ETHIOPIA! Addis Ababa to Harar

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Africa » Ethiopia » Harari Region » Harar
October 26th 2012
Published: November 10th 2012
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After a brief week back in the UK including a weekend in Glasgow we are off on the road again and this time it’s


26th-27th Oct ’12 Addis Ababa

A very early 4am wake up and by 5am we were checked in at Teesside Airport, thanks to the above and beyond call of friendship lift from Abi and John! It felt really strange to be setting off from our local airport and knowing we were going to end up in Ethiopia!

It was a short flight to Amsterdam and the plane was mainly full of business people and I had to suppress the urge to say we’re not going to Europe, we are off on an adventure to deepest darkest Africa.

We had about 3 hours before our onward flight and I was kind of amazed at how high tec , easy and huge Schipol airport was after Nepal. In the departure lounge I was surprised to see an African family who had also been on our Teesside flight and quite a few westerners waiting.

The flight went via Khartoum in the Sudan and we flew over vast stretches of sandy brown desert and it was the first time I felt that we were actually going somewhere very different on this leg of our journey. At Khartoum most of the passengers got off and apart from a few African passengers the remaining people were all westerners. We waited on the plane and after half an hour we were off again.

It was dark by the time we reached Addis Ababa and we couldn’t really make out much from the air apart from the fact it was clearly a large sprawling city. We got our visas on arrival without any problems and before we left Howard used the ATM which took all the details but didn’t give us the money!! Luckily the man with a van from the hotel we booked was waiting for us so we didn’t need any cash.

As we drove from the airport our driver pointed out lots of things of interest but as it was dark we couldn’t see them! The road we drove along though was fascinating as it was lined with small shack shops all selling coffins – they were in all different sizes and colours but all of them were sparkly as if they were covered in glitter!

As we pulled into the Hotel Regency compound a man in full uniform saluted and two more people in uniform saluted and opened the hotel doors, very bizarre! We later discovered this is normal practice in Ethiopia as it happened everywhere.

The hotel was really nice, small and not particularly posh but the staff were all friendly and the bed was very comfy. As it was late we ate in the hotel and soon found out that not many people speak English, which again seemed odd after being in Nepal.

We tried the Ethiopian food and had our first experience of Injira – which is the equivalent of bread and is eaten with every meal. It is a kind of cold spongey texture which looks like a thin bathroom sponge and comes in white or a greyish colour and tastes foul! The beef tibs which we had with it was a delicious stew and would have been perfect with potatoes.

I was feeling pretty rough at this point and was glad to get to bed.

The next morning I was still feeling rough and full of cold so I just slept and

Chat man
slept and didn’t venture out as I knew once we joined the tour it was going to be pretty full on with not much chance for a rest. Howard ventured down the road for drinks and water.

We spent the afternoon in the hotel lounge where they were showing English football and we chatted with the hotel manager who brought us a drink and told us about Ethiopia, the tribes in the Omo valley (including the tribes whose women have discs inserted into their lips which stretch and apparently this is done to stop the girls kissing boys!), coffee ceremonies and the building of the hotel – it is only a couple of years old and when building first started workers only got paid 50p a day but they now earn £2.20!!

28th – 29th Oct ’12 Joining the tour and Harar, Eastern Ethiopia

We ordered a taxi to the Ghion Hotel in a different part of Addis where we were meeting the rest of the group who had just arrived after a night flight from the UK. It was clearly a grander and much larger hotel than ours but seemed a bit run down and shabby compared to ours.

Anyway there are 15 of us on this tour, all British apart from a Canadian couple and an Australian lady who lives in England. Everyone seems very nice and apart from one girl who also arrived independently I would guess the age range is 40-70+. The guide is Sue who is also English but has worked in Ethiopia for about 10 years and clearly loves the country. So it’s all looking positive, just need to get rid of the cold now.

That afternoon we set off for the airport for a short flight to Dire Dawa. At the airport I discovered Sue is also a smoker so at least I am not the only leper! We borrowed some matches from the café staff who were examining my tattoo very closely and one lady wanted me to put it on her arm, she just didn’t get the concept that it was a permanent fixture.

Once we landed in Dire Dawa we had a 1 hour 20 minute drive to Harar, the town we are staying in for 2 nights. On the way we stopped at the Addis Ababa to Djubuti Railway station for a photo and found that English football was being shown on a giant screen in front of it! The locals were all out watching it and then suddenly a parade came down the road, it was all very surreal.

We drove past lots of tiny hut houses, goats, African trees with flat tops and through the town of Aweday that had a big night time chat market in full swing, with people buying, selling and chewing it. Chat is a bush whose leaves are chewed and it has a mildly narcotic effect.

Once we arrived in Harar we checked into our hotel and we ended up with a suite! It was obviously meant for a family and it had a kitchen, bathroom, 2 bedrooms and a lounge with several large old dusty settees, curtains half hanging off the windows and a coffee table. The bathroom had an old tub with a shower fixture hanging off the wall and nowhere to hook it on but at least there was hot water.

Dinner was a group meal in the hotel as Sue told us it served the best food in the town. We are quickly learning the best food is pretty basic by western standards but at least there is enough and it is all reasonable. I managed to avoid Injira so I was happy.

