Ann & Joan Mason from USA

Ann & Joan Mason  from USA

My sister finally retired and we were able to take a long anticipated trip to Africa . We had been hoarding frequent flyer miles and found that we could get as far as Addis Ababa inEthiopia so we decided to begin our adventures there. We got on the Internet and found FestEthiopia a local our company run by a charming and helpful father and son team. When we wrote that we wanted to see Lalibela, Gondar , and Harar they designed an itinerary for us and made the appropriate reservations. We wired them some money as a deposit and paid the rest in cash when we arrived. After many hours in the air and waiting at airports we arrived exhausted and half expecting that no one would remember to meet us. We were pleasantly surprised when we spotted a sign saying welcome Mason sisters held by the senior Robel who then took us the Hotel Ghion, a well known landmark to travelers in Addis. It is a large and somewhat worn place surrounded by gardens in the middle of the city and favored by the UN for conferences etc. The lobby was filled with many people from many places but we were the only Americans. We left early the next morning by plane for Lalibela with its magnificent rock hewn churches carved 30 feet into the earth. Most travelers only spend a day here but Robel recommended that we spend two, as there was so much to see. We were befriended by a couple of students who guided us around the small town and market while eagerly practicing their English. Then we boarded another plane for Gondar , an area famous for its old palaces, as it was the ancient capital of the region. The scenery around Gondar is nothing short of breathtaking for green deprived desert dwellers, The shopping was another highlight; we found great bargains on antique nomad headrests decorated with silver and silver and amber necklaces. The hand-woven fabric was irresistible though I am still trying to find a use for all I purchased. We traveled to an area where the Ethiopian Jews had traditionally resided but found that the majority of them had migrated to Israel . Those remaining made wonderful pottery with motifs incorporating the Jewish star with Ethiopian lions. My sister purchased an antique “lunch box” made of straw and leather. The next day we flew to Dire Dawa on Ethiopian airlines, which was founded in 1945 and is the oldest airline in Africa . (They are especially dear to my heart as they bumped us up to business class on our flight to Dar es Salaam when we finally left Ethiopia .) Dire Dawa had just experienced torrential rains causing terrible flash floods that killed hundreds of people and destroyed whole villages in the surrounding area. We headed off to Harar in the Eastern region of Ethiopia along a two-lane highway which had flooded the night before. Many areas of the road had been washed out and we had to proceed overland across rutty paths in any places. As there is little road building machinery available in the country most of the debris removal was being done by hand. The devastation was shocking in its immensity. When we arrived in Harar the sun was again shining and it was easy to forget the difficult trip we had just endured. Harar is in the quat growing region of Ethiopia . Quat is chewed by many to stave off hunger and for its soporific qualities. There is a large ethnic Somali population in Harar and you could hear Somali as well as Aramaic being spoken in the market. Our guide for this region was fluent in French and proudly showed us the ornate gingerbread mansion where Rimbaud had lived. The old walled town contained many narrow alleys lined with shops of every description. I purchased a pair of rubber tire tread sandals for about twenty cents from a couple of very amused cobblers. The highlight of this area for me was the hyena feeding at night. We went to the edge of town after dark and found the Hyena Man who has tamed a pack of about twenty hyenas to come when called and take food from his hand. I volunteered to feed them and sat beside the Hyena Man who gave me some raw meat on a foot long stick to hold out for the hyenas. He called out “hello.Big Tooth” and Big Tooth came and gently removed the meat from the stick while his buddies snapped and growled behind him. We returned to Addis where we visited the excellent National Museum and enjoyed some fabulous Ethiopian meals before departing for Tanzania . Our memories of Ethiopia include not only spectacular architecture and scenery but also the kind and very physically beautiful people we encountered. Ethiopia is well worth another trip where we want to see the extreme North of the country around Axum and the South with its game preserves. Ann & Joan Mason