Ethiopia, or, Where I Freely Walk into Oncoming Livestock

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Everyone has to visit Ethiopia. It’s where we come from people! The history of human evolution and civilization that exists in this country is mindblowing.

We started in the capital city of Addis Ababa, where we arrived very early from Cairo (after hilarious times at the Ethiopian Airlines check-in desk and with a security guard who literally GROWLED at Broseph and then fell about laughing saying “Obama!” Random, but we do appreciate our esteemed prez for giving us so much street cred in Africa!). Once landed and visa-ed, we took a cab to a well-known travelers spot, the Baro Hotel, and hoped they’d have a room available. (We had initially booked a room at Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place, but Mr. Martin never confirmed our reservation or inquiry about being met at the airport, so we gave up on him and his, um, cozy place.) The Baro did have a room, which was dank, dark and totally grody, but it was eight bucks a night, so how much can I ask for really?

After a nap we set off to find an ATM. It’s no joke that there is about ONE in the whole country, and even that is not known to be particularly reliable. People practically laughed at us when we asked where we could find one (there wasn’t one at the airport, in case you’re wondering!). Eventually we did find it and it worked, and there was much rejoicing. We were feeling a bit peckish, so we found a little cafe for a burger lunch. Food in Africa is SO CHEAP! We got massive burgers for about $1.50 – I am really going to think twice about going out for meals at home. “Really, waiter, this burger says $9 but I think you can do it for $2. Ok, ok…$3?”

Anyway, we had been told it was the rainy season in Ethiopia (it was actually quite chilly) and as we were munching away, the heavens opened and it came CRASHING down! (Literally – it tore down one of the gutters of the restaurant!) I’ve never seen such intense rain in all my life. It went on for about 15 minutes and then as quickly as it came, it stopped. Bro and I couldn’t help but sing a bit of Toto about the rains down in Africa – we’ve seen them and we bless them too!

After lunch we hit the Internet cafe – slowest connection in the WORLD, but we managed to bang out a few emails and whatnot. There we met another guy from our hotel, Matthias from France so we had a chat with him about what there was to get up to in Addis. The city itself is quite chaotic, loads of people roaming around and stark poverty right up next to office buildings and banks and things. Everyone is very friendly though – more on that later.

In the evening we took a cab to Habesha restaurant, a recommended touristy place for its traditional food and dancing. It was fabulous – we had a traditional meal of injera (a sort of flatbread) topped with all sorts of different veggies and curries. You basically just wrap everything up in the bread and eat it all with your hands. The waitresses come around with soap and warm water so you can wash your hands before and after, and again it’s super cheap!! There was a wedding celebration or something going on, so there was lots of lively music and dancing and some people in traditional costume bouncing around. Fabulous, except for the, um, rather nasty (read: smelly) tummies we both had afterwards. Dang.

The next day we got up quite late as we were both feeling a bit rubbish, which we put down to the incredibly crazy meal the night before and our bodies adjusting to the malaria pills, which can really wreak havoc on a fragile little thing like moi (ha!)! We only had one full day in Addis left, though, so we took a cab to the centre and set off on a walkabout, during which we found precisely nothing to see, so we took another cab to the National Museum where “Lucy,” the oldest human of sorts, lives (or a replica, at least). It was a brilliant museum with all sorts of art and artifacts – some several thousands of years ago. There was also a fabulous exhibition about human evolution with loads of crazy skulls and teeth and things, all leading up to the replica of Lucy, which is about five bones total (I said to bro, as it’s only fake, I would have thrown in a few extra bones to make it more interesting) but we can say we’ve seen her!

Afterwards we went back to our hotel area and looked around a bit for a bureau de change. As we were walking, a lovely guy called Thomas came up to us and asked where we were from, telling us that his English teacher wanted him to practice whenever he could. We’ve learned to gauge quite quickly when someone is after you and when they just genuinely want to chat, and Thomas was in the latter group. He was about 19-ish and in university, and loved that we’re American. He said: “When you are here in Ethiopia, you can be like in America! You can run, you can jump, you can fly. You can do whatever you like because we are brothers from another mother!” YES! He actually said that. It was brilliant. He kindly took us to a place to change money (not an official place, mind you, some guy in a hole in the wall doing it under the table), but he couldn’t change our Egyptian pounds. Still, it was lovely to meet Thomas and we were very impressed with his English, especially as our Ahmeric isn’t really up to snuff!

