Trip report (useful South Omo info) Jan-Mar 2016

Bryan & Judy Pready write

First part (days 1 to 16, to Gonder) pre­booked through Tesfa Tours http://www.tesfatours.com/ ; after that independent travel, mainly using local buses.

A selection of our photos can be seen here:­

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B1pd3zAKtirpZGJ6S2tTVjNrLVE&usp=sharing

12 17 Jan Axum Ye Yared Zema Hotel: Stellae
13 18 Jan Axum Ye Yared Zema Hotel. Stellae and church.
14 19 Jan Gondar Flight to Gondar: Fasil Lodge; visited castle. Procession in afternoon. Tesfa guide: Tamerat
15 20 Jan Gondar Fasil Lodge; Timket celebrations from very early morning
16 21 Jan Gondar Fasil Lodge; planning our own itinerary
17 22 Jan Bahir Dahr Minibus to Bahir Dahr. Blue Nile Hotel, booked via

Booking.com (USD35 inc breakfast).

18 23 Jan Bahir Dahr Blue Nile Hotel: Boat trip to islands, peninsula and monasteries.
19 24 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe; (USD45 inc breakfast) This B&B only has 3 rooms and is often fully booked. Quiet residential area. Originally was holiday home of Swiss­Ethiopian family, who live in Lausanne. Bookings by email are handled by them in Switzerland and the B&B is run by family members who live in Bahir Dahr. Attractive garden with lots of birds. Excellent breakfasts.
20 25 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe: Blue Nile Falls
21 26 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe. Walked to Derg Memorial, saw hippos in river near bridge. In Bahir Dahr, we enjoyed several good fish meals at the Lakeshore Resort. Good food, excellent location and pleasant service.
22 27 Jan Lalibela Minibus (ETB300 each), then shared 4×4 (ETB300), to Lalibela. Lalibela Hotel booked via Booking.com (USD37 inc breakfast)
23 28 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; rock churches
24 29 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; more rock churches
25 30 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; mule ride to St Mary’s Church (arranged through hotel) Manager of Lalibela Hotel, Indie, was very helpful with advice, arranging mule ride, and helping to get a very good deal for our Danakil trip.
26 31 Jan Makele Private transfer to Makele, arranged through ETT as part of Danakil package. Yohannes Hotel  ETT Manager in Makele, Abeba, is very efficient, pleasant and helpful.

 

27 1 Feb Erte Ale ETT Tour: Makele ­­ Dodom ­­ Erte Ale volcano (camp) Large group with only one guide and an assistant. Not impressed with guide on trek to volcano; he went off quite fast, leaving lots of stragglers behind. On the other hand, drivers and police escort were pleasant and helpful. Volcano was impressive ­­ well worth it.
28 2 Feb Abaala Dodom ­­ Abaala (ETT guesthouse)
29 3 Feb Hamdela Abaala ­­ Behthale ­­ Hamedela (camp): Salt lake at sunset.
30 4 Feb Makele Ragad (Asebo) mine ­­ Dallol, Lake Assal (Absolutely stunning landscapes; can’t imagine there is anywhere else on earth quite like this) ­­ Makele, Yohannes Hotel
32 5 Feb Addis Free transfer to airport by ETT. Flight to Addis; Zeist Lodge. Aladin Restaurant ­­ went because we could walk there from Zeist Lodge but not impressed.
32 6 Feb Addis Zeist Lodge: La Mandoline Restaurant ­­ certainly the best restaurant we visited in Ethiopia. Decided to visit again.
33 7 Feb Addis Zeist Lodge Booked bus to Bale Robe for following day from Mercato, assisted by taxi driver, without whom we’d have never found the right place to buy the ticket.
34 8 Feb Bale Robe Early morning bus to Bale Robe. Got on wrong bus at Mercato but then helped by another passenger to find the right one; not easy in complete darkness. Bekele Molla Hotel. Moved after 1 night. Hotel very run down. Broken furniture, no running water, smelly bathroom. (ETB 250, breakfast not included)
35 9 Feb Bale Robe Siko Mendo Hotel. Clean, modern 3­storey hotel, hot water shower. Dusty because of airport construction traffic using dirt road in front of hotel. (ETB 400, including breakfast.)  Walking tour with guide from National Park HQ, Abubakar Adem mountain nyala, reedbuck and warthog. No alcohol at hotel so went to restaurant near roundabout where we received a warm welcome, good traditional food and cold beer.
36 10

Feb

Bale Robe Siko Mende Hotel. Tour with minibus and NP guide, Abubeker Adem, to Sanetti Plateau and beyond. Ethiopian wolves and colobus monkeys.
37 11

Feb

Hawassa Minibus and bus, via Shashemene to Hawassa, Lake View Hotel. First night in first floor room above bar. Very noisy until late so moved to second floor on other side of hotel; much quieter. Large, comfortable rooms with pleasant balconies.

 

38 12

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel Explored along lakeside
39 13

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel: Fish market (ETB 40 entrance, ETB 100 guide, separate receipts issued by fishermen’s and

guides’ associations)

40 14

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel: Eating:­ Dolce Vita didn’t impress, most items on the menu weren’t available. Venezia: went

twice, first time good but the second time the boss messed up our order and then tried to blame the kitchen staff! “What a Burger” ­­ good new burger place, run by a young Ethiopian who has lived in the USA. New Italian

ice cream place, also started serving pasta on the day we left, diagonally across from Dolce Vita.

