Tuesday, 13 January 2009

This is a picture of the Blue Nile Falls, locally known as Tississat which means smoking water. We went there on a tour with maybe ten others and had a great time trekking for two hours around the waterfalls. The Ethiopian government has recently built a hydro power plant resulting in a canalization of 75% of the water. Hence there is normally only 25% of the water left for the waterfall. To our luck one of the two turbines had broken down the day before we came.

Finally we managed to get a picture of the “African Sun” as we have seen it in the Lion King and TV documentaries about the Savannah. In fact the sunset did not look like the picture at all, but luckily our camera was kind enough to think that it did. It was taken from a wonderful terrace-hotel in the mountains surrounding Gonder. The hotel had a great panoramic view and was an ideal spot for a sunset drink. (This is just one of about forty great sunset pictures we have taken on the trip).

Here is the Fasiladas Castle in Gonder. In fact there were six castles on the same compound as all members of the royal family wanted to be remembered and therefore all built their own castles instead of just sharing the oldest and biggest one. We had a great guide around and also went to a church outside of town where there were these extremely famous angel-paintings in the ceiling. I am pretty sure you have seen them sometime in your life – you are just not aware they are Ethiopian.

During our stay in Lalibela we also went to a very, very remote church and palace outside of the town. Here is a picture from outside of the cave in which the palace and church were built. The wall on the picture is new to protect the cave, but you can maybe get an impression of the Indiana Jones Quest for the Treasure in the Ethiopian Highlands. We felt very Indiana Jones-like at least, being in a remote jungle discovering a thousand years-old, hidden church. It could have been a great Aztec sanctuary too.

Here is one of the many rock-hewn churches in Lalibela seen from above. It is quite small compared to the others, but it is the only cross-shaped one. On the picture you can not see how high it is, but trust us, it is quite impressive.

One of the many pictures we took of one of the biggest rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. The amazing thing here is that the entire church is made from the rock on which it’s standing… It has all been carved out of the rock – no stones or building materials used. We are still wondering about how they did it 800 years ago, but apparently noone knows – which is also some of its charm. The locals claim that the King Lalibela built ten of the eleven churches himself. It only took him 23 years because angels would come down from the Heaven every night and build twice as much as he had built in the day (thanks, angels). His wife one day saw him building the churches (he kept it as a secret) and decided to build one herself… we don’t know if she was helped by any angels (or slaves).

Some of the great view from our hike up the Lalibela Mountains. The view was greater than the church, and here you can see a small hut-village at the bottom of the picture and the never ending Ethiopian Highlands stretching towards the horizon (this is also why traveling by bus is not fun).


Great, now we found internet again.

Two days ago we came back to Addis Ababa – where they have reasonable internet.

We flew in from Lalibela, north of Addis. It took 65 minutes by plane, which we chose to 2 ½ days by bus. Our traveling in Ethiopia has now come to an end and we will spend our last three days in Addis.

We have had a wonderful time, seeing new parts of the country, which were all significantly different from what we were used to in Jimma. As we already wrote on our first stop in Bahir Dar, about one week ago, it was very interesting seeing new parts of Ethiopia, widening our knowledge about the country instead of just Jimma.

Since last update we have been to the Blue Nile Falls, Tississat, (check out the attached picture) we have been to Gonder and to Lalibela.

Gonder is about 200 km. north of Bahir Dar, so it was very relieving not to have to spend an entire day on traveling. Gonder was the Ethiopian capital for about three centuries from around 1600. It was an interesting late-middle-ages town to visit, and it has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its big castle in the centre and various important churches and royal baths spread around town. Ohh, yes, all the Italian-build buildings in Gonder have also been protected and the Italian-looking Piazza in the centre also takes part of the UNESCO site. All the Italian buildings are yellow, and it is not allowed to change the colour.
There are Italian buildings in all Ethiopian towns – and I personally love to see the colonial architecture.
It surprised me a bit to see the castle as it resembled the contemporary castles found in Europe as Ethiopia to my knowledge never was a big castle-building nation.

We spent Christmas in Gonder (Ethiopian Christmas obviously) where the city council celebrated it with an open-air concert on a town square in the shade of the 16th century castle. It was great finally to see some live Ethiopian music, as we have always just seen music and dances on the Ethiopian Government TV. The entrance was just five Birr (0,5 $) so we were easily able to fit it in our budget.

