Why Ethiopia needs to be on your bucket list.

Oh just hanging at the Danakil Depression…

Yes, the above is as surprising to you as it is to 25-year-old me! At 25, I was in my fourth year of investment banking… I was covering the continent and got in copious amounts of traveling. I unfortunately always went to bigger hubs for work…Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Accra, London, Singapore etc.

A random Easter a friend in Nairobi decided to put together a trip to Ethiopia. I wont lie… As a South African I had no actual knowledge of Ethiopia… all I can really remember is the Michael Jackson song ‘we are the world’   which paraded starving African kids and asked for you to give… when people said starving Africans. Ethiopia is what came to mind…So now being a resident of East Africa I was adamant to learn more and stop being an ignorant South African.  Boy, did I learn a thing or two.

The trip was off to a bumpy start when I landed and realized I didn’t bring my yellow fever card. I own three yellow fever cards because I keep forgetting them and Kenya keeps insisting that I pay for a new one (final solution was me taking a photo and always having a digital copy).  So I landed and ofcourse my three friends had their yellow fever cards (I’d landed the day before from Zambia and clearly missed the memo). I’d shame them now for not reminding me, but this is a fundamental that you shouldn’t forget when traveling to a lot of African countries.  I flashed the charming young fellow showing us where to go to pay for a visa an innocent smile and prayed that he would let me through. Which he did !!! The catch was that as a South African I didn’t need a yellow fever card, but as a Kenyan resident I needed one. I convinced him that I’d just flown through Kenya and was in no danger. If he’s somehow reading this…I’m sorry!!!

 But the game was afoot!!! I was in Ethiopia to see some of the most incredible things on this continent that I wasn’t even aware existed 2 years prior.  I spent five glorious days in desert heat and I couldn’t have been happier.  What is that? What were the biggest highlights of the trip even when they were touristy? I thought you’d never ask …

  • Salt Farms in Makale. Farmers still lead their camels for 7 days to these ‘farms’ to breakdown and transport salt blocks all across Ethiopia in 40 degress Celsius weather (10 Fahrenheit) and yes I saw the most gorgeous Ethiopian men I’ve ever seen and my first camel caravans.
All in a day’s work for these salt farmers
  • The Danakil Depression. I’m at a loss for words. This is the closest I’ve felt to another universe in my life. It is so hard to put into words. The depression is in the northern part of the Afar Triangle or Afar Depression in Ethiopia, a geological depression that has resulted from the divergence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa. Think multicolored sand and water and what I imagine tripping on acid to feel like. I could not get over the colours, the heat and the strange wind that made it feel like I was in a star wars universe.
The awesome foursome and our guide at the site
  • Erta Ale – We hiked up 10kms at 8pm at night to stand 50m away from the mouth of the most active volcano in Ethiopia which last erupted in 2008.  It spews lava daily and one of the people on our trip cut his leg as he fell though the fresh lava. Can you say yikes! And yes as soon as he cut his leg I froze in place and opted to walk myself back to our camp that overlooked the volcano and where we were to sleep under the stars for the night.  And yes for the peanut gallery – I just kept thinking of my mother who would have no sympathy for a cut leg because she would ask me who asked me to go to the middle of the desert and stand that close to a live volcano. The smell was atrocious, think rotten eggs in a hot room you can’t leave, but all worth is for a night sleeping underneath the most stars I’ve ever seem in a sky.
Yes, we really shouldn’t have been this close to Erta Ale
  • Gaet’ale Pond – saltiest body of water in the world. Yes, I did not know that when I went!!! Amazing swim and super refreshing break from driving across the desert. It also punctuated our never ending drives across the desert and what we referred to as an African massage (Being body slammed against each other in the SUV because of the bumpy desert), it did the work though.
  • Amazing Ethiopian kids we met along camps…and yes again…they firstly thought I was Ethiopian because my hair was curly…turns out I don’t speak a lick of the local dialect and then then thought I was Japanese…or American… lesson to all: black people please visit your African brothers so kids don’t think we are Japanese because they can’t place non-Ethiopian blacks…..
  • Amazing driver who spoke Italian – I’m not sure I need to say more. Whilst I don’t speak a word of Italian, I can confess I did not mind at all. A friend got to practice his Italian and I had a chance to be awed by a good-looking Ethiopian man who spoke 4 languages.
  • Addis Night scene – the awesome foursome broke apart and one pair went  see some of the earliest churches in the world…Archie and your friend here obviously went back to the capital for an experience in night clubs before heading back to work Sunday afternoon.  Beautiful people, amazing music and just an amazing vibe all around.
  • Food glorious food – Once we left the desert we had our fair share of Ethiopian cuisine. Ethiopian cuisine (Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ምግብ as Wikipedia just told me) usually consists of vegetable and spicy meat dishes.  If you know me, you will know that nothing makes me happier than gobbling down some spicy food.  I gorged on stew, injera (a large sourdough flatbread made out of fermented teff flour), Beef Tibs and Shiro (I didn’t know a vegetarian dish could taste so good).  I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I basically had to roll myself back to our hotel both days.  Please don’t get me started on the coffee!!!
I could have this for every meal. *Every* *Single* *Meal*
As hot as it was, this coffee was surprisingly refreshing.

