Trip report from a female traveller

Carrie writes:
I just got back from three weeks in Ethiopia using the 7th edition of the Bradt guide. The guidebook was invaluable and I couldn’t have done the trip (solo, without a guide) without it. There were just a couple of things I wanted to update you on:

Women travellers: As a 27-year-old American woman traveling alone,  I experienced  quite a bit of harassment, mostly from teenage boys. It was mostly verbal, but a few times I found myself encircled by groups of boys who got a little physical. There were also many cafes/restaurants that I didn’t feel comfortable eating in because it would have been very conspicuous that I was the only woman there. (I was almost always the only woman eating alone in cafes and restaurants, but there was a difference between places where that didn’t seem like a big deal and places where I was sure I’d face an endless stream of romantic proposals if I sat down there.)

A little more disconcertingly, in Harar, I was followed around for 20-30 minutes on two separate occasions by older men. Both times they followed me into shops and one of them even followed me into a restaurant. Appealing to other Ethiopians just got me laughed at. Dressing in long skirts and loose shirts did not make a difference. Taking a guide, and latching on to locals I felt I could trust, seemed to solve the problem.

Getting around: I heard nothing but bad things about Skybus when I was there. I bought a ticket from them at one point and they tried to tell me it was Skybus when they actually sold me a ticket for Golden Bus. (I returned the ticket.) I ended up taking Selam Bus whenever traveling by bus, and despite leaving later and driving more conservatively, it always arrived earlier than the Skybus/Golden Bus.

Addis Ababa:

I contacted Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place in advance for an airport pickup (I arrived at 1 am). They sent a taxi for me, but the taxi took me to the wrong hotel (in the same area) and told me it was Mr. Martin’s. When I questioned him, the driver refused to help me find Mr. Martin’s. The other hotel staff (I still don’t know where I actually stayed) also refused to help. And since it was dark and the other hotel wasn’t significantly more expensive, I gave up. The taxi driver also charged me more than I had agreed with Mr. Martin’s staff and refused to give me change. I didn’t realize I was right around the corner from Mr. Martin’s until the next day, when it was light enough out to see the sign.

By contrast, Taitu took a walk-in booking from me for two weeks in advance and gave me the exact room they had shown me. They had the most helpful staff I experienced in Ethiopia as well.

Kiyab Cafe in Piassa area: You mention it has snacks, juices, etc. but it also had a full breakfast menu and the food was outstanding.

Since you recommend several hotels and restaurants in the Atlas Junction area, it would have been helpful to see minibus stops there too. It was easy to get to Piassa but I had a hard time communicating with people where I was trying to get back to from Piassa.

I had no trouble with pickpockets or any safety-related issues in Addis. I felt 100% safe walking around with my camera and a backpack at all hours. No one ever tried anything on me. I did carry my backpack in front of me instead of on my back and I wore skirts with no pockets, so I might have just not looked like an easy enough target.

Danakil:

WorldSun Ethiopia Tours seems like one of the more popular agencies for Danakil trips, and cheaper than ETT. I originally booked with them but the rest of the group backed out so they put me on the ETT trip for the same price. Despite not traveling with them, I found their service to be above and beyond.

The Danakil trips, across all tour agencies, were all stopping for a night in the highland village of Abala in between Dallol and Erta Ale. Not sure if that’s just because it was August and it was so hot in the desert, or if this is a permanent change. It definitely made the Danakil trip more bearable–a toilet and bucket showers made a huge difference.

Mekele:

I couldn’t find the Tigrai Tourism office anywhere on the street it was mapped on. Not sure if it’s moved or closed, or if it was just unsignposted. I didn’t ask anyone.

Atse Yohannes Hotel: Now charging 500 birr for a room, and they wouldn’t budge on price. There are definitely better-value options (Moringa and Lalibela Guesthouse) available. Their breakfast was terrible.

Beefmin Garden: I totally agree with your review. Great restaurant and had some of the best wifi I found in Ethiopia.

