Ethiopia Trip Report

Old Dec 13th, 2006, 10:33 AM
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Finally got a chance to look at your photos and they are stunning! You really have some beautiful shots of the children and everyday life. What kind of camera did you use?
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Old Dec 18th, 2006, 04:40 PM
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Thanks Chris, although I still haven’t fully extricated myself from the legal profession so I’m not sure congrats are in order! (Couldn’t resist, I think you are an atty also).
Are you and your wife still doing the chimp walk(s) at Ngamba? I can’t recall where you came out on that. Will post rest of report tonight.

Moremiles: Thanks very much…it’s a cannon C-750 but I’m lucky any of my pictures came out b/c the camera is starting to malfunction...grrr...
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Old Dec 18th, 2006, 05:01 PM
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Linda, yes, I am a lawyer, and I have NO IDEA why ANYONE would want to extricate themselves from the legal profession! I am very lucky because I really love my firm, but I have plenty of friends who are ex-lawyers now doing something else!
And yes we are still going to Ngamba Island, but I don't know whether they are still doing the forest walks or not. Lilly told me that they were going to discontinue them at some point, but I am not sure whether that has happened yet or not. We are staying overnight on the island anyway, whether they are doing the forest walks or not. When we get back in mid-January I will post a report and let everyone know what is going on there at the moment.
I am still very eager to hear about the rest of your Ethiopia experiences, as we will be landing in Addis Ababa in just a few days...
Chris
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Old Dec 18th, 2006, 05:06 PM
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Chris,
I just about choked on my dinner b/c of laughing out loud at your first sentence (as I sit here working on offering documents while I eat dinner...and check Fodors)...

I am going to be very disappointed if you guys do not get to do the walk! You have to meet Pasa and Nakuu.
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Old Dec 18th, 2006, 05:14 PM
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Glad you got a laugh out of it! I do litigation so I don't look at offering documents until someone says they contain a material misstatement. I think they are pretty interesting when it gets to that point ...
We'll be disappointed too if they have eliminated the forest walks, but at least we will still get some good chimp pictures. The gorilla treks are the main wildlife focus of the trip anyway -- Ngamba Island is just an interlude between Ethiopia and the gorillas.
Chris
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Old Dec 18th, 2006, 07:42 PM
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One thing I forgot to add regarding Lalibela is that if you are there on a Saturday night and there is an all night church service – this is definitely worth attending for a bit. I never got a clear answer as to whether this happens every Saturday night. The service started very late at night and ran until after sunrise – you could hear soft chanting all night from my hotel. I didn’t make it down to the churches, as the only person I could find that wanted to go was a guide – and I was a little unclear whether he was looking for money or a date, so I skipped it. I saw some photos later that some other tourists took during the early morning portion of that service and was really sorry I didn’t hightail it down there by myself (their pictures were incredible – tons of local worshipers were at the service).

To get to Harar, I had to fly from Lalibela back to Addis, and then had to sit outside the airport for about three hours since they would not let me wait in the domestic terminal until closer to my flight to Dire Dawa. I would then fly from Addis onto Dire Dawa. From Dire Dawa, I would take a mini bus to Harar.

My flight to Dire Dawa didn’t get in until after dark, and because I had been told by, well, everyone, that it was not safe for me to travel onto Harar after dark, I grabbed a cab at the airport to find a hotel for the night. I found a decent place near the airport for about ten dollars – it was very hot and very muggy in Dire Dawa, and the cab driver had charged me as much as my hotel room for a very short ride, so it wasn’t one of my better nights.

The next morning, I asked one of the local men working at the hotel how to get to where the minibuses were that would take me to Harar. He had only been in town a week, but was very eager to help. I spent a fair amount of time hanging out on the street near the hotel, trying to catch a taxi to the Harar minibuses. After a while, some wonderful local men on the street decide to help me - no one spoke English but I keep saying “Harar” and everyone seemed to understand.

