The start of an Ethiopian Roadtrip – Arriving in Addis Ababa

Thursday January 4th, 2018

Odometer: 0 km

We fly into Addis Ababa, not quite sure what to expect. Over the years we have come to associate Ethiopia with famine and war, and yet here we are. Our friend Frank married his Ethiopian wife Lina 10 years ago, and we have finally managed to take him up on the invite to come and visit.

Our transit from the plane through immigration is smooth, we get the visa upon arrival stamp and move through the crowds. We pick up our bags and head through customs. At the first point of exchange we change some of our neat clean and brand new US dollars into a huge pile of Birr, notes that look like they have recently been used as toilet paper (30 Birr equals 1 US $). Poor Mike had to check the total of the 30,000 Birr in dirty filthy and occasionally torn notes.

We then walk out into the large hall that is Bole international airport arrivals. We are immediately surrounded by the usual throng of people that greets any incoming plane. We head through he noise and the offers of taxis and porters, and see a familiar face as we get outside the building. Frank has come to pick us up.

We head to his house and are treated to a full Ethiopian coffee ceremony. This traditional ceremony is performed by the women of the house, as a token of friendship and respect. Ours takes place in the living room. The floor is covered in fresh rushes and incense is being burned. Next the freshly washed coffee beans are shaken and then roasted in a wok on a small charcoal burner. Melissa, a girl from Lina’s village staying with the family, stirs the beans regularly and the smell of coffee is starting to permeate the room.

Once fully roasted, she takes them off the burner and grinds them. Next the ground coffee is put in the coffee pot, which is put back on the fire until the water boils. Coffee is then poured from way up high in very small cups. The coffee served accompanied with fresh popcorn.

After enjoying various rounds of coffee, one should accept at least three, we walk down to the nearby Bellevue hotel to have a drink while watching the sunset from their roof terrace. Addis is at an elevation of 2500 metres above sea level, and we definitely notice that whilst walking up and down hills.

The sunset is spectacular. We are looking down on rush hour traffic navigating a large roundabout in the increasing darkness. Addis may be a capital, but the only functioning street lights appear to be in the street where the President lives.

Addis is a large city, it has about 3.5 million inhabitants, mostly living in single story houses or low apartment blocks. There are very few high rise buildings, and at night it looks like a very, very large village when looked at from above.

The elevation gives the city a very pleasant climate, air conditioning is not really required, but surprisingly heating is. Temperatures are generally between around 10 to 25 degrees C.

We are going to hit the road tomorrow. However, we will have more time to spend in Addis at the end of our trip.

Travel Details and Tips:

Accomodation: Our friends Frank and Lina’s house, safely behind a high wall, with an electrified fence, guard dogs and an armed guard.

Tip 1 : In hindsight we should have taken Euros with us for changing to Birr. Large notes (E.g. 100 Euro notes) are preferred by the money changers above smaller denominations.

Tip 2: Graham Hancock’s book “The Sign and the Seal”, is a good book to prepare yourself for visiting Ethiopia. The Lonely Planet is pretty limited in current details, although it does give an overall view.

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