Curious what backpackers do in Ethiopia? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
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Travelers in Ethiopia

  • T's Xcellent Adventure
    waiting for the airport shu... 6d
    Traveled in 7 countries
  • Wolfgang Bauer
    Great Ethiopian Run Novembe... 6w
    Traveled in 26 countries
  • Juliane Groh
    ... in Addis Ababa, Flughafen 15w
    Traveled in 8 countries
  • Vee L
    My Ethiopian Conclusion 37w
    Traveled in 7 countries

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  • Our lovely friend Mulish from Gonder has done it again, his friend Ababa was ready for our arrival in Mekele and had already organized our seats for the Danakil Depression tour. Their credit card machine wasn't working, no surprise there, but since we were leaving one of our backpacks behind, she said we could pay on our return. We paid 300$us for 3 nights 4 days, which was the least expensive I have heard yet from other travellers, including people on our tour and even in our Jeep who paid anywhere from 350$-380$-some even 500$. Yay for farengi pricing, anything they can get away with!

    I don't know what I was expecting here... We had skipped over this part in the travel book because we saw it was too expensive... We heard there was a volcano and sulfuric lakes but not much about them was described... And yet every traveler we met along the way assured us we absolutely needed to do this tour, so we did.

    Turns out, Holy Fuck! Excuse my French.

    This was honestly one of the coolest experiences of my life.

    You start by a drive down what they call "the worst road in Africa", if you want to call it a road at all, the last 12km takes an hour to drive it. The way it worked - the tour needs to be done in 4x4 jeeps, or else we wouldn't get there, we were 15 people so 4 jeeps following each other, and we need a military escort vehicle (ever since the attack years ago), and there's a guide in one of the jeeps with a cook. This cook would make her way to wherever we were stopping for lunch and prepare everything for our arrival. I was fed incredibly well! Huge meals, delicious, water provided by them. Our cook Mary was this super bubbly, quite modern young lady. I say modern because she had a tattoo and tighter clothing then your usual, tradition Ethiopian.

    The towns we stopped in for lunch pretty much just had the shack in which we ate, the rest was just rural Ethiopia. The Afar people, who live in this region, are said to be incredibly resilient, they live in the hottest "most inhabitablle" place on earth according to some research somewhere. They do so by being nomad, where every couple of months they pick up everything and move towards the water source, or crop land, or whatever they need at that time.

    Tiny bit of negative before the awesome, they say these wonderful things about Afar people to you, but the only people we saw and interacted with were those begging for things, or simply pointing and laughing. Give me money, give me pen, give me candy, chocolate, and when all else fails, they point to something on you and say give me, plain and simple. Aggressive, annoying little ones, and you got to wonder "who's the idiot still giving them these things?". Well we found out.

    There was this one particularly bad town, where you were literally swarmed with kids the second you stepped out of the jeep, also where the company decided we would have to spend half a day and the night. The second night of the tour, everyone basically agrees it's just to elongate the tour, but it's completely unnecessary. They bring you to a family compound, lay mattresses on the ground of 2 large rooms for the 15 of us, and you spend from around 2pm until the next morning at 10am here. As I mentioned, leaving the compound meant you were surrounded by kids grabbing your arm, pointing at you, and asking for things. They scream hello at you, and scream louder and louder until you answer them. Problem is you already said hello about 5 times, but dammit they want it a 6th time!

    After a while, we started ignoring them. That failed. We then started being more direct, telling them to leave, go away.

    It took me walking around this town of about 8 minutes, no more, to start getting rocks thrown at me. At first, smaller rocks, and to Jack also. We obviously turned, told them to stop and kept walking. I then started getting larger rocks. Jack, not so much. And larger. To the point where I got bruised in 2 places on my back from 2 rocks that nailed me. At this point, there are about 25 kids following us and laughing. Jack and I realized at that moment that I was apparently a little too different looking for them. It was very clearly aimed at me.

    Obviously at this point, I headed back to the compound, where I had to spend from 3pm until the next morning sitting in one little court yard, not exploring. Others also went for walks and returned within 5 minutes because of the overwhelming kids. Small rocks thrown around them, not on them. This was probably my most disappointing evening.

    Disappointing because as a traveler, you want to trust the people around you, you want to know you can get help, or just having an interaction with someone can be pleasant. But it was that evening that I realized I had no trust in any of my interactions with Ethiopians. They see us as wallets, entirely unwelcomed to their country unless we just walk around with an automatic tip or donation dispenser. A big part of travelling for me is the relationship you form with locals, and the experiences gained through them, but I won't find that here.

    And then these two Americans, who apparently loved the kids, thought they were cute, decided to reward them all by giving them candy right outside our compound gates. They were surprised when the kids tore the bag away from them and ran away with it. Rewarding them. I couldn't believe it. I guess that's why they keep asking.

