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Africa » Ethiopia » Addis Ababa Region
January 4th 2020
Published: January 4th 2020
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Addis Ababa

The flight was late arriving at Bole Airport in Addis Ababa and by the time I’d got through immigration, change some money and jumped into a taxi it was nearly midnight.

The streets of Addis were quiet apart from taxis most of them parked up and a surprisingly large number of working girls who seemed to be on every street we drove along.

“We don’t take bookings on the internet, sometimes over the phone but not the internet.”

The gateman at Ambassador Pension told my taxi driver. I had booked and paid for 2 nights at the Ambassador through a third party website who I had had my doubts about all along. The pension was now full so the taxi driver drove me around the corner where I checked out another place that had vacancies for the same nightly rate of 250 birr. The bed had clean sheets, the bathroom had running water (cold mind) and there was a lock on the door, this place would do for me. I paid for the room and slept well.

After sleeping well and eating a good breakfast near the pension I

Not sure who is taking the piss out of who.
was not really in the mood to find somewhere else. Sentayo, the guy on reception at the Nahom Pension smiled and said “OK you give me money.” When I told him I wanted to stay another night. Sentayo was an easy smiler and a bit of a giggler but I was happy that he encouraged me to try out a few words in Amharic even if he did give a little laugh after each of my clumsy attempts

“Are you a Protestant?” was not the first thing I thought I’d be asked by the smiling and very striking girl at the Ethio Telecom office at Edna Mall as she sold me a sim card for 30 birr and apologised that it was only 3G. Sim card secured I called home until my 15birr free credit ran out, bargain.

I then wandered around the Bole/Atlas area trying to find somewhere for a beer. It was daytime and still being a few days after orthodox Christmas I thought people would still be celebrating but I found nowhere to get a beer so ended up heading back to my gaff where I found the bar at the end of

Google translate has got a lot to answer for.
my road full with pool players and drinkers having a lunchtime beer.

After much deliberation in a conversation in broken English with the waitress I plumped for a St George ‘Jambo’ a draught beer. It went down lovely. During that afternoon several more Jambos followed. Well, at 15 birr for a glassful that was a tad less than a pint it was rude not too

“I like this bar,” I thought. There were around 9 pool tables in two rooms, a small counter and big fridge right next to the front door and like every cafe or bar I’d seen they also had a resident coffee seller somewhere behind a cloud of incense crouched behind an elaborate box of small coffee cups pots and various other paraphernalia that is needed for the serving of coffee but what comes over more like a coffee ceremony.

I’m not really a pool player but I was happy enough to watch the odd game. Some of the players were really quite good but what intrigued me was unlike in the UK where if your opponent hit a good shot you’d probably tell him so or just tap the pool table with a hand or cue to acknowledge your adversary’s skill; but not in Addis. No, the local custom here was to click your fingers in appreciation; one particular shot from a serious looking player caused a line of 3 seated spectators solemnly watching the game to spontaneously click fingers in unison. Well it tickled me!

Late afternoon the owner /manager arrived, a nattily dressed young bloke with a sharp haircut and the obligatory Addis Gents fashion of skinny black jeans with rips in the knees. He went around the whole bar shaking hands with every customer in the place (nice touch that I thought). With his arrival so did the decent music; it was still Ethiopian but he was now in charge of the sound system and put some real bangin’ tunes on. This place was getting better. I ended up drinking 7 beers but when I went to pay, the owner paid for one more and instead of the 105birr the bill had come to, he insisted I pay just 100. Top bloke and a top afternoon and evening in a rather good boozer!

On the short walk back
to my gaff I had to pass a place selling chat and being well oiled I didn’t take much persuading to join the gaggle of lads to chew for a while before turning in.

The next day I surfaced around 10. The morning chill of the Addis night was easing now and I sat in the warming sun as the two girls who worked at the pension cleaned my room. The younger of the two would smile at me sweetly and talk to me for several minutes in Amharinga and gave me a puzzled look when I couldn’t reply to her questions. It didn’t stop her though; she would try again, each time looking at me with that sweet smile thinking that this time I’d managed to understand what on earth she was on about.

