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In the shadow of Mount Fantale in Ethiopia, lies Awash National Park; 756 square km of golden grasslands and Acacia woodlands harbouring East African oryx, Soemmerring’s gazelle, dik-dik, and the lesser and greater kudus, as well as over 350 species of native birds.

Pastoralists have invaded the park and these days you will likely see more livestock than wildlife.  Also, the roads you are permitted to travel are very limited, with only around 40 km of the circular route accessible.  The route does allow you views of the Awash River Gorge and the Awash Falls, although hold your breath, the water doesn’t smell too fresh.  Despite these drawbacks, although you might not make a specific visit here, it’s certainly worth a stop off if you are passing through the area.  Local accommodation is limited. The Awash Falls Lodge is your only option within the park, whilst the Genet Hotel in the nearby town is basic but comfortable enough for a short stay.

Ethiopia is believed to have around 1,050 lions remaining in the country with as many as 50 in Awash itself.  Although the wildlife authorities here admit that these numbers are no more than guesses, with no specific research to confirm populations having been undertaken as yet.  A national lion species management plan is being finalised, so hopefully targeted lion conservation plans within the country will soon be in evidence.

The lion is extremely important within the identity of Ethiopia.  The Lion of Judah was once a prominent feature, found upon the nation’s flag, stamps and currency during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I (1930-1974) as a symbol of liberation.  Each Ethiopian emperor was inadvertently given the title ‘Mo`a Anbesa Ze’imnegede Yihuda’ translated from Ge’ez to English as ‘Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah’ .  Yet, it is believed that the lion’s symbolic linking to the Imperial House of Ethiopia dates back to the Tribe of Judah under King Solomon’s reign in Israel around 971 B.C.  Many of the Emperor’s followers believed Emperor Haile Selassie I was a direct descendant of Menelik I, the only child borne to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Menelik I was believed to have been the founder of the Solomonic Reign of Ethiopia; a Dynasty that reigned uninterrupted for nearly 3000 years until the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie.

Since the end of Haile Selassie’s reign, the Rastafarian movement has continued to use the Lion of Judah as an important symbol.  Many Rastafarians worship the deceased Emperor Haile Selassie regarding him as a reincarnation of Jesus. A Rastafarian village can be visited on your way south to the city Awassa.

Also on that same route is Lake Ziway, a huge lake along which many fisherman try to keep their catch from the mouths of the flocks of birds such as pelican, marabou stork and sacred ibis.  Children play in the shallows whilst women do the laundry.  Continuing south I passed commercial flower farms-row upon row of truly gigantic greenhouses stretching as far as the eye can see.

My overnight is in the city of Awassa, a very different proposition to Harer earlier in my Ethiopian travels.  This large urban sprawl features some magnificent monuments, but it’s the fishing village down on the lake, that I visit in the early morning, that is most engaging.  As on Lake Ziway, the flocks of scavenging birds are in attendance, but the smell of the fish being gutted and cleaned is swept away by the aromas of recently caught fish being cooked nearby.

My time in Ethiopia is nearly up but I have a chance to make one last stop, at Abijatta-Shalla National Park (also known as the Great Rift Valley Lakes National Park).  One is saline and the other is an alkaline rift valley lake.  Greater and lesser flamingos feed in the shallows whilst the local community take advantage of the hot springs, that feed Lake Shalla, to wash.  The water’s bubble and steam rises and I watch a young boy skip and jump with the sheer pleasure of an early morning bath.  Lake Abijatta’s shore has many more water birds including crowned cranes shielding themselves against the dust devils that sweep across the parched earth towards them.

Ethiopia has been a wonderful host, a fascinating mix of wildlife and culture with great diversity in both, as you travel around.  A huge country, there is so much more for me to return to and explore.

This tour was organized by Diversity Tours Ethiopia

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