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Horn of Africa Programs

Ethiopia, Eritrea

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ETHIOPIA / ERITREA BY BICYCLE

For those looking for the challenge and adventure of a lifetime and want to explore some of Africa's most rugged and spectacular countryside by bike, Bicycle Africa offers the world's only scheduled bicycle tour of Ethiopia and Eritrea  (full schedule). (Because of low demand this program is only run every couple years. It is very helpful if you let us know that you are interested in this program.)   Participants will be exhilarated by the rich cultural; 4000 years of history; thriving agricultural; and geographical and environmental diversity of the country. Ethiopia and Eritrea are mélanges of industrious cities and vast rural populations that reflect traditional culture and values. Program participants will have opportunities to meet rural villagers, craftsmen, educators and officials; to learn about the day-to-day life and the changing role of women; to shop in local markets; to wander in archeological sites of empires and kingdoms dating back many centuries and to enjoy the extraordinary friendliness of the people and inspirational beauty of the Abysinnian highlands. This awe-inspiring corner of Africa is virtually undiscovered by Westerners.

HORN OF AFRICA: IMPERIAL HIGHLANDS

There is a relationship between Ethiopia/Eritrea’s dramatic topography and its historic ability to thwart outside conquest.  The one element that succeeded in crossing the mountains and canyon was religion.  Ethiopia/Eritrea’s story includes chapters on Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as numerous indigenous religions.  Many Ethiopians/Eritreans pride themselves on not being “African” or “Arab”.  They are uniquely Ethiopian and Eritrean.  Attesting to its uniqueness is distinctive and delicious cuisine, elegant clothing styles and ceremonies and pageantry all its own.

According to tradition, the kingdom of Ethiopia was founded (10th cent. BC) by Menelik I, son of the Queen of Sheba and fathered by Solomon.  Until recently there was a Jewish community in Ethiopia whose origins are unclear, but who might date back to this period.  The first recorded kingdom of Ehiopia/Eritrea, is that of Aksum (Axum), which straddled the present border.  It was founded in the 1st century AD, probably by traders from Saudi Arabia.  The kingdom converted to Orthodox Christianity in the 4th century.  With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Aksum lost control of the Red Sea routes, and a period of internal chaos followed.  But even in a weakened state, outsiders armies never subjugated the highlands.  Order was restored in the 13th century with the founding of a new Solomonic dynasty.  However, a war to expel the encroaching Somali (1543), while successful, exhausted the nation, which was again beset by ruinous civil wars for two centuries.  Finally, in 1889, Menelik II, supported by Italy, instituted a strong rule.  Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1895 but was decisively defeated at Aduwa (1896).  Haile Selassie, who ascended the throne in 1930, faced a renewed Italian threat, which culminated in a full-scale invasion in 1935. Ethiopia was occupied until 1941.  In 1952 the UN joined the former Italian colony of Eritrea in a federation with Ethiopia; Eritrea was annexed in 1962.  In 1974 Haile Selassie was overthrown by army officers who proclaimed a socialist state and nationalized the economy.  Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam brutally established himself as an authoritarian president (1977).  Under Mengistu, Ethiopia experienced serious political and economic problems, particularly a secessionist movement in Eritrea, a rebellion in Tigré province in the north, war with Somalia over the Ogaden, and a drought that was manipulated into widespread famine.  In 1991 Mengistu fled into exile.  Tigréan soldiers subsequently captured Addis Ababa, establishing an interim government with Meles Zenawi as president.  The Eritreans triumphed as well, and in 1993 Eritrea became independent.  In 1994 the constituent assembly approved a new constitution that made Ethiopia a multiparty federal republic.  In 1998, the two countries engaged in a war neither could afford.  Today, they are trying to rebuild their economies, democratic institutions grow with fits and starts, and the culture continues to flourish.

The Ethiopian highlands have a comfortable, bright and healthful climate. The lowlands are hotter and dry-including some of the most inhospitable lands on earth, but these are conveniently avoided on Bicycle Africa programs. The extraordinary historical sites, rich agricultural valleys of grains and sunflower fields and the majestic landscapes are inspiring. The hospitality of the people makes you feel at home.

Programs are scheduled October-December.

Map of Ethiopia Routes

Photos Essays from Ethiopia Programs

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