Written by Mark and Amy (Link Ethiopia sponsors and parents to Ben, a volunteer with Link Ethiopia).

Our trip to Northern Ethiopia can only be described as a major assault on the senses – in a good way. From the spectacular beauty of the Simien Mountains, to the architectural wonder of the Lalibela churches, this part of Africa is surely the continent’s best kept secret.

unspecified_rj4mjn© Amy Robinson, 2016

We travelled to Ethiopia because our son, Ben, was near completion of the second of two visits to the country while working for Link Ethiopia, totalling approximately 8 months over the last three years. It presented a great opportunity to see a part of the world we would not ordinarily visit and to experience it in the company of our son who has gotten to know this part of Ethiopia well. Through Link Ethiopia, we were also able to access highly professional guides to show us the sites and accompany us on a short trek in the mountains, which was a real advantage.

Our first destination, Lalibela, is reached by an internal 1hr 45min flight from Addis, which stops on the way at Gondar. A half hour drive from the airport gave us our first taste of Ethiopian roads-a mixture of bumpy tracks and smooth tarmac- courtesy of an on-going road-building programme, supported by Chinese investment. We stayed in the Maribela hotel “at the top of the town”, a comfortable, ultra-friendly, quiet hotel, boasting incredible views over the valley and mountains beyond. However, it was the churches we came to see – 23 of them, none of which can be seen from ground level! They were hewn out of the rocks downwards in the 12th and 13th centuries by “The 4 Kings”, the most famous of which was King Lalibela, giver of his name to the town. Link Ethiopia provided us with a guide, the wonderful Tadesse, who displayed an unsurpassed knowledge of the sites, and intriguingly delivered the tour in very good English. He managed to combine the “legend” of Lalibela – concocted through the stories of the miracles that led to the building of the churches – together with the technical details of how these amazing feats of construction were achieved on the ground. We also drove to one of the churches outside the town. It was situated up on a hill which presented some breath-taking views and an interesting journey back on mud roads after a downpour!

Church_of_Bet_Giyorgis__Lalibela__Ethiopia__3279437544_e5ejzl© Amy Robinson, 2016

After two nights, including a great meal at one of the world’s most extraordinarily designed restaurants, the Ben Abeba (where I had Ethiopian Shepherd’s Pie, a fiery alternative to the staple English dish), we headed back to Gondar on a short 30-minute flight. We met up with Ben and some of his friends and associates for some injera (spongy pancake – the staple food in Ethiopia) and tibs (fried meat) before heading off to the Simien Mountains, accompanied by our driver, Robel – again thoughtfully provided by Link Ethiopia. Two hours later we had picked up our guide, Emanuel, and armed guard and headed into the Simien National Park and to our accommodation – the Simien Lodge. As it was the start of the rainy season it was cold in the mountains, but a log fire in the hotel bar area, a glass of beer, and a fascinating documentary about the main residents of this part of the Simien Mountains – the highly socialised Gelada monkeys – proved a good introduction to our visit.

© Amy Robinson, 2016

In my opinion, the following day was the highlight of our trip. Despite a stomach that had probably ingested too much injera over the previous days and thus led to multiple stops on our trek (!) we trekked for 8 hours across the most spectacular scenery I have ever witnessed. Expertly guided by Emanuel, we were taken to the great vistas of the mountains, the waterfalls, and cliffs, and informed about the fauna and flora of the environment, again in excellent English. He also took us to where we could sit amongst and observe the daily lives of the Gelada monkeys and their incredibly developed social interaction. This was the end of the first half of our trip, and we were eagerly awaiting to embark on the next!

unspecified_3_tdqdhq© Amy Robinson, 2016