The Wenchi loop from Addis

Addis - Ambo - Wenchi - Wolliso

We had our first visitors a few days ago and so had the opportunity to do a bit of exploring. Lizzie, my sister, and her friend Gillian had been nursing at a rural hospital in Uganda for the previous six weeks and so their visit required rest and recuperation. Manicures and pedicures were seen to and then we headed out on a wee two day loop to see some of Oromiya to the west of Addis Ababa. A few more posts along with lots of interesting pictures will be forthcoming; this one just gives some details about what to do when going to Mount Wenchi and some tips as to how to do it.

The Google Earth clip above shows our first day route from Addis to Ambo and then on to Mount Wenchi and finally to Negash Lodge in Wolliso. We stopped at the Abebash (CHECK) hotel where the Bradt guide told us we could get a map of the route to Wenchi – alas this was not correct but we got verbal instructions that were fine. We stopped for a coffee in the beautiful hotel grounds that were teeming with birds and pet rabbits.

Continuing into Ambo (Hagere Heywit) you turn left immediately after the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia on your right and then follow the road for a few hundred metres where you will see a sign for Wenchi crater lake. Turn right and simply drive for many kilometers until you arrive in Wenchi and see a sign to turn left for the crater lake. It is a lovely drive and when we went just at the end of the wee wet season, the road was perfectly drivable, even by a DX.

Arriving in Wenchi, you first pay for entry into the park and for a guide and horses. Please take horses unless you are really fit, the climb back up to 3000 metres once you have been down to the lake is for the strong lunged and young – Not me, m’lud! The ride is easy and our guide was really great at explaining things. Some of the views on the way down are beautiful – tell your horse boy to stop if you want to take pictures otherwise they keep on going without a break.

The last hundred metres or so is undertaken on foot and you arrive at the landing place where you take a small boat across to the island where there is a monastery. We ate lunch on the island and after an hour or so came back and climbed back up on different horses. The place is really magical – more details to follow in other posts.

On returning, you get back to your car, head south for Wolliso (Ghion) – just follow the dirt road until you hit the main Addis to Jimma road after about an hour’s driving. Turn right and then first left for Negash lodge where you will be welcomed into a haven of peace, tranquility and monkeys. More later!

For now a few photos of Negash to whet your appetite.

Route down to lake and across to island

Menagesha Forest

There are many potential day trips from Addis – last weekend we decided to investigate the 9000 hectare Menagesha State Forest in the Suba district of Oromiya. This forest was first protected in the mid 15th century – yes over five hundred years ago, environmentalism is not new – by Emperor Zera Jacob due to the severe deforestation taking place. It has been an official national park since 1955 however illegal logging still takes place apparently but the village of Suba now has a nursery to replant  trees and there is a forest training centre at the main administrative area.

To reach Menegasha you turn off the Addis to Jimma road just after Sebeta. Take the turning (Lat, Long: 8.9043, 38.5986) at the big sign to the Meta Beer brewery and after 300 metres take the first left onto a wide dirt track. If you carry on up the road you reach the brewery where you can visit and taste – not a bad idea after a decent hike in the forest. During the week it closes at 16:00 ferenji time.

Now drive along a decent track for 17 km. After about 15 there is a sign taking you right to the forest administration “village” where you will find the ticket office, cottages for sleeping and a wee cafeteria where you can buy soft drinks and beer. From there you get a map and start your hike. It is wonderful.

The forest is mostly made up of African Juniper that grows up to about 30 metres and the valleys have many exotic plants – it is quite strange as in places the forest resembles many European or Pacific Northwest forests and in places is truly tropical. Many more pictures can be seen here for those that can identify the various plants.

Over the course of a walk of just three hours we saw numerous birds and got many glimpses of colobus monkeys, saw a few bushbuck and had one close sighting of a baboon. Photography was not a success since I was really looking to get some pictures of the forest itself and taking photos of animals from afar is definitely not my forte!

The walking is easy on well maintained tracks and the different routes are well marked by coloured squares on the trees. We took the route towards the waterfall but turned back after we reached 2700 metres. The highest point is about 3400 metres and you reach the tree line at about 3000 metres if you follow the main track. Of course, thin air does make the climbing a bit tougher for those not used to the altitude.

Menegasha is a highly recommended day outing from Addis – a 4×4 is a good idea but hardly essential in the dry season and we did see a couple of buses heading along the track towards Suba but have no idea if they go all the way. There is also a campsite a bit less than a kilometre from the parking (You can take your vehicle up to the camp if you want. Other than a pretty little hut with a small broken table in it and a water supply through a constantly flowing pipe, the camp seems to have no amenities – bring everything with you (as is the usual mantra when camping in Ethiopia).

