Archive for the ‘Mekele’ Category

Thanks to Michael Pinet for this wonderfully detailed and informative trip report:

We have read and studied the Bradt guide again and again to prepare our 2011 and 2014 trips to Ethiopia and it was the only guide we took with us. We like its thoroughness, accuracy and personal touch. However here is some updated detailed information I would have liked to find either in the latest edition or on the internet. I have also added some impressions about our own experience. I hope it will be valuable to people planning a visit to Ethiopia.

Bale trek
Goba is no longer the hub of the Bale area, Robe is. This the place where minibuses leave for and arrive from Shashemene. Bekele Mola hotel (250 birrs for 2 people in a single room with hot shower) is still fairly good value with its bungalows. As usual in Ethiopia, the bathroom is in poor condition.
The organization of a trek in the Bale mountains is not done through the park headquarters, dealing with civil servants , as in the Simiens but through the Nyala Guide Association next to it. So you need to be very clear and check twice what you really want as English is often misunderstood and they are keen to charge you for extra days, etc. The price are as follows :
- guide 300 birrs per day
- horse 120 birrs per day
- horse handler 170 birrs per day
- cook 400 birrs per day
- tent + sleeping bags 400 birrs per night (rented by a guide’s friend!), expensive but quite
decent equipment
- entrance fee 90 birrs per day / per person
- camping fee 40 birrs per night
If you do not walk back to your starting point, Dinsho, then you have to pay extra days for the horses and handlers. Logical. The same with the guide or cook unless they use your car or minibus to go back.
For a 5-day trek for 2 people you will need to add 1500 birrs (same amount in the Simiens 2 years ago) for the food which the cook will buy (you feed the whole group, of course as in the Simiens but you can tell the cook what you want to eat). He will also supply the cooking equipment.
You might need a car or minibus to pick you up at Sanetti Campsite, at the end of your trek to take you back to Robe, Goba or Dinsho. We paid 1900 birrs (a guide’s friend again). Expensive as usual, but it is the same all over Ethiopia and when you take into account the poor conditions of the roads it is acceptable.
We did the usual 5-day trek
- Dinsho – Sodota campsite (22k / 3100m to 3500m)
- Sodota – Keyrensa campsite (20k / 3750m)
- Keyrensa – Rafu campsite (17k + 4k to visit spectacular lava flow / 3990m)
- Rafu – Garba Guracha campsite (18k / 3950m)
- Garba Guracha – Mt Batu (4200m) – Sanetti campsite where a hired minibus picked us up
That was absolutely great! Not breathtaking as the Simiens was, due to the tracks often along the escarpment, but majestic because of the huge scopes of land and varied landscapes. No problem whatsoever with altitude, etc. and we are both over 65. Contrary to the Simiens there is no water at the campsites and there is a cold northerly wind (you can’t keep a T-shirt on as you would in the Simiens, you need warmer clothes and a woolly hat, especially the last 3 days!). The cook, Idris, was competent and nice and so was the guide, Awol.
They all expect tips as they would in Ethiopia. A day’s fee is the norm as I read in Bradt’s guide when we did the Simiens, so a day’s fee it was and they were pleased.
Wabe Shebelle hotel in Goba is nice, clean, with pleasant grounds (454birrs for a single room for 2, breakfast included).

Shashemene
Shalla hotel : good quality, clean, nice. 250birrs for a single room for 2 people. Not far from bus station

Hawassa
Midroc Zewed Village hotel (called Old Zewed Village now) is just as mentioned in Bradt guide. It is a haven of green, quiet and relaxing, thriving with wild life . We spent our late afternoons sitting by the lake and watching cormorants, Egyptian geese, egrets and kingfishers endlessly . The bungalows are roomy with still decent bathrooms. The manager told us he was planning to pull everything down and rebuild it. Let’s hope he will keep its unique atmosphere. A bungalow with a double bed is 414 birrs, breakfast included. The fish market is not to be missed and neither is the superb walk along the lake, full of life. Had a good meal at the Pinna hotel as mentioned in guide.

Tigrai
Be careful with the freshly appointed civil servant called Astbeha at the Tigrai tourist commission in Wukro. He blatantly overcharged us and is unknowledgable . He offered to be our guide for 275 birrs a day, which we found reasonable , yet it turned out to be the fee per person! (Our fault, I assume for not making things clear at the beginning!). However he proved to have no knowledge whatsoever about the churches we visited and made us miss the opportunity to visit Debre Tsion through lack of information.
It is important to know that you need a guide from the Gheralda Guide Association in Hawzien to visit the churches nearest Hawzien, namely Mariam Korkor and Abuna guebre Mikael as far as we were concerned. We were pleased to get rid of our “guide” for a proper one .
We used Wukro as a base for our 3 day visit and used a minibus (1500 birrs a day) with a competent, nice, responsible driver (Sishay Degu 09 14 49 07 06). Here again it sounds expensive yet the distances are important and the roads are just tracks most of the time. What’s more the driver accompanied us in all the visits and was a good help in discouraging the usual kids and teens .
Day 1 : Mikael Imba and Medhane Alem Adi Kasho
Day2 : Abreha We Atsbeha and Yohannis Maikudi (Debre Tsion could have been done!)
Day3 : Maryam Korkor and Abuna Gebre Mikael
Each church charges 150birrs per person and a receipt is given . Most of the priests do not ask for a tip and all have been very pleasant, sharing some injera and wot with us on two occasions.
Tigrai is not to be missed for the churches of course but also for the landscape and the walks which can be just as good as the churches themselves (the walk to Mariam Korkor in particuliar).
Lwam hotel is clean and pleasant (300birrs for a single room for 2)

