Ethiopia Promises Wild, Primitive Adventure
Logical sequence by Western standards has no meaning here. When I pick up my airline ticket in Ethiopia, the date on it is 1987. Huh? Isn’t this 1995? I am dancing to a different drum in the heartland of this earliest Christian kingdom.
Isolation and a stubborn resistance to change have meant that Ethiopian customs have remained immune from outside interference. This detachment from the rest of the world is confirmed by the fact that they are the only country still observing the Julian calendar, which is 7 years and 8 months behind our Gregorian calendar.
This time warp is a result of a difference of opinion over Jesus, the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, and the massive rock-hewn churches which many think should be the eighth wonder of the world.
The Simien Mountains have been designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site. The East African Rift Valley displays some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. Lucy, our 3.5 million year old ancestor, was discovered in the Afar Depression. The country is a magical open-air museum.
Addis Ababa looks attractive from a circling plane. Situated in the foothills of the Entoto mountains at 7,700 feet, it is the third highest capital in the world, with a population of 2 million. From high above, the shanty towns, relief agencies and smelly petrol-pumps, bars and brothels are concealed by thickly growing Eucalyptus trees.
Looking for your own adventure of cheap travel can get you a room in one of the many Italian-built brothels with the courtesy title “hotel” or “pension.” These sleazy places are a legacy from the Italians during their stay in Ethiopia (1935-1941). Harlots (a favorite term of English-speaking Ethiopians) and their children occupy many of the rooms and live amidst squalor.
I opt for a better class hotel, but below the window of my up-scale hotel room are two bored-looking soldier types with loaded AK47s. Establishment all around the city (hotels, shops, and banks) have private soldiers who carry a variety of weapons, since the concept of a police-force is new and not very popular.
Addis is unreal in relation to the rest of Ethiopia. You’ll find the rest of the country to truly be the Garden of Eden.
Information on travel to Africa’s oldest independent country is hard to find (and demand to is even less). This part of Africa is best known to the world for its famine and war. However, things are changing.
Ethiopia is emerging from decades of civil war. The country went from socialism to Marxism and now is experimenting with capitalism. The new transitional government has opened its doors to travelers. There is everywhere to go, but getting there is a quest.
Ethiopia is in the Horn of Africa and is about five times the size of Oregon. The population is 57.2 million and half the people are 15 or younger.
Ethiopia is made up of about 80 ethnic groups, each with their own language and dialect. Most are highlanders, who live isolated lives in the rugged mountain regions and have had little, if any, contact with Westerners. A few still obey the laws of Patriarchal times: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and 100 camels for the life of a person.
The Orthodox Church exerts considerable influence here. Ethiopia is a place where saints, the angel, and the Virgin Mary interact with the population, where the people fervently believe that their God came to Earth and made Ethiopia holy.
This is their story of creation: When God made people he molded them from clay. He threw the first batch into the fire, but they came out burned and black. He threw them down south. The second batch came out pasty white, and he threw these to the north. The third batch came out perfectly. He put them in Ethiopia, where they remain the chosen people of God.
Traveling in Ethiopia, the priests become a familiar sight. They thrust a cross in your face, move it around in some strange way and demand money. By the end of my trip, I never knew if I was blessed or robbed.
a Little Excitement
If you want to test your nerves, travel by bus. Guide books and travel articles explore Ethiopia with Land Rovers, guides, private planes, and plenty of cash. The writers never take a bus.
These war-time relics can travel 85 miles on a good day, and that’s with a mechanic on board. The buses are escorted through “bandit territory” by army vehicles, bristling with machine guns, and inside the bus are boy soldiers with guns who will want to sit next to you.
Bandits? This information was not in my guide book. A youth, whose shirt showed a washed-out American flag, pulled a rifle from under his seat and with a lot of machismo declared that as long as he was on the bus the “ferengi” (foreigner) would be safe.
The three day bus ride turned into five days: besides scheduled stops, numerous breakdowns, impromptu checkpoints (that included frisking the locals, for what, was never clear), the buses are not allowed to travel during the night due to banditry.
In spite of negative aspects, Ethiopia is an adventure, an unexplored jewel. The transitional government has launched a construction program to develop a tourist industry, but it is in its infancy.
Ethiopia is not yet on the intercontinental exotica route. Instead, it is still for individuals who are in search of the wildest, most primitive area left on earth.