Ethiopia - charming chaos
Updated: May 26, 2021
When I first thought of Ethiopia usually pictures of starving children and a hostile and infertile landscape clicked to my mind. But as often imaginations can be wrong – for sure Ethiopia is still a very poor country and is facing lots of struggles, however the current politic looks promising to improve and various sectors are focusing on development. One sector is tourism and Ethiopia has a lot to offer – beautiful landscapes, a rich heritage and ancient traditions, amazing wildlife and of course the best coffee in the world (I know my Colombian and Brazilian friends will argue on that one) plus tasty food. Located on the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is one of the oldest independent countries in the world. The country’s Rift Valley is known as the “cradle of civilization”.
Different from other African countries Ethiopia was never under a colonial rule other than an Italian occupation in WWII. As a heritage of this area you can still find Italian inspired food. Amharic is the official language, however you can find many tribes with different subcultures and over 80 different languages.
But what was fascinating me the most were the people – first of all how they master their daily survival and how they succeed to improvise and turn little things into a small income. People are super friendly and keen on meeting that white-colored foreigner to have a chat and for a small insight into their lives. Especially in the countryside wherever you stop you will be surrounded by hordes of smiling children, all trying to get your attention. With a small gesture like taking a photo and showing it to them you can make them smile – but of course they would be even more happy about a little gift. I can strongly advise everybody travelling there to take along bunches of pens or some other little items and the joy you will earn will be overwhelming. In the following post you will see many pictures of the cute little children of Ethiopia.
Of course there are still many severe problems that this country has to solve – as substandard housing or homelessness. The circumcision of young girls is still a common procedure especially in the countryside, resulting in many victims. Lots of education has still to be done in the future. But with a responsible and conscious development of tourism, money can be generated in order to support an improvement here.
Ethiopia is one of the world’s most culturally dense nation, it has an interesting mix between past and present and the countryside is still almost untouched from large tourist crowds. So what are you waiting for?.....
In terms of safety as in any other country you have to be aware and sensible, but I never felt at any point insecure as in some other African countries. Addis Ababa counts to one of the safest cities on the African continent.
Calendar and Time
Needs to be highlighted here as they differ from the rest of the world. If you don’t know about it you might think you have entered a time machine and you will always come on the wrong time when meeting locals.
The Ethiopian calendar is very similar to the Egyptian Coptic Calendar. Each have 13 month in total, 12 month of 30 days and the 13th month at the end of each year with 5 or 6 days, depending whether it is a leap year. The year starts on 11th September (12th in a leap year). The Ethiopian calendar is 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar. Time magic – you are younger here :-)
Now to the time, almost all Ethiopians are using a 12-hour clock system – which is either plus or minus 6 hours from your home time. For example 2 AM local Ethiopian time is called “8 at night”, while 8 PM is called “2 in the evening”. YESSSSS, confusing so ask your guide to have mercy on you and go by the western standard time!😁
How to reach
For the entry into the country a valid visa is required. Many nationalities can apply online for the tourist visa on www.evisa.gov.et – be aware that this is the only official visa website as there are obviously some fraud sites in operation!!
In terms of flight connection there are many airlines flying into Addis Ababa nowadays. The home carrier Ethiopian Airlines is expanding rapidly within Africa as well with further international routes and became now one of the biggest and most modern airlines of Africa. Unfortunately they recently had a fatal plane crash, but I would still consider them as a very reliable airline www.ethiopianairlines.com
Arrival into Addis Ababa
Our arrival into Addis Ababa was, well I would call it interesting. We arrived with Ethiopian Airlines from Dubai. The flight was smooth and also immigration procedures were done quickly, but then came the BAGGAGE BELT. Our fellow Ethiopian passengers were already squeezed around the belt, so there was no way to get even close to it. A never ending stream of baggage started (mainly consisting of huge plastic bundles, no idea how everybody could identify theirs!!). When so many people were loading their fifth piece of baggage on their trolley, I always thought, ok NOW they must be complete and leave, so I get some space to get my luggage, but NO CHANCE – I think I never saw so much luggage coming out from one plane including a couple of huge flat screen TV’s. Some of our group participants who were only travelling with a hand luggage had a big laugh on us. They reached the hotel a good 90 minutes ahead of us ….but I still love to travel with my biiig bag 😋
You can find many international hotel chains nowadays in Addis, which are all of good standard. We chose a local and more budget oriented hotel, the Addis Regency Hotel (www.addisregency.com) – which was simple, but very clean and with super friendly staff. Food was also very tasty, however location is a bit off the commercial center. So if your program is not filled like ours from day to night and you would like to have a neighborhood with shops and restaurants around, you might check out:
Our hotel the Addis Regency from outside and inside.