Getting to the Lachi bus station: it was difficult to figure out where the minibuses to Lachi left from–and most locals didn’t seem to know (one put me on a minibus going to the wrong place!). Would have been helpful to have the minibus station on the map.

Wukro:

I couldn’t find the Tigrai Tourism office here either.

The museum is now open and was one of the more informative museums I visited in Ethiopia. Lots of English signage and supplemental materials and the staff was happy to answer questions.

Ersayem Restaurant: Signed in English from the main road, but the restaurant itself is signed only in Amharic. They didn’t have a menu and it was a fasting day, so the only options were fasting food or spaghetti, and the server at first assumed I wanted spaghetti without asking. We cleared that up and they had fantastic food–and it was 30 birr for a huge meal with an Ambo! Best-value food I found in Ethiopia.

Hawzien:

There are all-day (or at least until mid-afternoon) minibuses running directly from both Wukro and Mekele now. And going to Adigrat, I was able to pick up a direct minibus (without having to change at Frewenyi) at around 9 am after only a 5 minute wait for it to fill up.

It’s possible to take a bajaj to Megab and do Abuna Yemata as a straightforward and easy day trip from Hawzien. No need to take a guide from Mekele or Axum or book expensive private transport, you can sort it out on the spot.

Gheralta Lodge was as amazing as everybody says–the food, the rooms, the location, the service, everything. Dinner is a flat 250 birr for the full menu, no a la carte option. It was about 75% vegetarian-friendly.

Axum:

The bus from Adigrat to Axum was one of the worst trips I’ve been on anywhere in the world. The driver was going 140 km/hour up and down switchbacks and he clearly didn’t have control. At one point we almost skidded off a cliff. Buses everywhere else in Ethiopia were fine, just this one leg was horrible.

AB Traditional Bar and Restaurant: Did not have live music the Saturday night I was there. Food was exceptional, but options were limited–they only had beef or lamb tibs and some Italian dishes available the night I was there.

National Yared Juice House: This was one of the more conspicuously all-male cafes I encountered. I definitely would not have felt comfortable there. Over the three days I was in Axum, I got cat-called every time I walked by by the people sitting there.

Lalibela:

Villa Lalibela: Great place to stay, with a super-friendly staff. They include breakfast with the room now but it’s very basic–just bread, jam and coffee. My one complaint is location. That cluster of hotels at the bottom of the hill is far from most of the restaurants/cafes/etc. It’s a very dark walk back after dinner that requires walking by a bunch of bars and pool halls that seem to be where all the obnoxious teenage boys congregate. Normally I would’ve just eaten at a hotel restaurant closer by, but the only one with an open restaurant when I was there (it was pretty devoid of tourists) was Jerusalem Hotel.

I’d suggest that other women traveling alone stay at Red Rocks or Asheton–better and more central location that you could have your choice of dinner spots from without worrying about the walk back. (To be clear, I’m sure it wasn’t actually unsafe–it just isn’t much fun to have boys following you and whistling at you/throwing stones at you when you ignore them when you know you won’t even see a street light for a mile.)

Ben Abeba: Great food, great service, great views. Totally agree with your review except the dessert menu was limited to fruit salad the day I was there. But it was a delicious fruit salad.

John Lodge: This was much more mediocre. Their local dishes were mostly unavailable when I was there and the only veggie-friendly option was spaghetti. They also said juices were unavailable even though I saw other people ordering them.

Dire Dawa:

African Village was as good as you made it out to be. The owner took the parrot out of the cage at night and moved it somewhere where it was much less disruptive. Only complaint is the wifi didn’t work well, but in a pinch there are plenty of internet cafes around.

Harar:

Rowda Waber Guesthouse: This was my favorite accommodation in Ethiopia. The breakfast was as good as you made it out to be. The staff was great. Booking through Hailu (who was also a fantastic guide) went smoothly. It would have been nice to know that none of the guesthouses are signposted, so you really do either have to get picked up from the bus station or ask a lot of people to find them. The one downside was an aspirant guide who was hanging around trying to get me to hire him. I stayed firm with wanting to use Hailu instead, and eventually he backed down.