The guys finally get a taxi for me, and I tell the driver where I want to go. He takes me exactly where I’ve instructed him to go…hmmm..this doesn’t look right. (I later learn I have instructed him to take me to the “horse market.”) I decide if I say “Harar” enough he’ll figure it out – we eventually clear that up and off we go. We arrive at the minibus station, which is utter madness. Someone grabs my backpack out of this golf cart type taxi and it is immediately thrown on top of a minibus. That man starts demanding money for touching my backpack, and another man is yelling “get in! get in!” at me. Meanwhile, I’m standing there clutching my other bag yelling “can someone please tell me how much?!” I know the bus ride is about a dollar, but I’m getting a little tired of prices doubling for me and am determined to pay only the local price for the minibus. I finally get a price, and I get in. The bus starts moving and I realize I’m not totally sure I am headed to Harar, as no one ever actually told me I was headed to Harar. I spending the first 20 minutes asking everyone else in the minibus (no other tourists, all the women in hijabs, and no one seems particularly fond of me) saying, “pardon me, could you tell me if this is going to Harar?” I finally get a yes, more money is demanded for my backpack (about 60 cents) but whatever. After multiple stops, we arrive in to Harar. Hallelujah. Riding in a minibus with what seemed like a million other people, crammed into the very back row with my face pressed against the window for some fresh air is not my idea of a good time.

Holy cow. Harar – and in particular, the area where the mini buses drop you off - is complete and utter chaos. A total cesspool. I loved it. The streets around where I was dropped off were completely packed with people, goats, cars, fruit stands, bags of chat for sale, trash, etc etc. Out of the van I go, into a sea of people. (I am the only faranji and so am pretty damn obvious.) Someone on the street immediately grabs my bag and yells “50 birr!” at me. I scream “you’re crazy! Give me my bag!” another man steps up to translate and we settle on five birr. I say the name of where I want to go and he takes off running, darting between the cars, people and goats. I’m running after him, trying desperately not to step on people or their bags of chat. We arrive at the hotel, and I’m told it is 12 dollars a night with only the possibility of running water later. Fine, sounds great. I found out later that almost all the hotels have water for only a few hours a day – I think the water did come on at one point in my hotel, but I missed it.

I had heard that people in Harar weren’t too friendly to outsiders, and honestly, if I had to live there I’d be a tad snippy myself. Life looks hard. Women are shoving me if I am remotely in their way, kids are pinching me and everyone is screaming “faranji!” at me literally every five seconds. Even the goats are being pushy.

I tried to roam around on my own without a guide, but it was really just too hard. If you want a guide, walk to Feres Magala, the central square in the walled city, and you will instantly be approached. Although Lonely Planet recommends getting one of the official guides, I found a student that I immediately liked and set off for the afternoon with him. Having him with me made all the difference in the world – I just didn’t have the energy at this point to “fight” people off every few minutes.

The old city is a wonderful maze of alleyways – it’s only about 1 square kilometer, but has almost 90 mosques. (Supposedly the largest concentration anywhere in the world.) We roamed around checking out the highlights – Adare houses (make sure to check out the teeny tiny room where newlyweds have to stay for a week), Rimbaud’s house, Ras Tafari’s House, the various gates…lots to explore. The city appears to be perpetually high on chat – someone is selling it every few feet. You cannot help but notice on the ride there that countryside is covered with it. I had read this, but thought that people were exaggerating. Um, no. we are talking chat everywhere, people passed out in street, high on chat, trying to get in their last chew. Even the goats are high and were roaming around scavenging for chat. My guide introduced me to some men “guarding” something or another who were just sitting there trying to smoke chat – he explained that their teeth had fallen out due to too much chat, so now they had no choice but to smoke it.

My guide promised to come back to my hotel later with a taxi driver to take me to the hyena feeding. (He was really great – although he wasn’t an official guide, he knew his stuff and did a great job taking pictures for me at the hyena feeding – you can reach him at [email protected] and his name is Biniyam Mengstufiyato.) I think there are two hyena feedings a night at two locations outside the walled city. I also think they are in competition with each other, based on the smack talking that was occurring about the competing hyena feeding. I had not seen any other tourists all day, but suddenly about 15 other tourists appeared at feeding time. Even if you don’t want to feed the hyenas (I think I was the only one that took him up on it, which I thought was odd), you are really only a few feet away from the hyenas. I gasped when I first got out of the cab, as one of the hyenas anxiously pacing back and forth, eyeing the hyena man’s basket of meat practically brushed my leg. My guide assured me they had never eaten a tourist, and it suddenly seemed all very normal. It only lasted about 20 minutes, but was really an exhilarating experience.

