As part of our school summer holiday, we decided to visit three countries in Africa that we were hoping to be completely diverse and equally stunning. We flew in to Addis Ababa and started our African adventure in Ethiopia. We had a bit of a shock at first, finding our guesthouse in a particularly dilapidated area of the sprawling city; bricks and rubble made it tricky to navigate, crumbling buildings piled up each side of us whilst daring men smoked against their tiring walls. We looked a bit out of place, to say the least!
Still, our guest house was a tranquil recluse that we were able to recover from the long flight at and eat wonderful shakshuka for breakfast; a tradition north African dish made up of eggs and tomato. We visited Tomoca, the first coffee house of the country now known for its bean. We also explored the Red Terror Martyrs museum and learnt about the horrific and relatively recent history that murdered thousands under the Communist Derg rule in the 1970s to 80s. Overall, we found Addis more and more enjoyable each time we returned back, which happened to be quite a few times due to our flights around the country (unavoidable because of our tight schedule). Each time we returned, we stayed in a different area and saw varying personalities of the city. We went out partying with the locals one night, hung out with an old lady from England but had lived in Ethiopia for years and had established herself as a white Rastafarian, got dodgy tummies in a sex motel that happened to be recommended in the Lonely Planet guide book, but overall enjoyed the diverse nature of the city.
We spent some time in the north of the country and went on quite epic trip to the Danakil Depression, which was one of the reasons why we wanted to visit this beautiful country. We had heard that the Danakil was one of the most hostile places on earth due the extremely high temperatures, but also tremendously scenic and adventurous- how you might imagine Mars. We had to book this trip as part of a tour guide as it’s pretty much impossible to get there by yourself. We felt a little unprepared when we met our companions- two guys from Germany who were currently aid workers in war-torn Sudan and had popped to the Danakil for a ‘weekend break’. They had hiking boots and GPS gadgets with them; we had Converse trainers and suntan lotion. We drove over black rock for hours until we reached camp where we were to wait until the sun went down before we were to hike for 3 hours to a volcano to set up camp and sleep.
Camp was an army base for Ethiopian soldiers on the lookout for attacking Eritreans. There were many scarecrows set up in the army uniform to warn passers by. There were no toilets and we were told if we needed to go, we should inform someone in uniform so they wouldn’t shoot us. Great… One of the soldiers noticed the scars on my legs and asked me in which country I fought in and was shot at. I felt very lame when I told him it was actually just a car crash and I hadn’t fought anywhere. He then proceeded to show us the remains of his ear where he had been shot in the head.
We set off at 5pm carrying two bottles of water and small rucksacks. By this point, the temperature had dropped to about 57 degrees (still burning the soles of our feet through our trainers, but nevertheless cooler than what it was earlier in the day!) and with the sun rapidly disappearing, we knew some of this walk would be in pitch black. After about 5 minutes, I started feeling a bit strange but I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. We carried on but I was getting slower and slower and our group were quickly disappearing ahead. Within about half an hour, I was spewing up any water Mike was giving to me, hallucinating and couldn’t stand up! I had stopped sweating and had goose pimples. We knew something was probably really quite seriously wrong and we had actually just finished watching Levison Wood’s ‘Walking the Nile’ and had seen the episode where one of the travel journalists, Matthew Power, had tragically passed away from heat stroke in Uganda. We both had this at the back of our minds and made the decision not to carry on. By this point, it was pitch black and no one from our tour group was around, including the guides. We crawled back to base camp very slowly and luckily didn’t get shot by the guards thinking we were Eritreans (!). Mike was a hero and kept pouring water over my head to cool me down and stayed up all night in our cave that we slept in to make sure I was ok. There were a few other people who hadn’t made it and the next morning, reports of very sick people came flooding back from the volcano. Still, we made it back alive and that’s what counts!
Lalibela was a definite highlight of our Ethiopian trip. The churches were spectacular and fascinating to see. It really is incredible how they were built in to the ground. We found the church community very difficult to get our heads around. The poverty was very clear was seen everywhere. However, the holy people of the town were lording in the money from tourists, charging a small fortune for us to see the churches, and it was pretty obvious it wasn’t going back in to the community.
We also visited Arba Minch, south of the capital, which again, was completely different to the north of the country. Arba Minch was luscious and green and reminded us of Jurassic Park. We had a wonderful hut high up with a great view of the mountains. We were often accompanied by wandering warthog mummas and their babies. We went on a ‘safari’, which I can’t really compare as we had been on other safaris in Zambia and South Africa, and this was more like a nice long walk in the wilderness occasionally spotting a zebra a far distance away, and an alligator or two lounging around. We hired a guy with a tuk tuk for a day to take us to the Dorze tribe villages, where we had an excellent time learning about the uniquely built huts, visiting the local market, and even drinking the local brew with the men of the village.
Whilst Ethiopia was definitely testing at times, this country was simply magnificent with an array of culture and wildlife. Gone are the days of the fly-filled Oxfam adverts that we so readily associate with the country.
We visited Ethiopia during July 2015.