Have made some notes on our recent trip and hope someone might find it helpful.
We stayed at the Ankober guest house in Piazza area (right next door to Baru) and were more than happy with the choice. The staff there were always friendly and the owner, Mesfin, went out of his way on a number of occasions to give us invaluable help sorting out our flights and bus trips. We stayed there on three occasions during our trip and the rooms are simple but clean and they had hot water which we found out is not something you can take for granted while traveling through the country. There is also a Dashen Bank and ATM a hundred metres away which was very handy. The restaurant at the Wutma hotel opposite served good food and there were great little places for breakfast further up the street.
Belegez Pension was perfectly adequate, I had a single room with a bathroom for 175 birr, though the hot water didn’t work. It did work though in the communal bathroom! Not far is the Four Sisters Restaurant which has a nice setting and serves a tasty injera though we were not impressed with an evening meal we had which was supposed to be a combination of dishes served with rice, but which we found pretty tasteless; I’d stick to the normal dishes, rather than a mixed grill or whatever it was they called it. They did, however, put on a nice impromptu dance performance for us (our group of six were the only guests) which they even got us to join in, so I now know the basics of the very entertaining shoulder dance!
Simien Mountain Trek:
I had earlier arranged to go on a four day trek. Our group consisted of four people and initially we were going to hire a 4X4 to drive us to the Park and later (after our trek) accompany us to Axum and through Tigrai to Lalibela. Our guide then asked if we wouldn’t mind having a German couple join us for the trek and for the ride to Axum. He added that we would have the use of a minibus instead which reduced the costs per person and proved adequate and comfortable, though it meant we would not be able to drive through the short cut roads I had initially planned on a rougher surface through Tigrai (going via Sekota for instance).
In the event, the trek was great, well organized and with good food and we all got on well and the drive from Debark to Axum was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We got a good massage, as our driver Alex called it, as the road was gravel from Debark to Shire and under repair some of the way, being widened and improved. From Shire to Axum, it was smooth asphalt. The original road was built by the Italians in the 1930s and is now being repaired by a Chinese company. The views were stunning which made the eight or so hours ride more tolerable. Not much traffic along the road though we were pleasantly surprised to round one bend and to be met head on by a convoy of camels with their riders making their slow and graceful way up the mountain road.
Our guide’s details:
The guide who organized all this for us and who accompanied us on our trek was Birhan Asmamaw who I can happily recommend for his integrity and helpfulness, and his reasonable prices. I read about him online and had heard good things about him, which I can confirm. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
He speaks very good English and also arranged for us to have a competent and friendly driver accompany us all the way to Lalibela, his name was Alex and he also spoke good English. Birhan can organize hotels for you along your way too if you wish according to whatever your budget might be. He would ring our driver every evening after he left us, just to check how we were getting on.
Axum: Africa Hotel, simple but perfectly ok.
Axum through Tigrai by road:
From Axum we followed the road to Adigrat along lovely rolling hills and through Adwa, where the Ethiopian emperor won an important battle against the Italians at the end of the 19th century. From there through Adigrat and then south on a smooth asphalt road through stunning countryside and roads rising to above 3000 metres.
We stopped off to visit the Petros and Paulos rock hewn church in Teka Tesfai which involved clambering up a rickety looking but perfectly solid ladder, followed by the ubiquitous local children up to a lovely small church which the priest’s wife opened for us, for a fee of course.
I cannot remember if we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant called Mother restaurant on the high stree (right hand side) in Teka Tesfai or a bit further on in Wukro. I mention it because it was a place which served very good meals (one injera and four spaghettis with side salads, 3 beers, 2 cokes and 5 coffees came to 160 birr, not bad)
After visiting Wukro Chirkos church we turned off the main road and made our way towards Hawzien on a gravel road and stopped to visit the beautiful church Abreha we Atsbeha in the late afternoon before traveling for another hour to reach the first (and only) „fancy“ hotel during our trip, the Gheralta Lodge. What I initially thought to be a light mist seemed to cover the whole area around the Gheralta plains. The next morning however I saw it was still there and believe it was more a light layer of white looking dust which seemed to pervade everywhere there, giving the immediate vicinity a slightly other worldly aspect. Clean room, hot water, good food, beautiful natural setting and decor, what more could one want?
