Detailed July/August 2016 trip report

Greg writes:

Chapter 3 – Practical Information

In the section “red tape” I suggest specifying that Visas on Arrival are not issued at Dire Dawa airport, notwithstanding daily flights from Djibouti. Tourists arriving from Djibouti must either obtain their visa in advance from the Ethiopian embassy in Djibouti city or fly directly to Bole airport.

In the section “getting around”, I found your characterization of the Ethiopian Airlines travel experience to be accurate. However, in booking several flights with Ethiopian during the course of my stay I found considerable disparities in the application of policies, procedures and pricing – as well as general helpfulness – depending on who I was dealing with (i.e. Ethiopian Airlines call centre, Airline ticket offices in various cities and independent travel agencies). I also found considerable variability in security measures at various airports, with Axum having by far the most stringent checks, related presumably to the widespread peddling of ancient Axumite coins in this region.

Chapter 5 – Addis Ababa

In the section “Getting there and away“, I think you understate the number of international flights at terminal 1. As far as I can make out most if not all destinations in the Gulf are served by terminal 1, and by extension any other destinations involving a Gulf-based airline (e.g. Qatar). We personally found this to be problematic as we travelled to Ethiopia from Canada on Qatar, and our hotel shuttle driver was waiting for us at terminal 2 based on the assumption that this would be where he could find us.

While I generally found your review of Zeist Lodge (page 151) to be accurate, your characterization of its breakfast as one of the best in the country is overstated in my opinion. While admittedly I only stayed there one night, I found the breakfast to be middling in terms of quality and the staff stingy with refills and extras (e.g. jam or butter for the toast provided).

On your map of the city centre and Piazza on pages 154-55, please note that the Ethiopian Airline office in Piazza has moved from the location on Cunningham Street indicated on the map to Churchill Avenue at Wawel (i.e. in the Eliana Hotel complex) at the south-west corner of the intersection. Also, I suggest you consider adding a review of Eliana Hotel in your guide; I stayed in this relatively new hotel two nights in July 2016 and I was impressed with the quality of the rooms, the good breakfast and friendly service.

On your map of Bole on pages 158-59, I suggest you add a reference to the post office located on Olympia Circle, between Africa Avenue and Gabon Street. Also, the location indicated on the map for the Jewel of India Restaurant appears wrong. It is not on Gabon Street but rather a street which runs parallel to it.

Under Art Galleries and Installations on page 168, Netsa Art Village no longer exists. I spoke with the coordinator in August 2016 and I was told that it closed down about a year ago after the park authorities indicated that they did not wish to renew the Art Village’s lease.

In your description of Piazza on page 174, you may wish to add a similar warning to the one you indicate for Merkato with respect to pickpocketing. My wife and I were targeted four to five times in the area over a span of just two days. Although none of the attempts was successful, it would certainly be advisable for visitors to stay alert at all times.

I would suggest you add Downtown Café and Restaurant to your Piazza-area restaurant listings (pages 161-162). It is located on the east side of Churchill Avenue just north of Eliana Hotel and it is very good. Popular with young Ethiopians and stylishly appointed, it serves both Ethiopian and Italian dishes, along with excellent fruit juice. A mushroom pizza costs 99 birr; fresh juice 26 birr.

Chapter 6 – Around Addis Ababa

Under your entry for the Kuriftu Resort on page 185, please note that “facials” are not offered in the spa, only manicures and massages.

Under your description of Adadi Maryam (page 197), the entry fee is now USD5 (100 birr), up from the US3 indicated in the guide. Also, there is a typo on the 3rd line of the final paragraph on page 197: “excavation” should be replaced with “expedition”.

As for the Tiya stelae field, the entry is now USD6.50 (130 birr) rather than USD6 indicated.

Chapter 7 – Western Amhara

In your introduction to Bahir Dar (page 227), you suggest that hassle has lessened in recent years. While I do know how bad it was in the past, the degree of hassle here was the greatest of any town or city I visited in Ethiopia. While one of our most unpleasant experiences was at the bus station – where an aggressive gang of touts was very unpleasant to deal with in their attempts to get us on “their” minibus to Gonder (and we heard from another couple who had a similar experience), we found there was generally a high degree of street harassment (e.g. aggressive begging, pushing tours, etc), particularly in the evening near the lake and in downtown.

With respect to the information provided on the Blue Nile Falls (page 238-239), we were charged an admission fee of USD5 (100 birr) per person, not USD2.50 as you indicate. With respect to guides, we found there was considerable pressure at the ticket office and at the trailhead to take one, but once we had run this gauntlet the hassles on the trail itself were low-key and unobtrusive (i.e. young children selling curios, people wanting to hold an umbrella for you, etc). Visiting in late July the Falls were very impressive, although the path was quite muddy and slippery. I would also note that the road is currently being upgraded, and consequently it is a long, bumpy trip from Bahir Dar at present.

