Ethiopia: Across northeastern Oromia, from Sheikh Hussein to Harar (January 2017)
1. Days 1 to 3: Sheikh Hussein (WP 0) to Adedenico (WP 4)

 

Return to main Ethiopia January 2017 webpage

 

Maps:

- From Addis Ababa to Sheikh Hussein.

 

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- Between Sheikh Hussein and Harar.

- Between Sheikh Hussein and Adedenico.

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Click here (.kmz file) to access the waypoints and the paths in Google Earth.

The blue line is the access road to Sheikh Hussein.

 

January 11: Addis Ababa to Goba

 

I arrived in Addis Ababa early morning on an Ethiopian Airlines flight coming from Washington D.C. Solomon and Gebru were waiting for me at the airport. We immediately started driving together toward Sheikh Hussein. We passed by the town of Dodola, which had been the start of one of my previous treks in Ethiopia in March 2013 (Bale mountains), and we reached the town of Goba on the eastern side of the Bale mountains (see first map at the top of this page). We spent the night in a hotel set amidst a nice garden a couple of kilometers out of Goba.

 

January 12: Goba to Sheikh Hussein (WP 0, elevation: 1360m)

 

We drove about 180km on an unpaved road from Goba to the village of Sheikh Hussein (also spelled Shek Husen and also known as Annajina), which we reached late in the morning. There we met our two Oromo companions for the rest of the trip, Numan and Mahmood, and discussed trip details with them. In the afternoon Solomon started driving back to Addis Ababa, leaving me with Gebru, Numan and Mahmood. I visited the pilgrimage site of Sheikh Hussein. Gebru and I spent the night in a kind of guesthouse (WP 0 in the Google Earth maps above).

 

The village of Sheikh Hussein is named after a 13th-century holy man buried in this village who is credited for having introduced Islam to the Sidamo people living in the region at the time. For several centuries, it has been the destination of a major pilgrimage. As the kind of Islam that has developed in the region is mixed with pre-dating African beliefs and traditions, many Christians and animists also venerate Sheikh Hussein and make the pilgrimage, which therefore plays an important role in bringing together people from diverse ethnic and religious groups from all regions of Ethiopia and from other countries, in particular Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea.

 

The village itself is not especially interesting. It consists of scattered houses, some with nicely decorated walls.

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The village has only one restaurant, which offers tasty injera dishes.

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As expected, the main attraction is the sanctuary of Sheikh Hussein. Visiting this place was a unique experience.

 

Entrance of the sanctuary on the eastern side of the village. The sanctuary comprises several structures built from local sandstone, limestone, and wood, and whitewashed once a year.

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The most important structure in the sanctuary is the mausoleum of Sheikh Hussein that contains his tomb (under the dome) and other tombs of members of his family. It is surrounded by a large cemetery.

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View of the mausoleum from the south-east.

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The mausoleum entrance is located on its eastern side, with the pond of Dinkiro (following photos) located on its right.

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The water of the pond of Dinkiro is considered miraculous. It is covered by a green layer of duckweed.

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Tomb of Sheikh Hussein in the mausoleum.

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The inside of the tomb is a 50sq.m room that consists of an ambulatory around the grave of Sheikh Hussein. Left: the modest grave in the middle of the room. Center: portion of the ambulatory and pillars supporting the roof of the building. Right: the believers who enter the building kiss the walls and the ground, cover their faces with dust collected from the ground, and even swallow some of this dust.

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Inside another tomb of the mausoleum (described to me as that of Sheikh Hussein‛ son).

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The mausoleum and the surrounding cemetery seen from the northern part of the sanctuary.

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Northern arcade in the sanctuary and cupola-shaped shrine built in honor of Abd al-Qadir alJilani (a saint man from Baghdad who visited Sheikh Hussein sanctuary).

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Another view of the shrine of Abd al-Qadir alJilani.

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Inside the arcade. During pilgrimage periods people gather here to eat and drink tea.

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Man holding a cleft stick, called ″dhanqee″, traditionally carried by pilgrims to the sanctuary of Sheikh Hussein. Such sticks, which are too short to serve any practical purpose, are believed to protect their owners. They draw their roots from a non-Islamist African culture. (I took this photo two days later in a village along the Wadi Shebelle.)

