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.

 

 

“Ethiopia Highlights” errata

Frank Rispin has kindly pointed out several minor errors in the new Ethiopia Highlights guide, as listed below:

p 80 Air France/Alitalia/BMI no longer fly to Addis Ababa. Other airlines that do fly into Addis but are not here include Egyptair, Fly Dubai, Gulf Air, Kenya Airways

p 93 The 1br COIN has been around for 2 plus years.

p 96 Although menus at local eateries are normally printed in Amharic, this is not the case for the type of restaurants likely to be frequented by people travelling with tour companies

p 108 Addis Map. Karamara Restaurant closed. Habesha is in wrong place (it is on the Bole Rd). The Top View is reached via the major intersection of 5 roads 1cm south east of Yeka Michael Church !! (ie the famous Meganya Interchange). Saris is in wrong place. Crossroads labelled Saris is the Gotera Interchange. Saris is south of this some 2/3kms.

p 113 What we refer to as the Lion of Judah statue is the Tilglachin Memorial – the tall obelisk with Red Star on top 300 metres further north up Churchill that is the war memorial for 78-79………

p 115  former Imperial Palace (actually called the Jubilee Palace in HS regime) is now the National Palace or the Presidential Palace….as the President lives there.

p 116 line 8. This bar next to Taitu is closed. Yes it was in a very small old church , and was at one time the Falklands Bar/Pub see Piazza Map 5th edition p156.

P 129. The turn off to Menagesha Forest is near Sabata, 25-30km from Addis Ababa on the Woliso (Jimma) road, not at Woliso itself.

p 242 Bekele Mola Hotel, Langano closed. One of the best things to do in Hawassa is go on the Hippo boat – much easier to find here than at Lake Zwai; but not mentioned.