My Ethiopia

The Gursum Pearl is one of  three best caves in Africa

Eng. Rivolta and Prof. Marco Viganó, with young M. Furlan entered in early January this year a cave that, at first sight, promised to be extremely interesting.

It is located near the track that encircles the Kundudo, the magic mountain that has already offered recently scholars in various fields stunning material to work on: the feral horse pack, a forest of singular value to be restored, rock paintings unknown to science and at least two archaeological areas of high interest.

Gian Paolo Rivolta, former President of arguably the biggest national speleologist club in Europe, the Italian CAI national Cave Group, called onto four cavers of international standing, one French and three Italians amongst which his successor Edo Raschellá, present CAI cavers' President. 

On February 13-14 we completed a first recognition and mapping of over one Km of the best cave all five had ever explored. Eng, Rivolta, with over 30 years caving experience, compared it with possibly Italy's best, Su Anzu S. Giovanni, for its amazing variety and massive number of rare rock formations.  


  Eccentric, gravity defying formations, here growing all over the cave floor

Professor Paolo Forti, the World Speleological Union President and the leading authority on cave rock formation studies has expressed interest in visiting Gursum. I presume he will be part of the next exploration, programmed for November by Guglielmo Ronaghi, the leader of the first mission.

Caves of comparable beauty are, on the continent, so far only known of in South Africa alone.


Anthesites, or flower like rock growings, in this case coral-shaped formations

I have found two more similar spring caves in the area, it is possible at least one forms a complex with the new discovery, the amazing Gursum Pearl. Only thorough exploration will tell. I know of more caves in the area. The wealth of the whole Karsten formation on the slopes of Mt. Kundudo has pushed me to accelerate the development of the concept of a Park to encircle the whole short mountain range. I also believe a local museum to preserve the fossil field and display findings of the archaeological areas could be founded, and a National Speleology School, a new Institution to Ethiopia, could be fostered in Gursum town, through the assistance and professional training of the different groups from many Countries that we could invite to visit and help.


A crab, found dwelling in the cave, has been proven to be a new species, samples are now needed for its inscription and exact classification. 

  Photoes Emily Taylor, Danilo Baratelli

More Photoes from the grotto by Emily Taylor are in one of my photo albums.

The Earth and the Bones

Posted by marco, at 9.51 AM on Jan. 18th, 2009

Our speleologists and my 'rasta' students, Diego and Matteo are in the Awash Park. They must have passed the Orix plain by now. They could be looking for crocodiles on the river shores, meeting so many baboons, birds, gazelles. Either, they could be watching kingfishers and hammerkopfs fly over the powerful falls.

A few minutes ago,  in the abandoned rail station, crossing the lines that climb from Djibouti to Addis crossing deserts and green mountains I trod on something, possibly a bit of hard wood. 

Immediately, forgetful of the strong sunlight, I felt taken to the dark of the cave, in the vivid, strong memories of those hours spent three days ago crouching amongst the basalts of the Rebels' grotto, under Zeret. One could not avoid, at the dim speleologists' helmets light, to walk over so many poor remains. We counted twenty one maxillary bones with teeth. I still feel like I was treading on more, here under my soles.

Skulls could not be found, or were in pieces. In one case the whole head had been broken from underneath. While measuring the 83m wide entry I found the footprint of a leopard. I asked and heard hyenas and jackals are still present in the area. I understood, even recollected briefly for a moment scenes of the tearing of the bodies we found by feral animals. Nature cynically recycles all available energy sources.

The wild animals' banquet had followed the last real battle in the Italo-Abyssinian war. The war of Mussolini's apex, a real, felt satisfaction to many, if not all of our Italian grandfathers.

More than twenty million had excitedly followed a radio live from Rome on hundreds of town squares, a famed speech: "Marshall Badoglio telegraphs: 'today, 5th of May, at the head of the victorious troops, I entered Addis Ababa". Eight minutes of rhythmically spelled words, with those stops every significant man had to imitate, interrupted -there were those who counted- over thirty times by deafening cheers.

Yet three years later the funny, illogic Italian Empire was contrasted by some armed in Ethiopia.

