Trip report Jan-Feb 2014

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)!

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2 thoughts on “Trip report Jan-Feb 2014

  1. Stuart Dickson. says:

    Selam bus can be a nice alternative if the Sky bus is looking a tad dodgy – they seem to go most places Sky do and competitive prices. Star bus are also good- not as plush but quite a bit cheaper and full of character(maybe even a screaming clutch)

  2. richard dorn says:

    my trip report
    I used Solomon Berhe Tours and the guide named Mulat and cook named Negussie in February of 14.
    I believe that Mulat put me in some extremely unsafe situations and his English was truly limited adding to the concern I had. The cook Negussie was not attentive to my wishes for food and I was sick several times on the trek due to the UN healthy cooking situation. Also I would have to ask numerous times for hot water to wash. He did not want to heat any water, whether for drinking or washing. Also at the one camp Megussie tried to extort money from me to pay for the camp site. He had the minister from the church (Ambwiko) standing there telling me that I needed to pay for camping there. I said I had already paid Solomon Berhe for the camp sites, but they said I had not. It was a very unpleasant experience. Of course the guide Mulat was already gone.
    I should say I trek a great deal internationally and previously in Africa. This Tour Company and guide were far below the norm for international standards.
    Following are examples of the unsafe behavior of the Mulat and the risky situations that he put me in.
    One descent that took the KE tour group 4-5 hours we did in less than two. Mulat and the guard were at least 20 minutes ahead of me all the way down. I usually did not see them. I had fallen twice with them nowhere in sight. At the bottom, I couldn’t even eat my lunch. That was probably the worst experience I have ever had trekking.
    When we were climbing Ras Dashen I kept telling Mulat that I wanted to go slow. I have done numerous altitude hikes, including summiting Kilimanjaro. I knew what proper trekking procedure in altitude was. But Mulat was so far ahead of me. I believe it was the third time I yelled out, I wanted to go slow he slowed down. Interesting the guard had never been there before, and he wasn’t doing well. But Mulat kept going.
    It seemed like Mulat only wanted to get to the camp and then go off. Unlike many of the other guides in the first camps, they often ate with their clients and actually spoke with them. But Mulat not doing that could be due to his lack of comprehension of English.
    Mulat would start the morning off with “we go to……….” He would never say how long it would be. If I wanted a break, I would just stop. Usually they were way ahead of me, and would sometimes come back to find where I was. The entire trip he and the guard were so far ahead of me, it is embarrassing.
    One afternoon there were some heated words exchanged between Mulat and a younger man on the trail. It then escalated to them throwing rocks at each other. Now you ask, didn’t the guard do something? No the guard was back at the last village having a beer.
    Two nights Mulat let the guard go off to the local beer place and he would come back drunk with his gun in hand. The guard was a really nice guy, but I really don’t understand the need for a drunken guard, had there been an issue and we needed a gun, it really would have been unsafe.
    What is the biggest shame is it is a truly amazing trek. The villages and the folks on the trail were awesome. The mountains and sunset’s beyond belief. If I had had a decent guide and tour company it would have been the top trek of my life. I hope this report helps improve the Ethiopian tour agencies and helps folks find good guides. Ask a lot of questions. I asked the wrong ones.

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