Trip to Ethiopia - Apr 7 - Apr 18, 2018
I had wanted to go to Ethiopia for sometime, when it was decided I searched the internet for a company that could deliver the tour that I wanted.
I found kimkim and through them found Marco from Simien Eco Tours.
I also looked at least 3 other tour operators. I had a specific list of things I wanted to see and was open to suggestions of what else Ethiopia had to offer. I specifically wanted to go to Aksum, Lalibela and the archaeology site where 'Lucy' was found. I emailed Marco stating as much and his first reaction to the Lucy site was 'why would you want to go there, there is nothing there'.
I must admit I was a bit annoyed that I received this reply and responded with 'Because I want to!'. His reply to me was a detailed itinerary of our trip which included the northern historic tour of Bahir Dar, Gondar, the Simien Mountains, Aksum, Lalibela and then a drive to Samera and the Lucy site. The fact that he immediately responded to the request of the client sealed the deal with me.
The itinerary was more than I had anticipated and was delivered very professionally.
We were met at the airport by Marco taken to our hotel to freshen up from the long trip. We met a short time later and he advised us of our trip in the days ahead. We were taken to see the National Museum and the displays therein. My focus was on Lucy and I was not disappointed. However, if you are looking for a museum similar to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo then you will be disappointed. This is Ethiopia and I think that western tourism is in its infancy, the infrastructure is still a work in progress.
We were then taken to lunch, to be introduced to the local food, injera. We went to the Taitu Hotel, as Marco advised it is in a seriously rundown condition, there are bedrooms, but you certainly wouldn't stay there, however the restaurant hadn’t changed in a hundred years and the food was great. And he wasn't wrong, it is a great restaurant for the tourist to begin. Marco had to beg off after lunch and left us with Mohamed and a driver, we were asked where we wanted to go and decided to have a look at the Mercato Markets.
We also spoke about other things to do in Addis, the only other choice was a church. We don't go travelling without doing some research on the place and I already knew that there is not a lot to do in one day for a tourist in Addis. We were happy with the Mercato for a couple of hours.
Marco picked us up in the morning and took us to the airport for our flight to Bahir Dar where we would meet our guide Yirga who would look after us for the next 12 days.
The flight was uneventful and were met an hour later by Yirga and our driver Awasha. Over the next 12 days Yirga was the best. His English was excellent, his knowledge of all things Ethiopian fantastic. He told us that he had been a guide for at least 15 years, this certainly showed, what really impressed me was his enthusiasm.
Bahir Dar was excellent, a trip to the Blue Nile Falls, a boat trip to the 14th century monastery was a great day the next day we drove to Gondar. At Gondar we had a guide (I apologize for not remembering his name) who showed us around the castle (palace) and a couple of churches. One thing which always pleases me is the knowledge that the guides have of what they are showing you. The castle you might be able to see in half an hour, with the guide we spent 2 -3 hours and learned so much, I wish I could remember it all.
On to the Simien Mountains the next day. A simply wonderful drive, we arrived early afternoon and after checking in Yirga suggested a short walk. He loves trekking and short walk to him was 2 hours, fortunately for us it was all downhill!! Along the way we saw a small group of gelada baboons, several different birds and many species of plants all which Yirga knew the English names.
We were met 2 hours later by our driver with the car and were driven back up the lodge. We were stopped by a large group of gelada's. Having these animals within an arm’s reach was quite remarkable.
Next day off to Aksum. Aksum is a very holy city and if you don't know anything about it get on the internet and do your research, 2 days was not enough. Again, Yirga made sure that we were Ok and again provided us with a guide for the city and surrounds and again everything was exceptional.
We flew to Lalibela and were met with a new driver, Bekele, a great driver and a very nice man.
Again, we had a great guide and again we had a great time in Lalibela. Lalibela is the hone to the rock hewn churches and they do not disappoint. After spending a day and a half looking at the churches, we went to the open-air market. It was Saturday and market day, and what a great market this is, through the household goods, pots, pans etc through the vegetable area, through the meat market, meat was still live on the hoof, sheep, goats and cattle. Then onto the grain, wheat, split peas, tef, all for sale (tef is the grain they use to make injera) Then onto the spices, what a great day.
A quick note on the hotels we stayed at, as earlier stated tourism infrastructure is still a work in progress, the hotels look nice and the staff are unbelievably friendly and accommodating, but not everything works as you might like, accept the small inconveniences as a work in progress and have a good chuckle. You don't live there, are only in Ethiopia for a short time so enjoy.
For me the best was yet to come. We had a long drive to the city of Samera, not that it is far in distance but the roads, goats, sheep, cows, people on the road slow you down a bit. However, the scenery was fantastic. We drove for about 7 hours with a couple of stops for coffee and lunch.
The next day we drove south to the Hadar region, stopped in a small town to negotiate with the town mayor for the right to drive to the Lucy site, all the official paperwork in order and off we go across the landscape, we had to take the town mayor and another. Along the way we went through an administration centre, a few buildings in the middle of nowhere, we picked up the local policeman (not sure why) and set off for another 45 minutes through the landscape.
We arrived, walked for about 10 minutes over hill and dale and came to a stone cairn with a plaque stating that Lucy was discovered here in 1974. There was much backslapping, hi-fiveing and hand shaking, why because it turns out that we are the very first tourist to ever visit this site. Over the years there have been a few archaeological groups come out and survey or dig, a couple of documentary groups but never any tourists except us. It was Yirga's first time as well and he was as excited as us.
I know that I have waffled on a bit, but I wanted to try and give you an account of the great trip we had in Ethiopia. I cannot praise Marco enough for the organisation of the trip that he put in, there was no hiccups. Yirga, what can I say about this young man, except that his attention to us, our needs and wants went far beyond what I was expecting. I have no doubt that he provides this level of service to all his clients and he will truly make your holiday memorable.
To Marco and Yirga and all who made our holiday what it was, I can only say Ameseginalehu.