Wenchi crater from Ambo
Abebech Matafaria hotel in Ambo is clean, very nice with welcoming grounds (285birrs for a single room for 2 with a good hot shower)
We paid 1100 birrs for a minibus to take us to Wenchi crater and back, a 1.5 hour drive each way on a bumpy track, leaving at 8.30 and coming back at 4.30. A good price negotiated through the hotel receptionist. It should have been 1500 birrs.
Did a superb 5-hour walk down to the lake, across to the island of Deber by boat , then to Immogil point by boat again , then along the Dawala hot spring valley with its watermills, back up to the park headquarters.
- car park fee :30 birrs
- entrance fee : 50 birrs per person
- guide : 200 birrs
- boat : 50 birrs per person
- horse and handler = 50 birrs (we hired them to contribute to the local economy but we didn’t
really need them and hardly used them )
A very scenic place with a nice and clean village and friendly people.
2 hours by minibus from Addis from Asco bus station or Mercato .

Some frustrations
- No maps or guide available anymore (Bale mountains national park, Wenchi crater, Tigrai
churches)!

- Dallas hotel in Mekele is dirty, smelly, not worth the 200birrs for a single room for 2. And we are
not fussy people in the least! The small Moringa hotel next door is much better with friendly staff
yet more expensive (300 birrs)

- Sky buses are still efficient with friendly staff in their ticket offices but the buses are deteriorating
fast and drivers do not seem as cautious as they were. We saw a huge difference in 2 years’ time
and not for the better (cockroaches in one, worn out clutch and creaking gears in another)!

Bernd writes:

I just came back from a 3-week-trip to Northern Ethiopia. Here are some short update:

* From Addis to Bahir Dar: there are also minibuses leaving from a place close to Mercato during the morning. Think this is important as most people travel that direction. Couldn’t find that info in the guidebook.

* Bahir Dar: watch out when booking a tour to the monastries or Nile falls at the Ghion Hotel. Several people got cheated (paying 200, 250, etc) instead of 150. Ended in long discussions…

* Blue Nile falls: No guide necessary (instead you wrote you might need one on page 201). Tour operators tell you that you should go only to one of the places, but only the round trip makes sense.

* The ticket office in Axum is currently used by some people who are not official at all. They just took it over as the real guy working there stopped. So they recommend you guides without license (not necessarily bad ones, we got one good and one bad one).

*Axum / rock churches: We booked a tour with an unofficial but very good guide. We would like to recommend him: Name: Getachen. Phone: 0920018953

* Axum/Mekele: The tour agency at the Africa hotel in Aksum now has a small office in Mekele on the backside of the Atse Yohannis Hotel. If you are in Aksum, talk only to the boss. Other guides from the hotel charge an additional fee when booking through them. We booked our Danakil-tour with them: very good! 500 US$ for 4 days to/from Mekele.

* Lalibela: the Roha Bar and Restaurant (the one beside the Lalibela Hotel) can NOT be recommended. When we got in, it was empty and really dirty, but we were too lazy to walk on. For this we got punished: we both got a really bad diarrhea (likely amoeba).

* the Lalibela Hotel (in Lalibela) has new renovated rooms at 35 US$. They are good, but 35 $ is overpriced.

* Harar: for getting there by plane, I think you should include the info, that you need a transport into Dire Dawa town first and from there to Harar. There are no direct buses from the airport to Harar (easy to find out, but before planning the flight this info would have helped).

* security: in general safe, especially in the Danakil, as there are now lots of soldiers to protect the tourists. But, last week an Austrian guy was killed on a blue nile tour (remote area).

Besides: really nice guidebook (better than the Lonely Planet)!

 

First of all thanks a lot for the great guidebook, it was not only helpful but also a good pastime during long bus rides and a source of many laughs…

Here some updates and personal experience from my 4 weeks Ethiopia trip in May.

General:
- Maestro/MasterCard can be used with any Dashen ATM, the limit per withdrawal was 4000 birr
- Attention: the forex bureau/bank at Addis Bole airport is closed during the day (open only mornings and evenings)! If you happen to have surplus birr, the Ethiopian Airlines lounge will change for an inferior rate (23 birr/$ instead of 17!)

