The past two weeks have been a boat flying, Gelada spying, public transportation dying kind of vacation.
Needless to say…it was epic. So I hope you enjoy this post!
The vacation Kiyya, Cassidy and I embarked on started with a flight from Jimma to Addis for a night and then a connecting flight the next day to Bahir Dar, Amhara. Oh how I now never want to take a public bus ride to Addis Ababa ever again! The usual long, winding, bumpy bus ride of 8 hours, that is usually humid, packed full of people, and the occasional wafting puke smell, was condensed down into a short 45 minute, comfortable, beautiful, sun shining soar. I was soaking it up like I had never been on a plane before.
This was what vacation in country is like I thought. I felt spoiled to say the least.
Once in Bahir Dar we were ecstatic. We were ready to put our bags in a hotel room and start exploring the city. The first stop was to go see Lake Tana. It is the third biggest lake in Africa and the largest in Ethiopia. As water is scarce here, we were itching to see this beautiful lake. We all felt like we weren’t even in Ethiopia anymore once we saw it. We bought a boat ride to take us to all the monasteries located on islands in the lake.
We sat in the boat with slight smiles on our faces while the cool breeze, sunshine, and splashing water embraced us. It was day one of vacation and starting off very well.
We decided to go to the farthest monastery first that was located on an other side of the lake. This one was supposed to be the best from the rest. So off we went.
This monastery took us on a path through a forest up to the top of a hill. While walking through the forest there was a ton of people selling goods and trying to persuade us to buy this or buy that.
It became a common theme for the entirety of our trip. Our trip included us doing touristy things, so we could have a taste at the places other forengies frequently visit. However, us “forengies” live here. We know and understand the culture, we know how much a car ride should cost, we know how much that bracelet should cost. So we were repeatedly given a higher price than we should have been offered and would repeatedly argue what the real price is.
Anywho, we reached the monastery and it proved to be this quiet, peaceful, oasis. All that was heard was the wind and birds. I wanted to hang up my hammock and stay there all day. Our guide was impressed to find out we were volunteers and had lived in Ethiopia for 9 months already. He led us into the monastery and the inside artwork was amazing, especially after it had endured after all these years. I found it incredibly interesting however that the artwork was actually done on a cloth like material and then glued to the walls of this building. From far away it looked like it was painted on concrete walls but the closer you get, you can see the cloth material that has lasted for centuries. Unfortunately some areas were starting to be taken over by termites but they are doing their best to keep it under control.
From that monastery we cruised over to an area with hippos. We decided to skip out on the other churches because the sun was quickly setting and our energy level was slipping. We cruised to the other side of the lake and slowly crept around in a circle where moving water was present from the entrance of the Blue Nile River. I didn’t know where I was supposed to be looking for but then all the sudden a GINORMOUS hippo head popped up followed by another smaller one and then disappeared again.
OH MY GOD. We shrieked and all quickly glanced at each other with excitement in our eyes and then back to the water waiting for it to show itself again. The boat continued to circle around them as we snapped an insane amount of pictures every time they would pop up. After about 30 minutes we decided we had had enough and headed back to the hotel for dinner and sleep.
Day two took part in venturing off to the Blue Nile Falls. Instead of paying for a private shuttle we decided we wanted to take public transportation. Our reasoning being..it was WAY cheaper. Our ride to the Falls was 15 birr compared to 50 US dollars that we probably would of had to pay. (The conversion rate here is 1 US dollar to 27 birr). The hotel staff tried to convince us other wise saying that the road was too bumpy for us and we wouldn’t like it. But once again we laughed and said, we live in Ethiopia and explained that we take public transportation on the regular. The men were amazed at us and said yeah “the bus ride is like an African Massage isn’t it” because of all the constant jumbling our bodies do. We found this quite hilarious because well…he wasn’t wrong.
Anywho, off we went down the road impressing individuals with the very little Amharic we knew and an hour later we were at the beginning of the trail walking away. We planned to walk the trails to the falls without a guide. We figured we could figure it out and save money however, a younger gentleman who accompanied us thought other wise. He was down right relentless as we tried to walk away telling him we weren’t going to pay him and that we didn’t need a guide but he was a stubborn one. So we ended up having a guide take us through the trail to the falls for half of what the other forengies pay.
The trail was beautiful, we had stunning weather and once we reached the falls we were shocked. There was so much water that was so powerful, it took us off guard. The trail eventually led us down right to the base of the falls where we could go up close to take pictures and upon returning back we were drenched with wet hair and clothes but huge grins pasted on our faces. Day two was proving to be already be epic.
From there we rode back to town and decided to walk and explore Bahir Dar. We bought a few little things and then ran across a second floor cafe that had seats outside on a balcony that over looked the road below. Jack pot! We went up to grab a macchiato and watch the people down below. While sitting there we were approached by a very confident, bald headed, Ethiopian who pulled up a chair, sat down, and started chatting us up in English.