Fresh Touch has moved and it’s now almost immediately outside Harar Gate. It no longer has wifi.

Cozi Pizzeria does not seem to be there anymore. There is another restaurant in its place but some locals said it wasn’t good.

The military base across from the Ras Hotel has a really nice bar with beautiful garden seating. I went with Ethiopian friends and I’m not sure if foreigners could get in alone, though. And they’re strict about no cameras (I put mine in my bag and agreed not to take it out after a ten-minute argument about leaving it at the entrance).

I would suggest including the place in the main square in the old city that makes the chapati pancakes in your food recommendations (coming from Harar Gate, it’s outside on the ground floor of that big building on the left). 30 birr for a 2-egg pancake with veggies etc., delicious, and one of the most popular spots in town among locals.

There is also a lady who sells great veggie samosas (choice of potato or lentil). She sets up around 6 pm outside Central Cafe. 4 samosas ran me 8 birr.

The hyena feeding site has moved. It’s now about 5 km outside the walled city. (I didn’t go to the old sites to verify that they’re no longer there, but I did ask several locals and four different guides and they all said it’s been moved.) Costs 150 birr in a bajaj round-trip (the unofficial guides will tell you 200) plus 100 to pay the hyena man. The site was pretty quiet at 7:30 pm when we arrived but the hyena man eventually got 3 hyenas to come.

That’s all I’ve got–thanks again for the great guidebook! Ethiopia was the trip of a lifetime and the relatively small hassles and frustrations were totally eclipsed by the friendliness of the people and the fascinating history and natural sights.

Off-the-beaten-track trip report

Ondřej writes:

 

Hello, I have backpacked through Ethiopia for three months from the beginning of March to the end of May. Thanks a lot for all the great tips and information in your book, I would have missed so many interesting things without it! And sometimes, it is even very fun to read🙂

Now I would like to contribute some updates for some parts of the book. I numbered them by page as they appear in the seventh edition.

 

225 – Fang Waterfall – is now paid. I have no idea where he came from, but an old man suddenly appeared and asked for money before I could approach the waterfall. He actually issued tickets, but he couldn’t read or write, so he asked me to write one hundred into the receipt. I wrote 30, the kids started laughing, told him what happened and he got a little angry but was laughing at my trick as well a little bit, just accepted the money (although he wasn’t really satisfied) and went his way again.

 

251 – The Gorgora road is mostly finished by now.

 

273 – Simien Mountains

 

All in all, the Semiens are a very hostile place to low-budget tourists these days. Unless you just hand out money all the time, you’re trash for them (same as everywhere in Tigrai, Hawassa and the other tourist hotspots).

 

The people at the NP HQ are real jerks and spread many lies, as well as the various barters and wannabe guides around. I arranged at the HQ that I would cut the first two days into one (directly from Debark to Gich) and then go day by day and try to make it to Dashen if the weather will allow for it. They told me it is OK and that I can pay only for 4 days, and then pay more when I come back, should it be neccessary. In the end, it took me 4 days to walk to Ras Dashen, and another full day to ride back (details later) so I came back to pay the extra day, and they asked me to pay 9 days because that is how long it usually takes for tourists. They couldn’t provide any kind of proof that there is a rule for this. Again some people supported me, but the HQ manager was against me, and wasn’t willing to give up. I was trying to make it a fair deal, but it led nowhere and after an hour I just gave up and went true aggro-mode, started shouting and stomping and banging my fist on the counter and finally they gave up. It was very sad though, that I actually had to use “force” to reach justice.