- cashed Travelers Cheques at Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (100$), same exchange rate as for cash, service charge less than 1$)

- exchanged dollars at Dashen bank, same exchange rate for all denominations (even for 1$ bills)!
Addis Ababa:
- Baro Hotel: rundown and quite rough, but clean enough; 135b for a tiny s/c single; shoestring in the great Piazza area
- Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place: most expensive accommodation during my trip, but a very friendly place and good location with many restaurants, shopping facilities etc. around; 220b for a spacious clean single with shared bathroom
- Old Piazza Restaurant (Mahatma Gandhi Rd. below De Gaulle Square, maybe identical with the mentioned “The Pizzeria”) has good pizza, pasta and some local food
- for getting to the Meskel Square, ask for a minibus to “stadium”; they didn’t know “Meskel” or mixed it up with “Mexico” Square

Bahir Dar

- Tana Pension was very rundown, many mosquitoes (the window didn’t close) and erratic water supply; 80b for a s/c single
- Wudie Pension (50m from Tana Pension at the crossroads) has nice rooms; 120b for a single, but the common bathrooms could be cleaner…; try the delicious Fatira for breakfast
- just across from Wudie is a very good restaurant (check out the balcony on the 1st floor)

Gonder:
- Habesha Cafe for good juices and coffee
- booked a 3 days Simien trek with Mickey (simientrektours.com) for 320$; for sure there are cheaper offers around, however I was happy with the tour, we were only 2 and had the best cook around, the guide and the scout just for us, and didn’t meet a single other tourist; very good organization

Axum:
- the bus ride from Gonder to Shire was long and bumpy (almost 12h), but wonderful landscapes and views; tough but worthwhile
- Africa Hotel is a very nice place; 170b s/c single with hot shower and DSTV

Wukro:
- the Tekra Tesfai cluster of rock-hewn churches is easy to visit as a day trip from Wukro, even caught a minibus to Mekele the same afternoon; don’t pay the “keeper” at the foot of the cliff just for taking photos from below the cliff

Mekele:
- Atse Yohannis Hotel is a great place; try to get a room on the 4th floor, mine was the corner room and had great views over the city from the balcony; 200b for a spacious s/c single
- very good local food just across the corner from Atse Yohannis (Bellevue Restaurant?)
- the Green Valley Cafe serves good pizza, burger and of course coffee with some nice pastry

Roger

Thanks to Anton for sending us this trip report from his visit to Ethiopia in September 2011.

 

Weather: I think, September is not the best time to visit E., because there’s still heavy rainfall, most in Addis, during midday and afternoon, but otherwise everything is flourishing

 

Addis Ababa:

 

On Bole Road there are almost ALL African embassies.

 

I can recommend Bole Ambassador Hotel near the airport (www.boleambassadorhotel.com) for those who only want to overnight, but you have to pay 90 US for a single and 120 US for a double room (including buffet breakfast). The transport to and fro the airport is FREE

 

I also can recommend RAS-Hotel at Churchill Rd. Many travellers; clean; Taxis in front oft he hotel; but you have to bargain a lot! To Airport is 10$US. If you wan t to rent a taxi for a few hours: that will cost you 250 BIRR. Opposite of RAS-Hotel, there’s a street, where you can find fast internet!

 

Near RAS-Hotel you can find GALAXY TRAVEL, where you can book flights etc. People, who want to got to South-OMO, should ask there for Mr. Tesfaye MIDEKSO; he’s the guy with all info. A 10 day trip will cost you up to 2400 EURO

 

Lufthansa is now in AXUM Building! Within walking distance: go from Meskel-Square in direction of Haile Selassie Road outtown, and after the Carnivore Resti, go the next broad street tot your right.

 

Address: PO Box 3484, Axum Building, Urael Church to Atlas Hotel Road, Addis Ababa

 

Eating: If you like American/European food go to “Carnivore Addis Restaurant“ Salad-Buffet; good menus. Not far form Meskel-Square; Haile Gebre Selassie-Road, right

side

 

 

Money:

ATM: maximal withdrawal  5000 Birr per day, Exchange rate €1=25 BIRR; US$1=19 BIRR

 

Postcard < 5 Birr

Water 2 Litre bottle: 8-10 Birr

Café  Espresso: 5 Birr

 

If you want to spend a lot of money, go to Sheraton Hotel  for a mixed fruit juice, very delicious, but 120 BIRR!!!!

 

 

Bahir Dar

 

I recommend to take a flight. The airport is a kind of joke, still under construction! Baggage claim is out of the airport, there’s a building to your left, where all the hotels have their boards. Here you can get a transport to YOUR hotel.

 

I choose the Summerland-Hotel; the guy for this Hotel is Mr. Haile Yesus, he’s a good but somehow expensive man! But you can trust him, he can help you in any way!

 

To do the Nile-Falls with a guide and private taxi you pay US$50. The falls are now full of water again!!!

 

Summerland-Hotel: single is 500 Birr (with breakfast). Because of water pressure take only room at 1st or 2nd floor!

 

Ghion Hotel is right now not in a good state

 

Zege Peninsula:  if you can see only these 2 churches, this will be fine! The boat is 750 birr! Entrance fee to the church is 50 birr. Guide 110 birr: this is o.k., because he knows all the pictures and can describe them. There are al lot of  souvenir stalls, but the people are very friendly and not pressured.

 

Other monasteries on the lake:

 

The boat costs you 2400 BIRR: this will be a very long day, starting at 0600 in the morning until 1900 in the evening. Most of daytime you will spend on the boat. Important: Bring some warm clothes with you, otherwise you will freeze!

 

Because of time limits you can visit only 3 churches, if you have different wishes, that will cost you more! Of interest is in my opinion only the Selassie church. Otherwise I think it’s not worth the money and the time, but….