With respect to Gondar hotels (page 262), we stayed several nights at the Taye Belay and I was impressed by the helpfulness and flexibility of the staff. I would highly recommend this hotel on this basis alone, notwithstanding the rather crummy breakfast on offer. I was less impressed with the Lodge de Chateau. We looked into staying here based on positive reviews from another tourist, but I was not impressive by the manager’s lack of flexibility regarding low season pricing and the rooms seemed dark and poorly appointed, certainly much worse value for money than the Taye Belay, where we were paying under USD50 for three people in a top notch room.

With respect to Gondar restaurants (page 263-264) your review of Four Sisters is right on the mark. However, I was very disappointed with Habesha Coffee. In addition to unfriendly staff, we wait ages for the fruit juices we ordered, they got the order wrong and it seemed as though they had failed to clean the blender as there was a strong taste of banana in what was supposed to be mango juice.

In your map of Gondar (page 261), the placement of Ras Gimb appears wrong. You may want to double check, but I believe it should be placed further to the North, i.e. close to the Oil Libya gas station.

With respect to Fasil Ghebbi (page 266), while the admission fee remains USD10, the woman working in the ticket office was the most blatantly corrupt ticket seller of any museum or historic site we encountered during our trip. Not only was it very difficult to get her to produce a receipt but she also attempted to short-change as well.

With respect to Kuskuam, which we were very impressed with, I would simply note that the cost of a bajaj was about USD3 from the city centre.

Chapter 8 – Eastern Amhara

Under “tourist information” for Lalibela on page 323, it appears that the tourism office is no longer at the location indicated. I was told it is located within the church ticket office.

With respect to Lalibela restaurants (page 327) please note that the Holy Land Restaurant has closed. A seemingly new and very nicely appointed restaurant/cafe is the XO, located in the Lalibela cultural centre. They serve Ethiopian and western food as well as a good selection of drinks.

In your description of Bet Gebriel-Rafael, please note that the “rickety wooden walkway” has been replaced by a solid concrete bridge.

Chapter 9 – Tigrai

Under Axum’s “getting there and away” section on page 345, you may wish to mention that the security checks at the airport are by far the most stringent we experienced anywhere in the country – including international departures from Bole airport in Addis. It appears the focus is on searching travellers for Axumite coins and other antiquities.

While there is a fine-looking tourism office near the big fig tree/piazza, it was locked up throughout our stay in Axum.

 

Under Axum hotels (page 347), the phone number for Yeha Hotel is wrong. The correct number is 0347-752377. We stayed at Yeha Hotel for two nights and I agree with your assessment: beautiful grounds and setting overlooking the town, but both the rooms and the hotel generally are in need of refurbishment, plus the television in our room wasn’t working, breakfast was very poor and staff came across as entirely unhelpful and clueless. On the positive side, the restaurant terrace is very pleasant and we enjoyed watching the monkeys cavorting in nearb trees and bushes.

In your map of Axum (page 348) I noted two errors in your map. Ethiopian Airlines is no longer at the location indicated near Sol Internet. It has now moved several blocks to the east on the north side of the street near the Ark Hotel. Also, B-Life Nightclub is at the east end rather than the west end of the block, i.e. diagonally across the intersection from Atse Kaleb.

Under “other practicalities” in Axum on page 350 you may wish to add a reference a laundry. Located on a side-street south-west of the Dashen bank, its phone number is 0922-163539/0914-492931

Chapter 11 – Harar and the Far East

Under Dire Dawa hotels, we stayed at the Samrat and we were quite disappointed. Even taking into account the lower standards that one comes to expect in Ethiopian hotels, the Samrat was truly dire. In addition to exceedingly unfriendly and unhelpful staff, the breakfast was awful (everything was cold and barely edible), the pool was closed and our room was barely acceptable. The only positive was the Bollywood Restauran, which was quite good.

On your map of Dire Dawa on page 437 you show a bridge crossing the Dechatu river near the Coca-Cola bottling plant. This bridge does not in fact exist.

Under “what to see and do” in Dire Dawa on page 439, I visited what you describe as the site of the “new railway museum currently being established” and was told by the coordinator that its establishment is now doubtful due to the loss of government support for the venture. That being said, entering the gate to the south-west of the old train station you will find a train wagon set up for the train yards’ official tour guide, a long-time railway employee who speaks good English and French. She offers extensive tours of the site, including visits to the old roundhouse, workshops, etc. There is no set admission fee but a tip is expected.