In Gonder we stayed at a really nice guest house with very friendly managers, hot water, big beds and a good backyard-ambience. All the guests were talking to all the others about their experiences and recommendations. As a result of this general openness amongst the tourists we have talked with a lot of faranjis over the last week. We talked to (or were talked to by) a Dutch man who had driven his 4WD from Rotterdam to Ethiopia, two Canadians in their early 20s doing an Egypt-Cape Town-tour spending one month in all the countries in between going by airplane, two Brits driving from Sussex, England, to Cape Town on some kind of sponsored tour, three Germans of which two live in Southern Ethiopia having driven around the country for a couple of weeks, an Italian couple from Milan spending a two-weeks holiday in Ethiopia while looking for potential spots to place windmills for electricity and lots of other interesting people. It suited us just fine not to be alone in these tourist towns as we always found somebody to share the cost with for a guide or a taxi somewhere.

We stayed in Gonder for three days and took the airplane to Lalibela as it was the only alternative to four days by bus or renting our own bus to take a shortcut. Yea – infrastructure is not Ethiopia’s strong side. Some seriously blame it on the historic lack of long lasting European presence and say that if only the Italians had not been defeated Ethiopia would have much better roads, tunnels and bridges. Maria refuses to accept any positive aspects of colonial powers… I guess she has some personal feelings involved there.
Anyways, we took the airplane to Lalibela, the last stop, from where Maria will take over the narration.



After having spent some days in Gonder, Aske and I were very grateful to not take any more busses anywhere in Ethiopia. We flew with Ethiopian Airlines from Gonder to Lalibela and it was a very pleasant and short flight.

When we arrived at the airport, there was a representative from our guesthouse waiting for us, and he showed us to the shuttle service that brought tourists from the airport to their hotels, very fancy. Our guesthouse was really great and the owner very friendly.

However, despite this good start, we had a bit of a bad first day in Lalibela. On our way to Lalibela, we had met two very nice Italians who wanted to share a car with us up to a beautiful church some 20 km away. It sounded like a very good plan to us, but it turned out that the Italian had not booked the car through his hotel, but just kind of found the commission agent. However, we got a good price, so we decided to go with them. When we reached the car, the agent told us that there would be one more person in our car which at this point had turned out to be a minibus. He went on to urge us not to tell this fifth person that we were paying 700 birr altogether, because the fifth person was paying 400. We didn’t really like that and for a while we wanted to back out, but then we decided to see what this fifth person thought about the whole thing and possibly share the whole cost equally.
When we picked up this fifth person, he was very surprised, because he had been told that it would be a car for two, so the first thing he did, before getting in to the car, was to ask us how much we were paying and we of course told him the truth. The whole thing turned into an argument with the commission agent who got very mad at Aske who got very mad at him to. In the end we agreed to split the cost equally and to only pay 800.
The ride to the church was terrible with sharp turns and terrible non-asphalted roads. Halfway to the church, the commission agent who earlier had promised to be our guide got off at a village, because he said that we had broken his deal. It was a bit unpleasant, but we kept on driving and eventually reached the small village with the church.

The church itself was amazing. First we had to walk on a small path upwards for about 10 minutes and then we reached a big rock which had a natural gigantic hole in it. When you went under the rock there was this old church dating from the 12th century. Perhaps my description earlier with the hole in the rock was a bit off, perhaps I should rather say that the rock was shooting outwards and in that way provide a natural roof for the church. Anyways, there is a picture of it as well, perhaps I should just let you look at that instead of trying to explain.
There was also place in the back where there were tons of skeletons. Apparently this was a church that pilgrims sought in order to die there, and throughout the years, their bodies had been put in the back of the cave.

It was all amazing and a bit surreal. When you first came, as I earlier mentioned, you walked for 10 minutes in glorious sunshine among lush plants, then you arrived, went through the gate under the rock and suddenly all was calm, cold and dark. The atmosphere was amazing and the place reeked of history and mystery.

Our way back was not so pleasant. The driver had got a plastic bottle filled with a brown liquid. Aske’s and my first reaction was to ask him if it was Tala, a local beer. He said no, it was coke. Okay we thought, that’s probably true, but already then we had become a bit unsettled. Later the driver also started to chew Cat, an intoxicating plant which is legal in Ethiopia, which made us a bit more unsettled, but as I said, it’s legal, so there’s not that much you can do or say. Later again we picked up the commission agent from the village and the car just reeked of alcohol when he entered. Anyways, even though the trip was a bit frightening, we made it back safely to Lalibela. When we arrived, we had one more argument with the commission agent and then it was all over and we paid what we had agreed on. Phew, what a first day.

The second day we played it safe and booked a guide for the rock hewn churches of Lalibela through our guest house. Lalibela is famous in Ethiopia because of these eleven churches which are simply carved completely out of the rock. The place became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978 and ever since tourists have started to come to see these amazing churches. At first they had to come on mules, because there were no roads, but now, because of the increase in demand, there is a road and an airport (amazing considering that only 8,000 people live there) and tourists are pouring in constantly.