41 15

Feb

Dilla Bus to Dilla: Delight Hotel
42 16

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Prehistoric rock carvings and villages, Wechemo district, tour by bus and on foot with local guide, Abrahalign Mengesha, from Gedeo Zone tourism office.
43 17

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Quiet day, after minor injury previous evening for which I received treatment at Unity Medium Clinic, a short walk from the hotel.
44 18

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Stellae; tour by bus and on foot with

Abrahalign Mengesha.

45 19

Feb

Yabello Bus to Yabello. Tried Green Hotel (now “Pension”) but only rooms with shared showers and toilet so went across road to Yabello Hawi Hotel (ETB300 en­suite with

“instant” shower) Evening meals at Yabello Motel.

46 20

Feb

Yabello Yabello Hawi Hotel
47 21

Feb

Konso Bus to Konso. Not easy to find, doesn’t go from bus station. Were told it left every day at 8 a.m. so went at

7:30. Bus eventually came at 9:15 and finally left Yabello at 11:15. New Konso Edget Hotel (No restaurant; ate at Konso Edget Hotel. No internet cafe and no WiFi, used internet cafe at Konso Development Association)

48 22

Feb

Konso New Konso Edget Hotel: Museum, local market and visit to Konso village without official guide. We were invited in and guided round by a local man who teaches physics in a local secondary school, a really good experience.

 

49 23

Feb

Konso New Konso Edget Hotel. Tour to local villages by bajaj with guide from Konso Tourism Office but wasn’t as good as yesterday’s unofficial guide.
50 24

Feb

Arbore Tour by minibus to south, with local guide Bereket Tekel. Walked to see fishing. Camped in village (tent, mattresses and bedding hired from community) Camping ETB200 per person, plus ETB100 for guard.
51 25

Feb

Turmi Mango community camp site (Tent and bedding provided by guide) Camping ETB150 per person. Hamer village visit on foot from camp site with local guide, Oïta, at sunset.  Excellent visit; relaxed; welcomed into homes.
52 26

Feb

Turmi Omerate in morning by minibus. Visited Sambura village (Dasenach). Expensive for very short visit! (ETB 1300 in total) and not very interesting. Afternoon; tried to see bull­jumping in village near Turmi. Saw preliminaries but ceremony rained off by heavy thunderstorm. Mango community camp site. Had to wade across river which had been completely dry when we left.  Used double bedroom, with en­suite shower because our tent had been flattened by the thunderstorm! Very impressed with Mango ­­ it’s well looked after and the people there are extremely

helpful and welcoming.

53 27

Feb

Konso Original plan had been to go to Jinka but we decided to spend the morning drying out our clothes and around the the camp site before returning to Konso. Kanta Lodge (No power or water at New Edget Hotel)
54 28

Feb

Arba Minch Zebib Pension Recommended by our guide, Bereket Tekel. An excellent choice. Weather was warm, so we chose a room in the block facing the courtyard, which had a window at the front and door onto a small balcony at the back, rather than in the block behind, where rooms only have a door and window at the front. (BTB700) Lunch at Tourist Hotel ­ pleasant gardens, including tame dik­dik, cold draught beer. Evening meal at Swayne’s Lodge ­­ not good, fish cooked to cinder.
55 29

Feb

Arba Minch Zebib Pension Boat tour full day (ETB2500 for two, inc NP entry, boat, guide, bajaj, scout)  Hippos, crocs, zebra, gazelles, baboons, fish eagles, pelicans, goliath heron. Evening to Paradise Lodge by bajaj (road tarmaced all the way now) in search of working ATM. Place very quiet, beautiful views from restaurant terrace.

 

56 1 Mar Arba Minch Zebib Pension Dorze by bus (ETB20) Met by local guide, Freo (he’d been tipped off by phone that two farangi were coming!) who made sure that we got off at the right place. Very interesting tour, especially seeing how false banana is prepared and eaten, Bajaj to market at Chencha. Late lunch back at Tourist Hotel. Better evening meal at Swaynes, possibly because they had a group staying..
57 2 Mar Arba Minch Zebib Pension Sunrise then breakfast at Swaynes, while watching a family of baboons and three warthogs. Bekele Mola for lunch and dinner, which has better terrace, food and service than Swayne’s. More popular with locals.
58 3 Mar Ziway 6 a.m. bus to Shashemene, then minibus. Haile Resort
59 4 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Lake trip to island. Interesting village but church closed because priest away for bishop’s funeral.
60 5 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Good lunch, with bottle of Rift Valley Merlot at the winery restaurant.
61 6 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Another lazy day, sorting travel and bookings, and another lunch at the winery restaurant.
62 7 Mar Addis Minibus to Addis; left without being full! Long delay because of accident involving 3 trucks. Ye­Afoli International Hotel New hotel (opened late in 2015). Went here on recommendation of Zeist Lodge, because they were full. Good value; booked USD75 room though Booking.com and were upgraded to a larger USD100 room. Good location ­­ nearer to Bole Road than Zeist Lodge. Large, comfortable, well­equipped room and bathroom. Only place in Ethiopia where we saw kettle, cups and teabags provided,
63 8 Mar Harar Free transfer from hotel to Selam bus to Harar. Winta

Hotel (Tried to book Harar Ras Hotel by phone but was

told it was full) Further from walled town but very pleasant atmosphere at this family­run hotel. The Manager, Daniel Berhe, is very helpful. Excellent breakfasts; most evening meals at Harar Ras

64 9 Mar Harar Winta Hotel Tour of walled city on foot with local guide, Solomon. Feeding Hyenas after sunset.
65 10

Mar

Harar Winta Hotel Trip in Peugeot 404 taxi to camel market at

Babile, “valley of marvels” and Koromi village.

