Land of Smiling Faces – Harar to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

For our last bus in Ethiopia we’d managed to score tickets beforehand on the ‘1st class’ Selam Bus. Though this step up in class doesn’t mean people are any wiser on how to board the bus, with the standard Ethiopian Bus shuffle taking place while people jostle violently to get onto a bus for which they have allocated seat numbers anyway. It also doesn’t mean people know how to behave in a public space, with the woman behind us letting her child throw up on the floor and not bother to tell us, as it ran down the bus thoroughly soaking both of our camera bags in somebody else’s vomit. After pretending she had no idea what had happened and denying it was her child, we had to laugh out loud when it promptly threw up on her chest and all down the front of her dress. Sometimes karma doesn’t miss a beat.

An Ethiopian favourite you can buy anywhere…banana mastica (chewing gum)

Transport in Addis Ababa.
Mattress man, Addis Ababa market

Halfway to Addis we’re stopped at a customs stop where trucks are backed up across the horizon. Pulling past them all, the customs officers decide to pull half of the luggage off the bus, looking for contraband items smuggled across the border from Somaliland into Harar. After tiring of their search in the 40 degree heat, we arrive into Addis late and in the dark, unable to find our hotel. Eventually finding directions on a local girls smartphone, we head down Ethiopia-China road where a man is herding his sheep up the road…in the middle of the city.

The Markets of Addis Ababa.
Local transportation

Tomoa Cafe.
Ethiopian clock showing their time as 6:30pm… 12:30pm European time

Though a little out of the way, Choice Pension turned out to be the best place we stayed in Addis Ababa. Friendly smiling faces greeted us on arrival as the hot receptionist made us feel at home after a tiring day of travelling. Our double room (£16) came with 200 channels, decent WiFi, and a large hot shower. On top of this, we had room service for the first time since leaving London, at the ridiculous price of £2. Sharing a tasty meat fir fir (torn injera soaked in sauce served with meat and more injera), we weren’t ready to end the luxury. So we didn’t, and like clockwork the next morning our breakfast of perfectly poached eggs, toast, coffee and juice arrives right to our door…for the grand sum of £1.50 each. They even picked up our laundry without us having to leave the room. We could get used to this.

Room service at Choice Pension...£1.50 breakfast brought right to your door!
Room service breakfast at Choice Pension

Hanging with a local at Ethnological Museum

Heading out to meet a man about a cross, we head down to the minibus stop where a man passes us carrying a bleating goat down the street like a handbag. Before leaving Addis a few weeks ago, we’d met Yordanes, the owner of Mebratu Bireda Artifacts, a small shop located on Churchill Avenue. With a vast collection of handmade crosses in the Ethiopian style, we promised him if we didn’t find one on our travels we’d be back. He said we would be back. Turns out he was right. Yordanes, in our opinion, has the best collection of religious processional crosses in the country. After a long conversation over coffee, we chose a piece for half the price of the USD$100 we originally wanted, made a deal and scored a free Christmas tree decoration in the deal.

Yordanes and his shop.  You  must visit.
Yordanes, owner of Mebratu Bireda Artifacts

Buying traditional Ethiopian Cross.
Some of the handmade pieces for sale

Buying traditional Ethiopian Cross.
The final decision

Yordanes a great guy.  Buying traditional Ethiopian Cross.
So many pieces to choose from

With a couple of sites not ticked off on our first stop in Addis, we circle around to check out nearby St George’s Cathedral. Walking around the exterior, the octagonal shape of the Orthodox cathedral shows similarities with the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, though it was closed at the time we visited for mass. A 15 minute walk south of here we stopped for our final Ethiopian caffeine hit in popular Tomoca cafe. Joining the locals we order and pay, handover our ticket and wait. Standing room only, we sip our coffee at one of the benches protruding from the wall. As expected the espresso is strong and the macchiato is milky perfection.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Octagonal St George’s Cathedral

Tomoa Cafe.
Coffees at Tomoca cafe

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Tomoca cafe

We’d already seen the Lion of Judah statue but we’re pretty stoked when we stumbled upon a second, larger and more impressive interpretation. Located on Churchill Avenue outside the National Theatre, the modern looking statue seems to have no online history, so we couldn’t find out who designed it and when it was erected. But we can recommend checking it out, we think it’s way cooler.

Lion of Juddah.
The other Lion of Judah statue

B+W of Town.
National Theatre

Addis Ababa, for the most part, is safe to venture around on your own, though like anywhere in the world you need to keep your wits about you. Walking along a major road, we were approached by two boys in their early teens, trying to thrust magazines in our faces and jabbering away to distract us…which didn’t work as we both tightened the grip on our bags and pockets before having to shout at them and shove them away when they physically started to grab our shoulders. Of course they walked away acting all innocent before laughing, as an older man approached Matt demanding to know why he hadn’t punched the young thieves in the face. Easy for you to say when you’re not a ‘rich’ faranji with money to pay the corrupt police officer who may just happen to arrest you.

Cupcake Delights
Cupcake Delight

Cupcake Delights
Pina Colada and Coffee cupcakes at Cupcake Delight

With food on our minds and our money still safely in our pockets, we jumped in a minibus and head south to Cupcake Delight, going halves in a Pina Colada (very tasty) and a Coffee (too dry) cake. The place seems to be the go-to for well to do young Ethiopians, who pose for selfies with their coffee and cupcakes. Our reason for visiting this part of town wasn’t for the cupcakes though. Of course it was the nearby Beer Garden Inn. A bamboo shack in the garden is loaded with picnic styles benches, with football playing on TV’s hung at either end of the room. The light beer was soulless while the dark at least gave some flavour, and both come in pints or 3L towers for your authentic beer garden experience. Sharing our table with a hilarious group of locals who all worked for Ethiopia Airlines added a local twist and our last night in town passed before we knew it.

At the Brauhaus.

At the Brauhaus.

At the Brauhaus.

Many associate Ethiopia with famine, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Far from malnourished naked children roaming a dry land, Ethiopia has a verdant, rich landscape where food shortages are uncommon. As with all African countries you need only take the usual precautions, though spend some time talking with the locals and it’ll soon become apparent that they can be some of the warmest and most welcoming people found anywhere in the world.

He wanted my photo so I took he's. At the Brauhaus.
Local hipster who wanted Matt’s photo…so Matt took his…at Brauhaus

Ethiopia is a fantastic country full of rich history which has influenced the world. That alone should be enough to warrant a visit yet it’s the people who really touched us. Everybody was willing to offer a hand, the majority of them without anything but a smile and a thank you in return. They love having tourists in their country and very much need the money. Hopefully these last couple of blogs have helped convince even a couple of people to put Ethiopia high on their travel list. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed!

If our words haven’t convinced you maybe more of our photos will! Check ’em out on Flickr.


Tips for Addis Ababa

  1. The market in Addis Ababa was terrible, we wouldn’t recommend it.
  2. Choice Pension, though a little removed from the action, was brilliant. Clean, comfortable rooms, friendly staff and a secure compound, did we mention breakfast in bed? For only £1.50? Well we’ll mention it again.
  3. The majority of people really are friendly and just want to chat, though don’t let your guard down. Some of them also want to steal your shit.

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