Under “where to eat and drink” in Harar on page 449, I find you are overly positive about Hirut Restaurant. While the setting is certainly nice, the food is on par with other options (e.g. Fresh Touch) and we found the service to be poor, and it didn’t help that the waitress disappeared when it was time to bring us the change from our bill.

Under “other practicalities” in Harar on page 449, you may wish to consider adding what I believe may be the town’s only travel agent, which sells Ethiopian Airline tickets, etc. It is called Sofi Travel Service (tel 0911-029602 / 0256-664422) and it is located on the south side of the main street between the Ras Hotel and Cozi Pizzeria. I bought airline tickets from Dire Dawa to Addis here, and the woman running the agency was quite helpful.

Under the “hyena men of Harar” (page 453), it may be worth pointing out that at least one imitator has sprung up beyond the two hyena men based at the traditional feeding sites near Felana and Erer gates respectively. On our first evening in Harar we made our own way to the “Christian” feeding site, but arriving at about 6:30pm there was no one about and we left just before 7pm. Finding out later that that the feeding does not actually start until after 7pm (i.e. nightfall) the next day we opted to make arrangements with a bajaj driver to take us to one of the sites. After leaving the old city through the Erer gate he took us to a rural spot about 1km south-east of the “Islamic” feeding site where a man who claimed to be the son of the original hyena man was charging 100 birr per person, which we negotiated down to 250 birr for three people. Two other parties of tourists later showed up with their guides in tow. While I expect the experience was not dissimilar to what we would have had at one of the traditional sites (i.e. about 6-8 hyenas came around and tourists who wanted to feed a hyena with meat on a stick could do so), I was initially quite concerned that we were being scammed.

Under your entry for the Rimbaud museum, you indicate the entry fee as USD1. The entry fee seems to have risen to USD2.

I found your overview of Babile Elephant Sanctuary (page 457-458) to be very helpful. However, you may wish to consider adding the following details. Given that spotting any elephants generally requires hiking through the bush, it is important for visitors to come appropriate dressed (i.e. thick trousers and closed shoes), given the large number of cacti and other thorn-bearing plants about. Also, I was surprised by the extent of human encroachment on the Sanctuary, with quite a few people and many camels and cows grazing, which apparently has served to push the elephants into more remote areas. Notwithstanding the timing of our visit in early August it took us 3-4 hours of searching before we came upon a group of three elephants. In addition to the cost of the car, driver and guide – which in our case cost us 3,000 birr, we also had to pay an entry fee to the park (100 birr per person) and 200 birr for the scout (there were three of us on the visit). Finally, those any locals who help to locate an elephant expect a tip. In our case it was a group of children, to whom we paid 50 birr at the suggestion of the scout

Southern Ethiopia updates

I made a fifteen days trip with my wife and some other Dutch tourists, organized by a Dutch agency via the Ethiopian agency Greenland Tours.

We started in Addis, flew to Harar, spend two nights there, then drove to the south, with overnight stops in Nazareth, Dinsho, Goba, Awassa, Konso, Jinka, Mago NP campsite, Turmi three nights, Arba Minch two nights, then back to Addis.

Security = Ethiopia feels very safe. Never felt threatened. No thefts. Only town where I thought someone was following us in the street, and where I met an American man whose passport and money were stolen, was in Awassa.

Economy = Ethiopia looks booming! Everywhere you see new buildings being built. Road works to improve the infrastructure in many different places. There is more and more asphalt.

Harar = Lovely city to spent two days. Special atmosphere in those little alleys. Visited Rimbaud house and Harari cultural house. Good lunch at the popular restaurant “Cozy – pizzeria and coffee”, about 50 meters away from the equally good and popular Fresh Touch restaurant (same side of the street), mentioned in your book on page 418. We went to see the “new hyena man”. Weird to see, but still worth it. We stayed in the Heritage Hotel, was good. From the terrace of our hotel, at the end of an afternoon we saw a hyena walking between the gardens below. We payed 20 birr for a tuktuk ride from the city centre to our hotel.

Between Harar and Nazareth we visited the big khat market in Aweday.
Awash NP = saw crocodiles down in the river from the lodge near the Falls. In the park we saw kudu, wart hog, gazelle and many beautiful oryxes.
Nazareth Rift valley hotel = hotel looked nice, good restaurant, but the room we had at the second floor was shabby, dark and dusty and there was no water in the bathrooms during the whole evening.

Shashemene = lunch in restaurant Lily of the valley was good, they had special juices i had never seen before, maybe Caribbean/rasta.

