Ethiopia


22 February 2010 - Lake Tana - added by Steve

Ethiopia has to be the world's largest nation of beggars. Infamous for the hassle factor, it seems every child is born with their hand out. The incessant requests for pen, money, food, pen, money, food make travelling in this country tiring at times. The colloquial way of getting someone's attention, when translated into English, doesn't help; shouts of “YOU! YOU! YOU!” when attempting to catch your attention, then followed by one of pen, money or food, is a minor irritation that can quickly escalate to a major player in whether you like Ethiopia or not! The begging is not restricted to children either, it seems every man, woman and child is more than happy to put their hand out and beg for anything as soon as they see a faranji (foreigner).


Luckily for us we have become quite accustomed to sticking out in a crowd, so are used to this attention. Also seeing “YOU! YOU! YOU!” in the light that it is just the English translation of their normal method of capturing anyone's attention meant we were able to brush off a salutation which would normally be quite rude in our culture! That said, by the time we left Ethiopia, our patience was wearing quite thin. Anticipation of the peace afforded travellers in Sudan, our next destination, filled our thoughts and dreams!


Furthermore, Ethiopia is very densely populated, and rather thin on the ground when it comes to organised campsites, so attempting to bush camp becomes a trying experience, as you are quickly surrounded by hundred of locals who incessantly make requests for... yes, you got it, “pen, money, food”! Luckily, when it becomes too much, we are able to escape inside Songololo, and are able to cook dinner without being haunted by hungry looks and begging eyes!


The incessant hassle aside, Ethiopia was a fantastic experience with remarkable historic sites that we thoroughly enjoyed. Our first stop after the Omo Valley was in Addis Ababa, where we stayed with our wonderful new friends, Barny and Pip. Pip works for DFID (The British Government's Department For International Development), and they put us up in their palatial home in Addis while we arranged our onward plans. Naturally bureaucracy reared its ugly head when the Sudanese Embassy closed for a week while the Sudanese president was in town for the African Union Summit. One has to wonder why the visa section had to close while the president was in the Hilton Hotel for the summit, but it is not our place to ask these questions (or at least to expect answers!)


One good thing that came out of this was our side journey to Wenchi Crater and Menagesha Forest, undertaken to kill the time we had to wait for the embassy to reopen! Wenchi Crater is a remarkably beautiful caldera with a lake inside, the crater rim affords stunning views over the lake and it is possible to take horse rides down into the crater itself and explore the surroundings.

 



We came across a local water mill that looked like it came straight out of the middle ages. A tiny canal had been dug out the the mountainside and water redirected to a height sufficient to operate the mill, remarkably ingenious. We were surprised to see this, and it gave pause to wonder why no-one else in Africa that we've seen has the wherewithal to build something like this?

 


Finally our Sudanese visas were secured and we were able to head off into the northern highlands. Our first stop was Lalibela, a world heritage site because of it's famous rock-hewn churches. These churches are incredible, literally cut out of solid rock. When you consider that some are over 11m high and 33m long, the feat is outstanding. It took them about 23 years to carve the churches, 11 of them in total. It is a remarkable experience, standing inside a church that years ago was solid rock. The fine detailing in the carvings on the walls and the vaulted ceilings make you boggle in amazement!

 


We drove further north, crossing mountain pass after mountain pass. The mountains in the highlands of Ethiopia seem to stretch on forever, a truly beautiful panorama from the top of the world! The roads that cross these mountains are a different story... Rox was clinging onto her seat for dear life as we snaked our way up and down steep mountain tracks, with drop-offs of hundreds of metres on the side. We crept along, well aware that if Songololo's 10 tonnes got anywhere close to the edge we'd be meeting our maker far sooner than we hoped!


Finally we made it to Aksum, which local legend has was the home of Queen Sheba in the 10th century BC. Whatever the truth is, a high civilisation rose here from around 400BC, leaving behind magnificent stelae tomb markers that still stand today. These columns are carved from a single block of granite and erected who knows how, standing up to 25m high! Their feat is made all the more poignant by the fact that UNESCO has yet to re-erect a column stolen by the Italians in 1937 as they are unsure how to achieve this without damaging the tombs beneath the stelae. How the Aksumites did this more than 2000 years ago, and today, with all our advances in technology, can't, gives one cause to wonder!

