Murray Brill from Greece

Murray Brill  from Greece 

After a month in Bangkok , I flew on Ethiopian Airlines direct to Addis Ababa for a two week visit. Mari, my wife, didn’t want to go because she felt it would be a hardship trip for her. In many respects she was right, which I’ll mention later, but for me I’m really glad I went I was thinking  of seeing Ethiopia for years but something always came up to put it off. I arranged the whole trip on the internet and found a reliable Ethiopian travel agent, Fest Ethiopia Travel & Tour Co., Robel Alemu, Director, and worked out an itinerary to suit my interests and to cover all the important sites. Arriving around 01:00am in Addis, I was met at the airport and taken to the Addis Hilton Hotel. After some sleep and a big buffet breakfast at Hilton I started off to seeAddis Ababa . Ethiopia is a historic place, the first African country to adopt One of the most spectacular is cut from the top down into the solid rock in the shape of a Greek cross (Bet Giorgis) picture and the largest (Bet Medani Alem) is about the size of the Parthenon in Greece (all cut out of solid rock!). The next day I made the journey to the Naikotelab monastery at the top of a mountain almost 4’000 meters high. This was a difficult climb, after going as far the mule could go, it became too steep so I had to do some steep rock climbing on foot to reach the top. Saw 13th century processional crosses, icons, etc. This trek was like climbing Mt.Kilimanjaro but instead of 5 days it was compressed into 4 hours. The following morning I went on another trip to a cave monastery and walked around the town. There were also Timkat processions, with music and colorful costumes. (Pics) In the afternoon I flew to Axum . Unfortunately the flights are often late and they are not direct to the place you are planning to go. We had a stop at two other places before arriving at Axum , so time was short for visiting that afternoon. Axum was the capital of the Queen of II seat of government before he established the capitol at Addis Ababa in 1886, with a magnificent view. Also saw Trinity Cathedral, St. George’s Cathedral, Menelik’s mausoleum and other sights around the city. At the City Museum I saw the colorful procession down below of the Timkat festival. This is a celebration of Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ. Later went to a huge field where there must have been about a half million people gathering, dancing, chanting for the occasion, but it was impossible to get close enough to see the actual mass baptism at a pool in the far end (which they do with a fire hose!).

Later the evening, I ate Ethiopian food at a local hotel and the next day flew to Lalibela. Lalibela is the most famous place (one of the “8th Wonders of the World”) where there are 13 rock-hewn churches cut out of solid volcanic rock. Some are deep inside in trenches and some are in open quarried caves and many are connected with a complex series of tunnels and narrow passageways.

Sheba in the tenth century BC and dominated the vital crossroads of Africa and Asia for a thousand years. Visited the stele park where a huge “obelisk” is still standing since the 3rd century, while an even bigger one lies fallen nearby. I was told that the best one taken away to

Rome by the Italians is going to be returned to Ethiopia after a month. Watch the news

to see!

I also visited the archeological museum, the Zion Cathedral where the original “Ark of the Covenant” (the chest where the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept) is claimed to be found. However, no one is allowed to go in to see it and there are no photographs of it. Later I visited the ruins of the palace and bath of Queen of Sheba. There was an Ethiopian wedding celebration at the hotel, so this provided a lot of music and gaiety as well as more picture taking. [I always try to capture the beautiful Ethiopian girls and women on my video, but not always successful.

Then flew to Gondar where I saw a number of palaces and castles, residences and baths, as well as interesting churches. It was all in all quite an interesting place. Next day flew to Bahir Dar and stayed at a lakeside hotel at Lake Tana . Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile .

Early next morning went on a journey to see the Blue Nile falls. After a drive through some rough terrain, a small boat trip across the river and a two kilometer hike, saw the canyon of the falls and the falls themselves, but……they built a hydroelectric project and took almost all theBlue Nile water and left only a trickle for the falls! So, the falls are very small. I learnt from an Engineer that they could have done it differently and saved the original falls as a tourist attraction. After a little more sightseeing, the next day flew back to Addis Ababa . Next from Addis, drove south to Langano resort and overnight. Visited Abyata-Shala National Park and saw pelicans and other birds. Next, drove to Awash National Park in the south. Passed through the town of Nazareth , saw some crater lakes and the wildlife reserve. Mostly saw Ibexes and some other wildlife. Stayed in town overnight because the “lodge” wasn’t a lodge at all and not worth staying at. Next we visited the Awash River falls which was much larger and more interesting than the blue Nile falls. I also saw the 1800m high volcano in the distance, the wildlife museum and went on to visit Dire Dawe (and had a good meal) and then drove to Harar. The old walled city was interesting, with narrow streets and interesting looking people. It reminded me of many Arab towns. I walked around town and visited the famous poet Rimbeau’s house. [his house was on this site but it was rebuilt  into a larger, better house as a museum]. The town dates from the 13th to 16th centuries and is Islamic in architecture. It was the center of pilgrimage and the most holy in the horn of Africa with many mosques and madrassas as well as traditional old houses. Later the day I went all around the city walls and saw the remaining gates, the museum and in the evening saw the “Hyena Man” and I fed the wild hyenas that live in the surrounding bush!!! On the way back to Addis, I stayed over night at Sodere resort and enjoyed the therapeutic hot springs . There is a huge Olympic sized pool with hot water, so it was like relaxing in a hot bath, you were so relaxed that you didn’t feel like swimming. Finally we drove back to Addis Ababa and saw a few things missed before, like the huge Merkato market, the largest in Africa and then in the evening enjoyed a big Ethiopian food buffet and cultural show (music, dances, costumes) and then at midnight was taken to the airport for my flight to Johannesburg to end my tour of Ethiopia .

So, why was it a “hardship” trip? It wasn’t for me, but for old people or those not in good physical shape, the climbing in and out of the rock churches is difficult without assistance (rock steps slippery and treacherous) a lot of hard walking and climbing, especially the monastery at 4’000 m which I don’t think most people who are not fit could manage.

Apart from the Hilton Hotel in Addis, the hotels were very basic, lacking hot water for the most part, no cold water except at certain hours, no amenities like hangers or a place to hang clothes. There is a lot of waiting required involving the flights, sometimes late and they don’t fly directly where you plan to go, so there are 1 or 2 intermediate stops with a lot of wasted time. Land patience required.

Murray Brill, Greece