    Enough negative, I saw a f***ing lava lake! The first day, we drove out as close to the Irta'ale volcano as possible, we ate, then started our 3 hour hike to the crater. We start this hike only at 5pm because apparently the goal is to walk with a headlamp in the dark for half of it, just for fun and games. This was the longest 3 hours ever, mostly because we could see the glow of the lava once it got dark, shining into the clouds. We all just wanted to get there!

    Arriving at the top was just magical. You arrive at the top of the crater, looking down on this far, yet so reachable lava lake, just dancing around, spiting up every once in a while. Looked like the ocean side, crashing against the reef, only its firey lava! Once we got the go ahead from the military keeping guard, we actually descended into the crater and walked over this cooled off magma, crackling under our feet as if we were walking on giant charcoal. We got, without exaggerating, within 15 feet from the lava itself! Wind was strong and blowing the spiting bits away from us. The level of the lava must have been 2-3 meters from the rim. Seeing it bubble up, spit up, crashing against the side, absolutely mind blowing. Hot also. We were only permitted to stay about 40 minutes, and had to head back to the top of the crater to settle in for the night. Our accommodation for the evening - old, dirty foam mattresses, about 2-3 inches thick, depending how lucky you were, set into the dirt ground right smack outside around the crater top. The mattresses are laid out in groups of 3 within these 2 feet tall stone enclosures, almost like you would build around a fire pit, to help protect us from the wind. Thank God for our sleeping bags! Created this artificial cocoon I could pretend I was safe inside. The next day Jack told me there were mice in the rocks around us but chose not to tell me before because she knew I wouldn't have slept. Well played, well played.

    We were woken at 5am so we could go back down for a second lava lake visit, only 20 minutes this time. I didn't want to leave. But eventually did, and we hiked down the 3 hours to our breakfast! The rest of the day was spent driving to that not so lovely town I told you about, where these same mattresses were laid out for us.

    Day 3 we drove out to the salt lakes Lake Asale where these huge groups, caravans of camels and mules are still being used to carry the mined salt blocks back into town. Apparently, despite the fact that you can drive onto these lakes with large trucks, the locals are choosing to keep doing it the way they were taught traditionally, lifting all the salt blocks from the ground by hand, shaping them into squares to allow for easier transport and balance on the animals, and walking it all back. You couldn't see the end of this incredible white surface. We stayed here for the sunset (although too cloudy to see one) and had the music from one the trucks blasting, we danced and drank some local wine, had ourselves a great time. It was entertaining to see our military escorts have wine and dance with us...

    Again, our accommodation for the night, weaved beds, with our usual mattresses over top, again outside. No walls, no markings of rooms or anything, just the Jeep parked at one end to "protect us from the wind" apparently. Where our 300$US each went, no one knows. But again, interesting experience! Apparently the star gazing is beautiful here, but unfortunately it was cloudy our whole stay. It was also supposed to be the warmest place on earth, averaging 34 celsius daily, but the clouds kept us cool all day.

    And lastly, the sulfuric lakes in Dallol. The mixture of magnesium and sulfur and potash made these incredibly colourful formations... I was in awe of what nature could create. Yay for science.

    All in all, 4 days of being driven around to these incredible sites, being fed amazingFood, in good company, what more could I ask for! All of it made my having to use the great outdoors as my toilet for 4 full days very easy to take !

    And Jack can't stop talking about the volcano. Says she's going to stay to hang out with it, see how it's doing...
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  • A month in Ethiopia has left me satisfied and confident I have explored all that I wanted. My lasting impressions are a little mixed.

    I know I've had a few harsher things to stay about Ethiopian people. Let's keep in mind, this only my experience, and I do not want others to feel the need to defend it's people. I'm very aware we all have different experiences, and that there are wonderful Ethiopian people out there.

    My lasting impression of the people is they really don't seem to care about helping you... Sounds harsh, but I've mentioned a few examples already. Small yet frequent things like when a waiter has difficulty understanding you, they leave, disappear. But minutes later you find them doing nothing, just standing somewhere else. They didn't understand so they gave up and left. No bill was ever coming, no food. They can always go get someone with better English. Or ask me to say it different ways. But no, they just leave.

    The kids all mock faranjis, their hellos and "give me money" all sound like a game to them. One where they've aloud themselves to grab onto whatever they can, to fully reach their arms out and point and laugh at you, to have full conversations about you in front of you... They act as if we owe them these things, offended when we don't comply. I really wish I could meet the first white person who decided it was a good idea to give out candy to all the kids. As if that would help their nutrition, or further their education, or health.

    I find it very difficult to leave with this impression, but my few positive experiences were overshadowed by the number of negative experiences.

    The country itself, absolutely beautiful! The towns themselves were incredibly interesting, with so much character and history. Following the travel book was one way to go about exploring, but some of my favourite moments were those where we just went for a walk, off the usual path, and see what the country gives us. I still think my favourite walk was in Bahir Dar where we just walked down the main road until it was no longer a main road... Some nature mixed in with villages, gives a deeper understanding of the true Ethiopia. The nature was gorgeous, mountain after mountain leading to incredible views. I mean, the volcano, and the whole Danakil Depression speaks for itself. I honestly, truly enjoyed my experiences here.