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Hogmanay in the Desert

Surf's up in Dubai
We went to Dubai for New Year to stay with our friends from Belgium, Valerie and Nigel (and the three wanes) who have lived there for three years now. What a shock – Addis and Dubai are a long long way apart on the capitalism chart! Excess in everything is quite fun after a few months in Addis but it was really strange how much we were looking forward to returning to Addis after five days of sun, sea, sand and shopping.

As it was the coldest time of the year in Dubai the climate was a perfect 25-27 in the day and warm enough to sit out at night – something you can hardly ever do comfortably in Addis. We started our trip with an excellent evening amongst friends checking out Cathy’s new business – Crostinis – nibbles for the gourmet (or gourmand perhaps). Excellent chicken liver paté and wonderfully sophisticated salads were consumed with glee. We brought lots back to freeze and savour over the coming months.

Nigel City, UAE

Nigel City, UAE

The next day we packed up everything for our trip to the desert and the founding of a new Emirate, Nigel City (Click for photos), somewhere between a pair of dunes just off the road to Al Ain. Seven cars and a veritable bevy of children were soon unpacked, tents, tables, chairs and cooking areas were erected and NC came into being. Too much food and booze were consumed and we celebrated the New Year under a beautiful full moon.

The next morning after packing up we “skied” down the dune one by one and set off home after tyre re-inflation and lots of coffee at a superior service station just back on the road – 5D_1_MG_3740_down dunehow convenient that NC even has services available before the real construction begins. We look forward to the grand opening party of Burj Valerie

The rest of our stay involved much time at the beach, a veritable hail storm on New Year’s Day and doing the sites, all including expensive and luxurious hotels (and of course lots of photos). We went to the Palm Jumeirah and the Atlantis hotel and on our last night had a delightful drink on the terrace of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel overlooking the Burj al Arab. We left Dubai just a few hours before the opening of the tallest building in the World, the Burj Khalifa (Kindly named after the ruler of Abu Dhabi after he had bailed Dubai out to the tune of $10 Billion).

We must not forget our shopping essentials such as kitchen bits and pieces, much of Carrefour in a suitcase and various camping accessories. Although Dubai is a country without any purchase tax or duty on goods, the prices were pretty much the same as Belgium although electronics seemed closer to US prices while some food was much more expensive (It has to come a long way after all).

When we came to leave, we hit a perfect 121.5kg on a 120kg limit – so perfect that we were upgraded to business class because the plane was full – Ethiopian Airlines had brought a 737 instead of a 767 so many people and half our luggage were left behind. The food and service in business class were a revelation – perhaps something to do with the fact that they used Emirates catering in Dubai. The meat was tender and tasty and, very unusually, nothing was left at the end of our airplane meal!

A really memorable trip – a thousand thank yous.

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Sun at Height

Being a Brit, talking about the weather is ingrained from birth. Such conversations get boring fairly quickly here – especially since we arrived in late September and after a couple of weeks any lasting sign of the wet season was forgotten. Since then it has been sunny. When you get up in the morning you open the curtains to beautiful morning light and a blue sky. At 18:30 the blue sky quickly turns black – and the next morning the same happens again. Nice, but not very interesting.


However, early in February that is now changing – we are entering the wee wet season. Normally rain showers are expected but we have had an opening volley of dramatic thunderstorms that have drenched the parched ground – great for the golf course – more of which in a later post – and our young lawn (posh word for a patch of very thin grass!). We hope to be rid of this by early March and then get back to serious sun until mid June when the real wet season starts.

5D_1_MG_3421weathAddis’ climate is not what you would expect of a city situated at 9 degrees north. Typical day time highs are around 21-24 Celsius and night time lows at the moment are around 8-10 Celsius; out of the city it can occasionally get as low as zero in December and January. All this is caused by living at 2300 metres (7500 feet) where the air is thin and the sun is close.

Our house gets loads of sun so is easily heated (nobody has air conditioning nor central heating) and is lovely and light. This is in stark contrast to our previous apartment that was north facing and never got any sun – it was decidedly chilly all day and night.

When out in the sun it feels really warm but not uncomfortable – you need to be aware how burning the sun is at this altitude and latitude to avoid really nasty burns – and when you are in the shade it feels almost cool, even during the day. As soon as the sun has gone down, a sweater is required to keep warm. It takes getting used to.

In all we are really lucky to have such wonderful weather most of the time – outside pursuits are a real pleasure although you need to get used to the altitude if wanting to do serious exercise. I am sure we will have more to say on the subject when we have experienced our first big wet season (Who said holidays in Europe?)


