Ethiopia: Expect the Unexpected

I have to admit, I am normally that person who spends months researching a trip before travelling anywhere. I usually spend countless hours looking at the accommodations where I would be staying, reading up on the cities and sights being visited, and buying books about the history of the country… truly endless.

Unfortunately, in the months leading up to my honeymoon, I was so busy focused on my wedding and work, that I really had no chance to do much of any pre-trip research. My honeymoon was to take place in Ethiopia. I was travelling based on my limited existing knowledge of Ethiopia, plus what I had seen on TV – including that of starving children.

I arrived in Addis Ababa, continuing straight on to Bahar Dar. When I got off the airplane, I expected to see poverty, famine, and squalor – but was instead greeted by the stunning Lake Tana. As we enjoyed the sunset at the mouth of the Blue Nile, we started learning amazing things about this surprising country.

First off, Ethiopia has been working with the United Nations to make vast improvements throughout the country! Everything from health initiatives (their infant mortality rate has dropped by almost a third in the past 7 years), to clean water access and sanitation initiatives, to gender equality. Yes, you are still going to see people living in mud huts, but they now have better access to wells, instead of having to walk 10-20km to a local river with less-than-safe water.

Ethiopia is also focusing a lot on empowering women. They are working on educating and training women by constructing more schools in rural areas, and teaching communities about the importance of schooling. The schools have also introduced flexible hours, allowing the children to still help their parents (especially with farming). In 2010, Ethiopia had the third fastest Human Development Index (HDI) in the world since 2000. This index measures health, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living.

The drive to Lalibela
The drive to Lalibela

Back to the sightseeing… the amount of information from our guide was endless. Ethiopia is considered one of the oldest Christian nations, and had officially adopted Christianity as a state by the 4th century. On Lake Tana, we had to chance to visit a couple of UNESCO-protected monastic churches built in the 14th to 16th centuries. Walking up steep, jungle-shrouded paths, it was hard to imagine people back in the day attending church in this manner.

Church of St George in Lalibela
Church of St George in Lalibela

The highlight of the trip was our next stop to Lalibela, where we visited the stunning rock churches. It was an interesting transition, coming from the lush terrain of Bahar Dar. Words cannot describe the magnitude and awe-inspiring construction of these churches. The city contains 11 monolithic churches built in the 12th century, all carved out of granite. Similar to my experience with Egypt‘s Pyramids, it is next to impossible to fathom the amount of manual labour (with minimal tools) it would have taken to construct these buildings.

It was clear to see from our guide’s enthusiasm, that these churches still hold a significant amount of importance in the religious community. All are still in use, and each is dedicated to a different saint. The most well-known, and most photographed, is the Church of St George (Bete Giyorgis), which is carved in the shape of a cross. We made our way down through a series of trenches until we reached the floor of the cavity. Inside, among the bibles, candles, and holy water, there are intricate carvings and reliefs.

Never did I imagine back home, that I would be experiencing so much authentic culture, history, and beauty that Ethiopia has to offer. I could go on for hours, as there is so much more that I saw and learned of Ethiopia, that it made me feel more like a scholar than a tourist.

Ethiopia is a truly stunning country, that left me feeling pleasantly surprised!

Robin Smulders & Husband - Fasiladas Bath Timket, EthiopiaSuggested Itineraries:
3-Day Ethiopia Stopover
8-Day Cultural South
8-Day Historic North

Robin Smulders, Product Manager for Goway’s new Europe department, was previously Team Leader for Goway’s AfricaExperts. She has travelled extensively throughout Africa and Europe, and is passionate about learning new things and seeing new places.

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