Hi, everyone. Emily sent the following update about her recent trek through the mountains. You can also see some additional pictures of the Bale Mountains environment on her Facebook page. I believe that Emily took most of them herself but a few were taken by her traveling companions.
I just got back from Bale Mountains and it was amazing. We walked over 100 km in five days, from the town of Dodola to the town of Adaba. The trails were non-existent or subtle – mostly the footpaths and indentations of cattle, sheep, goats and their herders. There was a vast amount of bio-diversity and such beautiful plant communities, that shifted both slightly and dramatically from place to place.
We harvested wild thyme and learned the names of many of the native plant species from two young brothers who came along for one day’s hike. Their mother ran the hut we stayed at for two of the days. The people were friendly, living in a very harsh environment, windy and cold. The men and boys herd and ride horses, thus, moving quite quickly through the terrain. The women herd, carry loads as big as them it seems to market in the towns along the main road, tend to the compound and the children, amongst other things. They wear many layers and wrap their bodies in large, bright scarves. The girls start young helping on the compound. The five year old in the photo helped us start a fire and brought us wood. Sometimes donkeys and horses will carry loads and be guided along the trails.
In general, the people there are mostly herders and farmers, growing cabbage, onions and potatoes if their land allows. They even make a dish from stinging nettles, which grows everywhere there, even surrounding huts and growing along fences. There is obviously no electricity and they get light and warmth from their cook fires, sleeping around them on beds built from the earth, cushioned with goat skins and faded blankets. There is also a traditional bed made from a wooden frame with goatskin woven in a criss-cross pattern within. The firewood is from older Erica shrubs, or heather. It does not burn well at all! We made a black bean soup that took five hours to soften, but well worth the wait.
Speaking of burning – there were many scorched areas of land from recent forest fires in the hills. Some were natural, but some were potentially created by herders so fresh grazing grass would generate in the area. There is a lot of stress on the land due to the herders settling in higher and higher elevations. This trek was designed to support the environment and give people in the area alternative options for income, but it seems like a very hard problem to tackle. The deep-set, cultural practice of having more than one wife and a settlement for each of them is very common. This means one man could potentially have multiple herds and farming sites throughout the mountain villages.
Each compound also has fluffy dogs, that look part wolf. They actually might be. The Ethiopian wolf is present there, but there was a rabies epidemic a couple years back that transferred from the interactions between dog and wolf. Sadly, many wolves died and the population lessened.