Off-the-beaten-track trip report

OndŇôej 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 readūüôā

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 РThe 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 РLake 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¬įC 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.

 

 

December 2015 trip report

Simon writes:

I am just back from 2 1/2 weeks in Ethiopia using your 6th edition (I bought it just before 7 came out &#X02639) It is very good, thank you.

I am a geriatric backpacker at 60, usually travelling around southern Africa in my own Landy for the past 15 winters. This was my first trip to Ethiopia, prompted by the start of direct flights to Dublin, Ireland.

As a general comment I found no evidence of the ‘hassle’ and ‘overcharging’ you frequently refer to in the guide. Was I lucky, or have things improved?

A few detailed points:-

Addis Ababa:-

I used the new metro in Addis to get from the Autobus Terra to Piazza, a handy trip for backpackers. It seems very safe with police in every carriage.The trains are lovely, but the signage is not too good yet!¬† You buy your ticket in the orange kiosk just by the¬†exit of the bus station, cross the busy road and climb the steps on the far side to get to the correct platform. ¬†On arrival at ‘Menelik Square’ you take the steps at the front of the platform to the surface, then do an about turn and walk 300M to arrive at Menelik Square itself. You have the ‘Fire Department’ marked incorrectly on¬†pp146, it should be on the south side of Gal Hailu Kebede. To go from Menelik to Autobus Terra take the entrance near Gyorgis church.

Tesfa Trekking:-

I arranged everything on arrival in Lalibela. I did the 3 day western Meket trip alone and was charged $260 which is probably high as there wasn’t a group. I travelled to Gashena by bus with the guide which was crowded but fine. It was good having the guide to sort things out and it is recommended for ‘local colour’. I was travelling on to Bahir Dar, but for those returning to Lalibela it may be better to arrange private pick up at the end of the trek as apparently finding public transport back to Lalibela is not so easy. I really enjoyed it.

Is it ‘good value’? We should be careful not to go soft in the head at the thought of ‘community involvement’. Getting a¬†similar standard of¬†lodging and food¬†in any town would be a fraction of the cost. I was keen to point out to them that they could easily improve things with a little effort.

 

Lake Tana Ferry:-

I travelled from North to South, which still leaves Gorgora on Thursday, but I believe the departure from Bahir Dar has changed.

The road from Gondar to Gorgora is being rebuilt and minibus traffic has stopped. The bus was very full and took 3 1/2 hrs. The repairs are expected to be finished by end of 2016.

Gorgora Port Hotel is still as bad as when you described it! Apparently there is another place to stay in the village about 15mins away which is better. (Note from PB – Simon will be referring to Kim & Tim listed in the 7th edition)

Arrival at Konzula:- Apparently there are now 2 ‘hotels’ in town. I am not sure which one I found, but it wasn’t the Hilton! There seemed no need for a ‘mad dash’ and the 10min walk is actually on the flat! It does not feel so remote anymore. There is a bank and lots of mobile phone shops!

Blue Nile Falls:-

Your description of the way to the falls is a bit wrong. The ticket office is right by the gates to the hydro plant. You don’t need a guide despite what they suggest. I was a little hassled but not too bad. The map shows the correct position of the side road about 100m back up from the ticket office. You just follow this ‘road’, keeping left at a junction before dropping down to the left AFTER the church. A quick look on Google earth will help your description. After crossing the suspension bridge, beware the¬†tea lady selling the most expensive drinks in Ethiopia! It is then about 5mins walk to the motor boat to cross back to the town.

Debra Libanos:-

The entrance fee for the church included the museum (and I got a guided tour!) so was reasonable value I thought. You now get a ‘guide’ to go up the pretty steep steps to the cave, but as it is a holy shrine it is good to have one to avoid upsetting pilgrims.

The walk back up to the main road is not that steep! ( a climb of 160M according to my GPS)

There is a  hotel about 300M down the road from the junction with lovely views over the gorge. It is a bit basic but half the price of the Ethio-German Park next door!

I hope some of this may be of help!