    Most of my travels have been in South East Asia, with some of Europe more recently. I have never seen the continent of Africa, and it has opened my eyes to a whole new world needing to be explored. The way of life, culture, traditions are all so unique and beautiful. Granted, the poverty is also at a level I haven't seen, except maybe my little time spend in Cambodia. People seem to help each other out here. From what I've understood of their interactions, they appear to share with themselves, they give their seats up to others, they show affection amongst friends and family, their greetings to each other always appear sincere and respectful... Like when we were on an 8 hour bus to Shire, there was a baby (maybe 5-6 months old) that was being passed around to probably 10 people to give mom a break, the little sister being around 5 was sitting on her brothers one by one. Why us faranjis don't deserve the same respect, I will never understand.

    Onto new discoveries! Ethiopia, thank you.
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  • One heck of a bang actually, just not a good one.
    Jack got food poisoning. At least that's what we assume. I recently saw what food poisoning can do to someone I love and I got scared. She got the kind you bring a bowl with you to the washroom just in case. It started at 3am yesterday (Feb 1st) and is ongoing. As nice and new as our hotel is, it's still a shared bathroom. No one wants to feel like this, and then have to walk down the hallway to see if the washroom is available. I offered to get us a room elsewhere, I'd even carry her, but she didn't have the energy to move. By around 1pm yesterday she was able to start hydrating, it took her the rest of the day to finish one 1L bottle including 2 glasses of our hydralyte tablets. Problem is, it's still coming out. We've gotten the nausea mostly under control with our strict gravol every 6 hour regiment, but at the other end, that's a different story.

    According to our book, and we believe it, the better health care available in the country, really the only facilities worth going to for treatment, are in Addis. So we were determined to make our flight to Addis this morning. We decided that on the flight to Addis we would decide if she was well enough to continue to Dire Dawa. Otherwise we can just stay in Addis, and make our connection flight to Entebbe in 2 days. Simple.

    She's breaking my heart. No energy what so ever. She's currently lying on the airport floor, waiting to board. Cheeks sunken in, but definitely better then they were yesterday afternoon! She couldn't stand without help yesterday, today she can walk short distances. We walked from our ride to the airport to the entrance and sat. We passed security and sat. She wanted to try eating bread, which she actually managed to do, including an egg. I think we're looking up. Problem is, drinking water all day isn't much fun when you know you'll just have to go back to the washroom so I'm spending the day encouraging her to hydrate. It's now 1015am. Boarding the flight soon. Let's see how the day goes. What's making me want to cry right now is that I can't hold her, I can't kiss her forehead or tell her I love her, because we're in public.

    It's now 1.30pm and we've made it to the room! Success! Jack slept sitting up in the airport in Lalibela, slept on the floor once passed security, slept the whole way on the plane... It was clear we weren't making it to Harar today, and that's OK. I had already made the decision in my mind that we would stay in Addis, and once I woke Jack up after the plane landed, she said she didn't have the strength to argue with me. I think we did Ethiopia justice. We saw absolutely beautiful things, we got to know the culture and the people, and we both feel very satisfied with the Ethiopia portion of the trip. I'm ready to move on.

    I actually got a partial refund of the flight we didn't take today to Dire Dawa. I wanted to inform them we wouldn't be on the flight back from Dire Dawa obviously, but that we planned on taking the flight from Addis to Entebbe. They said they needed to reimburse my ticket, and sell me a flight only from Addis to Entebbe. Problem is, we paid 6300 for our flight and they want to sell me a flight that's 9300. The same flight I'm currently booked on, minus a leg, would cost me more... According to them, because they were booked together I can not take one leg only. So we decided to gamble, show up on the 4th and argue our way on. We'll see how that goes.

    Jack barely made it up that stairs once at the hotel room and hit the bed. She's finished another water bottle, kept the egg and bread... We're on the right path! We went for luxury this time. And by that, I mean it's 31$us and we get our own satellite TV, mini fridge, private washroom... Score! Everything I need to entertain myself while she sleeps.

    Longer term traveling means you have the time to fully recover, you don't have to be miserable on somekind of time restraint. We will get Jack back to 100% before starting Uganda. More good times to come!

    It's now 7pm, and she's doing fantastic! I wanted to wait for a positive outcome before posting about this, and the time has come! She slept all afternoon. I brought back my left over rice which she ate, ate some bread, still drinking water. Nausea under control. She even peed! She's now awake, for the first time in 2 days, eyes wide open, watching a movie in bed, eating a mango. Her colour is back. Best of all, her smile is back. Tomorrow is another relax day in our luxury room, and maybe a 5 minute for Jack... Stretch her legs. She'll be back up and running in no time!

    Jack says : Uganda here we come! Oh and if my parents are reading this, I'm fine. Vee just gets nervous.
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  • Now that Timkat is over, well there's a third day of celebrations but after 5 nights in Gonder, we needed to move on, we started making our way through the North.

