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A safari is one of those experiences that is considered once in a lifetime or bucket list. I am incredibly fortunate to live in a country as magical as Kenya where growing up, going on safari during the holidays was the norm and almost became a tradition of sorts, and now, Wanderlustmate M and I enjoy exploring various parts of Kenya whenever the opportunity lends itself…

Off for a Game Drive

Recently, Wanderlustmate M and I went on safari in North Central Kenya, to a park that I frequented a lot as a child with my parents and sister on holidays: Samburu National Reserve. This game reserve was known for being home to one of the longest rivers in Kenya as well as species of animals indigenous to and only found in this part of the country. As a child, I remember the Ewaso Nyiro River gushing with might, snaking its way through the park. We always used to stay at the then Block Hotels Samburu Lodge which was built on the banks of the river. I remember this particularly because there was a bar overlooking the river where we would have pre dinner drinks in the evening (well, my parents would have their wine and my sister and I some sort of fancy mocktail) and I would be fascinated by the crocodiles gliding past, being swept along by the strong current, with their yellow eyes glinting like the headlamps of a car. I would watch them with a sense of fascination being so close yet feeling deliciously safe on dry land, knowing they could not get to me and I could sip away at my mocktail and be perfectly content in my little world. On game drives, I remember seeing herds of elephant on the river bank, dusty and red from the soil in the Samburu: playfully frolicking in the water; drinking it and even spraying one another with their trunks. I remember seeing dazzles of Grevy’s Zebra and herds of buffalo and prides of lion. I am getting nostalgic just reminiscing about what we used to see when on game drives.

A blast from the past: Harpreet’s Wanderlust in Samburu as a child

Fast forward to when Wanderlustmate M and I went back to the same game reserve a few weeks ago. I was in tears at the plight of the park. A once gushing river was bone dry. A lone elephant bull ambled around the river bed, searching for water. We were told that the otherwise abundant herds of elephant have now migrated in search of water, following the rain. There are no more buffalo in the park: having been chased away by drought. Grevy’s Zebra, one of the most elegant species of their kind are now on the critically endangered list with less than 2000 remaining in the wild. 2000. That is a shocking number for a species that was thriving in the hundreds of thousands barely two decades ago. Reticulated Giraffe are also on the same list. I know I paint a pretty gloomy picture, but it is heart breaking to say that it is gloomy.

Lone Elephant Bull on the dry River Bed

A handful of Grevy’s Zebra drinking from puddles in what was the Ewaso Nyiro River

This month’s #travellinkup topic made me take a deeper look at how my travel and trips have been influenced by the current plight of the planet, especially as our trip to Samburu happened to be around World Earth Day. I thought to myself that if the park can change so drastically in the span of merely 20 years, then it is alarming to think that there may be nothing left for future generations to enjoy and we may, as grim as I may sound, have no World Earth Day to celebrate. A safari may just remain a bucket list item that sadly never came true!

Footprints and the impact of travel…

Why was Samburu this dry and devoid of its usual plethora of game in a season where it should have been anything but? Thanks to the ailing drought that has taken over Kenya this year. Thanks to the failed long rains that otherwise grace us from the months of March to May. Thanks to de-forestation and destruction of forests that otherwise act as water reservoirs. And thanks also to the diversion of rivers to water crops on farms, purely out of desperation coupled with lack of education on how diversion causes chaos to an already fragile ecosystem. But, in as much as there is doom and gloom I was really pleased that thanks to some rain had in the Aberdares, the Ewaso Nyiro is flowing again. Not in full force but not bone dry as it was when I was in Samburu in April. Fellow wanderlusters Kamal and Purvi of Kampur Travel Diaries who specialise in safaris in Northern Kenya made my day one weekend that they were in the area by sending a video of the river gushing. I will admit that I was a little teary with gratitude.

Lion looking out at Samburu

In as much as I enjoy travel and it would be hypocritical of me to not admit my own guilt in the contribution to the carbon footprint thanks to my penchant for luxury travel (something I was doing long before this blog was born and long before luxury travel even became a “thing”), I thought to myself that there must be something I can do, no matter how small to ensure that I am being a responsible traveller. Even if I am addicted to luxury travel!

What can we do to become more responsible travellers? 1. Where possible, choose accommodation that supports the environment

Part of being a responsible traveller means being aware of our own impact and footprint on the environment. It is entirely possible to indulge in luxury and be responsible at the same time by staying at places that have implemented initiatives to support the environment whilst consciously imparting a luxurious experience. The Safari Collection is one such brand. I was super impressed by their commitment to water conservation which is one of their ethos as a luxury brand and is implemented across their properties. I witnessed this first when we stayed at Solio Ranch and again when we were recently in Sasaab in Samburu. In fact, their “save a bucket initiative” is something that I have implemented in my own home to try and save some water. Segera also has its own 4C programme that focuses on Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce in an attempt to blend luxury harmoniously with the environment and make a positive impact.

The Water Ethos supported by The Safari Collection

2. Say no to single use plastic

The amount of single use plastic on the planet is something that really upsets me. I am convinced that the current ban on plastic bags in Kenya has led to even more plastic waste with vegetables now being re-packaged into single use containers that admittedly look appealing to the eye but really cause more harm to the environment than good. I wonder why grocery stores in Kenya do not start recycling initiatives to encourage shoppers to bring back their used containers in exchange for a discount on their next purchase or some similar incentive? I have approached a big grocer that shall remain unnamed with this idea and it was shot down within seconds of suggesting it on the basis of “cost”…ummm, right?!

Reusable glasses and non plastic straws

I digress. Thankfully, there are properties that are doing their bit by eradicating single use plastic in the form of water bottles and straws. The Safari Collection, Finch Hattons and The Elewana Collection gift you with a reusable environment friendly water bottle that you can fill with water during your stay and take away with you as a momento: and a reminder to be more conscious about your use of plastic on a daily basis. Finch Hattons has its own reverse osmosis water purification plant which means they use no plastic bottles at all, even in the rooms, which have beautiful bespoke glass bottles of fresh water.

Reusable Water Bottles

Water Bottles at Finch Hattons

3. Plant more trees and throw Seedballs

There are currently many independent initiatives that are taking up the planting of more trees in an attempt to re-forest areas that are suffering deforestation, which is a positive step. The Sikh Community worldwide has pledged to plant a million trees by November 2019 to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, which is heart warming. A local Kenyan company has also come up with the idea of “seedballs”, which is an ingenious idea to try and introduce more trees in areas by encouraging safari goers to simply throw these balls into the plains when on safari and allowing them to grow. Packets of seedballs are easily available and fellow wanderlusters Kamal and Purvi of Kampur Travel Diaries have had some success with regenerating tree growth at the base of the Ndoto Mountains using seedballs.

4. Support initiatives that protect wildlife

In Kenya, we have a couple of independent organisations that rally for the protection of wildlife. AFEW has an initiative to protect the Rothschild Giraffe (of Giraffe Manor fame, also another Safari Collection property); Sheldrick supports the protection and care of orphaned baby elephants through its trust; Solio Ranch protects rhino on its sanctuary as does Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which protects the world’s last two remaining Northern White Rhino as well as the endangered black rhino. A visit to any of these sanctuaries means that some of what you spend goes back into the care and protection of these animals.

Rhino Sanctuary at Solio Ranch

One of the last Northern White Rhino’s in the world

5. Do not geotag locations of animals

Finally, owing to the huge threat of poaching which is also an endemic problem nowadays, lodges and game reserves are encouraging patrons not to geotag the locations of animals once they have been spotted. Poachers have become technologically savvy and have taken to scouring social media to track down coveted animals such as elephant and rhinos, leading to such cautions.

Don’t geotag animals!

Fellow wanderlusters, sustainability and eco-awareness are two incredibly important topics when it comes to travel and the plight of the planet. I know we can’t all be David Attenborough (but on a side note, how I admire that man!) if we all do our bit as responsible travellers, no matter how small, we can all help to try and reverse some of the impact we as humans have had on our beautiful planet. Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

Sustainability and eco-awareness – are incredibly important topics when it comes to travel and the plight of the planet – how have your travels/trips been influenced by this? Big things or small moments…?

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Sometimes it is difficult to find the words to express just how fabulous a place is. It almost feels like you ought to be waxing lyrical and using poetic words to describe where you have been so that your readers are enticed to visit, but as I have mentioned in previous posts, travel for me has become a lot about the feelings that have been evoked in a place because ultimately, how you feel about a place is what leaves a lasting impression. This post has been long overdue and I am guilty of procrastination in writing it but even as I sit and reminisce, I am taken back to a little slice of paradise in the plains of Laikipia, Central Kenya, to Segera Ranch: a property that makes you have several “pinch me, is this real” moments because you feel like you have stepped into the pages of Conde Nast Traveller and are in a dream!!!

Set in a private conservancy amidst lions, cheetah, elephants and other wildlife, Segera is the kind of place you go to for true escapism, to get off the beaten track and away from the masses: making this the very definition of a hidden gem. Acres of beautifully manicured botanical gardens with cascading waterfalls, bespoke, luxurious safari chic villas that those with a keen eye for detail will appreciate, timeless memorabilia and a modern art collection are just the tip of the iceberg of treasures to be found. Segera is the epitome of luxury and I count myself amongst the lucky few that have experienced the magic this bespoke property in Kenya holds.

Relaxing at The Stables in Segera

Salt Water Pool amidst botanical gardens

Segera House

Footsteps in Segera…My Story

The large iron gates with “Segera” sculpted across swing open, beckoning the start of a new adventure. I am excited because I have heard so much about this place and I cannot wait to be spending the next couple of days at this private ranch, rumoured to be the epitome of luxury. I am not disappointed. The staff are waiting to welcome us as we drive in, and I can feel the warmth in their smiles as everyone gathers around to shake hands and usher us into this fabulous oasis in the midst of the parched Laikipia plains.

