Archive for the ‘Getting around’ Category

Sander writes:
The ‘Gashena ticket scam’ (p. 313) is still very much alive. We encountered almost exactly the same thing (unfortunately, we only read about it afterwards). A guy ripped us off for 400 Birr. Also, we found it extremely difficult to find transport in and out of lalibela. We came from Dessie/Woldia and upon our arrival in Gashena, we could hardly find a bus to lalibela (and once we did, we had to pay 400 Birr, whereas the normal price should be 100 for two persons). Also getting out of Lalibela was very difficult: we arrived at the bus station at 5.30 a.m. (advised by our hotel); there were four buses there (already fully packed) which all left without us (after having asked us two or three times the regular price). We ended up hitchhiking with a truck, paying way too much. Then we were stranded in Gashena again, where we had to wait almost 5 hours for a minibus to Bahir Dar, that also overcharged us at least 2 or 3 times. Finally we paid almost 1200 Birr for coming to lalibela from Addis and 1000 for getting from Lalibela to Bahir Dar. Maybe this is worth mentioning (it was by far our most difficult trip, which we did not expect, considering Lalibela is Ethiopia’s most touristic destination).

 
We went to the rock hewn churches in Tigrai. Considering the Mikael Imba church (p. 293-94), you already mentioned that the ‘treasurer’ was ‘neither co-operative nor friendly’. Well, things did not improve lately, to say the least. We had a really bad experience there. We were travelling with a Belgian couple. They decided to not enter the church, but my brother and I wanted to. The priest/treasurer however already wrote a ticket for 4 persons, which is 600 Birr nowadays (we tried to tell him that there would only be two people), and refused to change it. Eventually he got so upset that he refused to let anybody in. Things got out of hand (the guy started shouting at us and went up to our driver) and eventually he threatened to throw a big rock at the front window of our car (we were about to leave). We were quite upset and half the village was there to look at us. Finally we decided to pay him the 300 Birr (the fee for 2 persons) even though none of us had seen the church. We felt that paying was the only option of getting out of there without damage to our car. The treasurer/priest claimed that he would otherwise get into trouble because of the ticket he wrote. We didn’t understand exactly what he meant, but we even offered him to leave a note with our passport numbers and autograph, stating that we did not pay any money to him. Afterwards, we informed the police about the incident in the next village and they told us they would look into it. It is perhaps better to avoid this church all together, because the guy went completely mental.

 
About the Ethiopian Airlines ticket prices: prices for domestic flights are now MUCH lower if you fly with Ethiopian Airlines TO Ethiopia. For example, flying from Bahir Dar to Addis would be around 150 dollars (regular price). However if you have an international ticket through Ethiopian, it would cost you only 50 dollars. Many people we met did not know about this, as the ruling only came into being earlier this year. We flew with Turkish airlines, so no discount for us making it too expensive now for us to fly domestically.

Travellers heading between north and south might want to make use of a new road between Debre Birhan and Mojo bypassing Addis Ababa. The road is unsurfaced, but reputedly in good condition. Coming from Debre Birhan, you need to drive south as if towards Addis Ababa, then before you reach Sheno, head east via Kotu village and south to Mojo (at the junction of the road east to Harar and south to Hawassa).

Thanks to Forrest Copeland fir the following useful updates:

 

