Ethiopia- Somalia (Somaliland)

18 days,  September- October 07






Kind of travel: Alone in a 100% independent travel

When: 27th Sept- 14th Oct 2007

How I moved: Ethiopia is huge so I had to take 4 flights (flights fares). No buses are allowed to travel after 6.00 pm, hence any long-distance-bus leaves at 6.00 am (at least 5.30 am at the station to fight for the seat) and most of the travels take 2 days. Otherwise gathering a group you can ride your own jeep, but that's not my way.

Freezing or baking?: Nice mild weather (16C- 28C). Though in Dahar Bar and Dire Dawa warmed up, still bearable. Anyway most of the time cloudy and everywhere in the late afternoon it never missed a shower.

Where I slept: There's no lack of cheap guesthouses (3- 10 euro): even they promise you, don't count on the hot water (few times also the cold one in buckets) and on the 24h electric power. It'll happen to share the bed (but not the bill! ) with the bugs, bring your powder.

What I liked: Cheeeeeeap beeeeeeer!!!!! (0.5 euro/ bottle). I appreciated the Muslim- Cristian atmosphere in Harar and Lalibela with its surroundings won't disappoint you!

What I disliked: Hanging around in the towns can be a hassle and I ended up getting quite fed up: "Faranji, Faranji!!" (foreigner= white man) it'll echo constantly in your ears. Fighting for your seat on the bus at 5.30am it's not fun. I found the food terrible.

How much daily: If you have time to travel by bus, Ethiopia can be relatively cheap (15- 20 euro/day). Otherwise, with averagely 100 euro per flight, your budget'll soar, let alone renting your own vehicle.

Dangers/ hassles: "Faranji, Faranji (foreigner)!!"can be really unbearable, anyway the real danger will be your minibus to get smashed against something while rallying on the way.

What to bring: a sweater, bug/fleapowder, a small umbrella and a lot of patience


Landed in Addis Ababa from Milan, with a stopover in Rome, it has been a tough beginning of the travel. First of all no sign of my backpack at the luggage claim and then I got kicked out from the Djibouti embassy trying to apply for a visa. Counting on the Djibouti consulate in Dire Dawa, I decided to proceed flying there (88euro, 1h).
Apart of malaria and heat, Dire Dawa has nothing to offer to visitors, so the day after, once realised I still had no hope to get both my luggage and the visa, I got the minibus to Harar (1.5h, 1$). I liked the atmosphere of this Muslim town, where most of the people chew chat (a local drug) and where I dared to feed the hyenas.
The day after again I tried to get my backpack and the Djibouti visa but unsuccessfully, so I decided to skip Djibouti and think about the luggage further head. From Harar it took the whole day by minibus and shared taxi to enter Somaliland and reach Hargeisa with an interesting travel through the turbulent Ogaden region. Luckily I found a travel mate: a Spanish (ops… Basque, sorry Fernando) on his way from Istanbul to Cape Town.

[The travel in Somalia]

I flew from Hargeisa to Addis Ababa and then to Gondar with a stopover in Bahar Dar (100euro). I found Gondar greener than I thought, and it turned out pleasant to walk around the hills to reach on foot places like the Kweskam complex. Moreover it was quite surprising that, after 60 years, Italian architecture still survives in some of the nicest buildings of the town.
To reach Bahar Dar it was an easy 4h travel by minibus and, since being Saturday, the minibus run constantly along an endless stream of people walking barefoot and carrying any sort of goods to the market.
In Bahar Dar I relaxed staying at Ghion hotel in a bungalow (I recommend) and drinking beers on the lake bank. Meanwhile I visited the monasteries on a boat trip (11$, 5h), the Blue Nile waterfalls and a long 10km walk to the Halle Selassie residence, from where you can enjoy a good view.
Getting to Lalibela it hasn't been so easy, (read the story) and by an adventurous 13hr bus trip
I got to this small village perched in the mountains. The carved churches of Lalibela are the highlight of Ethiopia and the hike to the monasteries in the mountains won't disappoint you, but after a while you'll get so hassled that you'll wish to leave.
I flew from Lalibela to Addis Ababa (95euro), where I spent two days visiting the National Museum (do you know Lucy?), the Sheraton Hotel (it's so amazing that is a shame), walking around and, the last but not the least, drinking good Ethiopian beers.



