Debre Libanos – one day of adventure

Debre Libanos if you want to look it up on Google maps.  it is 100 km north of Addis.  You forget quickly that in the city you are already 2000m high, on a huge plateau.  Ethiopia seems to be two such plateaus that both rise even higher, and then in places like Debre Libanos, a big river cuts back down a big gorge to get to the sea.  Eventually all the rivers here become the Blue Nile, flow through Sudan and empty into the Mediterranean.  So when I swim off Barcelona I bathe in some molecules of this cold rain in Ethiopia. Too bad because Thailand is really far away! I wish to taste again that warm sea, white sand beaches and gorgeous house on Koh Samui I’ve been staying during my vacation.
On the way to the gorge we passed a dead hyena hit by a car or truck just a few hours earlier.  I had organised the day as a bird spotting trip with a local guide. You can always find one on the internet.  So when I asked excitedly to stop the car to go and have a really close look, he took it in his stride.  Quite apart from touching a hyena and seeing its incredibly powerful front loaded shape … everything to support the head and incredibly powerful jaws … so quite apart from this thrill which you will all share vicariously, the even more interesting thing was to see that most of the skin had been stripped off carefully, and that the ground was littered with razor blades.  The old Gilette ones.  Aparently hyena skin is seen as very good luck and countering the evil eye.  Now the Ethiopian Christian church dates from the first century, but I’m pretty sure its not in the bible that hyena skin is an acceptable aid to the contemplation of things spiritual, or a protection from satan.  This layer of belief goes deeper and further back.
Lammergeiers are very large vultures that specialise in eating marrow.  Typically they wait until the large limb bones have been exposed by the other scavengers.  They fly in; pick up the bones and fly up to drop them on rocks.  They then swallow the shattered bone fragments.  There are very few left in the Alps and Pyrenees and I have always wanted to see them.  At Debre Libanos, they fly at eye level because you are on the high plateau, and the gorge just drops away steeply 1000 meters.  The rivers from the plateau seem to throw themselves off the edge and are hardly more than spray by the time they hit the bottom.  Somehow they reform to a a bigger slower river down below.  Looking at all this beauty eating nothing but grass are the ridiculously handsome Gelada baboons.  Do they separate out the  old bridge from the landscape?  There over one of the rivers is this lovely arched bridge that some claim is 400 years old and built by the Portuguese, while the more likely explanation is that it was built in the 19th century.  It will not be there in 20 years as it cracks away.  The water can reach the top of the arches in the rainy season.
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On the way back to Addis the police debate whether to confiscate my binoculars.  After 10 minutes they decide not to and so the one day adventure ends.