He let us know that he owned the current cafe we were at and that he had multiple businesses, had his own boats out on the lake, and was well…wealthy.
Impressed we were and we couldn’t deny his invitation of buying us beers and taking us back out on the lake all for free.
So off we went.
We all got to know each other more as we sailed out sipping on our beers. We decided to park along the shore where the hippos were the night before and enjoy the evening.
Then…swimming was brought up and well…needless to say… after a little persuasion.
We jumped in. The water was cold and refreshing and I was wishing for a flotation device to relax in. However, quickly the paranoia of a hippo coming to eat me infiltrated my mind and we hopped back into the boat.
We rode back to Bahir Dar and enjoyed his company over dinner and a night out. We volunteers were loving the freebies we were being given and danced the night away.
Day three consisted of us traveling to Gondar for a night by public transportation with help from our friend the night before. The ride proved to be gorgeous as we watched the landscape change once again and mountains started to form. Once we reached Gondar three hours later we grabbed a hotel, ate a quick lunch, and headed out to see the famous castles that took place in the middle of town.
We decided to get a guide for this one too because we wanted to know more about the history of the castles. The Castles were a former king’s house and the ones following him. I wish I could remember names but… I don’t.
They were HUGE and the work that was put into making them was outstanding. I kept trying to place myself back in time to when they were still functioning. Just amazing.
From the castles we walked around down town, grabbed coffee, and then headed out for dinner at a restaurant that was supposedly known by all and it was FILLED, literally almost every seat was a forengie, white person.
It was freaking the hell out of us.
It ended up being a frequent occurrence too. At our sites and in Jimma, forengies are pretty non existent. But while we kept visiting the touristy sites, the more white people we saw the more it made us feel weird and almost obsessive over “our Ethiopians”. We didn’t want to be seen as a forengie because we have worked so hard to be a part of our communities and have worked so hard for people to understand us. We know the language, we know the culture and we didn’t want people to associate us with every other white person that was here. We wanted them to know that we were different.
I wonder what it will be like when I come back to America in two years with all the diversity we have?
Day three ended with a yummy dinner, outrageous toots, and laughter upon laughter as we all snuggled in a one king size bed.
Day four started with another bus ride to Debark. The ride was relatively smooth (as all the streets here are paved?!) Definitely not the case down where us three live.
We found ourselves before we knew it in the Simien Mountain Registration Office. There we had previously made reservations for a two day hiking adventure so all we needed to do was pay for a guide and scout. (Both of which you are required to have if you want to hike the Simien Mountains).
We unfortunately ran into communication problems about the pricing. Difference between what we thought we were paying for and what we actually had to pay for but we grabbed a hotel for the night to rest up, mellow out, and prepare for the big hiking days ahead.
Day five consisted of us waking up early to meet our guide and scout and heading off into the mountains. We were lucky that the Simien Lodge (Worlds highest lodge in Africa) was willing to let us empty out our packs some for the hike since we had more than we needed. It felt nice to bust out Ozzy again too (although sad to say, his eyes have disappeared…noooooooo!) Then the driver took us to the first campsite to start our hike. However, luckily our guide was a sweetheart and let us hop out on the way and go take pictures of the famous Gelada monkeys that only live in the Simien and Bala mountains in Ethiopia!
We looked out into the fields and the monkeys were EVERYWHERE.
I was shocked at how many there was. But we crept up the hill and the monkeys were unfazed. They went along picking each others fur and pulling out the grass to eat. Some would look me dead in the eyes and then look away. They had a very I dont give two Fs attitude and I was loving it. I mean look at his face!
I squatted down multiple times to sit in between all of them and appreciate their presence. They felt majestic in a way. With their long lush hair that blew in the wind. I was in amazement.
Shortly after our monkey business we started the hike to the second campsite called Geech. The hike was beyond this world. I once again felt like I was not in Ethiopia. There is so much diversity in this country it is mind blowing. We hiked over the mountains, saw more monkeys, and embraced gorgeous views.
Our guide even took us to a huge waterfall that pictures don’t do any justice to.
The entire time I was just in awe at the beauty. It felt like the grand canyon with hints of an Ireland theme. (Both places I have never seen before besides pictures, but… its what came to my mind at the time).
Just. Unreal. and Exhilarating.
The temperature in the mountains was drastically colder than we expected and by the time we reached the campsite at 4 pm our toes and hands felt like ice cubes. The campsite has the option of staying in tents or in a “community lodge” with cots which is the option we chose since none of us have camping gear.