 

A big new thing is that an asphalt road is now running through Bwahit pass directly to Chiroleba (and further a few km to a village unimportant for tourists), a bus runs pretty much daily back and forth, and several trucks each day. The people claim it is illegal to use either, and will ask for ridiculous prices for taking you. I was friendly and got some locals on my side, which ultimately guaranteed a place for me and my scout all the way from Chiroleba back to Debark for 250 ETB (locals pay 60 each, so I only overpaid twice). The lowest I could get the truck driver was 1000 and he wouldn’t go lower if my new temporary friends didn’t intervene (they just took my money, stuffed in his pocket and told me to get on haha).

 

A dirt road is also running from Ambiko all the way up to the pass directly below Ras Dashen, leading somewhere far away south in the Semiens. But most probably it also connects to the new asphalt road somehow through the way of Arkwasiye. So, theoretically, in a private car, you can pretty much drive all the way up to Ras Dashen (with 1 hour left of walking in the end or so). But this needs to be checked.

 

Also, my scout was a jerk, he was complaining all the time that his feet hurt, that it’s raining too much, was always begging for money and when I didn’t give any, he just halted and refused to go on. In general, the NP staff is very corrupted and unprofessional.

 

375 – Maryam Qiat – A bus runs to Rahya daily for 11 ETB from Adigrat. There seem to be more buses every day, but very irregular. I got stuck overnight, but I was offered to sleep at one of the local shop/restaurant/pub places for 50 ETB in an OK bed in a private room (guest room of the family). The priest’s number in Qiat is 0927773168. He doesn’t speak English though, I was lucky enough to meet a local student who helped me locate him and translated stuff for me. He claimed there are long tunnels leading from the church into other sacred chambers, but of course, these are only accessible for the priests, so they can’t prove it. The nature and scenery around Rahya is also among the most breathtaking in Tigrai, for me at least, definitely worth mentioning!

 

376 – Gunda Gundo

 

The walk to Gunda Gundo was an unbelievable and unforgettable trip. It is possible to find it alone, the people are very friendly to tourists and will show the way. Just ask every single person you meet. Also, believe them, even if it looks like they are sending you in the wrong direction, because the road is really zig-zag and sometimes not very easy to find. One more thing worth mentioning, watch out for dogs at the point where you descend into a canyon at one point, before climbing over a small hill and continuing the descent again. The ones I encountered were all tied by chains, or watched after by their masters, but it could be risky. Have stones ready.

 

In Gunda Gundo itself, the people are completely different. As all the Christian officials everywhere in Tigrai, they only care about money. I was not allowed to enter the monastery, because I didn’t have a permission from some the office in Wukro. They were willing to overlook the fact for 500 ETB, which I refused to pay. The people are real jerks, abusing women and children to do all the work in and around the monastery and leeching on money from tourists. The only thing they do is brew their own beer, and even buy bottled beer from a pair of guys who make a living by running a beer-donkey-caravan back and forth between Idaga Hamus and GG. On the other hand, I also met a really nice nun there, who was very kind and fair to me, and was the only thing that saved my sanity in this god-forsaken place. She arranged a place for me to sleep in, which kinda saved my life.

 

The experience and the walk was still absolutely worth it. The point of my story is – bring a permission from the office in Wukro, otherwise you are in trouble.

 

427 – Lake Afrera 

 

A minibus runs daily to Afrera from Logiya (not Semera), starts loading people around 5:30 AM, be there in time as it seems to get full quickly and there aren’t more for the day. Also, it doesn’t run from the bus station, but from another place closer to the center of town, so ask the day before, or get up early enough to figure it out. The price was some 110 ETB if I recall correctly. The ride is breathtaking and really smooth along a nice new asphalt road, very fast too.

 

Afrera is safe to visit even for solitary backpackers – I even accidentaly walked into a military area (don’t go looking for a view of the village to the hill with a gazebo west of the salt-extractors colony). I was probed for an hour or so by the soldiers, but again my friendliness and limited Amharic vocabulary saved me. First they said (one of them knew some english) that it is a big problem to come there alone, and that I am the first faranji to go there alone without a guide and that they need to call the local government because I don’t have a permit. But in the end a tourist visa was enough to satisfy them and they even gave me their phone number to call if anything were to happen to me.

