post Tourists on Ethiopia II

April 12th, 2008

Filed under: Tourists on Ethiopia — Lissan Magazine @ 14:03

Pelican Central
by Jon Clark

After about 24 hours and plenty of complementary London Pride on the BA flight I finally made it to Bahir Dar on the edge of Lake Tana. I tried to ignore the burned out plane just off the runway at Addis Ababa. The scenery was fantastic from Addis, a sort of green and brown patchwork with trees every now and again where the villages were.


The guy in the hotel mentioned my room would be 2 minutes, it ended up being 4 hours - A sign of things to come I think! While waiting in the hotel grounds I managed to spot pelicans, lovebirds kingfishers, hawks, hornbills, monkeys and more all within 10 minutes - I think I’m going to like this place!

Did an afternoon trip to the Blue Nile Falls, a bit of a disappointment - only 10 percent of the water actually goes over the falls now, the rest is sucked up by a hydro electric plant. The landscape and villages were fantastic though so that made up for a lot.

Met a nice family called the Tetts who I spent the next couple of days with, had dinner with them that evening and sampled my first Ethiopian beer, called St. George! An excellent day.

Next day Elliot got a good deal on a trip to the monastry’s on Lake Tana, we visited 3 monasteries where we saw some fantastic colourful vibrant paintings, crowns, manuscripts and carved crosses. On the second island we met a nice monk who gave us some of the local beer, Tella, looked a bit like muddy water, but tasted pretty refreshing. We also visited the opening to the Blue Nile, very scenic and managed to spot my first hippo, if only for a few seconds. We also spotted plenty of the local tankwa boats that the locals made out of papyrus.

Spent the afternoon in a terraced cafe called Mangos on the edge of the lake, the pelicans came within feet of the shore - very cool. Went posh that night for my last dinner with the Tetts where we paid less than $10 for an all you can eat buffet!

Day 3 and I decided on a trip to the local market, one guy followed me the whole way and pissed me off so much I went home! Tried again 20 minutes later, got followed by another ‘guide’, but decided it would be best to have him tag along he could potentially scare off any other unwanted ‘guides’! Turned out to be a knowledgeable guy and some of the more interesting things he showed me were the place they stored the honey to make a local mead called Tej, also the milling room where they produced the grains for the local Injera bread.

Feeling confident I headed out that afternoon on bike to Weyto, a village where they made the tankwa boats, an absolute tourist trap, I was swarmed with people asking for money in seconds, needless to say I didn’t hang around too long! Next was the palace of Haile Sellassie, which was closed but was meant to be on a hill with great views, to be honest it was a bit crap. Spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the dock trying to get pictures of the pelicans and some fish eagles, some guy tried to extract 50c from me for the privilege, I was quick to tell him where to go!

Gonder and the Simien Mountain next!


Unforgetable Sights of Lalibela and NO LUGGAGE!
by Heatheravan

The propellers whirred into action in the old creaky Ethiopian Air Fokker on flight ET126 Addis Ababa to Lalibela and after months of planning and preparation it finally feels like our 2007 adventure has begun.


We had experienced a grueling day before, leaving Perth at 3.55am and not reaching our final destination for the day of Addis Ababa until 24 hours later - sans luggage! To date we still do not have our luggage but thats a whole story in itself.

Our Sunday flight is taking us to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia and we have been through massive security checks for an internal flight. Trouble is brewing with Ethiopia’s near neighbour Eritrea and our destination is in this general direction.

Why Ethiopia? Why Lalibela?
Lalibela is the home to some amazing historic Christian churches dating from the 10th century. Ethiopia’s King Lalibela wanted to create a new Jerusalem as Jerusalem had been taken by the Muslims and so he set out to create his new Jerusalem in a clever guise. He started with a solid rock and had a deep square moat carved out. This left a large central rock which was then carved by primitive hand chisels into a church complete with ornate decorative windows and doors. He didn’t just build one but eleven! Legend says that angels came down and helped. The roof remains level with the ground making the churches hidden from invading forces.

But the truly amazing thing is these churches are still in use and have been continually since being built. We met Christian Orthodox priests and saw hand written books and precious crosses still in use that are over 800 years old. Because it is little known as a tourist destination, none of these items are in museums but able to be seen and photographed.

Ethiopia was full of surprises. It is a very picturesque country with cultivated terraces into impossible slopes and wonderful warm smiling people. They don’t have much but they are a happy people and work very hard in the fields from dawn to dusk. Due to our lack of luggage we went as upmarket as you could go in Lalibela (Ghion Hotel) but this didn’t guarantee even water (totally off between 12 noon and 6.00 pm use of a bucket supplied) or power (also off between 12 & 6). Decent food was also practically non existent.

