Mt Entoto, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: 24 hour layover

On my way back from Madagascar, I was able to build in layovers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Nairobi, Kenya. I have to be honest, I had really low expectations for Addis Ababa – everyone I had talked to said Ethiopia was beautiful but Addis was disappointing. My perspective was definitely a bit different, coming from the least developed country in the world, but I found Addis wonderful and I really, really encourage everyone to spend some time there!

Everyone I met was extremely kind and helpful, the city was full of art and green spaces, and obviously the food is some of the best in the world.

I was a bit nervous visiting Ethiopia as a solo female traveller, so I booked a tour through Addis Ethiopian Tours with Adisu Mekonen (adisu@addisethiopiatours.com). Adisu works as a tour guide but also has a degree in public health and is saving to open a SRHR clinic in his home village. We had so much to talk about and he is such a nice and well travelled person – I really enjoyed spending the day with him!

The tour takes you to the main places any tourist would want to visit, the National Museum, Ethnographic Museum, Merkato, Ba’ata Mariam Church, St. George Cathedral and the view of Addis Ababa from Mount Entoto. We also had lunch at Taitu Hotel and THE BEST COFFEE I have ever, ever had at Tomoca Coffee. Tomoca is the first place I’d go on return to Addis, and I am not a coffee drinking. IT IS JUST THAT GOOD.

Itinerary

We went straight to the museums – first the National Museum, where we saw Lucy, a female skeleton over 3.2 MILLION years old. Lucy was discovered back in 1974, and got her name from the Beatle’s song, which was played over and over at a party to celebrate the discovery the night they found her.

Lucy, The National Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Next was the Ethnological Museum, which is in an old palace which is now Addis Ababa University. I love seeing the university offices and some of the students – it was a great look past the tourist bubble. This was one of my favourite parts of the tour, which is funny because I’m not usually a museum person. However there was amazing art, so much information about the culture and practices of different groups in the country – and you can see the old palace living quarters. The most impactful display was one called “What She Wore,” where the actual clothing women were wearing when raped was displayed, along with their stories, to try to dispel the notion that what women wear has any impact on whether they face sexual violence.

What She Wore Exhibit, Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEthnological Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

We quickly drove through the Merkato, the largest market in Africa. I was fine skipping this as I’d been shopping at the market in Fort Daupin for months, knew what to expect, and honestly would not have enjoyed the attention of being a tourist walking through one. Adisu said he offers it because so many people ask to visit, but few of them actually enjoy it once there. These aren’t hand crafted goods being sold, but cheap household items in a crush of people. Worth a look if you’ve never experienced one, but otherwise it’s just what you’d expect, only huge.

Next was lunch at Taitu – I LOVED this. Taitu is Addis Ababa’s first hotel, and you can feel the history in the building. It’s a very cool space, well decorated, and the lunch buffet is vegan and SO DELICIOUS. I ate way too much food but it was hard to stop myself. There was a great little gift shop where I picked up some cute artwork, as well. I’d highly suggest a lunch here – all you can eat for about $4. I didn’t see the rooms, but they do not have good reviews on trip advisor so I’d probably give those a miss, however.

Taitu Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

After lunch was coffee at Tomoca and I don’t have anything more to say about that except I truly think this is the best coffee in the world. It’s considered the best coffee in Addis Ababa, everyone knows about it and the place is always full. There’s no seating, but a few tables where you can stand and bask in the gift you’re giving your taste buds. Everyone seemed to be ordering Ethiopian style macchiatos, which is what I had, and it was amazing though it’s sad to think my coffee experience has peaked and nothing will ever be that good again. Tip: I didn’t buy coffee to bring home and I’ve regretted it every day since. Buy coffee to bring home.

From there we went to Mt Entoto, which had incredible views, and St. George’s Cathedral, a famous hexagonal church built in 1898 that has some pretty incredible artwork inside.

Mt Entoto, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaMt Entoto, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaSt George's Cathedral, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaSt George's Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis was honestly such a joy to get to know. Ethiopia was not a place near the top of my travel list before, and this felt like an easy way to visit the country without investing too much time or effort. Instead I fell in love with it and now desperately want to go back, have more food and coffee, and visit Lalibela and Harar. But until then, my 24 hour layover tour was a fantastic introduction to an incredible country.

So many updates…

Well it’s been a minute. Things that have happened since my last post –

  • I traveled to Ethiopia and Kenya
  • I took a two week intensive French course in Montpellier
  • Gareth and I had a lovely weekend in Sevilla
  • I FINALLY went back to Los Angeles (first time since leaving in 2016!) and watched two great friends get married and visited so many people I love.
  • I moved back to London(!)
  • I started working back at Marie Stopes International on the South East Asia Team, mainly supporting the Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Vietnam country programmes (LOVE my job).
  • I took the exams for my first year of my masters (it was HARD but I think I passed them all!)
  • Brady got sick and very nearly died (but he didn’t)

So there’s a lot to catch this blog up on. First, I had to make the incredibly difficult decision to leave Madagascar. That’ll be a whole post, but basically I had some health stuff come up (on top of being insanely sick most of my time there anyway!) that needed a bit more treatment than I could get there. Still dealing with some of it – I spent 13 hours at the hospital in the middle of my exams because I have parasites in my lungs and intestines (and maybe heart??). Not ideal!

To learn more about the work I was doing in Madagascar for project Mitao, read the blog post I wrote for the SEED website here.

But now that I’m free of exams and have my life back a bit, I can finally work through the backlog of what life has been these past three months. So watch this space, more to come soon – first up about Ethiopia and Kenya because they were dreamy.

