Ethiopia?! Yes, Ethiopia. Right Now.

Blue Nile
The Blue Nile starts at Lake Tana, and is full of tourist-eating crocs.

Close your eyes for a second, and picture Ethiopia. What do you see?

I bet you three bucks you’re wrong. I’m willing to wage such high stakes given all the people that scrunched up their faces and went “Really, why would you want to go there?” as if I had blurted out that I wanted to visit downtown Baghdad.  And I get it, I really had no idea what Ethiopia was either. I had the Bob Geldof songs in my head from the Live Aid efforts in the 80s, I’d seen the heartbreaking charity commercials that make you uncomfortably change channels.  Dry, dusty, dismal.

Despite my impression of Ethiopia, I was still desperately curious and inexplicably smitten. Ethiopia had been whispering my name for years. I can’t explain it – my travel cravings have always been based on a gut feeling colliding with my insatiable curiosity.  I just knew I had to see it.

Ethiopia Girl
See? I just won 3 bucks didn’t I? It’s ok, you can buy me a tea sometime.

I started to do a little homework. National Geographic would inspire dreams of Indiana Jones style adventures in buried churches. I’d frighten my mother with stories of barefoot cliff climbing, no strings attached. Dilapidated boats in crocodile infested waters.  Bustling cities and mysterious foods.  Smitten devolved into crazed stalker-like obsession. (I apologize to my ever-tolerent friends who endured my love poems to Ethiopia.) But no photos, blogs or glossy magazines could have prepared me for this.  If only there were words sufficient enough to capture Ethiopia. You’ll just have to bear with my meager attempt – or better yet, discover it for yourself.

Abuna Yemata
I climbed up there. Barefoot, with no strings attached. Diapers recommended.

How To Get There

I have a terrible confession to make. I’d been to Africa 3 times prior to my Ethiopian escapade, and had brushed of Ethiopian Airlines each time – despite their less expensive tickets. I had flown on an African airline or two and felt a little uneasy about it all.  Zambezi Airlines, now defunct, had a terrible safety record and was banned from landing in most countries. I left my fingernails embedded in their seats while I held on for dear life. I had just lobbed the airlines together in my narrow little mind.

Ethiopian Airlines
With daily flights all over Ethiopia, these guys deliver you to all the cool stuff.

Well, I was wrong again – Ethiopian Airlines is a classy operation. Award winning, and part of the Star Alliance which includes Air Canada and Lufthansa, I’ve now taken 9 flights with them, basking in their hospitality and sleeping peacefully on their cushy new planes. Their windows do cool dimming tricks and their attendants make you feel at home. I even got a cute overnight kit with cozy socks. You can catch a direct flight from Toronto or Washington D.C. and start your African adventure sooner. And, in the interest of full disclosure, they also sponsored the flights on this journey – though the naps and opinions are entirely mine.

What To Eat

Everything you can get your hands on.  Okay, well, maybe not everything. My first full day in Ethiopia I was terribly excited to meet Lucy – the 3.2 million year old skeletal remains of a young woman. She’s encased in a lovely display in Addis Ababa’s National Museum of Ethiopia. I was charmed, but it was a very short visit. A quick hello followed by a mad dash to some bushes out in front of the building. Horrified school children scattered while my dinner from the previous night made a second appearance.

bad_salad
This salad was so tasty! I like that you’re reading my story, so I won’t tell you what it did to me.

I had been destroyed by one of the most delicious salads I had ever had. Loaded up with fruit, fresh greens and other slivers of goodness, it was exactly what I needed after a long day of travel. Sadly, I had forgotten Rule #1 about eating in Africa… do not eat the salad.  My delicate little North American stomach wasn’t quite prepared for fresh foods washed in African waters. So, experiment, eat what you’d like, just make sure it’s cooked until everything is thoroughly dead. My guide kindly scurried into the local pharmacy and bought an ominous looking pill. The English words I spotted on the label listed a variety of scary sounding worms. I don’t know what a hookworm is, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want one.  The package advertised that the pill was sugar free – because calories are a top concern when buying worm pills.

ethiopia_food
Whether it’s goat (or was it sheep?) injera and wat, or freshly caught perch, you’ll drool. Have a bib handy.

I ate random meats, I’m not sure what they were, other than delicious. I didn’t love injera, but whatever globs of goodness they put on top were scrumptious.  And that perch? Caught just that morning from Lake Tana. I drool just looking at the photo. And yes, they’re served on a bed of mashed potatoes – for that rare and fleeting bit of homesick.

Where to Stay

Ethiopia was the seventh country on my Africa checklist. Previously, I had slept in rat infested huts, shared my lodgings with bulging-eyed bats that dangled from the ceiling, spiders the size of Fiats, and cockroaches that could carry off a small child. I’ve had monsters build nests in my toes while I slept, and rooms that I am certain had been transformed form a prison cell – with large padlocks on the outside of the door and smelling of misery.

