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Travel

Dec 15, 2018

The Bale Mountains: Formed by Fire and Ice

Located in southeastern Ethiopia, 400km from Addis Ababa, the Bale Mountains are a landscape created by volcanic fires and shaped by glacial ice, home to some of the rarest creatures in the world.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

Located in southeastern Ethiopia, 400km from Addis Ababa, the Bale Mountains are a landscape created by volcanic fires and shaped by glacial ice. The highlands are almost always ringed by clouds and covered in mist, rain or sleet. Giant lobelia plants stand guard over the undulating plateau and its numerous glacial lakes and swamps. You are surrounded on all sides by volcanic ridges and peaks.

Garba Guracha or ‘black water’, one of the many alpine lakes that dot the park. Photo: Sarah Kingdom

Only about 150 or 200 people a year trek in the Bale Mountains, and on our visit we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We didn’t see another trekker for the entire week we were in the park, and if it hadn’t been quite so cloudy when we climbed to the top of Tullu Demtu (Ethiopia’s second highest mountain at 4,377m) I know there wouldn’t have been another person below us in this spectacular, ethereal landscape, for as far as the eye could see.

The seemingly endless, undulating plateau. Photo: © Sean Sikinger

Many of the things that live here are found nowhere else

Averaging 4,000m above sea level there is nowhere else like it on the African continent, a place where natural selection has been hard at work; plants, animals and birds have all been fine-tuned to withstand the extremes of temperature, oxygen depletion, fierce winds and extreme ultraviolet radiation. The result has been the creation of an ecosystem that is one of those rare and rarefied places, where many of the things that live here are found nowhere else. There are more animals unique to these mountains than just about anywhere else on the planet!

All of the big-headed mole rats in the world are found in the Bale Mountains. Photo: © Sean Sikinger

The Bale Highlands are home to 20 endemic Ethiopian mammals (5 of which, including the magnificent and endangered Mountain Nyala, are found only here), 12 endemic amphibians, 12 reptiles, 16 endemic birds and all the Bale Monkeys and Big Headed Mole-rats in the world. They are rated as one of the four top birding spots in Africa and it is easy to see why, with such rare birds as the Blue Winged Goose, Abyssinian Catbird, Spot Breasted Plover and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill to be seen. Ethiopia has more than 860 species of bird, 283 of which are found in the Bale Mountains and 16 of which are endemic to these highlands.

In 1969 215,000 hectares of the Bale Mountains were declared a National Park and in 2009 nominated as a World Heritage site. But Bale is not a national park in the normal western understanding of the concept. Somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 people live within the park’s boundaries, divided between local villagers in the Harrena forest and pastoralists tending cattle, sheep and horses on the Senetti Plateau. Stock numbers now exceed the sustainable utilisation of the fragile moorlands, threatening the food source of the rodents, who are in turn the principle food source of all the carnivores, including the Ethiopian wolf.

An Ethiopian wolf stalking his prey. Photo: © Sean Sikinger

The star of the Bale show is undoubtedly the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis Simensis). With its thick, brick red coat on top and white belly below, its narrow snout and lithe body, it looks more like a large fox or a jackal than a wolf. The afro-alpine zone of the park is home to about half of the world’s total population of between 400 and 450 Ethiopian wolves… this is the rarest canid on the planet and Africa’s most endangered carnivore.

The campfire glows inside a cave. Photo: © Sean Sikinger

An even bigger threat to the wolves than the shortage of rodents to eat is the presence of several thousand domestic dogs in the park. These dogs are carriers of rabies and interact openly with the wolves. In 2010 rabies and distemper killed 106 of the wolves (about 40% of the Bale population at the time) and again in 2014 between 30 and 50% of the parks wolves were killed by rabies. The numbers have recovered slightly now, due to a rabies vaccination project and the ‘Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme,’ which attempts to vaccinate 4000 domestic dogs, and all of the wolves in the park, annually. We were lucky to see twelve wolves during our time in the park and also met some of the researchers working with the conservation project as they walked the plateau making notes on the wolves they saw. Conservationists worry that if a viable solution is not found and efforts to control the unsustainable exploitation of the park’s natural resources are not successful, that not only the Ethiopian wolf but a number of other rare and endangered animals in Bale will vanish.

Between 20,000 and 40,000 people live in small settlements within the park boundaries. Photo:© Sean Sikinger

A week was barely long enough to do justice to this beautiful park. We trekked across approximately one-third of the park, starting in the tiny rural town of Dinsho, crossing the Senetti Plateau and finishing in the Harrena Forest. It was a ‘rustic’ style trip, food was basic, to say the least, our cook had a repertoire that consisted solely of rice served with cabbage or pasta served with tomato sauce, and we ate these dishes with regular monotony; always knowing that whichever we ate for lunch, the other would, without fail, appear at dinner! The accommodation was tents, which were tiny but snug and warm and many mornings we awoke to find the outside of the tent covered with a layer of ice. This was an amazing opportunity to visit Ethiopia’s most important biodiversity hotspot and see some of the rarest creatures in the world.

Cover photo: Ethiopian wolf on the lookout. © Sean R Sikinger

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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 25, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 3 – Transforming Your Body

Tony Riddle recommends small changes in our daily lives that will add up to massive lifestyle benefits over time.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony Riddle about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle in line with our ancestors. In Part 1, we introduced Tony’s outlook in Rewilding. In Part 2, we learned about how children internalize behavior from their environment and how we can better preserve their innate abilities. In this installment, Tony discusses how his individualized coaching practices can restore our bodies back to the way they were designed to be.

Training with Tony can help you get in touch with your primal self.

HANG IN THERE

TOJ: When someone comes to you and asks for coaching or attends one of your retreats or workshops, what kinds of changes or transformation are they hoping to achieve?

