Where are you going?
To Ethiopia.
Ethiopia? What’s even there?

It was the question that I was to hear countless times in the weeks to come that led to my trip. People were surprised with my destination choice as when they thought of Ethiopia the only image they had was that of starvation and endless desert. Not many of them heard of Ethiopian coffee, even fewer knew it was one of the first countries to accept Christianity.

“Who’s read the guidebook?” I asked after meeting my travel companions at the airport. Nobody has. Neither have I.

The group consisted of me (and I was going because of the attractive price of the plane ticket), Eliza (who once asked where I was going and five minutes later, after seeing a few quickly googled pics, said she would go as well) and Gosia (“I’ve always dreamt of travelling to Ethiopia,” she said).

We arrived in Addis Abeba in the middle of the night. We had no accommodation booked because all our emails sent to guesthouses had been ignored. There was a drizzle and no African heat and it was to be like that throughout our journey.

The national terminal is just a short walk away so we went to check our options. Gosia managed to get ahead of a man pushing a trolley with such a huge pile of luggage that his bags kept falling off it until the moment he got stuck in the entrance. She tried to find out if anything was flying north – no matter where,  just north. A flight to Bahir Dar was the first one to depart so that was the one we booked.

Bahir Dar welcomed us with sun and the town centre seemed to be friendly, neat and civilised. Reflecting upon my first days in West Africa a few years back, I was almost disappointed.

IMG_20130712_190750Eliza’s first walk in the city.

IMG_20130712_084159Gosia meeting young Ethiopians.

The very first Ethiopian coffee was drunk in a modest street cafe. Gigi was a tout we’d met a few hours before. He found us a good, affordable hotel and offered his guiding services.
“That’s your first African lesson,” I said to Gosia, was we sat down on old plastic chairs, “This is how it works”. And indeed, sipping our black coffee we were listening to typical touristy marketing.
And I did wonder (as I already did many times before) if our new friend’s surprise after hearing we don’t want to rent a boat for loads of money was genuine or pretended.
60 euros per person
a very special discount for you my friend
only 210 euros for the three of you.
A real bargain, wasn’t it? No, we didn’t want this special price, much too expensive for us. We didn’t want to see too many monasteries. And we didn’t want a two-weeks’ organised tour of Ethiopia.
Why not?
Just because, we don’t travel like that.
Everybody does?
No, we don’t.

IMG_20130711_1858473 x 60 = 210 (No, I did not count wrong, that was the calculation we got)

Wandering aimlessly we observed the life going on. Even with a map held tightly in my hands we managed to get lost after we turned the third turn left. Or right – it was hard to say.
There were very few white tourists, yet I didn’t feel out of place. It didn’t even feel as if I was standing out of the crowd which definitely was the case because many people tried to talk to us.
We found a famous backpacker’s hotel and bought a cheap boat trip for the following day. The terrace there was really attractive so we decided to have a rest. We were slowly drinking beer and chatting to the owner all afternoon until it got late and mosquitoes attacked us – it was time to go back then.

Turn left when you go out of the hotel, then walk till the roundabout, left, right and walk on till you get to the park.
Well, that was what we thought, but somehow we didn’t reach the park (Where the hell is the park??)
Oh, wait, there’s a mosque, the park should be near. Not this mosque…hmm?
Nothing to worry about, though, it’s funny to get lost in those windy, sandy streets behind messy backyards where locals pay hardly any attention at all.
Look! There’s high building over there! Our hotel was next to a very high building.
Fifteen more minutes’ walking and we got to the hotel. The only problem was, it was not our hotel, it was the backpacker’s hotel we’d left over an hour before.
OK, let’s try again: walk till the roundabout, left, right…
A boy stopped us asking why were were walking there again (the third time).
What is the name of our hotel… Jesus! What’s the name of the hotel???
The boy smiled at us and trying to be helpful started listing all the hotels in the area.
Yes! There? Oh, we should’ve taken the second right, not the first left!

The sky was turning dusk dark as we passed the park. Relieved, we entered the hotel room five minutes later.
Mosquitoes were flying in through the window cracks.
It started to rain.

Part 2: http://amusedobserver.com/etiopia-cz-2-dzien-targowy-i-inne/

  • Oh gosh this sounds so hectic! I like that you guys all seemed game and adventurous for it though and getting lost had a happy ending. I’m awful at directions, so I tend to get lost…everywhere (when I first started driving, I called my dad in tears a few times when I was only 10 minutes from home!).

  • Sara (Belly Rumbles)

    3 x 60 = 210, loving the math on that one. What an arrival, I do always like having accommodation booked for my first night, it just gives me a sense of security. I’m glad it all ended up okay and your arrived at the right place just before the rain and mosquitos.

    • I did try to book accommodation, but it turned out to be impossible to book inexpensive accommodation :(

  • Oh, wow! Ethiopia sounds like it might be a bit intimidating. Yet, I’d still like to visit, if only for the fabulous coffee.

  • Ethiopia sounds wonderfully unpredictable. Enjoy the journey and the fantastic coffee!

  • Megan Claire

    Wow interesting to hear that Ethiopia is so expensive in terms of the tours you were offered – obviously it’s probably one of those things where as you did, you can find everything much cheaper, though maybe being a tourist puts a target on your back for people to approach you and try and charge exorbitant prices. Looking forward to reading more of your observations and experiences from Ethiopia – it’s not a country I know a lot about, though I have heard it’s aiming to become more of a modern hub for tourism infrastructure.

    • Ethiopia is a country that has a lot to offer to all kinds of tourists. It’s pretty cheap if you are travelling as a backpacker, might be pretty expensive – if you think only about its two most known attractions (visit to the tribes in the south and Danakil in the north).

  • Christina Pfeiffer

    I’d love to visit Ethiopia before it becomes too touristy. Although, $210 for three sounds like some Ethiopians might already be trying to fleece tourists. I’d be interested to know what the prices were like for accommodation. food and souvenirs. Also, did you feel safe there?

    • I felt safe and had no problems with travelling.
      And generally I consider Ethipia pretty cheap if you travel as a backpacer and don’t want to have tailor-made touris.

  • Wait, how did 3 X 60 = $210? $10 tax per person? Haha! Anyway, it’s nice to hear that the little boy helped you get to your destination. I’ve never really thought about going to Ethiopia but I’m sure it’s a great place to visit except for the darn mosquitos!

    • Mosquitoes were only in Bahir Dar, for the most of the trip we travel in the north so it was too high for mosquitoes :)

  • We are heading to Ethiopia next year so this is the perfect post to read. Can’t wait to try that Ethiopian coffee!

    • I’m jealous :)
      Don’t forget to bring a lot home :D I bought about 2 kilos to bring back, but it turned out to be not enough :)

  • I don’t know many things about it, wasn’t expecting it to be expensive. i would definitely not opt for a organized tour either. I would prefer to get lost by myself, if the country is safe enough that is!

    • I think having a guide sometimes might be a good thing. If I’d have a lot of money I’d try – but how successful I’d be I don’t know, because most of the guides have pretty strict itineraries and are at a loss if someone wants to see something off the beaten track.

  • Stefanie

    Woow, this looks really amazing,
    This is really on my have to do list before i get into my 40’s

    Keep posting,
    Kind regards