 

Important news from Bahir Dar

Two brief but important updates from Bahir Dar:

The first is that the venerable Ghion Hotel, for years the most popular backpacker hangout in town, has been forced to closed its doors. The story, so far as we can ascertain, is that the government (which still owns the property) has kicked out the current¬†lessor and will put the hotel out to tender soon. Assuming it does reopen at some point, it’s anybody’s guess¬†whether the rather tired-looking rooms will be renovated, and what they will cost.

The second is that the weekly ferry to Gorogora has changed its schedule. It now leaves from the marine authority jetty in Bahir Dar at around 06.00 every Monday, usually arriving at Gorgora between 16.00 and 18.00 on Tuesday. It then starts the return trip at 06.00 on Thursday, arriving in Bahir Dar on Friday afternoon.

Gondar, Gorgora & health updates

Peter writes:

In Gorgora (p 213), the Gorgora Rock Resort as of July 2013 never got built, and indeed, not on one brick got laid that I could see. However, the lovely Tim and Kim Village is nearby. You can find details on timkimvillage.com. There are lovely chalets on the shore of Take Tanna, and it is 10 minutes walk from Gorgora. Camping facilities are also available. Tim and Kim employ and train local staff and it is (by a long way) the most relaxing and pleasant place to stay in that part of the world.

On my trip I got fly strike by tumbu (or mango) flies. The gravid females lay their eggs on damp cloth and the larvae hatch out and burrow under the host’s skin. As they develop, the maggots cause a massive inflammatory responses and are extremely itchy. I had a total of six! My advice would be that if travellers have insect bites which do not settle down after three days or so, they should seek medical attention. If not treated, eventually the larvae leave the host and the cavity they created should heal up, but they can leave abscesses and it is generally not very nice.

I attended a folk club in Gondar and did not have such a positive experience as you did. There were some extremely drunk locals who I found a bit intimidating (although no-one threatened me), and the musicians and dancers kept on insistently hitting on me for money. I would advise ferengi to go with a local, or at least with a friend.

Otherwise I found the guide to be extremely helpful, so thanks for your efforts.

Feb 2013 trip report

John writes:

I could fill a book with all the positve aspects and good fruit juice places etc in Ethiopia!!! But a few negative experiences:

Lalibela

For low budget travellers to eat in Lalibela, go to the bottom of the town, walk past paradise hotel, continue uphill, before turnoff road to jerusalem hotel, past nobles gift shop on left is Hanna’s. She has she only been there 2 months & a internet place is to the right of her kiosk. Hanna basically caters for the local fratenity esp the street kids so if you want youngsters to practice ther english with you and eat great tastng homemade flatpan bread and scrambled eggs this is your breakfast stop befroe going uphill. Also, from midday, continue past the lal hotel to roha supermarket on the left side also, next to that is a white painted kiosk, selling souvenirs when open, behind that is Denke’s House. Denke is a bit of a local legend as she takes in street kids and feeds them as well. she does injera meals for 10 birr, does more assorted meals at the w/e due to more veggies from the market on saturday, if you have 2 boiled eggs on your plate its 15 birr more. she serves til the evening when all the food has gone.
Jordan’s Pension is the cheapest faranji place to stay at the top of the town, for 80 birr. It’s past the niteclub strip, past the blue lal hotel on the right, down a pathway, i got a room at the paradise hotel down at the bottom for 150 birr,rooms 1 to 6 being the cheapies

Gashena scam:


In feb i was with 2 other faranji going from gashena to bahir dar,we were approached by a guy with one third of his right nostril missing looks like a minor burn,he duly got us places on a mini bus to bahir dar for 150birr-later we found out it should be 100 birr,anyhow he took us to the minibus and we paid 150 each,no ticket issued of course,i wasnt particalary bothered about paying more at that time, but a little while later the ticket collecter lad tried to get another 150birr out of us,then i took umbridge to this and so did the other 2.basically what happens mr fixit gets you on the minibus takes the payment outside,and the driver,the ticket collecter,and mr fixit get 150 birr each,split it 3 ways and no ticket are issued,tana transport lose 300 birr without the companys knowledge. Its the law that all passengers must be given a ticket,the police enforce this.watch what other passengers are paying if you doubt the sincerity of some ticket collecters.

