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Thursday 5 Mar 2009
Aksum, Ethiopia

Lovely Aksum and Lovely Ethiopian food!!

Ethiopian Airlines...
Ethiopian Airlines...

Aksum (or it's sometimes spelled by locals: Axum) was the destination-du-jour as I took my Fokker 50 up to the very north of Ethiopia this morning. Originally Aksum wasn't on my list of places to visit as I was limited on time and didn't think I could have fitted it in, plus a few people on the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum said I could give it a miss.

Yet, it is on the "historical circuit" and the more I read about it, the more interested I became in the history of the place so I opted to include it in the 4 day-tour instead of staying in Gondar for 2 days.

You see, Aksum was the capital of the Aksumite empire: a hugely powerful empire that stretched from lower present-day Ethiopia all the way west into Sudan and east across the Red Sea into parts of Yemen. It was an advanced civilisation that minted silver and gold coins and built huge monuments to honour it's rulers. It rose in promenance due to it's position as a crossroads for trade, with Egypt to the north-west, gold-fields to the west, and slaves to the south. It's port on the Red Sea was in present-day Eritrea at Adulis and the empire had it's heyday between the 3rd and 6th centuries. Trade stretched as far as the Greek empire where Aksumite coins were later found.

Christianity first came to Aksum in the 4th century (one of the first countries to adopt it, and the first in Africa) when a Christian merchant from Syria got lost and stopped in Ethiopia only to be befriended by the emperor at the time. The empire flourished due to trade, but this suddenly came to an end around 700 AD due to the rise of Islam and the subsequent trend for arabs to only deal with Muslim countries.

Again.. a quick history lesson for ya there Laughing

It's important to know this, though, as it explains why Aksum is so interesting. The ruins of this once-great civilisation are limited but still there are important monuments to be seen such as the stellae field which has it's own slant on the Egyptian tradition of obelisk-building. Not to mention the vast wealth that once existed here, which are housed in interesting museum exhibits (and for the right price: in your pocket .. READ ON LATER TO SEE WHAT I MEAN!!)

On arriving at Aksum, I checked into my modest accomodation at the Africa Hotel (rooms about $3 per night!). I had decided to go totally budget now as I had suddenly reached the uncomfortable realisation that I was running out of Ethiopian birr! (if you remember me saying, there are no ATMs in the country outside Addis and you can't get cash on your VISA card outside of the airport bank!) I was low on US dollars too, so was going to have to play it careful ... I thought I could budget it well .. and BOY did I manage to survive by the skin of my teeth (read the Lalibela entries to see what I mean).

Despite the money situation, I was feeling great as I was no longer sick... and so to celebrate my new fearlessness, I wanted to sample some REAL Ethiopian food. I was sick of omelettes and faranji shit like that. I ventured off to the Remhai Hotel which was next door and according to Lonely Planet had a restaurant with the BEST Ethiopian food in the country. They weren't far wrong.

My first injera!
My first injera!

The hotel was another "most expensive in town" setup, but unlike Gondar's Goha hotel, the staff here were unpretentious and were glad to help me out choosing an Ethiopian dish as I was an Ethio-virgin at this stage.

The "traditional" restaurant was built in a proper cone-shaped Ethiopian tukul with exquisite interior decoration and thatched roof. Ethiopian food is typically served without cutlery and is shared among all people at the table, hence all tables were knee-high with small stools. The restaurant at this time was empty so I didn't know what to order based on sight, so I thought the "Lamb Tibs" sounded nice (and cooked! Some Ethiopian dishes are served raw, so it's something to be careful of!). Soon enough this huge silver tray was served to me with a still-boiling dish of tiny cubed lamb pieces in garlic, onion and spices with a lit piece of charcoal underneath (sort of like the sizzling beef you get at a Chinese restaurant). Beside the dish was (what I thought was) a large grey table cloth.

On closer inspection, the table cloth turned out to be BREAD of some-sort! A light pancake-like bread called injera.

"Riiiight ... so... er... what do I do now?", I announced. A few local guests who were nearby, were laughing at the spectable of this faranji eating Ethiopian food (I found this everywhere I went afterwards, I guess tourists really don't bother eating Ethiopian food when they visit which is a shame). One of them came over to me and showed me how to rip off a piece of the injera, use it to pick up some lamb, dip the two into the spice-powder (berbere) and eat! Simple enough Tongue out

I followed suite and ... MY GOD! ... the most feckin delicious thing I've eaten in YEARS!!! I tell ya, the lamb was succulent and gently spiced, the injera was a little sour at first but in a good way (tasting a little like German rye bread), and berbere .. jesus.. LOVELIEST spice ever! Slightly hot yet exceedingly tangy (like Monster Munch crisps back home!) I was officially IN LOVE WITH ETHIOPIAN FOOD!

(on returning home to Dublin after the trip, the first thing I did was search the Yellow Pages for local Ethiopian restaurants - the food is THAT good! Needless to say, we have none .. and the closest is apparently in LondonYell)

After lunch I went for a little exploring around town, and discovered that apart from the famous landmarks there lies a fun little town with very charming people and amazing souvenir shops ... (continued next entry...)

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

Beck Danstun Says:

2 September 2009

MAN!!! The food sounds delicious. I wish I could have traveled with you. I have never been out of my country. Mmmmmm..... food.

peterforan Replies:

3 September 2009

Yep indeed! I even flew over to London when I got home primarily to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant :)

I bless the rains down in Africa

Travel blog by peterforan

Day 3  ... Lookin forward to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro

Day 3 ... Lookin forward to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro

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