Repression in the Menz area in April 1939 was meant to capture Abebe Aregay, the former chief of Addis Ababa Police turned patriot. His actions, also around a masterpiece of a 650m tunnel connecting two steep mountain slopes full of astounding flowers, the access to Eritrea, had become unbearable.

After all, not even Abebe's scent had been near our troops. After the death of the two generals that had hunted him down, Romegialli and Cavallero, both later tied to the filo-german Italian Northern Republic of Salo' he was sleeping quiet nights in his bed in Addis. Abebe was first feared by Haile Selassie in exile, like when he rushed to appoint a son of Minilik's descent as Emperor. Then after he welcomed the Negus in Addis, Abebe become Minister of War and Governor of Tigray, an hero of the most ancient of Empires. He was not at all in the Zeret cave. 

During the moonless night of April 10th Teshome, one of his lieutenants, derided the many shooters guarding the mouth of the fort-cave from a dozens of metres, descending form the very steep east end, fully armed, with many of his, dark shadows on black basalts. The Italians thought Abebe himself had escaped, or feared, simply, what general Cavallero would have done knowing the rebel leaders had cheated them. They knew perfectly the cave was unattainable: any charge on its walls would have meant being under fire, as neat silhouettes against a strong light, firing in unperscrutable darkness.

The next morning a carefully planned alternative action was put in place. It worked better than the siegers had ever hoped, I guess. We visited a track between two one hundred metre solid faces of rock. From there, two or three  drums of Hyprite and Phosgenin liquids two hundred litres each, were downed with steel cables.

Teghegne Belayneh, eighty three years old witness, recounts precisely how the gas diffused, after the drums, three to him, two according to the Italian historian who de-niched the whole story from the recently opened archives of the 'Italian Oriental Africa' in Rome. Those who inhaled fell immediately, while all retired in the depths of the cave, pursued by the heavy deathly cloud.

The battle was over just a few hours after: the sieged surrendered, as the water lake, just over 100 square metres and just a dozen metres in light descent from the mouth of the cave was totally poisoned. Most of the 35 100kg cereal baskets I counted were in the first room, and rendered definitely inedible. All those who approached the water to try and quench their intoxication died immediately.

Marco, the youngest of the speleologist, found four different kinds of shots, where the Ethiopians were checking on the siegers' positions.

The siegers were around 1,500, according to Matteo Dominioni of Turin University. Eight hundred are reported as gunned after the surrender.

These are the fact we revisited in the abundant signs abandoned there since seventy years, fixed clearly amongst the rocks and nasty fine dusts: clothes, straw used as beddings, necklaces still worn on bones, hundreds if not thousands of pottery fragments.

Gian Paolo, the missions' director, does not agree on the numbers. He badly sees 1,500, with cows, sitting long in that discomfort, however one tries and show him the alternative was certain death.

The over 400 m long recesses and three thousand square meters or more of the whole cave could justify to me even more presences. I rapidly calculated around 4000 kgs of food probably stored in what we proved had long been a fort of the resistance could feed the 1,500 for at least a fortnight. He notes not many would have died due to immediate gas exposure. The cave, has no air inlet, as prove the nasty dusts we raised, that would float every where for many minutes impeding sight.

Teghegne again mentions cows by the hundreds killed in the first hours of the three days' heavy battle, whilst many of those who followed Teshome as he escaped were killed by the fascits.

In front of the Ethiopian journalists with us, shocked themselves by the finds, asing for a comment, I could just ask for excuses. Those excuses much bigger Italians than me have to date denied.

Above here in Awash, on the Fantalle' volcano, in April we had to pass many cutting obsidian-like blades of very dark igneous rocks: broken ribs of a land that has extremely hard bones.

As soon as my friends are back we will leave for harar and 'my' Kundudo, the ever surprising mountain of the free horses.

We saw, between Harar and the flat top horses' Amba many ancient rock engravings, in one case unknown to science. Coloured signs of Cultures of Old, more than a hundred generations from us, artistic concentretes of symbols on light rocks chosen carefully to trade us an ancient art, singular indeed.

And again, I see the remains, exposed to scorching mountain suns and deep penetrating fogs, of those islamic saints who first brought the Koran here. Lying around the foundations of the mysterious mosque of the Kundudo top. 