 


Returning south over many more crazy mountain passes we made out way to Gonder, site of Ethiopia's remarkable medieval city, with huge castles and palaces. Wondering around the royal enclosure you feel like you're in the middle of England, not Ethiopia! It is here that you get a real feel for Ethiopia's remarkable history, and how important it was as a crossroads for trade in bygone eras between Africa's interior and Arabia and Europe.

 


Something that is well worth a mention is the local Ethiopian food, which we found delicious and a fantastic culinary experience. Injera, the basis of their food, is a large pancake like bread made from Tef, the local grain. Loads of different foods made from various types of meat and vegetables, all spiced up with berebere (local chilli), is then piled on top. You rip off pieces of injera with your hands and use it to mop up the food and sauce before shovelling it into your mouth. It's not the most delicate of operations but is thoroughly enjoyable and extremely tasty!

 


Our final stop before leaving Ethiopia was a quiet recuperation period at the magnificent Tim & Kim Village in Gorgora on the shores of Lake Tana. An island of serenity in the ocean of chaos and hassle that is the rest of Ethiopia, it makes a welcome break from the road. We spent a few days chilling out on the lake's shores, swimming in the cool waters and once taking a papyrus boat out to an island.

 

 

Mostly we just relaxed, relaxed and relaxed, gearing up for Sudan and what now feels like the final leg of our trip. 



Comments:

1 .
dying to see your pics when you reach some good internet! And hoping to be in London in June!!! Love Trish and Col
Trish - 2 Mar 2010, 7:29
2 .
Also dying to see pics and green with envy. What a fabulous trip - aren't you pleased you stuck it out?! Are you still managing to do the TM?
Mum - 2 Mar 2010, 8:20
3 .
Good to see you two are still smiling and the Big Blue Baby is still moving you forward. All well here in good ol'Kenya. Wet and cold though. Keep well and keep on keeping on. Doigy x
Andrew Doig - 16 Mar 2010, 13:52
4 .
hi, you wrote us a mail about going to Wadi Rum... this is our reply (also in a mail but that's maybe too late when you read that) so if sombody here can sms this in short to Roxy and Steve? "Wadi Rum is a very beautifull desert. The special thing abouth it are the sandstone mountains. You can do hiking, scrambling or climbing there, with a guide. A night with the bedouins, nice food they cook and some music, in a bedouintent is great. BUT I wouldn't pay $100, esspecially not when you saw already a lot of desert! I' m suprised it cost so much. Are there no other options? Are you sure you can't take your car? I think you always need a guide. Otherwise these people have no job. If you do it, make sure you take a guide from Wadi Rum, to support them! BUT this can help: mention my name, Veerle from Belgium and the name of my best friend Nele. She is still in contact with them. I can ask her to call them. Ask for this guys: Atieq Ali Lavi or Atieq Oudeh!!!! Do a lot of greetings to them from me. Explain them how you know us. It's possible they give you one of their brothers with you. They are also fine! So if I was you, in your situation right now, I would try with this connections, but I would not pay a lot of money." take care and see you soon.
Veerle & Gert - 12 Apr 2010, 3:47
5 .
hi, you wrote us a mail about going to Wadi Rum... this is our reply (also in a mail but that's maybe too late when you read that) so if sombody here can sms this in short to Roxy and Steve? "Wadi Rum is a very beautifull desert. The special thing abouth it are the sandstone mountains. You can do hiking, scrambling or climbing there, with a guide. A night with the bedouins, nice food they cook and some music, in a bedouintent is great. BUT I wouldn't pay $100, esspecially not when you saw already a lot of desert! I' m suprised it cost so much. Are there no other options? Are you sure you can't take your car? I think you always need a guide. Otherwise these people have no job. If you do it, make sure you take a guide from Wadi Rum, to support them! BUT this can help: mention my name, Veerle from Belgium and the name of my best friend Nele. She is still in contact with them. I can ask her to call them. Ask for this guys: Atieq Ali Lavi or Atieq Oudeh!!!! Do a lot of greetings to them from me. Explain them how you know us. It's possible they give you one of their brothers with you. They are also fine! So if I was you, in your situation right now, I would try with this connections, but I would not pay a lot of money." take care and see you soon.
Veerle & Gert - 12 Apr 2010, 3:47

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