Ethiopia: Day 7: Monasteries on Lake Tana and Blue Nile Falls
We visit two monasteries on the Zege Peninsula on Lake Tana which is about a 40 minutes boat ride from Bahir Dar. As a woman I am only permitted to access certain monasteries so that significantly restricts our available options. One of the best examples of traditional Ethiopian monasteries, Ura Kidane Meret which has avery extensively painted maqdas (the central core of the circular structures) can be visited by women.
It is a walk of about fifteen minutes to get there. As Palm Sunday under the Ethiopian calendar is next Sunday, the church is filled with worshippers to prepare the Palm Sunday ceremony.
The second monastery we visit is Bet Maryam. It is less frequently visited and similar to Ura Kindana Meret. The priest here is very friendly and he provides for a great photo opportunity.
In the afternoon we visit the Blue Nile falls. My eldest daughter would have loved to do the 90 minutes walk to the falls but the two other ones protest so we take the alternative route by boat and a short 10 minute walk to the falls.
I did not have any expectations of seeing any water flow. As the nearby power station has constructed a dam and diverted all the water, many recent visitors only got to see the walls with no water at all. We were lucky as apparently the power station was not operating so the water was flowing but it cannot compete with the many beautiful water falls we have seen in Iceland. The Ethiopians claim that the Blue Nile Falls are nearly as beautiful as the Victoria falls but this is likely to be a slight exaggeration. We should be able to tell in a few months time as Zambia will be our destination for the next African trip. My 13 year old gets the full credit for getting the best photo of the falls.
We are up for what turns out to be a nearly 11 hours drive to Bahir Dar on the shore of Lake Tana. The scenery is spectacular especially when driving through the Blue Nile Gorge but it is just a bit of a too long drive for the kids. Luckily this will be our longest drive as we are a day short on the itinerary we will on the last day be flying back from Lalibela to Addis Ababa and save two full days of driving over Kombolcha.
Surprisingly on several places in Ethiopia and also here on the road to Bahir Dar there are huge light boards marking the Ethiopian millennium. I know Ethiopia’s calendar is approximately 4 years behind ours but even then…the millennium has passed by a few years now.
When in the evening with very tired kids we finally arrive in the Homland hotel it turns out that they are full and have no room for us. They blame it on our local travel agency and indicate that they were given the wrong date and that we should have arrived the day before. Even if this had been a case they should still have a room for us as we were going to stay for two nights. The reality is that they have a conference in the hotel and all rooms are occupied by conference guests. I can really get angry when someone is so obviously lying to me. After half an hour arguing we get moved to the Abbey Minch Lodge in Bahir Dar which turns out to be a much nicer and definitely a much friendlier place than the Homland. As they cannot even spell the name of their hotel correct and call it Homland instead of Homeland I should not be too surprised that they mess up our reservation. We finally relax over a nice dinner on the terrace.
After an early breakfast we drive to Lake Awassa for the daily fish market. The first fishing boats are just bringing in their catch and as we are early it is not too crowded yet. We do not stay too long as we are up for a 6 hours drive back to Addis Ababa. After check-in in the hotel, we decide to visit the Mercato (the largest open air market in Africa). As it is known for pickpockets I leave my large photography equipment and all valuables in the hotel room and only take a small camera. We do have a pickpocket attempt! I notice just in time a hand in the pockets of one of my children and I shout which makes the guy disappear. Nothing stolen! As it is very muddy and crowded in the market, the kids do not feel like staying much longer. We do not find there the Ethiopian flag we were looking for but after asking in several stores we finally manage to find one (as one of my kids is collecting flags this was a must find). We return for dinner to the Dreamliner hotel where we have the Best Indian meal we ever had. That Indian restaurant is just exceptionally good.
