The Zara Yacob Trail – first steps

Open plains of central Showa

 

Two weeks ago, Equus – read Yves Stranger, the horse trekking outfit’s groom – in – chief - announced it was going to initiate The Zara Yacob Trail at the end of May, Ethiopia’s first highland horse trekking route.

Zara Yacob, one of Ethiopia’s greatest kings, started Africa’s original protected area, issuing an edict in the 15th century that the forest of Menagesha Suba no longer be logged and bringing seedlings from the forest of Wof Washa far away on the eastern Rift Valley escarpment near Ancobar.

Equus wishes to retrace this route on horseback for the first time in five centuries – and yes, we will of course be carrying seedlings from Wof Washa, all the way to Menagesha Suba forest.

 

Horse and boy in Sirti

 

The distance – as the crow flies – is close to 250 kilometres, but Abyssinian ponies are not crows, and the real distance may be closer to 300 to 350 kilometres – we’ll try and do it in six days, reconnoitering routes, possible stops, water points and rivers, and visiting beautiful churches on the way and talking with local people and asking for their advice (and a bed to sleep in, and some barley for sale for our horses!).

As showed in the Google Earth map below, the route follows a generally north-east to south-west direction, crossing the plateaus of Debre Birhan and central Showa long famous for their horse breeding. Today, these same lands produce donkeys for Gojjam, mules for Bale – and polo ponies for Addis Ababa.

 

The Zara Yacob Trail

 

Horse markets are a strong feature of this route with weekly markets in Kottu, Sirti and Guddu all proudly selling donkeys, horses and mules. Racing and showing off are also a strong element of these gatherings and literally hundreds of horses come to market – as they are still used as transport by the local people.

These plains without a single fence for dozens of kilometers are ideal horse breeding and galloping grounds. Welcoming people who live in unique villages, a traditional landscape still given over to pastoralism and plowing by oxen, migrating cranes, bleeding heart baboons, century old Orthodox Churches, old growth montane forests and the superb views from the eastern Rift Valley escarpment, together with the horse markets, make this a true Ethiopian highland experience.

 

The Eastern Escarpment

 

In my first post on the Zara Yacob Trail, I mentioned the Kokada Trail and the GR 10, but have since found something much closer to home, and to the idea I wish to implement. The Çelebi Way is an equestrian route founded a few years ago in Turkey, in which riders – but also hikers and bikers – follow in the footsteps of Evliya Çelebi, an Ottoman traveller who spent forty years traipsing the breadth of the empire, leaving ten volumes of his travels behind.

This route – and many others – has been mapped in Turkey by enthusiastic riders and trekkers, to promote the country and its natural and historic heritage. The Çelebi route is just one among a plethora of other historic routes that have been initiated in Turkey over the last ten years and trekkers – Turks and foreigners – are flocking to them in ever increasing numbers.

How about a trekking route through Tigray? And another from Lake Tana to Axum? Ethiopia, a country with a wealth of beautiful sites, history and a welcoming population, could very easily initiate trails such as these.

Since The Zara Yacob Trail’s first steps two weeks ago, Equus has partnered with a number of organizations to get the idea on the road:

Eminence, Addis Ababa’s premier social entrepreneur and media agency which is organizing a huge seedling exhibition on Mesqal Square for the World Environmental Day on June 5, is going to promote The Zara Yacob Trail to the media and associate it to its seedling event.

Sunarma an NGO which runs an indigenous tree nursery in Wof Washa, will provide the seedlings for the historic ride. Sunarma, with projects near Sirti in Jidda Woreda, in which it accompanies agricultural and development projects, is also interested in initiating community tourism projects.

Why not start a community horse trekking project in Sirti, bang in the middle of The Zara Yacob Trail?!

 

 

Horse country

 

The Ethiopian Heritage Trust with which Equus is now developing trails and overnight treks in their stunning Entoto site where they have planted millions of trees – it’s true, go and see them for yourself – would be happy to plant a ‘Zara Yacob seedling.’

Hoarec’s deputy director, Abdirahman, said he was lacing his boots and itching to be one of the first on the trail –  Hoarec’s many environmental programs in Ethiopia, especially in the Rift Valley, Gambella and the hills and mountains around Addis Ababa, have proven to be ground breaking projects when it comes to initiating integrated conservation projects in the country. Abdirahman, saddle that horse!

Ato Terefe, the owner of the Ankober Palace Lodge, asked about a ‘Menelik Trail,’ and indeed, why not implement a Menelik Trail which would run from Menelik’s first capital – Ancober – to his second – Entoto – finally reaching his third, Addis Ababa?!

Biniyam Admassu, who works tirelessly with the Frankfurt Zoological Society to promote and protect the Guassa Plateau (in Menz, just a few kilometres up the escarpment from Ankober) wanted to know why not have a trekking route that would follow the escarpment all the way up to Menz – and beyond. And why not indeed?

In making this first exploratory trip along The Zara Yacob Trail, Equus only wishes to take the first step on a journey that many more will make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “The Zara Yacob Trail – first steps”

  1. This looks great! I’m an eager mountain biker and hiker (though not a horseback rider..), and I definitely imagine this track as a great route to mountain bike as horse tracks usually are great for biking. Mountain biking is getting big, and european/ameraican tourists travel long distances to do biking on dry trails during the winter moths up north. My mountain biking friends back home in Europe are very keen to go to Ethiopia to bike, but lack of trails has been stoping me from inviting them. I’ll sure check out this trail and invite friends to come over if its good!

    1. Hi Vegard, yes by all means! I’d love to do it. If I remember correctly we drank Beaujolais together once?

      Let’s meet up when I come back from my trip to Dire Dawa and set some dates up. I have other friends interested as well.

      You can see some more pics of the Zara Trail on the Equus Ethiopia Facebook page if you like.

      Best, Yves

  2. …oh, and I love your heading of the Ethiopian sheep from Ludolff’s 17th century history of Ethiopia. I have two pages from it framed on my wall in front of me as I write!!

    Adrian Greenwood

  3. What a great idea!! I’m getting too old for this myself, but 40 years ago I was a volunteer in Debre Berhan, know the highland plains quite well, and did a four day mule trek to Lalibela (no road there in those days!). The experience was exhilarating, and I am absolutely sure that with the right marketing it will really take off, and the idea is as other correspondents have said tailor made for Ethiopian tourism. Go for it!!

    Adrian Greenwood

  4. We welcome the brilliant idea of the Zera Yacob trail. We of the Ankber Palace Lodge have developped a number of trekking areas in the region which would complement those on horse back. We would also be pleased to host the horses and riders at Ankober as a starting or a destination station.
    Yves keep up the bright idea in reviving an adventure that was started 6 centuries ago.
    A more recent trail that could be revived is the Menelik Trail of the 19th century that started in Ankober and ended up in Entoto and finally Addis Ababa.

  5. Lots of ideas coming out – I love it – trekking trails everywhere …
    an image of Ethiopia’s tourism for the future. If there was ever a country made for trekking and trails, on horse, mule or foot it is Ethiopia!
    The government in Amhara region is developing the Tewedros trail – leading from close to Debre Tabor in South Gondar to Mekdela, with a plan to develop community guest houses along the way, and fitting into a couple of the existing Tesfa guest houses in Meket. They are already constructing a community guest house at Mekdela. From Mekdela to Menz and on south to link with the Zara Yacob trail …….
    From

    1. The Tewodros Trail?! Where can I find something about this? Whom can I meet?

      Sounds like a perfect idea and indeed from Mekdela to Menz, it’s barely a mule’s hop away.

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