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January 13: Sheikh Hussein to Adedenico (WP 4, elevation: 882m)

 

On this first trekking day we hiked from the village of Sheikh Hussein to a place named Adedenico (WP 4) in the beautiful canyon of the Wadi Shebelle (river).

 

Blossoming aloe plants in the early morning sun at the ″guesthouse″ of Sheikh Hussein.

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For the first three trekking days my group included a militia man (supposed to protect us) and a muleteer with his mule. These two additional people were not needed. I assume that they had been included to bring more money to the village of Sheikh Hussein. The muleteer never stopped complaining that the trail was too difficult and that his mule was tired. Fortunately, they returned to Sheikh Hussein as planned after three days. We then bought a donkey, and Gebru, Numan, Mahmood, and I continued our trip without additional people.

 

From left to right: Mahmood, the militia man, Numan, and the muleteer loading the mule.

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Leaving Sheikh Hussein, with from left to right: Numan, Gebru, Mahmood, the militia man, and the muleteer (hidden by his mule).

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For about 8km we followed a wide trail (created by herds of cows and camels) on flat terrain.

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We then reached the rim of the canyon of the Wadi Shebelle and started our descent into the canyon (WP 3).

 

View of the canyon toward the southwest.

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Views of the canyon toward the northeast, first from the ridge, then from a lower elevation.

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At the bottom of the canyon, with a view of the slope that we had just descended in the photo on the left.

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Thorny acacia horrida.

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Desert rose trees (adenium obesum).

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A thin, but tall termite mound.

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Two entwined trees.

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Liana.

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Honeybees had installed their beehive in a tree trunk. Then local people harvested the honey by chopping out a bigger hole.

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Reaching the Wadi Shebelle. This large river has its source on the northern slopes of the Bale mountains. After heading northeast, it makes a 90dg turn toward the southeast and eventually flows into Somalia towards Mogadishu. During most years, it dries up near the Indian Ocean coast.

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This area of the Wadi Shebelle is populated by a Somali-related tribe called the Waradoube (spelling?), whose members speak a language different from the Oromo language. However, herders from Sheikh Hussein have the right to use a portion of the canyon and the river to feed and water their livestock. We set our camp near the northern limit of this portion (WP 4), at a place called Adedenico, within a short distance from the river, which was our source of water at this camp.

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In the afternoon the herders bring their cattle to the river for drinking.

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The animals do not drink directly from the river, but from a watering basin built with clay extracted from the river. The mixing of the water with clay in the basin increases its salt content, which helps the animals maintain appetite and body weight.

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Not all sections of the river are as hospitable, however. This crocodile, which sunbathed on the bank of the river only 100m upstream, suggested some caution.

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Later in the afternoon, after setting my tent, I went with Numan and Mahmood to a small Waradoube village located downstream less than a kilometer away, near WP 5. The village was quiet and welcoming.

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Waradoube people in the village.

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On the following day (January 14), I will pass by other small Waradoube villages along the Wadi Shebelle. Their people were the friendliest I encountered during this entire trip. They were interested in seeing me, but they were gentle, quiet and restrained, unlike in most other remote (and less remote) parts of Ethiopia. Waradoube people are hard-working people who raise cattle and cultivate vegetables, maize, and fruits (mangos, bananas...) on the fertile banks of the Wadi Shebelle. In comparison, in a large region around Harar, which is also blessed with good agricultural lands and reasonable amount of water, the main culture (almost a monoculture) is chat (also called khat and qat), a mild stimulant that has long-term negative health and economic effects. The Waradoube people seem to be almost self-sufficient. They nevertheless trade products in markets on the highlands around the Wadi Shebelle, including in Sheikh Hussein. Meeting these people was one of the highlights of this trip.

 

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Links to the various sections of the trip:

 

 

1. Days 1 to 3

2. Days 4 to 6

3. Days 7 to 9

4. Days 10 to 13

5. Harar

6. Addis Ababa and around

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Return to main Ethiopia January 2017 webpage