Sainte Luce Trip

Sainte Luce Trip

The morning after International Women’s Day,  we left for our Sainte Luce trip to SEED’s camp.

Sainte Luce Trip Sainte Luce Trip Sainte Luce Trip

It was GORGEOUS. We rode these little boats made from trees (that had to be consistently bailed the entire trip or they’d sink, haha), down the water to a completely wild beach. It was heaven. From there we walked through the forest to the other side of the area and had dinners and played games at an empty bar with ocean views.

Sainte Luce TripSainte Luce Trip Sainte Luce Trip Sainte Luce Trip Then we had a bush party, where a local band plays and woman dance and then you all dance and it was pretty fun. I was really proud of myself cause we were quite remote – the drive out took a while and often I can feel anxious being far from a town. But this was fine. I camped in a tent with spiders, I used a squat latrine WITH HUNTSMEN SPIDERS IN THEM, and just got on with it. Go me. The Sainte Luce trip was another weekend spent being so happy and proud this is my life right now!Sainte Luce Trip

 

Fort Dauphin Sunset

Madagascar – Month Five

A lot of exciting things have happened this month!

First, we had International Women’s Day, where the women of SEED, along with many other groups, marched through town.

International Women's Day, Madagascar

The next morning we left for Sainte Luce, where SEED has a camp. It was GORGEOUS. I did a lot of things that would have freaked me out in a previous life, mostly like exist in closed spaces close to huntsmen spiders, and it was fine.

Sainte Luce Trip

I think that’s kind of the big thing I’ve realised I’m learning from this experience. I can do hard things. My laptop broke when we went to Greece and I CRIED because I couldn’t imagine how I’d get through the trip without it. My laptop broke in Mada about 6 weeks ago and you just kind of get on with things. (That is my excuse why I got so behind on these updates). When we first moved in, the cockroaches terrified me, and now they are nothing. Just big beetles really. I used to be so neurotic about food and I’ve really come around there as well – there’s no point in stressing. If I did that here it would be every meal and that’s just a terrible way to live. I don’t find it embarrassing to have diarrhea or health issues – my body is incredible for how it’s gotten through everything. My bed is filled with ants and fleas, there are ALWAYS bugs all over me when I’m sleeping. For a while I was going to bed in full pants and socks but it’s just too hot so I let them have at it. You adjust. You can do hard things. What an empowering thing to not only believe but to know and live.

Travel

I also spent some time this month travelling in Ethiopia and Kenya, which I was freaked out about doing solo and really shouldn’t have been. First of all, compared to Mada those places might as well be the UK. I think another thing I’ve learned is life just goes on everywhere. Mada was recently named the poorest country in the world, and yes, sure, you can see that. The infrastructure is poor, as are the education and health systems and so on. But you can always find a bar to listen to music or have a dance, everyone still loves to laugh, and life honestly stops feeling any different there vs here. Kenya and Ethiopia used to sound exotic to me, but by the time I got there they felt familiar in ways they reminded me of Mada or the UK and interesting in ways they were different. But exotic isn’t really a thing, is it?

Giraffe Centre Nairobi, Kenya

Art from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The last big highlight of month five was stopping in at Marie Stopes Madagascar in Tana. I spent an hour with the Country Director, just talking SRHR in Madagascar and it was educating and inspiring and wonderful. I’m so incredibly proud of the time I spend working for MSI and really hope to be back there some day.

Marie Stopes Madagascar

I’m in the UK for another week and just got back from a quick trip to Sevilla with Gareth which was amaaazing. I’ll do posts about Addis and Nairobi and Sevilla soon, as well, now that I’ve got a working computer and SO MUCH FREE INTERNET WHAT.

Sainte Luce Trip

Madagascar – Month Four

Month Four has easily been my best month yet and started off with quite a bang! We spent the
weekend in Evatraha – my favourite place I’ve been in Madagascar thus far!

Evatraha, Madagascar Evatraha, Madagascar

We met a bit outside of town before hopping in a few boats and riding for about an hour
through the lake and reeds to get to the coolest little camp on the water. It was fairly remote,
but with bungalows to sleep in, paddle boats to borrow, and a great dock to jump off of.
We pre-ordered all our meals so there was no hassle with food and brought quite a bit of beer
with us, and logistically it all worked really well. We played games, read, swam and just relaxed, and it ended up being my best weekend to date! I loved Evatraha!

Other big things to happen… I’ve started my health economics course for my masters, which is
the one I was most dreading of all my classes this year. And so far, I’ve really enjoyed it! I’m
pretty surprised by it, and nervous for the final, but the process of learning about it has actually proved to be quite engaging.

Masters of Public Health in Madagascar

Wales beat England in 6 Nations, making Gareth and I quite the sports power couple. Some
other horrific sports stuff happened that has once again called into question the morality of my
love for the NFL, and what I would class as the only ACTUAL Patriots scandal that deserves
outrage. Why can’t we have nice things? Why do men in power consistently let us down?

ANYWAY. I’m riding a bit of a high at the moment because MY PROJECT IS NOW FULLY FUNDED! Honestly, the high of getting funded is like no other. I am into it.

We had a lovely dinner at my friend’s flat – we hung out with her new kitty, made DELICIOUS curry, and two different types of cookies. It was luxury.

Life in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar Life in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

Also, I head back for a visit to London in just about two weeks, and on the way I used my trusty
airline miles to build in a 1.5 day layover in Addis Ababa and 2.5 days in Nairobi. Now I just have to decide if I want to hang out in Nairobi the whole time or squeeze in a two day, one night safari to Masai Mara National Reserve. These are the decisions that keep me up at night.