Having travelled quite a bit in Africa and worked there twice, I knew that any trip to Africa would be exciting. Despite this, my holiday to Ethiopia exceeded all my expectations.Definitely one of the best holidays of my life.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
The day we walked to the Tississat Falls was absolutely fabulous.We were so lucky that our visit co-incided with market day and as we descended the valley to the old Portugese Bridge, the local villagers climbed up out of the valley, mostly wearing dark green cloth (which we were told is a workers or poor person's clothing) and many of the women with crosses tatooed on their foreheads, herding their goats and donkeys past us and pretty much running up the hill as we huffed and puffed our way down.It was like a scene from some biblical epic.The remainder of the day with the little girls selling their shawls, crossing the icy river, walking through gorgeous lush landscape (a world away from the general perception of Ethiopia as a parched and barren land) and drinking coffee made by an enterprising local lady as we looked down onto the falls, all combined to make this an unforgettable day.
Other highlights for me were the gorgeous and breathtaking Lalibela churches, the angle face ceiling at Debre Birhan Selassie church in Gondar, the friendliness of the Ethiopian people, especially the children (I've never waved so much in my life as on the drives from Bahar Dar to Debark and then on to Gondar), the striking beauty of so many of the Ethiopian women, our visit to The Abyssian Coffee House (just downhill from our hotel) in Lalibela (you must go there after dinner in the evening,so much fun...watch the locals dance and have a go yourself at the shoulder jiggling, drink coffee or Tej...what a hilarious night!) and our great guide and excellent tour group.
- What did you think of your group leader?
- Gebre was excellent. Friendly, informative, diplomatic and fully understanding of our tour groups teasing and sometimes sarcastic sense of humour.What a nice guy and what a great guide -he really helped make the trip a great one.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
As Ron said, do not even think about the Simien Mountain walk if you don't have a head for heights as the majority of the walk is along cliff edges with sheer drops to the side of you.This would be my only minor criticism of the holiday that we weren't advised of this.I'm not good with heights (though was fine on the day of the mule trek to the mountain above Lalibela as although obviously the climb was high there were no sheer drops around) and after about 30 minutes had to take an alternative route with another guide to avoid the cliff edges.Luckily Gebre managed to arrange for one of our park guides to take me a different route but I did find the whole experience quite embarrassing...I was concerned that I had put Gebre to inconvenience and disruped the group.If I'd known what the walk had involved I'm sure I could have done my own alternative walk (even maybe following the road) avoiding the cliff edges then meeting the rest of the group later.As we had 2 guides plus Gebre I wonder if Exodus couldn't arrange an alternative walk in the Simien Mountains for anybody else who doesn't really want to spent half a day walking on cliff edges.
I had a compact digital camera and also took my old SLR which used film. With hindsight I would really recommend only using digital...not because there was any particular problem with film (although at times it can be quite dusty so take care changing lenses) but, as Ron said, everybody wants to see their picture, even if it's only in the viewfinder.They seem to love it, especially if there are a few of them in the shot as they then all seem to like laughing at each others picture.With my SLR I wasn't able to show them any picture and wasn't able to explain why not (my Amharic didn't extend to much more then hello, goodbye and thank you).They were disappointed with that.
If, like us, you are a little tired of injera and wat sauces when you return to Addis Adaba, 5 of us went to Serenade restaurant....mostly ex-pats and well heeled Ethiopians but as a one off treat, the food was better than most restaurants I've been to in the UK.
With regards to the mule trek, if you weigh more than 85kg, consider walking up the mountain.I weigh 105kg (I'm 6ft 3in) and I'm sure I saw the mule wince when he was initially allocated to me.The mule drivers will take anybody up but it's not the driver who is carrying you.Gebre reckoned that the mules struggled with anything over about 85kg.2 of us walked up the mountain.It was hard work but gave you a great sense of satisfaction when we finally got to the monastery at the top.
I took loads of insect repellant and hardly had to use any so in hindsight I may have only taken 1 small tube/can.
Beer is cheap and very good (St.George, Daschen and another which I can't recall the name of).Sadly the same cannot be said of the Ethiopian wine. A couple of our group persisted in drinking it (apparently the more you have, the more acceptable the taste!) -brave souls. Tej (fermented honey) was also only appreciated by a hardy few of our group (Gavin seemed to love it...maybe it's a West Country thing!).
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
As several people have mentioned, the accommodation in Debark was fairly basic although I thought that was fine as we had been warned about it.When I asked if they had any towels I was given one which was soaking wet. I had to laugh.The laundry was being done the young lady told me. Remember to take a towel or do like me, skip the shower for 1 day...it won't kill you.Actually there was only a trickle of cold water so a shower may have been difficult. Aside from that we had great local food that night in the hotel,with hilarious entertainment (a local man singing a song which incorporated our whole groups 'personalities'...either he was very perceptive or he had a little help from Gebre, our guide), the beds were comfy and the beer was cheap and very good. As to the rest of the accommodation on the trip I personally thought it was very good. Certainly much more luxurious than any other places I've stayed in Africa (with the exception perhaps of South Africa).
The Ghion hotel in Addis Adaba has a lovely big pool, though the water is pretty chilly.The other hotels on the trip have small pools but due to water shortages these were always empty.Not a problem. So if you fancy a swim, Addis is the place.
Ethiopian airlines are, surprisingly (to me anyway), excellent. Their staff are efficient and professional. At one point as I was going through the airport security check the female security officer must have thought I was concealing a money belt and said to me 'Sir, what is that around your waist?' I was a little perturbed to have to lift my shirt and say 'it's my belly...I'm overweight' at which she laughed and waved me through...a little incentive for my impending diet.
My only other thought is that I would have loved to have also visited Harar although I realize you can't see everything a country has to offer in one trip.As well as the fact that Ethiopia is a fabulous country to visit, our trip wouldn't have been half so good if we didn't have the excellent group that we had.On arrival in Addis I was a little wary of the fact that nearly everybody else was older than me (I am 42...2 people were younger) with ages averaging 50 ish but continuing up to 70).It soon became apparent that I needn't worry as the type of person coming on this trip is adventurous, has travelled a lot so has lots of interesting stories, and were generally young at heart and mind. We had some real hilarious characters (Lynn, Dougie and Wendy...you are all up there!) who helped make the trip even more wonderful.