 

There are at least two sets of hot springs around the town (and probably many more I haven’t found). The bigger, touristic ones where it is easy to bath, and then I found another set of them along the shore immediately east of the colony (here). There is noone around unless the people are working and they are maybe even more scenic than the touristic ones. It is not possible to bath in them though, they are too hot. You have to pay 70 ETB to bath in the touristic ones now, but they even give a receipt if you insist on it.

 

The remains of a small volcano immediately north above the touristic springs are pretty awesome, with breathtaking sunset views of the landscape and ruins of some kind of old stone building (I guess and abandoned local refuge, or some kind of war remnant).

 

Minibuses run on to the next town along the road to Erebti, one daily around 11AM. There you can change to another one to Abala, which is already well connected to Mek’ele. I haven’t taken the minibuses so I don’t know the prices and times after Afdera as I hitchhiked on a truck directly to Mek’ele. The whole stretch of the road is amazing quality asphalt with good bridges and should you get stuck anywhere, Afdera, Erebti and Abala all have stringshoe accomodation (outside sleeping, but it doesn’t mater as it is 40°C anyway).

 

P.S.: Wear good shoes. I encountered a huuuge, bright orange coloured huntsman spider running after me.

 

485 – Dire Sheikh Hussein

 

It is possible to get to Dire on public transport. A bus runs to Dire from Jara. To Jara, you can get from Ginnir / Delo en route from Sof Omar (unpredictable), or directly from Robe easily. The bus from Jara is very hard to predict. I waited for more than a day and in the end went with some guy on a motorbike instead. The buses are tied to the market days in Jara (Saturday, Tuesday) and Mechara, but it is not a 100% safe rule. On the other hand, if the demand is high enough, there is even more than one bus. They start late afternoon from Jara and go through the night to arrive in Mechara in the morning and vice-versa. Price is 150 ETB, but you can also go on the back of a truck for the same price if you arrange it, which is definitely more adventurous and you get amazing freedom of looking around (the gorge is breathtaking even during a night without any moon). I have also seen one bus arrive to Dire from Jara only (not going further) but I have no clue how that runs.

 

In Dire itself, ask to be taken to the petrified praying chamber. It is in the side of one of the Wabe Shebelle cliffs, and it is a small grotto enclosed by petrified roots of ancient trees, covered in crystals. It is very small, but probably one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life.

 

 

