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Ethiopia - Land of Mystery

simonEthiopia, Abyssinia, the land of mystery, the land that time forgot. Ethiopia holds many different thoughts and feelings to many different people - ancient kings and castles, famine, war, poverty, religion.

When telling people I was going to Ethiopia most people would reply "Why"?

I'd always wanted to go to Ethiopia. I had a fascination for the country, then realized years were flying by, I was getting older and still hadn't been, and I'd returned to other countries many times. So that was it. No more excuses, Ethiopia here I come.

I was lucky to leave the UK. Britain was under snow and as usual it had created havoc. 95% of all flights were cancelled, but luckily for me, mine was destined to fly.

As I arrived in Addis Ababa in the middle of the night, I went straight to a hotel, and only began to explore the next day. It's not a particularly impressive city and not being much of a city person anyway I headed straight out. I prefer to deal with capital cities at the end of my trip after gaining some experience of the country.

ethiopia1I got a mini-bus, leaving in the middle of the night, to Bahir Dar. Addis is in the middle of the country, Bahir Dar is north-west. I'd planned on doing a circle of the north, classically known as The Historical Circuit. The bumpy journey took about 10 hours. As the dawn broke the sunrise, views and scenery were stunning the whole way.

Bahir Dar is a lovely city on the edge of Lake Tana. Lake Tana is a beautiful lake 65km in circumference with islands, ancient monasteries and wildlife, including hippopotamuses. Long and short boats trips are available in the morning and afternoon to the islands and monasteries. Bahir Dar has everything you could need and you can also visit the Blue Nile Falls from here which is one of the sources of The Nile.gondor

A local bus north was next on the agenda to the historical city of Gondar, once the capital. A lovely, unique city filled with castles, Gondar has it's own charm.

From Gondar to Debark, I travelled north again on a local bus, taking about 6 hours. There's nothing amazing or beautiful about Debark. It's just the nearest town and entrance to the Simien Mountains. You can trek for as long or short as you wish but you need an armed scout (by law).  You need to buy everything for your trip in Debark. Once you step foot in the mountains there's not another shop. You can hire mules and mule men to carry your supplies, and hire cooks.


Trekking in the Simien Mountains is no easy task. When reaching heights of 4000 metres the altitude gets to most people, and temperatures of over 100 degrees in the daytime plummet to -10 as soon as the sun goes down. But if you're well equipped, fit and healthy and love the outdoors then this is one of the best trips you'll ever do in your life. The scenery is indescribable. The atmosphere so peaceful, as if time were standing still. There is unbelievable wildlife. It is a journey through nature and time.

The Ancient city of Axum was next, the supposed home to the legendary Ark of the Covenant. According to Ethiopian history, it was brought to Ethiopia by Menelik, son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. The only person allowed to see the ark is the man who guards it but you can see the church it's kept in. There are many stallae (obelisks) in Axum and ruins, but not to the level of those found in Egypt.

ethiopia2Axum, as well as Adwa and Adigrat, are far north, close to the Eritrean border. This northern area is covered in hundreds of ancient rock-hewn churches.

Lalibela was my next destination. I'd always dreamed of going there since hearing the beautiful name. It sounds as if it should be a lady's name but it was actually named after a king. By now I'd had enough of buses and my time was running out so I decided to fly there.  It was a 2 day drive or a half an hour flight. The plane didn't fly very high and with the clear skies the scenery was spectacular. Lalibela has the biggest, most amazing, ancient rock-hewn churches in all of Ethiopia - a must see. It also has it's own charm, character and uniqueness.

One interesting accommodation in Lalibela is the Tukul Village Hotel click where the round brick huts are a modern take on a traditional African hut, with large windows and balcony allowing greats views across the rural landscape.

From Lalibella it was back to Addis Ababa. I spent a couple of days wandering the city, checking out some landmarks and soaking up the atmosphere of the capital. And to soak up my own personal Ethiopia experience.

ethiopianmealEthiopians are reserved, proud, unique people. They have not much interest in western culture. Ethiopians prefer their own dress, food, music and culture. Religion is taken very seriously and plays a major part in society and everyday life. Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity involves long fasts which include abstaining from meat and dairy for certain periods of time. This makes the whole country a haven for vegans and vegetarians - you just need to ask for fasting food.

As in all third world countries, there's a certain amount of hussling, but nothing compared to many other third world and African countries. Most Ethiopians are friendly, kind, hospitable and helpful.

Visiting Ethiopia was an education as well as an enjoyable experience.