Archive for the ‘Transport’ 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)!

Thanks to Pawel for the following important news (which I have expanded slightly)

It is no longer possible to get an Ethiopian visa in Somaliland. The Ethiopian representative office in Hargeisa is not issuing them anymore. So if you plan on visiting Somaliland from Ethiopia, you either need a multiple-entry visa for Ethiopia, or you will have fly back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines (which costs upwards of US$200 one-way) and then buy a visa on arrival at Bole International Airport.

 

Charlotte Harvey writes:

I brought your guide to Ethiopia last month. The biggest news is that as of November 1st the prices of Ethiopian Airlines has quadrupled.

Other than that we had one bad tour guide experience in Axum re a car rental from Axum to Lalibela: We cannot recommend Covenant Ethiopian Tours run by Dawit Tesfay. I’m afraid he charged a luxury price of 8000 birr up front for a day rental of an old car that broke down on the rode north of Lalibela, with no jack, two flat tires, no flashlight, no water, no air conditioning. He also made no effort to make up for the poor service. I have to reported the experience, to the wonderful hotel (Gheralta Lodge) that recommended him, and to the travel sites for others heading that way. By no means should this keep you away from the beautiful country, just use another tour guide.

Stuart Dickson writes:

The Dila to Moyale road is under rehabilitation, part of the Mombasa to Addis project. For the time being, it is a long 9-hour dusty & very bumpy haul, very similar to the Moyale to Isiolo road, and it looks like it will be that way for quite a while.

Thanks to Stuart Dickson for this important news about the Moyale border (written 5 Dec 2013(:

Due to serious and bloody fighting amongst local Kenyan tribes in the Moyale region there is zero transport (private or public) leaving Moyale heading south into Kenya and it seems no traffic coming up in the other direction. The reason for this is tribal members are being pulled from buses and throats are being slit. Normally transport is not affected but for some reason this time round they have decided to attack traffic. I am going to the border each morning for updates and the general consensus from the police and immigration officers is that next week sometime will be the earliest that transport may start rolling.If you are in town “a word of warning” do not believe a word from the hawkers in the streets they will promise you all you want to here but nothing is moving and you will just loose your cash.There are no planes coming in due to the small strip being in the conflict area. People are saying that the plane will land at the police strip but that is just a helicopter pad.
You are free to go back and forth between borders and snack on soggy chips and milky tea in Moyale Kenya and catch all the rumors or hang out and have a laugh with the very kind folk at the immigration office, police station or border crossing in Kenya,

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.

It’s been drawn to my attention that several aspects of the information on flights & airports was not fully updated for the 6th edition.

So please note the following:

1. Arrival at Bole Airport (p128) – Especially if you need to buy a visa on arrival, immigration procedures at Bole Airport are a lot slower than they used to be. In essence this is because the volume of flights has more than trebled in recent years but the number of immigration desks hasn’t kept pace. Expect it to take an hour to 90 minutes from landing to leaving the airport.

2. Airlines (p129) - Alitalia no longer flies to Ethiopia. SAA flights are in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines. Other carriers that now fly to Addis Ababa include Egyptair, Fly Dubai, Gulf Air , Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines and Yemenia.

3, Domestic flights  (P89) are now on 75-seat Bombadier Dash aircraft made in Canada. Since they got the new planes in 2010, more than 97% of Ethiopian domestic flights leave on time, and cancellations are a very rare occurrence indeed .

4. Ticket confirmation (p89) – It is no longer necessary to confirm domestic flights as you travel around the country, as stated here and in several regional chapters – flights are now effectively confirmed at the time of booking.

5. Taxes (p90) No additional taxes need to be paid at any airport on domestic (or for that matter international) flights. Where taxes are charged, they are incorporated into the ticket price at the time of booking/payment.

Terence Baker writes:

I thought your readers might be interested in my tale of getting to Harar from the Bale Mountains via the Wabe Shebelle gorge and river via the Sof Omar Caves and the tomb of Sheikh Hussein.

Breaking it into usable parts, rather than giving you an essay on my adventures:

 

i)                    From Robe/Goba – the road just a few miles east of Robe turns to dust, all the way to Sof Omar. There, someone on the side of the road flagged down my car (I was travelling with the excellent Zawdu Hailu from T Jazz Ethiopia (contact via British Addis Ababa resident Jerome Aubrey at jeromeaubrey@googlemail.com)) and demanded payment to the caves. It was not so expensive, but the “government fee” we knew did not exist other than in their pockets; throughout Ethiopia we heard about “government fees” and “association-fixed prices,” even if there never could be produced receipts or forms, which I always though associations loved. This is tiring when the “guide” produced does not speak English, but there you go. Sof Omar is a good site for Bristle-headed starling, Red-billed hornbill and Vervet monkey, and on the way there I saw White stork and Black-backed jackal.

ii)                  I used Hungarian company Gizi’s map of Ethiopia (www.gizimap.hu), which is detailed, but the only road that it looked possible to use to go north of Sof Omar was not the yellow one that goes between Ginir and Gure, but the thin red one that does go to those two towns but not directly, via Delo and Jara, where it was possible to eat lunch.

