Friday 5th January, 2018
Odometer 385 km, travel time 7 hrs 15 mins
We get up early to be on the road before 8 am. It is already busy in Addis Ababa as we slowly weave through the traffic; trucks, cars, bajas (tuk tuks), cows, horses, donkeys, sheep and goats. All are heading towards to local markets.
As we reach the outskirts of Addis, we are seeing large groups of runners. These are the famous Ethiopian running schools. Promising athletes from all over the country get taken into the professional running schools. The altitude of Addis helps them to build an edge. They are out very early every day, running along the roads in large groups. Most of the price money from winning competitions goes back into the school and sponsors.
We stop for a coffee break somewhere around Debre Birhan, taking a break from dodging donkeys, sheep, goats, cows and suicidal old men. We must be an interesting sight for the locals; two white men in the front seat, with an Ethiopian woman and a blond woman on the backseat. No tour guides, no minibus….
It is nice to stretch our legs, and our two coffees and two teas costs only 16 Birr in total ($USD 0.50).
Back on the road, we continue our weaving around the donkeys, goats, sheep, cows, busses, horses, more suicidal old men, horse drawn carriages, Bajaj and the occasional car. The roads have the usual number of potholes, with occasionally more hole than tarmac. And we have our first experience of the teeth rattling Ethiopian traffic bumps in the villages we drive through. These are more like small walls across the road. They do work in slowing down traffic though!
As we descend into the Rift Valley we also have to dodge groups of baboons. There are none of the African big five around here, but animal life and especially bird life is varied with a large number of endemic species, like these baboons.
The villages in the Rift Valley have a large muslim population, and a large number of Somalian immigrants. Houses are in a very different style and very colourful. We see lots of camels and donkeys carrying water containers. Like in most of rural Ethiopia, water is available from a common well and needs to be collected each day.
It looks like anybody with some money will have a goat or a sheep. Those with more money add a cow or a donkey to that herd. And the even more wealthy also have a horse or a camel, or two. This results in lots of kids walking smaller or larger mixed herds of livestock along the roads, rivers and fields. Anywhere where there is a scrap of grass. Sheep and goats are predicable on the road, they just follow one another. So are horses, cows and camels. However donkeys are independent free thinkers!
We arrive in Kombolcha just after 3 pm. Our accomodation for the night is the Sunny Side hotel. A basic but clean hotel, although the shower poses a bit of a safety challenge with the electric plug for the hot water heater immediately next to the shower.
We are having our first traditional Ethiopian vegetarian dinner tonight, as it is Christmas Eve. The Ethiopian Orthodox Christians don’t eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, Christian Feast days, and during the entire period of Lent.
Food is traditionally served on one large platter for sharing. You wash your hands, and then use your right hand to tear off a part of the injera to scoop up food. Injera is a soft pancake, made from Tej grains, and very nutritious. It has a slight vinegary flavour and is very easy to digest. It is a staple in Ethiopian cuisine. Injera gets served with curried meats (mainly goat and occasional beef or chicken), a large range of vegetables, chips, salads and fruit. All on the same platter, pilled on top of more injera. It makes for a very social dinner time.
Dinner for four people, four beers and some mineral water comes to 168 Birr ($USD 5.50), and it is lovely!
Travel Details and Tips:
Accomodation: Sunny Side Hotel, Kombolcha. Our hotel room was 650 Birr (USD $22) a night. Be prepared to pay more if you are an overseas visitor. Most hotels have two price ranges; one for Ethiopians and the other (much more expensive) for foreigners. You will also need to hand over your passport each time you check in, so it is good to have a couple of colour copies with you!
Tip 1: Make sure that before you start your trip you scan your key documents (like passports, yellow fever vaccination certificate, travel insurance documents, tickets, etc) and email them to yourself. That way you have easy access to those copies if you need them!
Tip 2: When eating with your hands, remember that in many countries the left hand is only used for sanitation purposes. Always use your right hand (or look at the locals and copy what they do!)!