I had planned to stay two nights in Harar, but decided to head back to Dire Dawa after I was informed that my hotel was full the second night and I’d have to move. I had really enjoyed Harar, but it was really frustrating trying to walk around on my own, and so I decided to head back to Dire Dawa before my mood turned sour.

On the torturous bus ride back to Dire Dawa (which included a boy smiling sweetly at me and then spitting chewed up oranges on me), almost everyone was transport bushels of chat. At one point, a lady kept handing me her chat to hold. I kept telling her, “I don’t want to hold your chat” and passing it back. This went on for a few minutes – I had nothing else to do and so continued to play “pass the chat” until she gave up. We stopped at every chat market on the way back (about every few feet it seemed). To say that there is a chat epidemic is an understatement. I drew the line when (after minibus change number three), the bus driver attempted to cram me into a seat where I could not put my legs down because the entire floor area was blocked by an enormous bag of chat – this guy really expected me to sit squished against a wall in the fetal position, clutching my legs against my body! (I may have possibly screamed “No! I’m not sitting like this for the chat!” at him. They moved the bag of chat.) Almost three hours later (about three times as long as it should have taken), we arrive in Dire Dawa.

Dire Dawa: ONLY IF YOU REALLY, REALLY HAVE TO

Dire Dawa sucks. Seriously. It’s hot, muggy and there’s not much to do, except get ripped off by cab drivers and swat at the flies that are swarming you. Although sitting outside was not pleasant (hot, stinky and too many flies), it was better than being in my room, which was hotter, stinkier and also had too many flies.

By this point, I had tried several times to reconfirm my flight from Dire Dawa back to Addis, and also my flight from Addis onto Cairo the next day. I had tried this at airports, at ticket offices, hell – anytime I had seen an Ethiopian Air worker I had asked them to reconfirm my flights. Finally, on the Addis – Dire Dawa flight a few days prior, an Ethiopian Air employee reconfirmed my flight from DD to Addis.

Before I left my hotel in DD the next morning, I spent some time on the phone with Ethiopian Air trying to get them to reconfirm my flight to Cairo the next day. Man on phone says I have to go to the actual ticket office in Dire Dawa. I tell him this is insane – and explain that I have tried repeatedly to reconfirm this flight in offices and everyone says I have to call. We go back and forth, I decide to ignore him and head to the airport for my flight to Addis.

I get to the airport and learn – surprise – there’s about a six hour delay to Addis. I think, “Great! With six hours to kill I bet that is just about enough time to reconfirm my flight to Cairo.” I head to one of the Ethiopian Air offices in the airport, and the conversation goes something like this:
Me: “I need to confirm my flight to Cairo tomorrow.”
Employee: “You can’t do that at the airport. You must go down to the ticket office in town.”
Me: “But I’m here. Please don’t make me take a taxi. I have no more Birr.” (I show her my actual ticket to Cairo and try to explain she has all the info she could need on that ticket.)
Employee: “Wow, you’ll have to go to a bank to get more money then to get a taxi to the ticket office. The bank is closing for lunch soon so I’m not sure how you’ll get there in time.”
Me: “No! Please just do this for me!”
Employee: “Don’t you have more money – where are you sleeping tonight?”

After she quizzes my financial situation (the idea that I would have to go to a bank, to change more birr, for a ridiculously expensive cab ride was NOT ok with me), she realizes I’m not going anywhere. After more back and forth about how I better get moving back to the ticket office in-town, she finally re-confirms my flight to Cairo. I practically hug her, say thanks, and start to leave.

The conversation then goes something like this:
Employee, who clearly hates me: “Wait, did you say you are on the flight to Addis today?”
Me: “yes, that is why I’m here AT THE AIRPORT.”
Employee: “Oh, we cancelled your seat and the plane is now full.”