Jens, the general manager is happy to show us the stunning ranch and we cannot stop admiring every facet of the property. From the main farmhouse, to the wine tower, stables, Villa Segera, Segera House and the individual villas, every detail has been thought of and executed to perfection with the discerning, chic luxury traveller in mind and the elegant touches do not go unnoticed. If I were to describe Segera in one word: it would be exquisite. It certainly would be deserving of the accolade of the most luxurious property in Laikipia that I have set footsteps in so far.

Welcome to Segera!

Private Plunge Pool – Overlooking the plains in Segera House

The Rasul Tower – Between the Gym and Spa

The Stables

I am super stoked checking in to our private villa, set in the botanical gardens and overlooking the savannah that forms part of the 50,000 acres that make up this ranch. A warm welcome awaits: personalised chalkboards and a letter from Jens in the most beautiful handwriting, the same penmanship that adorns the labels of goodies that can be found in the room. The furnishing in the villa is decadent yet subtle enough to be cosy and our bathroom, with its twin sinks and open shower looking out onto the plains is something I would love to replicate in my dream holiday home someday!

My favourite part of our villa has to be our wooden deck with a fluffy daybed and a sunken jacuzzi overlooking the savannah. I perch on the daybed and soak it all in for a few minutes: the silhouette of Mt. Kenya visible in the distance, birds chirping away, the gentle breeze that whistles across the arid and parched land, rustling the poky cactus fence that separates the ranch from the plains. Within an hour of checking in, I am ready to throw in the towel of corporate life and retire in Segera to while away my days honing in my creativity and hopefully writing something fabulous…

Love the chalkboard welcome message!

This deck! Absolutely loved spending time here!

Look at that sunken jacuzzi….

The king size bed in our beautiful villa

Love this contemporary bathroom!

Goodies in our villla! Look at that penmanship!

Segera is full of endless intricacies and I feel like my entire time here has been one of discovery. From admiring the décor and uninterrupted views of the Laikipia plains from Segera House, the signature villa with its own private plunge pool, to ambling around in the beautifully manicured gardens and appreciating the glorious flora and fauna and art that is carefully placed around, to pottering around in the lounges in Villa Segera and the Farmhouse and gawking at memorabilia that honours the past and to spending time by the salt water pool and soaking in the sunshine. Bliss.

I love that there are plenty of cosy places to sit and soak in the gorgeousness around. The decorative style is contemporary mixed with classic: from large sofas in the farmhouse to smaller ones in the stables, with touches like cookery books and other bits and bobs artfully placed to give the whole place an opulent feel that is still cosy and makes it feel like home away from home. Indeed, Segera feels like a palatial oasis where no detail has been overlooked.

Patio in the farmhouse – great to dive into a nice book out here!

The Farmhouse Dining Room – A beautiful setting for dinner

Amazing decor in The Stables bathroom!

I also love that Segera honours creativity. Villa Segera’s main bedroom is simply stunning and I fall in love with the décor and want to move in! One of my favourite rooms in this villa is the lounge that dedicated to the amazing photographer Michael Poliza and aptly named the Poliza Room. I could spend hours in this gallery alone: it is wanderlust inducing with a fabulous collection of Michael Poliza’s photographs and coffee table books.

Villa Segera – This Villa is Holiday Home Goals!

Gorgeous bedroom in Villa Segera

Bathroom goals in Villa Segera

Michael Poliza Lounge

Segera follows the principles of wellness and holistic living, and so the food is organic from farm to table. We have several amazing meals out here, with the chef paying particular attention to ensuring that we have all we want and more. Jens is the perfect host and we have our meals in different places every day, which enable us to have a well- rounded experience of the culinary delights that Segera has to offer. Breakfast overlooking Mt. Kenya on the terrace of the farmhouse, lunch by the pool in Villa Segera one day and by the main salt water pool the next, dinner in the stunning dining room in The Stables…there is no time to get bored out here…

Food glorious food! Organic produce from farm to table

Delicious delicacies prepared by the Chef

I fell in love with the crockery

Just look at that stunning table setting!

….and indeed, there is lots to do other than just switch off. Join me in my next post to see what else there is to do, and all the fantastic treasures that are to be found at Segera! Until then, Happy Wanderlusting! xoxo

Mt Kenya as seen from Segera Ranch

Farmhouse at Segera Ranch by night

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Earlier this year, I was leafing through the pages of my journals which inspired a post based on my thoughts in said journals. One of the nuggets that stood out was that feeling of finding acres of diamonds in your own backyard. There are always hidden gems to be found on your own doorstep, and we often go searching for adventure in faraway lands, overlooking and pretty much taking for granted what is available to us in places that we call home! In my post, I penned:

“I have begun to appreciate my homeland a lot more these last few years. The adventures had in places like Finch Hattons, Lentorre, Solio and Segera have only whet my appetite for more. To think that in a couple of hours you can be sat on a deck listening to chirping birds, or by your own private plunge pool in the wilderness overlooking a waterhole or sat in vicinity of gentle giants like rhino and elephants is something that until recently, I took for granted. In my attempt at living a more present and mindful life, I intend to explore Kenya a lot more!”

I am pleased to say that Wanderlustmate M and I have already set Footsteps in two gorgeous places in Kenya in the last month and are planning a couple more trips in the coming months. It is quite apt therefore, that this month’s #travellinkup theme is all about staycations and local gems. Here’s a snapshot of what I think are some of Kenya’s most luxurious and wanderlust inducing properties, scattered around various parts of the country.

1. Finch Hattons Luxury Tented Camp, Tsavo

Steeping my soul in serenity on the deck in our tent at Finch

Those of you familiar with the love story of Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton in the famous movie “Out of Africa” may be nodding in agreement, when I say that Africa gets under your skin and is almost addictive. Once you have been bitten by the safari bug, you will be happily infected for life. Spending time at Finch Hattons will certainly transport you back to the aristocratic era in which the movie is set and give you a taste of what it was like to live in that time albeit experiencing modern day luxury. Once you have revelled in the excitement of a dusty safari, where better to reminisce about your experience than the cosy annals of a luxurious property in the middle of nowhere? The uber-chic tented camp situated in the heart of the Tsavo National Park in Kenya: Finch Hattons fits this bill perfectly.

The camp is built with the discerning chic safari traveller in mind. Every little detail has been thought of and the décor is quirky yet elegant: from the chandelier made entirely out of recycled coca cola bottles, to the memorabilia that has been strategically placed about which gives the camp that feeling of a lived-in home away from home, with these little touches lending a cosy yet sophisticated ambience, and making Finch stand out from any other tented camp that I have visited in Africa.

Finch Hattons is set amidst a lush, green ecosystem, its structures being strategically built around naturally occurring springs. One of my personal favourite places to relax in is the main lounge area which faces the biggest pond, inhabited by some of the largest crocodiles you will ever see! They certainly send a shiver down your spine as they navigate the water but you are safe in the knowledge that you are on the bank, far away from any danger. This is especially consoling at night when you can see their eyes all lit up like lamps, gliding along the still waters: but you are all enveloped in the cosy warmth of the large bonfire, perfectly safe underneath a twinkling night sky!

You can read more about my experiences at this fabulous tented camp in my posts: Footsteps in Kenya…Postcards from Finch Hattons and Footsteps in Kenya…Bitten By The Safari Bug in The Tsavo.

The stunning pool at Finch

One of my favourite lounges at Finch

2. Solio Lodge, by The Safari Collection

Solio is one of the four bespoke properties owned by The Safari Collection of Giraffe Manor fame. Set in its own conservancy in the plains of Laikipia in Central Kenya, this intimate lodge is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Nairobi to re-charge for a few days amidst the cool mountain air of Mt. Kenya. From the gorgeous rooms with floor to ceiling glass windows that overlook the slopes of the mountain, to the patio areas and cosy sitting areas where you can lose yourself in a good book: Solio is a place I would come to recharge my weary soul. Throw in game drives in the conservancy where you are guaranteed to see lions, buffalo and rhino, and the piece de resistance: bush breakfast in the midst of a crush of white rhino: and you have to pinch yourself to believe that you aren’t dreaming!

Literally a few feet away from White Rhino! We (and the Rhino) were very safe!

Breakfast in the wild – doesn’t get better than this!

Basking on the deck at our room in Solio

Our room at Solio

You can read more about Solio in my post:Footsteps in Laikipia…Postcards From Solio here.

3. Sasaab Lodge, by The Safari Collection

Wanderlustmate M and I set Footsteps in Sasaab in Samburu about a week ago and I find myself feeling incredibly nostalgic as I think about this trip. A sister property to Solio, it has the same bespoke and intimate feel with only 9 rooms, all overlooking the Ewaso Nyiro River and each with their own unique plunge pool. With the 36-degree arid heat, the cooling waters of the plunge pools are a welcome respite from the heat! The Samburu Game Reserve in North Central Kenya is one of my favourites as it is a park where my parents would take us quite frequently as children on school holidays: my Dad loved this area and I can see why. Home to very unique species of animals only found in this part of the country, Samburu with its arid, rugged edges is a place where you do leave a piece of your heart. Being at Sasaab brought back fond memories of my childhood, and with my Dad’s Anniversary coming up, I found that it was a befitting tribute to his memory being in a place that he loved so much.

Sasaab Samburu: Bespoke luxury in the heart of Kenya

Enjoying sundowners: conversations with Jacob and Lettis

Enjoying the plunge pool in our villa at Sasaab, Samburu

4. Lentorre

Out in the Southern Rift Valley where borders seem to dissipate into nothingness lies a hidden gem: something I would describe as the last truly wild oasis left in Kenya. Set in the heart of the Olkiramatian Conservancy, Lentorre is certainly a place for Wanderlusters that want an experience that is out of the ordinary: it isn’t your everyday lodge or accommodation and fits into my category of a “next level get-away”. Throw in scrumptious home cooked meals, endless high-end drinks, panoramic views of stunning vistas, game drives and an opportunity to interact with the Maasai community in the area giving it that cultural touch and you have a pretty delectable escape from the humdrum of ordinary life. And all this is literally just scratching the surface of what Lentorre has to offer. Being the only luxury lodge in the Olkirimatian conservancy with a mere 6 villas, each with their own plunge pool gives it unrivalled privacy and that makes it feel like you are in your own little utopia in wild and untouched Africa!