At a women’s clothes shop just around the corner from where I was staying I would be invited in every time I passed. At first I waved them away with a smile then one time I thought it best I pop in to say hello. It was a shop that sold a lot of second hand clothes and the two girls who worked there would show me some of the clothes when I showed some interest and they would proudly show off the labels on some of the stock.”Look, Primark!”

They had just ordered some food and invited me to sit down and join them when their meal of shiro and njeera arrived. It was good, very good in fact, but it took a bit of getting used to having these girls gathering up some njeera soaked in the shiro and physically feeding me with their hands in true Ethiopian tradition. I’m not sure if it was a show of how hospitable they were that they always stuffed a bigger ball of food into my gob than I would have chosen to do so myself. Although I’m not really complaining as being hand-fed food by two beautiful women is not the worst of life’s experiences.


“It is a 4pm kick off”. I was told by one of the guys in the pub.

By 2pm I was already in the centre of town and passing the stadium and surprisingly I could see there were fans

One of the best atmospheres I've experienced at a football game.
already in the stands. I thought it too early to enter so I followed the crowds and settled in one of the gaggle of bars on the far side of the stadium. I was one of only a handful of individuals who wasn’t wearing St George colours of Yellow and red. There was a brilliant atmosphere and I was buzzing. It was like a young lad again going to my first footie match.

After a couple of draught beers I left to buy my ticket and enter the stadium. Security was tight; you were not allowed to enter with coins in your pocket so I bought some chewing gum rather than having the five 1birr coins chucked into a cardboard box by the armed policeman on the gate.

It’s amazing how big the crowds are when you only charge 10birr (30p) to get in, an absolute bargain. The fans were in full voice well before kick off with synchronised chants and responses and various accompanying hand gestures. Opposite ends of the stadium responded to chants from the other side, pretty much the whole ground was all St George fans apart from only about 500 fans supporting Defence force FC. The game started but I was still busy watching the fans, the football was poor but the support from the crowd was class. There were only a couple of violent scuffles and I was glad I was in the tamest part of the stadium. It was 5-1 to Saint George at the final whistle and I walked back to Haya Hulet well content as the evening got dark and colder.


If I was bundled onto a plane and placed blindfolded on a street in Addis Ababa I’d be able to tell which city I was in. There is a distinct smell to Ethiopia. In fact even the airport terminal has that same overpowering smell of incense, roasting coffee and the particularly unique smell of Ethiopian cooking; the smell of shiro is unmistakable. Thankfully most of the airport terminal doesn’t have the choking smell of piss which can be a not uncommon whiff on the streets of Addis.

My pension never provided a breakfast and I’m not that big on food first thing in the morning anyway so my first meal was often a late morning breakie or early lunch at the HD foods near my hotel. I guess rather than restaurant It would better be described as a burger and pizza joint that also rustled up a fair few Ethiopian classics. That early meal, quite often an egg sandwich would arrive with freshly cooked chips was excellent but evening times if I was eating at this establishment I tried to work my way through the vegetarian options on the menu.

The pizza margherita looked really good but hey, I can get one of those back home from Lidl so that first evening meal here was shiro. I well enjoyed the spicy sauce cooked in its own little clay pot and mopped up with a piece of njeera; the flat bread that looks like a cross between a large flat crumpet and a dish cloth. It is better than it sounds.

The chechebsha was a bit of a weird one, a dish of pieces of pitta bread cooked with chilli powder and honey!

When I returned to Addis from down south I discovered Teddy Snacks that sold some wonderful ful served with 3 bread rolls that they freshly baked on site. I usually plumped for
The Staff at Nahom PensionThe Staff at Nahom PensionThe Staff at Nahom Pension

My Ethiopian family
the ful special which along with the marvellous fava beans that were cooked till the verge of disintegration were served up with a tomato sauce and boiled eggs, a drizzle of oil was optional.