    We first made our way to Aksum (or Axum) which consisted of a bus to Shire (8 hours) and a minibus to Aksum (1.5 hours). They say Aksum is often skipped by travelers on a time restraint, and few stay in this town. We loved it! Apparently civilization started to establish themselves here as early as 400 BC.
    One of the many great things - 1 tickets, 25 birr (if you're a student, which we still conveniently are according to our card), give you access to all of Aksum's historical sights. The Aksumite Stelae field and Tombs showed the Aksumite period to be of great importance in building structures. They say only 10% of Aksum has been excavated, leaving 90% to the imagination ! What were we stepping on... these tombs and stelae were from 4th century AD showing more advanced and persist building methods then the pyramids in Egypt. Granted, none of this sounds interesting, but we had a great time visiting. The Archaeological Museum was actually pretty legit! First museum we see with English markings and information.

    We loved best of this town was probably more the feel of it. Hardly any tourist, very few, if any, haggling and annoyance from kids asking for things. We got a great room in Walia Hotel, central, cheap (150 or 200 birr) and brand new ! We've learned that the new hotels are the cheapest because they are still trying to make a name for themselves. And toilet seats are still intact ! There's actually 2 markings on the tourist book map saying "Fig tree", which we thought was hilarious so of course we went to both. Turns out its these huge open areas, all cobblestones around these huge fig trees. So majestic and gorgeous.

    Before heading to the next town the next morning we checked out the market and the animal market. Quite overwhelming in scents and things to see, tons of people all selling the same things in sections. Like this is the isle for garlic, this one for red peppers, this one for onions... The animal market was slightly less interesting, long walk outside of town to find a large brick enclosure (bigger then a gymnasium) with tons of goats, sheep, cows, all for sale I would imagine...

    30 minutes of minibus took to Adwa, where we were hoping to find a certain monastery and monument. We found neither. No one spoke English. We kept being offered a Bajaj (tuk tuk). So we left. Onto Yeha.

    In Yeha was the Great temple, something built in the 7th century BC. It is considered the birthplace of Ethiopia's earliest known civilization nearly 3 millennia ago, according of Lonely Planet. Scaffolds everywhere made it difficult to appreciate, but the "museum" next to it was great! The priest from the church showed us a bunch of old relics, was passionate, and of course finished with "tip?" He showed us some Christian scripts he said was up to 1000 years old, we got to flip through one that was 300 years old... apparently...

    This tiny town of Yeha was great to walk through the side streets. It was obvious that tourist mostly came only by tour bus, saw the great temple, and left. We were left to ourselves, except for the mandatory "Salam" to everyone. We got to peer into some courtyards, saw the straw and mud home with fire "ovens", mats on the ground... Simple, great experiences.

    In front of the temple, we spoke with a tour bus driver who informed us their group was driving to Adigrat after. We had just learned that we needed to bus back to Adwa to make our way to Adigrat, so we were hoping this was our chance to save some time! The bus driver told us the group was French though, which apparently lowered our chances of getting on... still we were determined to try!

    About 30 minutes, we hear the bus leaving. We make our way out of the side streets of Yeha onto the only street out to wave the bus down. Once it stopped, we asked the tour guide if he would let us on, with our best french accents and smiles! He turned to his group, turned back to us and said "sorry, no room" and they drove off. Hmm, funny because the bus driver had already assured us there were empty seats. So we bitched to ourselves, the damn french ! And low and behold, the bus re-appeared 5 minutes later! They turned back around for us! Turns out, the guy I sat next to spoke up for us, stating it was absurd not to help a fellow traveler! Yay for us!

    So here we were, sitting on a private tour bus, air conditioning, guy on the microphone pointing things out... Stopping every 5 minutes for them to get out and get a picture from the same view as the last picture... It was surprising how negative these people were... complaining about the roads, complaining about the lack of information from the guide, too hot, too cold... boy oh boy.
    We even got to drive by Debre Damo, a monastery both Jack and I really wanted to see because it was at the very top of a mountain, only accessible by climbing up a stone wall ! We chose against going because only men can access the monastery it was too far for public transportation. But we got to see it!

    Finally in Adigrat, we find a hotel (its dark at this point, 6.30pm ish) not too far from where the bus dropped us off. The next day was spent lazing around, trying to catch up on blogging and internet, which clearly was unsuccessful. The wi-fi here is in a class of it's own... Saw some churches, since it was Sunday we got to observe (and participate) with some of the celebrations inside the church compounds.

    Making our way to Mekele in the afternoon was stress free, we just needed to get there for our tour to the Danakil Depression leaving the next day. The best part of the day was the guy we sat next to on the bus to Mekele. He worked for a medical equipment company, was the first person to recognize what my wrist tattoo stood for, and spoke to us about his culture. One story blew my mind :

    Every church in Ethiopia is painting with the colors of the flag, red yellow and green. We always assumed they were proud of their country, and displayed their colors.
    Actually, something like 400BC, there's a belief that 3 birds came down from heaven, singing the songs of God. A historically famous musician wrote these songs down, and they are now an important part of any cultural music. These 3 birds were Green, Yellow and Red. So the colors were actually the church's first, and eventually became the flag colors because at the time, church and government were the same. Mind blown.
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  • So we started our journey in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. I didn’t know this, but Ethiopia is the second most populated country in Africa apparently. There’s lots of people. Like lots. It’s a slap in the face of poverty, dirt and smells. I found it difficult to believe the capital itself had this level of garbage, dirt, and homelessness.

