Slightly delayed post on travels from June, but it’s been a busy couple of months finally getting some work done! This post is split into 2 of travel in the South and Amhara regions of Ethiopia and then back to Axum and travelling in Tigray.
The first week in June, Vicki and I decided to combine a necessary trip to Addis for leaver’s workshop with a trip down to Hawassa. Hawassa is a beautiful, lakeside town in SNNPR region in the south of Ethiopia. It is green, lush and much more laid back than the North. The difference in hassle towards ‘ferenji’ is that they shout “you” instead of ‘give me money’. I don’t answer to either.
We stayed at the lovely Lewi Resort on the lakeside where the service was pretty excellent, with lovely views and good service, decent wine and fish! One of the most amusing aspects of the hotel are the cheeky monkeys which patrol the restaurant area and will steal food from your plates. One morning I was held up by a monkey who stole a banana from me by squaring up to me, I relinquished the banana rather than have my eyes scratched out.
Whilst in Hawassa we visited the fish market (which you have to pay to enter) and saw massive maribou storks that look bizarrely like old men in suits. We also visited the other VSO volunteers in Hawassa who lived in a lovely little compound and were also plagued by monkeys on the roofs (makes a difference from pigeons in Axum). Hawassa is a 4-5 hour drive from Addis and served by the fancier Selam Bus, which is more like a luxury coach, you even get served a snack during the journey. As is standard for all bus journeys you stop halfway for a toilet stop which the women are only lucky enough to take advantage of if there are decent enough bushes (there are never decent enough bushes).
Back in Addis, the leaver’s workshop passed without event as we got to grips with the bureaucratic process of leaving this country. The night before Lee (my boyfriend) arrived in Ethiopia, Vicki and I had the luxury of staying at the Hilton courtesy of her parents as a treat for her birthday. We got to enjoy margarita cocktails and the heated pool and felt very much like we weren’t in the Addis Ababa that we had already experienced.
I met Lee at the airport and welcomed him to his first time in Africa, before heading to the Siyonat Hotel in Bole area. After a day of settling in and now being more confident on the line taxis (which are the best way to get around) we ventured out to spend a day by the pool at the Hilton (400Birr). Enjoying some beers by the poolside, a heated pool and then lunch with some nice white wine again is very far from my previous Ethiopian experiences and it was a lovely day. In the evening we headed out to MK pizza, which was great with a good atmosphere and served large portions and interesting versions of steak. With every meal, Lee continued to be surprised that there were many things he could actually eat. After a wonderful day, just as we were getting into bed, a very unexpected event (not on the itinerary) occurred and Lee proposed! After a definite yes (I actually said 100% yes) Lee went down to source their best imported wine (South African – not bad) which was insistently brought to the room by the bemused bar staff. It all started to make sense why a usually laid back guy was so anxious about the effectiveness of the room safe.
The rest of our time in Addis was spent exploring, visiting the National Museum and ‘Lucy’ the oldest discovered bones detailing our origins. There were a number of school groups in the museums who found the ferenji much more interesting than the bones, and forced me to read out the signs in English whilst giggling at me. After the ethnological museum at the university where we saw Haile Selassies’ bedroom (interesting but not as grand as you might expect), we decided to take a walking tour around parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet, ending up at Tomocca coffee where I bought supplies.
We flew to Bahar Dar (not my first choice but the roads would have taken 8 hours) with Lee’s ticket being 3 times the price of mine without residents ID. Bahar Dar is another lakeside town, on the shore of Lake Tana and has a lovely tropical feel with lots of greenery and orange soil. Lake Tana itself is the largest in Ethiopia and takes a day to cross at its widest point. We stayed at the lovely Abay Minch lodge where it seemed we were the only guests. It is a 5-minute drive on a line taxi out of town, but the site is worth it in beautiful secluded gardens with lots of interesting bird life. Also the line taxis are easy to get on and only cost 2 birr into town. In Bahar Dar we wandered around the town, had some lunch and beers at the lovely grounds of the Ghion (best tegamino I’ve had in Ethiopia) and used the wifi to try and contact people back home to spread the news! We also had a lovely lunch at Dessie lodge which has a lovely lakeside location. The market here was also a great place to buy Ethiopian football tops.
As I thought it was imperative for Lee to experience all of Ethiopia I organized for us to take public transport (a minibus) to Gondar from Bahar Dar. First we were hassled at the bus station onto a more “comfortable” bus than usual (and charged an extra 40 birr finders fee). It took 2 hours to leave the bus station, and then stopped to change a tyre before even leaving the town. About 10 minutes out of town they piled on extra people and it was no longer the ‘comfortable ride’ promised. That aside at least there was no relentless vomiting like there is on the minibuses in the north. The countryside continued to be green and filled with fields and people ploughing in preparation for rainy season.
We reached Gondar by the afternoon after seemingly stopping at every hut and village on the way to drop people off and pick up more. The bus was so full I think it was probably safe if we crashed as no one would move.
Gondar was completely different again from Bahar Dar and has a feeling of a medieval town up in the hills. Supported by the fact there is a massive castle right next to our hotel. The Lodge du Chateau is a lovely little place with a few rooms in an enclosed compound and a secluded roof terrace with great views, a lovely place to try the local Dashen beer, and also to have breakfast. As we only planned one night in Gondar we rushed out to see around the Fasilida’s castle. Again ferenji price in play, with a residents ID I paid 10 birr, Lee paid 200birr. We managed without a guide and spent the afternoon wandering around all the ruined castles which have a distinctly North African/Portuguese feel about them. After a walk in the dark through lanes in the evening we came across the Four Sisters restaurant that is easily the best place I’ve eaten in Ethiopia. The setting and service were fantastic and we had lovely Ethiopian food, honey wine all for very reasonable prices.
The next day we were picked up by our driver Abram, organized by the wonderful Dawit of Covenant Travel based in Axum, and we set off for Debark and the Simien Mountains.