•The road between Mekele and Adwa (via Abi Aday and Tembien) is now paved.  There are still a few small stretches that are under construction, but the project should be finished by the end of 2014. It’s nicccccce.
•My 5th edition refers to Awri dancing.  The name should be: Awrs. As stated it’s known all over Tigray and represents serious Tembien pride!
•The town description could be revised:  Abi Aday literally means ‘Big Town’, and although not quite the metropolis this might suggest, it is a reasonably substantial and seemingly quite rapidly expanding settlement, set in a dusty valley below an impressive cliff.  The town is generally divided into three parts.  Kebele 01 is the oldest section of town and holds the old market, tej bets, and the newly paved road to Mylomin.  Kebele 02 is the center of town and contains the bus station, the large new market, banks, many restaurants, bars, and cheap pensions.  Kebele 03, also known as Adigdi, is a rapidly expanding suburb on the way to Adwa.  Starting at the crest of the hill, where you’ll find the hospital, Ras Alula Hotel, and the Mylomin Botanical Garden Lodge, Adigdi continues for 1 kilometer to the College of Teacher’s Education.  Besides offering a base from which to explore Mylomin, a lushly vegetated oasis nestled below sheer sandstone cliffs along the river Tonkwah.  Visitors can take outdoor showers and enjoy food and drink in the cool shade at the day lodge.
Getting there and away: This is still accurate except that the road is now paved with beautiful new asphalt.   Using public transportation, it will take you about 3 hours to get to either Adwa or Mekele from Abi Aday.  By private car, less than 2 hours. Mini-buses and large buses run to both destinations multiple times per day approximately every 2 hours.
Where to Stay:  These are still good recommendations.  Prices have of course increased.  I would add the Mylomin Botanical Garden Lodge in the Moderate category.   Description could be: Located near the Hospital and Ras Alula hotel, this secluded and overgrown compound offers about a half a dozen individual huts that can be rented for the night.  Each cozy and well furnished hut contains a private bathroom, but running water is hit or miss.  The English speaking staff can help arrange tours and car rentals to the surrounding churches.
Where to Eat: The best places for Ethiopian food are Elsa’s Restaurant located near the main traffic circle, or Azeb’s Restaurant located opposite to the bus station.  Both the Mylomin Day Lodge and the overnight lodge offer full menus that include some ferenji food. Abi Adi has a few juice shops and one of them, opposite to the Wegagen Bank, has an unexpectedly articulate and helpful English speaking owner.   Abi Adi is famous for its honey and tej; the best place to try it is in the shade of coffee trees along the river Tonkwah opposite to the Mylomin Day Lodge.
•The information for the Abba Yohanni and Gebriel Wukien Churches is still good.  I haven’t visited the other two.  I paid 150 birr each for these two churches.  There was no mention of TTC guides or permits, in fact the only reference I’ve heard of this system is in your book.  The going rate for a other rock hewn churces is 150 birr each.  This includes: Abunna Yemata (Hawzien), Abraha we Atsbha (near Wukro), and all the churches in the Teka Tesfai cluster.  Those are the ones I’ve visited in the last 6 months.  It’s too bad, as you noted, because it’s really too expensive for some of the less spectacular churches.

Mekele now has two main bus stations.  The original bus station is for south bound buses while the new bus station is for north bound buses (and Abi Aday/Tembien).  It’s a pain in the ass for travelers.  They are connected by contract bajaj service or by line taxi (3.50birr one way).  The new bus station is north of town, on the main road towards Wukro, past the Awash Resort and Hilltop Hotel.  It’s probably 5km from the city center.
Mekele has expanded hugely in it’s upper market food and lodging offerings since I arrived here 1.5 years ago.  I’m not sure how to get you more information about the new spots since mapping is so difficult here in Ethiopia and addresses don’t really exist.  A list of good new restaurants includes: Beef M&N, Sabisa, Karibu, XO Cafe, Omna.  All these places offer pizza and other ferenji food 60 to 130 birr dinner prices.  When you’re in Mekele you could ask around for some of these places.  Also the newest and fanciest hotel in town is called Planet Hotel, located near the Hiwalti war monument and the new (under construction) stadium.  It’s gym, spa, swimming pool, and restaurant puts the former best hotel (Axum Hotel), to shame.  But it’s really expensive.

 

I’ve been trying to seek clarity on the situation with domestic fares since Ethiopian Airlines announced a 40% reduction in May (see http://www.newbusinessethiopia.com/index.php/en/market/106-travel-tips/799-ethiopian-airlines-cut-domestic-flights-rate-40)

So far as I can ascertain it, the full fare for most domestic flights, for instance booked through the website, remains about the same as it was before, typically around US$130 per leg.

However, it seems this fare has been vastly reduced (by more than 50%) to passengers who have booked their international flight to Addis Ababa with Ethiopia Airlines. In this case, the fare is typically around US$55-60 per leg!

So far as I understand it, to take advantage of this massive discount, you must first book, pay and be ticketed fir your international flights. With that ticket number, you or any operator can then book the domestic flights at any Ethiopian Airlines ticket office.

Of course, what happens in theory and in practice aren’t always quite the same thing, so feedback from anybody who tries this would be much appreciated!

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew Birt writes:

I enjoyed reading and made good use of everyone else’s information, so I thought I ought to contribute:

 

Dec/Jan 2014

Travelled solo, independently using local transport

 

Bradt Guidebook excellent

 

General

 

Generally felt very safe and welcome

Quite a lot of hassle from kids, beggars, tourist touts, blokes in the street – quite consistent, but not that persistant and certainly not threatening in any way. Groups of kids are a right royal pain in the ____ .