Once we leave the main road near Shashemene, the landscape suddenly changes dramatically and we are in the middle of a large forest. We stop at the hot springs of Wondogenet for a quick swim. After this refreshing break we continue our trip and pass through the village of Shashemene. It is a scruffy town. The only reason it is famous is that it is the headquarters of the Rastafari movement. The Rastafari relocated from Jamaica to Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie who they believed to be the reincarnation of Christ. Bob Marley was the symbol of the Rastafari movement. As they are known for their cannabis consumption we decide not to stop (we are traveling with kids after all). In Awassa we have a confirmed booking for the hotel of the world famous marathon athlete Haile Gebreselassie but that reservation gets cancelled the day before because they have used our rooms for conference guests. I am not pleased about it but nothing we can do. We find a room in the Lewi Hotel in the centre of town. in the late afternoon we leave to the lake for the sunset. On the way we visit the market where people are very friendly. The sunset is spectacular and I manage to get some nice photographs.
Ethiopia: Day 3 Lake Langano and Lake Abiata Shalla National Park
I am already on my second 4GB memory card and the third day of our trip has only just started. After breakfast we drive to the National Park entrance to get our ticket and pick up our scout. The first lake we will visit in the NP is Lake Abiata. Due to the recent rains, the ground is too unstable for our jeep so we have to stop about 2km from the waterfront and walk. The Flamingos are still relatively far from the lake shore. I get some shots with my Sigma 50-500 zoom but not as good as I had hoped for. On the way back to the car we meet a local farmer with his spear and he lets us practice some spear-throwing. We continue to Lake Shalla where to our surprise we see hundreds of camels. A group of Kereyu boys has been walking the 220km from Lake Metahara to Lake Shalla to let their camels drink near the hot springs where the locals are bathing and cooking their maize. The Kereyu react aggressively when we stop the car and they see the camera so we leave without me getting any good shots. We continue to drive to Pelican Island where we should have seen lots pelicans but grazing cattle have scared them away. In a careless moment I stumble and twist my ankle. Luckily not too bad. We see a few flamingos and then return to our lodge. The plan is to return to lake Shalla in the evening to see the sunset but our children prefer to go swimming in the Greenish water of Lake Langano. So it is just me and our driver that return to the National Park. As it is still an hour before sunset I want to go back to the hot springs to see if the camels are still there. The Kereyu boys have seen us and so I leave my camera in the car. We shake hands and I take my camera out and start photographing the hot springs, our driver and the scout. One of the Kereyu has a cell phone with a camera and starts taking pictures of that strange white woman. They are having fun with laughing about his pictures. A few minutes later I am their friend and they allow me take their photograph and it is great fun. They carry a curved knife and start playing with it. Surprising how things can change that quickly.
The electricity is still not back. The storm must have hit the main power cable as apparently the whole area is without electricity. After a Fresh shower we enjoy our breakfast on the terrace with a nice view on the Awash falls. After breakfast we start with a short game drive before we continue our long drive south. We see besides many birds a few Oryx, kudu, wharthog and a turtle.
The armed Kereyu warriors with their cattle and the ruin of a deserted lodge provide for the more interesting photographic opportunities. Nevertheless I will include a few wildlife shots in this blog.
We head back for Nazreth and encounter some beautiful and friendly people along the road. In Nazreth we stop for lunch. Food is very cheap in Ethiopia at least for us Faranji’s (foreigners). A person you pay about 4 EUR/drinks included.
We continue our way to Lake Langano and make a small detour to Lake Ziway, one of the other rift valley lakes. It is Sunday and there are many people near the lake in addition to lots of marabous and also some Pelicans. We meet two little girls that are carrying a heavy load of fire wood on their back. Nevertheless they are smiling and very friendly. My heart breaks.
In the late afternoon we arrive in the Sabana lodge at lake Langano. It is a popular weekend stop for expats from Addis as Lake Langano is the only Bilharzia free lake in Ethiopia and safe to swim. When we see the sign for the lodge and leave the main road the kids here are rather agressively begging for money or pens. I keep on thinking about the two girls with their load of firewood.
Ethiopia: 15 days instead of the 16 days indicated in the itinerary.