    Now, I know I’ve been to countries like this one. And I’ve done fine. Most notably Cambodia. But I guess I’m older now, and have more difficulty adapting. I haven’t slept more then 3-4 hours per night, going to bed around 9pm and waking up at 1am not able to sleep again. Only to then be grumpy all day (Jack’s patience is impressive). And to this jet-lag exhaustion, I add – my anxiety (at least I think that what it is) is not letting me eat!

    Little message for the parents – I’m fine! Feeling OK, just low energy, getting by right now on half breads and white rice. Back home, I know I’m anxious when I can’t finish a plate without getting super nauseous on my last bite. It’s never gotten to a point of puking though (sorry for the graphics), until now that is. The thought and smell of food is making me nauseous and attempts at swallowing anything is making me sick. I keep telling myself “I just need to reboot, get one good meal in”, but I’m still waiting for that meal. I thought it was the malarone I was taking that was making me sick, but I didn’t take it today and no change.

    Now I know some might be worried reading this, and that’s not the point of reporting it. The point is – it’s OK to be anxious. It’s OK to admit when you’re overwhelmed. It’s OK to take time away from visiting to reboot. I know I’m an anxious person, I knew this would be taking me out of my comfort zone, and I just have to adjust. I’ve got time, no worries.

    That being said, I’ve seen some incredible things already! Addis was a little too busy for my taste, and I learnt an incredible amount at the Red Martyr museum. We spent the day today on a bus (10.5 hours) to get to Bahir Dar. On the way the landscapes were absolutely incredible. Little girls carrying their jugs of water home from the well. Little boys handling the cattles. Absolutely beautiful. And the best part is – we were sitting all day so no need for energy!

    All in all – I’m actually, no lie, excited for the trip to continue! I can only imagine the incredible things I will see. I’m just really looking forward to that meal.
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  • Apparently writting about my fears and short comings has taken it’s power away! I woke up this morning (around 4am of course, jet-lag hasn’t improved) feeling the effects of not eating; hands shaking, legs wobbly, not feeling top shape. But I was determined. We had planned for a 3-4 day hike in a couple days and I was determined to get my issues under control before then.

    So I got up. I had a left over pastry for yesterday, kind of a mini banana bread or something, that I was determined to finish! Well believe it or not folks, I had about 4/5 of it and it felt like I was such a champ! Nothing could stop me! I took a super cold shower without even being fazed by it. We went out around 8am hoping to hitch a ride with a tour to monasteries on Lake Tana. I actually felt energized, the monasteries were beautiful and I could actually appreciate it. I had fascinating conversations with other tourist and actually managed to socialize without wanting to curl up into a corner. I was actually more talkative then Jack today! Unstoppable. Incredible what food will do for you. With my new found confidence we had a late lunch and I ate 2 pieces of pizza. I’m on cloud 9!

    Bahir Dar has been beautiful. The monasteries showed some very particular cultural practises – shoes off before entering, they were circular with an inner circle only the priests could enter. The people are so proud of their culture. We were invited to have a cup of coffee – the beens coming from the island, roasted locally.

    Of course the usual ‘tourist trap’ issues like we were told the boat ride to the peninsula where we would see the first ministry was 45 minutes, it took 1hr10. We were promised food at the first stop because Jack hadn’t had a chance to have breakfast yet, and there were bananas only (keeping in mind we left at 9am and returned at 230pm). Still one great experience, and just being on a boat, and the water, so relaxing.

    Once back in town we took a walk along the shore of the lake. The nature was incredible and the bird watching was nuts! I know, sounds lame, but it’s always been something that I enjoyed, and colours and sounds of different birds. We stumbled upon a brand new church. We even walked far enough for the locals to finally start saying hi to us genuinely and not just to get something out of us.

    Today was a great day. The beginning of a great trip.
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  • Excuse me for not updating, this is where I’ve been :

    The Simien Mountains.

    We made our way to Gonder to plan our 3 day hike in the Simien Mountains. Our way there was an event of its own, and planning it, not so much.

    We arrived at the minibus station in Bahir Dar to make our way to Gonder. We were instantly surrounded by minimum 10 young men yelling “where you go? Where you go?” The crowd of them was pretty intimidating. We kept asking them to back off but off course, at the chance of getting commission, why would they. We finally just sat down on the side of the bus station amongst the locals for them to tire out.