Things I won’t miss about this trip…

  • Pasta – Because I spent most of the 5 days in the desert there really weren’t many opportunities to partake in fresh food. Which meant that pasta and some sort of canned tomato sauce was the order of the day most days. Most of the arears we went to did not have electricity which was great as it game us an opportunity to unplug, but it also meant that most things were salted or canned!
  • No internet – Even when we were in the capital there was a crackdown on dissonance, so the state shut off everyone’s wifi connections. I kid you not, you live and learn. So we basically just had to ask out way around as we couldn’t google directions and we couldn’t check our emails (Did I actually just say I hated this?!?!?!?!)

All in all, I learnt a lot. I was astounded by how amazing the people, country and food were. There’s so much I didn’t see, and I would recommend this trip to any and everyone. The tour company we used was efficient, affordable and generally really good! On my next trip I think I’ll try and hit up some of the churches.

Camel Caravans going to pick up salt
The range of colours in the desert was breathtaking!
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The 4 reasons South Africans should travel around Africa (and the greater globe) more…

Zanzibar forever remains one of my favourites – Nungwi Beach

I cannot count the number of times I have heard South Africans tell me that they’re going to ‘Africa’ or the continent for a week. Yes, I kid you not, we are a special breed. We have Africa in our name and there are still people who think they are going to a different continent when they board a plane at OR Tambo or Cape Town International or King Shaka. And yes, all 54 of our glorious countries are extremely different, but they are still on the same continent.

1.Are you Zulu? Sawubona!

Yes, I happen to be Zulu but this happens to most South Africans when they visit the rest of Africa. So many people know about our history, culture and some languages and appreciate how far we’ve come as a nation despite us not appreciating it. Yes, this is me also feeling terrible that I learnt nothing about African history in primary or secondary school and had to wait until I took a minor  in African studies to have a better appreciation for our similarities, struggles and so many of our cultural commonalities!!!

2. Yes there are brown / black people in South Africa

This is more for the melanated South Africans reading (Yes, I just made up that word).  Due to apartheid and socioeconomic reasons most South African people of colour have not traveled the breadth of our beautiful continent. Due to this, it should come as no surprise that a lot of Africans outside of the major hubs are genuinely surprised when they meet a black South African. For some reason a lot of places off the beaten track seem to think South Africans are mainly white….No, I’m not joking….I was in Tunisia and someone looked at me strangely when I said I was South African… apparently I was the first black South African they had ever met.  So do all of us a public service and go show some of our culture and fake those clicks even if you aren’t Xhosa or Zulu. You’re doing your country a service!!!!

3. This is more for the greater world then the continent, but you will have utterly amusing stories to tell your grandkids that you could never make up.

I lived in China for a period of around 2.5 years in and out, first as a student and then as an adult. It was not the easiest because of the stark differences in culture but being fluent in mandarin did help.  Questions I was asked in that period:

  • Are you related to Obama?
  • Is Kobe your big brother?
  • Why are you at the zoo, don’t you have animals everywhere in Africa? (And still…no we only have animals in the zoo)
  • You must be grateful to Obama for ending slavery…deadass. I tell no lies…
  • How come your Chinese is so good? (I lying to get an extra shot..my dad is Chinese and my mum is South African…)…mmm I guess that makes sense… *sips on her 4th free shooter because she’s half Chinese*
  • Why are you so dark…do your people not wash as much?
  • Some offensive, some hilarious…all requiring a level of patience that my mother would be proud I now possess (apparently I used to have the temper of a thousand Xhosa / Zulu woman)

4. You will genuinely be humbled by how beautiful the continent is and how so many places are not publicized. Yes,people have been hiding destinations from you.

I don’t even know where to start …The Danakil depression (lookout for my next post)… Labadi Beach in Accra..The skeleton Coast that’s on my bucket list… or the clear ocean in Zanzibar or the Seychelles…I don’t remember ever being taught about this Africa. I have been entirely humbled by how much I didn’t know before embarking on my journeys.  When kids were going off about some of their European holidays as a kid and we could only afford to go down the coast till now when I’m older and I can afford to explore more I have not come across anything as beautiful as our continent. I am entirely filled with euphoria every single time I land on a different island or city even when I’m overwhelmed and I need to go find a normal cab (Yes, there are places where there is still no uber or taxify or littlecabs – please go find a normal cab; its 2019 and its still in fashion to speak to people and bargain for your fare).

I wont lie, I love South Africa. I don’t think I could have been luckier in hitting the birth lottery when it comes to weather, lack of natural disasters, amazing food, friendliest of people and a more resilient nation but like I said above I am giddy with excitement every single time I know I am putting another African stamp on the green Mamba! Yes, I am that south African who listens to the expat south Africans and calls her passport the green mamba! Firstly, start budgeting…there’s so much to see and so little time…join the struggle bus and go to home affairs, if you get there extremely early you’re out within an hours and are assured a new passport within a week! And yes, we are thankful that the two most efficient ministries in our country is the one that taxes you (hey SARS, I feel like I’m owed a tax rebate ) and the one that actually allows you to run away from Eskom’s load shedding once in a while!!!!