Archive for the ‘Wukro’ 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)!

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

Addis Ababa:

We stayed at the Ankober guest house in Piazza area (right next door to Baru) and were more than happy with the choice. The staff there were always friendly and the owner, Mesfin, went out of his way on a number of occasions to give us invaluable help sorting out our flights and bus trips. We stayed there on three occasions during our trip and the rooms are simple but clean and they had hot water which we found out is not something you can take for granted while traveling through the country. There is also a Dashen Bank and ATM a hundred metres away which was very handy. The restaurant at the Wutma hotel opposite served good food and there were great little places for breakfast further up the street.

Gonder:
Belegez Pension was perfectly adequate, I had a single room with a bathroom for 175 birr, though the hot water didn’t work. It did work though in the communal bathroom! Not far is the Four Sisters Restaurant which has a nice setting and serves a tasty injera though we were not impressed with an evening meal we had which was supposed to be a combination of dishes served with rice, but which we found pretty tasteless; I’d stick to the normal dishes, rather than a mixed grill or whatever it was they called it. They did, however, put on a nice impromptu dance performance for us (our group of six were the only guests) which they even got us to join in, so I now know the basics of the very entertaining shoulder dance!

Simien Mountain Trek:

I had earlier arranged to go on a four day trek. Our group consisted of four people and initially we were going to hire a 4X4 to drive us to the Park and later (after our trek) accompany us to Axum and through Tigrai to Lalibela. Our guide then asked if we wouldn’t mind having a German couple join us for the trek and for the ride to Axum. He added that we would have the use of a minibus instead which reduced the costs per person and proved adequate and comfortable, though it meant we would not be able to drive through the short cut roads I had initially planned on a rougher surface through Tigrai (going via Sekota for instance).
In the event, the trek was great, well organized and with good food and we all got on well and the drive from Debark to Axum was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We got a good massage, as our driver Alex called it, as the road was gravel from Debark to Shire and under repair some of the way, being widened and improved. From Shire to Axum, it was smooth asphalt. The original road was built by the Italians in the 1930s and is now being repaired by a Chinese company. The views were stunning which made the eight or so hours ride more tolerable. Not much traffic along the road though we were pleasantly surprised to round one bend and to be met head on by a convoy of camels with their riders making their slow and graceful way up the mountain road.

Our guide’s details:

The guide who organized all this for us and who accompanied us on our trek was Birhan Asmamaw who I can happily recommend for his integrity and helpfulness, and his reasonable prices. I read about him online and had heard good things about him, which I can confirm. His email is: birhan_asmamaw@yahoo.com

He speaks very good English and also arranged for us to have a competent and friendly driver accompany us all the way to Lalibela, his name was Alex and he also spoke good English. Birhan can organize hotels for you along your way too if you wish according to whatever your budget might be. He would ring our driver every evening after he left us, just to check how we were getting on.
Axum: Africa Hotel, simple but perfectly ok.

Axum through Tigrai by road:

From Axum we followed the road to Adigrat along lovely rolling hills and through Adwa, where the Ethiopian emperor won an important battle against the Italians at the end of the 19th century. From there through Adigrat and then south on a smooth asphalt road through stunning countryside and roads rising to above 3000 metres.
We stopped off to visit the Petros and Paulos rock hewn church in Teka Tesfai which involved clambering up a rickety looking but perfectly solid ladder, followed by the ubiquitous local children up to a lovely small church which the priest’s wife opened for us, for a fee of course.
I cannot remember if we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant called Mother restaurant on the high stree (right hand side) in Teka Tesfai or a bit further on in Wukro. I mention it because it was a place which served very good meals (one injera and four spaghettis with side salads, 3 beers, 2 cokes and 5 coffees came to 160 birr, not bad)
After visiting Wukro Chirkos church we turned off the main road and made our way towards Hawzien on a gravel road and stopped to visit the beautiful church Abreha we Atsbeha in the late afternoon before traveling for another hour to reach the first (and only) „fancy“ hotel during our trip, the Gheralta Lodge. What I initially thought to be a light mist seemed to cover the whole area around the Gheralta plains. The next morning however I saw it was still there and believe it was more a light layer of white looking dust which seemed to pervade everywhere there, giving the immediate vicinity a slightly other worldly aspect. Clean room, hot water, good food, beautiful natural setting and decor, what more could one want?