The tour itself was amazing and took around five hours. It was hard to image how people, 800 years ago, could simply dig into rock and free a church entirely from it. The place was also packed with tunnels running between the churches. We went through one which our guide told us symbolized hell. He told us, that in the tunnel we would not be allowed to use any kind of light, instead we must hold our right hand above our heads to make sure we didn’t bump our heads into the rock and our left hand to our side so that we could feel which way to go. The tunnel was 50 metres long and after the first metre it got pitch black, I couldn’t see a thing. So, we felt our way forward with the winding of the tunnel. After a while I almost panicked, because I couldn’t feel anything to me left side, but after a short while, I found the rock again and could move forward. It seemed like an endlessly long tunnel, but finally, we could see light ahead. This our guide told us symbolized coming to heaven.
This tunnel I thought was a very strong experience. One of the reasons is probably that I have never really tried navigating without seeing before. At home there is usually a window which offers a bit of light from the moon or stars, and if not you can turn on the light. But here I couldn’t see anything at all and it was a very strange experience to have to rely on your other senses completely. It was such a relief to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I think I understood why the Ethiopians had given this tunnel its symbolic meaning.
Lalibela was filled with these small symbolic meanings. Sometimes it got a bit too much. For example, they connected all numbers to something. No matter how many there were of something (unless it was 6 of course), it always symbolized something. Nothing was just coincidence, it all had a deeper, symbolic meaning.

One other thing that was fascinating was that the churches were still in use. The story goes that king Lalibela built Lalibela because it was too dangerous to go on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and many of the pilgrims died on their way. So, instead, clever king Lalibela built a new Israel in Ethiopia. So, in Lalibela, there was the river Jordan, there was Jerusalem and there was Bethlehem. To this day today thousands of pilgrims go to Lalibela every Christmas. Even though we came right after Christmas, there were always people and priests in all of the churches. It is an amazing though that these churches have been in use for 800 years and that they are not just monuments on UNESCO’s list, but places of immense religious significance to many Ethiopians.

On our third day we went on a trip up a mountain. We had heard that there was a beautiful church around two hours away, however, we did not feel like hiring a guide, so we just decided to walk and if we reached the church, then we reached it, and if we didn’t, then we’d just enjoy the beautiful nature instead, no big deal. However, it was Saturday and locals from the mountains were walking down the mountains with heavy burdens to sell their goods at the big Saturday market. So, every time we walked in the wrong direction, someone local, headed for Lalibela, would say: “No, no, you go to church, that way,” and point. So, in the end, after a beautiful walk, we reached a rock with a narrow rift in it. When we came closer, we saw that we were supposed to walk through the rift and sure enough, on the other side there was a small rock hewn church.
I actually think that this trip was my favourite in Lalibela. The church was far from as impressive as the ones in Lalibela, but it was such a beautiful walk and the view was amazing. Lalibela itself lies at 2900 metres, so we probably reached 3300 metres or more and the panorama view was breathtaking. It was also great to just walk for 2 hours and then actually reach a church in the middle of nowhere on the other side of a rock. A real experience.

On day four we had to catch a flight to Addis, which we didn’t mind at all. Taking a bus would have taken 2-3 days, but the flight was just great and only took an hour. This time we even got a free muffin and free juice, so we were both very happy.

We arrived to Addis at around six in the evening, but I think I’ll save telling you about Ellen’s arrival till the next time I’m online, 1.700 words are enough for now I think.

Take care everyone!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


We celebrated New Year's Eve with Pernille at Jimma's finest restaurant. It was a very nice evening, but because we had to get up at four the following morning to catch our bus to Addis, we went to bed early (and without champagne or fireworks).

After having been in Addis for 2 days, we took a bus to Bahir Dar.
Again we had to be at the bus station at five, but we'd bribed a bus station worker (10 kr) to save us two front seats. When we arrived some minutes to five, the bus was almost full, and we were very happy about our reserved good seats, although I don't know if it was morally correct or not. Anyways, the bus ride was 12 hours long and most of it was on a bumpy gravel road, so if he had not saved us those seats, I, Maria, would surely have thrown up.
Here is our bus in the middle of nowhere... broken down. We had stopped once before at a hotel to eat breakfast and this was the only other stop the bus was going to make. Here they are working hard to repair the bus which took about 30 minutes. At this time (at twelve) I (Maria) really had to pee, but I thought I'd wait till the next stop as it was in the middle of a field and not much more than an occasional haystack to hide behind. Unfortuantly for me, the next stop was Bahir Dar, 6 hours later.

Bahir Dar is by the bank of the biggest lake in Ethiopia, Lake Tana.
The lake is famous for all its small islands with monasteries on them.
Yesterday we went out on an eight-hours boat trip to some of the islands, and here is Aske standing on one of the small beautiful islands.