 

Tana Kirkos: it’s a very beautiful island, but the monk is crazy: he asks 150 Birr entrance fee (monk’s law, as he said!!). The view from top oft he island is spectacular! We didn’t pay and therefore I don’t know, if the inside oft he church is worth to visit! The „last“ church next to town is Debre Maryam – is in a very bad state; I suggest, NOT to visit!;

 

Otherwise the bird nests at the lakeside in the papyrus are very nice

 

Mixed Fruit-Juice in Harar Supermarket – go down the ally from R/A (warrior monumentl) to the south; after 100 meters it’s on the right side! A very tasty fruitjuice costs you 8 BIRR (in Gonder you pay 11 birr)

 

1 Kilo Bananas  12-15 Birr

 

We shared a taxi (3 persons) to Gonder, that is 1500 Birr, this is not bad and has a big advantage: you can stop on your way to Gonder and can visit the GUZARA castle which is world heritage and well worth to see: the view unto the lake is wonderful and also the site itself; entrance is 50 birr. There’s a good guide, he knows a lot of stuff and speaks a decent English

 

 

 

Gonder:

 

This is NOT a really Must see-city; it’s no good place, in my opinion, only the castle is really worth to see.

 

There’s no need to take a guide, they charge 120-150 birr;  the entrance is 50 birr

 

1 night is enough there!

 

I overnight at Atse Bekaffa Hotel: 25 US per night for a single room; had a lot of flees and other bugs!!!

 

Near this hotel is a very good restaurant: Habesha Coffee Shop

 

The only thing to stop in Gonder is to rent a car with driver! We did this at the wonderful Tourist Information! There’s a very good manager there, where we discussed the possibility to go by private car to Axum (and first to Simien lodge). He recommended us the freelancer Mamoush! After all we have been driving around with this guy for 3 weeks(!). This cost you for the car (and fuel) 150 US per day!! It was the best thing we could do and was worth every penny!

 

We did with „our“ driver the whole north: Simien Mountains, Axum, Gheralta, Mekele, Lalibela)

 

Don’t forget in Gonder to visit  church Debre Berhan Selassie: because of the ceiling paintings!!

 

The drive from Gonder to Debark is remarkable

 

 

Simien Mountains

 

Park entry in Debark 100 Birr; office can not be easily seen, but it’s on the left of the main road. They speak a very good English. In Debark they can arrange everything; you can buy food and all stuff you need! A scout is obligatory; he is carrying  the usual AK 47. There’s plenty of food around the shops in town! Debark is one oft he most dirty towns I’ve every seen (in rainy season!)

 

Simien Lodge; wonderful house; a family room is in total 250 BIRR, breakfast is included. It‘s very cold there! In the evening everybody is sitting round an open chimney.The food is not bad!

 

Be aware, that if you are trekking there, you are NOT alone: there are living a lot of people along the trekking paths, the settlement is all around and there’s a lot of cattle there!

 

The geladas are easily to find, not far away from the lodge, they are used to people and are not afraid of man! The kids will show you the way to some; but as you have a guide/scout and so on, of course they will do this! With a car you can go to Chennek and further on! There are a lot of roads up there! So trekking is not very nice! Our driver told us, you can go almost to the base camp of Ras Dejen! To drive there is only a matter of money!

 

From Simien lodge to Chennek it will cost you by car 100 US!! And it is WORTH it!!! Spectacular view!  A big waterfall  is there! For the drive to this place and back by car, you need a whole day!

 

 

 

Axum:

 

Yeha-Hotel; very good with nice view from the stelae ; the food is so la la!

 

Don’t forget to visit Panteleon-monastery: going  up and down is wonderful! The view from top is incredible.

 

Guide for a whole day is 250 BIRR. If you take an „official“ guide, he will take 400 birr!

 

Temple of Yeha: wonderful surroundings, you should see this! – have a look at the so called LION-shaped mountain

 

There are many wonderful  landscapes on your way to Gheralta Lodge, one oft he best I have ever seen: it’s a mixture of Grand Canyon, Patagonia, Scotland and so on; you will see many birds!

 

Debre Damo:

On your way you will pass Debre Damo church: be sure to be fit, as you must climb up on a rope, almost 20 meters, that was quite an experience: the people managing the rope will of course help you going up and down!! As a matter of fact, they will pull you up, if you have no strength. 20 birr is the price: don’t pay any money before you are UP!! –Whatever the people downstairs tell you. Pay for the entrance to the church on top oft he hill!! The price is 150 birr. But ask first, if there is a service in the church, if it is so, they would not let you in, but they take of course your money!!!! In our case it was so, so we had a lot of troubles to get our money back!! Best, to give the money directly to the priest or to his helper!

 

Gheralta

Gheralta Lodge is a wonderful hotel ; we spent 3 days here, but you should stay longer; the landscape is extraordinary: we have visited all churches in the surrounding ; the food here is „Italiano“ and wonderful! There are a lot of table mountains and other fantastic rocky formations!

 

The church Peter & Paul was beautiful:  the rest oft he churches are not really highlights, but you should visit at least a few oft hem!

 

Atsbi Cluster ist an absolutely must!

 

The priests are almost a big disaster; but they all have now persons, who will open the churches for you, even when the priest is NOT there! We could visit all churches: there has always been a person there, who could open the doors!!

