NOLS: National Outdoor Leadership School Home
  Current Issue
Summer 2003 Issue
    Cover Article
    Message from the Director
    Alumni Trailblazers
    Alumni Profile
    Issue Room
    Wild Side of Medicine
    Expedition Photography
    Expedition Planning
    Chapter Update
Leader Archives
  Address Update Form

Online Gift Form

Contact Us

Alone on the Edge of Time
By Alisha Laramee

Part 1 | Part 2

At last I am here—in Ethiopia, a country on the eastern edge of Africa, the horn of Africa, the sub-Saharan, the birthplace of humankind. Here I am for adventure. Despite the 66.5 million people, I feel alone, far from the familiar, far from medical facilities, far from loved ones—far away. Yet, there are also elements of familiarity and comfort in this cultural exploration and hiking expedition. I’ve been this remote before and know the potential consequences. It’s strange that this world of adversity and fragility can feel comfortable. But working in the mountains and on the ocean has taught me how to thrive and enjoy this type of life. I embrace it here on the edge of my personal comfort zone, it is here that I learn the most and feel the most alive. But this time is different—I travel alone.

This expedition to Ethiopia is not about climbing the highest peak, running an unknown river, or spending 75 days in the backcountry, though I value those experiences. Usually, my personal expeditions are about personal growth and understanding. Expeditions teach lifelong lessons and unite me with new cultures. This journey is no different.

I leave for the mountains from the city of Gondar before first light, while the muffled and scratchy speakers project the call to Morning Prayer over the town. The intonation of the song resonates over rooftops, by doorways, and through the cloth that covers windows. There are a few kerosene lanterns glowing in houses, but mostly it is dark. On my way to the bus station I walk past silent shadows and silhouettes of people carrying loads of hay or rice on their heads and shoulders. It is market day.

In the bus station, drivers shout names of destinations: “Lalibela! Lalibela! Axum! Axum! Debark!” In the dull light of dawn people run to board the buses before the seats are filled. I am lucky to share a two-person seat with three others. Such is travel in Africa. I leave the station aboard a colorful bus that meanders drowsily through the narrow streets. The bus driver swerves slowly around children, goats, mules, and bikers—an obstacle course of moving objects that no one seems to mind. There is one tape of music that plays four songs repeatedly during the five-hour trip. I am grateful for the slow pace and start to relax a little as we climb into the highlands.

I bounce along surrounded by a sea of white cloth, the traditional clothing for Christian Ethiopians. In Ethiopia, I was told the safety of the bus ride is not determined by the physical condition of the vehicle but by the religious affiliation of the driver—Muslim or Christian. A friend said the Muslim drivers believe that Allah controls their fate, therefore, there is no need to slow down around sharp corners with a 1,000-foot drop off. The Christian bus drivers, however, believe that fate is in their own hands and every action they take will be judged at the gates of heaven, so in general they drive much slower. As a self-imposed rule, I try to travel in buses with Jesus memorabilia.

When I arrive in Debark it’s dusty and hot. People walk barefoot along the road hidden in the shade of their black umbrellas. I take refuge under a weathered baseball cap. Here, in the highlands, the sun feels closer to me, but I feel closer to the earth, like my skin is starting to blend in with the burnt tones around me.

This is where I begin hiking into Simien Mountain National Park, located in the northcentral portion of Ethiopia on a massive high altitude plateau. It is a well maintained park with trails that eventually lead to Ras Dashen (4,620 meters), the fourth highest peak in Africa. The park is home to people, livestock, and a variety of flora and fauna, including four endemic animals. The farmers are allowed to grow crops in the park and the domestic animals can graze there. For the people who live within the park boundaries, it is their home first and a national park second. Feeding the family is what is most important. Yet, they respect the land, and need it for survival, so there is an invested interest in the park.

Here I find wilderness as far as the eye can see. Ethiopia appears far more remote and empty than I imagined when I began this expedition. Already something doesn’t feel right, and I’m scared, but I don’t know why. I remind myself that I’ve been this remote before. I know the potential consequences and I accept the risk, and usually embrace the adversity and fragility of this type of travel. I feel comfortable in the journey of the unknown. Working for NOLS in the mountains or on the ocean has taught me how to thrive and enjoy living like this. So why do I feel uneasy?

As required by park regulations, I must hire a ranger who carries a Russian rifle. I’m told that because of the most recent civil war with the now newly recognized country Eritrea, and because of bandits, an armed ranger is necessary. Brono doesn’t speak much English, and my Amharic is limited to a few learned pleasantries. We manage to communicate through laughs and sign language, but we end up hiking in silence most of the day.

Part 1 | Part 2

If you're not getting The Leader in the mail and you want to, click here.

Alumni Trips
Alumni Courses
NOLS On the Road
Leave No Trace Master Courses
NOLS Top of Page
NOLS Home About Us Courses Wilderness Medicine Institute NOLS Professional Training Alumni Store Donate Account NOLS Home Parents Press Room School Resources Photos NOLS.TV Events WRMC The NOLS Blog Introduction About Leadership History Mission & Values Profiles Partnerships Frequent Questions Find a Course Skills School Locations School Locations Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit Find a Course Skills School Locations Course Types Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit NOLS Pro Home 1-3 Day Courses 7-30 Day Courses Risk Management Staff Clients Design Your Course Contact NOLS Pro NOLS Pro 1-3 Days 7-30 Days Risk Management Clients Contact Us NOLS Pro Design Your Course NOLS Pro Staff Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Case Studies Overview Administrative Training Staff Training Consulting Conference: WRMC How to Apply Apply Online Download an Application Admission Policies WMI Home About WMI Courses Schedule FAQ Photos & Movies Curriculum Updates Employment Sponsors WMI Home About WMI Admissions Courses Schedule Host a Course Resources Gallery Alumni Home Trips and Events The Leader Alumni Chapters Employment Staying in Touch Volunteer Photos & Videos Home NOLS Photos NOLS.TV The NOLS Podcast NOLS on Flickr Leave No Trace Overview Leave No Trace Principles Leave No Trace Master Educator Courses Host a Course Contact Map of Events Dream Expedition Leadership Week Press Room Images for the Press Archives