After a lovely week in New York City with my girlfriend I picked up my roommate Marco in Vienna and we were off to the Airport. It was my second red-eye flight in two nights. I was getting exhausted. But there was no way I’d be tired for that trip. Africa is my favourite continent and I reckon travelling is always more exciting in Africa, because you never know what happens, what you are lined up for and how your plans actually turn out.
Flying Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is always exciting, but I was even more pumped for the flight to Ethiopia, because Ethiopian Airlines uses their 787 for the Vienna – Addis Ababa routing and it was the first time I flew without stopover to Africa. So we had some drinks at the lounge at VIE and then went to our seats quickly for a comfortable 6 hours flight.
Shortly after sunrise we descended and caught the first glimpse on the mesmerising Ethiopian landscape. Immigration was a breeze and after exchanging some money I was getting ready for the buzzing arriving hall. I imagined the Airport in Addis to be crazy, loud and crowded. I thought everyone was trying to talk us into taking his taxi and telling us about the very cool hotels he knows, where he probably would get a commission for bringing us. But, after stepping out into the Arrival Hall, there were barely ten people hanging around. A small cafe in the corner was open and playing some lounge music. We stopped, looked around and were amazed, that we weren’t in any kind of hassle. Brilliant, relaxed start.
We walked to the taxis and were off to the the central Piazza area. We haven’t had a stay booked, because prices over the internet, where more than 20-25 euros per night and we figured Ethiopia has to be cheaper. So after driving to the Piazza area, we found the Baro Hotel, where we got a double room in a nice garden, with a bathroom and small tv for 8 euros. Perfect!
Ethiopian coffee is said to be one of world’s finest and best. The coffee production has a long tradition in Ethiopia and exporting coffee is their biggest income. The famous coffea arabica plant originates in Ethiopia and after having some coffee-breakfast I can wholeheartedly say, that everything that is said about their coffee is true.
We walked all around the main area and all the time random people would come up to us, walking next to us, asking questions. It was awkward at first, but you get quite fast, if someone is generally interested where you are from, what you are doing in his hometown or if said person wants to sell you something or is a tour agent offering different kinds of sightseeing tours and so on.
It could be a bit frightening for people, who haven’t been to Africa before, but as long as you stay in the Downtown Area and are aware of common theft-scams, there is no reason to be nervous, about people coming up to you.
We had some errands to do, like applying for our Somaliland Visa and buying bus tickets to Harar for the following day. After that, we took a taxi driver to the market, who offered to accompany us to various parts and afterwards take us back to the hotel. We agreed on a small fee and were off to Africa’s biggest market.
The Merkato is actually not a market itself, it is rather a collection of markets. That’s the reason, we thought it was a good idea to have a local to show us around. As soon as we drove in, our driver pointed to the back of the car and said ‘Look, there are people following the car.’ We were like ‘Seriously? Is this area that bad?’. We were getting a little nervous, but after getting out of the car and making sure we were hiding our smartphones the best way possible, we realised we shouldn’t have made such a big fuss about it. Well, there were some people following our car and looking suspicious, but all they wanted, was getting a glimpse of us and some tried to sell some stuff as well.
We strolled around the market for hours. It is so big, we haven’t even seen half of it. We saw the handcraft market, where all kinds of handmade stuff was sold. You know stuff you later buy in duty-free shops for a horrendous fee. Then there was the recycling market, where locals use tons of garbage to make new things. It was really amazing to see their ability to use various things in every way possible.
Basically we felt set back a couple centuries, because of all the blacksmiths in the back of houses using candles, the usage of donkeys for transportation and the lack of modern technology all around. We came to the spice market, which turned out to be the most impressive one. Plenty of different colours and smells surrounded us in matter of seconds as we strolled through. Soon it started to pour heavily and we quickly fetched the taxi back home and after a delicious local dinner with injera, we were off to bed quickly for an early morning rise.
We got up at 4.30 am and went to the bus station to catch our bus to Harar in Eastern Ethiopia. If you want a long distance bus in Africa, then that’s what you do, you go there before sunrise and wait until the bus leaves! We took off around 6am, earlier than expected.