 

If you have car and driver, you must visit Abba Yohannis: you will need a whole day; it‘s best to do on your way from Gheralta lodge to Mekele: don’t plan to come back to Gheralta lodge

 

 

Mekele & Erta Ale:

 

Axum Hotel is not bad; I must say, the food is good. There’s is free internet in the lobby!

 

Near the hotel ist he office of GK Tours and a very helpful tourist office: i must mention the head of the tourist office, Mr Gebrehiwot Taddesse. E-Mail – hotgereth2007@yahoo.com – he was very helpful and has a lot of infos!

 

He can help you in all ways, especially, if you want go to Danakil depression: i was in contact with him, when I decided this January to visit Erta Ale and he told me immediately, that there was an assault, where 5 tourists died in an attack by terrorists (so I had to quit this trip)

 

But HE has the latest info and will help you to prepare your trip!!

 

You have to pay for Erta Ale per person 500 €, if you are lucky to join a group: Mr. Taddesse will see to that and can put you on a group!!!

 

If you want to got by yourself, that will cost you at least 2000 €

 

Lalibela:

 

I recommend Hotel Tukai Village, also Mr. Bill Clinton had an overnite here (without Monica)! The restaurant is good, but only a few meals; the rooms are very spacious. Every hotel organizes transport to he airport; it’s 70 Birr and less.

 

The bugs bites you get in the churches are terrible!! Especially women will have a very bad time there!

 

 

 

Do some of the churches near of Lalibela: at least Genata Maryam and Yemrehanna Kristos. Car and driver is necessary

 

 

 

Harar

A visit to the hyenas is an absolutely MUST, this is strange, but I will never forget this trip; I visited the hyenas twice because I was so excited ; you can feed them by your own hand, and it’s……whooow!

 

Expect to pay at least 150 birr for this remarkable adventure. The animals are strolling around a courtyard and they will touch you…..

 

Guides are already asking you for helping at the airport at Dire Dawa: if you go with them to Harar, that will save you time; but it’s very costly and you should bargain hard! For 3 days I paid 130 US (!)

 

The Belayneh Hotel is not a bad choice: 200 Birr night. They can organize everything. „Harar Ras Hotel“  was under construction

The town itself is world heritage; nice old city, good for  walking, don’t expect much; but you can feel, that the people are not very friendly with tourists. The main thing are the hyenas and from them you will see a lot!

On p74 of the 5th edition we give the road distance of the historic circuit as about 3,000km, in the context of how long you’d need to travel the historical circuit. It has been pointed out that this is probably an exaggeration, and it occurred to me that the comment dates back to the first edition, in 1995, when info was less freely available than it is today, and I’ve never thought to recheck it.

The problem is how? There are no official figures that I’m aware of, and I wouldn’t rely on any one map either (road distances on these are also often inaccurate). However, I personally checked most of the distances on the map on p178-9 of the new edition against a car milometer a few years ago, so they should be accurate for all practical purposes.

Add those up and you get as follows:
AA – Bahir Dar – 580km (via Debre Markos)

BD – Gondar – 185km

Gondar – Axum – 336km (a few stretches here are far longer than indicated on some maps, due to gorges that mapmakers presumably didn’t allow for)

Axum – Mekele – 257km

Mekele – Woldia 234km

Woldia-Lalibela-Woldia 350km

Woliia- AA – 523km

So looks like the total distance is about 2500 rather than 3000 – though of course you might add on some kms with excursions & diversions… and even though roads have improved hugely since 1995, quite a few are still bad enough to make it feel like a lot more than 3,000km :-)

 

Axum & Mekele updates

Posted: December 29, 2009 in Axum, Mekele

No hassle in Axum! You can see stelae field from the road if you want to save money, but it’s worth paying to enter the small museum and learn about Axumite civilisation. Your ticket is also valid for Kaleb Palace up the road.
We didn’t want to pay Birr 120 for Tsion Maryam complex and women are not allowed to enter the church. We saw the chapel where the Arc of the Covenant is supposed to be kept and Tsion Maryam by entering the complex at the gate opposite of Stelae Field box office.

Then we went up to see Kaleb Palace and had a nice walk to Debre Liqanos monastery, the monastery nearest to Kaleb Palace. We originally came there to enjoy views of Axum from the above, but we were ushered by this friendly priest inside the complex and we were forced to have a look at his religious books which was fun. He spoke no word of English, but he read in Gaez and would put up this angelic expression and smiled at us every time he’d mentioned “Maryaaaam”. We gave him some money at the end of the performance, Birr 10 each, but I don’t think he was happy with the amount as the church didn’t get opened for us, not that we wanted to see it anyway. So, for all bizarre reasons, Debre Liqanos monastery is highly recommended. Continue your trip in the countryside to Panteleon monastery, we didn’t go in, but instead took the shortcut downhill back to Axum – you’ll end up on the road close to the bus station. Halleluiah halleluiah – Maryaaaam!

We stated at Ethiops hotel, watch your steps when using their stairs – several steps are of a different height, not the first or the last one, but these irregular steps are right in the middle of the structure!!! Staff at the hotel were nice. We had our dinner at Africa hotel.

Axum – Adigrat – Mekele
The road between Axum and Adigrat looks like it’s three weeks old, or maybe I was on bad roads for far too long before that? Views over Hista River Gorge are spectacular – sit on the left side of the bus.