I was lead to believe Ethiopian food was hot but I found it more pungent and sour rather than spicy hot. Yoghurt here was good but I couldn’t get into the way Ethiopians ate it with added mustard, chilli powder and pepper!

Being a veggie was a doddle there being two vegan days a week in Ethiopia. I must say that though the locals fasted twice a week, they made up for it on meat eating days. Butchers shops are a common site adjoined to a bar so punters can have a few beers eating chunks of raw meat dipped in that mustard again! Their usually was a kitchen for those weird enough for wanting there meat cooked!

Shola market

Shola market was an easy 20 minute walk from where I stayed in Haya Hulet. I’ve always found African markets chaotic and at times downright dodgy. But Shola market was surprisingly calm, people were polite, I got good deals on everything that I bought. I was told the price of coffee pots before I went by the girl who sold coffee in my favourite bar and that was the price I was quoted at the stall. The spices and dried ful were also very reasonable. What is more, in the middle of the market was a great little bar. I walked in and was acknowledged by other drinkers with warm smiles and the cheap beer was served to me by a young waitress with a rather impressive traditional ‘chinstrap’ tattoo and a cross on her forehead. Excellent, what more could you want? Well possibly half decent toilets as the ones in the Shola market boozer are not exactly the best!

Bus ticket

I walked past the building that housed the bus company ticket offices a couple of times before I found it. Once inside the building I eventually found the Ethio bus company office that had busses to Dira Dawa. Ticket secured for the next day at 345 a pop I went back to my gaff and packed for the bus trip.

At 5 am the next morning I felt
rough and I shivered in the morning chill of Meskel Square, I felt rougher and colder once I was told the bus had been cancelled. A few other passengers had turned up to be told the same thing! I found a taxi and paid another 200birr back to Nahom guest house and had a couple of hours sleep before heading back into town.

I was returned 345birr fare when I presented my ticket at Ethio bus office.

“The road is closed but it could be open tomorrow or possibly the next day or maybe the day after.” I was told.

When buying my ticket a day earlier to Dira Dawa or as the girl who sold me ticket pronounced it a lot more fluently, more Diradwa than Dira Dawa; I had to give my phone number which was written on my ticket and also the carbon copy that was held by the bus company to text me if the bus had to be cancelled, but alas I never got that call or text.

“Sorry about that!” I was told when I enquired about it.

I’d set my heart on going to Dira Dawa and Harar so I was well flummoxed now as what to do and where to go. I sat at a nearby coffee stall had a couple of quick coffees and halfway through my second coffee I decided I’d go to Arba Minch instead. I decided on Arba Minch only because one of the force feeding 2nd hand Primark clobber sellers near my gaff was from there, and from the photos on her phone it did look really quite nice.

Several bus companies’ offices were housed in this central Addis building after asking at a few offices I was pointed in the direction of Zemen bus ticket office.

“You want to go to Arba Minch, tomorrow, one person?” I was asked.

I was well impressed with the way Arba Minch is pronounced, once again this place name was pronounced more fluently than the clumsy way this faranji pronounces it more of an “Arbahmeensh”.

“Yes please missus.” I answered. And I got myself the last seat on the bus.

Outside I bought myself a newspaper and then jumped on a local bus back to Haya Hulet for 3birr. Shame there was no bus transport running at 5am this morning I’d have saved myself a fair few bob.

After alighting at Haya Hulet and still feeling groggy from the disruptive night’s sleep I dipped into a street side barbers and had a half decent shave for 20birr. After a restorative omelette and chip butty later I was back in the pool bar having a couple of scoops.


29th January 2020

Addis you beauty
Wonderful blog of wonderful days & nights in Addis where your time with the locals sounds truly rewarding. Gotta say our time in Ethiopia are among our best and Ethiopia is my "Jewel of Africa". Looking forward to how you embrace your further travels. Heading to Arba Minch it sounds like you are heading south. Enjoy!

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