66 11

Mar

Harar Winta Hotel Explored more of old town. Offered beers on house by Daniel when he saw us playing Scrabble downstairs.

 

67 12

Mar

Addis Selam bus to Addis. Lunch stop: thought we’d ordered pasta but got roast chicken and chips. Really excellent! Shame we didn’t have time to properly relax and enjoy it! Ye­Afoli International Hotel  Same room, at same price as previous visit. La Mandoline restaurant for birthday treat.
68 13

Mar

Addis Ye­Afoli International Hotel Cathedral museum (good), then went to Ethnographic Museum but was closed for refurbishment; not sure for how long.
69 14

Mar

Addis Ye­Afoli International Hotel Red Martyrs Museum, interesting ­­ reminded us of Cambodia, then shopping for gifts. Hotel restaurant is good ­­ appears to be used by locals as well as hotel guests. Talked to hotel owner, who is also its architect about the hotel and some of the ideas he’s got from working in other countries.
70 15

Mar

Free transfer from hotel to airport. Return flight to London

Notes

Buses

We used local buses and minibuses most of the time. Information in the Bradt guide is generally accurate and helpful, though it was useful to check out the detail the day before, and to buy tickets, where possible for early morning departures, which tend to leave soon after dawn. Later in the day, they generally wait until they are full before leaving. Unlike in some other countries, there never seemed to be any competition between buses going to the same destination; one would fill up and leave, and then another would take over. Some towns (e.g. Shashemene) have more than one bus station, and, in one place, Yabello, the bus didn’t leave from the “bus station” that is marked on the map in the Bradt guide (a yard next to the stadium).

Because buses only leave when they are full it is often extremely difficult to board a bus anywhere along its route. Buses are not allowed to carry standing passengers, a rule that is enforced by traffic police who lurk along the main roads. It is noticeable that buses do pile on extra passengers once they turn off onto side roads where the drivers know that there is little chance of being caught.

Road accidents are common, though we didn’t see any involving buses. We did see the aftermath of a head­on collision between a minibus and a truck, which must have been fatal for the front seat passengers of the minibus.

Bus stations are usually very large yards which appear disorganised but the buses or minibuses for each destination gather in the same spot. We found it useful to check this out the day before, when we weren’t burdened with our bags. Young men often hang around bus stations, offering their services as porters, guides and “seat bookers”. We usually declined their offers but, once or twice we did use them to track down a ticket office or help us find the right bus.

Local guides

We used a lot of local guides along the way, starting with the young lad who showed the the area around Gheralta Lodge. He was the son of two of the Lodge staff and knew the area and its people very well. Just the sort of guide we like ­­ not necessarily an expert but someone who is interested in local wildlife, able to introduce you to local people, show you how they live, point out interesting sights and respond to your questions.

Most of the guides that we found were good. Some were able to organise longer trips and transport. The best of these was Bereket Tekel who we used for our trip to the south from Konso. He came to find us at our hotel, having been tipped of by the receptionist, and we must admit that we were, at first, quite wary. There’s no mention in the Bradt guide of being able to arrange such a trip from Konso and the lack of an internet connection there meant we had no other way of checking out what he was telling us.

Having mulled it over for a couple of days while we visited the villages around Konso, we accepted his proposal and are very glad we did. We had an enjoyable time travelling by minibus, and walking and camping in the villages. Bereket, the driver, Yaziallam, and his assistant, Tesfalla, made a great team and the local guide in Turmi from the Hamar community, OÏta, was also excellent.

Finding local guides isn’t usually a problem, though deciding whether to use them can be. In some places, you have no option, and in these places you don’t have a choice either, you take whoever’s turn it is. This was the case in Omorate, where we had our worst

experience. The guy showed no real interest, he just wanted to do it as quickly as possible. He didn’t respond to any of our questions. The whole thing was very expensive but I doubt if much of the money went to either the villagers or the boatmen. We expressed our concerns to Bereket but he obviously felt powerless to do anything about it.

Museums

Of the museums that we visited, we enjoyed:

●   The Ethnological Museum in Addis. We’d hoped to go back for a second visit but we were told it was closed for refurbishment.

●   The National Museum in Addis ­­ basement is excellent, rest is hardly worth looking at.

●   Red Terror Museum in Addis ­­ brought back memories of Phnom Penh and the

Khmer Rouge.

●   The Cathedral Museum in Addis ­­ perhaps the best display of church artifacts that we saw.

●   The museum in Lalibela which is part of the the community centre, just along the road from the Lalibela Hotel. Two large rooms, the first about the churches, based on recent archeological work. The second is a very good ethnological museum. It’s unfortunate that this museum appears to get few visitors; it really is worth visiting.

●   The museum at Ura Kidane Mehret monastery on the Zege peninsula in Lake Tana

has a very good display of church artifacts.

●   Konso museum, across the road from the Kanta Lodge. Again, this museum doesn’t appear to be on the main tourist trail; plenty stay at the Kanta Lodge but I didn’t see anyone walking across there or even being brought over in their 4x4s.

Finally, the one we wouldn’t recommend is the church museum in Axum. Dismal. Dusty objects behind dirty glass, including a lot of ancient books but you can only look at their covers. And it’s more expensive and most other museums.

