National Geographic : 1965 Apr
Ethiopia's faces reflect a bewil dering variety of cultures. Her peoples speak 70 different lan guages and follow many creeds. Fusion of this diverse citizenry in to a nation began centuries ago, but the land's rugged nature still hinders the process. Turbaned Christian holy man (left), his Coptic cross respectfully Rover mired in a swamp," said Jim Blair, my companion during four months of roaming Haile Selassie's wondrous empire on the Horn of Africa.* "We heard something coughing in the darkness outside. Next morning we flushed a leopard a hundred feet away." A highway engineer just off the plane from Europe had been listening at the next table. He spoke up: "Sounds like I've come to the land of adventure." And that, I think, is the best way to sum up a country so spectacularly varied that blazing desert wastes lie 15 minutes by air from cool 10,000-foot highlands; that an easy drive from its neon-lighted capital, Addis Ababa, puts you among tribesmen carrying spears and hippopotamus-hide shields. Adventure, in the best sense of the word, comes in many forms these days. For Jim Blair and me, it was swimming with sharks in the Red Sea and with crocodiles in a brown 550 river. It was walking among hawk-eyed Dan- akil tribesmen-and there are no fiercer des ert warriors on earth. It was stepping around hyenas scavenging the dark streets of the old walled city of Harar. Also it was worshiping in 800-year-old Coptic churches hewn from mountain rock. It was watching doctors conquering the ancient scourges of leprosy and elephantiasis, and engineers bridging with steel and con crete the great gulf between Old Testament life and the world today. Above all, it was meeting humans who dwell on the far side of distance and time and culture from one's own environment, and finding them much like one's own neighbors. High, Rocky Heart of an Empire Our travels in Ethiopia, ancient Christian island in a Moslem sea, began on the high road from Addis Ababa to Aksum (map, page 554). *See "Safari From Congo to Cairo," by Elsie May Bell Grosvenor, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, December, 1954.