My experience in Ethiopia was quite exactly the opposite. I basked in crisp white linens, scattered with rose petals. Furniture fit for kings, thatched-roof front porches perfect for sunny afternoon naps, robes that inspired you to do your best Hefner impression. One of my rooms came with a kitten. I’m not even kidding. Waaaay better than cockroaches.

Ethiopia_Sleeps
Collapse into cozy sheets after a hard day of basking by the pool.

Check out the Kuriftu suite of luxury resorts and spas – I stayed in a few of their locations – Bahir Dar, Lake Tana and their Guesthouse in Addis Ababa. I was pampered, rubbed, polished and fed until I was stuffed at each of them. The service was astonishing – at the Guesthouse I had my very own butler. I would sneak out into the hallway in the middle of the night just to see if he was still there, and he’d come running. Looking back, it was likely poor behaviour – but I had my own butler! You’d do it too.  I’ve been told Ethiopians pride themselves on hospitality, and that typical of was my experience.

What To Do

When you’re not testing the dedication of your butler, there’s oodles of things to keep you entertained.  On Lake Tana, you can visit the source of the Blue Nile, say hi to the hippos, but watch out for the crocs – apparently they’ve developed a taste for tourists. Visit the lake’s island monasteries, where the nuns and monks have to endure tests of temptation to prove their purity before being selected for island life. My guide refused to tell me more about these tests, but he did blush.

Ethiopian Adventures
Secret hidden churches, croc infested waters, death defying climbs, what’s not to love?

Got a thing for churches? This is the place for you. The buried churches of Lalibela will leave you gobsmacked. And if you’re ridiculous and have a thing for risk, I double dog dare you to visit Abuna Yemeta Gah, a church tucked away high up on a cliff in the northern Tigray region. Hundreds of metres up, you scale a wall with only bare feet and steel nerves. You should wear a diaper, it’s that scary, but my goodness it’s worth it. The centuries old el fresco paintings, were closely guarded by a young priest. The guides will lead you up in their 1980s jelly sandals as though they’re simply taking a stroll up the street. Show-offs. I was too scared to do a video of my own, but this one makes my palms sweat even after the adventure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8059xQ48T70

Abuna_Priest
Hundreds of metres up, tucked into a cliff,  is Abuna Yemata Gah is one of Ethiopia’s many hidden churches.

Go. Right now.

Ethiopia has a rich cultural heritage, and anyone I bumped into had a story to tell, and were quite knowledgeable about their country. No doubt, Ethiopia has had a tough past. It’s heartbreaking really. More than just the famine that we heard of in the west, but effectively a genocide, a civil war, rebels, landmines and scars. But this land is miles more than just bruises – it’s a country moving forward. Museums tell the story of the past, but with a voice of moving forward towards peace. The economy is now booming and Ethiopia is under construction. It’s a deeply religious country – a blend of Orthodox Christianity and Islam, and they seem to get along swimmingly. The music is captivating, and the traditional dancing is fascinating (and terribly embarrassing when they make you join in!)  The people are quick to flash a smile and were nothing but kind – despite many warnings of pushy people, I never once felt unsafe or pursued.  This is not the Ethiopia of the 80s, it’s the Ethiopia of right now, and it’s begging to be discovered.

Go, and say hi to the kitten for me.

A very big thank you to my trip sponsors. Considerations were provided by Ethiopian Airlines, Kuriftu Resorts, and Ethiopian Holidays, however all opinions are mine. If you’re thinking about heading to Ethiopia, my experience with each of these organizations was exceptional. If you’d like contacts, connections or more tips, just drop me a line.

27 Responses

  1. andualem
    | Reply

    thank you for this wonderful information about Ethiopia. i am really happy about your experiance in our country.

  2. abraham
    | Reply

    Oh thank u for visiting our country and for your beautiful words, am pretty sure this gonna help change our image.
    Finally I just wanna say you have only scratch the surface of our magnificent nation.

  3. Anonymous
    | Reply

    Wow this is amazing country , all people are see to Ethiopia , Respect our country !!!

  4. welldat
    | Reply

    dear madam i have read your aticle you write about ethiopia. first of all i thank you for your smart and very clear and expresional article about our beloved and beautiful country ethiopia.

    as you have allready mentioned the east african nation is ful of and an examplary of tollerance and respection of nationas and nationality and relgion.
    besides , now adys itis one of the fast growing nations in the world and its economic growth is a double digit per year.

    the county has so many cultural.religious, and naturally well known sites and fromt that 10 of them is internationally known and regitered in the UNESCO.