Lake Tana by boat

2 day boat trip to gorgora on lake tana from bahir dar.if you are approached when you dock in gorgora by a guy called saddam with an east africa flora and fauna guidebook be wary.turn left you arte at the government hotel within 2 minutes,to be honest he helped me get the cheapest room there for 60 birr opposite the tennis courts.later i went to the village main sterrt 3 mins away and he showed me the local eatery which i would have found anyway.i bought him a meal and a drink.he hovers round the hotel bar all the time.he was under the impression that since i met him off the boatthat i had employed him as guide,not so!he may well be a flora/fauna guide and know his stuff,but make it very clear to him you do not require his services,unless you do need a guide,basically when i got a morning bus out,i had to remonstrate to the crowd via an englsh speaking ethiopian,that he was a xxxxwit and a pest.and he appolished to the his village as he lost face.

Simien Mountains
Whatever any guide tells you in the park office,you do not buy food for your scout,muleman and guide if you choose one.theres a band of brothers thing going on at the campsites where where the fellow,guides/cooks look after thei fellow comrades,also dont buy more than 6 pieces of bread they go solid quickly in the mtn air.you really dont need the added expense of a guide .

Yohannis Maikudi (Tigrai)

on 14th march faranji date i hitched a lift with an ethiopian/swiss couple in their own minibus to yohannis maikudi church,they also had their own ethiopian guide who was travelling with them,though not an official guide from a tour office.hoardes of school children descended on the minibus,running across fields,2 youths were employed one to watch the minibus another to escort us up the mtn,3 or 4 others came along to.we had tella nad injera after the priests had stopped fasting at 3pm.one priest apparently said to the youths ,be good to these people,they are good people.we were met by a mass of children at the minibus beng met down from the mtn.then it wa the old,you,you,you,give me money,give me money,bridgade kicked in.the two guides were paid but demanded more then,then everybody was demanding money,we made a hasty retreat,pushing them off to slam the sliding back passenger door,some body had apparently put a sharp in strument in the hatch door as john the owner couldnt open it with a key.the van was pelted with rocks and stones and youngsters ran across the fiels to cut us off,thankfully we made it,ive read jon girling’s accout that he sent to me.

Street kids in Addis Ababa

I buy off street kids everyday, to support a micro economy,but be wary of them in addis they bunch you and twice very nearly robbed me,once on an inside pocket and up by st georges chuch managed to unzip my day bag as well!

 

Kim & Tim Village, Gorgora

Helke writes:

We stayed for here one night. This resort is very new and there are five double-bungalows. These bungalows are very nice and clean. Everything is very well maintained. The owners are a couple from the Netherlands and they are very friendly and helpful. The Resort is on the shore of Lake Tana, about 2 km outside of Gorgora. Every evening Kim cooks one meal. We swam in Lake Tana and the owners organised boat trips or hikes.

The adress is:

Tim & Kim Village Campsite

phone: +251 (0)920336671

homepage: www.timkimvillage.com

 

 

Tim & Kim Village, Gorgora

Tom Otte of Tim & Kim Village writes:

 

Tim & Kim Village is a campsite of over three hectares just outside the village of Gorgora in the north of Ethiopia. The campsite is situated in a quiet spot in the middle of the countryside on the banks of Lake Tana. A paradise for bird spotters, fishermen and everyone who is looking to relax after a long trip. We offer spacious stands by the lake where you can park any overland vehicle. We also rent out lodges for two persons and fully equipped tents. The site has simple solar-heated showers and clean toilets. There is a 24-hour security guard. Our restaurant is centrally located on the site and you are most welcome to drop by for a drink and a bite to eat. We serve local and imported drinks and three meals a day. For rates, contacts and other details, see www.timkimvillage.com