Dream of Africa – the faraway lands, the excitement of discovery, the awakening of the senses, the adventures. Africa may not be on your top destinations you want to visit. Too expensive or too dangerous, we are always finding excuses not to go there. But sometime, chance or romance will lead us to places we never dreamed about.
“In the past, I’ve visited remote places – North Korea, Ethiopia, Easter Island – partly as a way to visit remote states of mind: remote parts of myself that I wouldn’t ordinarily explore.” – Pico Iyer
Once again, chance brought me to East Africa this time. Planning a trip to Bangkok and having enough Air Canada Aeroplan miles for a free ticket, I started searching. When I was ready to book the flight, the Toronto – Addis Ababa – Bangkok itinerary came up with a layover of 16 hours day time in Addis, courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines. Perfect timing for one day in Addis Ababa!
I arrived in Addis early in the morning after 13 hours flight. But going out from the Bole Airport, wasn’t easy. It took two hour standing waiting time to receive the hotel voucher, included for long layovers like this one.
The good thing I booked online a tour guide – this saving a lot of time and trouble. When I arrived at the Ambassador Hotel in Addis, my tour guide Emmanuel from Afro Ethiopia Tour was already there.
We planned the itinerary and he convinced me to use his car instead of the public transportation (since I choose the “budget” tour).
And here we are, stuck in the traffic jam of Addis! Drivers will watch me curiously and they will engage with my guide often, joking and laughing. On the street, very old Ladas (Russian made cars) are still running alongside with not so old Toyotas. On the sidewalks, people are selling their merchandise or bananas hiding from sun under umbrellas. When the cars stop, sellers and beggars navigate between cars trying their luck.
Taking photos from inside the car helped to capture the people as they are, unguarded and unaware of being photographed.
Let’s start the tour in a succession of places accompanied by images.
First stop: Merkato – the largest open-air market in Africa. It is like being on another planet. Photos and words cannot properly describe this place. You must be there to experience it yourself.
Time for lunch at Itegue Taitu Hotel! Taitu is the first hotel built in Ethiopia in 1905.
Here I tried the traditional Ethiopian food, buffet style: “injera” – spongy flatbread with vegetables, meat and sauce toppings. Eat with the hands like the locals – more tasty.
After good food, a Habesha Gold beer is a blessing!
After lunch we drove to the sacred mountain, Entoto – the place of Maryam Church and Emperor Menelik II palace.
The road was winding up through the eucalyptus forest, being only interrupted by openings that offered good viewpoints of Addis.
I was impressed to see women, even very old, descending the mountain and carrying big loads of brushwood to sell in the city.
The colourful Maryam (St. Mary) Church has an octagonal shape and an interesting museum with religious and royal items.
Menelik II was the founder of modern Ethiopia. His third wife, Empress Taytu Betul created the foundation of Addis Ababa which means “new flower“.
She is 3.2 million years old, she is small and kind of cute! “Lucy” got the name from the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles song played repeatedly at the archaeological site where she was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.
You can find Lucy at the National Museum of Ethiopia together with other archaeological and historical items, royal paraphernalia, art and ethnographic displays.
“Ethiopia is like nowhere else on the planet, a beautiful country blessed with a peerless history, fabulous wildlife and some of Africa’s most soulful peoples.” – Lonely Planet
Your Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate!
At the time I bought the airplane ticket, it wasn’t a requirement to have the certificate. Addis Ababa is not in a yellow fever area (but other parts of Ethiopia are). I was surprised being denied entry in Thailand until I checked with the Health Station from Suvarnabhumi Bangkok airport. Lucky, I took with me the yellow fever vaccination certificate from eight years ago when I was in West Africa.
Your Travellers’ Diarrhea Medicine!
“Montezuma’s Revenge” got me in Bangkok, soon after I left Addis Ababa, and it was nasty. Needed antibiotics.
One way to prevent diarrhea is to take Dukoral (oral vaccine) at least two weeks prior your trip.
Addis Ababa is pretty safe, compared with other parts of Ethiopia – but pickpocketing and various scams are common, especially in the Merkato.