Read more about my Footsteps in Lentorre here: Footsteps in Lentorre…The Last Wild Oasis in Kenya.

Enjoying the view from our private plunge pool at Lentorre

All checked in to Villa Number 1!

Soaking in the gorgeous views

Stunning landscapes of the Olkiramatian

5. Segera Ranch

I am so guilty of procrastination when it comes to clicking publish on my post on this fabulous property in the heart of Laikipia, Central Kenya. Everything about Segera is magical: especially the acres of botanical gardens that it is situated in. Segera is the kind of property where you would expect to find celebrities jetting in on their helicopters, spending a few days in paradise in complete and utter privacy, having the perfect African experience of bespoke luxury, fine dining game drives and safaris and then jetting out again, with the hoi polloi being none the wiser. I promise that I’ll click publish for next week. Really. I promise. Watch this space…

Our beautiful villa at Segera

Cascading pool at Segera Ranch

Segera House

Sunset on the savannah plains

6. Elsa’s Kopje, Meru National Park

Elsa’s Kopje is a lodge that I was super excited to have set Footsteps in. As a young girl, I always dreamed of staying at the bespoke and luxurious properties owned by the then popular group known as Cheli & Peacock. Elsa’s is one of the lodges in what was that brand, now owned by The Elewana Collection. Set out in Meru National Park, Elsa’s is associated with the lioness Elsa of Born Free, the movie made famous by Joy and George Adamson. Indeed, Elsa’s is sculpted into the Mughwango Hill, above the original site where George Adamson raised orphaned lions and released them into the wild. The lodge exudes elegance from every facet and definitely fits into the category of one of Kenya’s bespoke properties, in a park where the diversity of wildlife and birdlife are in plenty.

Our room at Elsa’s Kopje

View from our room at Elsa’s

7. The Majlis Resort, Lamu

A post on Kenya’s wanderlust inducing gems would be incomplete without including a snippet about a property at the coast! The Majlis Resort, a gorgeous boutique hotel set amongst the mangrove swamps on Manda Island in the Lamu archipelago is a place where I felt like I had been whisked away to another world. I felt like I could easily have been in the Seychelles because everything is surrounded by the gorgeous blue waters of the Indian Ocean with bits of green thrown in for good measure. The Majlis is a chic beach resort with cosy villas spread out on a sandy beach, fringed with palm trees and what is quite unusual for the coastal region, acacia trees. The perfect place to lounge under the African Sun, sip cocktails by the salt water pool whilst listening to the ebb and flow of the waves in the Indian Ocean and soaking in the view!

Catch up on my musings on The Majlis Resort here:Footsteps in Lamu…Postcards from The Majlis

The chic villas at The Majlis

The beach! Take me back to the beach!

The lounge at the Majlis

Enjoying the salt water pool at The Majlis

I hope you have enjoyed these snippets and that they have induced wanderlust in you to come and visit and experience some of these properties for yourselves! Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! xoxo

This month we would love to hear about your staycations and local gems – where have you loved closer to home? As ever, push the topic out as far as you like – we love to see what you share!

How to link up your post
Just pop your post up over the first week of the month (the 1st – 7th May 2019), add it to the link up widget found on Silverspoon London, Adventures of a London Kiwi and Binny’s Food and Travel Diaries, or on the blog of our lovely co-host Summers Holiyay.
There are no rules – all we ask is that you..

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Sometimes, I feel like I am a hamster on a hamster wheel scurrying along with the tide of life. Moving on from one task to the next, checking off things from to-do lists and planning lists and other lists. Most days, treating life like it is one big grocery list, putting things into a trolley and either using them or leaving them on a shelf to collect dust. I honestly do not feel very present in my day to day life: which is something that I am working on. I have said this time and time again in various articles on this blog: I feel most present and alive when I travel. My recent trip to Morocco had me musing on why this is so, and ironically, the theme of this month’s #travellinkup is about travel habits, which got me thinking about mine.

When I first started travelling, I used to be one of those people that wanted to check off as many countries from my never ending wanderlustlist in one fell swoop. It gave me an indescribable thrill to be able to say to myself that we would be checking off and setting footsteps in x number of countries. I realised the folly of our ways in Vietnam, when I sat in our hotel room and journaled that I felt like we had fallen short. The realisation that such whistle-stop travel meant barely scratching the surface and leaving a place feeling less than inspired was the turning point for change. I was done with reducing the precious ability to travel to a check list: the been there, done that, worn the t-shirt attitude had to go. And I was done with taking it for granted that one day we would be back to tread on paths anew. It has been 8 years since I set Footsteps in Vietnam…and I haven’t been back, yet. But something changed that night in Vietnam about how we approached travel.

The one habit that Wanderlustmate M and I have changed about our travel style since our trip to Vietnam is slowing down. This change of pace means we may not check off as many places as we want to with limited leave days, but it does mean that we get to truly connect with the places we choose to set Footsteps in every year.

Beautiful landscapes thanks to slow travel

Travel by Boat – Proper Slow Travel!

What does slowing down mean?

It doesn’t mean not travelling. On the contrary, it means travelling to explore, to discover, to connect and to inspire. It means that we are conscious about exploring the length and breadth of a place. Spending a tad longer in some places over others. We try to find hidden gems and go beyond the must do’s and top things. Chunking down trips into smaller time frames. More frequent travel. Road Trips that mean we can stop where we want and indulge in breathtaking scenery. Because ultimately, it really doesn’t pay to travel for the sake of it.

In slowing down, we have come to appreciate that the true essence of travel is really to be so far removed from reality that we feel we have truly escaped and when we eventually do return to the ho-hummery of the daily grind (because not everyone can be a full time wanderluster), we can approach life with a renewed perspective and hone in everyday joie de vivre.

Slowing down is truly magical.

Taking time to connect with a place

Beautiful Landscapes of Tuscany

The three lessons slowing down has taught me: 1. The meaning of connection

Being able to spend a little more time in a place has allowed me to truly connect with it in a way that just dipping a toe in and being on my merry way the next day would. I’d love nothing more than to be able to spend weeks in Rome or Paris or Istanbul soaking up the vibe or months travelling around Europe and South America and indeed the world, but if only wishes were horses! Alas, I am yet to manifest this kind of lifestyle. In the meantime, slowing down and spending 2 or 3 nights in a place as opposed to just 1 means that there is time, albeit limited, to soak in the vibe. I know that full time Wanderlusters would beg to differ: but there are few people that have the luxury of time and the vast majority, myself included have to grapple with limited leave days and so, a 3 night stay in a place will allow me to delve beneath the surface because I really want to! One such instance was the opportunity to connect with a local Ethiopian family and seeing how teff is fermented to make local brew; something that we managed to do because our driver felt that we would enjoy such an experience!

Getting to connect with the locals – visiting a home in Ethiopia

2. Being fully present

Being part time Wanderlusters means that our current pace of travel isn’t nearly as slow as I would like. This in itself has its own charm. It means that I cannot take for granted the limited time that we do spend travelling and so I find that when I have my wanderlust hat on, I am fully present: not worrying about past events or future aspirations but taking the day in its stride. The result? Leaving somewhere having had adventures and created memories that as cliché as this sounds, will indeed last a lifetime! Slowing down and being fully present also gives me time to think. To catch up with the thoughts in my own head and distil these into words that grace my blog posts or the pages of my journals. And most important of all: to appreciate the beauty around me that I would otherwise miss. Wanderlust in a different place, connect with a local like I did with this Nomad Berber in The Sahara Desert and just chat, and see and appreciate life from another perspective.

Having a heart to heart with a Berber Nomad In the Sahara

Enjoying Portovenere

3. Finding my own gems and creating memories

In slowing down, we get to see more of a country than just the must do’s and highlights. Slowing down in Slovenia meant finding Metelkova in Ljuljana. One such slow trip was that out to Portugal, where we could have easily spent a few days in the “top cities” and then tacked on Spain and France as well. But we decided that we would drive from the north to the south, stopping in on enchanting places every few days. One of my favourite memories is created in Evora, which is popular with day trippers and becomes ghost town at night. Well, that’s when the magic happens because the locals come out to play, and if you’re after an authentic experience, then Evora fits that bill. We had a glorious dinner at a lovely bistro called Momentos, and the owner Jorges struck a chord with me when we got chatting about where Wanderlustmate M and I were from and what brought us to Evora. Our conversation that night was friendly banter and we chatted like we had known each other all our lives: and I left Momentos with a bottle of home-made olive oil that Jorges gifted to us as a precious memory of our evening at his bistro.

Jorges and I in Momentos, Evora

Creating memories in Tuscany

Finding hidden gems in Ljubljana

Nights like the one spent in Evora reminded me of why travel is so important to me and what the magic of slowing down reveals. The world is so much more than the place we choose to call home and there is so much more to life than the rigmarole of routine. Moments spent with Jorges and his friends meant a deeper connection with Evora. A pivotal moment where a place becomes more than its sights and becomes a part of you and your journey because of a memory etched in your mind. Wandering around the labyrinthine streets of Chefchaouen a few weeks ago was an ode to our decision of slow travel being the right habit for us. Spending hours exploring the alleyways, getting lost, people watching in the main square, having random conversations with the locals and etching this blue wonderland into the annals of my memory. Indeed, slowing down is truly magical.

The charming alleyways of Chefchaouen

Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! xoxo

This month we would love to hear about your travel habits. Topics ideas could include: are you swayed by the seasons? Do you start new ones each spring? Have you ditched any old ones recently? Do you explore more locally?

