Ethiopia 2010-11 - Itinerary

9k .jpg image of St. George church in Lalibela

Church of St. George, Lalibela

The trip

Below is a very rough sketch of my recollection of our trip to Ethiopia. Some of the exact events may be recorded in the wrong days or missed and places may be confused. But it does provide a broad indication of the visit organised by Nouvelles Frontieres and run by Kibran Tours.

Saturday 18/12: Drive from Brussels to Paris CdG airport. Snow means a 3 hour drive becomes 7 hours. Just manage to scrape on to the Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa. Departure delayed.
Sunday 19/12: Arrive early morning in Addis. Met by our guide Fitoum. Most of the group's cases do not arrive, but ours do (probably due to our last minute flight status). Leave cases in the Panorama Hotel. Visit Addis, first taking in the National Museum and looking at the origins of man (and woman - i.e. Lucy). The Lucy there is a copy, the original, previously kept in a safe in Addis, is on a controversial 6 year loan to US museums. Lunch at the Lucy Gazebo & Restaurant inside the National Museum compound with scenic garden, good local food and crafts plus a layered fruit juice (including avocado) which we never managed to find subsequently. Then visit the city together with views from surrounding hills. Dinner skipped and an early night.
Monday 20/12: After breakfast back to the airport and a flight to Bahir Dar on the edge of Lake Tana where we meet our driver for the next ten days Casaho in the 28 seater Toyota 4 wheel-drive van. Check in to the Abay Minch Lodge and have lunch there. Visit the Blue Nile waterfall. It is less impressive than it probably was in the wet season and before some of the flow was dammed in the recent past. Visit a local market as well as seeing in Woyito how a papyrus boat is built. Dinner at hotel.
Tuesday 21/12: After breakfast we take a boat on Lake Tana and see some of the island monasteries Ura Kidane Mihiret and Azoa Mariam. After lunch at the Tana Guion Hotel, drive north by the lake visiting Debre Sina church and arriving at Gondar. Stay at the Quara Hotel in the centre of town.
Wednesday 22/12:Visit Gondar exploring the royal enclosure which contains several stone-built castles of different emperors from 1632 for two centuries. The most impressive building is Fasilidas castle. He was the emperor who established Gondar as a powerful cultural and religious center. After that we see the bath of Fasil, filled with water once a year for the Timket (Ephiphany) celebration. We visit the local market and the Church Of Debre Berhan Selassie (Light of the Trinity), decorated with frescos and paintings as well as the village where the last 'Felasha' (African Jews) lived. Another night in the Quara hotel.
Thursday 23/12: Drive from Gonder to the Simien Mountains. The Simien National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the park, the highest mountain is Ras Dashen, at 4,543 m the fourth-highest mountain in Africa. We stay in Debark at the Imet Gogo Hotel. Pretty basic, although everybody tries very hard. Pleasant coffee ceremony.
Friday 24/12: Up to the Simien mountains again. See gelada baboons feeding on roots and several 'Walya' ibex balanced on the mountains, both species endemic to Ethiopia. Take a long hike. Another night at the Imet Gogo.
Saturday 25/12:Drive from the Simien Mountains to Axum. The crazy road (presently being improved by Chinese contractors, from the original Italian basis, but as ones goes) passes through mountainous regions of wild beauty, running alongside the Simien massif. Then it traverses the scenic Tekeze valley before reaching Axum. We stay at the Remhai Hotel.
Sunday 26/12: Sightseeing in Axum. It was once the capital of the long Axumite reign, one of the oldest African empires, and represented a connecting-point between Africa and Asia for almost a thousand years. Some of the archeological sites can give you an idea of the former high standard of civilization. There are certainly lots of hidden treasures beneath Axum, yet to be uncovered. Visit the famous steles: granite monoliths dating from pre-Christian times, decorated with symbolic engravings. See the churches of Saint Mary of Zion, which contain the crowns of Ethiopian kings and other treasures, the tomb of King Kaleb and the Axum Museum, revealing many of the archeological findings and providing information about the glorious past of the city.
Monday 27/12:A very long drive from Axum to Mekelle. Begin to see more camels (to a non-specialist - to be correct actually dromedaries since just one hump). Stay at Hotel Milano.
Tuesday 28/12: Drive from Mekelle to Lalibela. Again long. We stay in the extremely comfortable Mountain View Hotel.
Wednesday 29/12: Do the North-Western group of churches in the morning and South-Eastern cluster in afternoon. All really impressive. churches of the 'Ethiopian Jerusalem'. Each church ('Bet') has a unique architectural style. All are carved and most are decorated with well-preserved paintings. Bet Medhane Alem is the largest monolithic rock-hewn building in the world, supported by 72 pillars. Through a short tunnel one passes on to Bet Mariam. Bet Golgotha and Bet Mikael contain many important religious items. After purchasing local art and attending a coffee ceremony an evening walk back to hotel from town past people selling things and sometimes paying a bit too much for things that should be cheaper.
Thursday 30/12: Second day in Lalibela. Go to a cave Church in morning and all travellers (some having walked for 5 days) very involved in the service. In afternoon go to the more well known St. George's rock hewn church - the cruciform one. Afterwards a coffee ceremony, various purchases, etc.
Friday 31/12: After breakfast off to Lalibela airport for flight to Addis and many purchases (for us a carpet with a lion, a drum with genuine goat hair, and probably much else I don't know of). In Addis we visit the Cathedral we missed the first day. Sort of missable (in contrast to all the really old churches) except for the tombs and thrones of the last Emperor and his wife, plus elaborate murals and magnificent stain glass tributes to the Emperor. Additionally we try to divest ourselves of local currency, which nobody could guarantee could be changed back, by buying Arabica coffee and nice coffee cups in the hotel - unfortunately afterwards seen at nearly half the price in the airport. Even worse the banks were open there late evening for conversion back to euros - our successful splurge resulted in us only reciving a net 10 euros something! But the coffee cups are nice and something we would pay the price quoted for and would have had no regrets if we had not seen them cheaper. And additionally, as a plus, there is now a story attached to their acquisition.
Saturday 1/1/2011: Departure just before midnight from Addis on Ethiopian Airlines. New Year in air to Paris. Land. Drive 'home' to Brussels.

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