A Travellerspoint blog

Return to Addis

sunny 82 °F
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Spent a nice day in Harar just walking around mostly. Lots of little alleyways in which to wander....really lively Muslim market with veggies, meat, baskets and the like. We took a tuk tuk a few km out out of town after dark to watch the "hyena men" calling in the hyenas. Apparently started about 90 years ago with people thinking if they fed the hyenas it would appease them to the extent that they could co-exist peacefully. Another version of the tradition was such that villagers would set out porridge for the hyenas and the degree to which they at it foretold how prosperous the next year would be.

Now days, the hyena men take out scraps of meat from the market and call the animals in after dusk. Feeding them with their hands and even from their own mouths. The hyenas are still very cagey acting but at the same time come right up to their feeders. The men who do this were taught by their fathers and the skill is passed through the same family apparently. We did not take part in the feeding although the offer was extended to us.

After a local bus ride to Dire Dawa we boarded a small plane that was approxiametly 200 degrees for the forty minute flight back to Addis. Damn near missed thing flight as well due to having to off load about 700 pounds of onions off the top of the bus before we could be taken to th airport.

Staying a really nice little place with 10 rooms and a beautiful outdoor central area here in Addis. Walked around a bit today and went to a really nice art gallery. Flight leaves tomorrow at 4pm and back into Seattle early Monday morning.

Wifi here is really good so was able to put up a few of the pics from our trip out to the Danakil.

Love to you all - it's been a great trip!


Posted by madpax 06:31 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)

Highway to Harar

80 °F
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So what was supposed to happen yesterday was this: We were to wake up in Mekele and take the 9am flight to Addis. Directly from the Addis airport we had arranged for a driver to take us directly to Harar which is about an 8 hour drive. We figured we would get in around 7pm....check into the guesthouse the company we have used in the past couple of weeks had booked for us....and maybe have a walk around town before bed.

What actually happened was directly this:

We did wake in Mekele as planned but when we arrived at the Addis airport, there was no driver. A local tried to help us out and after a couple calls to the travel office much waiting, someone finally materialized. Off to Harar we thought. Not so fast. He had no idea about Harar and was just going to take us to the travel office which in rush hour traffic took a while. Not sure why we had to make a trip to the office but okay.

Got to the office and they said we would leave in 20 minutes. Almost two hours later we finally end up with a driver and start off in a rickety little van with no seat belts. This is important later. A few blocks later we pick up another dude who is to be our "guide".

The first couple of hours we drove it was clear our driver had very few skills and our "guide" spoke little to no english. There were many big trucks on the highway coming to and from the port in Djbouti as Harar is reached by the main road in that direction.

As the day wore on our driver's lack of skills became more alarming. We have driven with some pretty daring and wild drivers in our travels but this dude took the cake. He was not daring. He simply was not in control of the vehicle. I don't know if it was bad eyesight, poor mechanics or just terrible driving. Likely all three. We had so many close calls I lost count. We went off the road several times and came so close to hitting people, animals, etc on a constant basis. Kelsey told him to slow down many times but it never lasted. I dreaded nightfall as the day wore on and for good reason. Once it got dark (coupled with the fact it was raining) matters just deteriorated. I finally had to lay down and just hold on as I couldn't stand watching the shit driving any longer.

FINALLY reached Harar around 10:30pm to discover that neither the driver or the "guide" had a clue where to go. In fact, it turned out the "guide" had never been there before. How they hell was he supposed to guide us we wondered? We stopped and asked directions to our guesthouse the travel company had booked several times. Nobody seemed to know for sure. We had a map from our guidebook that seemed like it may be helpful but in the sheer chaos of the situation (and the communication barrier), neither the "guide" or the driver would listen. They were beating on random doors, talking to strangers in the street, etc. Creating a proper scene and starting to draw a crowd. Finally Kelsey got so pissed (and I as well), we took all our crap out of the van and started walking on our own.

Harar is a smallish town but built within an old city wall where the streets and alleyways curve and wind with no reason. There are no signs to guide you etc. Luckily the guidebook map was semi-accurate and with the help of a passerby, we found the guesthouse. All the while our "guide" is walking behind us flipping out because we dumped him.

We got to the guesthouse thinking our ordeal was over. Wrong. Waking the nice lady who ran the guesthouse (4 rooms in her home) at what was now 11:30pm, we found out that the travel company had never made the booking and she was full. No rooms. Just having drug our bags and ourselves through dark alleyways of poop and garbage for 20 minutes to find the place and no. That was the end of the rope. There was a lot of angry conversation and in the end, the nice lady allowed us to sleep in a storage in her home. I think she saw how spent we were and likely knew we didn't have many choices. Of course our shit driver hadn't allowed for any stops so we had not eaten since breakfast and she even offered to make us some food. As hungry as we were, we actually declined and collapsed in the storage room for a few hours of sleep.

