Saturday, December 30, 2017
Ethiopia is an exceptional country -- the only African nation never to be colonized, its people have a strong sense of pride in their culture and their history. They're enthusiastic about sharing it with travelers, and their willingness to engage in conversation means you'll rarely feel lonely even if you're traveling solo. You might wish for more solitude than you get, but that's a good problem to have. The openness of the Ethiopian people seemed to me remarkable, and it made this trip more of a life-changing experience than I'd anticipated. Yes, you'll have to confront a great deal of poverty, and the vast gulf between the opportunities we enjoy and the much more limited options faced by the average Ethiopian, particularly women. That isn't always an easy thing to encounter...it forces us to ask ourselves what are our obligations to the world, and to question how we live...but it's probably one of the essential questions we face in our moral lives. It's a challenging destination, but no more for the solo female traveler than for anyone else. I never felt unsafe, even though I was certainly visible, being one of only a few non-Ethiopian people around and usually the only one with yellow hair. I didn't get any unwanted advances from men -- the Ethiopians seem pretty modest -- but I'm also of an age where that's not all that likely to happen. And by Ethiopian standards, I'm pretty damn old. The life expectancy for women in Ethiopia is just 64.6 years -- think about that for a moment. I booked all my lodgings through Hotels.com, and didn't spend more than about $60 a night for any hotel room...None of the places I stayed could be described as squalid in any respect; in fact, they were quite nice, apart from the strange lack of electrical power after 9 pm in Gonder. Food is delicious and extraordinarily cheap: a nice meal is about $5 in a restaurant. I never got sick during my time in Ethiopia, but I was pretty careful. (I even brushed my teeth with bottled water.) It's easy to eat out without eating meat: just ask for what is ironically called "fasting food," which Ethiopians eat most of the time anyway. It will help if you like legumes, which are the basic protein in the Ethiopian diet. Getting around between cities requires either a lot of time or an airplane flight; I chose the latter. Ethiopian flies between all of the major cities, and the flights are reasonably priced. They're even cheaper if you book through Ethiopian, which I didn't. I still felt like the prices were reasonable. Traveling within cities means walking (it's hilly, no matter where you are) or taking a cab, but I'd suggest figuring out the public minivan/bus situation to get a better feel for local life. Ask your hotel desk clerk how it works, and how to find the "station" once you know where you want to go. People are super-helpful and kind, and taking public transport might just be the best part of your journey.