At this point my fierce independent woman shtick comes to a screeching halt, and to my horror, I burst into tears, and start pleading with her to please give me my seat back. The thought of being stuck in Dire Dawa for another night and missing my flight was just a little much. I try to explain that I reconfirmed (she finally acknowledges that I did, but says that because I didn’t give them the name of a hotel (that they did not ask for), they cancelled it anyway) and I explain that it is imperative I get out of Dire Dawa. None of it works, she tells me to please stop crying and leave the office.
The only other faranjis in the airport – a lovely couple from Spain – immediately adopt me and spend the next handful of hours demanding that they let me on the plane… and many hours later, we get on the plane. As I am boarding what I feel like is the last plane out of Saigon, the Employee That Clearly Hates Me says to me, “so NOW are you happy?”

I had planned to cram in a much as possible during my last afternoon in Addis, but we arrived so late I didn’t bother to venture into town at all. I forked over a whopping 30 dollars (a splurge for me on this trip) for a great room near the airport…clean sheets, spotless bathroom and BBC on TV – absolute heaven. It was definitely an anti-climatic way to spend my last night in Ethiopia, but I was really ready to wrap up my Ethiopian adventure by that point. I really am glad I made the trip, but it turned out to be one of those experiences that has gotten better and easier in hindsight.
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Old Dec 19th, 2006, 09:05 AM
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Wow -- you are so brave! But your report also made me laugh out loud. I'm nowhere near courageous enough to travel solo, but I sure like the opportunity to live vicariously.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2006, 06:25 AM
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Linda, thanks for the detail about getting to, and staying in, Harar. I really want to see and feed the hyenas -- I can't imagine traveling that hard, and enduring so much travel pain, to not feed them (kind of like some on my shark dives who decided to stay in the boat not because they were scared of sharks, but because they said the water was "too cold").

I'm writing from Athens, then to Rhodes, Creete and Cyprus.

I'd like to combine Ethiopia with Djibouti and Eritrea, so I need to start doing some research if I'm going to visit at end of 2007 (unlikely) or 2008 (more likely).

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Old Dec 25th, 2006, 05:46 PM
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So very interesting and wonderful to read. The pictures are just stunning. I feel as if these are the most beautiful people on earth. Brilliant report!
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Old Dec 25th, 2006, 09:55 PM
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I am so glad you had a memorable time. I know this might seem a little "whimpy" compared to what you did; however, recent war escalations between Ethiopia and Somalia's fundemental Islamists have me concerned about our connection flight in Ethiopia. Do you believe there is any threat to us connecting in Ethiopia on our way to Tanzania?

Thanks,

SH
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 06:54 PM
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Thank you so much for the report, the incredible photos, and the inspiration to all of us women for traveling solo. I have been trying to decide where in Africa to visit after 'doing' southern Africa for 3 years in a row. I hope you continue to have such adventures for the rest of your life!
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 07:37 AM
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Michael: enjoy the rest of your trip – that sounds great.

Tigerpaw: I wouldn’t sweat it, unless you are planning to pop into Mogadishu en route Have a great trip!

Lin – thanks for your kind words….have to admit though that I hope my trip in a few weeks (Thailand/Cambodia) is a little less eventful than this past trip…I’m still a little worn out!
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 08:39 AM
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It was on my Cambodia/Vietnam trip in 1998 that, in a bit of frustration, I selected thit_cho as my yahoo e-mail address (all my other attempts were already taken). Have a great time -- Southeast Asia is, after Africa, my favorite travel spot, and I'm thinking about Laos and Myanmar for next December (its between that, New Zealand and Ethiopia, but I'm sure I can change my mind a dozen times before booking tickets, which I need to do in a few weeks since I want to use frequent flyer miles for a biz class seat).
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 03:33 PM
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Just came back to finish your report and enjoyed it. Honestly, it got me thinking about whether Harar is as high on my list as I thought it would be. But we have a couple of trips already thought out, so likely a couple of years before we seriously consider Ethiopia and a lot can change in that amount of time.

