Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Ethiopian Herald) – After two hours of travel through golden yellow farms of barley and teff; and the violet of potato flowers, our vehicle came to a stop near the sign board of Wenchi Eco-Tourism Association (WETA). Local children encircled us with flowers – fresh and dried ones.

WETA is an admirable initiative with people’s participation. Its office had a traditional ambience. It was on the right side of the road on an elevated place. The well built office had wooden doors and windows. The roof was thatched with metal sheets. Inside everything was set for traditional coffee giving ceremony. Coffee giving ceremony is an occasion when Ethiopians serve pure coffee to their loving guests in a thoroughly intimate and more traditional way.

We met four young official guides there – Dawit, Fayera, Kebede and Ayale. All of them were nicely behaving and had the readiness to serve the visitors. They had enough competence in English language to satisfy curious inquirers. WETA office works throughout a week. A handwritten poster vividly showed the rate of inflow of tourists, countrywide visitors, and the income generated. The approach of the WETA was enough to give us an impression that things are rather transparent and trustworthy.

Taklu and Prof. Zuberi had serious deliberations with Fayera, the WETA official on the trekking, boating and things of interest with Wenchi. We hired one horse for the toddler girl Amel to use. Then a to and fro boating for visiting an island was also reserved. All payments had to be made with the WETA office. 19-year-old Kebede joined us as an official WETA guide. Our vehicle could move only one more kilometre from there when we reached the vehicle stop point. On the right side of the vehicle stop point, was beautifully built cafeteria of Ambo Abebech hotel. It is a place for the travellers to sit and relax. On the left we had our second sight of Wenchi Lake. Now she is a bit closer. Awe inspired by the sight, we started trekking.

Trekking experience

Amel and Dr. Salma Zuberi seated on the horses named Magal and Buzu; and others walking. Payment for the extra horse should be paid to the official guide. Baby boy Ruben found a comfortable seat on a baby-carriage mounted on the back of his father. The dusty pathway was full of rubbles and loose soil. Till the lake, it is almost a downward trail. The trekking here would surely grab those who really love to take an adventurous experience through a perfectly natural mountain trail. Literally there was no chance for a trekker to be absentminded or careless. Cost of absentmindedness, as I had experienced once, was a free fall and then a slide down a few feet forward! I expected breaking of my back, but I was bit lucky. Thanks to a couple of feet thick bed of fine dust! I got my specs immersed in the dust.

As you walk down, majestic sceneries unveil before you. During entire span of your trekking, you find steep mountain on one side and deep valley on the other. Mountains and valleys are covered with flora of diverse colours and varieties. In the valleys, you find barley cultivation. Ethnic vegetations, like Hyginia abyssinica a tree covered with green leaves and red flowers, give you a refreshing break under their shade. “Essence of this tree, seen only in Ethiopia, is used for curing intestinal problems. Hence the name, Hyginia abyssinica”, our collegue explained. ‘Colobo’ monkeys with black and white hair gestured at us. I glanced only once at them. Who wants to look at monkeys and fall down?

At many places, mountain surfaces are exposed – a clear evidence for soil erosion. “Erosion takes place even due to wind because of the loose and dry nature of the soil” Dr. Akhila shared an environmental thought. Pointing to the rings of layers found on the exposed mountain parts, Prof. Zuberi said, “See this is a layer of clay, and that one, of pebbles. White patches indicate calcium”. According to his observation, all these mountains were once submerged under water. “Layers of this kind could be formed only due to sedimentation under water”, he says.

Two-hour-long trekking accompanied by an Environmental Sciences professor and hydrologist was thoroughly enlightening. After each stunning sight they would comment something that would inspire your thoughts. Thousands of years back a huge volcanic eruption occurred. Hot lava flowed for a long time. Whole place and its surroundings were boiling! Once everything was cooled down things started settling down. Lava created rocks. Mouth of the volcano turned into a ridge with rainwater collecting inside. No way to run out, the water has been staying there stagnant. The quantity of water and the frequency of replenishment by rain are very large so that the usual problems with stagnant water are not applicable for crater lakes. Magnificent truths – I thought.