    Once back at it, Jack and I found our way to a minibus going to Gonder, as we wanted, still with the crowd yelling at us that we were in the wrong one, this one is full, we need to get off right away… All because we managed to get in on our own, pay the 65 birr like everyone else, and no commission for them. And off we went! 4 hours in a minibus (more like 3 row mini van) along with everything you can think of – coca cola bottle, khat leaves (they chew on it for a high), and a man’s bag of something that he refused to move. I spent the trip with my backpack on one knee because the other leg had to be up on the seat in front since there was no space for my leg against the ground. Good times though! Lol.

    On arrival, the reason I said planning the hike was easy is in Ethiopia (or any country like this), the locals call each other when there’s white people somewhere for them to sell to. We weren’t even off the bus when our, now friend Guyamo (no clue how to spell it), came onto the bus to chat with us. While he walked us to different hotels (he has commission at) he talked about us joining the group for the hike leaving the next day (that being the 14th). So we book a room for the night, he even takes us to dinner (we paid our own don’t worry) and by sundown we were booked to leave in the morning for an all inclusive 3 days 2 nights hike in the Siemens Mountains.

    Everything went incredibly smooth during the hike. For 165$US we slept in the lodges at camp instead of tents, which means Jack and I needed to share a single bed the first night due to lack of space.

    The sad part is, it’s so cold at the camps (about 3500m high) and yet we needed to keep the “just friends” act – no body warmth. Both of us in separate sleeping bags, side by side, trying to warm up without the comfort of your partner. It’s incredible how you spend time side by side, and yet miss each other.

    There were so many incredible view points that I can’t even explain in words how beautiful it was.

    Because of the height, temperatures hut 1-3 degrees celsius at night, so dinner and breakfast were 1quite chilly!

    For those who would say they know me well, then you are aware of my love for all primates. Well along the way, I almost became disenchanted – oh, more monkeys. There were baboon families (a good 50 of them) that travelled together a little everywhere in the park. Apparently, according to our guide, there were over 40 000 of these baboons in the mountains. We actually got to sit amongst them for a little while. It was a group that were being followed by americains for research, so they were used to people being close. I sat within 2 feet from these wonderful creature, just doing their old thing. Not in an enclosure of any kind, not trained to entertain crowds. Just eating grass, eating each others flees, play fighting, and every once in a while fighting for their women.

    This last video was actually taken at a view point where we went to see the sunset. The view was ridiculous, sunset not so much… The distant fog and clouds covered the sun before it could set behind the mountains. Still, incredible.

    Along they way, we passed very few small villages from afar and just before finding camp the second night, we passed through Geesh village, where we were offered a “coffee ceremony”. We sat down about 15 feet from the group of villagers who were just waiting for more tourist to come by to sell their tiny little woven baskets. While we were waiting for our slightly slower hiking companion Bart to meet up with us, the entire group (maybe 3 women and 15 children) got up and came to sit facing Jack and I at about 3 feet distance. This is where all the world vision commercials come to mind with some Sarah McLaughlin in the back ground… All of them silent, starring at us, with an impressive amount of flies on their faces. None in ours. One kid, I swear about 20 flies just walking about in his face, believe it or not – mouth open. It was quite the site. With all this starring, we chose against the coffee ceremony.

    A relaxing, beautiful and peaceful experiences.


    Back in Gonder, our friend Guyamo keeps meeting us everywhere we go. I feel like there’s a gps on us that we’re unaware of… On the road back to town from the hike (now 16th), he called us on the cook’s phone to say the hotels were getting packed so he made a reservation for us in a room. This was funny to me. We said we wanted to stay at L Shape hotel because that’s where our new hiking friend Bart, from Poland, was staying but he said they were full so we’re better off with his reservation. Off course they weren’t but it turns out the room he got us was cheaper, better, and smaller which is always nice.

    Finally we get to close the door and have some level of intimacy. This next part isn’t for parents or the prude – it has been a challenge, to say the least, to try and find a way to remain partners, lovers, in a place where you have to make a conscience effort to keep a distance. Even behind closed doors, even with the door locked, and the drapes shut, there’s always that voice in the back of your mind – what if someone comes in? What if they can see us? Do they detain us right away? Do they just bring us to the airport to make our way out of the country? Can we even go to the next country on our list if we’ve just been kicked out for the same reasons the next country would kick us out?

    I guess we’ll just have to stay as confident as we’ve always been that despite our physical distance, we love and appreciate every minute of this as partners.
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  • We had the opportunity (really we just miss calculated our time) to spend extra time here in Gonder. It’s a city you can easily do in one day if you just go from site to site, but we got 2 days to take it easy, and we’ll have another 2 days to celebrate Timkat with the locals – the epiphany.

    When walking around a town with no destination in mind, that’s when you can really appreciate everything outside the typical tourist trail. The tourist trails is full of young people yelling hello, how are you, where you go. All try to sell us Kleenex packs or gum by the stick. Some of the kids just ask straight up “give me money”. I find them entertain, screw the pleasantries just give me money.

    Side streets, now those are interesting. When you have all day to get to one church, you can let yourself get lost in streets where people are busy doing their own thing.

