Tag Archives: tourism

Another Day in My Life

23 Sep

So I’m slightly over half done my stay here, and I think it’s about time for another update on my day-to-day life.

I am now pretty comfortable in the city and for the most part, I can find m way around. I use the mini-busses when I know exactly where I’m going, but otherwise I use a contract taxi. The mini-busses are super cheap (usually just a few birr, a matter of cents), but you have to listen as the attendant hangs out the window and yells out where it is going. Then you need to know where you want to get off since there are no appointed stops – luckily I learned how to say “stop here” in Amharic pretty early on in my stay! The contract taxis are nice since they will drop you off exactly where you want, but they can also be a hassle. I have a few drivers in my neighbourhood that I like and trust, but otherwise it is a huge pain in the butt to negotiate the price. Some drivers are honest about the pricing, but a lot of them initially try to way overcharge (especially foreigners). Knowing a little Amharic helps a bit, and using some Amharic and making a joke about “forengi prices” usually helps me to drive the price down.

However, my Amharic is still very limited. I know the basics and can even have a short conversation, but usually I run out of Amharic and end up staring blankly as the person I’m speaking with overestimates my abilities. The kids in my neighbourhood are actually my best teachers though! They are also very sweet. One of them even invited me to her home for New Years dinner! Since it was so special, I have written a separate post about it.

I am still very much in love with the food and coffee here. In fact, here are some things I have learned about food in Ethiopia:

  1. Get over trying to ever look cute or nice while eating with your hands.
  2. Food WILL get caked into your nail beds.
  3. If you are a sectional eater like me, get over it. You can’t do that here.
  4. Food is for sharing. The portion sizes are for sharing, everyone eats family style and even if you think you ordered your own dish – you didn’t.
  5. You should eat A LOT. And if the people you’re with don’t think you are eating enough… well, it’s not unusual for them to just feed you. And when someone does this, it is very rude to reject it.

Overall, my experience here has been quite wonderful. I think it might be time for me to spend some time in Canada when I get back, but I wouldn’t hesitate to come back here if the opportunity presented itself.

South Omo Valley

15 Aug

Last week my friend Keith came to visit me in Ethiopia. I have made many friends here, and luckily enough a few of them have tourism companies. So, my friend George arranged an amazing 5-day tour of Omo Valley for us through his company, Exciting Ethiopia Tours.

Keith arrived mid-day Tuesday, and we had a relaxing afternoon. We went to a favourite local restaurant of mine where Keith had his first taste of Ethiopian food, and we also went to a Kaldi’s (the Ethiopian equivalent of Starbucks… except it’s way better because the coffee here just can’t be beat).

Wednesday morning we went to the National Museum where we saw Lucy, the skeleton of an early human ancestor. Lucy was part of the paleontology exhibit. The other displays were an ethnography exhibit, an exhibit of historical and archaeological findings from Ethiopian history and a modern art exhibit.  Wednesday evening we traveled to Hawassa and spent the night there.

We were up bright and early Thursday morning to drive all the way to Keifer to visit the market there. Along the way, we stopped to get our first view of Omo Valley.

First view of Omo Valley

First view of Omo Valley

August 14 2013 361

Looking over the beautiful Omo Valley

There were people from the Bana, Ari and Hamer tribes all selling goods in the markets, and it was our first look at some of the traditional clothing of the Omo Valley tribes.

Market in Keifer

Market in Keifer

Keifer is also George’s hometown, and he arranged for me to meet his family. So after visiting the market, Keith and I took a short walk to his family’s house. They were extremely welcoming, served us coffee, and offered us khat! Khat (pronounced chat) is a bitter leaf that is very popular in East Africa for the mild stimulating effect it gives when you chew it. It was certainly very bitter, and I did feel a little more energized from it, but that could also have been the coffee. I don’t think I had enough of it to really feel the effects.

We left Keifer in the early evening and continued to Jinka where we spent the night. Friday morning we went to visit a Mursi tribe. The Mursi are a famous tribe in Ethiopia, known for the practice of women stretching the lips and ears. They are truly beautiful, although the experience of visiting them seems very inauthentic. Because the Mursi tribes have become very popular for tourists, they have learned how to capitalize on this. They ask for 5 birr for every picture taken, and are very, very pushy. It was impossible to take two steps without somebody grabbing your arm, pointing at your camera and saying “photo, photo, photo!” It is rather unsettling, and brings up many questions, especially from a development point of view. Of course the people should benefit from the tourism, but I felt like I did not really learn much about their culture. It also brings up the question of whether they are only keeping their traditions for the sole sake of tourism. My favourite part of visiting this village was when we sat down with the Chief and a few of the others in the shade and taught them how to say my name. The chief offered us water and only asked if we wanted to take a picture when we left.