I'm sorry to say, but for a traveller Ethiopians are more a hassle than a help. Walking around means put up with an endless: "Faranji, Faranji!! (white man)" I know there could be many justifications: poverty, lack of education, just curiosity, mostly are kids… I can even agree with them, but at the end, it turns out so bothering, that you think twice before wandering aimlessly. The worst places were Lalibela, Addis Ababa and the Blue Nile waterfalls.
If you want to hear more points of view on such hassle, this TT forum post is very interesting.
There some things I still don't understand and have nothing to do with the fact of being poor. Getting a bus at 6.00am means to fight with a crowd of peasant when the bus station opens at 5.30am. Then you have to find the right bus, getting mad asking around. What does it cost to sell always the ticket one-day in advance and put a sign indicating the destination?
And above all, can somebody explain me why Ethiopians are so scared to open the windows even slightly on buses despite it stinks like the hell? Sometimes I tried to open the window but few cm were enough for an immediate uproar.
Many times to me seemed that it would need so little effort and zero money to have a lot of things working better.
Furthermore for an independent traveller without a vehicle it is not easy to draw an itinerary in Ethiopia unless you don't fly or you haven't plenty of time. In fact bus trips take from one to two days. Hence for a wanna-to-get-the-bus like me, it turned out a torture to spend most of the time getting to/ from an airport.
On the other hand I found the north of Ethiopia greener than I thought, temperature was perfect and the landscape around Lalibela was amazing also for some trekking.


Funny stories



I was in Bahar Dar and by all means I wanted to get to Lalibela by bus since I was fed up of getting planes. The previous day I went to the bus station to buy the ticket, but, although I insisted, I was told the ticket could be bought only on the bus.
I woke up at 4.30am, and I walked to the bus station through the dark Bahar Dar (maybe not a very good idea). I got there at 5.30am when they just opened the gates and hundreds of barefoot peasants were pushing to get on the buses. The problem was that there were no signs on the buses, so I had to ask to get the right one. I was asking around, worried to lose time (and the seat), people were indicating one bus and say something I couldn't understand. I got on anyway and I was so happy to have a decent seat for such long travel. After a while the bus conductor came and asked me my destination, then he said that buses wasn't going there. I freaked out; I asked other people and everybody confirmed, indicating another bus. I fought to get off, and fought again to get on the other. The seat I found wasn't so bad but there was no room left for my backpack inside, so I had to keep on my knees. After a while I realised I couldn't spend 10h hugging my luggage, so I decided to put it on the bus roof. I was going up when the guy in charge of tying the stuffs asked where I was going.
"No, this bus doesn't go to Lalibela!"
I freaked out again in particular asking about the right bus when they pointed the first one I got on. I went there again, but it was almost full, hence I got a very shitty place in the back deciding to go where the bus would have led me.
I thought it couldn't have been worst but I was wrong, in fact aside me sat a mother with a baby.
I got pissed because, first of all the seat was just for one people (already two people were sat), than the woman was fat like a pig and I knew the kids are likely to throw up on buses.
At the end the baby didn't throw up but he pissed damping my pants 9
The road was so bumpy that only Cambodia road can compete with them with an average speed around 20km/h
While I was on the bus I got acquainted with a professor and his beautiful wife. When the bus stopped for the lunch he invited me at the restaurant. Initially I hesitated since when I travel by bus I usually avoid eating, but he insisted, so I joined them. He ordered a big plate of injera and three Cokes. I didn't feel to eat but he took the best pieces of meat offering me at such extent that I was surprised by his kindness. At the end of the lunch I understood the point when both of them went to the bathroom and left the restaurant leaving the pleasure to pay the bill to their Italian guest.
After 9h the bus dropped me off at a crossroad with the road to Lalibela.
Here I sat and just waited any kind of mean of transport to give me a lift. After few minutes I was surrounded by tens of children asking for money. I bought some fruits and gave them, but they refused. I realised then they weren't hungry then.
Luckily it didn't pass that much time and a bus passed, I got on and in 3h sneaking along the hairpins we finally got to Lalibela.
Although I dashed out the bus, I couldn't escape the touts of the hotels. In particular, one insisted so much following me, despite I declined his offer since I already knew where to go, that I reacted aggressively; I'm sorry but it was too much all in a day.