No hassle in Mekele either! Very little to see there though: the market is OK and the Tigrian People Liberation Front Monument offers some views of the city and beyond… Beware of the pickpockets/camera snatches at night – hoards of kids in action.

Goran Jovetic, London, UK

Nathalie’s updates

Posted: December 18, 2009 in Bahir Dar, Gonder, Lalibela, Mekele

Hello, I enjoyed travelling Ethiopia last november with the Bradt guide book (5th edition). I would just like to leave some comments about a few places for the next travellers.

GONDER: make sure to ask for the price when you enter a juice place in Gonder. I tried the “Sofa juice” and the “The golden delicious pastry”, and both ask twice the normal price. The real price for a juice in Gonder is 7 birr. They asked me 15 there … it seems that they all overcharge!! so it’s better to ask for the price.

LALIBELA: “Book stories in the street” : Many young guys tell you that they are students and don’t have money to buy books, and ask you to “support them”. For most of them, this is not really a true story, but a way to get money out of you!!

BAHIR DAR: Watch out the boats of the GHION HOTEL!!! On a day in november, going to visit the Lake Tana monasteries, our boat almost sank on the middle of the lake. A big wave pulled the front gate opened, and a lot of water came suddenly in … we all got very scared! And there were only 2 life jackets for 13 people. The manager of the Ghion Hotel didn’t behave well afterwards. He really seemed not to care at all for his costumers (he seems he just care for money anyway). He didn’t face his responsability!! Very bad!

MEKELE-WOLDIA: We took the 6am Woldia big bus from Mekele. It took us 8 hours to get there because the bus leaves the main asphalt road to go through the mountains to pick up villagers. The guidebook doesn’t tell but there must be some minibuses going direct (on the asphalt road) and much faster … Ask information in Mekele!! If not, a truck would be better option than this big slow and tiring bus! (because also crowded)

Thank you for taking notes of all that. Ethiopia is beautifull. Thanks to the Bradt guide for helping me traveling there!

Nathalie (from France)