August 14 2013 401

Girl from the Mursi tribe

August 14 2013 415

Mursi woman grinding sorghum. You can see that her lips are stretched, but she is not currently wearing her lip plate.

August 14 2013 423

Man from the Mursi tribe

Friday afternoon was a definite change of pace. We went to an Ari community that had a community-based tourism program where you hired a local guide for a tour. We had the chance to walk around, and see community members going about their routines. We saw a woman making clay dishes (some are used in the household and most are sold at the market), a family making injera (I got to pour some and made a horribly unround injera), a blacksmith (making a knife to sell at the market) and traditional alchohol brewing.

Ari woman making a clay dish.

Ari woman making a clay dish.

After leaving the Ari village, we walked around Jinka, guided by one of my friends. Jinka is his hometown and luckily for us, he was actually there! We had a quick tour and saw the local market before having dinner.

Saturday we started to make our way north again, stopping at another market before arriving at Arba Minch for the night. Sunday we arrived in Addis, and unfortunately it was time for me to say goodbye to Keith.

All in all, it was an AMAZING trip, and it was so wonderful to see more of Ethiopia. I truly loved Botswana, but its beauty took time to learn and to appreciate; Ethiopia’s beauty just stares you right in the face. The landscapes with all of the mountains are so amazing, but they are nothing compared to the diversity and rich cultures you find here. I can safely say that I am in love with this country, and I am really looking forward to the coming months!

A Day in My Ethiopian Life

19 Jul

Now that I’ve had a chance to settle in, let me write a post about an average day in my life here (Addis Ababa version). I’m living in  a one-bedroom apartment in a huge apartment building complex, which is actually pretty awesome. I have met a few of my neighbours which have all been very friendly, there are always kids laughing and playing outside, and there are even a few tuck shops (small family-run shops with the basics) so I don’t even need to leave the compound for things like a phone card, a bottle of water or cooking oil. My neighbourhood is mostly a residential area, which is nice and means that there are lots of restaurants, shops and Internet cafes nearby. My apartment is about a 20 minute walk from the office.

The World Vision Ethiopia office is 4 stories tall and provides a work space for a several hundred employees. I share an office with about 8 other people (people are always in and out of the field and international staff also come and go, so the exact number really depends on the day). The atmosphere at the office is really great: everyone is super friendly, foreigners are not an oddity, and we get coffee or tea every morning and afternoon. There is also a really great cafeteria onsite which usually offers 2-3 “international” options and 2-3 local options. I usually share a few local dishes and injera with my coworkers. The best part: you can’t really spend more than $1 per meal at the cafeteria! The work itself has been slow to pick up, but now that it has, I am learning a ton, particularly about value chains, which is great. I am hoping to spend more time in the field in the coming months.

As for my social life: I actually have one, yay! A lot of you know I struggled with this in Botswana since there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Ghanzi (read: one restaurant). I have made friends with a really great group of people. It is a mix of Ethiopians and foreigners which is perfect for me. I have gotten to go to a lot of wonderful restaurants (I truly cannot rave enough about Ethiopian cuisine) and danced at a lot of clubs. The music is always a fun mix of American top 40, Ethiopian music and African top 40. Oh, and one of the best parts of going out here: the night eats. Back in Canada pizza and poutine tend to be popular post-club snacks, but here it’s tibs (fried meat with spices and chili) and injera which is pretty awesome. I now crave it on a regular basis haha.

So all in all, I am loving Ethiopia and my Ethiopian life. So far it has been a rewarding work and personal experience.

Easter, Shakawe, Tsodilo Hills and Okavango Half Marathon

5 Apr

Last weekend I traveled up north to Shakawe for Easter weekend and the Okavango Half Marathon, 5K Fun Run and Health Expo. 

I arrived Thursday, and I spent the afternoon helping out the organizers with the many, many preparations needed for Saturday’s event. Friday was more of the same. Saturday morning we woke up bright and early (well, not so bright since we beat the sun up) to help with the finishing touches. A couple friends and I did the 5K for fun, and cheered on Heather as she bravely conquered the half marathon! 

The race was a great success, and the winner of the half marathon was a man names Tops who ran it in 1:09! Very impressive indeed. To see pictures from the event and all the results, head to the event’s website

The health expo was also a ton of fun. Many people were tested for HIV, had their faces painted, and browsed numerous booths on gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS and more. I also set up a booth and sold some of Gantsi Craft’s products, which was great. There was a ton of wonderful entertainment, with local choirs and traditional dance groups. 