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TIMKET – Epiphany done with style

 Timket (or Timkat), Ethiopian Epiphany, is held on the 19th January. It is the biggest celebration of the year in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church calendar. Timket celebrates the baptism of Christ in the Jordan and every Church takes its replica of the Ark of The Covenant, The Tabot, wraps it in wonderful cloth and parades it to the place where the ritual baptism will take place. Many churches meet on the way. After the baptism, the Arks are paraded back to their respective churches in a parade of singing, colour and ebullient joy.

It really is something to behold with thousands of worshippers leading and following the priests carrying the Arks protected from the sun by beautifully embroidered umbrellas. They say the weather is always perfect on Timket – this year there were some showers but only after the Arks were safely back in their Churches. It starts enormous and then at each turning point, different churches go their own way. The photos here are when only two (and later just one) churches are left. The crowds at the start must be awe inspiring.

Ferenjis are always warned to be careful in crowds since it can be both intimidating and potentially somewhat threatening. I did not find this at Timket. I went out to take some pictures from the edge but inevitably got sucked into the crowds. I was welcomed helped along and just made to feel at home. It was an awe inspiring experience. Later on we all went to watch the final part of the procession close to our home where only one congregation remained on their way to our local Church.  Still very noisy and impressive.

The best place to see Timket is apparently Lalibela where the ancient rock hewn Churches stand. However, if you are ever in Ethiopia on the 19th January, make sure you do not miss it – every Church and half the population is involved.

We are still here

It has been a long time since the last message but we promise to try to be a bit more frequent now that life has settled down a wee bit. Since we last wrote, we have moved into our house, celebrated Christmas with friends, spent New Year in the desert in Dubai and celebrated Timket.

We will be writing about all these in the next few posts as well as other fascinating stuff to keep you amused. So this is a very short “Welcome Back” and we look forward to writing lots in the coming weeks.

Camping at Lake Langano

Recently we were kindly invited by Roxy and her family to go camping at Lake Langano. What a great experience even if getting there proved more challenging than expected. The 4×4 we had hired did a no show – the renter claimed a blue and white taxi had hit it – so we had to take our old Corolla, knowing that the last few km were over pretty rough terrain. Due to negotiations over our house, we did not go in convoy with the other two families but set off after them. The trip was painless and very well indicated by Ian’s map but we slightly overshot the last turning to the campsite. We returned to find the “correct” sign and headed down a dust road – not for long tough. camp3081We soon encountered boulders and ruts that would have been a good challenge for a Prado but were not even worth considering for a Corolla!

We had planned to meet Ian at the main road and be escorted so we waited his call and then found that we were a km or so too far and that the correct sign marked the start of a much easier road that we navigated with relative ease. Being a fearful farenji I agreed to swap cars with Ian for the steep descent into the camp site – he is well used to abusing Corollas and did so with aplomb.  We cruised down in low ratio – much easier!fish_3220

On arrival our tents were almost completely pitched and we settled in quickly to a lovely afternoon of swimming, lazing and getting ready for a lovely evening of eating, drinking and lazing beside the beautiful brown waters of Lake Langano.

The following day we swam, lazed, walked and generally enjoyed the peace, the bird life and the warmth of this Rift Valley lake. The kids were even provided with old windsurfers on which they could kayak out into the lake – it is very shallow for a long way out so you see people a few hundred metres offshore standing chatting in the dark brown water. We did discover, however, some rather softer bits of sandy bottom when |Roxy started sinking into the mud. She was quickly rescued and we learned that care had to be taken even in water that comes up to your waist.

mailbu_3156The international camp site has a beautiful location on the banks of Lake Langano and is kept spotless with fine tukuls for toilets (lookuls?), assistance with tent pitching, sealed bins provided and loads of space for the few families that were there. There is plenty of shade beneath trees full of birds singing their hearts out and everything is pretty idyllic; what a change from the bustle of Addis.

The Rift Valley lakes are famous for their bird life and we saw a few interesting birds close up and many more, including flamingos, further away. The scenery was also inspiring and you can see more photos here.

Ian also managed to get the Corolla back up out of the camp – just! And we set off home, refreshed and happy.

A huge thank you to you know who you are!

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A very international day

A few days ago the International Community School (ICS) celebrated its international day, and what an appropriate name that is. The day started with a parade of all 600 pupils (and a few teachers and parents) walking behind their national flag. Eighty (yes 80) flags flew proudly, with the lead off being Armenia and the rear being brought up by the United Nations and the host, Ethiopia. Some flags had just one person while those of the USA and Ethiopia had dozens. Between parades, the ICS Ethiopian dance troop entertained us royally. Of course our Franco-Scottish daughter decided to walk behind the Belgian flag, her birth place – what can you do with a lady of the world :-)?

