Ethiopia TourWritten by Andrew Muigai
Ethiopia is an enchanting country whose delights are unknown to most travelers. And yet this is a truly unique destination with such attractions as can be found nowhere else in world. The biggest draw is rich Orthodox Christian heritage. Ethiopia was one of very first nations to embrace Christianity, way back in 4th century AD. The wonderful churches, monasteries, icons and relics to be found here is a reminder of central role Church has played in history of country. The painstaking effort summoned to produce some of these tokens of mans faith in God is very impressive, especially for non-believers.
Ethiopia is a very worthy destination and many connoisseurs consider it to be Africa's best-kept secret. Since so few outsiders come here, tourist infrastructure is not well developed. But on plus side, there are no crowds of visitors, unlike at other historical destinations such as Egypt. The Christian heritage aside, Ethiopia is blessed with an astonishing contrast of nature's gifts. This ranges from heights of jagged peaks of Simien mountains- a UNESCO World Heritage Site, bird filled rift valley lakes, to under sea level lunarscape of Danakil Depression.
Travelers have plenty of opportunities to enjoy mountain treks, caving, camping, sailing and white water rafting adventures. Though not as abundant as elsewhere in east Africa, there is plenty of wildlife, and 31 rare species are only found in Ethiopia. This is also one of Africa's great birding destinations and 861 species have been recorded of which 16 are endemic. Due to relatively undeveloped tourist infrastructure, best way to see country is by buying a packaged Ethiopia tour.
Most overseas visitors will start off from Addis Ababa. Addis, as city is popularly known is capital city and home to Bole International Airport. The city rests at foot of Entoto Mountains. By Ethiopian standards, it is a new settlement and came into being in 1887. Addis Ababa means New Flower and its foundation is credited to Queen Taitu - consort to Menelik II. In Addis, make sure to visit Ethnographic Museum and National Museum. The Giorgis Cathedral, which was built in 1896 to commemorate victory over Italian invaders, is also worth a visit.
The Simien Mountains National Park is much favored by trekkers. The park has some of scenic sights in country. The mastiff reaches to 4620m, highest point in country. The park was created to protect Walia Ibex, which is found only in Ethiopia. Other endemic animal species in park are Gelada Baboon and Simen Fox. Bale Mountains in southeast, though less accessible, has trekking opportunities and some wildlife including a few endemic species.
Awash National park is one of finest and most accessible reserves in country. The Awash River strides park before heading to Dankil depression where it vanishes, never to reach sea. Some special attractions in park include Awash Falls, dormant Fantale volcano and some thermal springs. Forty-six species of wildlife have been identified here and bird life is prolific. The park is located just 211 km to east of Addis.
You will obtain best value for your Ethiopia trip if you have at least an interest in unique history of country. The country claims a history going back 5,000 years, and there are Bible episodes mentioning Ethiopia that are dated at least 3,000 years ago. The colorful history is a blend of fact, legend, and tradition. Some incidents dearest to Ethiopians and which they use to affirm unique their place in world, on close examination appear to be apocryphal. The legend that Ark of Covenant is housed in Axum is certainly controversial. But most of history is almost certainly correct and remains unchallenged.
Despite earlier contact with outside world, Ethiopia developed in relative isolation and was actually once known as "Hidden Empire". As a result, some of living culture is unique to country and has origins dating back hundreds of years. The Ge'ez language used in most modern day church services derives from Kingdom of Axum. Ge'ez alphabet has an amazing 231 letters. The country still uses Julian calendar, which has 12 months of 30 days each and an additional month of 5 days, with 6 days in a leap year. Relative to Gregorian calendar used in west, Ethiopia is 7 years behind between 11th September and 8th January and 8 years for rest of year.
Festivals of Orthodox Church are an ingrained part of popular culture. Timket, feast of Epiphany, is a colorful 3-day festival commemorating baptism of Jesus by John Baptist in Jordan River. Meskal, celebrates "finding of true cross" upon which Jesus was crucified, by Empress Helana -mother to Constantine Great. It is believed that a fragment of True Cross is to be found in a monastery in Gishen Mariam. Meskal has been celebrated in country for over 1600 years. Other Orthodox festivals include Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash) and Christmas (Lidet).
Though a friendly people, Ethiopians are fiercely independent and even today appear to distrust outsiders a little bit. This may appear justified when you consider that foreigners such as British and Italians are guilty of looting historical relics. The Italians carried off to Rome a 150-tonne granite obelisk from Axum, when they occupied country between 1936-41. Mussolini had sought a rematch of 1896 defeat by Ethiopia that had greatly humiliated Italian patriots. The British had earlier in 1868 stolen priceless illuminated manuscripts, crowns, crosses, and other treasure. Ethiopia has been waging a campaign to have artifacts returned.
Most of historical treasures date from time King Azena of Axum converted to Christianity in 4th century AD. The highlights of "Historic Route" are Debre Libanos, Debre Markos, Bahar Dar, Gondar, Axum, Lalibela and Harar. You can reach these sites by air or car, or a combination of both. The route starts at Debre Libanos, 110 km from Addis Ababa. Here in 13th century, Saint Tekle Haymanot performed a fantastic feat- he stood on one leg for 7 years! A cathedral marks spot where this happened.