ATMs and money

Ethiopia has a good network of ATMs. The only town where we didn’t see one was Yabello but we weren’t really looking. Biggest network is Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) followed by Dashen Bank, both of which allow you to withdraw ETB4,000. For some others e.g. NIB, Awash, the limit is ETB2,000. Some banks, e.g. Abyssinia, don’t accept foreign cards.

Machines can be found outside some of the major (usually expensive!) hotels and afew tourist attractions, e.g. Lalibela churches, Addis Ethnological Museum.

You can withdraw money from bank branches using a foreign card. Dashen charges a fee of 2.5% for this service but at CBE it’s free. Two advantages of withdrawing money in branches are that you can take out a larger amount (up to the limit set by your own bank) and you can ask for the money in smaller denominations than the ETB100 notes that you usually get from ATMs. We did this in Konso before heading off to the South.

You can’t rely on ATMs working all the time so it is wise to always have enough money for the next few days. Occasionally bank branches may also be out of action because of power cuts or problems with phone connections. There appear to be times, at the end of each month, when CBE branches are besieged by large numbers of students and government employees trying to withdraw money.

About Us

We are in our late sixties. This is the fifth long winter trip that we’ve done since we retired. The previous ones were in Indochina, India and Latin America.

Edition 6 updates

Maarten has sent me the following updates & comments, based on edition 6, so page numbers related to that edition and many of his comments are already incorporated in the 7th edition.

Addis Ababa

Sleeping

Taitu burned down halfway through 2014 and got rebuild. The top floor rooms are much nicer than before. The other rooms though are of generally low quality, and even though cheap not good value for money. Better option in Piaza area is for sure Baro (take the rooms in the front, not in the main building) with a nice little sitting place and fair prices. The neigboring Ankober guest house, next to Baro, is quite overpriced with clean rooms at 600Birr, but with good working Wifi. Small bathrooms with only cold water, pretty noisy hallway all through the night. Across from Baro lies Wutma hotel (small rooms, good option if Baro is fully booked), fair place for breakfast as well.

 

Toronto guest house is not so good located and slightly overpriced. But, clean rooms, excellent service.

 

Addis guest house; excellent service, clean big rooms. Fairly priced. Great pick when you need a little more luxury and are tired of the shoestring options.

 

Eating

Best breakfast and cake (even though ‘cake’ sounds more tempting then can ever be held true wherever in Ethiopia) are available in Oslo cafe on Dej Joto, where you`ll find the best fetira I had in the country (thin cripsy pancakes served with honey or egg, or even both).

 

Beergarden Inn around Edna Mole in Bole area serves excellent though pricy homebrewn bears and fair food. Excellent place if you are eager to watch European soccer matches.

 

China bar actually better then the description in the guide suggested. Ate there several times, fair portions, very fresh food with loads of fresh vegetables.

 

Gati thai disappeared, after many telephone attempts I was told the closed the restaurant.

 

Castelli piazza is very popular, but to my taste highly overrated. Ate there several times, the food is overpriced. The pasta is good, very good indeed. All the meat and fish dishes were poorly cooked. Drinks are expensive. Lovely environment. Definitely not worth all the credit it is getting.

 

Kaldi`s coffee is a nice string of coffee places scattered around Addis. One is on Churchill road with the crossing with Zambia Road. Another is right next to La Parisiene on Ghana Street close to Edna Mall. Excellent coffee`s, Ice cream, good sandwiches.

 

Jewel of India restaurant has moved; it is now at a road parallel to Bole Road, first to the left from Bole road coming to Meskel Flower road. Excellent food, fair prices.

Tomoca gets a lot of credit, and it`s completely all correct. The place to go for the best coffee. Epic!

 

A lovely hideaway is the back garden of the Hilton hotel. Quiet, excellent food (at high prices though). Great place to get away from all the hectic life in Addis.

 

Dashen restaurant has ceased to exist.

 

Not in the guide, definitely should be high ranked for eating farengi food is Island Breeze restaurant. It is situated across from Arada Zone telecom between Arbeynoch and Cunningham (map p146).

 

Shopping

To the left of the Edna Mall is the best supermarket I came across in the whole of Ethiopia. Wide selection of products. Another great supermarket, which also has a wide range of stationary, furniture, cooking utensils, is on Bole road, on the right when going to the airport, just over the river. This whole building has a good collection of shops for practical things.

 

Curio shopping is definitely good at Churchill avenue as mentioned in the guide, but very overpriced. If you have little time to do souvenir shopping, this is definitely the best pick because you will find the full range of available curio. At a fraction of the price you will find the same things at Mercato, and usually sellers are fair and open to negotiation.

 

In the stadium area there are plenty of youngsters trying to steal your stuff. This area is notorious for it, so be aware. Especially around Ambassador theatre, several reports of people ‘accidently’ bumping into tourists, after which their smart phones had disappeared.

The shops around the stadium sell excellent leatherware at good prices.

 

Bookworld on map p. 146 is situated more east, opposite Enrico pastry.

 

Mekele

Hotel Atse Yohannis offers great value for money. Furthermore, it is close to the bus station, and close to the office of Ethio tours and travel, the best agency I came across.

 

Axumite restaurant is populated by horrible staff that is unwilling to service you at all. Furthermore, the food is horrible (tried 2 times, both times very disappointing). Do not go here.

 

Lovely market in Mekele, nice to see the herbs and of course the salt slabs coming in from Dalol/Danakil depression.

 

Hawassa

Circle of life Hotel

Quite a beat-down place. Private doubles 350Birr, more beat-down for 250Birr (also self-contained). The garden makes up for a lot though –you won`t find a more lush environment on ‘the strip’ of Hawassa- as does its lakeside location. Nice food at decent prices, of which most unfortunately is always out of stock. Recently changed management (3 times during the last year) but now serious improvements are being made (WIFI much better quality, rooms much cleaner and maintained), bad staff fired.

