For as long as I can remember it’s been a dream of mine to visit Ethiopia – I was fascinated by its rich history and culture, and could not wait to get my boots on the ground. But when I headed off into the unknown, boarding my Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I landed. Arriving in Addis Ababa, the colours, sounds and smells besieged me from all sides – Addis, as it’s known locally, is a very typical, completely chaotic and bustling African city. It’s packed with fascinating museums to explore, and is home to the famous ‘Lucy’; the best preserved specimen of a female Australopithecus ever found. Addis is also home to a huge number of churches for which Ethiopia is famous. But among all this there is even a taste of Italy! On our first evening we were unexpectedly treated to fabulous Italian antipasti at Castelli’s – run by a family who remained after Mussolini and his troops withdrew.
Ethiopia is a wonderful land of surprises, colour, smiles, endless landscapes, churches and monuments. The stunning and intricately painted monasteries tucked away on remote islands in Lake Tana; the stories of the ancient civilization of Axum; and of course the rock hewn churches in and around Lalibela cannot fail to impress. When you visit, take time to sit and watch local life; many of the Ethiopian people are very devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and the churches have a continuous stream of worshippers arriving to pray, dressed in traditional robes. The priests who look after the churches are very proud and enjoy showing off the churches’ treasures which include intricately carved crosses, manuscripts with beautifully painted pictures on hide and of course the glittering crowns.
As you drive around Ethiopia you will be mesmerised by the vistas and will see hundreds of children walking along the side of the road clutching school books; this can be at slightly odd times, as the schools have 2 shifts a day. The Ethiopian Government has invested a lot into the education of its people and the literacy rate has consequently increased massively. When you visit, it’s highly recommended to drop in at a school, possibly armed with a song or two, and take a donation of some pens and books to give to the headmaster (rather than the children, to discourage begging).
While much of the accommodation in Ethiopia is still very simple the overall experience was incredible – the friendliness of the people, the depth and wealth of the country’s history and its simple, arid beauty made this a firm favourite of mine.
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