Back in August, Ian and I managed a long-anticipated recce trip to Ethiopia. It did not disappoint. It’s the mysterious, exotic destination of my imagination and really does feel as though you are stepping back to the 12th century at times.
My Trip Report is in two parts: Plus Points and Moot Points.
Read on for the Plus Points!
- Ethiopia is full of characteristic sensory stimuli such as the scent of incense, the taste of rich coffee, the other-worldly atonal chanting and the colours of the natural landscape and the ubiquitous swathes of shawls.
- The breadth and depth of its history and culture plus the extent to which the casual visitor can connect easily with this legacy is mind-boggling. Ethiopia is not just the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, home of our 3.2 million-year-old earliest ancestor, ‘Lucy’. It’s also the home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest forms of Christianity, with ancient churches decorated with enchanting, vividly coloured frescos or hewn from solid rock as if with heavenly assistance. The last emperor, the world-famous Haile Selassie (or Ras Tefari Mekonnen) claimed a lineage reaching back to the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. But this is not the most audacious of Ethiopia’s assertions, for the devout believe that the Ark of the Covenant is secreted in the ancient city of Axum in a Holy of Holies that only one man alive may see.
- The rock churches of Lalibela had been a major ‘bucket list’ item for all four seasoned travellers (and hugely spoiled and lucky travel professionals) who went on the northern ‘historical’ tour and it exceeded all our expectations.
- Though it was a gruelling travelling schedule (because we are diligent – as well as hugely spoiled and lucky travel professionals) , I feel that is was so different and so thought-provoking that I didn’t feel shattered on my return and I would willingly return to Ethiopia to visit certain places that we missed.
- Beautiful, interesting scenery. Lots of farms, villages and people going about their business to keep your attention on drives. And everyone (except in the tribal villages in the far south) is so industrious and busy; it is like a Breughel painting come to life.
- Ethiopians are a really open and friendly people, many of whom speak English as it is taught in school from the age of 7. We didn’t get to test how it would feel to walk about alone and you would probably get huge hassle from kids wanting pens etc. but I don’t think it would be a security risk.
- The coffee is, of course, very good and local beer and even local red wine (made in the Northern reaches of the Rift Valley) is pretty palatable and inexpensive.
- The ancient churches, palaces and monasteries are fascinating and utterly unspoiled by gift shops or visitor centres. To visit them now seems as though it is little different from when they were first ‘discovered’ by earlier western explorers and 18th century tourists.
- The country feels very peaceful and the two main religious groups (70% Christian and 30% Muslim) live alongside each other harmoniously, as we understand it.
- Ethiopian Airways is surprisingly pleasant with a modern fleet. Domestic flights are cheaper for those flying internationally with the state carrier, which is worth taking advantage of.
- We absolutely loved our guide, Melkamu, and we thought that our two drivers provided by our local handling agent, Dinknesh, whom we had for the 10 days in 4x4s in the south, were excellent.