Addis Ababa & Historic Circuit updates

Hi Philip

Returned yesterday from Ethiopia, with lots of comments on individual parts of your 5th edition. I am something of an Ethiopian aficionado, having done 2 years there as a UNA volunteer 40 years ago, and following it up with two “reminiscence “fortnights in 2009 and 2010. I bought your first edition some 15 years ago, and was delighted by the improvements of the 5th edition. Both recent fortnights were done through different mid-range German tour companies. Here goes with my comments:

1) Our tour group had 20 people from 5 countries. Only 2 of us had the Bradt Guide, yet all 20 plus the guide reckoned it to be far and away the best on the market, well ahead of the German “Reise KnowHow” and the Lonely Planet alternatives. Congratulations and thanks!

2) I have only one significant criticism. I don’t think you like shopping!!! I am an inveterate collector of Ethiopiana. Your books and records sections are good, but you are relatively weak on curios, pottery, basketry,silver etc. Sections on (for example) genuine handicrafts versus airport art would be a welcome addition, as would a detailed map of the confusion of the Mercato? That’ s what I really needed from your guide book two days ago when looking for berbere , and not finding the spice market at all! (I know where the old tyres are, and the Chinese plastic though!). Also the overall feel of your section on the Mercato rings too negative for me (“human excreta” and “pickpocketing”). I think you should re-edit this.

3)Addis The secondhand bookstores marked on the map on page 144 (C3) are nowhere to be found. I tramped up and down all the roads thereabouts, so either the dot is wrong or they are gone. Pity!

4) Addis I tried unsuccessfully to get Phillipson’s book on Axum and the Ethiopiques CDs, and finally went to the Hilton shopping area as recommended. They all looked at me blankly -never heard of either. The place was full of “airport art” rubbish and fancy jewelry, had nothing of any interest at all. A big disappointment.

5) Addis One really good cafe to recommend is Cafe Choche, an oasis of green and quiet in a hectic part of town, on one side of the old railway station, with old photos of the locomotives, and a delightful proprietor called Ato Talegete, whose latte macchiato and pancakes with fruit were not only excellent, but very good value. Unfortunately the station staff next door are hopeless at letting anyone in to look at the station.

6) Debre Libanos You are a bit hard on the Ethio-German Park Hotel. I found it delightful, and had a long chat with the elderly proprietor who turned out to be a grandson of the old Ras of Dessie, and so a scion of the old imperial family. When his father had all his land taken by the Dergue, he left to go to Germany, married there and has now returned with her to his home country.

7) Blue Nile Gorge The 30km dirt stretch is now asphalted as part of the Ethiopian Millenium project, and there is a second Ethiopian-Japanese bridge taking the traffic, so it is now possible to park and walk over the old Italian bridge and take as many photos as you like!

8) Bahir Dar The Tissisat Falls are indeed a real shock to anyone that remembers them from before. I saw them 40 years ago in the dry season. They are now less than a tenth of what they were even then.

9) Gondar Quara Hotel was better than you made it sound.

10) Gondar Habesho Kitfo was a very good restaurant, but you do need to make it clear that if you are in the North before Easter and at other times of fasting that entire menus might not be available. Despite its name Habesha Kitfo only did varieties of fasting food. Their “Social (Variety)” turned out to be a well presented mixture of various fasting foods (a sort of meze) and rather good. Their curio shop was overpriced though, despite their falasha mementoes being of poorer quality than in Wolleko.

11) Wolleko I have a very good collection of falasha figurines pre-airlift and with pre- and post Peace Corps designs, so was very keen to buy and compare. Here is my take on it: there is now only one place where tourists can buy Falasha goods. About 5 kilometers north of Gondar on the Axum road there is a straight stretch of road lined with about 10 curio stands, a signpost on the right refers the Ploughshare Womens Training Centre, and a sign on the left refers to Wolleko. Your report suggests two places at 3 and 5 kilometers, and I remembered a village on a corner from 40 years ago. I only saw this long straight one, and it was better and bigger than I expected. Best of all it was already open at 7.15am when our bus was on its way through, so we could stop and buy. Prices were very low, no bargaining though, and although the quality has of course suffered since the airlift I found the items still wo rth buying. A pleasant surprise considering the doom laden guides. I bought from a pleasant girl who said she was half Falasha and half Christian.

12) Gondar to Enda Selassie This just has to be the most beautiful road in Ethiopia, but it is still not asphalted, almost the only bit on the main ring not metalled (Enda Selassie to Axum was being done last week).

13)Axum We liked the Abunet Hotel’s food. A very good Doro wat for an astonishingly low 25 birr, and that during fastng time! A good but very spicy spaghetti bolognese too.

14) Axum Fasting time seems to also mean that there is no milk (I don’t know why – does it run out?). We learnt however to insist on them using powdered milk, which actually improved their latte macchiato!

15) Axum The second highest stele (returned from Rome) is now erected and resplendent, but the sling is still on the neigbouring slightly sloping stele.

16) Lalibela Now 300 Birr not 200 Birr, but still well worth it of course. The road in from Koren via Sekota is quite beautiful. Only gravel of course, but like Thomas Pakenham, my last visit 40 years ago meant hiring mules for three and a half days!

16) Lalibela Airport The only time I really felt cheated was in some of the prices at this airport, clearly catering more to the fly-in fly-out jet set.

17) Overall -hassle factor 40 years ago I was called “ferenji” and had stones thrown at me by little children every morning on my way to work. That has gone now. There was significantly less hassle in Addis,Bahir Dar, Gondar and Lalibela than before, and also much less than in Debarek, Axum, Yeha and Debre Damo, where being harassed is still sadly a fact of life.

So Philip that concludes my list of feedback. Hope it was helpful!

Adrian Greenwood

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