Jehu & Laia’s trip report

Here our comments / special mention regarding our 20-day trip North and East Ethiopia. 5th August – 25th August
Addis Ababa
Hotels:
Regency Hotel in Piazza. Upmarket. Double room w/breakfast 100$. Very good location, clean and comfortable. Good breakfast. Wifi low speed. Airport shuttle complimentary.
Haimi Apartment Hotel in Bole, beside MK restaurant and Enya restaurant. Upmarket. Double room suite w/breakfast and dinner 120$. Excellent location. Amazing suites with great views of the city. Breakfast is very good. Continental dinner not that good. Wifi high speed. Very appropriate for business trips and tourist.
Restaurants:
Piazza:
Addis Ababa Restaurant. Very good traditional food in a nice traditional house.
Castelli’s. This Italian restaurant is now closed under restoration.
Bole:
Habesha Restaurant. Excellent traditional food and good live traditional music. We found this one more sophisticated and higher level than Addis Ababa Restaurant.
Enya Restaurant. Excellent greek food.
Bahir Dar
Hotels
Bed & Breakfast The Annex. Tel. 0918727504. Nice patio full of birds and flowers. Clean rooms and shared bathroom. Very good breakfast. Double room 40$
Restaurants
Special mention to the restaurant of Kuriftu Resort. More expensive than other restaurants in Bahir Dar, but the food is excellent and the location / atmosphere / environment is romantic and beautiful.
Lake monasteries
Half day trip by boat including the lake monasteries Kibran Gebriel, Bet Maryam, Uda Kidane Mihret and Debre Maryam, 150 birr pp with shared boat from Ghion Hotel. Otherwise 600 birr per boat.
Day trip by boat to Gorgora including visit to Daga Istafanos, Narga Selassie (Dek Island) and Debre Sina Maryam (Gorgora), 3000 birr per boat.
Gorgora
If you arrive to Gorgora by boat after 5pm, it is very possible you will not find any kind of transportation to Gonder. So you will have to overnight in Gorgora Hotel. This is what happened to us. “1st class rooms” in front of the lake were fully booked by Chinese families. I think there were only two of these. We had to sleep in a 2nd class room for around 200 birr for a double room. Dirty, bedbugs, toilet was a place to avoid if possible. Simply nasty. Food in the hotel restaurant was eatable.
Gondar
Hotels
Goha hotel. A good choice both hotel and restaurant are good. They offered 50% discount for low season. Around 40$ including breakfast.
Gondar to Axum by road
We went to the Tourist Information Office and decided to contact a 4×4 driver called Mamoush Tel. 0918773409, following “Anton’s trip report” of April 2012. He was really friendly and helpful all the time. We hired him for 5-6 days to do the Gondar – Axum (2 nights) – Debre Damo / Adigrat – Gheralta (2 nights) – Axum flight to Lalibela. Price per day ranges between 150$ to 200$ including driver’s food and accommodation, depending on your negotiation skills and length of the journey. You will probably have to pay an extra day for him to go back to Gondar. Even though it is not cheap, i really recommend this 4×4 trip as a way to optimize your time when visiting churches in the Gheralta / Adigrat. Also the scenery is magnificent from Gondar to Axum.
Axum
Hotels
Yeha hotel. 70$ double room without breakfast. We found it expensive. The hotel is comfortable and the restaurant is nothing special but good.
Restaurants
AB restaurant (beside Ethiopian Airlines). Nice patio and environment, good traditional food in the birr 40 – 60 range.
Other
We were lucky during our stay in Axum and had the chance to see a morning ceremony (4am-7am) including a night walk of thousands of people with candles following monks and the ark of the covenant (replica).
Adigrat
A superb recommendation in Adigrat, don’t miss the restaurant of the Geza Gerelase Hotel. The meat is excellent there and inexpensive, both lamb and beef/ox. They use this kind of local wassabe for the meat… Coffee ceremony and so on, in a very traditional tukul restaurant. By the way, kurt was awesome…
Gheralta Lodge / Rock-hewn churches
What to say about this place…? It is just perfect. One of the highlights of the trip. I wish we had had more days to spend in the Gheralta Lodge / rock hewn monasteries. We will come back for sure 3 or 4 more days the day we visit the Danakil..
The rock-hewn churches are something else. We visited Abuna Yemata Guh, Abreha Ye Atsbeha and Wukro Chirkos in the same day. Abuna Yemata Gut is espectacular. An unforgettable experience. For me it was far better than Debre Damo. Abreha Ye Atsbeha is also excellent in paintings.
A good guide near the Gheralta lodge, but cheaper: Haile Selassie (it is not a joke!) 0914041123. We payed him 250 birr.
Lalibela
Hotels
We had a reservation at Mountain View Hotel. As soon as we got there, we decided this hotel was not for us. Extremely overrated, 75$ for an awful / retro / unpleasant double room. The entire hotel looks like if they had left things half done, as if they had finished the investment before completion and not payed attention to details. The only good thing was the restaurant. Its Jamaican chef cooks really well. So we had lunch and moved to Tukul Village. Tukul Village is simply excellent. Try to get room 23, is the best one in the hotel. Price 57$ double room including breakfast.
Restaurants
Seven Olives. Excellent traditional food and pasta, 150 birr per person.
Other
Outside Lalibela we visited Genata Maryam. 700 birr for the car. For us was not really worth it, specially if you have visited some churches in the Tigrai.
Harar
Hotels
We spent 4 nights in Harar getting some rest and enjoying the end of Ramadam. I do recommend Rowda Guest House Tel. 0256662211, 350 birr double room w/ breakfast. Breakfast isnt very good but… at least you are in the Old Harar, in a nice traditional Harari house. One of the rooms has bathroom, as for the other is shared. Price is always the same.
I don’t recommend Zubeyda Guest House. They are family with Rowda but the service is awful. To give an example, we had our reservation in Rowda, but by mistake we went the first night to Zubeyda. They didnt say this wasnt Rowda. The following day, when we found out this was another guesthouse, we decided to move because of course we had a reservation in Rowda. They tried to charge us 700 birr instead 350 birr for one night! they said we had used two beds instead of one!!! There was a sad discusion, we paid 350 and go.
Recommended guide for Harar: Sisse 0913450433. We enjoyed his company and attention for 4 days. We had a chat experience with him one of the days. That’s something I really recommend. Another day, he prepared in his home an excellent meal: young camel goulash and also beef tips. Excellent. We drunk Goudar red wine…
In Harar you can buy excellent coffee in the Harar Coffee Company. Very cheap and excellent taste.
A good place to drink one of these awesome juices with three colours: green, orange and pink (avocado, papaya or mango and guava) is Mermaid Cafe, 1st Street. Coffee is also excellent. A better breakfast than in Rowda Guesthouse.
Babile and the Valley of Marvels
If you have time in Harar, Babile is worth a visit. The camel market is very interesting and colourful. As for the Valley of Marvels, i recommend a short trek over there. We were lucky and found about 100 vultures eating dead camels!!
Ethiopia is top of the list for us, a destination you cannot miss.
Cheers
Jehu & Laia from Sitges, Barcelona

