Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Bale Highlands. Bale Mountain National Park, Ethiopia.
Gradually the mist had lifted, and the sun burst forth, a ball of fire radiating the sky with unnaturally incandescent hues… The scene was now set for the show to begin: the drama in which the broad, breath-taking landscapes of Africa were the stage and the animals the actors.
Hannah Fielding, Burning Embers
One Park, Many Worlds
It is highly likely you have not heard much about the Bale Mountains, since not many people have. If on the other hand you have, you will probably know they have among the highest incidence of animal endemism of any terrestrial place on earth. In other words, there are more animals unique to these mountains than just about any other place on earth that is not underwater.
The national park slogan of “one park many worlds” is entirely appropriate to these incredibly diverse mountains, one of Africa’s greatest natural assets.
Ethiopia is a strange land in so many ways. Two of its iconic endemic species, the Ethiopian wolf and the catbird, are most closely related to species in North America, a place with which it has had no direct land link for the past 300 million years. At that time the most complex forms of terrestrial life were … there weren’t any, only bacteria, sponges, clams and the like. So where did the wolf and the catbird come from?
Then there is the forest giant Schefflera abyssinica, a tree with only two species represented here but that otherwise is well known in Australia, a continent that separated from Africa around 150 million years ago.
Most impressive, from an endemism point of view, are the birds. Ethiopia has more than 860 bird species recorded, and of these Bale has around 282, 16 of which are endemic to these highlands. In fact Bale is rated as one of the four top birding spots in Africa, where you notch up new and rare species just about every time you look up from your bird guide.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Bale Mountain Lodge while photographing and researching this chapter
A Lodge Like No Other
How Bale Mountain Lodge came into being is a novel in itself, so to be brief…. following a family incident, career army officer Guy Levene (colonel, OBE, who was working as a British peacekeeper in Addis Ababa) and his wife Yvonne, cashed in his commission and went off in search of their dream.
The Levenes have poured their prodigious minds and labours into creating a lodge that stands alongside the very best. And green? It is positively emerald. “There is still room for improvement,” admits the always chipper and unpretentious Guy, “but we are as green as we can be.”
The family unit, Jackal House (named for the family of golden jackals that lives in the woods behind), is straw-bale construction. While the main buildings are stone to match the enfolding ramparts, in the treeline are four timber chalets including a fairytale treehouse.
There is no grid to be off here, so their power comes from an innovative micro-hydro-electric generator. They repurpose, recycle and reduce whatever they can.
When it came to setting up the kitchen they had help from a former Gordon Ramsay-trained friend in Addis Ababa. Don’t expect haute cuisine l’Ecosse, but rather a kind of local fusion.
The lodge has been judged runners up in the Safari Awards as the best new lodge in Africa for 2015 – reason enough to open a bottle of local Rift Valley red. Serious nature lovers need to get there.