It was an amazing but busy and tiring day. We were definitely ready to have some celebrations then sleep that night!

Sunday, I traveled to Tsodilo Hills. a World Heritage Site for its cultural and spiritual significance. There are over 4,500 rock paintings on the mountains, which are thought to be the oldest pieces of art in the world. The hills, cave, and art also give insight into how the San (the first modern people in the world) lived thousands and thousands of years ago. There are also more recent (about 1000 years old) paintings on the rocks, done by the Bantu. 

While it is an incredible site worth preserving, there are some ethical issues to consider. Most concerning, is that the San who inhabited the hills were relocated when it was declared a World Heritage Site. To read more about this, I highly recommend reading my friend Heather’s blog about it here

That evening, we hosted a small Easter supper at Heather and Kelsey’s. We ate outside by candlelight and had a really wonderful meal with friends. 

All we wanted to do Monday was relax, so we took a girls day trip to Namibia. We went to a couple nice lodges along the river, and had a few drinks by the river and pool! Very relaxing indeed – until we barely made it back to Botswana before the border closed! Luckily we did make it though, and I enjoyed my last night up north watching movies. 

It was a wonderful weekend, and I can’t believe that in just 3 short weeks I will be saying goodbye to this amazing country. 

Windhoek Township, Cape Town and a Botswana Wedding

18 Mar

I definitely posted my last Namibian post premature, because we had an amazing day after I posted it. As I previously mentioned, we had made friends with our hostel’s bartender, Greg, and he offered to take to a Windhoek township and show us around. The first place we went to was an open market. There were literally entire cows being butchered on the tables! Then there was a long row of people cooking the fresh beef. We bought some, and you just picked it up with your fingers right off the grill, dipped it into some spice and ate it… and let me tell you, it was some of the best beef I have ever tasted!

Then, we got a little walking tour around, and Greg promised us he was taking us somewhere cool – but told us to not ask questions, so we were just along for the ride! As we were walking, we came across a huge group of students in their uniforms who were taking over the streets. When we got closer, we could see that they were protesting. I asked some of the students what they were protesting and they told me that one of their female classmates had been raped and killed but that there was no justice and nothing was happening to the culprit. I asked what their goal of the protest was and I was fairly shocked by their answer – they wanted the death penalty reinstated in Namibia. I only had time to ask a few more questions, but from what I heard it was obvious that the particular students I was speaking with did not entirely understand what they were asking for. While I admired their political activism, it was evident to me that the  majority of the protesters were just following the lead of a few and were not thinking critically.

After the overwhelming noise and numbers of the protest, we veered off the main road and we went to a small lake. There, we found some absolutely amazing projects. One of them was for hearing-impaired people who were previously unemployed. They recycled old beer bottles and other glass and created beautiful beads and jewelry from them. There were also textile projects, among others, at this facility. There was an on-site shop where you could buy many of the projects, and as usual, Heather, Kelsey and I spent lots of money.

After this wonderful day, we then made it to the Intercape and began our 22-hour bus ride to Cape Town, which surprisingly wasn’t as painful as you might imagine. The Sleepliner is probably the nicest bus I will ever be on.

We met up with the Ramshaws downtown Cape Town and got settled in our respective accommodations. Kelsey and I were staying right around the corner from one of my family’s favourite restaurants from when we were there so I recommended it. We had an amazing dinner of Ethiopian food and all got caught up with each other.

The next day, Cape Town was a very busy place to be indeed! It was the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour – a grueling more than 100 km bike race through the mountainous region with over 35,000 cyclists. We spent the day wandering the city and made our way to the finish line to cheer on and support the athletes. We then went to Camp’s Bay for dinner and to watch the sunset.

Monday we did a hop on, hop off tour of the city. We went to the gorgeous Kirstenbosch Gardens and had a lovely breakfast at the Tea Room there. Then, we went on a wine tour and tasting and had some wonderful wine. We took the bus back through the city and got a great view of some of the main sites of Cape Town.

Tuesday morning, the Ramshaws and Kelsey went to Robben Island. I had already been and spent my morning sleeping in, getting a hair cut, and doing some shopping. We had a relaxing afternoon together, and went up Table Mountain in the early evening. We enjoyed some walking and a drink at the top and watched the sun set over the ocean. It was truly beautiful.

Wednesday morning, we were up bright and early to go SHARK CAGE DIVING!! We went to Gansbaai and got out on a boat. The sharks were fairly quiet though and we had some trouble getting them close – a very seasick Heather and mildly sick Liam and I all took naps while Kelsey made some new friends. When it was our turn in the cage, we gingerly got in, cringing at the freezing water (about 16 degrees!) But, the seasickness and cold were totally worth it. I don’t know if you know this, but SHARKS ARE SO COOL!!! We got amazing views of great whites that were within a few meters of us – truly phenomenal. We then went to Boulders’s Beach in Simonstown (beautiful town) to visit the African penguins! It was my second time there, but no less fun.

