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Published: June 14th 2010
Ethiopia is all about 4am starts for buses that leave ridiculously early, disgusting toilets, fleas in the bedding, great coffee, stunning scenery and a multitude of interesting cultures all rolled into one.
We spent a few days in the contradiction that is Addis Ababa. Addis is a sprawling complex area of windy streets with large modern buildings next to shanty towns, new four wheel drive vehicles next to beggars, and modern restaurants next to farmers herding their goats along the side of the road in the middle of the city.
There is not much to do in the capital but the Ethnological Museum, set in the Addis Ababa University (formerly Haile Selassie's palace) made an interesting visit. Before the entrance is an interesting monument of a set of spiralling stairs. Each step was placed by the Italians as a symbol of Fascist domination, one step for every year Mussolini was in power. A miniature Lion of Judah sits at the top, a symbol of Ethiopian monarchy, and a symbol of the final victory.
The museum was really interesting and divided into the life cycle with exhibits relating to childbirth, rites of passage, marriage and death. We were also
allowed to look into the bedroom of Haile Selassie, complete with a bullet hole in his mirror following the coup d'etat in 1960.
While we were in the museum another electrical storm started (these storms seem to be a daily occurance), hailstones and fork lightning shut down the power. We left the museum and then walked down to the piazza passing children throwing balls of hailstones at each other, it is quite unusual for it to hail here so this was something special for the children.
From Addis we headed to Harar, another 10 hour bus ride. Harar is different to any other Ethiopian city, a walled town, with over 360 twisting and winding alleys squeezed into 1 square kilometre, it is similar to the medinas of Morocco. Harar is the Islam capital of Ethiopia and is crammed with mosques, colourful markets, coffee shops and crumbling walls. It is colourful and photogenic and the Adare (Hariri) women's dresses and head scarves are particularly colourful and exotic.
Being a Saturday, it was market day and everyone was out and about. We headed to the winding alleys that made up the various markets. Smuggler's Market was chock full of
goods from Asia, everything from cellphones to rip off DVDs and adidas shoes. From here we then stumbled across the Recycling Market. Everything imaginable had been recycled from old chairs, tyres, screws and nuts, bike chains and oil tins. The men beat the spare parts into useful utensils. We used our nose to hunt down the Asma'addin Bari Market, full of spices, coffee, fruit and vegetables. The markets were so colourful and the people were really friendly. We ventured down Mekina Girgir or Machine Road where tailors lined the streets with their sewing machines.
The night's entertainment was obviously the hyena feeding, a tradition from the 1950's where, or so the story goes, a local hyena man began feeding scraps to the hyenas to stop them entering the village and attacking people. He calls the hyenas by name and one by one they make their way. When we arrived, some of the hyenas were already there, lazing around. They are obviously well fed, one in particular was very large. While we were waiting for the hyena man, one very large hyena, who was very confident came right up to us looking for his dinner. They are quite strange looking,
cute in their own way but their laugh sends a shiver down the spine!
Hyenas have the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom and it was both terrifying and exciting to be so close to them. We had the chance to feed them ourselves. The hyena man was great, he would hold the meat near us so that they would have to come up close. We then fed them with the meat on a stick and finally we put the stick in our mouth. I got a real fright when one of them jumped for the meat from behind me and nearly knocked me off balance. It was terrific.
After returning to Addis we then are heading down to the Great Rift Lakes for some more wildlife action - this time hippos and some of the largest crocodiles in Africa.
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