The night before our departure I started counting the days and despite several attempts re-counting I could only get to 15 days. There was thus a mismatch between our itinerary and the number of days we would be in Ethiopia. Luckily we realized it in time as otherwise we would have returned to Addis Abeba on a Sunday afternoon while our flight back to Brussels would have left the night before. We had no problems finding an internal flight from Lalibela to Addis Abeba and that for a decent price of 40 EUR per person. Booking an internal flight on Ethiopian Airlines is best done from within Ethiopia as you end up paying only 1/3th of the price quoted on their international website. It turned out to be a positive as after 2900 km on the road we would be happy not have to drive the extra 700km back to Addis Ababa.
Upon arrival of our night flight from Brussels we were met at the airport by our guide Liben. After a coffee and stopping at the bank to convert our Euro’s to Birr to pay the remaining 70% balance for our trip and Liben fueling the car and dropping the money at his boss’ house we were finally ready to leave Addis Ababa. It was a good idea we changed plans and not drove to Bahar Dar (11.5 hours) which with kids after a night flight would be a stretch. The road to Awash National Park (about 200km East of Addis Ababa) leads us through Nazreth, the capital of the Oromia region, one of the nine regions in Ethiopia, home to mainly the Oromo people. Before we come to the scruffy town of Metahara (home to the Kereyu tribe)we pass by Lake Besseka where the locals are bathing, doing their laundry and cleaning everything from cars to donkeys. The Addis-Djibouti railroad is passing through the lake which together with the reflections provided some interesting photo opportunities. Lake Besseka is growing in size which is causing problems to the railroad and the highway so the plan is to pump water into the Awash river to control the level of the lake. From Metahara it is not far anymore to Awash National Park. After paying our entrance fee we drive another 20 minutes to the Awash falls lodge (constructed in 2010) and located in the Southern part of the National Park. The view of the Awash falls is beautiful and our detached family hut has a nice view of the falls from the first floor terrace. After lunch and a vervet monkey stealing the remaining food we drive back to the park entrance to pick up our armed scout (see below) to visit the Northern part of the park . As we had prepared our kids upfront that the wildlife in Awash NP (the oldest NP in Ethiopia) was not comparable to Kenya and Tanzania they were not disappointed. We walked to the green hot springs in Filhowa (36°C) over a small river (and managed to do so without falling into it). We pass some Kereyu women in their colourful oufits and some armed men with their cattle. Our armed ranger tells me I can’t take their pictures as they may become aggressive (too bad, it would have been great pictures). It was a long drive back to our lodge and it was already dark. We see a few Jackals near the road but it is far too dark to take any decent photograph. We try to have diner on the outside terrace of the lodge but it starts raining and a thunderstorm is coming so we have to move inside and then there is no electrical power anymore. Our headlights come in handy. We find our room in the dark and have a good night sleep. It has been a long day.
Ethiopia: Day 1 Awash NP and the need for an armed ranger.
To our surprise an armed ranger was required to join us while visiting Awash National Park. The official version is that the ranger is needed to protect us against wildlife. There are however few predators in the Awash NP and they are rarely seen. The most dangerous animal we have seen was the hamadryas baboon. Large troups were sitting on a long cliff and they were only fighting among themselves. Wildlife cannot be the real reason for the need for an armed ranger as in Kenya and Tanzania there was no armed ranger required while there was much more dangerous wildlife around.
I think the real reason was to protect us against certain humans. It appears that back in 2001 there were intense tribal wars between the Afar, the Kereyu and the Ittu tribe which have resulted in many dead tribesmen. The fights have stopped but the wildlife has not recovered. This is also due to the cattle that grazes illegally in the park.
We have seen many mainly Kereyu tribesmen with their cattle and all armed with Kalashnikovs. Not that we felt unsafe at any time.
Our wildlife viewing was limited to oryx, kudu, warthdog, ostrich,jackal, turtles, baboons, vervet monkeys, eagles (and many other birds) but the Awash falls and the Awash falls lodge with views on the falls made the park a worthwhile stop-over.
Awash NP is about a 4-5 hour drive from Addis. It is on the main route to the Djibouti port so there can be heavy truck traffic.
