At a height of 3500 metres, sharp wind cuts through thin clothes. With the wind comes rain that feels icy on the skin. Clouds cover the surrounding mountains in shades of blue, hiding the most distant views from my eyes.
An eagle darts off the edge of Meket Escarpment, then describes neat circles below. Behind a curtain of raindrops, the sun sinks into a bed of clouds. Soon, darkness will swallow the scene, this highland fringe, suspended between earth and sky. An embarrassing flow of sentimental poetry seems to have replaced my usual, sarcasm-tinged vocabulary. I’m shaking with cold, exhausted after a long trek through the Wollo highlands, and yet this, I sense, counts for a perfect moment.
The local village looks after a couple of round huts right behind the drop, where thick blankets and cups of hot tea wait for tired hikers. ‘Do you ever grow indifferent of the view?’ I ask an old man. He simply smiles. ‘I feel blessed whenever I look out’, he says.
For his village and the communities involved in organising the escarpment treks, eco-tourism provides a small income stream that eases the total dependence on agriculture. For subsistence farmers it is often their only source of revenue.
The Wollo region is still known from its dubious fame in the 1980s – it was the area hardest hit by the famine that caused an international media-scream and is for many still the only image associated with Ethiopia. The trekking tours show Wollo in a new light. ‘We are not rich, but there is a lot more to this place than drought and hunger’, says my guide. He is so right. Here are incredible landscapes and hard-working people. And fascinating treks that bring both closer.
Katharina Kane travelled to Ethiopia on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow her adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic.