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Addis Ababa in the Ethiopian Highlands

Addis ababa is the capital of Ethiopia, the country so often suffering from famine. In the highlands, however, these problems are far away. Instead, the city is a good starting point for some adventure travel tours in Ethiopia.

The capital itself is interesting, although it is much like other large African cities. Places to go to include the University, with the Ethnological museum, and the Mercato, the largest market in Africa.

Addis Ababa is where our overland truck journey through east Africa started in 2002. Read our adventures below.

Traditional Coffee ceremony in Ethiopia
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More Adventure travel tales in Ethiopia:
Bahir Dar, Lake Tana
Lake Langano
Omo Valley
Ancient African Tribes
African Christmas
Other African Tales:
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Masai Tribe, Kenya
Ngorongoro Area

Looking down from the airplane we can see the highlands on which Addis Ababa is located. It is surrounded by deep canyons and valleys, and does not look as barren as we would expect. It doesn’t look like a land “where nothing ever grows”, from above we can see a lot of green between the buildings of Ethiopia’s capital.

After landing on Bole International Airport, we have to find the office where we can apply for a visa. We are pointed in the right direction at the passport checkpoint, and then we wait and watch how our application is processed; our passports move from one stack to another, are being watched by 4 different people, are stamped several times, and is finally handed over through a window to the cashier, who writes a receipt in threefold.

We have to pay in Birr, the local currency. So we have to change money at the bank first. We go back, get one of the receipts, our passports get another stamp and are given back with the second receipt, they change hands between the 4 people, who check them, and finally, we get them back. Total waiting time: one and a half hour.

A typical African City

As soon as we leave the terminal we are approached by a taxi driver. We decline first, but he appears to have a list with fixed prices for every hotel. The prices are decent, so we agree.

As soon as we leave the airport terrain we recognize Africa: a lot of people on the street, but also goats, some cows, and many packed donkeys. There are not many high buildings, but a lot of simple houses and shacks.

At a traffic light people are begging at the cars, and there are some crippled beggars at the side of the roads. It is a long ride to the hotel where our overland truck is parked. But because of the many trees it feels more like we are driving through a village than a big city.

When we enter the hotel terrain (a typical African hotel, not to be compared with European hotels), we immediately recognize the overland truck and its crew. We are greeted, and offered cake and a drink. Immediately we feel at home.

At night, the rest of the group arrives when we sleep. At breakfast we meet them, and it seems like a nice group. After breakfast we make our first small trip with the truck to do some shopping in the city center. And after that, we are invited for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

Coffee originates from Ethiopia, and the ceremony is part of Ethiopian culture. It takes a few hours, since the beans are roasted and grinded first, before the coffee is brewed. All takes place on a bed of flowers while burning incense.

The Mercato

We have one more day in Addis Ababa before the overland truck starts its trip, and we decide to visit the Addes Ababa market. In fact, we learn that this is the biggest market in Africa: the Mercato.

A taxi brings us there, and the four of us a released in the crowd. Some parts of the Mercato are covered and organized, but in other parts we walk through narrow alleys where the goods are spread on the floor, where both people and animals (goats mainly) pass by.

We came to the market in order to buy small mattresses, since we will sleep in tents on our overland journey. When we inquire where to find those, a man takes us to the right part of the Mercato. But we have to be very careful through the crowd, we feel different hands trying to reach our pockets. But we are not robbed, and after some fierce negotiations we get our mattresses.

Addis Ababa University

Addis Ababa University
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We decide that we have seen enough, and take a taxi to Addis Ababa University. Here is where the Ethnological museum is also located. But first we enjoy watching birds on a bench in the gardens.

The museum is located in a former palace of the last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. Apart from the extensive expositions of all population groups of the country, we can see the former sleep- and bedroom of Haile Selassi, including some clothes and medals. In fact, this was the best part of the museum, the rest was a bit too extensive.

In the University garden some students approach us. They want to practice their English and discuss the situation in the world. They are very friendly and civilized, obviously belonging to the richer people in Addis Ababa.

By visiting a few highlights, we got to know a bit about Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Although it is obviously not a wealthy city, it is not as poor as one would expect. Located in the highlands, there is no drought here, and little or no famine. Still, it is a typical African city, poor, but not necessarily less safe than a modern European or American city.

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Are you interested in going to Addis Ababa? It is the starting point of many tours through Ethiopia. Read about these tours on our page Adventure Travel Ethiopia.

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