Today we picked up our malaria medication and the remainder of our travel pharmacy. The suitcases are ready to be packed. While it would be great to continue this blog during our trip I doubt we will have wifi access to be able to do so. So it will have to wait until our return. In the meantime we will enjoy our vacation!!!!!!
We know so far that our guide will be Leban and that he loves to draw and paint. We wanted to be better prepared than we were for our trip to Kenya and Tanzania and asked the travel agency about what he likes . We have bought a scetch book and some paint and drawing pencils to give to Leban as a present at te end of our trip. We have been extremely lucky so far both in Kenya and Tanzania with our guides and believe we will be lucky in Ethiopia too .
In Kenya, Jackson was an excellent guide. He could smell the animals. We were often the first car to arrive at a lion or cheetah sighting. Thousands of wildebeest were standing at the Mara river but had not yet started their crossing as part of their annual migration. We decided to be patient and wait and after two and a half hours we were lucky and they started crossing (with the crocodiles waiting patiently for a prey but as there were millions more to follow they would get their food the coming days).
Our Tanzanian guide, Duncan was excellent too. We had some great cheetah and leopard sightings and went hunting with the Hadza bushmen. We became good friends with Duncan who is a big Manchester United football fan. If we had known this upfront I could have brought him something directly from Manchester as I regularly have to be there for work. Shipping things from Europe to East-Africa is not ideal.
Our kids still remember most of the Swahili words they learned from Duncan and can still sing the Jambo song (Tanzanian version) but when I look at the Amharic language guide I downloaded recently it will be so much harder to do the same in Ethiopia. The Amharic alphabet consists of 32 consonants and 7 vowels and is very hard to understand even harder to read.
Today we picked up our Ethiopian visa at the Embassy in Brussels. No waiting times and the process went smoothly. The website of the Ethiopian embassy is well organized so we had already upfront printed out and completed the form and had the required photo at hand. The fee of 17 EUR/person is relatively cheap compared to the cost for some other African countries visa.
We could get a visum too at Bole airport upon arrival in Addis Ababa but we preferred to pick it up before traveling. It should be a formality to get the visum locally unless you are born in Eritrea but we felt more secure to get it upfront. We wanted to eliminate the remote risk of being denied entrance after a night flight with children.
The increasing tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea is however not good news for our upcoming trip. On March 15, 2012 Ethiopian forces have launched a military assault on Eritrea. Ethiopia has accused Eritrea of backing Ethiopian rebels that killed five Western tourists in January 2012.
As Axum is on our itinerary we will be passing through the Afar and Tigray region and be relatively close to the border with Eritrea. The UK government website in their updated safety report of March 15th continues to indicate that traveling on the main road through Axum and Adigrat and the tourist sides close to the road (e.g Debre Damo and Yeha) should be ok but that all travels within 10km of the border with Eritrea should be avoided. We will keep on following the developments closely and if required we will amend our itinerary accordingly.
Ethiopia envisions to be one of the Top 5 tourist destinations in Africa by 2020
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - The Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced that it is engaged in extensive promotional activities aimed at realizing the vision of “making Ethiopia one of the top five tourist destinations in Africa by 2020.
In an exclusive interview with ENA on Thursday, Public and International Relations Director with the Ministry Awoke Tenaw, said the Ministry is currently promoting actively the country’s rich and precious heritages and natural tourist attractions in nine countries in the world as part of the massive effort well underway to enable Ethiopia attain its vision.
He said his ministry, through the involvement of regional tourist offices and private tour operators, has been advertising, the nine heritages registered as world heritage centers and other famous attractions sites in trade fairs, and other events being held in different countries.
Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy and Russia are among the countries where the nation’s major magnificent and spectacular tourist sites are being advertised widely, according to Awoke.
On the other hand, both the government and private sector have been heavily engaged in the development of tourism industry.
Awoke said the government is constructing new infrastructures and expanding existing ones within tourist sites in the country.
Some gravel roads linking highways with attraction sites have been upgraded to asphalt level while several airport terminals have been built around major tourist sites.
The private sector has also been constructing standard hotels, lounges, restaurants and other facilities, he said, adding that the number of standard hotels in the country has now reached above 425.