It was a good option since they had heavy blankets for us to use in addition to our sleeping bags. We immediately got out of our wet muddy clothes and hopped into our sleeping bags. Kiyya about froze her nips off because she is from Atlanta, Georgia and “has no idea how people live in cold weather like this”. This was quite the laughing matter for Cassidy and I who deal with snow every winter. The campsite made us Ethiopian food for dinner and sleepy sleep we went as it was a full day of hiking for around 6 hours.
Day 6 consisted of a VERY early wake up call and we were out hiking by 7 am. I had unfortunately woke up with the upset stomach rumbles again and was not feeling my best for the hike ahead. But, there was much to see so we hiked on.
I know I keep saying it…but seriously…So much beauty we saw! By the way, Our guide’s name is Teddy and he was fantastic. So helpful, made sure we stayed together, and he hiked like the mountains like I could not believe, they did not phase him one bit.
We ended our hiking around 3 and headed back to the Simien Lodge by car. We were quite exhausted but once we saw where we were staying we were beyond satisfied. The Simien Lodge was by far the nicest place we have stayed at since being in Ethiopia. Not to mention the HOT, powerful, shower we were able to have. We indulged in the comfy beds, delicious foods, and wifi until it was time to hit the hay.
We unfortunately kept having to wake up early for the first part of this trip.
Day 7 consisted of waking up early and driving back to Debark by a shuttle bus and then with the help of our guide, so many thanks to Teddy, we got onto a public bus to Shire, Tigray.
This was going to be one of our longer bus rides and I was terrified because I had woken up early morning to continuous liquid poos every hour and I didn’t know if my stomach was going to hold out. “What if I have to diarrhea while sitting in a full bus?!” was the constant thought that kept falling into my head.
Thankfully after taking some medicine I was able endure the stomach pains and make it the whole way without having to make the bus take a pit stop. The ride was long and exhausting but we made some friends on the bus and when we stopped in Shire, we were greeted by Kiyya’s boyfriend James (PCV) who lives near Shire. James was so prepared for us to come and was beyond happy and willing to escort us to Axum, Tigray and show us around. He was amazing! So many thanks to James! Especially since none of us know how to speak Tigrayian (I don’t even know how to spell it nor speak it. It is a very guttural language, by the end of the trip I only picked up one word)…..(Afan oromo is way better anyways 😉 ).
Axum is where quite a few other volunteers come for their hub town. It is like their Jimma. Once we got placed in our hotel we went out for dinner and explored a little bit of the town.
Day 8 consisted of sleeping in and visiting a neighboring town called Adawa, there we walked around and saw a gorgeous lake/mountain view,
took quite a few pictures with horses we saw,
and took a crazy amount of photos with this pumpkin.
James had been growing pumpkins at his site (he is an agriculture volunteer) and so we thought it would be fitting to take pictures with one since everyone and their moms are posting “fall, pumpkin pictures” in America.
After our photo shoot we headed back to Axum to walk around and explore and then we were introduced to another volunteer Eliot’s parents who had come to visit him and Ethiopia. We all went out for dinner and it was such a blast to be able to share our experiences with parents and hear about their lives back in the states. Kind of felt surreal to be honest.
Day 9 consisted of our last traveling day and we rode with Eliot and his parents to the town of Mekele, Tigray. (HUGE thanks to them for letting us ride along) Mekele was way nicer and bigger than we could of imagined. We were having to pick our jaws off of the ground. We were also slightly jealous of the volunteers that were able to have this town as their hub town. There are so many “forengie” looking buildings, yummy food to eat, and I can’t forget to mention their Peace Corps Office… actually… I won’t even go into that because then it will make me jealous all over again. So….i will just leave it alone.
We spent Day 9, 10, 11 hanging out more with Eliot’s parents, (who were by the way, some of the greatest parents I have ever met (Maybe equally the fittest parents too). Huge thanks to them (Gloria and Jason) for being so generous, helpful, and fun. Thank you thank you thank you! It was such a pleasure to meet you guys and I look forward to catching up again in the states! ) walking around and exploring Mekele, eating delicious food, and indulging in the occasional wine glass or two… or…bottle. 😀 It was equally a blast to see PCV friends from our G18 and to meet new ones from the other G’s
It was a trip that consisted of a lot of traveling, a lot of site seeing, a lot of new connections, and a lot of laughs. It was worth it all and I am stoked to continue to see new parts of Ethiopia.
I miss my site and my people at site but it was nice to go exploring, sometimes my site feels so small and that there is no where new to go. So it was nice to be able to do that after being at site for 6 months. It now feels weird to be back in Jimma and to be heading to Ciimmee after being gone for close to two weeks but I am ready for it. And lord have mercy I am happy to be speaking Afan Oromo again. It was a struggle with all the Amharic!
Stay tuned, hopefully some school clubs will be in session the next time I post!
Iz and Oz