We made our way back to Botswana on Thursday, and I spent Friday just relaxing in Gabs. Saturday was a very special day – a wedding! Heather and Kelsey’s friends from Shakawe were getting married and I got to crash it. It was really interesting to see a traditional Botswana wedding (even though the bride was American, it was very traditionally Batswana). It was particularly funny listening to how all the speeches got translated into English for us – some things were definitely lost in translation! We had a wonderful time meeting people, eating, laughing and of course, dancing.

I had an amazing two weeks, and now I am back in the office and I can’t believe that in just 6 short weeks I will be back at St. Paul’s!

Namibia Part 2: Swakopmund and Karaoke

8 Mar

So Swakopmund was amazing and is probably one of my favourite places ever.

First off, it is on the coast and the ocean is just always beautiful and that means that there is fresh seafood. Secondly, there are absolutely amazing sand dunes.

Our first full day we went to Walvis Bay which was beautiful but there wasn’t a ton to see. We went back to Swakopmund for a delicious lunch and a little cafe and spent our afternoon shopping. I have bought some beautiful and unique artwork and serving dishes for the house I don’t have.

Then we went for dinner at the end of the jetty. It was super windy and I was actually cold for the first time in a long time!! The restaurant was kind of fancy but luckily we had all picked that night to wear dresses! We all splurged for delicious sea food dishes and yummy desserts.

The next morning we went sandboarding (with Khoi San Sandboarding, I would definitely recommend them) on the dunes with a great view of the ocean. It was kind of like snowboarding but not as fast and definitely not as cold! Plus instead of a ski lift you walk up huge sand dunes – a work out indeed.

We all had our fair share of wipe outs but it didn’t hurt as much as I though it would. We all also had at least a few successful runs and it was super fun and amazing. Our instructor Eben was really great and let us try the lie-down option as well – it was like using a magic carpet while tobogganing! We all had a wonderful time but were absolutely caked in sand! I think we brought back an entire dune’s worth of sand back to the hostel.

We had enough time to shower before our next adventure though – quad-biking!

We went for 2 hours on 4x4s through the dunes. My bike was having some technical difficulties and kept getting stuck in the sand (I thought it was me but then it happened to the guide too!) so I switched bikes with the guide. And of course, his was manual not automatic, so I got my first lesson on driving an automatic vehicle in the middle of the dunes! It was an incredible experience and the dunes are absolutely breathtaking. Driving the bikes and playing on the dunes was fun too!

Needless to say we were extremely exhausted after those adventures, and were in bed by 9!

After traveling back to Windhoek yesterday, we were craving some fast food and ordered greasy amazing Chinese food. We had made friends with our hostel’s bartender the last time we were here, and he invited us out for karaoke. Kels was too tired but Heather and I went. We made our Namibian friends sing My Heart Will Go On since when they found out we are Canadian they told us they loved Celine Dion. Heather and I then wow’d everyone with our renditions of I Want it That Way and Summer of ’69.

Now we are preparing for our loooooong bus ride to Cape Town but are very excited to get to the coast again and to meet up with Heather’s family.

Namibia Part 1!

4 Mar

I am on a much needed vacation! Heather and Kelsey arrived in Ghanzi Friday evening and I got to show them Ghanzi’s nightlife (hopping’, let me tell you!)

Saturday morning we began our trek to Namibia. We were hitching so we were a little unsure of how it would go. We headed to the hitching spot out of Ghanzi and started to get settled in for a long wait, when after just a few minutes we got an air conditioned ride to Junction 44 (the turn off towards namibia) which costed us 10 pula. At the junction we lucked out again! We got another air conditioned ride within minutes. The driver was super nice and took us all the way to Windhoek and refused to take any money from us all. So, we made it all the way from Ghanzi to Windhoek for less than $2!

There is not a lot to do in Windhoek but we had a great time catching up with each other, eating good food, making new friends and eating real ice cream!

Today we arrived in the beautiful Swakopmund. We spent the afternoon exploring the town and had some delicious fresh seafood for dinner. We were enjoying our food when a man came over and said his friend wanted our help in checking an item off his bucket list: he wanted to take a piece of food off someone’s plate at a restaurant! We drove a hard bargain and got a round of yummy cocktails in return for Heather’s potatoe!

We are now planning our activities to make the most of the ocean and the and dunes!