To get the most out of this trip, remember where you are. Ethiopia is in the 'top ten' of poorest countries on the planet. If there's no hot water, be grateful for running water at all. If you get fed up with kids in rags holding their hands out, notice their smiles instead. And if the food is a bit boring, at least there's plenty of it for tourists. If you are realistic about these things, you will have a trip that is never boring, and is full of amazing scenery, wonderful people, and interesting and unique buildings.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
The mule ride/trek to a remote mountain-top monastery was definitely the highlight. Everyone seemed to enjoy getting out of the bus and on to '4 legs'; the views were breathtaking at every corner, and the monastery itself perched like an eyrie atop the mountain.
Another magical moment was at the end of the walk in the Simien Mountains. The walk itself was wonderful - picturesque Afro-Alpine scenery with dramatic views across valleys, and wild flowers everywhere. At the end of our walk it started to rain so there was little enthusiasm for the optional 20 minute 'add-on' to see a waterfall, especially having already visited the falls at Tississat. A few of us did it, and are we glad we did! We climbed up over a steep rockface to suddenly see water tumbling over the sheer cliff opposite, falling to the valley 100s of feet below. With no sign of human habitation or development, we felt like 18th century explorers stumbling across this beautiful sight!
- What did you think of your group leader?
Being on the Meskal Festival departure, our tour overlapped with the next one and our leader had to leave us 3 days before the end to accompany the next group. Gebre (the First) had been helpful, diplomatic and informative, and none of us wanted to lose him. Gebre (the Second) joined us in Addis and we need not have worried - he was very experienced, friendly and knowledgeable, and admitted that he enjoyed getting out of the office for while!
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Keep your expectations realistic, and you will have a great trip with more than enough of those surprising, magical moments that make travel so addictive.
Travel light - there's lots of packing and unpacking, and laundry services are available often enough throughout the trip for just a few pennies.
Most people on our trip had stomach upsets, which mostly lasted less than 24hrs and were manageable with immodium. We stayed well but only ate food which had been well-cooked, such as soup and pasta. Use your hand-gel, and don't expect a gourmet experience.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Our trip was in September and I can recommend this as a fantastic time to visit Ethiopia. The rains have mostly finished, and the country is lush and green. Crops are everywhere, and the hillsides decorated with carpets of yellow meskel flowers. We went to the Meskel Festival - a parade of priests, dancers and bands, with music and chanting. It went on all afternoon and into the evening, when the crowds became a magical display of flaming torches. It ended with fireworks and the lighting of the traditional piton-shaped bonfire.
The only negative for me was that this trip often felt like an OAPs Coach Trip, rather than one of the "Adventure and Activity holidays" for which Exodus is famous. Our guide told us that even the mule trek was in danger of being 'dropped' on health and safety grounds. If that happens I feel there will be very little left on this trip that could be considered adventurous, and it is in danger of becoming a sedate bus tour, albeit in an extraordinary country. Our guide had to spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with physical frailities; a group of 18 is too many for this tour to run smoothly.