Hope you have a great time in Thailand and Cambodia. Cambodia quickly became my favorite place anywhere. Although we were in awe of Angkor, the further we got from the tourist areas, the more we liked the country as a whole. We got to Battambang and made our way down the southern side of the Tonle Sap by buses and motos and such. If you find yourself at Kampong Chhnang, check out the Holiday guesthouse. The owner, besides being a good host, is a former translator between the UN and the Khmer Rouge and has a few stories. They run about $5 per night if you want hot water and the rooms are spotless.

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Old Dec 28th, 2006, 12:09 PM
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Michael and Clifton - I've been needing a pep talk to get jazzed about getting on a plane again at the moment, so thanks for the positive thoughts on SE Asia!
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Old Dec 28th, 2006, 03:16 PM
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maxwell,
Have a great time on your upcoming trip. I really enjoyed this report. It had me chuckling quite a bit, but I don't think I'll be showing it to any of the friends I want to "sell" Ethiopia to.
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Old Dec 29th, 2006, 08:46 AM
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Thanks Leely!
Yes, I think that my fellow Atlantonian's upcoming Ethiopia trip report might provide a better sales pitch...
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Old Dec 29th, 2006, 09:49 AM
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Matter of fact, I just got an email yesterday from Chris_GA_Atl reporting in from Lalibela, Ethiopia.

He said they were having a great time so far and just visited some pretty cool looking churches from the 12th and 13th centuries carved from the bedrock on the side of mountains.

They're off to Uganda on Sunday to ring in the New Year at Ngamba Island.

What a cool place to celebrate!
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Old Feb 22nd, 2007, 09:14 AM
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it is interesting. you talk about the other side of Eth.You might heard about Eth in your home media, linked with poverty, famine and war. It strikes, esp us the Eth. allow me to add tips about your trip to Eht.
you all share one thing, the kids along your walk and stop. it happend for three reasons: either you (tourists) used to provide tips or you donot ask them go away or they want to see you, different color. i understand your tip support them, but they misbehave for future life. begging is not the culture. in the childhood parents teach how to behave. if parents or elder people know that a child recieved tips (cents) they will be punished. now they are asking pens ..., this is the way they express their eager and life. any one of you don not ask why they beg and what is the cause?

Do not miss to visit church services/ceremonies in the evening and early in the morning. this is the most you go for. every saturday and early sunday morning, the churches are always serving. Holidays are much better. In gonder 44 churches and Lalibela 11+1 churches and every where in the rural too. x-mas eve (usually Jan 6 or 7), check Eth calendar, all churches make holiday ceremony. still for X-mas i recommend you be in Lalibela. Famous church professionals go there and present their hymes and dances, philosophy. Sept. 26 or 27, Demera holiday, Jan 19 Epiphany, is nice in Addis, colorful and different presentations of church communities.

One thing. in the churches, take care. Sometimes not allowed. People learned from experience and their past history. because in one of your museum there is at least one from Eth.

Night in brothel: because you are not go through proper guides, following tourist regulation. they have standards for tourists. the reason is likely very very low budget.

Most important for your trip and want to link to Ethiopia, or want to see great people's effort, browse
http://www.gondarlink.org.uk, and http://www.gondarlink.org.uk/bike/index.shtml

Gizaw


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Old May 19th, 2007, 08:50 AM
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I went to Ethiopia in Nov. 2005 and it was the best experience I ever had. I was with 2 friends from Zurich (I'm from US) and we had a guide, Solomon Berhe who was beyond excellent. We went to Mekele and then to Gerhalta region (town of Degume) to camp and visit the 2nd century rock hewn churches that are built within the high cliffs. It was beautiful, but realize that you will be several days with out toilet facilities. Solomon and his local contacts waited on us hand and foot, so all we had to do was hike and take pictures. If you go, bring lots of pens for the children. We went back to Mekele for a night then drove to Lalibela - long drive but stunningly beautiful. 2 days there and then back to Addis.

For those of you who want to see this part of the world, like a camping experience (we stayed in the Castle hotel in Mekele and I forget the one in Lalibela), have money for a 24/7 guide, but aren't brave enough to go on your own, you must look into hiring Solomon. I think he has a web site so if you search his name, it should come up. He books about 6 months in advance at least as he does a lot of work for naturalists and journalists.
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