We were a small group of travelers from Dubai and basically just on a long weekend trip. We only got to see a very small part of what Ethiopia has to offer. Our guide Yohannes was purely AMAZING – super charming, funny and ready to show us all facets of the country, also the not so common ones (you will see that later)😁Therefore we really experienced the country from the side of the Locals.
His agency contact is:
Escape to Ethiopia
Our short-trip program
Day 1 Wenchi Crater Lake
Our first day brought us west of Addis Ababa to the stunning scenery of the Wenchi Crater Lake.
First glance on the street life of Addis
We got a taste of the chaotic street life of the capital when we departed towards the Crater Lake. Traffic is pure chaos with apparently no traffic rules. Streets are packed with people and cars – it is wild, loud and noisy, but also colorful and interesting to observe. So many different details – street vendors trying to make a lean income out of almost nothing, little blue and white colored tuk-tuk’s finding their way through the chaos, heavily loaded donkeys….and so much more. Just emerge yourself in this chaotic world!
The children of the countryside
As I mentioned, wherever you go in this country you will be surrounded by beautiful children. Our first stop in the countryside was at a local farm. Yohannes wanted to give us an insight into their simple life.
The vast majority of farmers still live in the traditional thatched huts, which differ in size and amenities according to the income of the family. The better ones are now made of wood and mud.
But still most of them are without electricity and running water. The toilets are often outdoors…..
Immediately after we stopped the children of the farmer family came seeing us and wanted to have their pictures taken.
This stop was also the first of its kind what Yohannes called a technical stop – which meant bush toilet!! Ladies to the right side of the road behind the trees and gentlemen to the left. Hello nature!
Next stop was a coffee break – unarguably Ethiopian coffee counts to the best in the world. Coffee production in Ethiopia is a longstanding tradition, which dates back to dozens of centuries. Ethiopia is where Coffee Arabica, the coffeeplant, originates. It also comes here with a full coffee making ceremony. The coffee is served in small cups similar to a Mocca. Strong and very tasty. Will get you going the whole day!
On the way to the Crater Lake
We had an interesting 3 hours drive through a varied scenery.
We stopped at a local Farmer´s market and got the center of attention for the villagers.
The Wenchi Crater Lake
We reached the picturesque Wenchi Crater Lake, which is located at around 150 km west of Addis Ababa. The extinct volcano has become a lake with a small island in the middle. The lake is surrounded by beautiful farm land. There is an eco-office at the entry road, where you can hire a guide and pay the permit fee if you travel on your own.
For us everything was arranged and we first enjoyed a tasty pic-nic lunch at the crater rim.
Afterwards we drove down the challenging road. The rest of the way we did on foot. It is a nice little hike passing local farms and grassland.
At the crater bottom we had a little rest in the tranquil environment. Afterwards we climbed on a boat bringing us to the island in the middle of the lake.
There are still some monks living on the island (the monastery was originally built in the 15th century). You can see a small church and the cottages of the monks (only from outside – but you might run into one of the monks who is willing to open the church for you).
The way up I thought to be smart (other than in Bhutan if you have read that Blog 😃) and took a horse. The small boy leading my horse took it as a real challenge towards his fellow horse boys to bring me first on top. That poor kid was basically running the whole way up beside his horse. I felt so sorry for him and wanted to slow him down several times – but no chance! He was so proud to be the fastest and to have the best horse. We completed the track in such a short time that the rest of my group and even Yohannes were wondering where I have gone as we were completely out of sight – but no, I haven’t been kidnapped.
After we returned back to Addis.
Day 2 – Africa’s cultural capital Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital in the highlands bordering the Great Rift Valley, is the country’s commercial and cultural hub and home to around 2.8 million people. Still a big majority of the residents live in poor housing conditions.
St. George Church
Our first stop was at the St. George Church. Outside the church gates many vendors are selling religious items and touristic souvenirs.
Ethiopian tooth brush, anyone?
The cathedral itself hosts many colorful paintings and artefacts. While visiting churches and monasteries in Ethiopia ladies should wear a head scarf and long clothing in respect of the locals.
After we crossed a huge round-about with the statue of Menelik II – an Ethiopian Emperor....
....into a small neighbourhood market, where mainly food was sold as well as the famous Khat leaves, which are native to the Horn of Africa region. Khat contains a stimulant that causes excitement and euphoria. In Ethiopia Khat chewing has a long history as a social custom and is similar to the chewing of Coca leaves in Latin America and Betel in Asia. In Ethiopia and some other African countries the production and sale is legal, whereas in many other countries it falls under the drug law.
