After a busy season in Bulgaria, the birds flew south and the forest exploded with autumn colors. Time had come for my annual migration to Africa. To my beloved Ethiopia with its timeless pastoral countryside and rapidly changing urban society. What it will bring me this year?
In the last 13 years I’ve experienced the peaceful dictatorship times of Meles Zenawi, followed by the Oromia youth rebellion, the change of government, Covid, and Tigrian war. I didn’t stop exploring new paragliding gems, despite the state of emergency and growing instability. I just can’t resist the Ethiopian beauty of clouds, terrains and people.
The new thing this year was the Amhara rebellion, which, combined with the Tigrian wounds, meant no flying North Ethiopia any time soon. The rest was also complex; the whole country was boiling with conflicts in Oromia, Somali, and diverse ethnic groups striving for recognition and autonomy. Foreigners are usually not a target for these internal affairs, but you can always be at the wrong place at the wrong time, like the torched buses and killed people at the end of our trip. In the preceding months, I was absorbing all available information about attacks, killings, and places, trying to understand motives, patterns and trends, evaluating the risks for the pilots I guide during my XC tours in Ethiopia. \
When I arrived in Addis, locals were afraid to go outside the city because of the latest fashion – kidnappings with policemen brokering the ransom. I’ve heard various stories from direct sources, but I refused to believe that the hard working farmers at the scenic canyon I fly near Addis would corrupt that easy. The beauty and the spirit of the place should seal it from bad and modern things. And indeed, we went there for few tandem flights with friends. We got invited by a welcoming priest in St Tadewos monastery at the bottom of the canyon, ate tasty injera in the community kitchen, and had a kind of baptizing naked shower in the church yard surrounded by dozens of white dressed people. In bad times, westerners hide and self-isolate in their shells, while Ethiopians continue sharing, spreading good vibes and uniting with friends and positive people. These signs of light made me confident about our Christmas and New Year trip, and after a solo exploration trip in Bale mountains, I was ready for new adventures. The timing of Bale trip matched the peace negotiations between the government and Oromo Liberation Army, and despite their failure later, I felt the hearth of Oromia peaceful enough.
Few weeks passed, more crazy stories happened when I stole my wife again, got married and went into hiding from her tribe. Then, at the Christmas eve, my Bulgarian friends arrived and we hit the road for 2 weeks.
For years, I was flying and guiding in North Ethiopia, enjoying the impressive Semien mountains and reaching almost 6,000 meters near Lalibela rock hewn churches, but South Ethiopia is something different. The Rift Valley is channeling the winter North East winds and the lee sides of numerous mountains create powerful convergences. My paragliding imagination exploded during my last-year exploration of Southwest Ethiopia. On each flight, I was finding 2-3 new take offs, flying them the next days, and finding other new take offs. This geometrical progression of new sites and XC lines discoveries made me feel like in paragliding paradise. You just imagine something, and it not only happens, but also brings new ideas and horizons. In my life quest for freedom, I’ve seen different kinds and paid their prices, but most of them feel empty afterwards. This one is a special – a generous freedom with long-lasting sweetness and smile, energizing and addictive.
Our South Ethiopia adventure XC tour went beyond expectations. Flying over 100 km every day over new terrains, crossing Rift Valley and Bale mountains, touching Gasera gorge and the kissing Dundee lakes, discovering new take-offs…
Of course, everyone of us got stories with excited mobs and being arrested. Once, I landed near a military camp, and soldiers were running towards me with AK-47 pointed at me. Later, I was told that they were very close at shooting me during my landing approach, despite my bright red wing. People are quite paranoid about drones which kill people in Amhara. The news of Hamas use of paramotors didn’t come here yet, but fear and suspicion are growing, and paragliding pilots and community need to double their efforts to reveal this beautiful paragliding world. Hiding in our shells will worsen things, let fears grow, and increase risks later.
Thanks to my partners and previous explorations, I have obtained all kind of paragliding permissions, so after surviving the first interactions things become quite easy. A better attitude-changer was probably my paragliding participation in Ethiopian TV shows. And of course, the best are our flights and personal contacts with local people. Hopefully, they’ll be more open to the next paragliding pilot who lands there.
The El Nino domino effect caused a wide zone of instability in Indian Ocean, which lasted for months, flooding Kenya and Somalia in November and making sky hazy and more cloudy in Ethiopia. The extra moisture in the air made conditions surprisingly smooth, while still enjoying solid 3-4 m/s climbs and 4000 m cloudbases.
The whole trip was supported by Ozone and their new Zeolite 2 was the perfect balance between safety and performance with excellent glides at higher speeds, collapse and stall resistance.
Next South Ethiopia adventure XC tour is planned from 23rd December till 3rd of January 2025 for maximum 4-5 pilots. Christmas and New Year are ordinary days in Ethiopia, pleasantly away from the shopping and must-be-happy madness in the rest of the world.