Trekking in the Bale Mountains on Horseback - Setting out on the Road

Our first impressions from the trek, Ethiopian horses and basecamps in the mountains.

This is the second part of our our 7-part-long experience report on equestrian trekking in the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia. You may find the beginning of the story here.

horse riding in ethiopia

Day 1.
Our tiny hairy horses with our handlers and a guide were waiting for us at a junction on the main street of the town of Dodola, where a smaller street leads into the wilderness. The guide explained how trekking in the Bale Mountains works:

The handlers were supposed to bring the horses in the morning: horses for us and our guide as well as a luggage horse. The handlers would walk behind us with the luggage horse. In the evening they would bring the horses back home and the next morning we would get different horses from other handlers. That was meant to give different families a chance to earn some money.

I spent some time packing our stuff into two big plastic trash bags. Ready packed, the handlers tied them onto the luggage horse on the right and the left side of the saddle.

In the meantime, Balti and one of the handlers were trying to adjust the stirrups of Balti`s horse that were quite short and on every attempt to make them longer they kept falling apart. Looking ahead, I should say the stirrups were our biggest battle during the trip.

Our guide asked me with gestures if I needed a whip for my horse.
“Yes, probably, if you think so”, I nodded and the next second he pulled a stick out of somebody´s fence. It was a good start promising a lot of adventures.

Soon, our small group of 5 people and four horses set out for the mountains. It consisted of us, our guide on horseback, a luggage horse and two handlers walking behind.

horse riding in ethiopia

The first 15 minutes of our trip our procession was slowly leaving the town, unappealing dusty streets slowly turned into a wide field and mountains appeared on the horizon. Finally, we could send the horses into a gallop. My wonderful horse obeyed the command immediately and soon the town disappeared far behind us. We were quickly passing donkey-drawn carriages with hay, peasants in the fields and a school. Having spotted us, the school children left the building and ran behind us shouting faranji – ‘foreigners’. But soon they were also left behind. I was excited, but a short break revealed that Balti was enjoying the ride less. His short stirrups kept falling off during the ride again and again.

horse riding in ethiopia
horse riding in ethiopia
Our backpacks are loaded onto the horse.

When we made our first break, the horse handlers joined us shortly after we had stopped - to my great surprise.

That meant they were running about as fast as the galloping horses at an altitude of 2500m in the heat of the African noon with plastic bags full of tomatoes in either hand.

In spite of my protests about buying avocados and tomatoes – I said they were sure to turn into a vegetable smoothie on the road – the guide insisted on their purchase. He said the handlers would carry the bags with vegetables carefully as hand luggage what they really did end up doing. And they didn´t look tired at all. The moment they appeared at our lunch site, I realized two things:

1) The Ethiopians win the marathons at the Olympics not without reason.

2) You are perfectly capable of high performance without 250$ expensive trail running shoes and breathing ‘second skin’ leggins even if the campaigns of the sports brands try to tell you otherwise.

However, the second part of the ride was generally at a slower pace. The road turned narrower and steeper. A couple of times, we even had to dismount and walk part of the way on our own feet to help the horses. But it got really beautiful as we entered the woods.

Here, we could also see the animals of the forest from a short distance. Black-and-white colobus monkeys jumping from branch to branch above our heads not paying much attention to us.

colobus monkeys

At around 4 pm we arrived at our first campsite. Situated on the top of a hill, it had a great view over the valley that we had come from. The campsite consisted of a house, of which one part was designated for us, and another for our guide, as well as a hay hut with a fireplace in the middle – our ‘kitchen’. There was also an outhouse on the site.

We used the last hours of sun to chill outdoors on the meadow with the villager’s sheep. We observed the kids from a nearby house: a 5 or 6-year-old was carrying a toddler in a towel behind his back and his younger sister was running behind. But apart from a teenage girl who made our beds, we didn´t interact with the locals a lot.

Only one local guy joined us for dinner, he introduced himself as a cook. He was capable of grabbing pots and teapots from the fire with his bare hands which blew Balti’s mind.

Find out more about trekking in the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia in the next post.

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