We took a stroll through the streets and had our obligatory coffee stop.
The Addis Merkato is the biggest open-air market in Africa and was for me the most impressive visit on this trip. It is amazing how inventive people are in what and how they are selling things. The area is huge – an estimated 13000 people are working here in around 7000 smaller and bigger business stalls. It is just a big WOW.
Yohannes brought us first on top of a commercial center from where we had a great view over the whole area. People and cars seemed like busy ants moving around.
Then we emerged into the hectic market life. Before we entered the market two police guys were stopping our little group. They took it as their responsibility to guard us safe through the market – it wouldn’t have been a problem without them, but was quite a funny picture with our police escort. Unfortunately they didn’t want to get photographed.
Used pots anyone? In that particular street of the market people were busy to take apart kitchen equipment into single pieces and manufacture them into new items. Their skills were really impressive.
Street of the shoe shops – ladies can you find your pair of heels here :-)
Then came the most stunning area of the market – the plastic collector area. I think below pictures speak for themselves!
National Museum of Ethiopia
A visit to the National Museum of Ethiopia was next. But first we had a very good lunch in the garden restaurant right next to the museum.
The museum houses Ethiopia’s artistic treasures and gives you a great insight into the long history of this country. The museum is also home to a very famous resident – “Lucy”. Well, when some members of our group asked in a what’s app group before the travel if Lucy is at home, I thought who the f*** is Lucy???? Yes, I should have paid more attention to history lessons, shame on me. So Lucy is an early hominid. And you can see her or better her fossilized remains in the basement of the museum. The question if she is at home was justified as dear old Lucy is traveling quite a lot and might be on one of her World Tours to other museums. But we were luck: Lucy was in da’ house!
NO! That’s her!!!!
Rest of the day was free, before we all got together for our dinner at Habesha a famous Ethiopian restaurant. Which was great as so far the food we got served was more of an international type, but everybody was longing for some injera bread with some tasty Ethiopian food on top. Injera is a sourdough flat-bread made of teff flour. It is the national dish of Ethiopia as well as Eritrea. The bread will be spread out on a plate and different dishes (mainly kind of stews) are placed on top of it. Some extra Injera bread is served which you take in your hand (always the right one) and grab the food with it. Quite messy if you are not used to eat with your hands, but the food tastes double delicious in this style.
Habesha (www.2000habesha.com) may appear on the first glance very touristic with its dance shows and tourist groups taking their seats. But if you look around you will also notice many locals enjoying the food and entertainment there. Food is tasty and the show gives you a good insight into the culture and local customs.
Poor Yohannes was forced from us that night to take our small girls group out to dance. He brought us to a local bar, where we met some of his friends and danced the night away. Rest is off records :-)
Day 3 Debre Libanos Monastery
Our next and last day took us out to the countryside again. The Debre Libanos Monastery is around 2 hours drive to the north-west of Addis Ababa. It was founded in the 13th century by the Saint Tekle Haymanot who is believed to have meditated for 29 years in a cave close by.
Once you enter the monastery gate you find an interesting monastery museum to your left. Also have a look at the visiting rules, specifically point 2 :-)
Inside the monastery church you will see some stunning glass windows and the colorful interior.
Once you are leaving the monastery through the gate you can find on your left hand side a building complex in which pilgrims are housed. These pilgrims mainly come to the monastery as they are hoping for a cure to their various physical and mental diseases by drinking the water from the holy spring.
Behind this complex you can find a small path leading you up to the cave with the holy spring inside.
Next stop was a VERY local one. Told you that Yohannes always took the extra mile to show us the real life in his country, however that time I wasn’t sure if he might just only take revenge for the night before with poisoning us a bit. He just stopped as usual at the roadside and we were promptly invited by some locals to their home and were offered home-made beer! Well, what to say it tasted ehm let’s say earthy and better not to think about where they took that water from. But we are strong girls and we SURVIVED ..…yes, Yohannes no way to get rid of us, you just earned yourself the honor to arrange more technical stops on the way back for us :-)
On the way to our picturesque lunch stop we saw a baboon family.
Lunch was served pic-nic style on the edge of a breathtaking canyon.
We then took a walk on the edge of the canyon....
.....to the so-called Portuguese stone bridge. A small river is gurgling its way through the bridge and in a cascade down to the valley.
Last roadside impression before reaching back to the city.
I must say that I was really impressed from what I have seen in Ethiopia and it was so different from what I had in mind. I will definitely come back to this amazing country and maybe take some of you with me, as soon as my own little travel groups will be launched.
Behina Huni – Goodbye Ethiopia until very soon!