The parade was followed by a moving assembly in the outdoor auditorium. It was a mix of singing, music and dancing interspersed with short statements on the students’ thoughts about different cultures and diversity. The whole event was beautifully put together and well executed.

The rest of the day involved many activities including a lunch from 80 countries, fund raising for various charities and generally a lot of fun. More photos can be seen here.

A brief escape

Just a quick weekend update as we prepare more for your delectation. We need to decide on a house very soon as our container is supposed to be arriving in Addis today (Sunday). Hopefully we can extract our car from it and then re-seal it until we have a house into which to unload.

Other than that, life goes on in Addis. Leyla has started at the Dutch school (one afternoon a week). It is attached to the Dutch Embassy in beautiful grounds only ten minutes from us. We are also enjoying our newfound independence with a car that we can drive ourselves, although the lack of air conditioning means you have to make an ever changing choice between frying in a closed car or suffocating from black smoke emanating from ancient busses and lorries.

Yesterday we took a random drive into the hills – it is amazing how quickly you get out of the city and into typical poor rural life. Just outside Addis the main “industry” is cutting and delivering fire wood. Donkeys are often used for transport. Interestingly when Addis was founded in the nineteenth century, there was a considerable problem with deforestation due to excessive cutting of wood for heating and cooking. The solution was to plant fast growing eucalyptus in the belt surrounding Addis Ababa. The eucalyptus plantations have now formed a natural green belt and in the more fertile parts locals grow many vegetables as well as eucalyptus. This not only provides subsistence farming for the semi-rural population but also a source of income from selling the surplus in Addis.

Tomorrow Leyla is off on a school field trip to a coffee plantation for three days. The kids will be staying at one of Ethiopia’s nicest resorts, Aregash Lodge. Sounds wonderful – more to follow.

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Addis cars

Cars! Addis has lots of cars – around 350 000 – and most are not the latest models. Nor the previous model, nor the one before that – you get the drift. When we were staying at the Hilton, we had a yellow taxi driver who took us to work and school every day. Pug404_0858He was so proud of his 45 year old Peugeot 404 saloon; it was not anywhere as near as bad a car as many on the roads. As he said “Peugeot build strong cars.” He might have got the tense wrong but who is arguing?

Peugeot does not make the top ten list of car brands in Addis – all the top ten places bar one (Lada) are held by Toyota :-). The dominance is complete from ancient taxis to the latest V8 Land Cruisers. The picture below of the ICS car park shows faranjis are all sensible enough to choose a Land Cruiser as well. Ours will arrive soon in Addis and so hopefully will be registered and ready for us in a week or so. We will report on it later but for now back to real cars.

It seems that half the cars on the roads are blue and white taxis – Corollas, Ladas and Toyota Hi-Ace minibuses. The condition of these ranges from frighteningly dangerous to completely unbelievable – it is extremely rare to see one in decent nick. However, it is common to see one at the side of the road with a wheel having fallen off. You are strongly advised not to look at the condition of the tyres before getting in your taxi – those levels of stress are not worth enduring

We took a taxi to Top View which requires quite a steep climb and we needed four people press ganged from the side of the road to help push us up. Living at 2 400 metres does not do much good to engines but years of driving over rough roads is what finally makes these things rattle to pieces. The ingenuity of those that repair them is truly admirable – and third hand Toyota parts are readily available.

taxi_2298Non-taxis consist mostly of 1980s Corollas (grey or red) many of which have been imported from Europe once their useful life there has ended. We rented one with a driver that is in very good condition, is quiet, comfortable and almost rattle free. We paid 230 Birr (12 Euro) a day, driver included, petrol on top.

You also see quite a few Beetles in remarkably good condition and of course innumerable 4×4 monsters – 95% Toyota. Almost all the aid organisations, diplomats and wealthy Ethiopians drive 4×4 for good reasons: safety and the ability to get around rough roads even in the wet season. Ethiopia is meant to have the highest rate of accidents in Africa although most are small knocks. I have seen one major accident but paying attention and judicious use of the horn keeps you out of most trouble.

We have now been lucky enough to gain our independence by renting a red Corolla without a driver so are now experiencing firsthand the skills required to navigate Addis – do not look behind, tooting the horn means I am coming though and claim my right of way, and try to avoid pedestrians that seem to have almost no conception that there are cars on the roads. Other obstacles such as goats, cows and donkeys can usually be avoided with a bit of pre-planning.

Road building continues apace in Addis and all over Ethiopia. Congestion seems to be improving (or is it just moving to the places where the new roads are not yet built?) although it is fascinating that at the end of every new road there is a rough patch of unmade road between it and the next tarmac road. Joined up road building seems to be quite a challenge. These patches will be better addressed by our own monster 4×4, well it is a Prado so not too monstrous, that we are eagerly awaiting.

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