Today we were woken up at six AM by the newly started up generator in our Debark Hotel. It turns out that the power was off all night and still was not restored again. Our Guide told us it could be days before power was back. Imagine the consequences in Munich or another western city…
Thanks to the generator electricity was restored in the front part of the hotel where the restaurant and the reception is located, so breakfast was secured. We had flashlights yesterday to get around our room but we could imagine how other guests of the fully booked hotel might have struggled without any light for ten hrs.
After a basic but tasty scrambled egg breakfast, we set out for the long drive to Axum, some six hours down from the highland of the Simien Mountains to Axum, much lower. What we did not expect was the fantastic scenery and views we were getting. On winding mountain roads only partially covered by asphalt and sometimes only a single lane for the entire road.
It snaked along the mountainside and through charming villages. We mused that opening a panoramic cafe here on the road would be the prime tourist destination as it is so beautiful to just sit and overlook those breathtaking mountain ranges in the distance and those charming villages in the foreground.
Slowly as the landscape changed from mountainous to hilly to flatter land the vegetation and people changed too. The lower parts were much more fertile, we saw our first camels carrying large loads and much more road traffic than in the mountains.
The road quality got better and larger settlements and small cities started to appear.
We passed a refugee camp for Eritrea refugees which looked like a small city by itself, having been converted from a tent city to huts by now that gave a much more permanent appearance. According to our guide despite the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea those refugees did not want to go back home. They are not allowed to work in Ethiopia and don`t go to school, so it feels like they are forever in limbo in their current state, food and health wise supported by the UN. We saw several UNHCR compounds, vehicles and initiatives around that area, but it must be a bleak outlook for them.
One thing that strikes up nearly every day is the human potential that lives here, but is not tapped into. We realize every day that the place where you are born so much determines what chances you have in life to improve your position. It makes us humble and grateful to have been born in Germany at a time of peace. Some kids here are so curious when Chris flies his drone, They want to know exactly how things work and we are sure some of them would be great engineers given the chance, rather than spending their time herding goats in the mountains, missing school to help the family make ends meet.
We had a lovely lunch at the Africa Hotel in Shire Inda Selassie and had our first real Cappucino while being in Ethiopia. We felt decadent but for 18 Birr (35 Eurocents) it was very reasonably priced. Shire Inda Selassie is an up and coming town where we saw lots of construction and UN and other NGO organizations being very active. It has its own airport and seems to become the industrial town from all we could tell, while Axum remained the ancient capital of Ethiopia with its rich history.
Axum used to be the capital of the Axumite Empire many centuries ago, when the empire stretched until the Red Sea. They controlled the trade routes and were very rich indeed until the Arabs cut off the direct sea access, then Axum declined and the kings moved further South to Gondar. Many of the old palaces and churches were destroyed by the Italians when they occupied Ethiopia for four years.
The only significant remnant of those pre-christian times are the Stele. Large stone pillars.
Used as burial stones by influential pagan Kings and members of the society at that time. There are three very large stone Stele standing in the stele field in Axum. The largest one toppled down due to a weak base construction that could not hold the huge 40 meter long obelisk in place. The base caved and the solid granite block fell down and broke into several pieces.
Another one of the big ones was transported to Rome by Mussolini’s troups during their brief period of occupation. It was standing in Rome until 1972, when it was officially returned to Ethiopia and put back onto its original place.
The third large one always remained standing where it is now, but has to be supported by some stabilizing steel cables as some excavation work caused some shifts in soil and the obelisk threatened to fall down.
The largest ones representing the burial stones of ancient kings are carved, the others have a more or less smooth surface and may have a round top, but are far less impressive than the three large Stele. The age dates back to the area before Christianity, where paganism still reigned.
One other archaeological site close by is called the false door tomb. It has a mock door as a head stone on top of a staircase that leads several meters below the surface. It was excavated by some British archeologists and housed the burial chamber and a mysterious stone sarcophagus in a small chamber. Despite the stone sarcophagus not showing any signs of any opening it sounds hollow when tapped with a small stone. It most likely will keep its mystery for a while longer until scientist will X-ray it in the near future…
On our way back across the town of Axum, we stopped at Ethiopia Telecom and tried to get a SIM card so we could actually update our blog a bit better. This involved three steps: buy sim card from telecom office, next go to one shop to get it cut into a micro sim format and go into another shop to buy the prepaid codes for 100 Birr (3 EUR) . Nevertheless, when we tried using the card it failed. We have to go back to the telecom office in the morning…. And contend ourselves with the spotty internet and frequent power outages at our hotel.