New telephone number 0462201318

 

Haile Resort

Easily the most beautiful pick in Hawassa. Pricy, but not overpriced. Beautiful rooms, clean. Spa facilities, shopping and swimming pool, all also available for persons not sleeping over against fair rates (e.g. day at the poolside including showers, soap, towels, 100 Birr). Beautiful bird-viewing and more amenities in the making. Great food.

 

Lakeview hotel

Very good pick. The name does not really offer what you expect, since the view is mostly on a gated piece of dirty land bordering the lake. But the hotel is excellent value (950Birr per 2p room with private luxurious bath room, excellent bed, DSTV). Very good restaurant, very friendly staff. A definite downside is the bad reservation system; you can call in advance, but it happened several times to me that the reservation was non-existent upon arrival. Also once the staff told me they only make reservations one day ahead for single room reservations, since the high rate of no-shows.

 

Eating

The Dolce Vita restaurant is highly overpraised. Around the corner, in the same street as the Lakeview, crossing the road heading to Lewi Resort, is the way much better Italian restaurant Venezia. Funny owner who likes to try his own liquor collection a bit too much, but he`s a very generous and serviceable chap, cooking himself. By far the best pasta`s (and more original than the vegetable or Bolognese you get served everywhere) and drinks. Always serving dishes outside of the meny.

 

On the same street as Dolce Vita is Tropical Burger. Great place, excellent prices, fast service.

 

Lakeside fresh fish is best at the restaurant that has a boat terrace extending into the lake. Here they also serve a very tasty fresh fish soup.

 

Lakeside

At the lakeside many youngsters rent out their motorcycles at fair prices (about 500Birr for a full day including fuel). Hawassa makes a good city from which you can make beautiful trips (e.g. Wondo Genet at 40min motorcycle ride, beautiful road with great sight seeing possibilities).

 

The lakeside has a bad reputation when it comes to youngsters trying to take your money and phone, mind your stuff.

 

 

Shops

The mall opposite to Time Cafe has a good Internet cafe with Wifi available. The bottom floor of the mall has a good supermarket. This is the same mall as where Sky Bus has its office to buy your bus tickets.

 

Shashemene

Even though the description in the guide is fair when it comes to the ambiance in Sashamane lacking, I would say the market in Sashamane is definitely worth a visit, albeit not a special detour. Best place to eat farengi food is for sure Haile hotel (double rooms, self-contained, at 595Birr including breakfast, which is a very fair price. Telephone number 0461101007 / 0930108484 / 0930108485). The banana art gallery is a nice place to find a unique type of art at fair prices. The hustling Rastafarians surrounding the place are quite a hassle though, so you should be prepared for this.

 

Bahir Dar

Blue Nile hotel; decent prices, clean place. In the middle of the red light district though, where in every bar surrounding it you`re being served by prostitutes.

Blue nile falls back and forth, public, choose the right time

 

Tickets for the Selam bus can be bought at the office at the roundabout close to Protection House. The buses leave in front of Ethio Star hotel.

Excellent place to eat is indeed Desset Lodge. Has the most spectacular views of the lake with fair amounts of pelicans surrounding the place.

 

Gondar

A nice place to witness Ethiopian dancing and music is located next to Tana Snack (guide p 218 D3). Many Ethiopians visiting the place.

 

Butajira- Hosaina road

Beautiful to do, fresh tarmac roads that cover most of the track, so very safe. The mentioned sightseeing places in the guide are not all worth it though. The Lake Ara Shetan is fantasticly beautiful, though we had quite some trouble with locals not happy with visiting tourists (rocks, unwanted harassment).

Asano Dengai (p 443) is wholly unimpressive and not worth the visit and trouble to find it. It is indeed decapitated, its single, it`s about 80cm high. Quite unremarkable stele to us.

 

Hosaina

The Canal my House Café & Pension does no longer offer rooms. Edget is a popular pick for farengi`s and was offering rooms to visiting travelling companies when we were visiting here, so we mostly saw farengi`s in stead of any Ethiopians in the place. Yabsera Hotel was beat down, dirty, with no warm water and bad beds. We changed rooms, but the quality was the same. Definitely a place to not visit. Lemme international hotel is indeed mostly visited by aid workers and tour groups, unclear why exactly. The restaurant is quite poor and service there was quite bad during several visits.

 

 

Ajaro Falls

At a vast 120Birr (per person) to enter the sightseeing place, the Ajaro Falls are relatively expensive to visit. That said, they are fantastically beautiful and definitely worth a detour. Very impressive, if you can stand the hassle of locals wanting to guide you, even though the road is signposted very clearly and guiding is definitely not needed.

 

Sodo-Sashamane road

Has recently undergone massive reconstruction, is now a fairly comfortable and more safe road than before; the pot-hole rate is very low currently.

 

Arba Minch

Soma Lodge changed owners, and is now a bit run-down. But, it has the best views over the valley between the lakes, better even then at Swayne`s hotel. No restaurant still, but good breakfast and excellent, serviceable staff. The restaurant of Swayne`s is very good at fair prices and at walking distance.

 

Ethio tours and travel

You pay slightly more for the trip to Danakil (600USD, others about 550USD. Negotiable price though!) but everything but drinks is included. Excellent food, good drivers, good guides. Other agencies I heard about got bad reviews in terms of arrangements and food and accommodation quality. Furthermore we used them for a tailored trip from Mekele to Debark and into the Simien Mountains. The private vehicle trip to Debark set us back 250USD for 2 persons excluding overnight stay.