How to link up your post
Just pop your post up over the first week of the month (the 1st – 7th April 2019), add it to the link up widget found on Silverspoon London, Adventures of a London Kiwi and Binny’s Food and Travel Diaries, or on the blog of our lovely co-host Kerry, Life and Loves.
There are no rules – all we ask is that you check out some of the other cool bloggers that are involved in that months travel link up; make a few comments here and there and tweet a few of the posts out to your followers that you think they will love. It’s a great way to meet some new travel bloggers and share some blogging joy!

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As much as I enjoy seeing everything that a full blown itinerary would suggest and checking off those must do bucket list experiences, there is nothing I fancy more than finding hidden gems off the radar of most. And so, once we had our fill of the gorgeous rock hewn churches of Lalibela there was time to wander off the well-trodden path and find our own adventures. Ah, how I adore this world of travel! The fire in my belly has me up at otherwise ungodly hours and I am ready and raring to go at times that I would consider unholy back home when getting ready for my lawyering day job. Once again, I am reminded that

“I travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape me…”

Stunning Landscapes of Lalibela

Hidden Gem Number 1: Yemerehana Cristos

A bumpy 42 km ride away from main town Lalibela lies a hidden gem: a little church known as Yemerehana Cristos. We head into our 4×4 with Bruk our driver and Abrham and make the journey through the mountains of Lalibela along a bumpy murram road interspersed with tarmac here and there: roadworks are ongoing so many of you will be able to make the trip on a smooth road now. An hour later, we arrive in the village of Yemerehana: the base from where we will make the ascent up to the church. It is a steep climb up a path in a shaded forest of juniper trees, with monkeys jumping around. My iWatch at the end of the hike shows an elevation gain of 90 for the 1 km trek which means we went quite high in a short amount of time. I am struggling a little bit but at the same time I can feel myself getting stronger not only physically but also mentally with every step I take: but once again, I am making mental checklists to start to incorporate more exercise into my otherwise sedentary lifestyle when back home! Twenty minutes of walking later, we approach an ugly wall beyond which is a cave in which the church of Yemerehana Cristos sits in all its glory.

The ascent up to Yemerehana Cristos

Pilgrim at Yemerehana Cristos

The church is beautiful. Set inside the cave, this is one of the first churches to be constructed from the ground up rather than excavated and is one of the best preserved late Aksumite buildings. The building is set on a carefully layered bed of olive wood panels and the main structure has layers alternating between marble and wood, which gives the illusion that the church is floating when seen from a distance. The floor beneath my sock clad feet is damp and cold and I am grateful for the bamboo matting that alleviates this somewhat.

The Church of Yemerehana Cristos

The inside of the church is something spectacular, its ceilings adorned with vividly coloured frescoes. They are so well preserved which I suppose has something to do with it being so cold inside the cave. Though the interior is dimly lit, the light of the candle that the priest is holding casts a magical warm glow and as I say a little prayer for my little cousin brother that we lost a month before my travels, I see that the flame starts to glow in the shape of a heart. I am honestly moved and I feel a sense of calm wash over me as I listen to the priest’s voice chanting prayers for us in Ge’ez. I feel the need to light candles and say a little prayer for all our loved ones in Heaven every time I go in to a church or a temple: and the candles lit out in Yemerehana Cristos are indeed special.

Vividly coloured ceiling inside Yemerehana Cristos

Lighting candles inside the Church

The cave is both mysterious and eerie at the same time. I suppose the energy here is off the rails because it was a place where pilgrims would make their final rite of passage and come to die, being buried at the back of the cave itself. This isn’t the practice any more but you can still see some well- preserved mummies if you fancy but I get creeped out by these things and prefer not to look. Some fears I am happy not to face! We leave the church and the priest leaves with us, locking up for the day. He says that this church isn’t popular at all and so if someone else comes, he will open it for them but for now, he is off home. We leave through another route, and it would appear that word has spread that there are visitors at the church for the path back down has villagers begging for money and little children wanting chewing gum. Sadly we have none, and we would have been happy to give them a few Birr but Abrham discourages us saying that this will only alleviate the problem and not help. Maybe pens and books would be better and I wish I had some, but now I know what to take with me when we travel to such a region next!

The Priest at Yemerehana Cristos

Back at base, Abrham says it is buna time: we have earned ourselves a cup of freshly brewed coffee, to have alongside some kitea, a sweet bread and some home-made injera and berbere chutney after our morning of exploration. We sit in the terrace of a locals house, sipping on this liquid gold from little cups and was share this humble yet delicious meal with Bruk and Abrham, tearing off injera from a common tray, each from our own corner. It is culturally acceptable in Ethiopia to eat off the same tray and is greatly encouraged: and I must admit that at first I found it awkward do this but we have now become friends, and so it feels pretty natural to be eating and chattering about our experiences that morning and truly appreciating this cultural quirk.

Hidden Gem Number 2: ToNeakutoleab Monastery

Based just off the road towards Lalibela airport lies the ToNeakutoleab Monastery. Set in a cave in the most gorgeous surroundings, this tiny church has been in existence for centuries and the pull here is not so much for the church but for a sprinkling of water that has no source and so is considered holy and believed to heal. Centuries old stone receptacles are lined up to collect this precious liquid and locals come to collect water from here on a daily basis.

Centuries old stone receptacles to collect the holy water

Water from a mysterious source at Neakotoleab Monastery

I look around and the scenery is visually stunning. The dry and arid landscape stretches on for miles with the mountains on the horizon looking like they have been chiselled by hand.

A hidden gem set amidst breathtaking scenery

The Monastery has a large collection of crosses and religious artefacts that are considered ancient treasures and the priest, who has just finished conducting a prayer ceremony for a local family is happy to show these to us. One is an Amharic Bible made with parchment and lettered by hand: its colours are so vivid that they look freshly painted and not eons old! As he turns the pages of the Bible, the priest chants some of the prayers and Abrham says that he has done a little blessing for us which is really nice: I must admit that I have no idea of the context but blessings are always welcome and so we leave the priest some Birr for his efforts before we leave the Monastery.

Inside the Monastery: the altar and more stone receptacles to collect holy water

Amharic Priest adorned in traditional garb

Chanting prayers in Ge’ez from an ancient Bible

A coffee ceremony

Coffee is to Ethiopia what tea is to England. Until I set Footsteps in Ethiopia, I was a tea addict. I must admit this was mainly because I had never tried coffee that I absolutely loved and so my default love was for tea. And then, I was introduced to the world of Ethiopian coffee and I haven’t looked back since!

Locals waiting for their coffee fix at an open air shack

Coffee ceremonies are part of the backbone of Ethiopian culture and occur frequently throughout the day. Green coffee beans are roasted over an open fire in a pan until they emit these enticing aromas, before they are freshly ground and placed into a stone teapot like receptacle with water and brewed over a coal fire. The result is a thick black liquid that you drink as you would an espresso: and it is absolutely delicious, akin to liquid gold. Locals take their coffee, also known as buna very seriously and so little coffee houses and open air roadside shacks are thronged at coffee time with locals waiting impatiently for their fix, munching on bowls of popcorn as they wait. Because you can’t rush a good thing…it takes time, and once a batch is brewed and finished, you will wait a while before the next one: and it is worth every second! I am loving observing the locals nattering away as we all wait in main downtown Lalibela for our fix, before we head out for sundowners and a night on the town!

Beautiful girl brewing a fresh pot of coffee

“Buna” – coffee being poured into cups

Ben Abeba

When we first arrived in Lalibela, I couldn’t help but notice this rather strange shaped building in the distance. I had read about Ben Abeba but I could never have imagined that it was this quirky flower shape until I actually saw it up close because it looks nothing like a flower from a distance!

Ben Abeba dominating the skyline of Lalibela

The quirky Ben Abeba up close

In any event, it has some pretty high terraces that offer amazing vantage points from where to appreciate the vast beauty of Lalibela and sunset is the perfect time to indulge in an “explorer”: the house cocktail of gin and homemade lemonade sipped whilst wrapped up in a cosy blanket. An evening at Ben Abeba is special, watching the sun melting into orange nothingness over the landscape and day turn into night, capping off yet another beautiful day of wanderlusting.

Sundowners on the terrace at Ben Abeba

It soon gets too windy and chilly to sit on the terrace and so we head down to sit by the bonfire, and get chatting with the couple sat next to us. I am amazed at how the Universe brings kindred spirits together and we have a great evening sharing stories of travels had and dreams of places that we want to go to and it feels like we are sat by a campfire in the middle of nowhere and sending wanderlustwishes up to the heavens above

Painting the town red at Torpedo!

We cannot end our sojourn in Lalibela without a night on the town and so, after dinner we head out to Torpedo, a local bar where everyone comes to hang out at to drink Tej: honey wine. Lalibela is the home of Tej, which is made with local red honey and brewed like beer with hops, barley, sorgum and other grains and left to ferment for three months before being served up in four different strengths: soft, medium, strong or special. Served in a contraption that looks like a round bottom flask in a chemistry lab, this drink tastes deceptively like melon juice with a beery aftertaste and I think it is very much an acquired taste: I managed one flask and wasn’t hankering for more!

Tej: Honey Wine

The atmosphere is like that of a night club: dim lighting and tables set to socialise. A musician is walking around strumming his Krar and dancers energetically performing the local shoulder dance, picking people at random to dance with them. As the night goes on, the drunken merry makers start to plaster money on the foreheads of the musician and the dancers as a sign of appreciation! We have a flight to catch to Gondar the next morning and so decide to call it a night…Lalibela has been fabulous and we are leaving with beautiful memories of our time here.