The World from Afar – the edge of Ethiopia
February 2009
My second visit to the Danakil desert and the hottest place on Earth. Ethiopia continues to enthrall and Afar is one of those regions which is on the edge, in many different senses. It is remote, inhospitable and has a reputation, probably justified, for being insecure. We went as a group of ten in 4 landcruisers using a very experienced local expedition organizer. To do this trip they have to be! We travelled to Mekele, north from Addis, initially along some of the worst roads in Ethiopia – mainly because they are being rebuilt. For some reason in this country road building seems totally illogical. They endeavour to build the whole road at once, hence the chaos and disruption seems endless, as did this stretch of road! We spent the first night in Kombolcha and the second in Mekele.
North central Ethiopia is comprised of a series of tablelands, dissected deeply by rivers which leave remnants of features not dissimilar to the canyon lands of the American west. The area is quite arid and the rocks vary from old lava flows to a variety of sandstones. The road improves after Dessie but topography creates a need for tortuous ascents and descents. The roads, as a result of these ups and downs, challenge vehicles and drivers, the evidence of which is seen by the frequent accidents where cars, Izuzu trucks (locally known as Al Qaeda, because they kill so many!) and intercity buses which have gone over the edge. A sobering reminder of the need to have good drivers, vehicles, and take care. The altitude along the roads north remains high – over 2000 metres and in places rising to 3000. It is only when you leave Mekele, a pleasant town which is well maintained, that the long descent begins.
We had a vehicle break down in Mekele which annoyingly delayed our departure. But despite knowing that we would get to the Danakil late we persisted in our journey. The trip down takes the vehicles down incised river valleys, over ridges and truly provides the drivers, passengers and vehicles with a rough ride. We picked up our police and army escort, needed for the political tensions and potential kidnappings which exist in this area, and our permits, in Berhale. By then it was dark and not knowing what was to the side or ahead was somewhat intimidating. We drove on and even if the night had descended the heat and aridity increased. We were entering the hottest place on Earth where temperatures in the summer can reach record levels of 58C! As we travelled down we passed the caravans of camels who have plied this route for centuries to extract salt from the former sea bed of what was an extension of the red sea. They seemed ethereal in the moonlight and we appeared to be disturbing their lentitudinous, but unending, steady cycle from Mekele to Dallol and back.
We camped, there are no hotels, in Ahmedila. A small Afar settlement which is dependent on the salt trade. The people here control the extraction. They dig it up, they shape it into blocks and then it is transported out to markets throughout Ethiopia. In the evening the men can be seen sharpening their axes and cutting implements. The village is friendly and they have a deep well to help sustain their existence in such a desolate and harsh environment. The salt itself is a sustainable resource. When the water table rises as a result of rivers which flow into the area in the wet season the old workings are dissolved and new salts are precipitated over time. We watched the production lines as they cut, prised out, shaped and loaded the salt. They do this all year in all temperatures. I do not know how, but they do! This is an age old practice and it looks set to continue for the forseeable future.
However, we didn’t just come to the Danakil to look at salt extraction. The Danakil is amazing for some of the most unique landforms and physical features seen on Earth. Dallol, at 120 metres below sea level, has an old volcano which simmers beneath the surface. It last erupted in 1926 but now the gases and heat mix with water and other minerals found as part of the salt deposits to create a bizarre landscape of salt pillars, small yellow, green and orange lakes and fumaroles. There are bubbling pools of sulphuric acid, hot gas emissions, offensive smells and terraces of precipitated minerals. It is highly active and since my last visit there it was more extensive and even more exciting. Despite the heat the sights are incredible. There are former remnants of an Italian extractive industry which was based here in the 1930’s. They came in from what is now Eritrea. Old buildings built of salt blocks and fossilized cars, encased in salt! The colours, steam, smoke, bubbling pools fringed with rocks recently formed and looking like icing make this an incredible sight to see. Not just a desert!
Driving across to see Dallol we crossed the area where the salt was being extracted but the tracks made by vehicles created a strange road made of salt polygons – I have never seen anything like it. These patterns stretched to the mirages on the horizon, where camels floated above the illusive watery surface.
The day after visiting the solfataras, the yellow peril, we ventured south into was people might perceive to be real desert – sand dunes. In actual fact only about 5% of deserts are covered with dune systems. Going south there is no road, only a direction and anastomosing patterns of tracks left by other vehicles who have made the journey. One of our vehicles, having lost its four wheel drive capacity, got stuck on a few occasions but in the end, as a result of the driving skills of our intrepid guide, Teddy, we got to the base village where we set off to climb Erte Ale. Erte Ale is a very gently sloping volcano which pours out, from a permanent lava lake, vast quantities of fluid lava. We drove up a very cindery and rocky track towards the parking place. This track was very sadly, a few weeks later, to be the final place that our cook, Assefa, ever saw. He had been on four trips with me and he was blown up on this road, along with several others, by a deliberately placed landmine. This is testament to the fact that Afar is truly on the edge and the Afaris are discontent with Government influence and the fact that a new road is going to dissect their land and expose them to more control. They like their isolation and autonomy. The impact of this on tourism, however, means that the Afar lose a potential source of income even if only a few tourists pass this way.
We started trekking late in the afternoon and we arranged camels to take up our food and gear. We were going to sleep on the edge. An edge with a view! It took two and a half hours to reach the summit along a fairly well worn path. The moon was up and the stars were out by the time we neared the summit. As we got closer the beautiful sky was forgotten about, for the moment, and our attention focused on the orange glow which varied in intensity as the lava occasionally broke through the surface crust. Erte Ale is one of three, I believe, volcanoes in the World which have an active and permanent lava lake. All three are found along the Great Rift Valley in Africa. When we arrived at the summit and took a little time out to rehydrate and rest we contemplated the fact that beneath our feet we had the materials that created our atmosphere and indeed life itself. This, together with the stars above, creates an impression and vista that stays with you for life. The crater lies within a crater and we had to climb down, by torchlight, to walk over old and very fragile fields of lava to reach the cauldron. The lava we walked over was crusty and ropey in nature and the Hawaiian islanders call it pahoehoe. When I reached the edge, even having done it before, I was mesmerized by the sight below. A black crust dissected by serrated fissures of molten red lava. The lava rises in small plumes and in microcosm mimics the great movements of the Earth’s crustal plates. It spreads where it rises and sinks where it cools and when there is a build up of heat and pressure it erupts and sprays lava skywards. It was much more active this time and the gases emitted were, in places and at times, overpowering. Some of the eruptions were really quite big and made us all retreat from the rim. What an experience, to see molten lava seething, breathing and erupting. This was humbling and at the same time exhilarating. Only being there and catching those moments can convey the insignificance you feel for yourself and power of the planet which has created us. I love taking photos and I took many but somehow it is never enough to feel the experience.
We slept in rough hewn stone shelters under the stars and rose early to see the sunrise over the lava lake. The glow still impresses but it is at night time that the pyrotechnics are at their best. It took us two hours to descend and as we did so the air became more oppressive and hotter. Feet were sore and we knew we had two long days of driving ahead to reach Addis. We stayed one night in a very basic hotel in Afdera, a centre for commercial salt mining. We were still in the Danakil. A simple shower, a cold beer and the beds pulled outside made the night more tolerable. It was hot, very hot. Our final night was spent in Awash national park where we went to the waterfall and the hot springs. The latter are beautiful and very hot. But they certainly helped to mitigate against the aching limbs created by the climb and to cleanse the pores which were filled with Danakil dust. The next day we finished the trip and went out to the Irish ball – good training for a night of revelry! I am not sure which was tougher!
Teddy Berhanu runs Acacia tours in Ethiopia. He is one of the most experienced tour operators I know and his service is exemplary. He has been to the Danakil many times and I would personally use no-one else. His equipment, intimate knowledge, car handling and the fact that he takes along a mechanic and cook make it all possible in terrain which is so challenging.
Theodros Berhanu (Teddy) theodrosb@hotmail.com Acacia Tours +251 911 201394

Trevor Cole
5.5.2009

We’ve just had news of two companies offering luxury coach services (or what passes for luxury in Ethiopia) along several major routers. In both cases the coach are meant to provide a compromise between expensive flights and rough local buses, and they are aimed at middle class Ethiopian as much as tourists, so not madly expensive.  Both have useful websites, if you want to explore further.  