 

Transport pretty good. People always really helpful – and I always got to where I was heading, even if I’m not sure how. Roads generally good and traffic free – all the driver has to worry about are the people standing in the middle of it and the aimlessly wandering livestock

Cheap tuk-tuks just about everywhere – seem to have replaced garis in most places

Mobile phone coverage generally good – cheap and quick to get sim (need photocopy of passport and photo)

 

Everything seemed very inexpensive – accomm, transport, food, etc

Easy to change cash in banks/airport

ATMs in a lot of places – Dashen and Commercial Bank worked for me

 

Forgotten how noisy Africa is, especially at night – or at least it was where I slept. Every night. My top tip – take the finest ear plugs money can buy. As well as eye drops (for the dust) and lip balm (for the sun).

 

Budget hotels – apart from in Harar – always provided towel, toilet paper and soap.

 

Weather – always sunny and hot during day – 25-30 C. No rain. In some towns, pretty cold early morning and night and required two fleeces (e.g. Debark, Debre Birhan, Abese Teferi)

 

Bole Airport

 

Arrived 2am, and stayed in there until morning flight to Axum. Felt safe, although pretty cold. Nowhere nice to sleep, try and get into domestic terminal departures asap where there are comfortable loungers.

 

 

 

Axum

 

Hotel reps waiting at airport with free transport

Africa House – fine – 175B en suite single

Thought Tsion Maryam complex at 200B a rip-off, considering much of it closed and under refurbishment

Really enjoyed walk out to Debre Liqanos Monastry

 

Shire

 

Africa Hotel – fine – 150B – adjacent restaurant good but noisy at night

Nice just to be in a normal town, without the tourist ‘nonsense’

Good to walk out of town into countryside to see ‘real’ Ethiopia

 

Debark

 

Bus from Shire didn’t leave until after 7, even though told to be there at 5. Awful road. Wonderful Simien scenery for 10 hours or so!

Simien Park Hotel – good – 250B en suite single

Unique Landscape next door also looked good, but slightly more expensive.

If not trekking, negotiate hard and get a number of quotes for your day trip into the national park – tourist touts, argh!!!

 

Gondar

 

Queen Taitu Pension – 200B en suite single. Poor. No hot water, etc. Noisy.

Moved to  Belegez Pension, 200B, water still a problem, but quieter and nicer courtyard

Four Sisters Restaurant – great food and fantastic dancing. Before I left I didn’t think some contrived dance show for tourists would be a highlight of my trip. But it was. Go and see for yourself.

 

As solo, negotiated guide fee down to 100B (rather than 200) for castle complex

 

Kosoye also a highlight. Easy to get to (30-40 mins north of Gondar). Had a very nice breakfast at Befikir Ecolodge, which is visible from main road. Staff super friendly. Then great walk down into valley. Scout cost 100B, and worth every penny. Tough going.  Highly recommended.

 

Bahir Dar

 

Wudie Pension –  nice big room – 200B.

Ghion looked really run down to me, although good spot for meeting fellow tourists.

Tread carefully with the tourist touts in town. Both half day trips to the lake monastries and waterfall were shambolic and a rip-off. Average price paid seemed to be 200B/person, but I’m sure you can get for less. Get itinerary and any additional costs written down. You have been warned! Good for meeting other (equally hacked-off) tourists though!

Lucky with Blue Nile Falls – water was flowing – and another highlight.

 

Lalibela

 

There for Christmas, so very busy and accomm prices x2 or x3 normal rate

Hotel Lalibela, been refurbished and now rather swish. $45/double en suite

Private Roha – very basic, but felt safe – 400B/twin shared facilities

Recommend Unique Restarant opposite Asheton – cheap and good fun

Walk up to Asheton Maryam good, although hard

 

Used local guide  – Zewudu Melak – +251 (0) 913636414 – for churches – nice guy – only ‘guide’ I used that I can recommend

 

Lake Hayk

 

Logo Hayk Lodge (I think, maybe name changed, not sure)

This place could probably be very peaceful and relaxing, but not on Christmas Day with a huge party going on!

230B/hut ensuite for okayish room (150B if you’re Ethiopian!)