As well as showing us the 11 churches in Lalibela our guide Moges took us on a 4 wheel drive trip into the country to see an amazing cave church which is still in use also. This church comes complete with about 5,000 corpses to which no one knows the origin or history, it is a total mystery.

Lalibela has quite a lot of shoe shine boys and all of them wanted to clean Avan’s shoe’s, only problem was that Avan had only purchased his shoes the day prior to leaving Perth so were brand new thus did not need cleaning. In the interests of supporting a local kid he decided to get them cleaned on the last day, however when we returned from our 4WD trip there was not a shoeshine boy in sight, so didn’t happen. Would you believe we did not see another shoeshine boy (a girl actually) until Windhoek in Namibia, by which time Avan’s shoes’ were in dire need.

Back to the story of our luggage and our 24 hours en route to Ethiopia.

When we checked our luggage in at Perth airport it was tagged all the way through to Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia. Somewhere on the 3 flights (Perth to Mauritius - Mauritius to Nairobi - Nairobi to Addis Ababa) it went missing. On our first leg Perth to Mauritius there was an urgent call for a Doctor and it brought back memories of a flight 12 years ago when we had to detour via Auckland because someone died en route! Nothing seemed to eventuate this time however as no more calls were made. We had a very quick transit in Mauritius then on to Nairobi where we had to transit for 5 hours in a rather dirty run down airport. When it was time to board our Ethiopian Airways flight to Addis Ababa all the luggage for the flight was dumped on the tarmac and customers had to identify their luggage before it was loaded. Guess what? Ours wasn’t there! So we knew from this time and a luggage handler said we would need to report it missing on arrival at Addis Ababa.

Our biggest issue with not having our luggage was our anti malaria drugs/ repellent and our Lonely Planet Africa. These were not replaceable in Ethiopia. Clothes can be washed every night and toiletries replaced but the above 2 items should always be in hand luggage!


Jahful Greetings from Aethiopia
by Cpricci

Ethiopian Airlines is a smooth carrier. I crossed the equator. The vegetarian meal was decent. Bole International Airport was a pleasant contrast to Kenyatta International in Nairobi. It was big and open and almost empty. The women who gave me my visa were having fun. My visa was $20, unlike the $50 Tanzania and Kenya wanted. Apparently Kenya will ask me for a new visa even though it says three months. They don’t consider Ethiopia part of “East Afrika.” I’ll have just enough USD to make it through.

I changed some travelers checks into Birr. They charged only 12 Birr ($1.50) for $100 worth of checks, the lowest commission yet. I had some trouble dialing with the payphone, but one of the Ethiopian Airline people was happy to help. She let me use her cellphone for nothing.

I got in touch with Mulugeta Biru, a contact I made through Annie and Christopher in North Carolina, who runs a small guesthouse. He helped organize Bob’s 60th birthday celebration here in Addis Ababa last year. He came to pick me up.

Driving through Addis was a little different than other Afrikan cities. It seems a bit cleaner and not so crowded. People drive on the right side of the road.

Back at the house I enjoyed some home-brewed barly beer (It was really good!) and found out that I’m just in time for Ehiopian Easter. I live with a brother and sister, Maurice and Nigist (Bumzy), both born in Shashamane of Afrikan-Jamaican parents. Pictures of Ras Tafari and figures of lions adorn the guest house. I finally got to taste some sinsemilla, the first since South Afrika.

I was tired and still a little ill, so I went to lie down. I slept from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. I woke feeling fine after dreams of familiar lakes.

My first day in Addis Ababa I just kicked it at home and around the corner. I live with the children of actual repatriated Rastafarians. There’s not that many out there. I’m having fun deciphering what parts of their culture are European, Arikan, Ethiopian and Jamaican. They can speak Patwa, English and Amahric. Bumzy’s in town to go to university. She skips class enough to stay mentally sharp.

They try to tell me how it is in Shashamane (or Shash). I’ll be there next week. The sensi is $12 (100 birr) per ounce.

Zion City
Addis Ababa is the third highest capital in the world at around 7700 ft. It is in the center of the giant plateau on the northern end of the Rift Valley. It is surrounded by mountains, and fingers of mountains stretch in all directions within and from the edge of the plateau. It’s been called the roof of the continent. It contains 20 mountains over 13,000 feet. Ras Dashen is Afrika’s fourth highest at 14,900 ft.