iii)                Sheikh Hussein is a highlight. Basically, it consists of one tomb (as you know), with whitewash, inscribed Arabic sentences from the Quran painted black, low roofs and a large outer wall. Again, a few costs seemed to be plucked out of thin air. We paid 200 birr each for entry, 100 birr  for a non-English speaking guide and 150 birr for a guard to stay up and look after us (which he did) when we slept in the one-storey government hut 200 metres south of the tomb. You need to bring your own sleeping bags and mats, but if was okay. Larger groups – when they come, which is rarely – can sleep in a school, with much the same arrangements but higher costs, one assumes. The children here were so excited to see us that they forgot they were twirling cut-throat razors as they came to see us. The only restaurant is at the far side of the village, has no name and has no cooking facilities apart from an open fire. Spaghetti with spicy meat sauce cost 35p, I calculated, and there is a small shop opposite that sold Harar beer and bottled water, which we bought so that our cook could cook with it. The tour of the tomb was wonderful, even if everything had to be translated. Several old men sat around outside, looking like Hollywood central casting characters for mujahedeen rebels; everyone was stoned on qat, and several bent over to eat pieces of grey gravel on the tomb floor. At the “restaurant” we met a couple of government officials from Addis Ababa who were there to look at the possibilities of providing electricity, gas and main-lines water to the village (there is none), and they said the extra “government” costs were fictitious. Still, none of that mattered, as costs are low, and the experience – sitting on low benches while bearded Muslims slowly got off their boxes on qat and hyenas moaned in the distance – memorable. Bring a torch!

iv)                The road north of Sheikh Hussein is not to be done in the rainy season. We were there in early April, and Zawdu said he would not have wanted to drive that route much after that month – actually, he said ever again if he did not have another vehicle with him in a convoy. The road is fine. Gravel. But for about 150 kilometres between Sheikh Hussein and Micheta, we saw only two boys shepherding camels. There is nothing. It is beautiful, and standing beside the Wabe Shebelle river, which flows into Somalia, and driving along the sides and across the stunning Wabe Shebelle canyon is every bit as wonderful as my trips to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Waimea Canyon in Kauai. But suffer a breakdown, and help is probably three days away. The road is a little narrow in places, large rocks testament to landslides.  I was very happy I got through unscathed, but I could see the dangers of taking that route. It was the only place in Ethiopia where I did not see at least one person somewhere. No villages, no nothing, just a Salt’s dik-dik that was not shy in the least.

v)                  The road remains dust after it starts to become populated at Micheta. The towns of Mechara, Gelemso and Bedesa are very busy, and this was the most we heard the shouts of “you!” and “farangi!” on our trip. Perhaps because fewer people come that way. When you reach Asbe Teferi, the road becomes asphalt.

 

Cornelia writes:

- We did an absolutely wonderful hike with TESFA, but due to internal problems between TESFA (Lalibela) and Tesfa Tours (Addis) the organization of the trekk was awful. They overbooked some night stays and forced us to change our plans the day before our planned hike even if we had booked and paid weeks before. TESFA wanted to charge us the last night again telling us that Tesfa Tours did not send them enough money for our stay. They proposed us to claim it back in Addis after the hike. Our guide had different information about our meeting point and time and it was difficult to find him at our starting point in Filakit. And finally we had to bargain to be picked up at the end of the hike for the price they had announced us before… The hike for itself was a wonderful experience, but until they do not solve their problems, it is hard to recommend it.
- Buses and even planes tend to leave a lot earlier than planned. We always managed to catch them, but e.g. our flight from Lalibela to Addis left almost one hour earlier than announced. Minibuses often left around five when we were told that they would leave around 5:30 or 6:00.

Chuck writes:

I’ve lived in Ethiopia (in Bonga, just 3 hours past Jimma) for most of 2011 and 2012 and can share some tips:

Both Selam Bus and Sky Bus travel the route between Addis and Jimma, but stick to no consistent schedule and frequently cancel buses the morning of departure (and expect you to just stick around for another day in Addis, as they offer no refunds). They use their most decrepit buses for this journey, but reserve their nicest buses for the North.

In Addis: Selam’s ticket station is across from Meskel Square down an alley. Sky Bus’s ticketing is done next to Taitu Hotel in Piazza. Both buses depart from Meskel Square. Selam only departs in the morning, but you may find that Sky Bus alternately departs at 1 pm in the afternoon (as it tries to do a round-trip journey to/from Jimma).

In Jimma: Selam’s ticket office is in same building as Central Jimma Hotel. Sky Bus office is next to Syf Hotel. Both buses depart from these ticket offices.

I could write in which days which bus travels between Addis and Jimma and vice versa, but that information will be completely obsolete by tomorrow. I’m dead serious. Your best bet is to get to the ticket offices two days in advance and check both Sky and Selam. My guess is that these luxury buses don’t understand the first thing about customer service: that you stick to a schedule and maintain reliability and consistency over the loss of a few birr here and there. Instead they would rather inconvenience you as much as possible.

I have to make the trip between Jimma and Addis quite often and will always try to avoid Selam and Sky bus if possible.