One of 11 rock hewn churches from the 13th century in Lalibela, one of the 8 wonders of the world

 

A travel destination to put on your bucket list is Ethiopia, that is if your tastes run to places that are distinctive, authentic, and rich civilizations with centuries old history with their own culture, food, music and dance. After a little over a week there, I’d put it in a category with India, Mexico, Egypt and China – my favorites for exotic travel. Can’t make it to Ethiopia? Just read there’s an Ethiopian restaurant in Miami Gardens, Awash.

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Ethiopian jazz, called Ethio-jazz at hot spot Mama’s Kitchen

We went from the capital city of Addis Ababa with its buoyant Ethio- jazz scene and museums, to the Simien mountains where we viewed up close and personal the red breasted gelada baboon ( missed the Ethiopian wolf and horn rimmed walya ibex), dramatic natural scenery, and historic sites including one of the eight wonders of the world.

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Mr. W and I in the Simien mountains with the geladas, red breasted baboons

Just don’t expect five star luxury. There can be short power outages even in the capital, and internet is spotty, but I’m not a Lonely Planet kind of traveler and I found it just fine.  Conversely, it’s next to impossible to find high prices, so the dollar goes very far (We had a two hour couple massage for $20 US). I’m not going to write a travelogue here – you can find that in any travel article. But rather, in this two part series, write about some of interesting facts Ethiopia, the country and culture, and share images of different aspects of travel. In Part 2, after recipe testing at home, I’ll share easy to make recipes of some of the tastiest vegetables I’ve ever had (and a lentil dish as well). They do a foodie proud.

 

With 100 million people, Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in Africa, only surpassed by Nigeria.

 

At between  7000 and 8500 feet, Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world, trailing La Paz, Bolivia and Quito, Ecuador.

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It’s not just about drinking a coffee in Ethiopia, the land where it originated; it’s a ceremony

 

Coffee (the word comes from Kaffa here) originated in Ethiopia where, when served in homes, it’s an hour long ritual that begins with the washing of the green beans. In fact, no respectable housewife would think of buying already roasted beans. It then proceeds with the roasting of the beans over a charcoal brazier, grinding, and steeping for a good while. It’s served in a black pitcher taken right off the fire. Accompanying the coffee, served in small cups, is popcorn that has been sprinkled with sugar. Alongside the table with the cups is another brazier with frankincense, and aromatic fresh cut grass and leaves are spread below the coffee table.  If you like strong, rich coffee as we do, you’ll love it. Happily, it’s increasingly sold in the USA (I just bought some Ethiopian coffee pods which work with  Nespresso machines from Maud’s).

 

The country is as large as France and Spain combined.

 

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Internationally prominent artist Fikru in his home and studio in Addis Ababa

 

Ethiopia had the 4th highest growth rate of GDP in the world in 2016 at 8%. You won’t believe the construction going on in Addis. It’s a boom town.

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The Falasha synagogue of the Ethiopian Jews outside of Gondar

 

The prevailing religion is Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. Christianity here predated that of Rome. A third of the population is Muslim. The Israeli government evacuated most of the Jewish community  which lived in Falasha in May 1991. I visited the community, now inhabited by Christians, and saw the synagogue which continues to exist thanks to contributions from Ethiopian Jews.

 

Stylish leather and canvas travel bag from Sabahar that also features handsome hand crafted cotton textiles, a shopping favorite

 

Find the skeleton of the world’s oldest hominoid, the predecessor of the human being. “Lucy” is over three million years old. Most Paleo Anthropologists now agree that the human race originated in the Afar Region.Forty one institutions from 13 countries are actively excavating in this area.

 

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A wedding at one of the rock hewn churches in Lalibela

The 11 dramatic stone hewn churches of Lalibela dating from the 13th century are considered among the 8 wonders of the world.

 

Though over  80 languages are spoken along with 200 dialects, Amharic is the official language. A semitic language, it has many similarities to Arabic and Hebrew.(for instance, Bet in Amharic means “house”; in Hebrew it’s pronounced the same).

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Traditional Ethiopian food including lentils, vegetables, Tibs, and chicken stew served on injera

You’re hard pressed to find an overweight person. The diet, heavily reliant on vegetables and legumes; an absence of sweets; low on carbs; and a two day a week fasting plus normal religious fasting periods during the year, all help contribute to this. We felt as if we were at a wellness retreat! And speaking about the fasting, it requires that no meat products, eggs or dairy products be consumed, essentially a vegan diet.

 

China is heavily invested in Ethiopia, practicing what some are calling “economic colonialism”. They’re building industrial parks,  airport terminal expansion in Addis, roads, train and other infrastructural projects.

 

Regrettably, plastics are everywhere — the carrier of choice in marketplaces, shoes of the masses, and items for the household.

 

In traveling around the country for over a week, never once did we feel unsafe or insecure. Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming, with big smiles complementing their oversize sparkling eyes.

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Omotic tribe from Ethiopia; photo courtesy of Hans Silvester

Had we had another 10 days we would have visited Lake Tana and the Blue Nile and  the South, home of various tribal cultures, including the famed Omotic tribes who paint their faces and bedeck their bodies and heads with plants. It was through seeing a photography exhibit of the Omotic peoples by Hans Silvester at the Marlborough Gallery in New York , that I first came to put Ethiopia on my list. And if you go, I recommend our tour operator from the U.K. Cazenove + Loyd. They’re very good at customizing a trip to special interests, responsive, reliable, and offer quality and value.

Want to see more? Check out my instagram page.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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