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Friday 27 Feb 2009
Moshi, Tanzania

Getting ready for Ethiopia

I'd booked my flights to Ethiopia on the 16th Feb via the Ethiopian Airlines website when I had arrived at Dar Es Salaam airport.

Unlike the Qatar Airways site (which crashed twice on me yet still charged my credit card), the Ethiopian Airlines site works perfectly and (as I was to find out later) it's a great little airline! Flights within Africa are really expensive though, and I had to shell out $800 for the return flight from Kilimanjaro Airport to Ethiopia! That's more than I paid for the return trip to Tanzania from Dublin, via London!!

As I would later learn, though, it was advantageous to fly in and out of Ethiopia on Ethiopian Airlines as it would allow me to get some major bargains on internal flights (read up my entry from Bahar Dar on 3 Mar for more info).

Still, I was determined to visit this ancient land, so I would have regretted it later had I not gone.

I spent this morning in the Kindoroko hotel trying to figure out what I would need to bring to Ethiopia and thankfully Paul Shayo said I could use his backpack for this trip too. This was great as it allowed me to offload about 8kg of Kilimanjaro climbing gear that I wouldn't need!

As is the problem in most cheaper hotels in Tanzania, the Kindaroko hotel has no AC, just a fan in the ceiling blowing hot air down on you. This makes packing your bags an exhausting and sweaty process. Still though, I persevered and got the bag down to around 10kg!

Much to my annoyance, I found when booking the flights that all flights in Ethiopia leave once a day in the morning only. This meant that in order to get to Bahar Dar via Addis Ababa, I would have to stay the night in Addis Ababa. i.e. 2 days to get to Bahar Dar, and then 2 days to get back to Kilimanjaro. That's 4 days gone out of my limited 10 days trip Cry

I was about to literally get a "taste" of Ethiopia, albeit brief...


Arriving into Ethiopia later that day...

Coming to Ethiopia I didn't really know what to expect. Every image I'd seen on TV showed recycled footage from 1984 of starving people, bad water supplies, little infrastructure... but I knew there was much more to this place as I'd seen glimpses in various documentaries on BBC (the fantastic ancient churches carved into rock and the very "cradle of humanity" where human life began). This is of course the country where "Lucy" the oldest hominid ever found was dug up.

My Dad had recommended I stay well away from Ethiopia: "Bandit country", he said. He had no problems whatsoever with Tanzania! Funny that! Laughing

The world media hasn't been kind to Ethiopia in the past (showing a land of pestulance, war and famine), and it's only in recent years that I've started to see positive articles or docos about the place that highlight it as a viable tourist destination.

One Ethiopian guide later relayed a story which I think sums up the attitude toward Ethiopia: an Australian bloke once came over here on holiday with (as recommended by his friends) a month's supply of his own food! He'd been told that Ethiopia was lacking basic sustenance, or that what existed wasn't nutritious at all! How embarrassed he must have been on arrival at Addis Ababa.

For you see, Ethiopia, despite it's reputation is actually one of the most progressive countries in Africa, particularly noticable in the capital city Addis Ababa! The second you arrive in Addis airport and out into Bole road, it's like arriving into Dubai. Unlike Tanzania's airport, Addis airport is modern, clean, air-conditioned with efficient staff that speak perfect English. Many people aren't aware of this but Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that successfully managed to fight off colonial powers. As a result of this, the country and it's people are extremely proud, and the country is regarded highly among the other African nations (Addis Ababa is where the African equivalent of the EU is based: the African Union).

On arrival in Ethiopia you are first struck by the appearance of the people: they seem to have a strong Arabic look about them, yet distinctly African. Many of the women are strikingly beautiful with large eyes and high cheekbones and shiny wavy hair. The men are similarly good-looking and have a confident air about them (no doubt stemming from their proud heritage). Most of the people I met are well-educated and many speak very good English (the government pays for university education if the student can't cover it - although I think the downside is that the government elects which course they want you to do based on your test scores).

Another thing you find straight away is the friendliness and approachability of the people. In fact I would even go so far as to say that the Ethiopians most strongly resemble the Irish in this respect, maybe even moreso. I encountered so many people who wanted to chat with me as a friend, rather than as a potential source of cash, here than in many other 3rd world countries I have visited and I found that I warmed to the people very quickly.

The politeness and generosity seemed to me to resemble the sort of mild-mannered locals you would find in Dubai or Bahrain (whereas in Tanzania I'd found many of the locals were somewhat aggressive in their approach toward you, whether trying to sell you something or just in general). This is again what cemented the similarities with Dubai in my mind.

Before leaving the airport I made sure to get a wad of local Ethiopian Birr. I wasn't aware at the time, but it is crucial that you get the right amount at this stage. Despite the decent infrastructure in Addis, ATM machines are distinctly lacking in the country. You really need to make sure you get enough money out of the bank to cover your trip while you are at the airport as, once you leave, the only other ATM in the entire country that you can get money from is in the Hilton in Addis!
Another thing is to have extra US dollars handy just in case, as you could always change it later in banks around the country. I instead brought a wad of Tanzanian Shillings that I was sure I would be able to change at the airport. Fat chance, they wouldn't accept them at all. It seems the only currency that you can bring between African countries is the US dollar (or possibly Euros too), and you have to be sure to convert all the local currency to US dollar before you leave.

I was going to get $300 worth of Birr, but the guy in the bank was rather helpful and recommended that for a 10 day trip that I get at least $500 out. Ethiopia is a cheap country, but I was looking for luxury after my many days camping so I found I would run through that $500 rather quickly ...

The arrivals area is very well setup, catering to all the African Union diplomats that visit here, and the nearby hotels are top of the line deals (the marble-laden Sheraton hotel, for example, costs around $400 per night!!). I checked out the prices of various hotels when one fresh-faced chappie approached me to entice me to the 5 star Jupiter hotel. "How much?" I asked. "$90 dollars each night sir". "Hmmm .. I'm really looking for something around $50". "OK hang on a sec" he said and he rang up the manager. "How about $60 for the night, with free limo transport to/from airport?". Deal! Cool

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

Abebe Says:

18 November 2009

Very kind words towards Ethiopia and thank you for reflecting what you have seen here than biased with those 84 images of Ethiopia that seems the only thing happened here for the medias. Good luck man!!!

peterforan Replies:

19 November 2009

No worries man, Ethiopia is one of my all-time favourite countries and I can't wait to visit again :)

I bless the rains down in Africa

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

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

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