This morning we woke and went to find a hotel of our own.....unfortunately the nice lady's home was booked or we would have stayed there. She did offer for us to stay in the storage room again which was nice. She also made us breakfast this morning which was much appreciated.

I called the travel company and told them I would not be getting back in that van with Beavis and Butthead so they have booked flights for us back to Addis tomorrow afternoon instead.

In then end, yesterday was complete shit but today was a great day. We walked around the Muslim market and picked up a few souvenirs. The hotel we sorted for ourselves is decent with a nice restaurant/bar area outside. We just had an amazing lunch and several beers for about 17$. And I am fairly certain we each had the most expensive thing on the menu! This evening we are going just outside the city gates to see the hyenas that come into town to be hand fed by the hyena. Apparently this has been going on for many years.

The photos are still giving me trouble so I've given up now...will post them when we get home.

Hope all is well with everyone - love to you all.

Posted by madpax 07:02 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)

Danakil Depression

sunny 105 °F
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We have just arrived back from the Danakil Depression and have had a well needed shower. We were supposed to fly out tonight to Addis Ababa and but have decided to change our flight and leave in the morning instead. We only slept for about 2 hours last night.....

The Danakil is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. It is home to the Afar people who are semi-nomadic and primarily muslim. They regard themselves to be the oldest of Ethiopia's ethnic groups. These are some of the hardiest people I have ever seen in my life. The region is extremely sparsely populated due I assume to the extreme conditions. They live amongst the blazing hot volcanic rock and blowing sand that dominates the landscape. There is no power. No water wells. Just their animals and very basic rock (sometimes stick) structures. Many years ago they were known to be very fierce and were said to chop off the testicles of foreigners who came to their land. Lucky for us they were extremely friendly and welcoming.

On the first day we drove 5-6 hours to our first campsite which was essentially a big open area with some straw cots outside to lay on. The guidebook says that the tiny village there is the hottest inhabited place on earth. It was around 105 most of the time and this is their winter. I cannot even imagine during the summer. That night we drove to the salt lake Asale to watch the caravans of camels laden with blocks of salt going to a buyer somewhere. We had to drive in convoys with military escort due to the security situation in the area not being good in years past.

The second day we hiked to the top of a hill in which there were sulfur pools and geysers that you could just walk right up to. Seemed a shame to be tromping all around as we were as so much of the ground underneath was so delicate. If someone were to get that close to the action in Yellowstone you would probably be ejected.

Later that day we went to a place where they were actually chopping the salt out of the crust of the salt lake. They would then chisel it down into similar size blocks to be loaded on the camels. The government has apparently decided that allowing anything more modern than the crude tools and camels would endanger the heritage. I am not so sure that is a good thing.

On our way to our sleeping spot we stopped to visit an Afar family's home. Think of an upside down bird's nest - that's basically how it was built. Not big enough to even stand up in, there was a small corner where it looked like a perpetual fire was going for cooking and then sleeping mats in the other corners. They had a baby camel only one month old who hadn't learned to be angry at the world yet so it was pretty cute.

That night we stayed in a homestay with a Muslim family who had extra rooms they let out to tourists. Had a nice home cooked meal and played with their children. Even managed to be talked into going into their personal quarters to dance to Ethiopian music videos they had on TV.

The next morning was time to make our way to the volcano, Erta Ale, which was to be the highlight of the trip we heard. The whole day was driving and some pretty terrible roads at that. By evening when we got to the foothills of the volcano we already felt spent from the rough driving. Taluko, our driver for the past 6-7 days has been really good though and we couldn't have asked for better. Once to the campsite, we had a dinner and they off we started for the hike to the volcano rim. Hiking only at night to avoid the heat of the day, it was about 13km one way and took us about 3-4 hours. It wasn't terribly steep but very rocky and one had to be watching your feet the whole time to avoid stumbling.

We got to the rim about 10 or 11pm. My biggest fear was falling in the damn thing out of pure exhausting as once again, there are no safety measures so you just walk literally up to to the very edge and look down in to this violently bubbling, belching lava lake. The heat of the thing was so intense and sometimes emitting an awful gas that you could only stand at the rim for a few minutes before having to take a break. Pictures do not do the the force of thing justice. It only one of only 6 permanently boiling lava lakes in the world and certainly the only one that you can walk up to like you can.

We slept for about 2 hours and then descended around 4:30am, again before the sun came out and melted us. After getting back to the camp, we had brekky and drove all the way back to Melele which is where we are now.