(Tel. 00251936010968 / 00251936011309 / 00251930071417)

March 2015 trip report

E&M writes:

This is a great resource that I so appreciated when I was researching our trip to Ethiopia. We spent 33 days in this amazingly beautiful country (Dec/Jan 15), and wanted to add my notes in the hopes it might help others.

Trans National Airlines (TNA) We did not fly w Ethiopian Airlines, so TNA was great for us. We flew on it twice $50 each way from Bahir Dar. The first flight saved us the 9 hour bus ride from Addis. The 2nd flight we drove from Lalibela to Bahir Dar and then flew from there back to Addis, saving us the 2 day bus ride from Lalibela. Make sure you confirm flight times, as our information was a 12pm flight, so a 5am departure from Lalibela to ensure we would get there on time. The actual flight time was 3pm.

Addis – Lots of construction, but when the light rail is finished it will be so much easier to get around the city. We were not there long enough to get a grasp of the buses and the taxis never seemed willing to go below 150 birr, so we did a lot of walking. The Caravan is a great place to stay for $50-60 US per night, and includes free airport shuttle. Fairly centrally located with great restaurants nearby, plus the hotel restaurant is quite good, too. The employees are great, each time we returned we felt like we were meeting old friends again. Addis Eats Walking Tour – great food tour that highlights 3 restaurants, 2 coffee shops and a juice bar. We did it on one of our last days in Ethiopia and wondered if it was worth the $s. It definitely is! We had a great time, and enjoyed the best Injero and Tibbs.

Ethio Travel andTours – Great company and great experience with them. We met with them the first day after exchanging emails earlier, spent @ 2hr firming up our itinerary. We only booked 2 tours with them – 4 day Simien trek and The Danakil, both were excellent. They offered great logistical suggestions, such as the TNA flights which saved us time and money. Several times we called them on our trip to arrange transport and we found them responsive and helpful.

Other suggestions ETT recommended included – starting the Simien trek at the waterfall and then hiking the first day to Gich. This allowed an extra night at Chenek, which we preferred over spending the first night at Sankabar. Also, scheduling a vehicle at Chenek and driving to Axum, rather than going back to Gondar. The drive to Axum is long with many switchbacks, but stunning scenery. After hiking in the Simiens, the drive allows you to look back up into the Mtns on this drive. We found everyone we dealt with at ETT professional and helpful.

ATMs – prior to arrival this was the most conflicting information. Perhaps we were just very lucky, but we never had a problem getting birr from the ATMs. We used them in Addis, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum, and Mekele. There was a 4000 birr max per transaction, but we could do multiple transactions. At the time of our ETT booking (Dec 5, 2014) they were not able to accept credit card payment. But they drove us to the Hilton in Addis and were able to get the birr for payment.

Bahir Dar – we really liked this pleasant tree lined city bordering Lake Tana. We only stayed 2 nights since we had committed to the Simien trek, but definitely would have stayed longer. Stayed at B&B The Annex – a small 4 room B&B with a beautiful little courtyard in the center where we ate breakfast and enjoyed the birds. A great restaurant on the South Shore of the lake, can not remember the name, but also had @ 100 beautiful pelicans nearby.

Gondar – enjoyed the castles. Three Girls restaurant – delicious food.

Simiens – Our understanding – the guides are randomly assigned by the Park Headquarters. We were very lucky to have Davey Yohannes assigned as our guide, and would recommend him. http://www.ambarasethiopiatours.com We are not clear whether you can request a specific guide ahead of time. This is a beautiful trek. Itinerary suggestions above. It is definitely cold, proper gear is essential. Mid Dec we woke up to ice/frost. We were traveling for too long to carry our own gear, but it would be a consideration for another time.

Axum – Africa House is a decent place to stay. Had our best spitz across the street from the Africa House.The small Archeological museum (at the Stella site) is nicely done, with very knowledgeable staff.

Loved the Tigray area – especially the Geralta Lodge. Well worth the splurge!

Mekele – probably the only non interesting town for us, but perhaps it was due to just spending 4 days in the Danakil. Atse Yohannes – upgrade and request the balcony – its old and tired, but ok for a quick stop before and after The Danakil and convenient to the ETT office in Mekele.

The Danakil – GO! It is amazing!!

Lalibela – lots already written – the churches are amazing. We had read lots of warnings on the hassle from the children. Someone has been working very hard to change that image – we were greeted with “welcome to Lailabela’. Yes, they would join you walking, but they did not hassle us.

Harar – a long 9 hour bus ride, stumbling into town at the edge of the massive market, arriving at a dumpy ‘recommend’ hotel (The Belayneh) that did not have water, and pretty filthy … The next morning, stumbling around in the old city, trying to locate the Cultural guesthouses. Finally asked someone and Sherif took us to the unmarked gray door – Zubeyda – to walk into a lovely courtroom with 3 rooms. It changed the entire dynamic of the city. Spent the next 2 days touring with Sherif, the camel market, the spice market, the cloth merchants. Highly recommend a guide to really enjoy the city. Just negotiate the daily charge ahead of time.

Ok, so that is a long post. Hope you find it helpful. We truly enjoyed our trip and definitely hope to return!