Dinsho = spent a night in the Dinsho lodge. Made a log fire in the lounge, but after a while the whole lounge was full of smoke! At night temperature dropped to about minus 2 celsius. Next morning made a lovely walk with a very knowledgeable ranger. Saw wart hog and many endemic mountain nyalas, as well as francolins, white tailed ibis, bushbuck, yellow fronted parrot.
In the afternoon we drove to the very summit of Tullu Deemtu, 4377 meters, highest road in Africa. As far as I know, this is the only place in Africa where you can go above 4000 meters by car. (In my younger days, I used to hike African 4000+mountains: Kili, Mt Kenya, Ruwenzori, Meru, mt Cameroon, Toubkal Atlas, Karisimbi, …). Sanetti plateau is of great beauty. Ethiopia has such a huge diversity in landscapes, incredible.
We saw the Abyssinian wolf, mole rats, lammergeier, shelduck.

Spent the night in Webe Shebele hotel in Goba, very comfortable room. Condoms provided in the room!

On the right side of the road between Robe and Dodola, I visited the house of cave people in a place called Sebsebe Washa. You can see the rock from the road. The house is built against the rock, and once you are inside the house, you notice the house is connected to tunnels in the rock. I paid the owner a couple of birr to visit his house. Bring a torch light, cause it is very dark.

Awassa = spent the night in the very comfortable new Pinna hotel. Made a motor boat trip on the lake to the place where the hippos live, pretty expensive faranji prices.

Dilla = delicious mango and avocado juice in Rendez Vous restaurant.

From Dilla to Konso = I showed our driver the new road from Fisiha Genet to Konso, mentioned in your book and on our good Hungarian Gizi map, but he said the road was not good, he prefered to drive via Yabello.

Konso = Edget Hotel was pretty basic, no running water and no electricity when we were there, but the place is popular with locals, for a beer in the evening.

Omo valley = we visited villages and markets of ethnic groups like Hamar, Karo, Mursi, Konso, Ari, Dassanetch and Arbore. Price of a picture was mostly 2, 3 or 4 birr. Communication was difficult. I found a very basis Hamar word list on the internet, the people liked it when i spoke some of their words. That was always good to break the ice and make the people smile.
On page 533 you write that Arbore is “far more rustic and unaffected than many similarly sized towns in south Omo”. Probably times have changed, because the Arbore people standing along the road, waiting to be photographed, were the most pushy. They surrounded me, kept on pulling my arms, etc, nothing bad, but far from unaffected. Lots of jeeps with tourists when we were there. We were one of them.

Turmi Evangadi camp site = showers were always working. Not a bad place to camp. Lots of bees though in the open air restaurant.

Mago NP = on the road to the camp site we saw baboons, dikdiks, guinea fowls. At the camp site lovely black and white colobuses. End of afternoon we made a game drive, starting behind the Colobus camp site, crossing the river by car, and then through high grass. So high that soon our main concern was not finding animals, but finding the track. I think we were the first car there since long. The armed scout walked ahead of our car, to look for the track. During two hours of game drive, we saw 1 dikdik, thousands of tse tse like flies and one sad lonely turtle, that was all. So dont go to Ethiopia for the animals, but for the people! And when we found that turtle or tortoise, our local guide who had been to the Mursi village with us, lift the poor animal from the ground, hold it above his head, put it back on the ground and then put his feet on it. I think Ethiopia has still quite a lot to learn as far as nature conservation policy is concerned!

Omorate = had to go to an office where an official checked our passports and wrote our names in a notebook. Local guide asked us 100 birr to cross the Omo river, two ways. Your guide book says “a few birr”. Probably faranji price, we did not bargain. No police escort necessary.

Way back in Konso = had lunch in new Kanta Lodge, looks very beautiful, nice tokuls, nice garden. Extremely crowded, all the landrovers with faranji stopped there for lunch.

Arba Minch = lovely boat trip to see the huge crocodiles, very exciting, many fish eagles, goliath heron. Swaynes Hotel definitely misses character, isolated place, no locals, a small bottle of water costs one euro, and there was no running water for a big part of the day. Very nice atmosphere however in Tourist hotel in lower town, popular with both locals and foreigners.
Nechisar NP = saw baboon, dikdik, yellow necked francolin, Grant gazelle, ground hornbill, ground squirrel, kudu, Burchells zebra, and all five remaining Swaynes hartebeest, hundred procent score.

Humbo = visited the thursday big cattle market, not many tourists, people dont ask money for pictures

Tiya stelae field = worth a visit if you are interested in history. Very knowledgeable guide who opened the doors for us.

Regards,

Wil