The 9 Things I Learned about Northern Ethiopia this week
Northern Ethiopia is beautiful
Northern Ethiopia is home to a green plateau at 7,000 feet with a stable 70 degree climate. The rolling hills are not just a stunning landscape but also contain historic sites like Axum, Lalibela, Gondar and the beautiful Bahir Dar.
It can feel touristy
While the overall amount of tourists per city is likely less than 100 (there are just 1 to 3 flights per day on small Ethiopian Airlines planes that connect the cities), it can feel surprisingly touristy. The amount of attention from touts can be overwhelming. Walking around in Lalibela and even Gondar isn't a great idea unless you know how to deal well with the attention you are getting.
Ethiopia is a police state
The week when I was in Northern Ethiopia, the internet was shut down country-wide for two days and most social media incl. iMessage and Skype for another three. Cities like Gondar felt under watch; locals seem rarely able to speak up about what is actually going on in their own towns.
Ethiopia is finally taking off economically and the government has been making lots of progress, but the country needs to allow its citizens much more freedom of speech.
Ethiopia is (exceedingly) safe
This is the flip side of being a police state - Ethiopia is extremely safe. While small crimes including pickpocketing happen, they are rare and most touts work on small-scale scams. There is almost no violent crime and it's especially unheard of against tourists.
Good lodging isn't easy to come by
There are many lodging options, but few have a quality standard that will wow you. However, if you are looking for an OK 3* hotel, you will find great quality for under $50 almost everywhere in this part of the country.
Ethiopia is extremely cheap
Ethiopia is great value and you can get a delicious meal for $3 and coffee for just 25 cents. Both are easily as good as the Ethiopian food we get at home; if you choose the food and drink options wisely here, they will be even better than at home. Fresh-pressed juices cost $1 and beer is under $1. How much cheaper can life be?
The locals are super-friendly
Ethiopians (especially in Bahir Dar) are incredibly friendly. It's hard to walk down the street for an hour and not be invited by a number of locals into their homes. Even if 90% of those were scams (although I don't think so), that would still leave you with a lot of friendly hosts.
Education is an issue
Ethiopia is still largely a rural economy that is many decades away from industrialization and the education and poverty levels are shocking. Subsistence farming works for many here and so education hasn't been a priority. Ethiopia has been making great progress in general education, but it does not seem that the government is very interested in promoting it.
Ethiopia is developing quickly
The speed of economic development is breathtaking, albeit from a low level. Ethiopia has finally been making the right economic choices and there will certainly be a much richer Ethiopia ahead.