Tuesday, February 26, 2013

African Adventure Pt 4: Ethiopia

Earlier vacation episodes, we were in Capetown, on a safari, and in Zanzibar.

At the time we were planning our trip one of my best friends was living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Even though it's not that close to where we were, we couldn't imagine going all the way to Africa and not visiting. So out last leg of the trip was a quick stopover in Addis before heading home. Ironically, my friend had to go back to the States the week we were there, so we ended up with a relatively unplanned weekend in a new city. At least she hooked us up with her driver and made some arrangements for us, including a trip to see thousand year old stone churches in Lalibela, a day at the spa and some wonderful eating recommendations.

Let me just tell you, for someone not used to developing countries (me!) Addis was crazy. Donkeys carrying merchandise along the roads have to weave in and out of the construction happening everywhere. Our nice and brand new hotel overlooked clusters of homes that were not much more than tin and cinder block. Intersection with no street lights or signs were full of cars resembling models from the 80's. I thought I knew what traffic was coming from DC, but so many cars on curvy roads and roundabouts without any apparent order took "traffic" to a whole new level. It made me so grateful Lisa recommended we use her driver.  He navigated the streets with ease, plus was so extremely kind and knowledgeable about the city.

We visited what I think was the first ever coffee company, Tomoca. I learned that some of the lasting results of the country being occupied by Italy were delicious espresso and Italian food. Naturally, we partook of both every chance we got. We completed our day by picking up a few souvenirs at Africa's largest open air market, known as "the Mercado."  One of the books I brought with me on the trip was a historical fiction set in Ethiopia which made the trip extra fun for me to feel like a local expert.  "Want to get a local beer? St. George's! It's in my book,"  or "Of course I've heard of the political figure that statue is of.  They talk about him in my book."

The last excursion before finally heading home was a day in Lalibela. It is the site of ancient churches carved down into the stone over a thousand years ago. If you are into old stuff, architecture or religious sites or you are my husband, this is your kind of place.

Our initial arrival involved a bit of confusion about our hotel and a long ride on bumpy roads going up a mountain, weaving in between people and animals in their way to the market. We ended up staying at Top Twelve Hotel, though our initial choice before the mix up, Cliff Edge Hotel seemed just as nice. The owner was very nice, and for what we considered a cheap price, we got a huge room overlooking the valley below. Our tour guide was a local we met at the airport, trying to get his tour business off the ground independent of the hotels and travel agencies who seem to have a bit of a monopoly. Taye was friendly and informative and really knew the local area. He took us to the Seven Olives restaurant which had a nice view and huge salads. We happened to be there on a local holiday, St. George's Day, which meant we got to watch a very colorful and traditional parade. There were boys singing songs, women with umbrellas and priests with all the ceremonial garb.  This was one of the highlights for me as it felt like one of the most uniquely authentic experiences we had.   The churches themselves were quite amazing.  They were literally carved right into the rock so the building and surrounding rocks were one continuous piece of stone.  After touring the churches we enjoyed the most stunning sunset view of the trip off of our balcony while playing around with the camera.

Almost done. We were pretty ready to be home, but not before a flight back to Addis, a day at the spa (take advantage of those exchange rates!), a lot of espresso and then the flight home through Amsterdam, bus from the airport to the metro and finally home.  Jason requested a direct flight the next time around.  Not that a "next time" is too likely, since this was definitely a once in a lifetime kind of thing.  So that was our trip.  We're so glad God provided for us to go see a totally different part of the world without any major disasters. We were also pretty grateful that our car was still where we left it with all the windows in tact (a legit concern in our neighborhood).  Now that it's over we've been mulling over what we saw, experienced, and what ways we may be called to meet some of the massive need in that part of the world.  It was a good reminder of how blessed we are in America despite the flaws that can be easy to politicize and focus on.  I love America!  I like to prove it after long trips by eating at Chipotle to celebrate.

(As usual, no hotels or restaurants paid me or gave me any perks to mention them.  All opinions and photos are my own.)

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