On the way, we found four tourists from China. They were so delighted to know that we were from India and Bangladesh. “China and India are friends”, shrugging, one of them said. During our downward trekking, wherever we got a chance, we gathered as much best snaps of the lake as we could. After two hours, we were on the shore of the majestic lake. The shore was also spotted by a lone building.

When you look from outside, inside of the building is perfect dark. I went inside and saw some people sitting on wooden chairs and chatting. Grass leaves were scattered all over its floor to form traditional carpet – an indication that something auspicious a meeting it was. It was a meeting of the local boat owners, our guide Kebede said.

Sailing on celestial waters
Now, time for boating. There were two small open boats near the shore. One was with wooden body and metal covering inside. The other was smaller fibre boat with two oarsmen. We were led to the smaller one. “What is the seating capacity?” I asked. “Six” replied one of the oarsmen. At the middle of the lake, one of the oarsmen, Asefa Mekonnen shared his acquired knowledge: “Here the lake is 75 metres deep”. Everyone was thrilled at the fact. To me, who had a hidden fear of water, it was an inconvenient truth. After a few minutes we reached the island.

Nestled on the pristine Crater Lake 3,380 meters above the sea level, the island was so tranquil. There was a trail through the woods. It ended at a Christian monastery. The church was closed. “This church opens only if devotees come”, our collegue said. Nobody stays there – even not the priests. The island is owned only by birds and trees.

Here silence is the hallmark and peace of mind is a gift for every visitor. We sat down on the grass-covered terrain, against the lake. Birds started singing songs to entertain us. Every one of us felt so tired and wanted to eat something sitting on this heavenly piece of land. Oarsmen Asefa and Abeta joined us. “If you want, we are ready to boat you a full circle around this island”, Abeta put forward an idea.

Everyone endorsed it, even me. But Astrid wanted to sit lonely and feed baby Ruben. “Is it safe for her to sit here alone?” our collegue asked the oarsmen. “Definitely, there is no problem for her. She will be safe”, WETA guide Kebede assured. That is another admirable quality we find in Ethiopia – women are safer.

We had one full round sailing of the island. It was even more beautiful and captivating. Submerged plants played hide and seek around our vessel. Water sparkled like jade. “Deep colour of the water shows that the lake is too deep”, observed Dr. Elahi. The ridge around us stood aloft with all its grandeur and multiplicities of colours. After a round we joined back Astrid and Ruben on the island. Astrid was sitting on an old log of wood and on her lap was a sweet smiling Ruben. Which baby on this earth dislikes scintillating beauty of nature!

Time for go back. There was a fern-covered old tomb. Mounted on it was a black and white image of the deceased throwing a frozen but friendly smile. Rest in peace! We got into the boat – this time the wooden one. Behind us, the island of monastery went far and far away. Approaching was the shore showing us the way back. During return trip Akhila also needed a horse. Three ladies on three horses and we followed. “Cow girls!” someone commented. Hiking was still more difficult. We took intermittent rest, drank plenty of water. Reached back the vehicle stop point. Had one more view of the Wenchi Lake. She was more bluish. The entire blue sky was reflecting over her body. She is beckoning.

Author’s Note:

The writer, K.P. Sivakumar is a freelance journalist from India. His wife Dr. Akhila S. Nair serves Ambo University as Asst. Professor in Environmental Sciences.

About the Wenchi Eco-Tourism Association (WETA)-

The Wenchi Eco-Tourism Association (WETA) is a local, community-centred initiative which promotes sustainable eco-tourism. Its mission: to improve the livelihoods of local people by promoting ecotourism development through the sustainable use of natural and cultural resources.

Our objective is to create social and economic benefits through ecotourism and to foster the conservation of natural resources of the area.

According to WETA policy, 8% of the service providers’ revenue and half of the entrance fee goes directly to the community in a transparent way for the improvement of its services.

Eco-tourism around Wenchi Crater Lake is a GTZ financed measure started in November 2002 with the cooperation of Oromia Trade Industry and Urban Development Bureau, Trade tourism and Transport Division. The objective is to develop and introduce a consolidated approach for Eco-tourism that can be replicated in other areas and that enhances the sustainable utilization of the natural resources.