Rocks and bones crowd my memories today.

Marco, Awash, Buffet de la Gare, 3/1/2009

ENA, the Ethiopian news agency and the BBC                             to follow the Zeret cave exploration

Posted by marco, at 21.58 PM on Dec. 26th, 2008

As it happened twice in the past, the Ethiopian News agency will follow our explorations with radio and TV broadcasts. This time, for a first, they are preparing a crew to follow us directly from Addis Ababa to the Zeret cave to film its reopening and full mapping. See 'the next exploration ' tab to the right of this note.

The BBC is expecting me for an interview, as for the rediscovery of the Kundudo feral horse pack, for the BBC Radio World Services, and possibly for the BBC internet site, both arguably the most diffusely followed worldwide, for the respective news broadcast segment.

I have to go around a wrong roundabout,  45 minutes lost

Posted by Marco, at 7.49 AM on Dec. 26th, 2008

Addis Ababa has a very important ring road, the work of a huge Chinese company that talks straight business, not preferential channels, order of precedence and ancient colonial relation priority. Yet, I have to go to work in a few minutes (Orthodox Christmas is in two weeks' time), and those two roundabouts are so badly designed I proved once they cost all users at least 30 minutes at peak hours, twice daily, and over 50,000 birr in petrol alone, every day, let alone car maintenance and CO2 emissions.

When I tell people around, reactions vary from incredulity to "no one can fix that, it is modern life" to "we elected someone else to administer us, their problem!".

Both roundabouts have a serious design flaw. The useless monumental green in the middle reduces the lanes from three just one and a half, so only a car at a time passes around it! It is imperative the Imperial Hotel roundabout green is reduced to half diameter and the outer side widened as possible, the same at Abo church roundabout.  It only takes some common sense, no international expert, no polemics. Act or continue seeing a huge waste of time, money, and of our lungs. Ask the any pathologist, performing these ungrateful acts: post mortem confirm this grave observation: anyone my age has lungs as black as a lifelong chain smoker, if he has lived in Addis. Those who rule us have families here, too. 

Kiya in Oromo, MY new daughter!

Posted by Marco at 06:43 AM on December 25, 2008

We have a new girl at home, born three days ago. Kiya the name, MINE in Oromo. Four kilograms, long as mum must have been. Seble, who before becoming the head of our milk procesing concern was a clever pro basketball player and a model, surprised me and others. She was working at some accounts sheets until the pains made it logic for us to run her to the clinic, then, 45 minutes after delivery, there she was: on the phone organising the air transport of 75 kgs of cheese to a major site in the countryside.

Preparations at home included the accustomed grass under the coffee paraphernalia and a goat rumming around the court, foreseeing sacrifice, hitting here and there and scaring my Andrea.

Now neighbours and friends come every       Mummy Seble at work                          day in numbers, pleasing us greatly.            

Andrea had to wait at home. He prepared the most amazing science class model of delivery, in lego with a ball as his sister, and was soon showing me what he cleverly tought it was all about. He was really disappointed no one could possibly film the scene! Yet he somewhat got the whole thing right, and is ready, I get, to give way to the beautiful and new, to the different, to sister Kiya.                                         

He will learn from a lively, cohesive society what counts, how to stay together, work and play.

He grows with kids of differing ages, and corresponsible adults. Without the flares of TV and the silly emptiness of the big guys who play like kids, with the worlds' fortunes, in the cold countries of the rich. A different spot from Italy I came back from a week ago.

People were surprise there I was fathering at 47, thought I should be getting ready to become a grandpa some future day. Here instead a friend, manager of a big corporate group, was laughing at the idea I could be on 'paternity leave', mimicking a father cradling a child, gently moving up and down with his bemused cheeks his half spectacles, that have seen so much.

I definitely think he rather sees me leading others to study the rare and Mum has a huge belly, Kiya is a ball...             unseeen around the East tourism route!

Growing a child in Ethiopia does not require throwing around enough diapers to fill a large room over a few years,  no expensive toys and rather silly Tv programmes.

Here up nearer to the sky, where eighty millions prey and live, near, every day, an ancient culture prevails. That can perfectly raise a kid, starting from the example of other young peers, that are never missed in a home.