Gheralta and Abuma Yemata Guh
Next day, the four of us (middle aged ladies I might add) drove to Abuma Yemata Guh and trekked up to the base of the perpendicular rock (about 50 mins walk) where we all managed to successfully clamber (rather than climb) up to the little jewel of a rock hewn church perched a third of the way up. The last stretch along a narrow ledge with a two hundred metre drop to one side proved almost too much for one of my friends who was tearful by the time she reached the church door, tearful but delighted.
Beautifully maintained 15th century murals and an ancient hand painted bible were the main attractions there, though the view from the church was equally stunning. Making our way down proved to be as exciting (terrifying) as making our way up. The whole venture was done in good humour and with the eager help of the scouts who, I suspect, would drag you up or down if you let them.
The only minus side to this excursion was the 250 bir we had to pay for our group of four as guide’s fees. The young guide who approached us as we made our way towards the church insisted this was a new rule (supposedly in agreement with the Gheralta Lodge which annoyed us somewhat) and after some argument, he took us to the little tourist office in the village and gave us a receipt after showing previous samples of receipts. On top of this we of course had to each pay 100 bir to see the church and the tips we paid the scouts for helping as well as the priest for opening the door. All in all, quite a steep cost. I am not sure if anyone else has encountered this new rule. The 250 bir for our group did admittedly include a visit to the Maryam Korkor (but as some of our group were feeling the strain after visiting Abuma Yemata Guh and it was approaching the hottest part of the day, we gave that a miss and instead visited the less known Hawzien Tekle Haymanot).
We did wonder if this 250 birr fee applied only to the guests from Gheralta Lodge and aimed to ask the Italian owner about it, but he wasn’t around when we returned so we were not able to confirm this information. I would recommend you ask at the Lodge if this special fee is standard.
From there we made our way to Lalibela via Woldia where we stayed the night at the Lal hotel get a room at the back if you don’t want to be kept awake by the disco music from nearby. The road from Wukro to the turnoff for Lalibela at Weldya is good quality asphalt and goes through some lovely and varying landscape, from dry and arid plains to alpine-like hills with coniferous trees growing by the roadside.
From Weldiya you leave this road and travel on gravel up across undulating hills until you reach the airport near Lalibela where you hit asphalt once more. The journey from Woldia to Lalibela took us some four hours. We met some people who had followed the same route that day by local bus, when it took more like nearly eight hours.
At Lalibela we stayed at the very pleasant Asheten Hotel and there is a great small place to eat directly across the street.
I am ashamed to say I cannot remember the name of the little monastery church we visited up the mountain just behind Lalibela. We took a path from behind the Asheten hotel and it took us nearly two hours to reach the church. I’d be grateful if someone could remind me the name.
Addis to Harar:
From Addis we caught the early morning bus to Harar (Selam 260 birr one way). It is pretty nippy at 5am in the morning so dress warmly; the bus turned up nearly an hour late and you have to wait on the street. The perfectly comfortable journey (they hand out small cartons with juice and a sweet biscuit).
At Harar, we were hoping to stay at the Zubdeyda Waber Guest House but the remaining sister (one of them passed away recently) stood firm in her price of 350 birr per bed (small double beds) of which there were two in a room. We were hoping to negotiate a better price (the hotel was empty) as we wanted a bed each and the 700 birr per room she charged (one of the rooms was en suite, the other wasn’t, both at 700 birr) was too steep for us. So we ended up going to the perfectly comfortable Belayneth Hotel,(275 birr per twin room) just outside the old city walls and with acceptable food from the restaurant from which there was a wonderful view into the old city and a great place to take photos from.Edited: 10:40 pm, April 05, 2012