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Planning a trip to Ethiopia this fall...14 days total, including travel time from US. Torn between an organized tour and independent travel for this one. Thoughts? Suggestions? Tour companies you've used before? Two 40 year olds will be traveling, so want to make sure we are in the right crowd. Would love to hike in the Simiens and hit Lalibela plus other sites. Any thoughts would be appreciaed

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    I doubt you will find a whole lot of people on this forum who have been to Ethiopia -- but I know that Maxwell went last fall, and I was there in December. Maxwell traveled independently and wrote a very detailed trip report, which you can find through a search. My trip was a guided one through a company called Dinknesh Tours, and logistically went quite smoothly. I can recommend Dinknesh if you want a guided tour. I have not written my report yet, but we went to Addis, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum and Lalibela. We did not go to the Simiens.

    My view on the independent/guided question is that Ethiopia is a relatively difficult destination to do by yourself, and having a guide smooths out the bumps a good bit. This appears to be the sentiment expressed in the Bradt Guide (which is the best Ethiopia guidebook), and also seemed to be Maxwell's conclusion as well. Then again, I much prefer to have a "babysitter" rather than trying to do things on my own, but some travelers prefer the adventure in muddling through and discovering things themselves. So the bottom line, I suppose, is that it depends on your personality and goals.

    If you would like to read a lot of talk among indpendent Ethiopia travelers, there are quite a few of them on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum.

    If you have any other specific questions, feel free to ask.

    Chris


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    Lisa -

    Contact sarah@fanzendenportfolio.com who is located here in the states and specializes in Ethiopia; can arrange whatever you're considering. Has lots of experience with East Africa, knows her stuff w/ competitive pricing. She's been most helpful to me when I've had clients who were extending into Ethiopia.

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    I have traveled very little (for e conomic reasons, not desire)but my 32 year old daughter and I spent a week in Et last August. We visited 2 World Vision children which was the real focus of our trip and was a wonderful journey into the real Et. We arrived at the airport in Addis and picked a taxi driver and just sort of winged it and did fine. Our biggest problem was we were there in the rainy season which cancelled our trip to the Blue Nile Falls and meant a long day in a domestic Et airport, not recommended. We did get to Gondar which we enjoyed very much but which can be covered in less than a day. I am over the hill, so we went on the modified Simien trek.
    Avoid a company called Simien treks (I think); they are listed in Lonely Planet, but their head guy lied to us a number of times which took us a while to figure out. He lied about airline arrangements, when the market closed, the quality of hotels (I'm sure he had a piece of the action), etc. i think he had 'connection

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    I have traveled very little (for e conomic reasons, not desire)but my 32 year old daughter and I spent a week in Et last August. We visited 2 World Vision children which was the real focus of our trip and was a wonderful journey into the real Et. We arrived at the airport in Addis and picked a taxi driver and just sort of winged it and did fine. Our biggest problem was we were there in the rainy season which cancelled our trip to the Blue Nile Falls and meant a long day in a domestic Et airport, not recommended. We did get to Gondar which we enjoyed very much but which can be covered in less than a day. I am over the hill, so we went on the modified Simien trek.
    Avoid a company called Simien treks (I think); they are listed in Lonely Planet, but their head guy lied to us a number of times which took us a while to figure out. He lied about airline arrangements, when the market closed, the quality of hotels (I'm sure he had a piece of the action), etc. i think he had 'connections' everywhere. Once he passed us on to the guide for the Simien trek, that guy was exemplary. We thought we might not need a guide, and we were met at the site by a group of charming shepherd boys who probably would be very cheap guides. However, this blessed guide, plus the shepherd boys took me by each elbow and practically carried this out of shape 60 year old to the site. I did not have hiking shoes and I highly recommen

