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

Northern Circuit updates

Blue Nile Canyon

The road across the canyon is now fully paved, and there is a new bridge over the Nile – another project with the Japanese.

Bahir Dar

Someone told me that a new dam was to be inaugurated by the end of 2009 and that would eliminate the Blue Nile Falls altogether, but I was not able to verify that.

Guzara Castle

No evidence that there is any restoration work done there. It seems pretty deserted, with weeds growing around it.

Simien Mountains

For those on a budget it is recommended to stay in Debark upon arrival, and enter the park in the morning since every calendar day they should pay for a “guide” and an armed guard even if they do not intend to go for a hike.  I arrived in the park in the late afternoon and had to pay those fees for essentially no benefit.  Also, the guide and guard require two seats in your car so if you come with a fully occupied car, you may be in trouble. It is perfectly possible to do the Simiens in one day, driving all the way to Chenek (2 hours from Debark) and going for short walks.

p. 238 Gonder to Axum by road

Perhaps you may want to mention that, among other attractions, this scenic road passes the amazing Tekeze canyon just south of Shire.  The Tekeze is a major tributary of the Nile, and the canyon, with its red-earth slopes, is a sight to behold.  There is also a major dam built on the Tekeze (not seen from the road).

p. 258 Axum Stelae Field

The no-name Axum stele which was returned from Italy is referred to as the Axum Obelisk in some sources, such as the Unesco World Heritage Site list.  You may consider using the same terminology.

p. 262 Axum King Ezana’s park

The tablet in King Ezana’s park, protected inside a closed building, is bilingual – not trilingual as mentioned in your text.  The key to the building is held by a guard who sits in a small information booth across the road.  Near the booth there are remains of a large sixth century church which were excavated a few years ago.

p. 359 Lalibela tour practicalities

The entrance to the complex is now 300 Birr

p. 357 – Lalibela – the Alef Hotel

Paid the same price as the Asheton, $10, for a modern clean single with a shower – much less than the price mentioned in your text, and with no negotiations.

p. 324 – Hayk Istafanos

The entrance fee to the monastery is 100 Birr, which seems out of proportion.  You can not enter the monastery grounds without paying the fee.

p.  329 – where to stay in Kombolcha

The best hotel is Hikma Pension, with clean attractive rooms and a busy terrace restaurant.  They charge 140 Birr for a single with a shower, which seems steep for such a town. The Meron Hotel charges 90 Birr for a room with a cold shower, and is run down.

Ron Bennett

Debre Libanos and Blue Nile Gorge

My partner Louis and I got back from Ethiopia at the end of November and there are just a couple of things I do think are worth a mention:

  1. Debre Libanos – we used your email update to locate Abenet’s hotel and he was gob smacked that we knew his name on arrival. His hotel is right by the turning for the Portuguese bridge (you actually have to park in the hotel car park and pay him 10 birr if you are visiting the bridge only). As we had the update on us & were able to give him the paragraph relating to him, for his office wall, he charged us 150 birr per night as stated but when we were leaving (after 2 nights) he told us the price is now 200 birr per night. He was a very chatty and pleasant man, he is Ethiopian but has worked in Germany for 35 years starting off as a waiter and ending up owning his own restaurant there, which he sold as a going concern. His wife Annette is German and they have lots of German friends who come & visit & stay at the hotel. Also people drive up from Addis to stay the weekend – a German baker and his wife, UN worker and Swedish Embassy worker while we were there. He told me he owned the land from the road to right by the Portuguese bridge, some land down in the gorge where we could see a distant church and also has some land in Muger Gorge where he plans to build another hotel. The locals refer to the hotel as ‘the German Hotel’ and as far as I could tell there were 5 double rooms with another 4 (1 of which had 2 double beds) under construction so eventually it will sleep 20 in total. Abenet said he would like to be included in the next edition of your book. Address: Ethio German Park Hotel, Debre Libanos, Chagel; Name: Abenet Shifferaw Tel: Mobile 0911978834; Office: 0116563213. It was very spacious and comfy and the nearest thing I saw to western standards apart from Tukul Village in Lalibela (we didn’t stay there I’m just nosey! We stayed at Chez Sophie’s)
  2. Crossing the Blue Nile Gorge – Purely by our own naivety we got stuck in Goha Tsion (mini-buses stopped, no other transport until next day) at 2pm it seemed a dead end place and whilst sitting in a dirty cafe deciding what to do next we witnessed a nasty (by my standards) fight which freaked me out. So we decided to hitch hike to Dejen thinking we’d make it by dark (32km in the guide book). We had no trouble getting a lift in a huge Chinese lorry – Ethiopian driver from Addis. The journey was slow and hot but we expected that and sat back and enjoyed the scenery. There were distance markers (milestones) every kilometre along the roadside and at 30km just before we got back on the asphalt road the lorry broke down. It was dusk and we thought there were only 2 km to go so we very nearly got out and walked the rest of the way. In fact Dejen is 40km from Goha Tsion so we would have had to walk 8km in the dark and been at risk from who knows what. I’m so glad we stayed with the lorry and eventually got safely to Dejen after 8pm at night. Sorry to be picky over 8km but it could have been life of death for us! Actually after getting in the lorry we noticed what looked like a brand new hotel in Goha Tsion on the left hand side of the main road as you leave heading for Dejen called the Blue Nile Hotel. With hindsight it may have been wiser for us to have stayed there overnight.

Thanks, Rita Griffiths