Sky Bus started up in Dec 2008 and offers services from Addis Ababa to six major cities, namely Bahir Dar, Gonder, Jimma, Awassa, Harer and Dire Dawa.

Selam Bus runs services to Bahir Dar, Gonder, Jimma, Harer, Dire Dawa, Jijiga, Dessie and Mekele, and even has an online reservation system.

Any feedback from travellers who use these services will be greatly appreciated!

We spent 3 weeks in Ethiopia, with a few days in Addis and 17 days travelling around the northern circuit in a 4 by 4 with local driver. We paid $135 per day (all inclusive) for a 12 year old, fairly hammered, but reliable vehicle, with a driver that spoke a little English. Badly fitting doors and windows meant that dust was a problem and face masks were needed on the gravel roads.

After the guidebook warnings about petty crime in Addis, we were initially careful, but then pleasantly surprised about how relaxed and safe it felt, even in the busy areas around the Piazza and the Mercato. We only heard about one case of pickpocketing and that was in the crush of people attending the Timkat ceremony in Gonder. Generally, the Ethiopians are so friendly and helpful that its a pleasure to wander about and relax in the many cafes. Up-country, we expected hassles from children asking for money etc., but whilst this does occur, it is not the big problem that the guidebook implies and can easily be deflected with a few firm words or jokes. Generally the children just seem to like to stand around you and stare.

There have been a few new hotels built in the tourist centres but the fairly poor standard of construction and the lack of active management and maintenance means that they are already deteriorating. There is also the problem of high charges but low standards for western food.
There was no piped water in the hotels in the upper part of Gonder during the Timkat period and we were told that it was because of the filling of the pool for the ceremony. However, the provision of a large tank in the yard of our hotel and the state of the toilets led me to believe that water shortages there are a regular occurrence.

Costs have risen in hotels but the big rises are in entrance fees to tourist sites, with the Lalibela churches now costing 200 Birr and the individual churches in Tigrai 50 Birr.

The Chinese are building new roads leading north from Addis towards Dessie and from Woldia to Gashena. Quite long sections are completed but the section from Addis to Debre Sina is at an early stage of construction and the long, rough diversions make for a slow and uncomfortable journey. The roads through Dessie and Kombolcha were in a terrible state, as they were being dug up for drains and road construction.

Following are some comments on the hotels we stayed in:

Ghion Hotel, Addis. Good value rooms and facilities ($55). The extensive gardens (more like a park) are good for quiet relaxation and the Olympic size pool is great. Food is quite good, except for the buffet breakfast that is expensive and very poor. However, good fresh juices, croissants and coffee can be had in the cafes near the entrance.

Shebel Hotel, Debre Markos. Basic, but adequate rooms and a friendly place. (105 Birr)

Papyrus Hotel, Bahir Dar. Good quality, clean, but expensive rooms and decent restaurant ($50). No ambiance and pool did not look clean or inviting. The Ghion Hotel, has nice shady gardens, overlooking the lake, but the place looks basic and run-down. Good place to relax with a drink.

Queen Taitu, Gonder. Newish, but basic construction, in need of maintenance and not too clean. On the hill above the town and there was no piped water at Timkat. ( $50 at Timkat, but negotiated to $40 in view of water situation) This was a hotel with an absent manager! Food was very limited and the Quara Hotel in the main square is a much better option.

Imet Gogo Hotel, Debark. New hotel with good, small rooms. ( 150 Birr) Nice bar and dining room with good food and friendly staff.

Simien Lodge Dormitory. Very expensive bunk in shared 4 bed room. ($31 each). Shared toilets and showers not very clean and, though advertised, there was no hot water, and its very cold up there! The solar panel for the hot water was missing! The food was expensive, the breakfast very poor and the service terrible. It seems to be a case of poor and absent management. Our request for a reduction on the cost of accommodation because of the lack of hot water was turned down because the manager was not there!

Exodus Hotel, Axum. New hotel with good quality rooms and comfortable bar and dining room. (175 Birr). Variable service and breakfast menu expensive and irrational. (Full breakfast 25 Birr, including drinks, continental 20 Birr excluding drinks) Again, no management around to sort out things.

Tourist Hotel, Hawzein New motel type place, with good small rooms and friendly owner. No restaurant at present, but one is planned. (100 Birr) Only basic food in the small restaurants in town. The Gheralta Lodge, run by an Italian, is a very attractive place and has lots of information about the nearby churches, but it is small and advance booking is probably necessary.

Hilltop Hotel, Mekele. Bungalow type rooms in surrounding gardens are large and comfortable but a little run-down. (190 Birr) The bar and dining room are pleasant with good views over the area and decent food.

Lal Hotel, Lalibela. The old ,bungalow type rooms in the garden are pleasant. ($36). The new Tukals are attractive inside but set at present in a building site! ($42). The bar and Restaurant are in attractive Tukals but the food was terrible and expensive. We took breakfast in the Tukal village, across the road, and ate in the Seven Olives for lunch and Lasta Hotel for dinner.

Qualiber Hotel, Dessie. Good clean rooms, but the most unfriendly staff we came across in Ethiopia! (150 Birr) Poor service and food.

The hotels we stayed in were not always the most expensive in a town but were generally of the upper quality. We had no problems with bed bugs or fleas and we had little need to use the spray we brought as a precaution.

David Miller, Feb 2009