That evening we grabbed some food at our hotel and sat with Matthias and a doctor from Israel doing volunteer work in the country (Ack! All these good people!) and a French/German guy called Cedric. We crashed quite early because we had to the airport at 6am for a flight to Lalibela to see the rock churches…this is where the livestock comes in!

We arrived quite early in the morning to Lalibela on the tiniest plane in the world into the tiniest airport in the world (when we left two days later, we were given a hand-written boarding pass and there’s no intercom – an airline employee walks around telling everyone it’s time for boarding!). Anyway, after getting our luggage our hotel man was there to meet us, and he drove us along a seriously bumpy road where we had to stop about 900 times for 5-year-olds herding goats and donkeys and things! Our hotel, the Mountain View, was ABSOLUTELY beautiful – incredible sweeping views of the valley. It was really breathtaking! Even so, we were exhausted so had a little nap and got up at lunch time. We arranged to go and see seven of the 11 rock churches that very afternoon, and at 2pm we met “Indie” who would be our guide for the next two days. Brilliant guy – super knowledgable and funny.

The churches in Lalibela are famous because they are literally dug out of rock in the ground and were all built from the top-down. A number of them are free-standing and don’t use the rocks around them for support. The locals, extremely devout Orthodox Christians (Indie kissed all the church walls and things) believe that King Lalibela built them all about 3000 years ago with the help of God and an angel. Don’t bother asking how he really did it (you know, maybe with tools? Or slaves?) as you’ll get a blank stare that means, “I told you God helped him, you dum-dum.”

To see all the churches you have to do quite a bit of hiking around the rocks, but we also got to see some of the mud and thatch homes people live in, as well as lots of priests chanting away. Really beautiful, and whether or not one is religious, I’m quite confident that even the non-believers would find the whole thing quite spiritual with the landscape and the sounds and colors and fantastical legends and stories. I certainly did.

After Churches: Episode 1, we went back to the hotel for dinner and were quite excited to watch the World Cup final on the big satellite telly in the lobby. No such luck! It was only being broadcast on the national channels so this particular telly wasn’t getting it. No worries though, we piled into the back of an old van with a few members of a visiting American church group (from Menlo Park, of all places!) and set off in search of a TV! The driver had no idea where to find one, so we bounced along (again dodging a variety of farm animals and children) until we found a few folks crowded around the tiniest telly in the universe in the lobby of a “hotel.” It was very grody, but we could see the match and there were chairs, beers and friendly locals, so we were quite happy!

The next day in the afternoon it was time for Churches Vol. 2, so we met up with Indie to see the remaining four. It was much the same as the day before, except when we had to pass through a pitch black tunnel that connected two of the churches. For about ten minutes we couldn’t see a THING – I was holding on to Bro’s shirt who was holding on to Indie’s shirt who expertly navigated our way through the darkness with no broken angles or banged heads to speak of. It was SUCH a relief to see the light at the end of the tunnel though – I won’t take that cliche lightly anymore!

As our tour of the churches concluded, we were lucky enough to see a traditional wedding taking place. It was gorgeous! The bride and groom walked under colorful umbrellas and were surrounded by young altar boys and girls, priests and nuns singing songs as they all walked them to their new marital home. About half the townspeople appeared to be tagging along, and some of the children approached me, fascinated by my digital camera! They all wanted a photo of themselves and then excitedly looked at it and squealed. It was fabulous – such a treat.

That evening we had some dinner, but the Bro wasn’t feeling too hot. Unfortunatley this was the beginning of a three-day bout of travelers tummy for him, poor guy. He was up all night, barely made it through our plane ride back to Addis and once we arrived he couldn’t face going back to grody old Baro, so we pulled out the emergency credit card and booked a room just for the night at a proper hotel so he could recover. I was thrilled to have accessibility to a hairdryer for the first time in ages, so I was happy!

We set off for Dar Es Salaam the next morning with the Bro feeling much better and had a fabulous 12 days in Tanzania, arriving in South Africa this morning, which is also lovely. But back to Ethiopia for a second – Go there, go there, go there. Motherland Africa hasn’t seen the last of me!

Susie Hughes
Susie Hughes is a UK transplant to the United States, moving from London to Connecticut as a teenager. For five years she worked in technology public relations in San Francisco, quietly putting money away into "The Travel Fund". In May 2010, Susie left San Francisco to realize a lifelong dream of an extended trip around the world - seven months visiting more than 20 countries on four continents.
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