Torpedo Bar

I do hope you have enjoyed the last of my three part series on Lalibela: do leave me a comment below, and stay tuned for more Footsteps in Ethiopia! As always, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

Note: if this post is read on any other website save for https://www.harpreetswanderlust.com, it is stolen content or reproduced without my permission and I would appreciate being contacted. Thank you!

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Hello, hello wanderlustfam, albeit we are already well into January and I had fervently hoped to have had a lot of my ramblings on my adventures and misadventures up by now! Alas, the Universe has had other plans. It has been a crazy time (isn’t it always?) and I won’t go into boring you with the details because those are inconsequential: but the upshot of having a Universe imposed hiatus is oodles of time for soul searching! So, welcome once again, to my lil corner of the interwebs, grab a cuppa or a glass of champagne, and let’s delve right in, shall we? Hopefully, I will share some WanderInspo in the process!

I have been mulling over what to write and share with you all for weeks now. Yes, even when I am in the throes of life, this passion project of mine, Harpreet’s Wanderlust…Footsteps Across The Globe, is always on my mind. I thought about a round-up of 2018, which, other than some personal events in December was one of my best years and I would even dare to say it was epic, and so I thought that a post on the fab, the drab and the totally ugly things that happened in 2018 would be apt. But the words didn’t flow. So then, I thought about sharing what’s on my ever growing Wanderlustlist for this year and beyond. Again, the words didn’t flow…needless to say, I suffered from a case of writer’s block, because I have been reminded by a dear friend that I am an over-achiever and suffer from perfectionism, which distracts me from doing what I really want to do: to simply write.

In my soul searching these last few weeks, I have made a conscious effort to be fully present in whatever I choose to do. In my journal sessions I came to realise that I live very much in a cloudy haze and in so doing, I don’t appreciate the present moment. I also suffer(ed) from a disease that I blame social media for: comparisonitis and I forget that those “check in’s and feelings” on Facebook and those little squares on Instagram, as pretty as they may be, are just someone else’s highlight reel: and good for them really! But, in spending hours scrolling through the online world I forget to focus on my own patch, treating life like one big grocery list and I often don’t realise that really life is what is happening RIGHT NOW when I’m busy trying to live and Maya Angelou’s words come to mind:

“Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away…”

And so, this led me to trawl through the pages of my journals to truly delve into the moments over the last few years that have taken my breath away and made me grateful to be alive. Needless to say, I am most present when I travel and Wanderlust features strongly making a whopping 90% of what makes me happy being the memories created when Wanderlusting, which I am sure all you fellow serial Wanderlusters out there will identify with! Even more profound are the feelings that being in certain places and having specific experiences evoke. So, I thought I’d share a few with you to give you a little peek into the moments that have made me feel present and truly alive and the feeling that evoked it, because after all – feelings are what make you want to pursue something in the first place!

•Conquering fear and not negotiating with my mind: Snorkelling with Whale Sharks in Djibouti, seeing the Victoria Falls and hanging out with Gorillas in Rwanda.

Perhaps the greatest thing about these experiences are the control that I had over my own monkey mind because firstly, being in the vicinity of Silverbacks and usurping in their territory isn’t an easy feat to achieve, and secondly, I have a serious phobia of large bodies of water, especially the ocean and waterfalls. In all three countries – Rwanda, Djibouti and Zimbabwe, it was one of those mind over matter moments where I felt the fear and did it anyway: hung out with Gorillas, jumped in to swim alongside a gentle giant in the blue depths of the Indian Ocean, and walked on the edges of cliffs to marvel at the gushing of water into an abyss below. I am still working on my mind but know that when I really want to, the yapper within loses to the braver me that wants to conquer fear once and for all.

The feeling: Dealing with Fear and honing in the power of the mind. Something that I want to explore even more this year.

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Djibouti

The gushing Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

• Exploring uncharted territory – Ethiopia: a country that I am not yet done with…

As I said in my article Footsteps in Ethiopia…A Travel Guide for an Epic Trip to the Land of Origins (which was shamelessly stolen by not one but two blogs which I would love to name and shame so that the none the wiser readers know that they are indulging in stolen content!!!):

….Ethiopia is mesmerising. To date, it remains firmly at the top of my Wanderlustlist of places I have set Footsteps in. This country, its treasures and her people have left an indelible mark on me and I only want to explore it more…. Harpreet’s Wanderlust

The feeling: Being truly alive! Triumph, glee and a sense of having satisfied Wanderlust exploring a place that is so off the beaten path and is so raw and real. Oh, and not to forget having billions of pictures to freeze beautiful memories in time and look back in awe at some of the truly surreal experiences Wanderlustmate M and I had out here: from exploring ancient Churches (some hidden in craggy peaks of hard to reach mountains) to marvelling at martian like landscapes and sleeping under the stars in the salt pans as salt caravans traipse silently alongside to conquering the climb up and sleeping on the rim of a live volcano: indeed there is no choice but to be fully present and feel alive!

Surreal landscapes in the Simien Mountains

Salt Caravans heading from the Danakil Depression to Mekelle

The martian like landscapes – sulphur lakes of Dallol

• Having Wanderlust dreams come true

When life is hurtling past faster than two shakes of a lambs tail, it is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and forget that you are living/have lived what was once a dream. Because truly, everything starts off as a dream! Taking stock, there have been a myriad of moments where I have had Wanderlust dreams come true. Visiting Lake Bled in Slovenia, hiking up to the Tigers Nest (Taktsang) Monastery, lighting 108 Butter Lamps and having tea with a Monk in Paro, Bhutan, watching the sun rise in Cappadocia with Hot Air Balloons dotted around in a cotton candy sky and over Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, lighting a candle in a tiny Church perched high up in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia…these are but a handful of moments where Wanderlust dreams have come true, and I know there are plenty more where that came from!

The feeling: Pure and Simple – Gratitude. Something that I need to focus more on again, in 2019.

Prayer Flags fly over Taktsang

Taktsang (Tigers Nest) Monastery, Bhutan

Watching Hot Air Balloons in Cappadocia

Magical Lake Bled in Slovenia

The most magical sunrise in Angkor Wat

• Food, food glorious food…and wine!

I couldn’t possibly leave out how I feel when I am eating and it is very often food or wine that connects me to a place. Earthy truffles in Tuscany, fresh Pesto in Liguria, sweet shrimp with baby strawberries and peppery arugula in Evora, blue lobster in a Michelin Star restaurant in Beaune…these are but a few dishes that take me right back to the places I set Footsteps in. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the wine…the beautiful journeys Wanderlustmate M and I have taken to indulge the budding oenophiles within us: from the vineyards of Southern Africa to the stunning wine regions of Tuscany, Portugal and France, and off the beaten path to the wine region of Kakheti in Georgia where we even managed to harvest and stomp grapes!

The feeling: Appreciation for the simple things that make something ordinary totally extraordinary – again, the feeling of being truly ALIVE!

Beautiful Tuscan Vineyards

Indulging our inner budding oenophile in Tuscany

Delectable shrimp and strawberry salad

• Exploring true hidden gems at home in Kenya

I have begun to appreciate my homeland a lot more these last few years. The adventures had in places like Finch Hattons, Lentorre, Solio and Segera have only whet my appetite for more. To think that in a couple of hours you can be sat on a deck listening to chirping birds, or by your own private plunge pool in the wilderness overlooking a waterhole or sat in vicinity of gentle giants like rhino and elephants is something that until recently, I took for granted. In my attempt at living a more present and mindful life, I intend to explore Kenya a lot more!

The feeling: finding acres of diamonds in your own backyard: and not taking for granted the hidden gems you can find on your own doorstep!

The pond at Finch Hattons

Soaking in the vistas at Lentorre

Hanging out with rhinos in Solio

Hanging out with elephants in Segera

It has been such fun leafing through the pages of my journals and walking down memory lane with you all and I hope that there has been some WanderInspo shared. Have any of my feelings resonated with you? Do let me know in the comments, I truly enjoy hearing from you! I will leave you this quote that I came across on Instagram this morning that I think sums up being mindful and living in the present for me:

…be so fiercely committed to the things YOU care about and the vision of the life you want that you don’t have the time, energy or need to compare yourself to other people… Jamie Varon.

…and in so doing, may there be many moments in life that take your breath away! Until next time, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

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…Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world…Gustave Flaubert

Feeling small in the face of such magnanimity

I cannot help but wonder how true this quote is as we start off the second half of our exploration of the subterranean Churches of Lalibela and make our ascent to the twin church: Bets Gabriel-Rufael. This is the first church of the south eastern cluster, set on the other side of the River Jordan and all I can see as I huff and puff up the hill is a large, reddish building looming before me that looks like it is rising out of a cliff. Indeed, as we cross a bridge aptly named “way to heaven”, I look down and see we are crossing over a deep moat like trench. The outside of the church is more memorable than the inside merely for its gargantuan size and my memory of how I felt when I was actually making my way into Bets Gabriel-Rufael. We enter the dimly lit Bet Gabriel, scout around and quickly make our way into adjacent Bet Rufael through an interconnecting doorway and then step outside onto a terrace like platform from where the colossal depth of the ravine is truly appreciated. As I stand on that terrace and just soak in the sheer magnamity of these structures, I am grateful that we have the place to ourselves to appreciate its raw and natural beauty. I feel tiny in the face of such colossal structures, and the depth of the ravine reminds me that one misstep on the unprotected edge and poof, that could be the end. Morbid I know, but honestly a humbling moment because in the grand scheme of things, we are all mere specks in a giant universe!

The beautiful churches of the southern cluster

Standing on the “Bridge to Heaven”


Could I be in an Indiana Jones movie?

Hand on heart, I can say that the south eastern cluster left their mark on me as my personal favourite churches to explore, not because they are architecturally more stunning than the earlier cluster but more for the adventures we had in reaching each of them. Unlike the north western cluster, these churches are farther apart and being connected by an enticing series of narrow doorways, tunnels and trenches, are super fun to navigate and get to. The lighting of late afternoon is just perfect. With warm rays of sunshine glinting off the pink rock, making the doorways glow like something ethereal, I wonder if this is what Indiana Jones felt like, exploring nooks and crannies of places that one cannot help but feel exist only in the imagination?

