Saturday, January 25, 2014

Top Ten Destinations, Number 3 - Ethiopia

Huts in Lalibela
Back to Africa for number three as we enter the upper echelon of the top ten, countries that just blew me away. I had planned for many years to go to Ethiopia, it had been part of a previous itinerary that got changed, in fact it had been up there with countries I most wanted to visit even since I started looking into Africa around 2002.

Streets of Addis Ababa

In 2009 I finally took the chance to go there in a trip that included Dubai and also Jordan (a country that also was pretty special). I flew in to Addis Ababa on Emirates in November 2009 and spent a glorious 19 days in this astounding country. And just scratched the surface too, that’s something I am often guilty of.
Addis Ababa itself is in fact a decent African capital city. It’s very hilly, and has a bit of character, but is also reasonably compact (although probably in the end you will need to use taxis). The National Museum is worth a peek for the replica of the bones of ‘Lucy’, the skeletal remains of a woman reputedly 3.2 million years old. Okay, she’s just a skeleton, but for 3.2 million years old she looks pretty darn good. And if you’re like me you won’t be able to resist by talking to the skeleton in your best Desi Arnez voice and say ‘Luuuuuuuucccccyyy!’

But let’s be honest, you’re probably not like me. 
And that’s not a bad thing.

A priest in a church in Lalibela
Church of St George, Lalibela.

Lalibela, a small town further north of Addis Ababa best reached by plane is surrounded by stunning
mountains and contains a series of rock-hewn churches, actually dug downwards into the rock. They are brilliant! Full of fleas? Yes! But hey, nothing’s perfect in this world. But going from church to church via rock passages and taking photographs of priests in sunglasses, not much beats that! They date back some 700-800 years. They are a real wonder of this world. If you ever get the chance, go see them!

Gondar's citadel.
Gondar is a bigger city a half-hour plane ride away from Lalibela. There’s a big citadel/castle there which was bombed by the British in World War II (damn those Brits!) but it’s still worth seeing. Further north I went to Debark and from there into the Simien Mountains.

Here I went higher than (I think) I’ve ever been before (when not on a plane). The trekking experience was extremely challenging for someone who’s as unfit as I was, and still am. Around 20km a day, but it did get better after the second day when the altitude really hit me hard. The trekking is with donkeys, a guide and a scout with a gun in case animals attack.
Packing up the donkeys for the trek.
Speaking of animals there were a number of Gelada Baboons too see, antelopey type things and interesting black birds with a sort of Toucan-beak. We also had a cook, and the tent would be erected for us before we arrived at the campsite so that part was pretty cushy, it’s true. Still, my first time at over 4000 metres is one I will never forget, and a very special experience in my life.

Crossing the river.

Bahar Dar is back southwards towards Addis Ababa. It sits on the serene Lake Tana. Get on a boat and take it to the Zege Peninsula. It’s a beautiful stretch of land with a number of interesting monasteries and some wonderfully lush vegetation.

Not far also from Bahar Dar is the Blue Nile Falls. Getting to the falls, as with any journey in Ethiopia, is half the fun and almost the point of the adventure. You take a boat across a river, and then walk around a kilometre to get to a point below the falls, perfect for photos. I was lucky to go at a time when the water was
Painting in a church, in a monastery on the Zege Peninsula.
gushing, because the dam gates were open thanks to plenty of water up-river. It was a stunning sight, but warning that’s only because I was there at the right time.
And so that’s a VERY brief summary of my time in Ethiopia. I only went to the northern part of the country and I hardly covered much of that section, let alone the rest of the country. It’s my favourite African country (although I really enjoyed Cameroon and Mali is great too) and I would encourage people thinking of exploring somewhere in Africa, to consider Ethiopia.

If you would like to know more about MY time in Ethiopia, here’s a link to my ebook –

The top ten so far:

10 – Slovakia
9 – Romania
8 – Mali
7 – The United Kingdom
6 – Japan
5 - Central Asia
4 – Laos
3 – Ethiopia

Only two countries remain. What will they be? 

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