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When in Ethiopia…

Explore the Verge of An Ancient and Mystical World

For almost a full 2 centuries, Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia has been viewed, by its rural masses, as a city whose streets are paved in gold. Perhaps it is the fact that the country is the oldest independent African state which allows for this rich ideal to continue to exist.  To the foreign visitor, it is definitely the country’s sustained culture, unique surroundings and the locals’ admiration which makes Addis Ababa the portal to an ancient and mystical world.

Joburg Style Magazine assembled the perfect guide to experiencing what the city has to offer.

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Where to stay
Most good hotels in Ethiopia can be found in Addis Ababa and other main centres, although they tend to be better in the north than in the south. Larger business-orientated hotels with top end facilities are only in the capital and a few major towns. Midrange and budget hotels are found throughout the country at all tourist destinations. Facilities and service tend to vary widely. Stay at the Addissinia Hotel or the luxurious Sheraton Addis.

Explore Addis Ababa’s hidden gems

This high altitude city, at 2,440m, hides a multitude of charms. Though sprawling and dusty, it is a place where flash cars still have to stop for shepherds herding their flocks across the roads. Both the Ethnographic Museum and the National Museum are fascinating, while St George’s Cathedral and Museum showcases the pomp and finery of Ethiopia’s orthodox faith.

Get lost in the winding alleys of Harar

The historic walled city of Harar is a labyrinth of dusty alleyways. Once the commercial hub between Arabia and Africa, legendary tales led both explorer Richard Burton and French poet Rimbaud here. Today Harar oozes a lost-in-time ambience that enchants all who visit. The hyena feeding ritual, which takes place every evening, on its outskirts, adds to this appeal.

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Clamber up to Tigray’s monasteries
Carved into the surrounding cliffs, the remote churches and monasteries of the Tigray region are a fascinating look into religious life that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. The scenery here is ruggedly beautiful and some of the monasteries are so precariously positioned they are reached by ladders and ropes, making the region’s rugged beauty all the more inspiring.

Discover the source of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana
Lake Tana is one of Ethiopia’s most fascinating places. Fishermen glide across the shimmering lake surface in traditional papyrus boats, while its islands are home to priestly communities and their ancient, round thatched monasteries decorated with dazzling biblical murals. Not far away are the impressive Blue Nile Falls, best visited in August and September after the rainy season.

Pay a visit to traditional tribal villages

Despite modernity’s slow encroachment, the Konso people have stayed true to their cultural heritage, proudly preserving their unique maze-like village architecture and way of life. Some of the top places to visit in the region are the town of Konso itself and the villages of Busso and Machekie.

Shopping
The widest range of locally made products is found in Addis Ababa. In marketplaces, bargaining is expected, but prices at shops in towns are fixed. Special purchases include local jewellery (sold by the weight of gold or silver), woodcarvings, illuminated manuscripts and prayer scrolls, wood and metal crosses, leather shields, spears, drums and religious triptych paintings.

Addis Ababa’s main market (known as the merkado) is thought to be the largest in Africa and is more an experience than a shopping destination. For cheap souvenirs you’re more likely to find a bargain in the myriad of stalls and shops which line Churchill Avenue and around the Piazza district. Gallery 21 (Churchill Avenue) has an excellent reputation for high quality goods.

For a market experience that heralds well made local textiles head to Entoto Market on Entoto Avenue. To shop with a purpose don’t miss Alert Handicraft Shop (off the Addis Ababa Ring Road) which sells gorgeous embroidered bags, pillows, and other textiles all made by the Berhan Taye Leprosy Disabled Persons Work Group, and the flag-ship SoleRebels Footwear store (off Roosevelt Road) which makes super-funky footwear as well as being the world’s only Fair Trade certified shoe company.

Entertainment

Still hugely popular in Ethiopia, traditional azmari nightlife involves being entertained by a wandering minstrel (the azmari) who ad-libs songs about his audience, and life in general, with witty wordplay which often has double meanings. There are azmari bets (bars where azmaris regularly perform) throughout the country but good places to catch a performance are Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar and Gonder.

The other form of traditional nightlife revolves around tej (Ethiopia’s fermented honey wine). Tej bets (bars which mainly serve tej) are found throughout the country. They are traditionally male-preserves but foreign females should feel comfortable as long as they bring along a male friend. Tej bets generally close by 10pm so don’t expect a late night.

Food and drink

Ethiopian food is like nothing you’ve tried before. Having evolved mostly in isolation from neighbouring cultures, the cuisine is different to both the standard dishes found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and also to the Middle Eastern basics of North Africa.

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Meals are based around the bread-like injera, made from an endemic grain called tef. Sauces, meats and stewed vegetables are then placed directly on the injera, which is eaten with the fingers by tearing sections off bit by bit. The spiciness of the sauces vary according to the amount of berbere, Ethiopia’s famed spice-mix, used by the cook. To find Ethiopia’s specialties, head to a ‘national food’ restaurant.

Traditional Ethiopian food does not use pork because most Ethiopians are Muslim or Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Although Ethiopian dishes can seem heavily dependent on meat, vegetarianism is well understood due to the strict fasting rituals of the Orthodox Church. Every Wednesday and Friday, as well as during the 55 days of Lent, meat is not eaten.

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Things to know 
Before beginning the meal, guests will be given soap, water and a clean towel. When eating, only the right hand is used. Cutlery is not traditionally used.

Getting around
Private taxis are available in Addis Ababa and other major towns. Fares are not usually metered and should be negotiated before travelling. Personalised and specific trips should be negotiated with the driver in advance of travel.
Shared taxis are common both in towns and as a form of minibus-style transport between villages in the countryside. Routes are fixed and fares inexpensive. It is also possible and common practice to hire a shared taxi for a private journey, for which the price has to be negotiated.
At Addis Ababa Bole International Airport it’s a good idea to use a yellow taxi from the Taxi Association Booth, located within the arrivals hall.

Info

Religion: Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 43.5%; Islam (mainly in the east and south), 33.9%. There are also significant animist, Evangelical, Protestant and Roman Catholic communities.
Social conventions: Religion permeates nearly every facet of Ethiopian life and society, on the whole, is conservative with traditional values very much in place. Only the right hand is used for eating or passing things (the left hand is used when going to the toilet so considered dirty). Some monasteries and churches are only open to male visitors. Women travellers should always check before entering if they’re unsure.

Currency: Ethiopian birr
Language: Amharic is the official language, although about 80 other native tongues are spoken including Oromo, Somali and Tigrinya. English and Arabic are widely used and some Italian and French is spoken.

 How to get there
Ethiopian Airlines offers flights daily from Johannesburg direct to Addis Ababa.
www.ethiopianairlines.com

[Original article: www.joburgstyle.co.za]

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