I went to a country, supposed to be the cradle of humanity and the only African country that was never anybody's colony. Ethiopia is still not a tourist destination that would be packed by tourists, as the countries to the north of Africa. The country is located to the East of Africa, bordering to Eritrea to the north, Djibouti and Somalia to the west and Sudan and Kenya to the South. Although there are more than 1 million tourists visiting the country annually, it’s not much considering its size.
No matter what country of the world I’ve travelled to I’ve met a few of my (only two million of a nation) countrymen. Ethiopia was no different, for I’ve met a group that travelled the north of the country. They were all a bit older and had a packet arrangement for 8 days with an agency. We shared the flight from Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to the holy place for the Ethiopians – the ancient city of Lalibela in the region of Volo.
The city of Lalibela is famous for its chiselled churches. There’s eleven of them all together and the most famous of them is dedicated to St. George and features a Greek cross. The churches are on the UNESCO world heritage list and many consider them the eighth wonder of the world. At the time of our visit the city hosted the biggest religious festival – Timkat – which lasts for three days. Apart from Lalibele the festival is also held simultaneously in the cities of Gondar and Bahir Dar. Watching the processions of people on the street and festive singing from sunrise until late in the evening you got the feeling the festival is woven into the essence of the city. Local transport and infrastructure are in a bad, time-beaten, shape. Somewhere there is none at all. Electricity is only present in big cities and even there not always available. I’ll always remember the ride with the old Italian bus, so run down you wouldn’t even see it at a junkyard back home, but for the people there it was the only transportation from city to city. Almost every driver has a mechanic along with him, unless he can fix buses himself. Our bus broke down every few kilometres. And the bus was full of passengers, which were not made up of humans only, but there were goats tied on the roof of the bus, and poultry sharing our space inside. Since people live in a great shortage, almost everything we find self-evident, they see as signs of wealth.
Arriving at a small place under the Siemens Mountains, the people hadn’t had electricity for three days already. No electricity means no water, as there are no pumps pumping it. My room had an old dirty mattress, where I slept, and I got a candle and matches instead of electricity. I’ve slept in such rooms before and I don’t mind the poverty. I rather get to know such a country in its most honest form. Bread is being sold only once a day at a precise time. The people and children are standing in lines, hoping to get their turn, as the only bakery cannot produce enough bread for everybody. Everybody is holding a bir in their hand (local currency), hoping to feed the hunger for at least a few moments. But despite lacking basically everything, you see and feel the happiness of those children. There is no poverty in their eyes. They are playing in the streets, especially if they were able to make a ball out of old rags. There you see how little it takes for somebody to be happy. Unimaginable for us, who are living in the developed world and are always greedily praying for more luxury.
The northern Ethiopia is completely different from the south. The north features mostly mountains and the south planes and savannah. If you ever travel the northern part, do plan for the trekking along the Siemens Mountains, where you get to the elevation of three thousand meters and more. The visit to the mountains must be planned ahead, as you must hire a vehicle with a driver and scout, who has a Kalashnikov machine gun with him – loaded. Before entering the national park you need to sign in with the control office, that registers you in a book, along with the time of departure. If you’re not back on time, they will start a search party for you. The price of trekking is quite high (by their standards), but well worth it. National parks are always, and will always be, interesting for people and if you’re lucky, you see animals that inhabit the area. We saw monkeys that hold together in groups and are called gelade babuni.
Monkeys are no longer as dangerous for people as they used to be. Humans limit their living space by moving in on their territory, so it’s only right to protect them. There are people here, who live off raising cattle and goats and the children sell handmade souvenirs to earn a coin or two. The children do not go to school and what they see is the only world they know and it lays in these high mountains. When people on the street ask me where I’m from, they have no idea where Slovenia is – which is completely understandable in such underdeveloped countries. Their official language is Amharic, and beside it they speak sixty other languages. When, however, I mentioned Yugoslavia instead of Slovenia, some people remembered and recognised it. Some still remember Tito, who visited Ethiopia twice (in 1955 and 1959) with his wife Jovanka. And people remember Yugoslavia from the times of their last emperor Haille Sellasie. He had visited Yugoslavia, after receiving Tito’s invitation, and among other places visited the castle at Bled (which is in Slovenia), visited the islands of Brioni (today Croatia) and the Tomos (once very successful producer of motor bikes) in Koper (again in Slovenia).In the capital Addis Ababa you will find, among other streets named after great world leaders of the past, also the avenue named after Josip Broz Tito.
The nation’s capital had many flags of other African countries decorating the streets, as there was the meeting of the African Union in progress at the time. Ethiopia is a big exporter of coffee and is renowned for its athlete. Among them also the greatest runner of all times Haile Gebre Sellasie, who’s been twice the Olympic winner and the holder of many world records. He dedicates a lot of money to the sport centres around the country and is among other things also the ambassador of the national air company Ethiopian Airways. People see him as a hero and is also a very popular person, who’s often seen on billboards. The traditional dish of Ethiopia is Injera, which is about the size of three pancakes. Usually it’s filled with vegetables, meat and spices. It’s best to visit the south of Ethiopia outside the monsoon season, when the roads are passable. The drive through the valley of OMO is impossible without a serious 4x4 off road vehicle. The last larger city towards the south is Arba Minch, where you need to fill up gas cans, as there are no gas stations beyond that point.
You cannot visit the tribes of the OMO valley on your own. The most famous tribe are the Mursi, where women have clay tiles inserted in their lips and ears. Personally I preferred other tribes, as they were less aggressive and bothersome towards the visitors. First foreigners who came were giving them money, so now they demand payment for every single photo. If you don’t pay, you won’t end up well. The tribes live outside civilization in the wilderness. In the past they used to fight one another for livestock, so they all still carry weapons with them. The tribe of Hamer left a very good impression on me as they weren’t greedy for money and were treating us nicely. In return I gave clothes to quit a few of their children.