    • Ethiopian bus
    • Merkato in Addis Ababa
    • Ethiopian Airlines
    • Ethiopian train
    • Boat trip in Bahar Dar
    • Blue Nile waterfall


You can get it at the airport for 20$ or 17euro (you have to pay with one of these currencies). It quite straightforward but be prepared with an address of any hotel in Addis since you need to write it.
I tried to get a multiple entry visa, but they only issue one single entry ones.



At the time of travelling (oct07) 1$= 9Birr and 1euro= 12Birr. There's a money change at the airport exactly where you get the visa, where they have no commission and the official change rate.



I had the usual vaccinations: Ephatite A, B, Typhus, Tetanus and Meningitis furthermore I took Lariam prophylaxis against malaria. If you are heading to Djibouti take into account the yellow fever certificate is required. I hadn't my mosquito net, but in some malaria-risky places (Dire Dawa, Bahar Dar) I used the one of the hotel.
Fleas or mattress bugs can be quite a problem in the hotels, I think it has been a good idea to bring my bug powder. Also the carpets of the churches in Lalibela seem to be the paradise for bugs: you'll feel quite itchy.



Ethiopian bus
In Ethiopia by law buses or minibuses cannot travel after 6.00pm, so all the long distance means of transport leave at 6.00am and they stop for the night along the way. Sometimes you cannot by the ticket in advance so you need to be at least at 5.20am at the bus station to fight for your seat.

Merkato in Addis Ababa
Merkato in Addis Ababa it's the paradise of pickpockets; the trick used was a man falling down in front of you, you bow to help him and a friend of him behind you emptied your pockets

Ethiopian train
Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa are connected by passenger train. They leave twice a week and from Dire Dawa depart at 5.00 pm travelling the whole night

Boat trip in Bahar Dar
Bahar dar: the 100bir boat trip from Ghion hotel lasts 4h and it takes you to 4-5 monastery, I think it's more than enough (I didn't even entered the last one). If you ask they will also take you to exact point where the blue Nile begins and to see the hippos of lake Tana.

Blue Nile waterfall
Blue Nile waterfall: I got to the waterfall by public bus from Bahar Dar, but once there locals wanna-be-your-guide were so a hassle and the waterfall so badly indicated that I regretted I didn't take a guided from the beginning.

Ethiopian Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines works quite well, especially with the flights connecting the north of Ethiopia with Addis Ababa. There's at least one flight per day from Addis Ababa to Bahar dar, Gondar, Lalibela, Axum, at the end it's the same flight with four stopovers. With Ethiopian airlines you can change the date of the flight according to the availability without extra charge or even change the destination or the departure just paying the difference.

Djibouti- Addis Ababa (1way) 142 euro 3 times/ week
Rome- Addis Ababa (2ways) 700 euro (tax incl) 3 times/ week
Addis- Dire Dawa (1way) 88 euro (tax incl) 1-2 times/ day
Addis- Gondar (1way) 100 euro (tax incl) 1-2 times/ day
Bahar Dar- Addis (1way) 90 euro (tax incl) 1-2 times/ day
Lalibela- Addis (1way) 95 euro (tax incl) 1-2 times/ day