Here is one of the churches. The paintings on the wall are between 400 and 600 years old, there were many of them and they covered almost all of the walls. We had a guide who is on the picture explaining what the paintings were about.

These are some of the traditional boats that some of the locals use to go fishing. They are made out of the papyrus plant.

A picture of Maria who is eating breakfast at a nearby hotel with a view to the lake and a beatiful garden with many birds.

Bahir Dar

We are now in Bahir Dar, first stop on our small tour in Ethiopia.
Bahir Dar is radically different from Jimma, as everything here seems well-planned and organized. When we first came here it reminded us a lot more about a Mediterranean riviera than Ethiopia. There are wide boulevards and tall palm-trees in straight lines along them and only few gravel roads.
Bahir Dar looks in every way a lot richer than Jimma, and we are pretty sure this is because of the considerable tourism.
Bahir Dar is right by the Lake Tana which is the source of the Blue Nile.
Today we are going to see the Nile Falls some 40 km. from here, and tomorrow we will continue to our second stop; Gonder.

Happy New Year,
Aske and Maria

Tuesday, 30 December 2008


One of the teachers at our school had got a new job at a newly opened private school called ABIFAM. He invited us to come see his school, so that's what we did. It was very interesting to see another private school. The classes were much smaller, but that was mainly because it
was a new school and not that many people knew about it. It seemed like a very nice school and both Aske and I were a bit jealous of the class sizes. At the moment Eldan is experiencing hard competition from private schools around Jimma. When Eldan first started out, it was practically the only private school, but now new ones are starting up everywhere (9 schools have started up in the past 6 years) and offering the teachers better salaries. This means that many of the best teachers have now left Eldan and put it under hard pressure to
raise the teachers' salaries.

The family we're livng at is drying a lot of chilli at the moment. They use it for a special Ethiopian spice called Berberi. In the background you can see Maria washing clothes.

Christmas! Here you can see the adventskrans in action.

The family of one of the Danes, Mads, who had come to visit him on Cristmas. Here they are visiting us at Eldan. The students were very happy to see them.

This is Mads' niece. The kindergarten children were very happy to see her and all wanted to play with her. We all agreed that she was very good at handling all of the attention and the hundreds of children who wanted to touch her, mainly she just smiled.

Our Christmas dinner! For Christmas one of the Danish families had let us borrow their house (they were in Denmark for Christmas) which had an oven! So, Aske and I spent all of Christmas and the day before making food and it was sooooooo good. We made 3 kinds of cakes, buns
and the dinner itself. It was nice to celebrate Christmas in the best possible way you can in Ethiopia. The woman on the picture is a Dane called Pernille who celebrated Chritsmas with us. It was nice to have a guest, athough there is a long way from the 20+ dinner I'm used to
from the Faroes and just being the three of us. That being said, we had a lot of fun together and a very nice Christmasy Christmas

Here we are dancing around the Christmas tree. I admit that it was a bit strange with only the tree of us, but it has to be done for Christmas! We had borrowed the tree from our family who won't need it until in a week. All of the things on the tree are made by us!:)

Last Saturday we celebrated Aske's birthday with one of the teachers from the school and Pernille. We had baked the cake layers on Christmas and it was so good! We had put jam, banans and homemade cake cream in between the layers and topped it with the Sweet Whip we bought in Addis (which actually wasn't that bad, it tasted a bit like coconut milk or soy milk). It was a very nice and cosy birthday and we had a lot of fun showing the Ethiopian teacher how a birthday was celebrated in Scandinavia.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A picture of the gang that went on a hippo-quest. The big white guy in a red T-shirt is Mads. The two boys in front to the left are Samuel and Isaac (some friends of us) and above Mads’ shoulder there are three Danish girls taking pictures

Crossing a field to get to the lake. We live 1900 metres above sea level and the highlands here are very fertile and green.

By one of the lakes we saw this strange bird. We have no clue of what it is.

The best picture we got of a hippo. As mentioned they were rather shy, but this one showed us its face

The river in which the hippos lived.

We are all very focused on picking (or, in this case cutting with a Swiss knife) a flower for a Christmas decoration

Some traditional huts we saw on our way back. The woman who lived in one of them invited us into her hut. It was one room with kitchen, stable and bed, all in one. The chickens lived on a stick above the cows – clever.

As previously mentioned, the cat wakes us up every morning by meowing. Usually it does it outside of our door, but one morning it had got so impatient and desperate (“Why don’t Aske and Maria let me in at half past 6??”) that it tried the window situated 1 meter above the ground. So, it hung there and meowed miserably for a while until we took pity on it and let it in.

Maria’s is doing her best to make an Adventskrans (Aske also helped).