Wanderlustmate M in one of the nooks of the churches

Truly living in the moment

Indeed, I am in my happy place. Wanderlusting, exploring and most importantly, experiencing. The places that call my name to set Footsteps in seem to wave a magic wand and cast a spell on me. The whys and wherefores of life back home are cast off: all the stuff I was stressing about before getting to Lalibela seems trivial in this moment. I can’t even remember what my tribulations were and what I am obsessing about now are places, their people and more importantly experiences. I am living in the present moment, not worrying about the past or the future and honestly, I am loving this new version of myself!

Through the Tunnel of Hell…

My elated state is short lived as Abrham announces, with a smirk in his voice that we are about to descend into what is known as the “tunnel of hell” in order for us to get to “heaven” on the other side. Now, this is a 35 metre (some say 40 metre) pitch dark tunnel that connects Bets Gabriel-Rufael with Bet Merkorios. And I am almost peeing myself. Because, dear Wanderlusters, I am petrified of the dark. There. Now you know. Legend has it that you have to walk this tunnel in the dark, without any form of light whatsoever and as tempted as I am to put the torch on my iPhone on, I decide that this is the year I will conquer some of my fears. Today: it is that of the dark. I am reassured by Abrham going in front and am immensely grateful to have Wanderlustmate M guiding me along the narrow passageway, and I am bent so as not to bump my head, feeling my way alongside by keeping one hand on the wall alongside me and one hand above feeling the roof of the tunnel. Wanderlustmate M has one hand on my back, quelling my fear of being in the dark and calming the claustrophobia somewhat. Being pitch dark it is uncanny how all the senses kick in when one is inhibited but I cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief as I see the literal light at the end of the tunnel…I have made it through hell and could not be happier!

Navigating the “Tunnel of Hell”

Seeing the light at the end of the “Tunnel of Hell”

…and into Heaven at Bet Merkorios

I would like to imagine that that this church was nick-named “Heaven” because at 4:30 pm, the sunlight streams into the tiny interior from a cross shaped window bathing it in light that can only be described as other worldly. The rays of the sun pour in like beams sent from the heavens and it almost feels like you expect a choir of angels to appear! Bet Merkorios is nondescript from the outside and visited mainly for an original fresco of the three wise men which is semi-visible, but for me, is memorable simply because of this cross shaped window. The priest in this church is a friendly chap and noticing how enthralled I am with this window, has a quick word with Abrham who asks if we want to take some pictures of him. The next thing I know, he appears all clad in his traditional robes and poses in front of the window with an Orthodox Ethiopian Cross, making one heck of a photo opportunity. We leave a couple of Birr for him and a donation to the Church, noting that he didn’t actually ask for this, which is so refreshing!

The beautiful cross shaped window at Bet Merkorios

Sunlight streaming through the window and through the Cross

…and onwards to the Valley into to the “Petra” of Ethiopia

Leaving Bet Merkorios, we traverse a deep valley and criss-cross through yet more tunnels, to emerge from within a doorway to descend into the enclave of Bet Amanuel, a monolithic church which is deemed the most finely carved church in Lalibela. Flanked with almost barely there large vertical pillars, the locals have nicknamed it the “Petra” of Ethiopia, because the external façade resembles that of the Treasury in the famed city of Petra in Jordan. The inside is probably the fanciest we have seen from all the churches and there is various paraphernalia peppered about, suggesting that this was once the Royal Family’s private chapel. A closed hole in the ground covers up a tunnel that links this church with Bet Merkorios. I sit on a wooden bench and gaze around, in awe. I have been pinching myself all afternoon as we amble along this cluster and I know I am not dreaming, yet this adventure feels like one! We exit Bet Amanuel and peek in to the only grotto Church in Lalibela: Bet Abba Libanos. The tiniest church in this complex is said to have been built by King Lalibela’s wife in one night with help from the angels and is the last in this cluster of churches.

Traversing the valleys of Lalibela

Emerging from one of the tunnels into the “Petra” of Ethiopia

Sundowner at the iconic Bet Saint Giorgis – the Church of Saint George

At last, it is time to head to Bet Saint Giorgis, the church that I have been waiting with eager anticipation to see all day and I am not disappointed. Set apart from the other eleven churches, this iconic church in the shape of a cross is the symbol of Lalibela and is probably the reason why a lot of people, myself included, come here in the first place. Seen from above, this is the most visually perfect church of all and because it is so well preserved, it has been spared being covered with the visually unpleasing UNESCO tarpaulin tarps (sorry UNESCO), for now at least. Now that I am here, I want time to stand still for a while so that I can gaze upon this splendid creation and just live in the moment because this too, was once a dream and the moment will pass before I know it and become a dream once again. There are several vantage points from where to appreciate the beauty of this church and I am indulging in every one of them: from up atop a little hillock to peering in at the edge of the rim of the crater from where the church rises. We have arrived just before sunset because we want to see the inside of the church as well, and given that the priest will lock up and head home at 5:30 pm, we have timed our arrival to allow for exploring inside and then heading back up to witness sunset over the iconic church.

Iconic St Giorgis

The perfect cross shape of St. Giorgis

The Icon of Lalibela – St Giorgis

Being at ground level of the church makes me appreciate how high the structure is: a 15 metre three tiered plinth in the perfect shape of a cross: no mean feat to achieve! The inside is as humble as any of the other churches in Lalibela, carved with crosses however this church contains some of the treasures that were thought to belong to King Lalibela: olive wooden chests with an interlocking mechanism that baffles most scientists today, being one of them. The priest is anxious to leave, it’s been a long day but this is a popular church for tourists and people keep filtering in.

Our shadows on St. Giorgis

The sun is setting fast and so we head out to watch as the last golden rays bathe the top of the cross shaped building, highlighting the carvings perfectly. As I sit gazing at this epochal structure, I see the priest clad in his white robe amble past, homeward bound, the large keys to the church jingling in one hand. He raises a hand in greeting and I wave back. The priest smiles and carries on his merry way, another day done. And I am left there thinking just how in the end, we are all the same. No words pass between us and yet we seem to have had a whole conversation. A wave, a smile, a nod: and that dear Wanderlusters, is how

Travel: leaves you speechless and then turns you into a storyteller.

Priest waving goodbye, followed by a cat

Thank you as always, for spending a part of your day with me. I hope you have enjoyed my memoirs of traversing a super special part of Africa – do leave me some comment love below if you did, I love love love hearing from you! Stay tuned for the final post in my series on Lalibela, coming up next week. Until then, Happy Wanderlusting! xoxo

WanderNuggets

Watching the sun go down at Bet Giorgis – Magical!

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Chaos rules the early morning at Bole airport’s domestic terminal in Addis as passengers hustle to get their bags on to the security belt before heading to the check in counter. Travel is calling and everyone is rushing off somewhere: the airport is buzzing with the familiar energy that a traveller is accustomed to: the bustle of people scurrying to get checked in and then to their gates on time. Even I am giddy with excitement as Wanderlustmate M and I finally make it past all the airport formalities to Gate 18, and start to board ET 160 to Lalibela, a place that has been on my Africa Wanderlustlist for some time now. As the plane glides between cotton wool clouds, we leave the shiny metropolis of skyscrapers behind and make our way towards craggy landscapes and historical treasures. An hour after take-off, we are descending in Lalibela and our adventures out in the Amhara region of Ethiopia are beginning…

Arriving-in-Lalibela

It is so dry, arid and otherworldly out here and yet there is something enchanting about how this place seems to rise out of the bowels of the craggy Rift Valley. The ride to main town Lalibela is along a road that is carved into hills alongside a valley and an hour after landing, we arrive in Lalibela village, have met Abrham, our guide for the next few days and have checked in to Hotel Maribela, home for the next few nights. With no time to lose, exploring is on the agenda. The raison d’etre: are the world famous subterranean rock hewn churches of Lalibela, part of the historic route of Ethiopia. A total of twelve churches await moseying around and we are starting off with the north western cluster first, where the entrance to this UNESCO World Heritage Site also happens to be. It is hard to believe that amidst a cluster of houses that form Lalibela village lie some of the most revered buildings of the Orthodox Ethiopian faith. The town doesn’t offer much else in terms of activity and the only reason it features so prominently is for these churches that are carved out of the soft pink volcanic rock and which are still active sites. Every day, devout worshippers make the journey to come and pay their respects at the various churches and every year, hoardes of pilgrims descend upon them for Timkat, the festival of Baptism, making Lalibela the equivalent of Jerusalem…and I cannot wait to get discovering!

Entrance to Lalibela – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

A nugget of history

The churches of Lalibela are 900 years old. Carved right from the earth and immaculately preserved, they were discovered by a Portuguese priest in 1520 and today, are protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Legend has it that the churches are named after King Lalibela, who ordered their construction however given the different architectural styles, experts argue that this was next to impossible. Whatever the story, I am grateful that such monuments exist! There are a total of twelve churches set out in three different clusters amidst a traditional village on either side of a small stream known as River Jordan. Some are carved into the rock, others are semi-monolithic (joined to the rock) and a few are monolithic (free standing). Interconnected with mazes of trenches, tunnels and passageways, it is thrilling to jaunt from church to church and being very active religious sites, it is both amazing and humbling to both watch and interact and be immersed into the Orthodox Ethiopian faith.