  5. Dawit
    | Reply

    Michelle,

    you are wonderful. Optimistic, hopeful, respectful, happy, open-minded and nice individuals are behaving and doing the things the way you are.
    The English journalists, travelers, Scholars, writers and others that are attacking Ethiopia in an all out war stile for so long with feeling they are using WMD including nuclear intentionally destroying the country image and undermining the ancient Ethiopian people, can learn from the best 21-century human beings like you and stop the crimes they are committing against Ethiopia.

    Your attitude towards Ethiopia and its citizens is giving you a 100% life time best relationship and always welcome response from Ethiopia. As you know, Ethiopia has the best weather throughout the year, equally divided day (sun rise) and night time, ancient and nice people, the best location and the best landscape with abandoned natural resources many of them have to be discovered yet.
    So, you can make Ethiopia your home to be happy and satisfied in life while sharing your goodness, knowledge and experience with the people that are in need like you for new and good behavior and knowledge.

    Stay positive, hopeful and optimistic as you are while doing the things those have to be done in order to have the real results and benefits. That is what Ethiopians are doing. They are on the mission no one would stop them but achieving the goals they are looking for. Ethiopia is a country contains 78% the entire African mountains and highland. She is the roof of Africa by nature and soon will be on the top with human activities, too.
    Be part of it, at least working closely with the Ethiopian airlines, Tourism industries and so on. It is easy to see what kind human being you are. Hoping, those … from England can learn from you and at least would stop intentionally affecting Ethiopia including portraying Ethiopia bringing back decades old bad situations. They are also using other African nation’s bad situations in order to destroy the Ethiopian image as if it’s really related to Ethiopia.

    However, no one cares about their Gossip anymore. They are already exposed. The world knows who is who and what is what.
    You are one of the best world citizens doing the right things with positive approach and great hope based on the realities on the ground.
    You are a nice young lady and warm human being.

  6. Anonymous
    | Reply

    Thanks for your good information about Ethiopia!

  7. Cororima
    | Reply

    Thanks Michelle and spread the word! I am glad you had a good time in Ethiopia. However, I would like to tell you that you just visited and saw some of our beautiful country’s sites. Please come back and see the other major tourist attractions you had not chance to see and witness. More than any country in Africa, Ethiopia has 10 UNESCO registered world heritage sites and more on the pipe line and under review by UNESCO. Ethiopia is a treasure island of amazing natural and cultural World Heritage Sites on the UNESCO list: http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/et
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_Heritage_Sites_in_Ethiopia

  8. Sol
    | Reply

    Thank you miss, I hope people understand that Ethiopia is the land of tolerance and Hermony with different religions,nations and nationalities with their own tradition and culture .

  9. […] Read more at: EatDrinkTravel […]

  10. zolba
    | Reply

    8 years younger when you go to Ethiopia, A Christian calendar, it is now 2007. New year on Sept 11, been that way for millennia.
    Time counting, day break hour 1 – day end hour 12, night break hour 1 – night end hour 12, so easy, so reasonable, so natural. No PM or AM BS.

    A culture that promotes hospitality and compassion, smiles everywhere.

    I was blown away by Ethiopia. (Not to mention the gorgeous ladies that melt away the heart of single guys like me)

  11. Ghion
    | Reply

    Thank you Michelle, My experience resonates exactly like yours. I was born in Ethiopia, but lived outside of Ethiopia for 40years and came back to Ethiopia to visit after 40 years.
    Wow! What a country! I love it, 13 months of sunshine and most definitely an ancient mysterious land and people. I find Ethiopia mysteriously historical and unbelievably beautiful landscape.
    Once more again, thanks Michelle for beautifully articulated article about this mysterious ancient land of Ethiopia.

  12. Dr. Haben
    | Reply

    Dear Michelle,
    Thank you for reminding the world, that Ethiopia is indeed the home of astonishing rock Hewan churches and a place with great civilization that possibly represents Africa. its people, proud but yet open their arms to host and provide the never-ending hospitality to people whom travel long distance with interest to visit the country, see the beautiful landscape, and the ambient temperature that nature could offer.
    Finally, I would like to appreciate and admire for your curiosity, interest and exploring the continent of Africa to be close and find-out the human antiquity and origin of our ancestors.
    Keep it up !!! wish all the best where ever you go.

  13. […] Read more at: EatDrinkTravel […]

  14. Solomon
    | Reply

    very well done article. being an Ethiopian, I would like to thank you telling the facts and potentials in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is an amazing country.

  15. Andom
    | Reply

    Well written article. Many thanks Michelle! We’re very glad to hear about the good experience you had in our magnificent country! Thanks God, those days are gone that we were known of drought, famine and war, and now people are talking about our untapped human and natural resources, great hospitality and bright future. My greatest appreciation goes to those who sacrificed their most precious life to bring about the change we all are witnessing and the fruits we’re enjoying. We hope to see you and your compatriots to come again and again for the many more to come – and enjoy the 13 months of sunshine. Stay blessed!

