Shokolo Ecolodge site is located about 55 km south of Arbaminch on the mountain of Gardula at approximately 2500 m altitude. A rough dirt road joins Gidole town with the southwest edge of the plantation and natural forests on Gardula Mountain and continues to the village of Busa located about 5 km from Gidole town. The location we are interested in for developing the Dirashe ecolodge is situated on a ridge through which this road cuts.
The site overlooks natural forest on the left and views of the Omo and Rift valleys with Lake Chamo on the right. The location is known as Shekolo meaning “valley“, the name given for the lodge.
In the 1980's during the Mengistu regime, the Ministry of Agriculture planted a large plantation of Eucalyptus and Cuppressus trees over the top of the mountain which have since grown into large trees forming a plantation forest of significance today. There is a remnant protected natural forest on the northeast slope of the mountain which provides habitat to a large number of birds and some mammals, such as the black and white colobus monkeys (Guireza spp).
Other natural forests worth mentioning exist approximately 15 km south of the designated ecolodge site near to Dobase and Mashole but are not visible from the Ecolodge site.
Also present is a natural hotsprings in the valley, 36 km north of the site.
Gidole, the central town in the region of Dirashe is surrounded by five ethnic groups; Dirashe, Mosiye, Dobase, Kussume, and Harsse, the dominant group being Dirashe. The inhabitants of Gidole town once inhabited the top of Mount Gardula (~ 2500 m) which the Italians occupied and used as their southern Ethiopia base for more than a decade up until WWII. Ruins of their buildings can be found on the mountain including caves excavated for bomb shelters during WWII and office buildings still intact and being used by the Dirashe regional government as head office in Gidole town. During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie the people of Gardula were resettled from the top of the mountain to present day Gidole town.
There are a number of trails created by the Ministry of Agriculture and by the local inhabitants that cut through the plantation forest, natural forest and along the ridges of the mountain allowing stunning views of the valleys, Lake Chamo and the surrounding plains. At certain points on a clear day it is possible to see 360 degrees in all directions; Konso to the south, Jinka to the West, Arbaminch to the north and Lake Chamo to the east.
The forests harbor a significant biodiversity that if actively protected would thrive and could easily be observed by visitors to the ecolodge and hikers along the trails. The forest canopy creates a pleasant cool environment for walking. It is important that the vegetation cover going to and around the natural hotsprings in the valley north of the site needs to be protected so that the vegetation rejuvenates into a haven of lush paradise attracting visitors with over-story foliage, birds and wildlife.
Coffee has been cultivated and developed in Dirashe since at least the beginning of the 1900’s. Also present is a wide variety of agricultural crops found in the local traditional home gardens. These home gardens together with the coffee and traditional compounds have great potential as forming ecotourism products.
Visitors would be fascinated taking a guided tour through a village where this sort of traditional landscaping has been well designed. The coffee plants and associated indigenous canopy trees planted along with the other local crops in attractive arrangements such as along trails and around traditional compounds will provide shade for humans and will attract abundant wildlife such as small mammals and birds.
Though the Dirashe cultural dress is no longer commonly worn in Gidole, Busa and their surrounds, quite a number of rural lowland Dirashe such as inhabitants of Walisa, Shilale, Wolaite, Kusume, Kayama, and Arguba wearing the cultural dress and hairstyles frequent the Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday markets in Gidole town making these markets very colorful and culturally interesting. Cultural dress can be encouraged amongst the people in and around Gidole as well to make visits more interesting for tourists. Other cultural aspects that can be promoted and developed for such tours are the construction of traditional houses where one can find or observe pottery making, traditional handicrafts and arts, local food and drink tasting, and the promotion of cultural ceremonies and dances. Guided tours to the most interesting of these can be developed. Individuals participating in the cultural demonstration sites should be encouraged to wear the traditional clothing to enhance the cultural tour experience.