The Addis-Djibouti Railway

The train station was a huge building in the middle of nowhere

Less than one month before I arrived in Ethiopia, the new Chinese built railway started running a passenger service between Addis Ababa and Djibouti City. The total duration of the train ride is twelve hours with three stops on the way, but I just joined from Dire Dawa which was an eight hour journey.

The whole experience was a bit surreal. Getting to and from the stations was a hassle, as they both were located far outside the cities. It felt a bit strange driving into the countryside and then seeing this huge, brand new railway station.

Once on board it was still a bit strange. They had carriages with first class sleepers and second class, but these were only used by the staff. They had a restaurant carriage, but with no food served. People just brought their own and bought from a lady who was just another passenger but was offering everything at a premium price.

The landscape was pretty nice with views over plains with lots of Acacia trees, goats, baboons and camels. Price of the journey was a bit steep at 20$/over three times the bus price but the ride was ten times more enjoyable.

Hawassa, Shashamane Rasta Village and Hot Springs

Hawassa was the perfect place to break up the nearly 800km trip from Addis Ababa to Omo Valley. The city is on a lake where one can go on boat trips to spot hippos or just relax with a picnic among wild monkeys like we did.

Hawassa is also a great base for day trips to the nearby hot springs and Shashamane. We went to a naturally heated pool in Sodere which was great, and cheap coating less than 1$! After trying to teach my couchsurfing host how to swim he showed us the way to the mountain where we could see where the hot water was coming from.

We also stopped for a couple of hours in Shashamane where weed was legal and the Rastafarian culture was alive. The museum was closed and the free galleries that could be visited there were full of touts who tried to charge us entrance fees and guide fees. We would have left with a really bad impression of Shashamane if it wasn’t for Ras Hailu Tefari (Bandu) from St.Vincent and his gallery of art which was made completely out of dried banana leaves. He gave us some fruit salad and told us explained to us in proper Caribbean English how he was growing everything he needed in his garden and how he possibly made his art. A true character who I will never forget.

Kay Afar- the center of the Omo Valley

If you are ever planning on visiting Omo Valley, but don’t have an organized tour to take you, your best bet would be to go to Kay Afar and hope that others would come there that you could tag along with. Kay Afar is in the middle of the Valley, and it is just a small junction village where one road would go to Turmi and the other to Jinka, which are the two villages where the famous bull jumping ceremony is held.

When we were there, we only saw one other tourist there and there was not much to do other than going to the bars and drink honey wine with the locals.

Our guide Mickey (phone +251926112219) knew some people from the Banna tribe living in a nearby village where we went to say hi and to see the sunset from a nice view. The landscape there was also quite spectacular, reminding me of the Banfora region in Burkina Faso. It was a familiar mix of green grass, red soil and small mud huts and a peaceful place to stay for a night.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Four cheerful Americans were sitting in the bar of the hostel where I was staying. It was not hard to join in on the conversation, nor to understand the reason for their cheerfulness. The group had already been doing volunteer work in Ethiopia for six months and had come to the capital to celebrate their national holiday. One of the boys explained to me that according to the Ethiopians the date was not the 4th of July 2013, but the 28th of June 2005. Their calendar had 13 months and in Ethiopia they also called 6AM midnight as the day starts at sunrise, which is the same time every morning in countries on the equator. It was a confusing thing when I asked at the guesthouse reception about the check out time. The receptionist then told me that checkout time was at four o’clock when it in our time system would be at ten o’clock. We went to another bar, meeting more Americans where they also were discussing the topic of Ethiopia being quite a unique country, and among other things I learned that:

– Ethiopia is the only African country that was not colonized by the Europeans (not counting Liberia)
– Ethiopia has more than 80 local languages and more than 200 dialects. It is also the only African country to have their own written language (Amharic)
– Ethiopia is the birthplace of both coffee (from the city Kaffa) and humankind (“Lucy” and other skeletons have been found in Ethiopia dating more than 4 million years back)
– The rastafari movement started in Ethiopia with their king who’s former name was “Jah Rastafari”. The rastafari movement still carries the colors of the Ethiopian flag (red, yellow and green)
I enjoyed sitting and talking to the Americans quite a lot. They were all there for different reasons. Some did volunteer work, others tourist and the rest worked in the coffee and flower industry. The beer at the bar we were staying at was dirt cheap (around 40 USD cents) and they also served coffee the traditional ethiopian way by smoking incense and refilling the pot only with water every time they cooked up for a new round.
The next morning I got up early to meet my couchsurfing host who had agreed to show me around in the city. Getting from my hostel to the place we were going to meet was an interesting experience. In Addis, like most other African capitals there are minibuses known as bush taxis that run up and down the streets shouting the names of the places they are going. Every time I asked for “stadium”, which is the city center, the driver would let me into the car, and drop me off in one stop or two. I went with five of them in order to reach my final destination. The five rides had cost me a total of two dollars, so it did not upset me much to be cheated by such small sums of money.
My guide took me walking for a few hours where we among other things got to see the National Museum with the worlds oldest homo erectus (walking on two legs) Lucy was on display. We also got to see lots of monuments; one for driving away the Italians when they tried to colonize Ethiopia, another with the Cuban soldiers who helped out in the Ethio-Somali War and another one in memory of the genocides happening during the communist dictatorship in Ethiopia. 
Another interresting sight was the “Oslo Café” in the Piazza district. Here they had trolls, pictures of Norway and mannequins dressed up in the Norwegian national folk costume (bunad). Things are always more fascinating when they are least expected.