Gheralta and Abuma Yemata Guh

Next day, the four of us (middle aged ladies I might add) drove to Abuma Yemata Guh and trekked up to the base of the perpendicular rock (about 50 mins walk) where we all managed to successfully clamber (rather than climb) up to the little jewel of a rock hewn church perched a third of the way up. The last stretch along a narrow ledge with a two hundred metre drop to one side proved almost too much for one of my friends who was tearful by the time she reached the church door, tearful but delighted. Beautifully maintained 15th century murals and an ancient hand painted bible were the main attractions there, though the view from the church was equally stunning. Making our way down proved to be as exciting (terrifying) as making our way up. The whole venture was done in good humour and with the eager help of the scouts who, I suspect, would drag you up or down if you let them.
The only minus side to this excursion was the 250 bir we had to pay for our group of four as guide’s fees. The young guide who approached us as we made our way towards the church insisted this was a new rule (supposedly in agreement with the Gheralta Lodge which annoyed us somewhat) and after some argument, he took us to the little tourist office in the village and gave us a receipt after showing previous samples of receipts. On top of this we of course had to each pay 100 bir to see the church and the tips we paid the scouts for helping as well as the priest for opening the door. All in all, quite a steep cost. I am not sure if anyone else has encountered this new rule. The 250 bir for our group did admittedly include a visit to the Maryam Korkor (but as some of our group were feeling the strain after visiting Abuma Yemata Guh and it was approaching the hottest part of the day, we gave that a miss and instead visited the less known Hawzien Tekle Haymanot).

We did wonder if this 250 bir fee applied only to the guests from Gheralta Lodge and aimed to ask the Italian owner about it, but he wasn’t around when we returned so we were not able to confirm this information. I would recommend you ask at the Lodge if this special fee is standard.

From there we made our way to Lalibela via Woldia where we stayed the night at the Lal hotel, get a room at the back if you don’t want to be kept awake by the disco music from nearby. The road from Wukro to the turnoff for Lalibela at Weldya is good quality asphalt and goes through some lovely and varying landscape, from dry and arid plains to alpine-like hills with coniferous trees growing by the roadside. From Weldiya you leave this road and travel on gravel up across undulating hills until you reach the airport near Lalibela where you hit asphalt once more. The journey from Woldia to Lalibela took us some four hours. We met some people who had followed the same route that day by local bus, when it took more like nearly eight hours.

At Lalibela we stayed at the very pleasant Asheten Hotel and there is a great small place to eat directly across the street.

I am ashamed to say I cannot remember the name of the little monastery church we visited up the mountain just behind Lalibela. We took a path from behind the Asheten hotel and it took us nearly two hours to reach the church. I’d be grateful if someone could remind me the name.

Addis to Harar:

From Addis we caught the early morning bus to Harar (Selam 260 birr one way). It is pretty nippy at 5am in the morning so dress warmly; the bus turned up nearly an hour late and you have to wait on the street. The perfectly comfortable journey (they hand out small cartons with juice and a sweet biscuit).

At Harar, we were hoping to stay at the Zubdeyda Waber Guest House but the remaining sister (one of them passed away recently) stood firm in her price of 350 birr per bed (small double beds) of which there were two in a room. We were hoping to negotiate a better price (the hotel was empty) as we wanted a bed each and the 700 birr per room she charged (one of the rooms was en suite, the other wasn’t, both at 700 birr) was too steep for us. So we ended up going to the perfectly comfortable Belayneth Hotel, just outside the old city walls and with acceptable food from the restaurant from which there was a wonderful view into the old city and a great place to take photos from.

 

Paininka (see also piaregan.wordpress.com for more details and pics)