I cannot describe how smelly and dirty we were. Is all good now though. Getting ready to go out for dinner with our Portugese/Latvian friends as well as the most interesting couple we have ever met in all our travels.....an adorable Jewish couple in their 70's named Meka and Rochelle. This post is already too long as their stories go on and on for miles.....inspiring in so many ways they are. Like Kelsey said a couple of days ago....people like that are part of the reason we do this. We've learned a lot from them. Not the least of which, how to select a fine bottle of olive oil :)

PS - So wanted to post to pics but the power is out and wifi is completely whacked. Been trying to access the website to post this now for 2 hours. Maybe tomorrow.

Posted by madpax 07:46 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)


sunny 85 °F
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Our last day in Lalibela we spent visiting two monasteries. One just outside of town and the other about 40km away. The roads are not very good so 40km takes around an hour. The Chinese are here rebuilding the roads however so that should improve in the near future. They were both located under an overhang in the cliff that had been carved out what they said to be over 900 years ago. The first one we visited had water steadily dripping from the ceiling in what they believe to be Christ's tears. The drip is apparently constant and consistent regardless of rainy/dry seasons. There were large rocks situated below to collect the drops that had been there for so long that the steady dripping had eroded a bowl-like shape to each rock. The water that collects in the bowl is bottled up and sold as holy water. Our guide had brought along a plastic water bottle for just that purpose.

The other monastery was extremely ornate inside...big heavy doors, paintings still visible in the ceiling and apparently a real diamond in the ceiling. It is all so surreal standing under a cliff exposed to the outside as it is. Amazing that it has all lasted as long as it has. The back wall of the cave had hundreds of bones and mummified bodies of people many years ago who were lucky enough to be brought there when they died. We picked up some French kids on our way out to this monastery as they weren't budgeted to pay the amount being requested for the ride out. We were the only ones out there for the time we were there and it was definitely a highlight of Lalibela for me.

Earlier that day we also had a hike out to a small village high in the hills overlooking the town of Lalibela. Were able to go inside of one of the huts and have coffee made for us by the woman who lived there. She had four kids including one on her back and still managed to roast the coffee beans over the fire, grind them up and make fresh coffee. It was pretty amazing.

Yesterday morning we left for Mekele which is where we are now. It was about an 8 hour drive so a long day. It is a much bigger city than I had imagined - around 3 million people. Stark contrasts of shiny office buildings and hotels in the city center with traditional stone houses mixed in between. Main mode of transport around town are tuk tuks with the occasional car. On the outskirts of town there are both new mansions being built and centers where thousands of farmers are lined up to receive food and grain assistance due to the severe draught the region is experiencing caused by El Nino. This (Tigray region) and the Afar region are the hardest hit.

We now have a couple with us, one from Latvia and the other from Portugal. We will leave in a couple of hours for the Danakil Depression for four days....will be camping again so no access to wifi.

Love to you all.

Posted by madpax 20:05 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)


sunny 82 °F
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We left Gondar yesterday morning making the 6 hour drive to Lalibela. Driving here requires ones full attention at all times as there are people walking, playing, laying down and pushing each other into the road. This is in addition to all of the goats, donkeys and mules being herded on same said road. Had a close call with girl darting out from behind a bus which caused our driver to do about 5 signs of the cross afterward. He is a good driver though and we are happy to have him on these longer jaunts. Sounds like he will be with us through our trip out to the Danakil as well so will have him for 4-5 more days. Along the way we stopped at a little village and our driver introduced us to our first proper Ethiopian meal. A really nicely spiced meat with bread to use for scooping up and eating. I'm sold.

We drove through many villages on the way here. I had read before coming that less than 1% of the population owned a car which I found hard to believe. I now know that it is likely true. We have yet to see a true passenger vehicle that looks to be for a sole individual. Every vehicle on the road is either a truck, a mini-bus or tourist transport like ours. Not many tourists though - not as many as I would have expected. In the rural areas, the farming techniques are all without the benefit of machinery of any sort. There are many rocks so just the act of clearing the fields is back-breaking and tedious labor. Water wells are far and few between so you see the women and children carrying jugs long distances to collect what they can. So many things we've seen that it is hard to put into words really. Humbling is what it is. We have no idea sometimes.

We arrived in Lalibela last night and spent all of today touring the first grouping of churches, including the most famous St Georges. The churches themselves are around 900 years old and many are still used today by locals as well as Christian pilgrims. That most of the churches are carved downward into the bedrock is partially what makes them so unique. Each symbolizes something different for those who pray and worship there. Each church is guarded by a priest who watches after the old paintings and artifacts housed within. He will also have his picture taken for a tip which seems really odd to me as pious as they are held out to be. Kelsey bought a soccer ball for a group of kids who said there were on a team but didn't have one....said they were using a goat bladder or something. Team Obama they claim they are. I hope they do well.

Tomorrow we will visit another grouping of churches for most of the day and have our last night here. Hope all is well at home and will try to call you kiddos on what would be your evening of the 17th.

Love to you all.


Posted by madpax 09:42 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (3)

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