Tony Riddle: It’s multifaceted. I always use a classic example of my long-time client, Yahuda, who came to me when he was 72. His story gives you some understanding that it doesn’t matter where you are in your evolution, there’s always a point where you can change. He came to me when he was 72, so we’ve been working now for six years together. Initially, he just wanted to re-learn how to walk. This stooped, crumbled up old man arrives at my gym door and his neck is bent forward, his head is bent forward, he’s completely bent in his posture and he wants to learn how to walk.

“Since working with me, he’s walked to Everest Base Camp, Bhutan, the Atlas Mountains, and Mount Kenya.”

I videoed him on a treadmill firstly to show him his posture, because without showing someone what’s happening, they’re subconsciously or unconsciously incompetent. So by showing them the video, they’re now consciously incompetent. He was shocked, “I never knew I walked like THAT!” The first stage with him was to rewild his feet and transform his feet from being shoe-shaped into more wild, natural feet because the foundation is everything. And then I went through various different ground rest positions with him.

Tony demonstrates a series of resting positions that are more natural for our posture than sitting in chairs.

Then we learned how to hang. Hanging is so important for unraveling the spine, lifting the rib cage, opening up the arteries, and even restabilizing where the shoulder blade should be on the thorax. It also develops grip strength. We have all the brachiating abilities as all the other apes, we just don’t hang anymore.

Tony practices his balance on a tree branch.

Once we have all that we start working on the squat. From squatting, we start to walk and so on. Since working with me, he’s walked to Everest Base Camp, Bhutan, the Atlas Mountains, Mount Kenya, and he loves walking.

On the way to work, Yahuda walks to the tube in his Vivobarefoot shoes. Most people ask if he wants to sit because he’s 78. But he doesn’t, he hangs on the bar. When the train’s going he’s hanging, when the doors open he squats. He alternates between hanging and squatting the whole ride. And we’ve just introduced breathing techniques. So he now works on nasal breathing and he does a few breath holds on the tube as well.

Once at the office, in addition to a kettlebell and mobility mat, he has a pull-up bar inside his office with gymnastic rings that he hangs on. At his standing desk, he has a platform that he can stand on with stones in it, so he gets different feedback rather than being on a linear surface.

“If I just make a small change to the way I move today, it will have a massive impact in future years.”

So that’s a person who was completely crumpled up at the age of 72, now at 78 years of age he’ll tell you he’s moving better than he ever has in his whole life. That’s how profound it is. And that’s just by making the small changes.

It’s my understanding that if I just make a small change to the way I move, breathe and eat today, it will have a massive impact in future years. You don’t have to do it all at once, you could pick a month and decide that, “This month, I’m just going to work on my movement brain, next month I’m going to work on my nutritional brain, next month I’m going to work on my breathing brain”. And each time, even if you drop stuff off, you’re still making improvements. Some of it will remain and you’ll figure out what works for you individually. The key to all of this is I have to learn how to be a Tony in this world, not like everyone else. Part of the coaching is to help people recognize that it’s individual specific. On a retreat even, it’s still individual specific. I can hold a presentation and I will be gifting to different people in the room what I feel they need at that particular time and what resonates with them.

Tony offers workshops and retreats to pass on his rewilding practices.

TOJ: When you are teaching someone new coordination for walking or running, are those changes happening in their body or are they happening within the brain?

Tony Riddle: Well it’s both. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the movement brain and the body. We have this obsession with physical muscles, but really there are two systems – you’ve got kinetics, which is the forces and you have kinematics which are the shapes you make to produce those forces.

Let’s take running. Running is a skill, right? In terms of the kinetics of running, there’s gravity. And how does gravity become tangible? It becomes tangible through body weight. I make the appropriate running shapes using the appropriate muscles and tendons to produce that force through body weight. It’s a whole system, a hierarchy starting with perception in the brain and moving down through the muscles and tendons. If you were in a petri dish and you surrounded yourself with amazing movers and you were cultured into that petri dish, your mind’s perception of that environment is how you behave. So everyone ends up as amazing movers. If you have a petri dish full of compromised movers with sedentary, poor hip mobility through to the spine and down to the ankle, and you only observe that behavior, that would be your behavior base. The mind’s perception of the environment is the most important thing and it has to go through that tool before you can make physiological adaptations.

REFUSE THE CHAIR

TOJ: What’s a small change that people can make today to rewild their bodies?

Tony Riddle: For some people, their HR department won’t allow them to have standing desks or they have to drive on their commute to work. Sitting is just part of our culture right now. So my view is that once you get out of that chair, or whatever that sitting position is, do something that will rewild the behavior of standing, which is generally squatting or one of the rest positions. I’m about to fly to LA next week, which is an 11-hour flight, and there’s going to be some brutal sitting going on there. But the thing is, I’ll get a pre-fight squat going, and during the flight I’ll be squatting and post-flight as well.

Even in an airplane, Tony finds space to squat and practice mobility.

TOJ: How do you deal with instances where it’s not socially acceptable to move freely?

“They’re raising socially extreme eyebrows and I’m raising biologically extreme eyebrows.”

Tony Riddle: I used to live between Ibiza and London and I would do two flights a week. I would choose between various different methods. You can kneel on a flight in the aircraft seat. You can even squat in an aircraft seat. You take your shoes off and walk up and down the aisle or go into a larger area and have a squat, move around and do mobility work. And yeah, people might be looking at me as if I’m nuts, but I’m looking at them thinking they’re nuts for sitting down for that length of time. They’re raising socially extreme eyebrows and I’m raising biologically extreme eyebrows.

Check in with The Outdoor Journal next week as we further discuss Tony’s motivation for running barefoot across the island of Great Britain, daily practices for building the body into a “superstructure,” and how Tony moved past childhood trauma and stepped into his power.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

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