Ethiopia II - off the beaten track

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Ethiopia II - off the beaten track

My time in Addis was fairly uneventful. Apart from eating large amounts of good food and drinking lots of awesome coffee, I didn’t do that much. Still, it was nice to be able to chill out without needing to do anything. Plus, we had the luxury of real beds and rooms in the oldest hotel in the city, Taitu Hotel; a pleasant, although now slightly faded, building in the central Piazza area. Free Wi-Fi here too, as well as a lady playing the piano in the lounge. Ryan, Gary and I did wander around the market one day however – supposedly one of the largest in the world.

Falcon and Laura re-joined the truck here, after the two weeks they spent in Somaliland (the northern – safe – self-autonomous part of Somalia), as did Jono, Kirstin and Kat (Canadians and German), who were unable to get their Ethiopian visas beforehand and had to fly to Addis from Nairobi.

After successfully obtaining our Sudanese visas, we left for Bahir-dar, a town on the southern end of Lake Tana.

On the way, the scenery was incredibly green and fertile, looking more like Wales than Africa. Although the south-east of Ethiopia is currently experiencing a terrible drought, the rest of the country is lush farmland, with plenty of rain. In fact, it’s rained every single day we’ve been here! It’s tragic that some of this excess water isn’t transported to those dying of thirst.

A scenic spot for lunch, complete with vultures soaring overhead.

Our second major road-related problem of the trip (the first being a puncture in north Kenya) occurred that afternoon in the form of a torrent of water flooding across the road for more than 500 metres. This is rainy season and a river had burst its banks from the huge amount of rain that falls in the highlands.

People were wading across, trucks were getting stuck…

And the few of us who fought our way through the extremely fast flowing water got soaked!

Dan and Kirst hitched a lift on the back of a pickup and, after deciding that our truck could (probably) make it through, Grant carefully negotiated the muddy banks and got it across.


After all that excitement, it was getting dark and we struggled to find somewhere to camp. Because there are so many people living in Ethiopia, sometimes it’s hard to find places to bush camp.

Cooking over a fire in the rain… no problem at all, once you get the damn thing lit! Thank goodness for diesel.

Rusted out tank on the side of the road.

Could be a scene from home.

Rain didn’t quite clean all of the truck.

On the road into Bahir-dar.

What to do on a rainy day at the camp in Bahir-dar… why not make some bread?

I liked Bahir-dar; there are countless places to eat and drink, and the city has got a really laid back atmosphere, with very little hassle.

From here, some of us organised to take a minibus out to the Blue Nile Falls – the river’s largest.

After a pretty half hour’s walk, followed all the way by a bunch of sweet – but eventually annoying – kids trying to sell us stuff, we reached the falls. A recently built hydroelectric dam (they sell electricity to Sudan) has reduced the volume of water going over the falls, but it was still impressive.

The water is brown from all the flood water in this part of the country. Drought? Not here.

Because there are so many things to see and do in Ethiopia, and everybody wanted to do different things, from Bahir-dar, most people left the truck and made their own way around the country. Lee, Gary and I had been looking into getting the two day ferry across Lake Tana and booked ourselves onto it.

Travelling in a large group on the truck is great in many ways; however the three of us all agreed that we needed a bit of time away from it all. “Group sickness,” as Gary put it. Plus, this boat isn’t for tourists; it’s a once-weekly service linking isolated villages, many of which don’t have road access – we’d be stepping well off the beaten track and visiting places that few tourists ever see.

Predictably, it rained the entire first day.

The first little community we stopped off at, on an island. Mud everywhere! This lady was selling mangoes for 0.75 Birr (about 2p) each.

Wicker boats. We thought about getting one, just in case the ferry went down…

Cattle class – literally. It was certainly an experience. A girl in a little room under the stairs served fresh tea, coffee and bread – we spent quite a bit of time in here, sheltering from the rain.

The ferry moored up in this village for the night and we found a place to stay; 40 Birr (a little over 2 bucks) for a room. A dinner of Tibis (local, rich beef stew), fresh bread and beer cost even less. And given that the ferry only cost $15, it was an extremely cheap couple of days.

Although we woke to a thunderstorm, once on the boat the weather cleared up and we enjoyed glorious weather all day.

