Bles-sed in Ethiopia

en nl

I haven’t posted a blog for more than three weeks. Why not? Because I was “busy” with friends, drinking, eating out and all kinds of trips. Super nice, but there was no time to write. Let alone that there is internet everywhere in Ethiopia. It could be worse, but in general the internet is not very fast in Ethiopia.

Where shall I start?

Where should I start? If you don’t write a blog for so long, I don’t know where to start. Let me start with the fact that for two weeks I made a trip with two Dutch girlfriends, Loes and Patricia, with Myrthe, who lives here (in Addis).

Our trip to Lalibela, Gondar and the Simien

Our trip was grim, as we would describe it ourselves. Grimmig is the word we used as a joke, but also to indicate if it was sometimes a bit and strange or weird situation.

We started a week in Addis, but then we decided to travel for a week. We started in Lalibela. This is a village in the north of Ethiopia, known for its churches. And that is what we did. Myrthe had arranged a nice hotel with a view early on and the next day a guide showing us 10 churches in one day. Cool, but tiring.

Churches of Lalibela

We had a tour on Sunday, so we started the mass. People sit outside on tree trunks to listen to the priest. Everyone is dressed in white. Nice to see and we’ve been there for a while, but then it gets boring.

After that we got a short tour through the museum. And also this guide in the museum was very strict again, so again we took off all the costumes and corks from the church – well. And after that we went down the ten churches. Very special. Most of the churches are from the twelfth and thirteenth century.

What I understand from the guide is that there was a king (Gebre Mesqel Lalibela) who was a son of an Israeli king. He lived many years of his life in Israel and came back to build churches in Ethiopia which he had also seen in Israel. He was both king and priest.

Churches are carved out of the rock

They did not use stones for this, but carved the churches out of the rocks that were there. This makes Lalibela so special and that is why it is on the UNESCO list.

The link with Israel is not yet entirely clear to me, because I know that there are many Ethiopian Jews. They are also officially recognised and many of them also live in Israel, but it is not clear to me whether this may be descendants of the king Lalibela and therefore also Jewish, because one of his parents came from Israel.

Ben Abeba restaurant in Lalibela

After an intensive day of visiting churches, we went to a super special restaurant: Ben Abeba. The owner is Scottish. There is no haggis on the menu – which would be funny – but they have a variety of western and Ethiopian food. Ethiopian food means above all: Injera. A pancake of teff – a kind of grain – with many different sauces. Most Ethiopians eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Begging for books

After two evenings of eating in Ben Abeba, and ignoring the advice not to sell our souls to the children who are walking around – which we do, because we tell our name through which almost everyone calls Myrte or Martha as Ethiopians call her – we think it’s time for the next city: Gondar. Hopefully we won’t have any ‘trouble’ here – it’s not an ideal word, but you understand what I mean – from children calling our name and asking for money for school books. Apparently someone has given a lot of money for books, which makes it a running-gag among the children to beg money for. Especially Martha knows everyone after one day.

Next city: Gondar

After a short flight we land in Gondar. There we are taken to a nice geusthouse with a nice courtyard garden. We still have to have lunch and decide to do that around the corner on the advice of the guesthouse. It is a nice tent, but the service leaves much to be desired. When Loes asks if she can serve her beer with a glass, the waiter, a female lady, looks as if she sees fire burning. We conclude that there is certainly a market for a hotel school in Ethiopia, on time, fast and hospitable they are not in many restaurants.

That same afternoon we also visit the castle of King Fasiladas, built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many buildings still look good and we do a whole photoshoot so everyone can update their Instagram – except for Patricia, who somehow doesn’t want Insta.

History of Ethiopia

I have to confess quite frankly that the history of Ethiopia is not much clearer to me from this visit. So in the 16th and 17th century they had king Fasilsdas and from 1889 to 1913 there was Menelik II. Before that there was John IV from 1872 to 1889.

Just in a row:
12th and 13th centuries Gebre Mesqel Lalibela

1872 – 1889 John IV
1889 – 1913 Menelik II

Next destination: Simien mountains

After this history we leave Gondar for what it is and go to the Simien Mountains a few hours further on. We are picked up by our driver who will take us to the Lodge in the national park, but we first have to pay for the entrance to the park, a scout with rifle that will protect us and a guide. It’s not entirely clear whether the guide is required, but we decide to book him for three days despite the fact that he won’t work the first day, because it’s already very late.

Our guide draws the same conclusion and says he sees us tomorrow morning at the Lodge. Normally you would start early, because most animals are active once early, but he suggests to start at nine o’clock, after breakfast. We think it’s fine.

Scout, driver and a guide

The scout immediately crawls into the car, which makes for a delicious smell in the car. A shower is not common for many Ethiopians and with our windows open we go to the Lodge. Once there we check in and go to the beer with popcorn. Do we want popcorn with coffee? That’s the use: popcorn with coffee, but eventually we also get the popcorn with beer and we enjoy our evening.

Trekking & geladas

The next morning we see our guide at breakfast and we go out: looking for the babies. In other words: the geladas. Officially they are not babies, but the local people call them that way. We walk for three hours and finally we find a group of 700 geladas – I haven’t counted them, but there were many – in a valley. It is wonderful to see. I can take pictures of them at a meter distance.

Pictures of geladas

The guide says that not to be able to see his dark skin color. In the past, the local people have thrown a lot of stones at the geladas to chase them away from their farmland, making a distinction between the white tourists and the local dark people according to the guide. I don’t know if it’s true, but what we do know is that as a white tourist I could get very close. The geladas don’t care. They look up and graze on, because they graze a lot of grass and move around in groups. In the evening they all sleep in caves in the area. Their biggest enemies are the hyenas and leopards.

Flying back to Addis

And then it’s time again: we go back to Addis. I could say that I still want to walk a bit in the morning and that the guide doesn’t show up, says we can get money back for a day that doesn’t work, but I don’t feel like it. It is wonderful that we were able to see the Simien mountains and the most important thing is that the four of us had a lot of fun. That counts.

Top of the African Union

And so we are back to four nights in Addis again with Chris who had a busy week behind him from the African Union summit in Addis. Which means a lot of dinners, networking and late hours for him, which he likes a lot, but it takes a lot of time and energy. The advantage that we were not there is that we missed the hustle and bustle of the city. In Addis many streets were completely fixed because many African heads of state and their entourage were given priority.

Full of honours

The days before and after that we – the four ladies – still get something out of it because we swim twice at the pool in the Sheraton hotel and when we are picked up we are waiting in our leisure clothes to be picked up while all kinds of presidents arrive in full armour. Then we feel a bit abandoned when we look at our slippers at two meters distance to see how the presidents are received by the men with high hats at the hotel. Crazy, but also funny. Let’s be honest, sometimes life is a big play (I think so)?

Time to say goodbye (snif)

And then it is already time – after two weeks – to say goodbye to Patricia and Loes. We all enjoyed a week in Addis and a week in the north of Ethiopia where we only did not visit Axem of the traditional route that everyone follows, but hey, you can’t have everything in life and I don’t care about it. It was great to be together again for two weeks and have a lot of fun.

What stays with me is the shouting of ‘Martha’, that we talk about the sometimes poor English, like ‘blessed’ what a guide pronounced as: bles-sed. Or a tuk tuk driver who put a hand on my knee on which my three friends in the back started giggling and laughing loudly so he immediately pulled his hand away. For me it are the small moments that make this trip worthwhile and these two weeks with them have added many beautiful memories to it.

I feel bles-sed.

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