Mr Carter recently travelled to Ethiopia and kindly gave us this insight into his experiences there…
“Where do I start, hopefully this gives you an idea of how much we enjoyed the experience. We have visited Africa a number of times but this holiday was a lot different in that it focused on culture and history rather than just the usual wildlife.
“Overall the holiday far exceeded my/our expectations, I was just blown over by the parts of the country we saw. We probably saw the countryside at its best as it was green and lush and the meskel flowers were coming into bloom day by day.
In Axum there was plenty to see, Stelae Park was good and the various tombs were interesting. We had a good look around the museum and ended up having a coffee next to it – our first of many coffee ceremonies throughout the stay!
Still not convinced if the Ark of the Covenant was actually there but who I am to question! I couldn’t go into the monastery as it was undergoing a refurbishment which was a shame but these things happen. The store room with the crowns and books was interesting – I just wanted to get a duster out and give it all a good clean! If tourism is to grow they need to think about presenting /preserving these things better before they start to crumble.
The drive to Yeha was good and we walked through the local market to the temple and we were also taken to some recently discovered ruins. We were shown some ancient religious books- in this country they would be locked away- and even though they were hundreds of years old the detail and colours were amazing.
Lalibela overall did not disappoint, although we had a bit of a shock when we saw our first church as the view was obstructed by these huge metal posts supporting the canopies protecting the churches. Once you get over that they were brilliant, I thought they were more impressive than Petra simply by the way they were constructed.
The festival was great fun – we sat on a stone wall overlooking the ceremony with all the locals so we joined in on the clapping and general festivities. The following morning at about 4am loads of noise was heard so we got up and opposite the hotel were some locals lighting their bonfire so I went to join them and they were friendly and interested to know why I was in Ethiopia and what we thought of their country. We later went to the main square to see them light the bonfire standing on the vehicle roof so we could get a better view.
We liked the Turkel Lodge at Lalibela – Our room was great we had a top floor room that looked directly over to St Georges Church and a great balcony which later hosted our sundowners. Having loads of hot water and a power shower after Yeha was an added bonus. Waking up hearing the priests chanting for early morning service was great.
I liked Gondar mainly because I like castle ruins and I really liked the bath complex so I could snap away quite happily. The paintings in the church were amazing and Assasfa talked about them in great detail.
The Goha hotel had excellent views over the town but just needs to be refreshed, despite this we had no complaints over the food or service or staff at either Goha or Yeha and we have stayed in far worse accommodation in Africa and other places so it did not ruin our holiday.
In the Simien Mountains we drove through the park instead and we were lucky enough to see fairly close up the walia ibex. It was a bit misty so we could not get the full benefit of the scenery but what we saw was breath taking. We had a great thunder and lightning storm in the evening for a couple of hours and the mist came down which just added to the atmospherics!”
Simien Mountain Lodge was good – it was a bit cold when we were there so we huddled around the fire in the bar and the restaurant. We also had a couple of power outages due to the thunderstorms at night which made it even more fun there. Again the food and service was very good.
The drive to Bahir Dar from Simiens was great, again another opportunity to see the countryside in all its glory. We were not really expecting great things with the Blue Nile Falls but it was an unexpected highlight. They were in full flood and as we got there nice and early we had the whole place to ourselves, the walk was not too bad and we took our time, the guide we had made sure we went at an appropriate pace. He was also willing to take me down to the lower level despite it being really too muddy for it but the walk across the metal bridge was worth it! We had a good time on Lake Tana and it was really the only time we felt hassled to buy stuff on the way to the circular churches. Again the painting as in all the churches visited were interesting and Assasafa spent time explaining them to us.
In Bahir Dar we stayed at Abay Minch and we loved the setting of this hotel. The gardens were in full bloom and the room was nice. We had a buffet evening meal which was a bit disappointing as it was lukewarm – but that happens in this country as well – second night we ate outside the hotel, but breakfast and lunch were both good.
Our last night at the local entertainment in Addis Ababa was brilliant, still not sure how the dancers managed to do what they did.
We both thought Assafa was a brilliant guide, he looked after us extremely well, made sure all the facilities in our rooms at the hotel worked and moved us if he was not satisfied. He was extremely informative and obviously passionate about his country and people and its future. He took time to answer endless questions about culture, history, politics, famine – no subject seemed off limits and he made sure we went at a pace that suited us, he was very patient in stopping for photos. He navigated us through the airports extremely well and always made sure we had the best tables/locations in restaurants. We both felt that of all the guides we have had over the past 20 years or so he was in the top 2 and as and when we return we would like the use of his services again.
It was one of our best trips, so thank you for helping organising it”