that never stops enchanting me.