Aramis Pension, Semera

Caroline Ding writes:

My husband and I just got back from a one month trip in Ethiopia. We went to the Danakil. After a rough and seemingly interminable day of driving from Erta Ale via Lake Afrera, we finally reached Semera. As we became discouragingly disappointed by the miserable guesthouses one after another, we discovered the “Aramis pension”- it is a brand new place with clean rooms, comfortable bed, functional AC, and good pressure shower. Staff is extremely friendly. What a surprising luxury to stay here after three days of living under the most “primitive life condition” in the Danakil depression. Aramis Pension is a very decent place to spend a night on your way out of Danakil.

Northern circuit and Harar trip report

Bernd writes:

I just came back from a 3-week-trip to Northern Ethiopia. Here are some short update:

* From Addis to Bahir Dar: there are also minibuses leaving from a place close to Mercato during the morning. Think this is important as most people travel that direction. Couldn’t find that info in the guidebook.

* Bahir Dar: watch out when booking a tour to the monastries or Nile falls at the Ghion Hotel. Several people got cheated (paying 200, 250, etc) instead of 150. Ended in long discussions…

* Blue Nile falls: No guide necessary (instead you wrote you might need one on page 201). Tour operators tell you that you should go only to one of the places, but only the round trip makes sense.

* The ticket office in Axum is currently used by some people who are not official at all. They just took it over as the real guy working there stopped. So they recommend you guides without license (not necessarily bad ones, we got one good and one bad one).

*Axum / rock churches: We booked a tour with an unofficial but very good guide. We would like to recommend him: Name: Getachen. Phone: 0920018953

* Axum/Mekele: The tour agency at the Africa hotel in Aksum now has a small office in Mekele on the backside of the Atse Yohannis Hotel. If you are in Aksum, talk only to the boss. Other guides from the hotel charge an additional fee when booking through them. We booked our Danakil-tour with them: very good! 500 US$ for 4 days to/from Mekele.

* Lalibela: the Roha Bar and Restaurant (the one beside the Lalibela Hotel) can NOT be recommended. When we got in, it was empty and really dirty, but we were too lazy to walk on. For this we got punished: we both got a really bad diarrhea (likely amoeba).

* the Lalibela Hotel (in Lalibela) has new renovated rooms at 35 US$. They are good, but 35 $ is overpriced.

* Harar: for getting there by plane, I think you should include the info, that you need a transport into Dire Dawa town first and from there to Harar. There are no direct buses from the airport to Harar (easy to find out, but before planning the flight this info would have helped).

* security: in general safe, especially in the Danakil, as there are now lots of soldiers to protect the tourists. But, last week an Austrian guy was killed on a blue nile tour (remote area).

Besides: really nice guidebook (better than the Lonely Planet)!

 

Two excellent but very different tour operators

A few places and highlights in Ethiopia are difficult or time consuming to be travelled independently. This is definitely true for the Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression, both areas we visited over Christmas 2010. To get around the Omo Valley would have taken us several weeks travelling on the infrequent public busses. The Danakil simply cannot be visited without a tour operator, unless you have the survival skills of a local Afar and know how to extract the permits from local policemen.

We contacted local Ethiopian agencies in Addis Abeba directly, about 15 of them and eventually decided to book tours with 2 different agencies. For the 8 days in the Omo Valley, we chose Experience Ethiopia Travel (www.experienceethiopia.com), for the 6 days in the Danakil Depression we preferred Pangeans Safari (www.pangeanssafari.com). Both agencies were very professional, very flexible & reactive to any question or requirement.

Yayehiyrad, the Manager of E.E.T. as well as Christos & Liza, the owners of Pangeans Safari are all very friendly and helpful. Both tours were extremely well organized, without any bad surprises whatsoever. To make it short: both agencies, though totally different, can be strongly recommended.

The excellent tour with Experience Ethiopia Travel took us around the “Classical Circuit” of the Lower Omo Valley, offered good quality accommodation, a brand new car, and last but not least an excellent and very experienced driver / guide, Matthew.

Pangeans Safari specializes more in “Off the Beaten Tracks”, trying to get their customers a more genuine experience. They are very flexible and perfectly understand the needs of fervent photographers like us, who grave for the perfect light. Traveling with the owners added a new dimension, since they are more likely to allow you to look behind the scene.

Moreover, their camping equipment is the best you can get. Talking about organization? Even in the middle of nowhere, Lisa and Christos provides a comfort we did not expect, like a make-shift shower! But the most important and truly unique aspect is that Liza is the only woman in the business, which enables her and her customers to get in contact and interact with local women she had become acquainted with on previous trips. This contributed to our everlasting memories of this tour through the Danakil.

True, these two destinations and tours were serious attacks on our finances. To cut costs it was critical to find fellow travelers, which proved to be quite easy through the Lonely Planet ThornTree Forum. Actually we had to turn down people, since four persons (including us) already seemed a crowd, especially travelling with this huge escort. During each trip our group was made up of four persons. For the Omo Valley we each paid 695 Euros (995 Euros for a group of two), for the Danakil we had to dish out 950 Euros (1.250 Euros for two).

Both, the Omo Valley and the Danakil will undergo major changes soon. All roads in the Omo Valley are under construction, which will shorten travelling time considerably and make the area accessible all year round, even in the rainy season. In the Danakil there was talk of paving the road from Berdahile to Hamed Ale, which would mean an end of the camel caravans, although some skeptics doubt that the trucks will withstand the effects of erosion due to the salt. Let’s hope the camels will have the last laugh…

More information on our Website: www.OneYearOff.net

Gilles Barbier & Heidi Sequenz

Six days in Danakil – a trip report

We had actually never heard of the Danakil Depression before we started reading the guidebooks to Ethiopia. Either there was very little information, or a focus on how expensive and difficult it was to travel there. The latter category was simply tempting us and off we went to the hottest place on earth. And believe us, it term is not some kind of marketing slogan!