Mauritius Vacation GuideWritten by Andrew Muigai
Mauritius has successfully managed to position itself as an exotic beach destination. With beach destinations so plentiful, this has been sustained not by mere hype, but by substance there is to this claim. Visitors are drawn to Mauritius by reputation of its 140 km of white sand beaches, and superb opportunities for water sports. Swimming, beach combing, sailing, surfing, kayaking, diving and deep-sea fishing - there is a sport for almost everyone.
Arab traders discovered then uninhabited island in 10th century. But they were not charmed sufficiently to consider permanent settlement. The Portuguese early in sixteenth century landed, but they too passed over chance to lay claim for their king. But in 1598 Dutch finally seized opportunity. The island was grabbed for and named after Maurice, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau -then ruler of Netherlands.
In century that followed, Dutch established settlements and devised means to live off land. They introduced sugar and tobacco, which they farmed using African slave labour. Sugar is today still an important part of economy. The Dutch were insensitive to extremely fragile ecosystem that makes up an isolated island such as Mauritius. On their watch, most of islands' indigenous forests were felled, and lost. The bird known as dodo was also shot to extinction. Thus did trigger-happy Dutch give life to expression "as dead as a dodo".
The Dutch courage that had made them pioneers was however not to last. They were subjected to many trials by forces of nature - cyclones, droughts and floods. And also by forces of man, for pirates were a constant headache. In 1710, they fled to more hospitable Cape of Good Hope, at Africa's southern tip. A short five years after Dutch left, French claimed island, and renamed it Isle de France.
The French were much more successful than Dutch in harnessing potential of island. They maintained law and order and laid foundations for administration of society. Under celebrated French Governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais, real nation building began. The French brought in more African slaves and expanded further sugar farming. They also laid out some social and economic infrastructure to support settlers. Port Louis, named after King Louis XV, and today capital of Mauritius, dates back to this period.
Though French had introduced systems of law and order, Port Louis turned out to be a favourite of corsairs. Corsairs were mercenary marine who specialised in plunder of ships on behalf of a client country. The British, a great sea power at time, had a vested interest in terminating power of these mercenaries. And that is how Mauritius, so far away from Europe, got involved in Napoleonic wars. In 1810, British backed by superior force of arms, persuaded French to leave island.
In 1814 Treaty of Paris, British - magnanimous victors indeed, allowed French settlers to remain in Mauritius. They too were allowed to retain their property, language, religion and legal system. The British reverted to name Dutch had given island, but Port Louis retained its name. But in century and a half that British ruled, they were never really as grounded as French had been.
Franco-Mauritians prospered on an agrarian economy based on slave labour. But in 1835, they felt capricious hand of a great power when slavery was abolished. This is perhaps single most important measure carried out under British rule, and consequences had a far-reaching effect on evolving demographics of nation. India, a British colony greatly abundant in human resources was answer to labour problem that arose. In years that followed, descendants of Indian labourers who came to work sugar fields greatly multiplied. The Chinese also came -as labourers and traders.
Today, Indo-Mauritians constitute close to 70% of population. As in other colonies in that historic period, and upto 1930's in Mauritius, non-whites had very limited say in running of country. And that is why Gandhi - that great liberator of men's minds, came to Mauritius in 1901, in particular to give heart to Indo-Mauritians. After years of protracted concessions to democratic rule, British finally bowed out in 1968, when finally granted independence.
The events we talk about above are however very recent. About eight million years ago, island emerged from depths of sea as result of volcanic activity. Occupying 1860 sq km, it is situated just above Tropic of Capricorn, 890 km to east of Madagascar. Rising from sea, central plateau formation is about 400 m above sea level. There are mountains scattered in island, and a few peaks, highest of which reaches 820 m.
As a country, Mauritius includes islands of Rodrigues and Agalega, Cargados Carajos Shoals and a few smaller mostly uninhabited islands. Mauritius is almost wholly ringed by a coral reef that is reputed to be worlds third largest. Both Dutch and French were extremely reckless in allowing uncontrolled invasion of indigenous forests. Today, less than 2% of these forests remain. Many of nearly 700 species of indigenous plants are threatened with extinction. Starting from late 1970's, a belated but systematic effort has been underway to conserve unique flora of island.
The wildlife faces similar dangers. In first place, animal migration to this isolated island was by air or sea only, greatly limiting diversity of species. The animals Dutch found included out-of-size reptiles and flightless birds. But except for bats, there were no mammals and no amphibians at all. The animals brought aboard ships by man include monkeys and rats - thanks to Portuguese, while Dutch take credit for deer and wild boar. Some of these animals threaten to choke life out of indigenous species - they eat their eggs, and even their young.
Mauritius is not all bad news for nature lovers' -there are plenty of birds and marine life is abundant. However, some of endemic bird species, such as Mauritius kestrel, echo parakeet and pink pigeon number not more than a few hundred. Such are now under some form of captive breeding program, with hope of raising their numbers.