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Ethiopia

A last–minute add–on to my Eritrea tour

Eritrea was a magic place, well at least for me if not for your 'average' Eritrean, and as it has been (and remains) entwined with Ethiopia I decided to have a quick look there too

My very short stay in Ethiopia hardly qualifies as a tour but what follows is some stuff about a fascinating place

The experience:

A few days in Addis Ababa and a lightning fast circuit around northen Ethiopia (Axum, Bahar Dar, Gondar and Lalibela) in a couple weeks in Febuary/March 2011

Getting ready to go:

Visa:   Just about everyone needs a visa and for many, including Oz citizens, a VOA (visa on arrival) is a painless process, at least if arriving by air – just change some money into Birr first tho

For those intrepid travellers arriving overland, it appears that a VOA isn't possible...

Vaccinations:   Oh boy!   The 'recommended' vaccinations for Ethiopia read like a medical dictionary;
    Diptheria = yes
    Hepatitis = yes
    Malaria = yes
    Meningitis = yes
    Rabies = yes
    Tetanus = yes
    Typhoid = yes
    Yellow Fever = yes
and then there's giardiasis and bilharzia, plus of course there's the high altutude and relative lack of oxygen too

As a reasonably frequent traveller all my shots were up–to–date anyway...

Getting there:

I flew in, which from Eritrea was a bit problematic – an epic via Saan'a and Nairobi – but from elsewhere there seem to be plenty of flights

Once you're there:

Accommodation:   Unlike Eritrea, Ethiopia really is 'African' and so finding places to stay that are clean and have both electricty and hot water at the same time can be a challenge – I'm not even going to mention toilets!   And this is in Addis Ababa, it's even worse out in the back blocks...  then again, you get what you pay for and accomodation in Ethiopia is mostly inexpensive

Food:   Ethiopian food is pretty basic, you'd best get accustomed to the greyish coloured, slightly sourish injera 'bread', it's ubiquitous (and tastes better than it sounds and is really good for mopping up spicy sauces – they somehow seem less fiery when they're eaten with injera )

Good coffee is available every where as are juices – you gotta try the 'mixed' juice, it's exactly what it says, a layered concotion of avacado, mango and orange that both looks and tastes great. Beer is plentiful, cheap and pretty good. Local wine is, ummm, of 'variable' quality and, relative to other alcohol, expensive. Local softdrinks and bottled water are available, cheaply, everywhere

Money:   Changing money is easy enough but changing travellers cheques is harder but that's the case everywhere isn't it?

Credit cards are OK in Addis but there's often a small surcharge applied

According to Lonely Planet, 'black market' currency exchange is both common and illegal...

Roads:   I'll never whinge about Oz roads again – actually I will, Australia can afford better roads – but to get to the point, Ethiopian roads set a new (low) benchmark. Not all mind you, there are some excellent roads and as seemingly eveywhere in Africa, the Chinese are busy building/rebuilding a heap of good quality roads, but as for the rest, both urban and rural, sealed and unsealed, the roads can be bloody awful!   Think an hour to cover 30k's (flat) by car

Signage wasn't great either

Traffic:   In Addis, the traffic is Cairo–esque – traffic lights, lane marking and the like apparently merely advisory, creating massive traffic congestion throughout the day. Taxis were as anarchic as usual!

In the rural areas there was less traffic but animals (and people) wandering onto and/or standing around on the road were and ever present hazard. Overtaking in less than safe circumstances adds a bit of spice to rural travel, especially when speed limits appear also to be advisory...

The most frequently asked questions:

By folk outside Ethiopia:   Where's Ethiopia?

Sad to say but Africa – beyond safaris and gameparks at least – just doesn't register on a lot of folks' radar. While it might not sound like it from the stuff above, Ethiopia is well worth the time (and considerable effort) involved

By folk inside Ethiopia:   Gimme money

Not actually a question is it?

Unfortunately it's a refrain that you'll hear all too often from both children and adults and while the hordes of grey–haired Europeans who seem to comprise the bulk of the apparently quite large tourist influx into Ethiopia do give money (and/or pens and lollies) as freely as they do, you'll keep on hearing it