This was my favourite village the boat stopped at. We had an hour here and wandered around. Everybody was incredibly friendly, greeting us with waves, smiles and warm curiosity. The people here must see so few tourists (if any…) – people came out of their houses to greet us. I would have loved to spend more time here but, unfortunately, the next boat would have been a week later.


We spent the rest of the day sunbathing on the deck, arriving in Gorgora just as the weather started to turn. From here, after a bit of hassle locating transport, we jumped on a bus to Gondar. Finding somewhere to stay here was also a bit of an effort, but we eventually got a bed and a well-needed shower.

In the morning we took a very short flight (25 mins) to Lalibela in a little 80-seater turboprop. The bus would have been at least seven hours on windy roads; a return flight was less than $80 – easy decision to make!


The scenery was great though, being a small plane, it got fairly bumpy.

Lalibela is high up in the mountains (2500m) and the little airport is in a valley, so the descent is very steep; the pilot has to dodge peaks all the way down.

In the town, we searched out the cheapest hotel (2$) – really basic, but owned by a lovely family who didn’t try to overcharge us because we were tourists, unlike many others.

Lee said that Lalibela reminded him of little towns in Nepal, with similar scenery and beautifully crisp, clean air.



Lalibela is famous for its churches, hewn into solid rock.

Bet Georgis (House of St. George), the most famous church, built in the 13th Century.

Many people here live traditional lives, alongside those who have adopted a more modern way of living. In the street, you see some people dressed in jeans and designer t-shirts and others wearing cloth wraparounds herding goats and transporting things around with donkeys.

Mummified bodies of pilgrims and priests.

Rastafarian pilgrims; really nice guys, they were happy to talk about their religion and customs. The churches of Lalibela are pilgrimage sights for Orthodox Christians, and, of course, Ethiopia is the land of Haile Salaisse, ‘King of Kings,’ whom Rastafarians believe to have been the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

It’s quite amazing how the churches were carved out of one huge piece of rock.




Traditional coffee set. I’m going to miss the coffee from Ethiopia – it’s so fresh; the beans are often roasted in front of you in a ceremony involving incense.

Each church has a priest who lives in a cave annex inside the complex.

A large group of pilgrims were gathered in one of the churches, being blessed by the priest and chanting and playing hypnotic, mesmerising music with bells and big drums. I stood in there for ages, watching, taking everything in – it was quite extraordinary.

Large shelters have been built over some of the churches, to prevent weather damage.


One afternoon, we went in search of coffee and, after asking a girl where we could get a good cup, were invited into her home, a traditional mud/twig building. We sat amongst the family (four generations) and were treated to a coffee ceremony and offered food. Although we couldn’t really communicate very much verbally, they were so genuinely warm and welcoming. And we were total strangers – how often would that happen at home? I really enjoyed sharing their company; a privilege.


My room at the hotel. We met up with some others from the truck who’d also decided to visit Lalibela (they got the bus from Bahir-dar). They were all paying ten times as much for a room as us, at a fancy tourist hotel, and were horrified to hear how cheap we’d managed to get things. Saying that, our rooms were ten times rougher than theirs; no fancy en-suites for us!


Flying back to Gondar was even bumpier than on the way out, with thick, low clouds.

Lake Tana, which we crossed a few days previously. This is the source of the Blue Nile, just as the White Nile flows out of Lake Victoria in Uganda. That’s both Niles’ sources visited, and I plan to go up to Alexandria after the trip finishes in Cairo, so, I will have seen the river at both ends.


Gondar University, one of the best in the country.

Upon return to the truck, Mike had left Lee this, a deadly bow and arrow he’d been working on for the past couple of weeks. Bow and arrows have become his obsession during the past couple of months – he’s been perfecting the art, with each one more dangerous than the previous. This one’s Mk-5…

He’ll have some fun with that bush camping in Sudan.

This featured blog entry was written by AlTiffany2 from the blog Alex's Round the World Gap Year.
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Does all that coffee talk have you thirsting for a fresh brew? Creators of Coffee has a handy guide on the best coffees to use for a french press.

By AlTiffany2

Posted Thu, Aug 18, 2011 | Ethiopia | Comments