  16. Yalew
    | Reply

    Good aticle! If you come back again, I will recommend a tour Danakil depression, Dallol and Ertale volcano to feel like you are in different planet. Southern part of the country, you can see people villages to understand their culture. I also recommend GETTS travel & tours services for your great experience. http://WWW.getts.com.

  17. Girum
    | Reply

    Really great article and pictures about Ethiopia. I am going to share it on our facebook page.
    Facebook.com/SodereEethiopia
    Twitter.com/SodereEthiopia

  18. Girum
    | Reply

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Really great article and pictures about Ethiopia. I am going to share it on our facebook page.
    Facebook.com/SodereEthiopia
    Twitter.com/SodereEthiopia

  19. yeLegehar
    | Reply

    Mrs Holmes it has been a pleasure to read your experience in Ethiopia. I would like to thank you for your positive and encouraging remarks and appreciation of the friendly and polite people you met. Your admiration for the wonderful landscape which, among others, comprises numerous hot springs, beautiful lakes and a variety of wildlife. As an Ethiopian myself, I was very much impressed by what I have seen after decades of absence from my country. I am talking of the natural beauty the country has to offer. There are amazing places and a landscapes of enormous magnificence with fourteen major wildlife reserves. The Blue Nile Falls(“Tis Esat”), must rank as one of the greatest natural spectacles in Africa today. There are of course many attractions which awaits the curious visitor.

  20. Anonymous
    | Reply

    Hi Michelle,

    Quite a remarkable article. I could not stop smiling while reading each sentence. A candid eye witness for a country portrayed as the poorest of the poor. I am glad you tell the world it is the land of plenty!!! Come back and see more!!

  21. Groom
    | Reply

    Hi Michelle,

    Thank you for this well written article.

    I was born in Addis and left the country as a young man. I have now been away from Ethiopia for 25 years. I am aching to go back and be part of the new development and start a business. I hope that I will get the courage to go back.

    Thanks for taking back to my birth place. Have a wonderful day. May the God of Ethiopia bless you and your family for this good work.

  22. IbraHIM
    | Reply

    Dear Michelle,

    What an article! you have depicted it very well. The international media portrayed Ethiopia always for the bad side.

    • Anonymous
      | Reply

      Sorry meant to say Michelle.

  23. Anonymous
    | Reply

    Thank you Michael! Many people specially in West think of Ethiopia differently hope this article will help them to understand the real Ethiopia.

  24. […] Despite my impression of Ethiopia, I was still desperately curious and inexplicably smitten. Ethiopia had been whispering my name for years. I can’t explain it – my travel cravings have always been based on a gut feeling colliding with my insatiable curiosity.  I just knew I had to see it. Read More http://www.eatdrinktravel.com/ethiopia-yes-ethiopia-right-now/ […]

  25. Maryihun
    | Reply

    THIS IS A WONDERFUL ARTICLE ON THE ETHIOPIAN TOURIST SITES.THANK YOU HOLMES FOR VISITING OUR BEAUTIFUL AND MAGNIFICENT COUNTRY,ETHIOPIA.IT IS A GOOD ACCOUNT OF OUR BELOVED AND ANCIENT COUNTRY WITH COLORFUL MONASTERIES AND ROCK HEWN CHURCHES OF GHERALTA SUCH AS ABRAHA ATSBAHA, DEBRETSION.ABUNE ABRAHAM AND OTHERS. SO, I WOULD LIKE TO THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONCERN ABOUT OUR COUNTRY. THANK YOU.

  26. Maryihun
    | Reply

    NOWADAYS,ETHIOPIA IS BECOMING THE WORLD S MOST ATTRACTING DESTINATIONS OF THE AFRICAN CONTINENT.IT HAS ALSO BECOME THE FOURTH LARGEST ECONOMY IN AFRICA.IT IS ALSO ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING ECONOMIES IN THE WORLD.THIS IS DUE TO THE GENUINE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL POLICIES AND STRATEGIES DESIGNED BY OUR LATE PM MELLES ZENAWI.THESE POLICIES AND STRATEGIES ARE MULTI-FACETED AND INTEGRATED.ESPECIALLY OUR FOREIGN POLICY IS BASED UPON PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE AMONG THE NEIGHBOURS AND IN THE HORN IN GENERAL.ETHIOPIA IS APEACE MAKER IN AFRICA AND IN THE WORLD.PEACE AND STABILITY HAS MADE IT SO ATTRACTIVE TO SO MANY TOURISTS AND INVESTORS.FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT IS COMING ABUNDANTLY.WE HOPE OUR COUNTRY WILL BE AMONG THE MIDDLE INCOME COUNTRIES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

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