I’ve made two journeys through Ethiopia in the last 11 months with our client Jacaranda Tours. Some thoughts on the first trip can be found on my blog here. Meanwhile, here are some takeaways from my most recent trip:
- You can learn about Ethiopia in books and on TV, but until you experience the East African country first hand it’s impossible to fathom the absolute richness of Ethiopuian culture – from the island monasteries of Lake Tana and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela to the unique wildlife and the vibrant tribes in the Omo Valley.
- Ethiopia is a living crossroads of civilization that plays out in front of your very eyes, a mingling of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, as well as Christian, Judaic and Islamic traditions.
- The landscapes and scenery are far more impressive and dramatic than you can ever imagine from photos or videos. And there is such a wide variety of geography, from the Gheralta region (reminiscent of the American Southwest) and Danakil Desert to the lake-filled Rift Valley and tropical woodlands and savannahs in the deep south.
- The tribes of the Omo Valley – is it already too late to preserve their cultures? The development of sugar factories and hydroelectric projects in the region, as well as the construction of modern roads to service those facilities, means these ancient peoples are being flooded with outside influences both good and bad. Some experts predict the traditional ways of the Mursi and Hamar people — like lip plates, scarification and semi-nomadic herding — won’t last another generation.
- Visiting the indigenous people of the region was a lot harder than I anticipated. You really have to suspend judgment when visiting people like the Mursi (with their CD-sized lip plates) and Hamar (with their intense tribal scarring) because their lifestyles and living conditions are so very different from our own and even the rest of Ethiopia.
- The Mursi people were so aggressive about wanting you to take their photo — and getting paid for each and every snap — that our visit disintegrated into near chaos (we had long philosophical discussions about who is to blame – the tourists, the tribe or both). The Hamar, Ari and Dorze tribes were much more pleasant encounters.
- Ethiopian roads are better than expected (thanks to lots of recent construction) but most of the hotels (especially outside the capital) are worse than expected. With very few exceptions, the accommodation in the provinces needs improvement – in particular screens in the windows, fans and mosquito netting. There is no such thing as consistency. But help us on the way: Jacaranda is developing new luxury properties in Gonder, Lake Tana, Axum and Simien National Park.
HUGE thanks are in order for Ethiopian Airlines for providing my ticket.
For another take on the East African nation, check out this story about Ethiopia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The stunning sites that made Ethiopia “the world’s best tourist-destination”.