The North Western Cluster
Bet Medhena Alem: Church of the Saviour of the World

Information sign for Bet Medhana Alem

Bet Medhane Alem – the largest church in Lalibela

Right after the entrance and a short uphill climb later, we are looking down upon our first church: a building that has been carved out of a single rock and covered with a rather unsightly but necessary tarp from UNESCO to protect the exterior from the elements. Bete Medhane Alem, is the first and largest church in Lalibela built with colonnades and carved from the stone. Looking from above, I am almost scared to lose my balance and fall into the pit as I observe pilgrims clad in white cloaks sat amidst nooks and crannies, praying. Most have their backs turned away from the world, deep in prayer and oblivious to any activity around them. We head down the roughly hewn steps to venture inside: the church is dimly lit with artificial white light whilst a glimmer of natural light pours in from a cross shaped window. Carpets adorn the floor and I can feel the cold of the stone seep through to my sock clad feet. The altar is covered but a variety of colourful paintings depicting various religious scenes are dotted around. Worshippers come in and kowtow to the paintings, then commence their prayers. I am fascinated and humbled at the same time at how devout the faithful are. I am no atheist however if I were, I would soon be converted into a faith just by watching the reverence with which religion is practiced!

Pilgrim meditating in prayer in a nook at Bet Medhane Alem

Inside Bet Medhane Alem

The altar at Bet Medhane Alem

Bets Maryam, Meskel and Dannagel

As we make our way through a tunnel from the first church towards the next, I am a little surprised at how roughly hewn everything is: I had half expected the churches to be almost manicured but it is wonderful to see that their natural environment has been so well preserved. An open tunnel alongside a narrow precipice leads towards a courtyard which houses the next three churches in this cluster and we walk gingerly across, being cautious not to nudge into the meditating worshippers who are pressed against the walls in prayer.

Interconnecting tunnel to Bet Maryam

Pilgrims in Lalibela

Bet Maryam, being dedicated to the Virgin Mary whom the Ethiopians hold revered is the most popular church and its small interior is heavily decorated and teeming with pilgrims: all in various forms of worship. Some hold bibles whilst others simply gaze up to the heavens above and mutter prayers under their breath. Vivid paintings of the Virgin Mary adorn the altar and are probably some of the largest that I recall seeing in any of the churches. We stay a while and observe, enchanted by the rituals ongoing in the tiny church before exploring the other two smaller churches: Bet Meskel, a tiny chapel carved into a northern wall and Bet Dannagel, also known as the House of the Virgins and said to be constructed in the memory of martyred nuns.

The intricately carved interior of Bet Maryam

Portrait of Our Lady in Bet Maryam

Bet Golgotha and Bet Debre Sina Mikael

A deep trench in between high walls leaving the courtyard of Bet Maryam leads to one of my personal favourites in this cluster: Bet Debre Sina Mikael. It is no easy feat clambering up the steep walls into the church and I watch in awe as pilgrims help one another navigate the pathway into the church itself. Most of the worshippers are elderly folk and their determination to scale some of these walls to get into the churches is impressive: because even I am double guessing my step in some places!

Worshippers helping each other navigate entry into the church

The entrance to Debre Sina Mikael

There is a chanting ceremony going on inside and we can hear the echoes bouncing off the walls from the outside as we approach the church. I peek in and the tiny church is filled to the brim with worshippers: everyone is standing, leaning on their staffs for support. Abrham tells us that these ceremonies can go on for hours and only the very elderly get to sit down wherever they can find some space, but most pilgrims choose to lean on their sticks and shift their weight from leg to leg. We go in and the energy that is emanating from the congregation and within the church is electric. A priest chants in Ge’ez, the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church. Drums beat alongside the chanting, both echoes melding in a perfect symphony of uplifting reverberations that leave me both awed and fascinated. The devout worshippers are incredibly friendly and make room for me to come and stand beside them, which I am happy to do because Wanderlustmate M and Abrham have to leave me to head into the twin church of Bet Golgotha, one of the most sacred churches in this cluster where King Lalibela is rumoured to be buried. Sadly, women aren’t allowed in there. We must have stayed in Bet Debre Sina Mikael for about half an hour, just listening to the chanting and soaking in all the energy but I remember those moments as though it were yesterday. You really do leave your heart in some places, and I know a part of mine has remained in that church, frozen in time.

Priest in meditation at Debre Sina Mikael

Inside Debre Sina Mikael

Witnessing a chanting ceremony at Debre Sina Mikael

Bet Uraiel

We reluctantly leave Bet Debre Sina Mikael to have a peek into the last church in this cluster, which was opened in 1988 and rumoured to have been a storeroom because of its incredibly rough hewn interior. This church is one that isn’t frequented by either worshippers or tourists however being on the way out of the cluster, is worth a quick look anyway.The priest here is excited to have some company and lets me hold his cross for a picture, which I am happy to do!

With the priest at Bet Uraiel

Leaving the north western cluster through a cross shaped doorway, I am even more excited to be exploring the next batch given the fascinating experiences we have had so far in these churches. Abrham tells me that we have been lucky today, to have partaken in a chanting ceremony and I cannot help but agree. It is a rare opportunity indeed to have been a part of what is real life, something that isn’t a show put on for the tourists but a true way of living and I am incredibly grateful to have had the fortune to have witnessed this in my lifetime.

The exit of the North Western cluster

Pilgrim in a nook above Bet Uraiel

The energy of Lalibela is indescribable. Nothing prepares you for what you are about to experience: no amount of research matches up to what the churches have to offer. Some say that they have a mysterious draw and I would have to agree. It is as if centuries of prayer have seeped into the well-worn floors and walls of these churches and become a part of their fabric: now reverberating back as you wander amidst them. Months after coming back, my mind still wanders and I still feel a sense of peace wash over me as I reminisce about my time wandering around these sacred sites. Stay with me as I explore the next batch of churches, but for now, thank you for spending a part of your day with me. As always, Happy Wanderlusting! Xoxo

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Ethiopia is mesmerising. To date, it remains firmly at the top of my Wanderlustlist of places I have set Footsteps in. This country, its treasures and her people have left an indelible mark on me and I only want to explore it more. This is the first part in my series titled Footsteps in Ethiopia: please do stay tuned for upcoming posts on my musings and memoirs from our adventures in the places that we explored in what is truly an epic country. For now, I hope you enjoy this snapshot into Ethiopia following the itinerary that Wanderlustmate M and I curated after lots of research on what we wanted to experience.

Ethiopia is a huge country, almost 5 times larger than the United Kingdom and unless you are a full time wanderluster with oodles of time on your hands, chances are you will have to pick and choose what parts to see. Tourism is still developing, solo or independent travel is still a new concept and a handful of luxury operators have tours for the Northern and Southern parts for which they charge a handsome price, which is fine if you have deep pockets however you will still not get to do some of the truly off the beaten path routes like the Afar region that make the trip epic. This guide seeks to give an insight into how to travel to the Land of Origins as a semi-independent traveller, focusing on the Northern circuit, also known as the “historical route” in 11 days. Long post alert: this is quite detailed so do grab a cuppa to come along with me on this wanderlust inducing journey!

Epic Ethiopia

Highlights of the Northern Circuit:

A few experiences you should not miss that will truly make the trip memorable:
1. Exploring the rock hewn churches of Lalibela, walking the “tunnel of hell” and partaking in a chanting ceremony.
2. The coffee! Buna is the backbone of Ethiopia and akin to liquid gold. A coffee ceremony is a must out here.
3. Chilling with the Geladas in the Simien Mountains and driving up to Chennek Camp.
4. Driving the Limalimo to Axum, home of the legendary Queen of Sheba: the landscapes will leave you breathless!
5. Climbing up to the Debre Damo Monastery (if you are a man).
6. Hiking up to the seemingly impossible to reach churches of Maryam and Daniel Korkor and Abuna Yamata Guh in Tigray.
7. Visiting the Afar region: one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
8. Sleeping under the stars in the Danakil Depression amidst silent salt caravans of camels that traverse the night.
9. Seeing the colourful sulphur lakes of Dallol.
10. Hiking up Erta Ale: one of the few active volcanoes on earth and sleeping on the rim after seeing the lava lake.

Have I got you excited yet? I certainly hope so, because I am super stoked to be sharing this itinerary with you all and I cannot wait to recount my adventures in more detail in upcoming posts. So, without further ado, let’s explore, shall we?

The day by day itinerary below will detail all we did, however in a nutshell, our itinerary covered the top experiences I have detailed above.

Itinerary: Exploring the Northern Historical Circuit in 11 days Day 1 – Flying in to Addis

Wanderlustmate M and I flew from Nairobi into Addis on a direct flight on Ethiopian Airways which got in at lunchtime. As Kenyans, we do not need visas and immigration is a breeze. We planned to use Addis only as a base for getting in and out of Ethiopia, but for history buffs you can go visit Lucy, the “grandmother of humanity” at the National Museum of Ethiopia. Wanderlustmate M flies frequently to Addis for work and he discovered a couple of good places to eat at: one being Sishu Burger, a funky converted warehouse where you can have what is hands down the BEST burger I have ever eaten and while away some time on a couch whilst gearing up for the upcoming days. The other place to try out would be Habesha 2000 Cultural Restaurant which is a great introduction to Ethiopian cuisine if you are a newbie to this type of food. You can also watch and partake in traditional Ethiopian dances at this restaurant.

Check in: we stayed at the Radisson Blu in Addis. Only 6 km from the airport, this is a great place to stay at for a night or two before you hit the circuit.

Connectivity: You can get an Ethiotel Sim with data in Addis using your passport however the network is highly Government regulated. We bought a sim however we didn’t have data as it had been switched off countrywide. WiFi is available at most hotels and domestic airports.

Top tip: Addis is amongst one of the world’s highest capitals which means one is prone to altitude sickness. Take a day or two to acclimatise or pop a Diamox if it gets too bad (but only if prescribed by a doctor before you travel).

