4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

When asked why she wanted to visit Ethiopia, Murphy couldn’t exactly say why. It could have been the stories that she heard in her childhood of the Queen of Sheba and the history of the country named Abyssinia. It was a difficult country to explore and those that did make it there sent back reports of a mountain empire that told of its beauty, danger, solitude and mystery.

Her first glimpse of the country was from the boat she was arriving on and after she passed through the long process of immigration and customs she was ashore. She found somewhere to stay and drank five pints of talla, a light highland beer. After a nights sleep, she tried the staples of Ethiopia, injara and wat before taking a walk around the city. The plan was to walk across the highlands of Ethiopia, but walking uses a different set of muscles to cycling and carrying a heavy bag turns her feet into a bloody mess.

After a failed attempt, she was taken to a place where there were six mules to choose from. The one she picked was a docile animal who she could handle well. She called him Jock after a dependable friend. Learning how to load him was to be a steep learning curve and finding the correct equipment for Jock a few days after she departed would be a blessing. She was looking forward to this trip very much, but the locals were concerned that she would be attached by the shifta, the local criminals of the region.

It was blissful to be on my own again – alone in a region that looked more grandly wild and felt more utterly remote than anywhere else I have ever been.

Even though she was bored by geography when at school, she found her niche when travelling and this trip was just the sort of thing that she needed. There are good and bad days, reading about her robbery is unsettling as the punishment given out to her attackers is equally grim. She develops a strong affection for the highland people and their way of life and like to listen to the calls they make across the thin mountain air as she walks with Jock.

I liked this book a lot. Murphy is a stubborn traveller who will not be dictated to by anybody when she has made her mind up. This belligerence is not insensitivity to the people around her and that she meets on her walk with Jock across the highlands of Ethiopia, but it helps her overcome her internal fears about what she is doing. Her descriptions of the landscape are what makes this particular book for me, the harshness has its own beauty that she conveys really well.

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