Detailed Feb 2018 trip report (north & southwest)

Simon writes:

Addis Ababa:-

With all the tensions in the country, avoid getting into a political conversation with anyone.

E Visa:- Use only official website evisa.gov.et.  However it does not seem to speed things up that much compared with ‘Visa on Arrival’.  Don’t rely on the ATM’s to work, change some cash at the bank after clearing immigration. If you Hotel does not offer pick up, walk out of the terminal towards the taxis and you will find an official guy with a large folder that has a list of all the hotels and the price to each. It works well at both terminals.

Green Valley Hotel is as good as ever. Helpful staff, flexible left luggage arrangements, busy restaurant, handy location and good value.

Bahir Dar:-

Rahnile Hotel continues to impress. Book direct with the hotel via email and you get 10% discount on check out.

Megenet Restaurant seems to have closed. Lakeshore & Desset are the places to head for.

For the only ‘slightly’ adventurous, a trip on the local boat to Ura Kidane Mihret on the Zege Peninsula is great. It leaves at 7am and gets you to the monastery before the tourist boats. A 3km walk brings you to the village of Zege Afaf. Especially good on market days (Saturday & Tuesday). Sit and have a lovely fish curry in the local restaurant while watching the world go by. There are regular (very crowded) buses and minibuses back to Bahir Dar. Take a local guide and make things easier for yourself. I have used Tafese 091-8746121 twice and he is fine.

 

Lalibela:-

Tukul Village Hotel is still good. Be sure to ask for an ‘upstairs’ room in a Tukul.

Sora lodge has a wonderful setting, if a little out of town. However it is let down by the rather poor and expensive restaurant.

Ben Ababa is still the place to eat, with amazing views. The ‘whacky’ atmosphere was enhanced by a convention of 70 Buddhists from around the world calling in for dinner!

Derebe Getane 091-1996811 was a good guide who arranged a 2 ½ day tour to include ceremonies at Geneta Maryam and Bilbilla Chirkos as well as the ‘usual’ sights.

Axum:-

Despite all the negative comments about Axum, Sabean Hotel was a good comfortable choice. We went for a drink at Yeha,which is very run down. Africa Hotel looks good as a budget option. AB Traditional Restaurant was dirty and shabby. Antika, next door, was much better and had a excellent dance on with 95% locals. Great atmosphere.

Southwest Omo:-

Rarely visited, independent travel not for the faint hearted!

There are direct Selam and Golden coaches from Addis to Mizan Tefari (12hours). Salayish hotel is the place to stay, very large rooms at $35. The shoestring hotels are poor value. A relatively easy option is to take the early morning bus to Tum on a Friday, where there is a shoestring hotel and worse restaurants. Many Suri (they do not like being called ‘Surma’!) come from the outlying villages to the Saturday market and there is no charge to visit, though it would be wise to engage a local guide if offered. Be very discreet with your camera.

The main centre for the Suri is Kibish, about 50kms south of Tum. Occasional trucks head that way. Most transport to Kibish passes through Dima with a reasonable budget hotel ‘Hyat Pension’. You need a permit from Mizan to head south of Tum or Dima along with a guide and 2 armed guards. Korkodi 094 8959284, korkodisuri@gmail.com is recommended. Flexibility is the name of the game! There is a very ‘shoestring’ hotel in Kibish. Keep your camera in your pocket on arrival and let people get used to you and you will not be pestered. There is a government charge of Birr400/person/day to visit. If your guide is not a Suri, you will also have to hire one locally.

If you have a polaroid camera, handing out prints can help on a ‘village visit’ to break the ice. Rather than the ‘Birr10 per click’ I agreed to give Birr100 to the headman and gave my compact camera to the village children who had a ball taking photos of each other. It was a much more relaxed atmosphere and they only gave up when the battery was exhausted after 250 shots!

For a more ambitious multi week trek in the area try Tizbt Sum Sum,who is based in Mizan. Tel 091-0498048. tizbtsuri@gmail.com, http://www.sumsumphotoguide.weebly.com. For maps of the area check http://www.openstreetmap.org

Mizan to Gambella:-

Not as simple as it looks on the map!

There are regular buses to Tepi, where the plantation guesthouse is the place to stay.

There are regular buses on to Masha, where the very small bus station indicates it is ‘at the end of the line’. Very shoestring hotels are available and the place to eat is ‘Oldies Bar & Restaurants’ which is slightly better than the rest. Apparently there is a very nice waterfall and cave only 7kms away. Occasional minibuses run along the rather poor dirt road to Gore. (You cross from ‘Southern States’ to ‘Oromia’, which can be problematic if there is unrest in the area, as there was in Feb)

From Gore minibuses regularly make the 3 hour descent to Gambella, but not from the bus station!

Gambella:-

Hot and steamy! In late Feb it reached 40degC in the afternoon and it keeps increasing up to 48degC before the rains come in April. City life is now dominated by the 650,000 refugees from mainly South Sudan that are housed in camps in the area. There is a large UN presence and dozens of NGO agencies, which distort the local economy. Shiny white Toyota Landcruisers almost cause traffic jams!

National Hotel, near the bus station, is an unassuming block with no reception areas in a desolate compound. The rooms are surprisingly good but with fan only. The Baro hotel has had a facelift and all rooms now have air conditioning. Smart rooms at $27 seem good value for money. The staff are good and the manager extremely helpful. Tel:0931540761 tomyimer@gmail.com. There is a new high rise hotel up by the main roundabout charging $50-100. The Nuer market 100M east of the Baro has been relocated 1km away. As yet it has no atmosphere. It is not clear if you need tourist office permission. The hotel may be able to help.

The village of Itang 50kms west has lost its character due to the NGO dollar, but it does have a fine local fish restaurant! More interesting is to cross the river by dugout canoe and visit the village on the other side. Apparently a (long) day visit to Gambella National Park is possible at $150-200, including 4×4 hire, depending on group size.

Ethiopian Airways no longer has a functioning office in town. Better to buy your ticket online (if the internet is working) or by phone with tele-sales in Addis (if they answer the phone) otherwise try your luck by going out to the airport ($15 taxi ride away). Assuming you have a ticket, the better hotels offer a free shuttle to the airport for the twice daily flight to Addis. Golden offer a direct coach service direct to Addis over the now fully tarred road. (14hrs)

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