So the next day was a full day of exploring Harar, the ancient walled city established in 1520 and unusually for Ethiopia full of mosques (over 87 of them). We had a local guide who led us down into the town, we passed a few men asleep stretched out on the ground with blankets over their heads and it turned out they were recovering from heavy chat use! There are 4 stages people who chew chat go through – 1 is the happy euphoric stage, 2 is where you think you are a scientist and no all the answers, 3 is where you become violent and 4 is where you go mad!! Everyone starts chewing in the afternoon and after 3 hours the effects kick in, it lasts all night and the next day you start the process again. Our guide was very anti chat and walking to town you could see people who looked totally spaced out and gone into stage 4!

In the market area it was packed with people, ladies wearing brightly coloured clothes, men swathed in blankets, young lads in jeans and children everywhere. The market was very dark and crowded, with lots of twists and turns and people were carrying large bundles on their heads and we had to keep diving to the side to let them past. Lots of us wanted to buy traditional coffee pots from a couple of stalls and I managed to get one before the guide got cross and shooed us all on saying we could get them in the afternoon (this didn’t happen).

It was very strange to be in an environment again where no one spoke English so trying to buy things was very difficult. Everyone was really friendly though and kept calling out Faranji (foreigner) when they spotted us, Sue had taught us how to say hello in Amharric and when we did the people beamed and said it back, so there was a great atmosphere. Our tour leader Sue explained that in order to help stop begging she has for years been taking photos of people and then getting them developed and giving them back the pictures. So today she was handing out photos and getting an incredible reaction, people were clearly thrilled to have them. She told us that on one occasion she had photographed a young boy and when she returned two weeks later with the photo she learnt the boy had died and his mother was overwhelmed with the photo as it was the only one she had of him as people in Ethiopia do not have cameras.

Out of the market we made our way through the maze of narrow streets and along one road which had men sitting outside with singer sewing machines, doing repairs or sewing garments for people. There were groups of women and girls, gossiping and selling fruit and veg and calling out to us. Some of the ladies had tattoos on their hands and necks and other groups had distinctive jewellery, some were more than happy to have their photos taken and others quickly covered their faces and turned away. It was made more confusing as the local guide told us that if you asked people if you could take their picture they would say no but that actually meant yes!

Down one alleyway was a large group of ladies sitting on the ground with big cooking pots bubbling away behind them, it turned out that they were all in mourning and were sat by a large wall where a young man had fallen from some scaffolding and was killed leaving behind his wife and 4 children.

Up another alley and we were taken to visit a traditional Harari house, we entered through a doorway in a wall and into a small compound. Inside the main room of the house were sitting platforms on different levels covered with carpets which we sat on, the walls were decorated with baskets and tin bowls from eastern Europe covered in gaudy flowers.

There was a small room off to the left with a ‘window’ grille opening into the main room and this was where a newly married woman had to stay until she was pregnant! If she didn’t get pregnant within two years the husband was allowed to take a second wife. Girls used to get married at 14.

The sitting platforms in the main room used to be used according to a specific hierarchy, the man of the house sat on the left, the women and children were tucked into the right corner, honoured guests would sit in the front and clerics along the back but this is no longer adhered to.

Walking along through the winding passageways with their high walls of different colours it took me ages to get through one particularly narrow alley as a group of children were coming in the opposite direction and every one of them wanted to shake hands with me and say hello!

After a lunch break we drove out of the city to a viewpoint on a hill where we were able to get a an over view of Harar and its city walls, I had actually thought they would be walks you could walk along the top of like York which wasn’t the case.

Then we walked around the outside of the walls, passing various gates into the city, meeting lots of people and children who wanted their photos taken and posed like professionals for them. Howard was playing with a whole group of kids, swinging them around and they all wanted a go so he ended up swamped with them!

We then entered the city through one of the gates and walked uphill back into the town centre. We then visited the French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s house where there was a good collection of old photos of Harar which showed how very little had changed in 100 years and a great photo of Haile Salaisse age 18 in his traditional tribal wear looking remarkably like an Apache.

From here we visited the restored Haile Salaisse (Ras Tafari) Palace – where he had spent his honeymoon, looked at the collection of coins, clothes, jewellery, maunscripts, old pots, baskets and leg irons in its couple of rooms.

That night we went to see the famous Hyena Man, these are men who feed the wild hyenas who live around the city and it has resulted in a unique situation where hyenas and the local people live in harmony.

The first place we tried had no hyenas! But when we arrived at the second site we were told they had been there. So we got out and waited while a man sitting next to a chopped up old cow’s carcass whistled and called to the hyenas. Soon a couple of eyes were glinting in the dark and one appeared, I have never seen a hyena before and I was surprised by how big it was, it was a strange powerful looking creature with spots, not very nice to look at but I did like its ears. Eventually there were 6 hyenas circling around!

The hyena man called them all by name and feed them from a wooden stick which he held in his mouth with meat draped over the end of it!! It was quite a sight! At one point one of the hyenas managed to sneak around a grabbed a chunk of carcass from the pile and ran off with it, instantly the hyena man sprang up and charged after it and came back with the carcass, unbelievable!

The feeding continued and some of the tourists watching had a go, holding the stick in their hands rather than their mouths! A couple from our group did it and Sheila said the hyena really grabbed the meat off with real force. It was quite an amazing sight to witness.

It was chicken and chips for tea tonight and everyone seemed to have had a great day.

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