We began our trip in Addis Ababa, the capital. We spent a couple days planning the accommodation and transport we needed for the following days.
''We then travelled to Dodola where we camped in The Bale Mountain Hotel, next to the Bale foothills. The following day we started our trek on horseback for 18km, before staying the night on the mountains with some locals who lived in the nearby huts. We continued the trek for the following 3 days doing 10km, followed by 5km and finishing on 16km on the last day. We saw some amazing views and were overwhelmed by the vast amount of greenery and friendly nature of all the locals we passed along the way. That night, we returned to The Bale Mountain Hotel and treated ourselves to staying in the rooms instead of camping, as a reward for our challenging trek. While it was definitely better than sleeping in a tent, the rooms still left a lot to be desired, particularly with the bathrooms!
However, after this we travelled south to the Rift Valley, to stay at a resort on the shores of Lake Lagano. We were all presented with quaint lodges- 1 per pair -with views of the lake and surrounding area. Here, we enjoyed swimming in the lake water, even though it was fairly chilly, and playing some games on the games court – a nice change to the relentless early starts and tiring walking during the trek phase. After a weekend at the Rift Valley, we again made our way to Addis to begin preparing for the longest phase of our expedition, the Project phase. This required us to stock up on food again, particularly pasta, rice and tomato sauce, ready for the 6 days of cooking we had to do during this phase.
Early in the morning of the 14th, we then took a short plane journey north to the ancient city of Gondar, on the outskirts of which our project was based. We then travelled to the project site and were greeted by hordes of excited children, and grateful teachers and local people, who then proceeded to welcome us with a traditional coffee ceremony in one of the classrooms. After briefly getting to know some of the children and learning a bit of the local language Amharic, we were then straight to work, donning the gardening gloves and moving endless numbers of boulders to the work site ready for the builder to use. While at times the language barrier and seeming lack of organisation was challenging, everyone – including the builders and locals that helped – persevered and the work we did ended up being not only far more than us and the School director had expected, but was also done to a high standard that would ensure we would leave our mark for years to come. The actual work completed consisted of building walls and drainage ditches to stop the erosion of the classroom walls during the rainy season, painting the insides and outsides of classrooms, and also some general maintenance and tidying up of the school. During our time on the project we also got to experience some traditional Ethiopian cuisine, both cooking and tasting, when we visited a local woman's house to try our hand at making our own Injera (the national food) and sampling it with some Wat (a local curry/stew), which most of us very much enjoyed. One more days work followed, but at the end we were greeted by a sense of pride at what we had achieved for the local children and wider community. After saying goodbye to the children and the staff at the school, we then travelled to the relative luxury of the Quara in Gondar, a hotel which after spending 6 nights on the floor of a library and benches of a classroom, felt somewhat like the Ethiopian Ritz. While in Gondar we visited some of the most famous historical sites in Ethiopia; the castles of the Royal Enclosure, which were built by a succession of Ethiopian Monarchs over the past 1000 years.
After a brief stay in Gondar we then travelled a few hours south to our final R&R stop in Bahir Dar, a relatively busy town often regarded as the Ethiopian Riviera, and here we took a boat trip to one of the famous island monasteries situated on Lake Tana. This was an enlightening experience for all, with the vibrant wall paintings depicting famous bible stories in the monastery itself a particular highlight. On the boat back we were also taken to the source of the Blue Nile, and also saw some Hippos among other wildlife.
The next day we were treated to an early start and a seemingly endless 11 hour coach journey back to the capital, and what had now become a firm favourite within the group, the Ras Hotel. On the final day, due to some excellent budgeting, we were able to go for an Indian Buffet at the Shaheen, a five star restaurant located in the five star Sheraton Hotel. While the meal itself probably costed more than the food we'd bought for 10 days worth of trekking and project, it was most definitely worth it, serving as an excellent way to round off the trip in style. To round off the day this we spent the rest of the afternoon souvenir shopping, acquiring all manner of items, including a few unusual football shirts!
While many of us were not close friends at the start of the trip, the trials and tribulations of 3 weeks in Ethiopia moulded us into a tight-knit group, which displayed camaraderie and compassion throughout, and we are all sure to stay in touch with each other, and with our expedition leader Tim who was fantastic and always supplied a laugh throughout!
After 22 days in country and a host of crazy experiences, the group then boarded the first flight back to the UK at around 1am local time. We eventually arrived back in Lincoln after the coach back from Heathrow at around 4pm, smelling and looking pretty vile but all thoroughly happy and proud after an amazing trip.”
by Josh Fayers and Sophie Hudspeth