Hilary writes about some of her fondest and most exciting memories in Ethiopia from 1976 including being “arrested for discussing capitalism, bitten to distraction by fleas and walking for three days to reach the holy city of Lalibela..” Bradt describes this trip as “one of the highlights” of her African travels “because of its cultural distinctiveness and gorgeous landscape.” Looking back at letters she sent regularly to her parents, she is able to offer a glimpse of a much changed Ethiopia.
Arriving in Ethiopia in 2010, Bradt notes how widespread the English language is and how polite the Ethiopian population is. She compares it to 1976 when “wild looking men carrying spears, aluminium encased women with sagging breasts, fuming camels, donkeys, children riding around on billy goats” and the widespread use of the word “Ferengi” meaning foreigner followed by “angry demands for money.”
Her accommodation is also a little different. In 1976 she recounts a flea ridden experience with “a lovely shower in the middle of the ‘landing’….a little hotel…which has hay on the floor…” and they pay less than $1 a night. In 2010, Bradt enjoys a huge swimming pool and “feels pleasantly cocooned from reality.”
Bradt also notes that while the Ethiopian food remains authentic, it is far more delicious, dining at Yod Abyssinia Restaurant where the stew, wat, is “fiery hot, multi-flavoured, and utterly delicious.” The food is incomparable to the wat she had in 1976 which was “nice or only tolerable but is necessary to make the injera bearable.”
Bradt also experienced travelling in relative style in 2010 although there was one incident where there was “a flash of metal – a man produced a gun” after “a small wide-eyed child” smashed the windscreen. However the issue was resolved smoothly and no one got hurt. Similarly Bradt’s experience in 1976 involved bribery to get a seat on a packed bus and they are packed in like zoo animals, with large crowds “pulling funny faces, knocking on the glass to attract our attention, and trying to feed us unsuitable food.”
While Ethiopia “is now, broadly speaking, a democracy” the people “still bear the scars of the Red Terror.” Bradt describes “an excitably waiter” rolling “up his trousers to show…the scars from where he had been branded as a 14-year-old schoolboy” and the psychological impact of the “shootings in 2005 in Meskel Square.” Bradt also has her own stories of the regime, coming close to arrest in the 1970’s for “talking freely about capitalism versus socialism.”
Despite this, Ethiopia has seen a huge development since her first visit with “the increase in tourist numners [having] a beneficial effect on the disease and poverty that was so distressing in 1976.” Bradt concludes that “Ethiopia deserves to be loved wholeheartedly.” This time, she admits she almost wept that her gorgeous trip “was coming to an end.”
Ethiopian Airlines (ethiopianairlines.com) flies from Heathrow to Addis Ababa via Cairo from around £440 return. A 10-day trip with Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004,rainbowtours.co.uk) visiting Bahir Dar, Gondar, the Simien mountains, Lalibela and Addis Ababa, with two nights based at Kuriftu Resort and Spa, costs from £2,675pp. The dry season, from October to January, is the favourite time to visit Ethiopia, but travel is possible all year round. For more details, see the Bradt Guide to Ethiopia by Philip Briggs (bradtguides.com, £16.99)