Ethiopia 101: An Overview of the Good Stuff

If you’re anything like me, you’ve always associated Ethiopia with famine, starvation, and hunger.  And regardless of whether you want to blame the media or your mother for using it to get you to finish all your vegetables, one thing is for sure, Ethiopia has a plethora of untouched and exotic treasures that only the most adventurous of travelers ever get to experience.  But have no fear.  Once you take the plunge and by that plane ticket, travel within the country can be as easy or as hard as you like.


Agriculture is the name of the game in Ethiopia as 85% of its people make a living from subsistence farming.  So do yourself a favor and get out there and see it.  If you’ve got the time, travel by land whenever possible, and if you’ve got even more time, stop off and see some “off-the-beaten-path” villages.  You’ll swear you were Brad or Angelina the way the children fight with each other just to shake your hand.

The villages that make up the majority of this country look like something out of a history book, as the agricultural methods used here have remained virtually unchanged since the dawn of farming.  So as you progress through your overland journey of Ethiopia pay special attention to the individual plots of land, the ox and whip method of plowing fields, the lack of irrigation systems, and the mud or straw huts that are the primary residences of these rural farmers.  If you come across a particularly large village you may be able to stop off at a local restaurant for a cup of world famous Ethiopian coffee or a mixed juice known simply as sprice.  Hopefully you can get used to the idea of avocado being mixed right along with guava and mango, and hopefully you can get used to everyone in that village watching you as you drink it.

Rock-Hewn Churches of Tigray:

But maybe village life isn’t for you.  Maybe it’s just that something else drew you to Ethiopia.  Maybe you saw a documentary or perhaps read an article that told you all about this unique and unforgiving landscape and how it is the highest country (in elevation) on the continent and how you could have it almost all to yourself.  Well it’s true!  If you take your eyes off the villages and look up at what surrounds you I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  From the Simien Mountains to the rock-hewn Churches of Tigray and Lalibela you’ll swear this is the Christian version of Tibet and since these ancient Christian orthodox practices exist in some of the hardest to reach places, they have remained virtually unchanged since the time of their introduction here, so in many ways it is.  And with Ethiopians unique system for telling time and their own 13 month calendar, you’ll think you’re on another planet completely.

Gelada Baboons:

Although, I have to admit I lied.  You can’t have these mountains all to yourself as your bound to run into a baboon or two or three or a thousand!  They roam the mountain sides in huge packs feeding off the grasses there.  They are vegetarian and very peaceful so you can walk right up to them.  But try not to be too offended if you notice they hardly even acknowledge your existence.  If you try to get closer than three feet they simply turn their backs on you and walk away (eating the entire time).  Not the most polite gesture in the world but you’ll just have to let it slide.  If, after all this you are still craving adventure head south on the road to Kenya.  Though the road is unbelievably bad and at times you’ll wish you’d never got on that bus, what awaits you on the other side of the border is truly unforgettable.  But that is a story for another time, because this is an article about Ethiopia.

July 11, 2010

4 thoughts on “Ethiopia 101: An Overview of the Good Stuff

  1. Damn! I never thought I would say this but “Ethiopia looks like cool place to visit”..but not for too long 🙂

  2. Daniel, I did not enjoy Addis very much. First, the poverty, then getting violently ill from the food there. Plus, the guide I hired wanted a handout, AND a pair of Adidas shoes from the U.S.

    • Yeah, Addis can be a pretty trying place!

      After about 3 weeks of being in the country, I got sick as well. I guess thats what happens when you have nothing but ingera for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 🙂

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