Sarah Erdman is a writer and editor at National Geographic Expeditions and the author of the award-winning book Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, about living in a West African village as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Maybe it’s Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old hominid uncovered in the Afar Triangle in 1974, or the majestic permanence of the Great Rift Valley, but a sense of returning to the root of everything pervades Ethiopia. Everywhere, what is ancient is alive and well. And though Ethiopia’s cities are modernizing fast, you never feel divorced from the essence of the land.