Saturday, January 07, 2017

Travel Report: Ethiopia

Sadly not as many air miles as I would have liked

I spent about 12 days in Ethiopia over the Christmas and New year period of 2016. In a word it was fantastic. I learnt so much about a country that I knew so little about.
The total cost for my trip was £1340 (approximate $1640 USD in Jan '17). This included the direct international return flight on Ethiopian Airlines (on a brand new A350), my 4 domestic flights, all food, all accomodation, everything.


Addis Ababa - Metropolitan Africa


Merksel Square

There isn't too much to say about Ethiopia's capital. it's about 130 years old, and home to 6 million people. It's has all the amenities that one would expect of a large city, but not much in the way of history. Of course being home to that many people, there are plenty of things to do, just not so many that could be considered uniquely Ethiopian. 


Bahir Dar - The closest thing to a beach resort.


Lake Tana

Given that Ethiopia is a land locked Bahir Dar is the closest thing that they have to a domestic beach destination. The main tourist attraction is the various monasteries dotted around the lake.


Gonder - African Castles


One of the ruined castles of Gonder

The highlight of Gonder are the numerous ruined castles that form it's center. The castles are mostly from the mid 16th Century, but vary in age due to the fact that they were built during the reigns of different Emperors.


Lailibela - Jeruselam in Africa

The rock hewn churches of this town were the highlight of the trip. The various churches of Lailibela were originally conceived as an alternative to Jeruselam in the 12-13 century. Apparently Ethiopian christians would take a piligramage from Africa to the Holy Land. I have no idea how long that would have taken 1000 years ago, but Google clocks it as 4000km.
Bete Amanuel

Each of the churches is made from a single piece of rock. Most of the churches are surrounded by rock, beneath surface level. UNESCO built roofs over many of the structures in 2008 to protect them from natural erosion, hence the modern looking structures you see in some of the pictures.

Bete Medani Alem, with worshippers for scale
 The cost of entrance was 50USD, and it allowed you to visit all of the churches over a 5 day period. It is important to understand that they are not only huge, but also still used. Pilgrims still travel from around the country every christmas to worship here, many of them walk.

The churches are below ground level and are connected through a series of tunnels and concealed entrances. I explored the churches without a guide, and was able to find most them, without a problem. However the sheer complexity of the entire system will leave you scratching you head as to how it was built to begin with, why it isn't a better known attraction.


Harar - The trading hub of Eastern Ethiopia


"Bad eyes" gate, one of the original gates of Harar
 Harar is  home to a walled city in the East of the country, between Addis Ababa and the Somali frontier. Unlike the other cities I visited Harar is a predominately muslim city.

A Indian style merchants house
Before the Derg, and troubles of that era the town was prosperous trading outpost host to merchants and Traders from around Middle & Far East. Modern buildings are banned within the city center, and so it's easy to imagine what the city would have been like during it's heyday.




I often joke that I travel to learn, sleep, and eat. Teff is the main grain of Ethiopia. Wheat flour is available, and eaten by some but for the most part it's all Teff, all the time. The Teff is usually fermented and turned into a "Pancake" called an Injera. Then the Injera is served with everything and anything.

Goran Gorad - Raw meat

I forget the name of this dish, but it's essentially Injera, soaked in butter, served with a mild pepper
This was lovely Soup in Harar, made from a mutton stock, with mutton. The tradition was to tear up the Injera and allow it soak up the soup. possibly the best thing I had in the country.

Gomen Besiga - Which is a Lamb shank, wrapped in a spinich like vetagable.
Another delious meal, I only knew how to read meat, in Amharic so I just pointed at a meat dish and hoped for the best


Bole, the cosmopolitan heart of Addis Ababa
I had avoided Africa for a long time during my travels, mainly as I didn't want to go on Safari, and I didn't particularly care to see tribes people dancing around mud huts. Ethiopia provided me with the type of travel destination I love; A long and interesting past, good food, nice people, warm weather & cheap amenties. It's not quite Colombia, but it now has a prominent place in my heart.

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