Ethiopians speak Amharic, generally (In all of Afrika there are hundreds of local languages). It is difficult to learn, unlike Swahili, because it has Hebrew and Arabic sounds in it. Amharic has its own alphabet; everyone has their own spelling of Amharic words with Roman letters. Very few Ethiopians speak English. Amharic is part of Ethiopian identity. The language barrier is somewhat alienating. I can’t help but feel like an outsider. I felt the same way when I visited Italy. The Italians don’t care much for other languages. Isn’t it ironic that I would feel like an outsider in the land of my fathers and in the land of all our fathers. Visiting Ethiopia is tough as an Italian-American foreigner, when Italy has always been the only one bold enough to try to conquer Ethiopia. You really have to be cocky to lie about and pick fights with the last divinely ordained, empirical, theocratic throne left on Earth, which holds and guards the original Ark of the Covenant. The Italians only got as far as Eritrea (and the Battle of Adwa), stealing one stelae with many lives and treasures.

I was told once that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings about Ethiopia (”the last free nation of men”) and that his daughter wore an Ethiopian cross around her neck. It makes sense looking at the names of the great cities in the novel and in Ethiopia - Gondar/Gonder/Gondor, Roha(Lalibela)/Rohan, there’s even a town called Shire…. Middle Earth might as well refer to this equatorial, mountainous land that resisted all of its invaders. Tolkien died two years before the throne was lost to “socialists.”

One thing that makes Ethiopia stand out is the spirituality of the people. They know they live in the place known as both Eden and Zion. This (besides divine intervention) is no doubt why the Italians were defeated - the Ethiopians know themselves and would rather die than become somebody else. Even Mohammed told his followers to “leave Abyssinia in peace.”

Things are more natural in general in Ethiopia. The women are the most beautiful in Afrika, and they have real long hair, not extensions. Most things are homemade, like the barley beer and injera. Injera is a flat sourdough bread that everyone eats as the staple here. It’s stored at room temperature in a basket to keep the yeast culture going. Its made of tef, a tiny grain endemic to Ethiopia. Also endemic (found nowhere else but) in this incredible country are 31 mammals ([do a google image search] gelada baboon, mountain nyala, walia ibex, Ethiopian wolf,…), 24 amphibians, 16 birds, 9 reptiles and 4 fish. Between 600 and 1400 plants are thought to be endemic to Ethiopia.

Ethiopians love meat with their injera. The big delicacy is kitfo, minced raw meat in warm spiced butter. There are goat and sheep pieces littering the ground in the yard and street. Two days per week no one eats meat. I’m pretty much sticking to shiro, a puree of lentils, peas, onion, garlic, peppers,…. Berbere is the common, orange, homemade spice blend made up of 6 to 16 different ingredients.

Thursday I went to visit His Majesty I’s last palace (now a ethnological museum and library for the Institute for Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University). I studied some history in the library and entered the museum. They don’t allow cameras. I had to tell the curator that some of the medicinal plant labels were wrong. His Majesty’s bedroom was simple. There was still a bullet hole in his mirror from the failed coup in 1960. Empress Mene’s bedroom had no bed. They were using her dressing room as an office and her bathroom was also well-used. His Majesty’s office, where he was taken from by ignorant gunmen in 1975, was not open to the public.


All of Bumzy’s sisters and aunts and uncles came into Addis from Shashamane for a JRDC (Jamaican Rastafarian Developement Community) promotion at the Imperial Hotel to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Selassie’s visit to Jamaica in April, 1966 (1958 Ethiopian time. Ethiopia had a different calendar and clock than the rest of the world. Sunrise is at 1 o’clock, sunset at 12. The have 12 months of 30 days each and a short, 5-day, thirteenth month. The year is 7 years and 9 months behind the western calendar. The new Ethiopian millenium will begin September, 2007).

The party was graced by the presence of His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Zere Yakob, grandson of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, and heir to the imperial throne of Ethiopia. He humbly accepted greetings all night from the many brothers and sisters in attendance.

The music was nice. Bumsy’s sisters did a dance performance, and their little brother, Isaac (or Saki, a.k.a. True Warrior) toasted nicely over some riddims (see clips). A singer who was popular during the days of His Majesty’s reign did a short performance (see clip), and a Nyabingi elder recounted (for almost an hour) the story of His Majesty’s visit to Jamaica.

I can’t wait to travel back to Shashamane with these folks. There’s a picture in a program for Bob’s birthday party last year in Addis. The picture shows Bob Marley with six or seven of the early Jamaican pioneers of Shashamane entering the hot springs at Wondo Genet, just south of Shashamane. The girls in my pictures are the daughters of these men. One of them, brother Flippin, wrote many songs for Bob including “Zimbabwe.” He has been blessed with children. His first three were boys, then he had boy/girl twins, twin girls, and boy/girl twins again! Believe it or not, that’s boy, boy, boy, twins, twins, twins. I’ve met them all but for one brother and their mother live in the U.K.


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