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    Well, I am embarrassed that my darn reply multiply posted and incompletely, so I wrote some more in documents to cut and paste: On our way down from the Simien hike,(I said it was UP the mountain, but my daughter kept saying we were only going AROUND), we stopped at a craft place run by and for single mothers in Et that had nice things and for a nice cause. There were silkworms right on the sidewalk where we walked (carefully). We tried to be conscious of using our money in good places. We also found a charitable organization.that sells meal tickets for 25c that are worth 50c at certain sponsoring cafeterias. We bought $50.00 worth and used those to hand out to the beggars which are overwhelming and troubling in number. We wished we had found them earlier in the week. I know the name of the place is listed in Lonely Planet, but my daughter bought the Et book, and I bought one for Kenya. Next to it was an interesting old shop, though I only felt confident buying if I had a native person w me. After the one guy wasn't so great, though he did give a good tour of Gondar, we found an absolute gem of a taxi driver outside the Atlantic Hotel. I think there are 2 Atlantics, but this is the one the airline uses (remember we had a rainout). This guy spoke impeccable English, could not have been more gracious and a gentleman, and I sincerely count him as a friend. If you want his name, my daughter did much better w the language than I. I found ET an impossible language. Phonetically, I remember his name as something like Shilayly. We paid him $5.00 an hour for car, gas and his services, and I would not be caught dead in the Addis flea market without someone like him to help us avoid the bad elements and to help us know what was a good buy. He helped me find a legitimate 100 year old enjerra basket for $20.00 with a silver ring included).

    We stayed in one place that was only $7.00 a night, and although it was no Ritz, we would rather spend our $ on meal tickets and we were fine. It looked a little scary to me when we first arrived, but we soon found it was an interesting and amiable group of people. There was a small hole in the wall Internet place across the street and we were able to check and send email and to download our pics to CD's. There was another hotel we stayed in Addis that was a little nicer, but the toilet fell over on me, so I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. Both places were recommended in Et Lonely Planet. I wanted lots of pictures and wasn't sure how to handle tipping, but I found if I just asked first and showed the pic to them on my camera, they were content. I fell in love with their beautiful faces. I made a point of looking them in the eyes, person to person, trying to communicate my love and respect for them. One of the best things we did was take a polaroid camera because we could give those pics away and they were thrilled. Next time, I would take baggies for them to keep their pics in because I realized their housing had precious little in the way of storage space. While I took the polaroids, my daughter , who is a better photographer, could take the most beautiful portraits of them because she did not have to rush.

    We also took donations to 3 AIDS orphanages which I was determined to do, but I would not do over. The logistics were overwhelming, and next time I would take cash.

    World Vision provided us transportation from Addis to these kids who were 5 hours away on a drive that I could not believe we, the goats, sheep, cows, camels, and even young children herding the animals survived. It was harrowing, but it felt like a National Geographic tour into their mountain countryside, and I was going crazy that I could not take pictures of one beautiful or touching vignette of rural life after another. I did the best getting pictures of people when the taxi driver and I sat in the taxi for an hour while my daughter hiked some mountain with a guide in a trench coat and long rifle to see the one rock hewn church in Addis.

    I would love to go back. The people, in spite of unbelievable hardship and poverty, were gracious and hospitable. The only bad experience we had in the week (well, two actually—the domestic airline was bad on a rainy day) was the guide for Simien Treks. I was very frustrated because I will never be able to go back, and we lost a lot of precious time due to weather and their slow motion, everything shuts down for a few hours at lunchtime while they all go to church, pace. Make sure you plan around the lunchtime hours. It is a hard country to visit because the main sites are very far apart, especially with their poor roads. We did fine buying our domestic plane tickets after we got there, and we got a considerable discount because we used Et airlines for our international flights. Good luck to you. I wish I could come along.

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    I went to Ethiopia a year and half ago and it was a thrill. Some tips: you must have an interpreter. Even though the national language is Amharic, the dialects are so diverse, that they are almost separate languages. Also, I think a tour guide is a must. There was a guy I used who was absolutely fantastic. His name is Solomon Berhe and he is based out of Addis. He books up easily and may not be available for a fall trip (I'm going in November and booked him around the first of the year). He has a web site so if you e-mail his office they could tell you his availability and/or recommend someone else for you.

    If you like roughing it (camping), I loved the Gerhalta region and the rock hewn churches there. It is near Mekele and Solomon is very familiar with the people and places. Have a great time!

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    I would suggest that as you have only 14 days you join an organised tour. There are a couple of reputable operators in the UK www.explore.co.uk and www.exodus.co.uk
    www.adventurecompany.co.uk

    Even if you decide not to join their tours the itineraries they follow might be helpful.

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