Monday, 16 February 2009
Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country situated in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea to the north, Sudan to the west, Kenya to the south, Somalia to the east and Djibouti to the northeast. As often a country with the word "democratic" in the official title is not so democratic at the second sight. The government has full control over media and every kind of communication. That was also the reason we couldn't use the Internet and our cell phones had no roaming. I'll try to write a bit of our Ethiopian journey as far as I still can remember.
Border fun at the Sudanese/Ethiopian border
Crossing the border at Gedaref was a very special experience. We've arrived at the Sudanese side after sunset. We wanted to cross as quick as possible to be on the other side before the border closes down over night. Two helpful men guided us to a building without any sign on the door. That was the security registration. After the formalities we continued to the second building a few meters behind: costumes. Again the official had to write down the same information as in the first building on a big sheet of paper. Finally we arrived at the immigration building. Again the same list but this time we got a stamp in our passports. The Ethiopian side was better but also strange. The entrance of the immigration office was well hidden in a backyard - not easy to find in the dark! The office was a messy barrack but with big beer posters on the wall. Again we had to wait for a long time to get our passports done but then we where finally in Ethiopia. Gedaref at the Ethiopian side was a long lineup of bars, shops and hotels. A big change after Sudan.
Travel route through Ethiopia
Gedaref -> Gonder -> Bahir Dar -> Lalibela -> Bahir Dar -> Addis Ababa -> Moyale
Bahir Dar is one of the leading tourist destinations in Ethiopia with a variety of attractions in the nearby Lake Tana and Blue Nile river. The city is distinctly known for its wide avenues lined with palm trees and a variety of colorful flowers. It is also considered as one of the most beautiful, well planned, and safest cities by many standards. We've chosen this place to relax and prepare for the long dirt road to Lalibela.
Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia. It's one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. The population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. Lalibela was intended to be a New Jerusalem in response to the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims, and many of its historic buildings take their name and layout from buildings in Jerusalem. This rural town is known around the world for its monolithic churches which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries. There are 13 churches, assembled in four groups.
Addis Ababa was the final big stop on our journey through Ethiopia. It's the capital city of Ethiopia and the African Union. The city is populated by people from different regions of Ethiopia. The country has as many as 80 nationalities speaking 80 languages and religious communities including Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. Addis Ababa has big diplomatic and political significance for the continent but the infrastructure is poor because of political reasons.
After many days of extensive travel in Ethiopia we decided to take the 2-day bus to Kenya following by a 2-day travel to Nairobi. So far our longest journey in a go. We had to get early to the long distance bus station "autobus terra". A terrible, unsafe, crowded place at one of Africa's biggest market areas. We managed to get seats in the front by paying a guy who got there early in the morning to reserve our seats. Then we headed south driving 9 hours in a very old bus with Ethiopian seats (home welded and children size). In the city of Dilla we had a overnight break. Ont he bus we met Dereje who strolled with us through the village hunting for a local bar. There we had the chance to try local beer (out of a old bean can) and some spicy beans as side dish. The next day was driving all day again and arriving at the afternoon in the border town of Moyale.
Moyale reminded me of Tijuana in Mexico. A place for people trying to get to the other side of the border. Many stranded people there and a place just to be left behind as soon as possible. There we had also our first contact with Kenyans. The visited the Ethiopian side for cheep booze and girls.