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Shazza's Escapades Light hearted look at my travel escapades

Ethiopia - Biblical Easter

ETHIOPIA | Sunday, 1 April 2012 | Views [925]

Did you know that in Ethiopia it is the year 2004 now? I didn’t when I visited this wonderful country. Most people think Ethiopia is a Muslim country but it’s not. Only 40% of the population is Muslim. The most interesting part of Ethiopia in my opinion is the Omo and the Danakil Valley. Unfortunately because of the civil unrest between certain tribes in those valleys I am not able to visit these regions. So this trip is my second choice but I still had an awesome time and would thoroughly recommend it.

My only problem was not getting a visa in advance so I ended up in a very long queue at visa on arrival, over an hour and felt guilty that the rest of the group had to wait for me. It was a group of 9 and we had an excellent enthusiastic guide. She had been guiding in Ethiopia for 12 years and was fluent in Aramaic and knew everyone.

After an overnight flight I spent the morning sleeping then we flew to Dire Dawa. Then we drove to Harar which was a complete eye opener. The colours just hit you in the face. Not only that but everyone seemed interested in me because they love Indian people especially my hair. At the market I even had a lady pinch my boob. Apparently this is normal as they are from the local villages and have never seen foreign people before. The name they call us is Farangi meaning foreigner.

I found the Ethiopian people to be very friendly natured and always willing to please. In Harar we visited Rimbaud’s House and Haillie Sillesi’s first house. We had an eventful walk in the Christian Market where we saw a tailor fight with an old beggar, lots of men lazing around chewing quat/chat and low flying eagles. We ate falafels made fresh on the streets. We nearly walked the whole walled city and even went to a view point to see the walled city. We had children follow us around wanting us to take their pictures and only a couple would ask for money or pens. The others just loved seeing their photo on the screen of your camera. We rounded off the night with a visit to the famous Hyena Man. I have heard about this so called man from many of the traveller s I have met who recommended that I went to see this one and only spectacle. It’s just a guy who calls the so called wild hyenas and feeds them and tourists like us pay him a fee to watch this spectacle. They got quite close to me a few times as the meat flew in my direction which was a little hair raising but all in all it wasn’t as spectacular as I thought it would be. Occasionally we saw hyenas at night in the town centre.

The next morning we drove to Awash but on the way we visited a quat/chat market. They make 1 million birs a month in taxes for the government. The plant they chew is similar to some narcotics but this is legal and grows well in this temperament climate. More and more farmers are changing their produce to quat/chat as they harvest more than normal fruit and vegetable and they can make more money.

In Awash we had a chance to go for a game drive at the national park. We saw some game but it’s a far cry from the game drives I’ve been on in other African countries. But there was a waterfall which was a change. We had to pick up a guard with a Kalashnikov just in case we got attacked by an animal. We were able to walk on a path below the waterfall for a chance to see crocodiles. We saw some sunbathing on rocks. I was at the front with the guard who asked me to get closer to the bank to get a photo, as I followed him on the path we startled a huge crocodile that was lying on the same path. I jumped when I spotted this big creature and it was lucky that the croc was scared off by us and crawled into the river. Even if the croc decided to come towards us I don’t think our guard would have had a chance to use his big gun. So much for the guard. That walk took a couple of years of my life as it’s the closest I’ve come to a crocodile.

Then we had to head back to Addis. We had an amazing drive through volcanic craters and blue filled lakes. Beautiful scenery all the way back to Addis. In Addis we visited the Holy Trinity Church which has Haillie Sillesi and his wife’s tomb in it. Sylvia Pankhurst is buried outside the church. We visited the university and the ethnographic museum which was interesting even for me.

The following morning we had a very early morning flight to Bahar Dir. This place has a very old church nearly 800 years old. Then we walked in the old town and went to a local market. I had another early morning the following day for a mini boat safari on Lake Tana where I saw 4 hippos, local fishermen and many birds. The sunrise was ok but we didn’t have the most spectacular back drop and we ended the ride by disturbing a flock of pelicans which was awesome.

The next day we had a wonderful walk to Tissisat Falls. We met some lovely villagers and saw some beautiful scenery. We even had a go on a sway bridge. As it was built by the Swiss it wasn’t very exciting or fun, it was very sturdy no matter how hard I jumped or swayed.

Next morning we drove to Gonder via Woreta. In Woreta we stopped for a coffee in a local bar and went for a wander around the market. We stayed in the best hotel in Gonder, high above the town with spectacular views. There isn’t much to do in Gonder except for King Fasilidas’ Castle, the memorial site which you can’t go and visit and the old palace belonging to Haillie Sillesi which is also not available to visit. But the journey to the palace was beautiful and lined with Jacaranda trees in bloom. As Gonder was a place where the Italians loved while they occupied Ethiopia, you can spot the art deco buildings dotted around the town.

Then we made our way towards the Simien Mountains in particular a little town 45 minutes outside it called Debark. This little town is undergoing a facelift as not one part of its main road has been left untouched by bull dozers. I took a walk into this little town and met some children who were trying to sell me tissue and chewing gum. They loved the fact that I was Indian and started calling out famous Bollywood actors and actress' names. They wanted to know which my favourite was and if I knew them personally. They are such lovely children and even sang Hindi songs from the films they watched. They sang and they danced for me, it was truly touching. Apart from that the town was not much to look at, maybe in 2-3 years time after the facelift. Luckily for us we spend most of our time outside this town in the beautiful Simien Mountains. The scenery was breath taking and the Gelada Baboons were simply awesome. They are endemic to Ethiopia and are not like other baboons I have encountered around the world. These funky looking guys are docile, friendly and more importantly vegetarians and they have no inkling to harm or attack humans. I truly believe this as I spent most of the walk spending my time with these gorgeous creatures, sitting with them and watching them do their thing. I took numerous photos and filmed them without them even noticing me or bothered by my presence. They didn’t try to attack me or steal my food or things or even hiss in my direction. They just ate grass, played with each other, grooming each other and occasionally having sex. It was an awesome experience being with them and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The next morning we headed for Axum. We drove through the mountains with some beautiful scenery but really bad roads. We were covered in dust as the bus has no air conditioning so we had to open the windows. We were very dusty after the ride and I even had some sand in my bra!

Axum was boring as it was just old ruins, tombs and large rocks. The only exciting thing was a freak sand storm at St Mary’s Church. We also saw the chapel that houses the Ark of the Covenant and saw Queen of Sheba’s castle in ruins obviously. It was like being on a school trip. The only boring part of the trip.

Then we flew to Lalibela the next morning. A wonderful little town with churches carved into the rocks. These are free standing churches carved into giant rock and they are reddish in colour.  Unfortunately UNESCO spoiled the look by erecting 2 large covers over the roofs of the church because they wanted to stop anymore erosion. Imagine a giant alien mother ship has just landed and is hovering over the churches…that’s exactly what the churches look like now. Awful! Why they couldn’t make it blend in with its surroundings I have now idea. Luckily St George’s church is untouched by UNESCO and looks wonderful as it is. As we were here during Easter there were people praying all the time and the churches were full of local people in white scarves. We were lucky to witness a procession as well. The worst thing about Lalibela is the flies…so many of them. They’re on your face all the time and I am constantly swatting them away. They’re so annoying.

After Lalibela we flew back to Addis for a last meal in a cultural hall. The food was authentic and the dancers were great showing us all the different tribal dances in Ethiopia. Even I got up and danced and that is very unusual.


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