Nov. 18th, 2014

korintomichi: (Dune)

Last month we were lucky enough to travel to Ethiopia. It's a country we have long wanted to visit, ever since we had heard about the amazing rock hewn churches of Lalibela. Having done some research planning the trip, we discovered that there was far more to the country than we had initially imagined. It's quite timely that the fourth 'Band Aid' single has just been released, the original a response to the dreadful famine that occurred in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s. It's a shame that the famine is the event that people most associate with Ethiopia: many of our guides asked us to describe what we knew about their country and - with apologies - we told them that it was best known for those events. As they all commented, "that happened once and it was 30 years ago." They were right. Ethiopia is an amazing country that is rapidly developing as a tourist destination.

Ethiopia has thousands of years of history, (millions if you include the fact that we saw 'Lucy' in Addis Ababa, one of the oldest humans ever discovered)...
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...spectacular landscapes (Ethiopia is described as the 'roof of Africa'. We were looking forward to visiting the Simien Mountains, but didn't realise that the whole of Northern Ethiopia is mountainous)....

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...amazing wildlife...

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...and some of the most astonishing architecture in the world.

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Ethiopian dates and time are different to the West. The country runs on the Julian calendar, so as soon as you arrive you are instantly seven years younger. Interestingly, the clocks also run differently to Western time. Ethiopia is close to the Equator, hence sunrise and sunset occur around 6pm each day (it varies by about half an hour over the year), so it makes sense that 6am is 12 o'clock in Ethiopian time. 7am is 1 o'clock, 8am is 2 o'clock and so on, until 6pm when the time reverts back to 12 o'clock (there is no 24 hour clock). It doesn't take long to get used to the system - just add 6 hours to whatever time the Ethiopian clock says.

Something else that intrigued us before we arrived was Ethiopian food: unusually for us, we had absolutely no idea about what to expect. A quick google revealed 'injera'. We still had no idea what to expect. Injera looks like a cross between a dirty dishcloth and a sponge. It is about the least appetising looking food on the planet. This was about as attractive as it got:
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Actually, it tastes good. It is made from teff, the world's latest superfood - a grain that is highly nutritious and gluten-free. Injera is made from teff using a sort of sourdough process and it takes a few days to ferment. It is used as a substitute for cutlery, i.e. it is often laid out flat with stew/meat/veg placed on top, and the injera is used like, say, a chapati; eat with your right hand and use the injera to scoop up the stew. While trying not to get too messy. Our hosts were quite surprised that a) we were willing to eat injera and b) we liked spicy food. Also, you've heard of Yorkshire portions, right? Forget those. Ethiopian portions are so enormous that we quickly discovered that one meal between two of us was more than enough to fill us up. We generally only needed to eat brekkie, then we shared other meals.

And the people, the people were so lovely. We've been doing so much writing this year that my elbow has been hurting quite persistently and I was looking forward to not touching a keyboard for a couple of weeks to give it a really good rest. Not a chance. Every day as we drove past fields and through villages, children would wave to greet us. We couldn't walk through a town without acquiring an entourage of kids who wanted to say 'Hello' or high five. If we stopped by a roadside to take photos, large groups of children would run down the road to see us and say 'Hello.' Everywhere we visited we were welcomed.

With a packed itinerary, including several internal flights, our tour ran like clockwork, something that we really, really appreciated. We travelled with an Ethiopian tour operator and were really pleased that all our guides and drivers were locals who were really passionate about showing us their country. We planned much napping throughout the trip and C did amazingly well. There are a bunch of photos here. Many more are going to be uploaded...



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