Early in the New Year I met a friend for coffee who could barely contain his excitement. He and his wife, who works for DFID, had just heard they were being posted to Ethiopia and would be moving out there in April. My friend, being something of an action man, had been awake all night trying to work out how he could get his land rover, helicopter and yacht out there in order to maximise the adventure potential. He had decided he might have to compromise on the yacht as Ethiopia is a landlocked country.
I had been considering a 3 week family holiday in the summer to somewhere interesting and preferrably hot. South America, Thailand, Malaysia had all in their turn been candidates, but now Ethiopia seemed to be the front-runner. Our friends were keen for us to visit and their home in Addis Ababa would be an ideal base for us to venture out and see the country. They warned us that we should expect to rough it, as Ethiopia is at the very bottom of the world’s poverty league tables and the tourist industry is not well established. Undeterred, I started to plan our adventure and was soon on-line to see what my researches could uncover.
First I scanned the websites of the travel companies offering holidays to Ethiopia to give me a feel for the ‘typical’ tourist trail;
Exodus specialises in activity and adventure holidays and aims to offer responsible tourism through sponsoring local aid projects. They offer various itineraries including their 15 day ‘Discover Ethiopia’ tour covering many of the major sites. Their website was excellent although the detailed itineraries and maps they provide make it very easy to plan an independent trip rather than book through them.
Responsible Travel does not organise holidays but provides information about other tour operators who offer reponsible tourism in all areas of the world. Their website had plenty of information on interesting intinneraries and again I made a mental note to re-visit their site again for other destinations such as B & Bs in Cornwall.
Grand Holidays Ethiopia is a company based in Addis Ababa specialising in Ethiopia and has many suggested itineraries of different lengths covering all interests from bird watching to treking in the Simian mountains. Once again the website was a wealth of information and I thought that this was a local company that might be able to organise parts of our visit for us when we arrived.
My next stop was the travelblog website, always a good source of inside information for the independent traveller. The key places to visit seemed to be;
Lalibela to visit the 13th century rock-hewn churches which are a centre of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Christians
The pretty lakeside town of Bahir Dar set on Ethiopia’s longest Lake Tana, with the nearby Tissisat Falls or ‘Smoke of the Nile’
The city of Gondar nestling in the foothills of the Simien mountains and the former capital of Ethiopia, with its castles built in the 17th century by several generations of Ethiopia’s kings.
The Omo Valley to the south with a multitude of different tribes and the Rift Valley lakes with their beautiful scenery and wildlife.
Axum , with its famous obelisks and the Cathedral of St Mary which legend has as resting place of the Ark of the Covenant
Finally I checked out air fares – with five of us this was likely to be the major element of the holiday costs. I discovered that flight prices ranged from £450-500, with the BMI baby and Ethiopian Air flights from Heathrow coming up as the front-runners. As expected the air fares would take a big chunk of our budget but I consolled myself that it shouldn’t cost much once we got there.
As I enjoy reading & travelling I thought I might double the enjoyment by finding some books to insire my travels. I don’t mean the trusty Lonely Planet or Footprint guide, but rather a novel or travel account that will let you can soak up the atmosphere before you even reach the airport, or even add a little spice to the experience while you are there.
On my wish list for places to visit in 2008 are Rome (taking my 11 year old son there for a long weekend), Lebanon (friend moving there soon), Ethiopia (friends who do aid work may be sent there) and Malaysia (possible family holiday this summer).
To get me in the mood I thought I’d seek out some possible reading material and this is where my own research or recommendations from friends led me;
The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski relates the story of the court of the last Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I (1892-1975),the period during which Selassie reigned as absolute ruler and source of all power in his country, and traces its way to his downfall at the hands of a military coup in 1974, and his subsequent death.
The shadow of the sun by the same author gives an insight into the African continent at the time of independence
In October 2007 I spent three weeks in Ecuador and still retain a passion for all things South American. The book I had in my rucksack on that journey was The Mapmaker’s wife by Robert Whittaker ! which tells the story of Isabel Godin who travelled down the Amazon in search of her husband, experiencing disaster and tragedy – she was the only one of her party to survive. With two friends I retraced her steps from her home town of Cajabamba in the Andes into the Amazon basin as far as the Jesuit Mission station of Andaos (now in Peru) where she was taken to recover following her rescue from the jungle. The book gives a picture of the life of a wealthy woman in the 1760s as well as the context of the scientific expedition that brought her French husband to Ecuador. With this account of her journey I was able to taste a little of her experience, although thankfully not the capsized canoes or wandering for weeks in the jungle with only berries or plants to sustain me
I shall continue my researches on books to inspire my travels and let you know when I have actually read any of the above and whether they did the trick in making me want to go there.