    We got all the way to the local market today. Jack compared it to an outdoor Walmart – you can get anything there! Clothes, animals (dead or alive), spices, tons of dried red pepper, baskets and buckets and everything!

    The last 2 days has been relaxing, it has been eye opening for local Ethiopian culture, and it’s been fun! FYI I’m really enjoying the food, so no further weight loss. Pierre – I’m on the last notch of the belt… :S

    Last night we had the chance to out to Ase Bekkafa (something like that), a local dance club. You should all YouTube traditional shoulder dancing Ethiopia – if you thought you could “pop and lock it”, you haven’t seen locals dance! Jack even got pulled onto the stage, and I think she did great! Locals loved it. As you can see from my last post, I’m having difficulty posting videos, but hopefully the one of her dancing will be posted soon!

    Oh ya, and the sites – we saw the Royal Grounds today, beautiful, old palaces, not what we’d expect to see on Ethiopia, but interesting none the less! And yesterday we visited a gorgeous church where a monk showed us around, pointing to the painting covered walls and explaining their reference to the Bible. Jack and this monk had plenty to chat about as I just stained at all the paintings. Debre Birhan Selassie, thank you.

    All for now! Timkat tomorrow. Let’s hope I manage to keep my wallet. :)
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  • We got to celebrate Timkat! Aka the epiphany. It’s the largest religious celebration (at least I think it is) in Ethiopia, and we went to the town that had the biggest celebration of course! When in Rome!

    Basically it’s 3 days, January 20th to 22nd (leap year, it’s usually the 19th), where on the first day the many churches of the town march towards the Center of town with the arch of covenant. Then the whole town follows the arch of covenant over to Fascilades Bath (old looking building in the middle of a concrete empty structure that is filled with water only for Timkat) where it is kept overnight, guarded by priests and monks. The walk down follows these priests and monks, but they could only walk on red carpets. Which means there was a group of men who would roll up the one of 4-5 red carpets once the arch of covenant had passed it, and would run it up in front of them and unroll. Talk about an exhausting role. Because of this, the walk was at the piazza (so Center town) around 1pm, and Jack and I followed it to the baths – where it arrived around 6pm!
    Many of the people stay in the surrounding field overnight, chanting and lighting up candles.

    The second day is the recreation of the baptismal, where once the sun is up, the water is blessed by the highest priest. Once blessed, everyone one around jumps in the water and it’s a huge celebration in these waters! Chanting, singing, people from the crowd that were too far would throw bottles of water to be filled with this blessed water and they were thrown back so they could all be blessed.

    In the water were mostly boys and young men, women were mostly waiting for the bottles of water. I’m guessing it’s a modesty thing. Also, it super cold at that time of day! The water of have been freezing, it’s probably around 5-10 degrees overnight and at sunrise maybe 10-12 degrees. Locals are usually wearing the thickest jackets at this time, let alone tripping down to their boxers to jump in water.
    The afternoon of the second day and the third is the same procession walking the arch of covenant back through town and back to their respective churches they go. They fill the streets making circles, chanting, singing, honestly all looking incredibly happy to be celebrating.
    Everyone (or mostly) was dressed in traditional clothing from their respective churches, lots of white dresses and scarfs, with colourful borders. Men in white suits. All dressed to impress.

    Now for the tourist, we saw the most tourist we’ve seen yet in Ethiopia, in Gonder for Timkat. White people were everywhere, all of us being warned about the pickpocketing that would happen. We were told by our local friend Mulish (who was fantastic at organizing everything for us) to just bring enough money for water, nothing else. So we brought out cellphone for photos only.
    We had the chance to stay in a homestay for Timkat, so had a chance to chat with the family there. We borrowed white scarfs from them since we knew all the women would have one over their heads for the day. These two young girls took a liking to us, basically because we’re white, and starting chatting with us. At one point I wanted to shower, so needed to changed, and once I expressed this they’re basically just sat on the bed waiting for me to go ahead and change. I had to ask them to leave very bluntly or else they weren’t getting the hint! The also brought us special celebration bread, which we got to eat with their family, Grand father, Grand mother and aunt. No english. When we sat down they right away changed the channel to their only English channel that played old movies (the Perfect Man at this time). It was generous and welcoming. Made us feel bad for having to jump their gate the night before because we got back too late… Does lock at 9pm but we didn’t know!

    At the baths, there was a temporary stadium steatting installed for the tourists. They said it was to keep us safe from theft, but as Jack mentioned, it’s probably a great way to keep the white people out of the way of their celebration, which is understandable. Because of the chanting overnight, tourists are all told to show up at 3-4am of we want to witness the Baptismal. Thing is, no one speaks good enough English to explain why we needed to be there so early, or what would go on. We were just all told to show up at 4am if we want to see the celebration. So we did.