Coffee in Addis

Day 2 – Pilgrimage to Lalibela

Your day starts bright and early as you fly to Lalibela in the Amhara region, home to the famous subterranean rock hewn Orthodox Ethiopian Churches, also known as Bets. The one hour flight takes you over craggy valleys and you see the landscape change from a cityscape to almost desert like as you land in Lalibela. Once you have checked in to your hotel, hit the ground running. There are eleven churches in total, set in clusters in a traditional village on either side of a small stream known as River Jordan. Interconnected with tunnels and passageways, it is thrilling to jaunt from Church to Church and being very active religious sites, it is both amazing and humbling to interact and immerse yourself into this culture as you watch with fascination: pilgrims deep in prayer and possibly even partake in a chanting ceremony or two. The energy is indescribable. I would recommend exploring the six Churches forming the North-western cluster first: being Bet Medhane Alem, Bet Maryam, Bet Meskel, Bet Danagel, Bet Golgotha (which women sadly cannot enter) and Debre Sina Mikael.

Pilgrims in Lalibela

Inside one of the Churches

Break for lunch, and then head out to explore the next batch of Churches south of the River Jordan being Bet Gabriel-Rufael, Bet Merkerios, Bet Amanuel and Bet Abba. End your pilgrimage in Lalibela with sunset at the isolated Church of St. George: the iconic Church in the shape of an Orthodox Ethiopian Cross and the only one that can be seen from above.

Bet St George in Lalibela

Fly: 8 am Ethiopian Airlines flight to Lalibela from Addis Bole Airport Domestic Terminal.

Check in: Hotel Maribela. Ask for Room 103 for the best views and great WiFi connectivity.

Entry into the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lalibela: US$ 50 per person* 300 Birr for Videos, which include any form of gadget that takes videos including your phone. A guard checks up on this at pretty much every Church so it is best to just pay up and enjoy taking footage of this incredible place in peace. *The ticket is valid for 5 days and gives you access to all churches within the Lalibela complex.

Top Tip: Be prepared for a lot of walking, and wear sturdy shoes as the ground is uneven. Socks are useful as you will have to remove your shoes to go inside the Churches. Go through the “tunnel of hell” to get from Bet Gabriel-Rufael to Bet Merkorios which is one heck of an experience! If you time this for about 4:30 pm, the sunlight streams through the cross shaped window in Bet Merkorios making a great photo opportunity.

Day 3 – Lalibela: Off the beaten path

Today, explore sights that are off the beaten path. The Church of Yemrehana Cristos is 42 km away from Lalibela and worth the drive as it is the only Church out here that is set inside a cave and constructed from the ground up rather than excavated. The layers alternate between marble and wood. The energy is surreal: pilgrims would come here as a final rite of passage to die, and there are well preserved mummies at the back of the cave.

Entry: 400 Birr per person, 100 Birr video camera fee.

Top tip: you need a guide at Yemrehana Cristos if only to prevent being hassled by the villagers for money on the path back down. Your guide will also know the locals and can arrange for you to have some freshly brewed coffee with some home-made injera, berbere chutney and kitea (sweet bread).

Prayers by candlelight in Yemrehana Cristos

After lunch, head to the ToNeakutoleab Monastery, also set in a cave in the most gorgeous surroundings. The draw here is a sprinkling of water that has no source and so is considered holy and believed to heal. This Monastery also has an Amharic Bible made with parchment, and the priest will be more than happy to adorn his traditional garb and chant some prayers for you for a couple of Birr. Once you are done, head to Lalibela for some shopping and a coffee ceremony with the locals.

The sacred water dripping from the cave at ToNeakutoleab Monastery

Amharic Priest and Ancient Bible at ToNeakutoleab Monastery

Coffee ceremony with the locals in Lalibela

Go for sundowners at the quirky flower shaped restaurant Ben Abeba. Ask to be sat by the bonfire once the sun goes down and enjoy your dinner by firelight, and then head out to Torpedo for a night on the town. This is a local bar which brews Tej: local honey wine. For girls: don’t visit the loo here if you can avoid it…

Day 4 – Heading to the Simien Mountains

Today is a full day of travel as you head to the Simien Mountains. Fly from Lalibela to Gondar, the only town with an airport that is closest to Debark where the Simien Mountain range is located. Debark is 100 km away from Gondar and the drive there is amidst simply stunning landscapes and gorgeous vistas with views to die for. Enjoy the heat of the day as the mountains are super cold! The tarmac road network is great however out in rural Ethiopia, humans and livestock have right of way and this will slow the journey down somewhat. Once in Debark, you must register at the Simien Mountain National Park Office and pick both a guide and a scout. These are allocated at random and are the luck of the draw, and our guide Gismu and scout Abrham turned out to be amazing people.

Fly: 12:20 am Ethiopian Airways from Lalibela to Gondar.

Lunch at Four Sisters in Debark to try amazing Doro Wat.

Check in: I would recommend staying at Simien Lodge as it is the only semi luxurious lodge inside the National Park. There are more luxurious lodges available however these are almost an hour away from the park, and given the time limitations, the closer you are to the park the more time you have to explore.

Epic drive from Simiens to Axum

Entry: 90 Birr per person per day. 300 Birr for a scout and guide for 1-4 people excluding tips.

Day 5 – Exploring the Simiens

I would highly recommend waking up for sunrise over this spectacular chain of mountains. The magic of having the park to yourself and watching the world come alive in the crisp morning breeze is ethereal. Head back to the lodge after sunrise for breakfast and hop into your 4×4 with your guide and scout to explore the rest of the park starting with hanging out with the Gelada Baboons and ending at the highest point: Chenek Camp, set 4300 metres above sea level. Though the most popular way of getting to Chenek is by hiking the Sankabar-Geech- Chenek trail within the park, for those with time constraints it is also possible to drive though you will need a sturdy 4×4 to traverse the bone shaking road.

Sunrise in the Simiens

First up: the Geladas, also known as the bleeding heart baboon because of the distinctive red patch on their chest and only found in the Simiens. They are the last surviving species of grazing monkey in the world and are so docile you can sit amongst them and observe their almost human like behaviour for hours on end.

Wanderlustmate M chilling with the Geladas

Male Gelada

Next: make your way towards Chenek a 30 km drive up from Simien Lodge. The landscape changes dramatically the higher you climb: the Simiens cliffs rise from bottomless canyons adorned with the occasional firestick making the otherwise dry landscape burst with colour. The road is cut into the mountainside and every turn has you gasping in awe at the dramatic vistas before you. Chenek and beyond is where you will find the elusive Ethiopian wolf, Walia Ibex and giant lobelias: in a terrain so cold that even the streams of water are ice! You can hike short distances here to get a feel of what the trails are like and then break for a picnic lunch at Chenek before making your way back down to Simien Lodge. Your guide can recommend short trails during the day to show you dramatic vistas, such as the short 7 km hike to the Jinbar waterfall. End your day amongst the Geladas near Simien Lodge.

Day 6 – Onward to Axum: ancient capital of Abyssinia and home to the legendary Queen of Sheba

More traversing by road today on the 300 km journey from Debark to Axum. Leaving at the crack of dawn, it takes 45 minutes from Simien Lodge to Debark and then you join the “limalimo” – one of the most scenic but hair raising roads we have ever driven on. Cut into the side of the mountain, the road twists and turns and hairpin bends its way amidst the almost Toblerone shaped hills to Zarima, where the tarmac road begins and you start snaking your way along the mountains towards Axum. You leave the Amhara region behind and enter the Tigray region, the whole journey taking approximately 8 hours with a break for coffee and lunch. After checking in to the only semi luxurious hotel in Axum, head out to explore the sights which include: the Stellae (obelisk) park, Queen of Sheba bath, the Tombs and the Queen of Sheba Palace Ruins.

Check in: Sabean International Hotel – the only semi luxurious hotel in town.

Entry into Axum’s Sights: Stellae Park: 50 Birr per person which includes the park, museum and Queen of Sheba’s Palace ruins.

Stellae in Axum

Day 7 – En route to Tigray

The last two legs of this trip are perhaps the most exciting because of just how remote the sights you will be visiting are. Hawzen, where the Wukro cluster of churches are located is a 190 km drive from Axum. For guys: do not give up the opportunity to visit Debre Damo in Adigrat which is en route to Hawszen, one of the most important monasteries in Ethiopia set on the top of a formidable cliff only accessible by climbing a rope. Sadly, no females are allowed in any shape or form and so Wanderlustmate M made the climb up and described it as exhilarating and unbelievable. Given the distance travelled today, you won’t have time to explore the churches as they close at 5:30 pm.

Wanderlustmate M scaling the cliff up to Debre Damo

Check in: Korkor Lodge. By far the most luxurious lodge in Ethiopia however booking is elusive and can only be done through your local agent, and even then, not guaranteed as I will detail in my upcoming Footsteps in Tigray post(s).

Entry into Debre Damo: 200 Birr for men only. You will have to get a guide and possibly a helper who come at 200 Birr and 100 Birr respectively: these are official prices however the helpers will no doubt ask for more as they claim to “save your life” as you make the arduous climb up the cliff.

Korkor Lodge – luxury in Tigray

Day 8 – Rock hewn Churches of Tigray

Perhaps the most memorable day of all, today you will hike to impossible to reach churches set high up in the Gheralta mountains. There are a number of Churches out here but the best two are Maryam and Daniel Korkor and Abuna Yemata Guh, where you are guaranteed to find the priests and be able to spend time absorbing the beauty of the Churches. Start off early by first visiting Maryam and Daniel Korkor. This is a 3 hour round trip trek and I will detail my experience in my upcoming posts on my Footsteps in Tigray. The hike is tough, over large boulders for a good 45 minutes before you have to navigate narrow trails and scale almost vertical rock faces. Maryam Korkor is an unassuming white Church, whilst Daniel Korkor, approached via a ledge along a cliff is set inside a cave and has breath takingly gorgeous frescoes within.

Top Tip: get yourself a 4×4 which will take you as close to the base as possible, shaving a good 1km off the trek and saving energy for the gruelling hike up to the churches.

Hiking to Maryam Korkor

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