Hostile Climate

Even during the “cold season” between November and February, we had to look for shelter in our stuffy hut for most part of the day. The heat was simply too intense and there is no shade to hide from the scorching sun. Temperatures averaged around 42 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) early afternoon and around 20 degrees Celsius during the night.

In the hotter months, the temperatures can be totally unbearable: a Swiss photographer told us of an unbelievable 67 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) in Dallol end of March. Also the rainy season is not much fun, it makes the Danakil Depression inaccessible. Christos, the owner of Pangeans Safari, remembers a flooded desert due to torrential waters rushing down from the highlands around Mekele. This turned the sand into an uncontrollable mass of mud making the jeep sliding all over the place.

Safety Issue

Besides the hostile climate, until recently safety was another issue. Actually, the Danakil was pretty much of a “No Go Zone” until 2009. Skirmishes with Eritrean armed forces along the border were common up to the year 2005 and even after the cease-fire tourists were kidnapped. In 2007 it was five Britons. Even more dangerous were the landmines that killed several drivers in 2009. That very year about 500 travelers dared this trip, quite a few of them scientists exploring the seismic activities around Erta Ale. After more soldiers were stationed permanently things improved and the number of visitors is steadily rising. Nowadays the area is considered “very hot” among the travelling community. Especially passionate photographers have put the Danakil onto their radar.

Costs

Yes, it is quite expensive to travel to and in the Danakil Depression. There is no other way than to use the services of tour operators, who must provide not only one, but also a back up jeep, a scout, an armed Afar police man, a cook, all necessary paperwork and every drop of water every single person in the group needs in those 5-6 days. Plus of course the many presents to the local Afar chiefs, who issue the necessary permits for each area and who also organize the scouts and rangers!

This entourage does not come cheaply. Our group of four dished out the considerable sum of 950 Euros each for a 6 day tour with Pangeans Safari. For just the two of us it would have been a dear 1.250 Euros. Nevertheless, it was worth every single Birr.

Why go there?

Certainly not because of its climate, but there are a number of highlights that each alone justifies this trip! Let’s now share some of the most memorable experiences in the Danakil Depression:

(x) Looking down at the lava lake of Erta Ale, one of the most active volcanoes on this planet. The heat was intense, but standing on an overhang looking down into the huge boiling, bubbling and spitting lava lake 20 meters below makes you forget this easily. We would even go so far as to claim it requires good nerves.

(x) Dallol, a landscape of multi-colored hot springs and bizarre formations reminding of a coral reef. We managed to talk the soldiers into taking us back at the end of afternoon and were stunned as to how this place had changed since the early morning. It simply seems to be alive.

(x) Watching endless caravans soundlessly leaving the village of Hamed Ale at the crack of dawn and trotting back late afternoon loaded with salt.

(x) Discovering the salt mine near Lake Asal and the very harsh working conditions of the Afars and Tigrians, working there under a sun so strong that we had to leave at 09:30 am and hide in our hut.

(x) Socializing with some Afar families in Hamed Ale. Liza, from Pangeans Safari, is the only woman in the business, and was able to get us invited to some Afar homes, an absolute highlight of this trip. Heidi twice had the opportunity to meet several Afar women, and Gilles was also once allowed in a hut for a genuinely traditional “coffee ceremony”, something normally utterly unthinkable!

(x) Lake Asal’s vast salt plain with its surrounding rock formation. Some weary travelers are said to have mistaken it for a fortress. It is truly unique, even for those among us who have marveled at the incomparable Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, the biggest salt lake in the world.

Do a five day or six day trip?

Agencies tend to offer a 3 (only Dallol) or a 5 day tour, including Erta Ale. We added a 6th day which allowed us extra time in Hamed Ale. This way we could truly enjoy Dallol, in our opinion one of the most unique sights on this planet, early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Not only the light is different, but also the scenery. The lay-out of the pool amongst the multi-colored formations of minerals had changed within a day.

Apart from Dallol, there is Lake Asal, the salt mines and various geologically very active places that are a must-see. If this does not sound a lot to do, consider the extreme temperatures. Only a few hours of the day, from dawn to about 10 o’clock and before sunset can be reasonably used for these visits. On top of that, this inclement climate is extremely tiring. Not matter how fit you are, there is only so much your body is able to endure under these harsh conditions.

The other highlight was the village itself: hanging out at the well in the evening, being invited for coffee to Halima’s grandmother and watching the men sharpening their simple tools for another day of hard work in the salt mines is unparalleled.

Things we would do differently?

Point out the impact on the environment to the tour operators and the locals. Plastic litter is left behind for the Afar to take care of, but how and where in the middle of a desert?

There is also no toilet in Hamed Ale, period. Neither for the villager nor for the ever increasing number of tourists. It should not go unmentioned that the area is as flat as a pancake.

Conclusion

It was one of the most intense and amazing experiences we ever had, lasting over a period of six days and five nights. There was never a second when we were not aware of the extreme environment we were in.

The very well organized tour, the tireless efforts by Liza & Christos from Pangeans Safari to make us feel comfortable and their deep insight knowledge in various Ethiopian cultures and our European way of life contributed to this unforgettable trip.

More information on our Website: www.OneYearOff.net

Gilles Barbier & Heidi Sequenz