    We took a bajaj (like a tuktuk) because who wants to walk 30 minutes at 4am! Getting there, there was a line up to get into the stands on one side, and even people with “vip” tickets weren’t getting in (which of course we didn’t have). So we went to the other side, managed to squeeze our way threw the crowd, I passed first, Jack followed, you could see that the army guard wanted to ask for our VIP tickets but was distracted. They stopped our 2 Belgian friends behind us and asked for their tickets, to which they responded they were there with a group and the guide had the tickets. No further questions asked, they were let in, and maybe 2-3 more people behind us and that’s it! Full, no more room. We thought it was hilarious, last people let on and without tickets, luck!

    Then reality set in. A bunch of white idiots, freezing, sitting on these wooden stands, waiting for a ceremony we had no clue when it would happen. Well, 8am is when it happened! 4 hours later! I guess it was their way of getting us to see the setting in the night time, which was absolutely gorgeous. Candles everywhere. Quiet singing. Families huddled together. But since the sun rises around 630am, I will never understand why 4am was suggested, and why no one doubted it! A crowd of white people, freezing, waiting 4 hours for a celebration.

    You could really see the pride Ethiopians have of their culture and religion. It was incredibly beautiful to see.
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  • Now it's Sunday morning, we wake up at 530 am to make it to the churches for 6am, as the locals do. We walked around a little. Got to hear the chanting playing over loud speakers. People crouched down a little everywhere praying. Everyone with their usual white scarfs around their heads. Slight lighting made the ambiance perfect. These churches are so impressive, standing what seems to be 30 feet tall, red tint, all carved from a rock. Then a man asks for our tickets. We present them. No problem. Once we get to the next church, a man asks for our tickets. Again we show them, no problem. By the third church, the man asks for our tickets, and then asks for our passport (passport number were written on the ticket). We say we don't have them on us. He argues. We argue. He then demands we follow him to the ticket office. Great.

    Once at the ticket office, they inform us they think it's someone else's ticket. We obviously argue. The man asks us to write our names, countries and age on this little piece of paper. First two I had down, the age in the other hand, I invented. Why not. Jack did the same, or should I say Debra. I was pretty sure Debra was spelt this way on her ticket, but Jack wrote Deborah. Either way, these guys were not believing us, and yet had no reason not to. We argued. Said they were taking 100$US away from us, they had no right.... Argue argue argue, until both Jack and I looked at each other and decided it wasn't worth it. The experience was ruin. Now we were both frustrated and angry. So we left and decided we may have to spent 4 days in this town we would both leave now, but we're not doing the churches!

    Still being early, I suggested we walk to whatever high point we could find to watch the sun rise. Perfect idea. With just enough light, we made our way to what seemed like our own little secluded spot at the edge of a mountain side, and watched the sun rise. Mood set back to zero. The scenery is honestly some of the best I've ever seen, and that goes for most of Ethiopia. It is absolutely beautiful.

    We eventually (around 8am) walk down and make our way to this other part of town for breakfast. A part completely separate from the usual tourists centre. Here, no one spoke to us, no one yelled at us, the women were saying a simple Salem as we walked by, to which we returned the hello. We eventually got the a row of mini huts mostly just selling coffee and breads in from of the bus station. At this point, I knew we only had 65birr on us, but assumed our 1 egg, 1 bread and 2 coffee breakfast would be no where near that. Everyone was pleasant. Of course there was a group of women in the stall next door having a full conversation on how I look, all starring and pointing, but this felt more like curiosity because I'm different and not judgement. I was OK with this.

    Then we try to leave. 80birr is quoted to us. To put that in perspective, we usually have breakfast in the bigger towns that's called Special Full. It consists of an egg, veggies, a bean and tomato mix and yogourt that you mix all together and eat by scooping bread. That breakfast, with 2 teas, usually costs us 30birr. That's in a proper restaurant, not in a shack in front of the bus station. So we argue. Remember, I only have 65birr. They claim coffees are 10 and the egg and bread was 50 (adding to 80 with the water bottle we wanted which is always 10). Again, we argue. We say we've been here for 3 weeks, and named all the towns we've been in and had this type of meal and the usual price. They finally brought the price down to 50birr. From 80 to 50. F***ing walking wallet again. Even 50 is entirely over priced, but we weren't getting any further. So we paid and left angry, after such a promising morning. I managed to very quickly put it behind me, deciding that my morning (not including the ticket annoyance) was too good to let them ruin it. Jack had more trouble. I think both because she really wants to be able to trust people, and because we both know we have another day here.

    The rest of the day was spent reading and writing from our hotels balcony and from coffer shops. It was actually quite funny - our hotel is set about 25 feet from the side walk down the cement courtyard, and we were sitting in the second floor. So quite far from the street. Yet kids still stopped to yell hello from the street in their usual mocking matter, and all Jack kept answering back is "untouchable!"
    She was absolutely excited at the idea that we were untouchable. They can't bug us here. It turned out to be a relaxing, almost vacation like day. Rebooted ourselves.

    Finished the day with a relaxing dinner at Mountain View hotel. Slightly expensive, but with the right to be. Great food, and amazing views of the wonderful sunset.

    One more day in this town, and off to Harar we go!
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