Northern Circuit and Harar trip report, March 2012

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)

Ethiopia & Somaliland updates

Hello Philip

Many thanks for your brilliant ‘Ethiopia’. I thought that I’d share some observations I made on a recent trip to Ethiopia (E) and Somaliland (S) with you.

Adigrat (E) – Hohoma Hotel was fantastic. We payed 100 birr for a double with great hot shower, comfortable beds with new linen and TV. The owner, a lady called Alganesh, is very warm and friendly, and cooks great food (try her shiro and thilo).

Gorgora (E) – We stayed in the villa at the Gorgora Hotel.The location was great, but there was no hot water (in fact, no water ran from the shower despite the best plumbing efforts of various cleaners and security guards). In Gorgora town, there is a very nice little bar on the main street, on the righthand side coming from the port. They serve icy-cold Dashen on tap, and are very friendly. They also have great, plain, fresh bread for breakfast.

Axum (E) – We ate a very disappointing meal at Remhai hotel. The recommended beef stroganoff was rubbish (and overpriced). -Four friends and I were overcharged on laundry services at Africa Hotel (for some 50%). Best to confirm price beforehand (and work it out for oneself).

Lalibela (E) – The service at the Blue Lal restaurant was poor and disinterested. -The ‘Unique Restaurant’, just opposite Asheten Hotel, is run by a friendly lady who serves generous, good meals (but don’t expect food to come quickly).

Gambella (E) – We stayed at Aberague Hotel, just next to bus station. The rooms were clean, but got hot at night (especially when there was no power). The manager, Fanta (or Fantom) is very friendly.

Itang, near Gambella (E) – We found the pople in theis town (50km east of Gambella) quite aggressive. Better to stay with the friendly people of Gambella town.

 Hargeisa (S) – We stayed at the Hawthanang Hotel (or something similar) just near the central bridge. Hassan, the manager, speaks brilliant english and was very helpful in organising transport and police permits. The rooms were clean and good value ($12 for a double). -The people at the recommended Oriental Hotel basically refused to help us at all unless we stayed there.

hope that this helps Kind regards Robert M (Australia)