The construction and expansion of infrastructures in most attraction sites, the rise in the number of tourist facilities, the existence of abundant heritages and of spectacular natural tourist sites and the prevalence of peace and security are the major factors for the rise in the number of foreign tourists coming to the country.
According to Awoke, the stated factors, along the extensive promotional works undertaken in different corners of the world, have enabled to lure a significant number of foreign tourists thereby raise the amount of revenue being obtained from the sector during the reported period.
As a result, the foreign exchange earning Ethiopia obtains from foreign tourist inflow has showed an accelerated growth over the last couple of years. The amount of foreign currency the country secures from visiting foreign tourists has jumped up from only 169 million US dollars in 2006 to over 333.35 million US dollars in 2010.
He said foreign tourist arrivals which were only 330,000 in 2006 have showed a marked growth in 2010 reaching 468,300.
Ethiopia has also envisaged to obtain 773. 5 million US dollars in 2004 Ethiopian fiscal year.
The amount is predicted to be secured from an estimated 700,000 foreign tourists who are anticipated to visit the country during the stated period, according to the five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).
Ethiopia has different heritages including the Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela, Fasil Ghebbi, Axum obelisques, Tiya monolithic grave marks, the walled City of Harar and other beautiful natural resources.
I took my Fuji X100 with me last Sunday through the Marollen quarter of Brussels. It was hanging around my neck with my finger constantly on the shutter and I photographed a few interesting characters that were passing by (See below). While I missed some shots the overall result was not too bad. As I did not wanted to be seen photographing I was not focussing just aiming at where I assumed the person’s face to be. I think if I practice this technique some more it would be great to use in Ethiopia as most of those photographed did not not notice the presence of my camera.
The photo’s above were also taken on the same day, the location this time being the Ethiopian cafe in Brussels. While I did not like the place too much (see my earlier post) the table at the window was nice and gave me the possibility to shoot both the people on the terras as well as those passing by. The inside table added some interesting reflections. The camera was only placed on the table, again just pressing the shutter without any focussing. The camera mode selected was continuous autofocus.
I bought the Fuji X100 second hand just before Christmas and I am not yet sure whether I like it better than my Leica X1 despite the many positive reviews generally rating it better than the Leica X1. One thing I certainly do not like is the charger of the FUJI X100 which contains a loose piece to enable the battery to charge. Knowing how disorganized I am it won’t take long before that piece is lost. The battery only lasted for two hours which is by far too short so it is not very likely that this camera will make it into my fotobag for Ethiopia especially knowing that we won’t have charging sockets regularly available. For my X1 I own a spare battery so that is another reason I may bring that one instead.
Besides struggling which camera’s and lenses to take I am still practicing on how to take discrete street shots. Last year I photographed the Hadza tribe in Tanzania of which I publish some photo’s below. My camera was omnipresent. It is hard to hide a Nikon D300S with either a Nikon 80-400 or a Tamron 18-270 zoom attached. Not that the pictures below are bad but it may not be wise to walk around with a huge DSRL at the Mercado in Addis Ababa.
After the not so successful visit to the Ethiopian coffee house in Brussels earlier today we continued the gastronomic preparation of our upcoming trip to Ethiopia and had diner in Kobob, the only Ethiopian restaurant in Brussels.
What a difference!!!!. The Kobob staff was very friendly. You can drink ጠጀ (Tej), an Ethiopian yellow honey wine, sweet but with a high alcohol content.
The food was plenty and very good. They serve mainly stews (wat).The kids enjoyed the experience of eating with their hands picking up bites of stew with the sourdough flatbread (injera). They still have to learn that they can only use their right hand.
In the Hoogstraat/Rue Haute in Brussels you can find an Ethiopian coffee house named Aksum. Neither the quiche on the menu nor the Cappuccino gave me a very Ethiopian feel. The paintings were from Senegal. The only thing that came close was a St George beer but that was imported from Switzerland and came at a price of 4.50 EUR a bottle. The ceiling was Ethiopian though.