 

Debre Birhan

 

Akalu Hotel – reasonable place – 100B for ensuite

Really nice restaurant at Eva Hotel

 

Bishoftu

 

Alaf Hotel – bit noisy and water issues – 170B en suite. Great view of lake

 

Awash

 

Buffet D’Auoache – 150B/room – pretty nice and peaceful place. Dusty, nondescript town though

 

Managed to find a ‘guide’ to get me into Awash National Park by asking around at hotels. Hired a good minibus and driver for 1000B for the day (6am-6pm). Really enjoyed the reserve, it’s not the Serengeti, but saw quite a lot of game. Waterfalls fab. Awash Falls Lodge looked nice and was a good spot for lunch

 

Abese Teferi

 

Kebsch Int Lodge – decent room – 150B en suite; good restaurant attached

 

Got 6am bus direct to Kuni, found ‘guide’ quickly albeit using sign language and pointing to pictures in my Bradt Guide and visited Kuni Muktar Mountain Nyala Sanctuary. Not sure about ‘30-45 mins walk to river’. I got taken 2 hours up a bloody mountain, then 2 hours back down it. Not my ideal start to the day at 7 am. Fantastic though. Saw plenty of (skittish) nyala, warthogs, reedbuck and hyena.

 

Harar

 

Everyone I met moaned about the hotels in this place – except for those in the cultural guesthouses. The only town where I found that hotels were full

Trawfik Sharif Hotel – bit grim – bucket shower – 150B

Tewodros – 160B ensuite – okayish – despite stinking communal bathrooms at entrance

Belayneh – only offering doubles for 300B and water issues

Heritage Plaza looked more run down and mismanaged than guidebook suggests

Harar Ras – looked best bet – been refurbished – cheapest room 230B – good restaurant serving absolutely wonderful pizzas

Fresh Touch Restaurant – good, but expensive (for Ethiopia)

Hyena feeding cost me 100B – the greatest concentration of tourists I saw in one place throughout my 4 weeks in the country

 

Addis Ababa

 

Almaz Pension – 200B shared bathroom – clean, friendly, quiet, safe

Yod Abyssinia – good fun, if expensive – don’t go alone, sit at the front and be of above average height, otherwise you are liable to get dragged up on stage to dance – much to the amusement of the local crowd. This can lead to embarrassing flashbacks.

 

Have a good trip.

Addis Advisor has alerted us to a drastic increase in the cost of domestic flights in Ethiopia as of Nov 2013. Broadly speaking, these now split up into three price tiers, the most expensive being for non-citizens who travel to Ethiopia with a carrier other than Ethiopian Airlines, the middle one being for non-citizens who fly to the country with Ethiopian Airlines, and the lowest being for Ethiopian citizens and expatriate residents with a Green Card. If you look at the Ethiopia Airlines website (http://www.flyethiopian.com/en/default.aspx), the standard fare quoted here for any given domestic flight is the one that will be paid by those coming into Ethiopia on another airline. Those flying into the country with Ethiopian Airlines will pay about 45-55% of this fare. Citizens and expatriate residents with a Green Card pay about 30% of the full fare.

Addis Advisor writes:
 
1. There are so many new hotels, guest houses etc in Addis Ababa these days that taxi drivers may not know them all. So, if you are staying at a new hotel without an airport shuttle bus, have the location description ready for your taxi driver (ideally in relation to a well-known landmark), and the phone number in case he still doesn’t know where it is.
 
2. If  you are arriving at Terminal One and being met by somebody, be aware that non-passengers are never allowed inside this terminal, so you should go out to the car park to look for your lift.

3. The situation if you are arriving a Terminal Two is more complicated, as meet-and-greeters  and drivers are allowed into the terminal, but to do so they have to buy a ticket and queue up for a security check, so most of them opt to wait outside in the car park. I spent three hours waiting for two Colombian Tourists on Friday – on a late plane from Jeddah – and in that time I met four groups or individuals who were waiting inside, when their drivers proved eventually to be waiting outside!  The driver for the Taitu Hotel is especially bad – he was inside at 0730 but outside for his next group at 0930. The potential for confusion is made worse by the phone network, which is pathetic right now. So make sure you know in advance whether the person meeting you is going to be outside or inside.  And if you do agree to meet inside, a great rendezvous is the Yellow Spot Cafe, which is immediately to your left as you emerge from baggage hall, and is open plan (no walls) so you or they are very visible sitting there.