Ethiopian Coffee: Little piece of Home

As an Ethiopian, to experience a little piece of home, making Ethiopian traditional coffee and roasted sweet corn for finding more comfort from home while living abroad is the best way to go.

While having coffee in Luxembourg, I couldn’t help to contemplate a profound saying which resonates with my soul like it has never been before. The author of The Man Within My Head, Pico Iyer says, “…home lies in the things you carry with you everywhere and not the ones that tie you down.”

Ethiopian Coffee and sweet corn

Being Ethiopian is finding home in Coffee!

Posted in Coffee, Culture and Tradition, Ethiopia, Food Travel, Quote, Quote of the day, snack, Travel, Travel and Tourism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Difo Dabo: Ethiopian Holiday Staple

It is that time of year again to be carried away by the smell of warming, earthy and fresh baking bread coming out from almost every Ethiopian house hold … waking up our sense of smell, spurring memories and filling us with Holiday spirit.

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Although, the creamy, sweet, rich and vibrant Christmas cake I had almost two weeks ago in Bruges, Belgium on Christmas day is the opposite of Ethiopian holiday bread, but strangely enough lead me down to memory lane…

christmas-cake

Walking through my neighborhood where I could see smoke coming out from households which are built next to each other, people rushing from local market back to home holding either Ketema (grass), Koba (false banana leafs) or Chicken.

I smell burning wood, false banana leafs, roasting coffee beans, baking Injera and bread while passing through the narrow lane – that is what I call Holiday Spirit as an Ethiopian.

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One section on shopping list for many Ethiopian holiday celebration usually would be all natural, healthy and simple ingredients for baking Difo Daba.

Picking up whole wheat grain from the market for family who enjoys traditional way of baking Difo Dabo – which is my favorite and I must say worth the long processes of making Ye Sinde Difo Dabo (whole wheat bread) as the end result is originally delicious and healthy.

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Because of the fascinating Ethiopian calendar, it is on Tahesas 29, 2009 (January 7, 2017) that Ethiopia celebrate Christmas.  While I am experiencing my first winter here in Europe, my heart keeps going back home to celebrate Warm Ethiopian Christmas Holiday – Leddet (Genna).

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Happy Ethiopian Christmas!

Posted in Addis Ababa, Christmas, Ethiopia, Food, Food Travel, Holidays, Photo Essay, Travel and Tourism | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Dallol: The Danakil Desert Adventure III

 

A highlight of Danakil Desert Adventure. Uninhabited region, roughly 130 meters  below sea level. Holds the official record for high average annual temperature of 35C . Dreamlike colorful wonderland of delicate masterpieces of sulfur that situates in the center of the explosion crater – Dallol – Kaleidoscopic, Whimsical and Transcendental

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After witnessing spectacular sunset over Salt Lake – Lake Assale, we head back to Hamed Ela military camp to spend a night out in Danakil Desert. The military camp settled closer to Ethiopia and Eritrea border which seem like the edge of the world.

Small shelters built by assembled dry sticks and finished with straw mat as a roof top. The huts built closer to each other in the middle of the camp area. Wooden, woven beds set up outside around the huts in a circular form to keep us from possible windstorm in the evening while sleeping outside. An interesting detail of resourcefulness I noticed by being in a desert – putting things in circular form.

I remember while watching the sunset over Lake Assale, the drivers park the cars in circular form again for wind protection. They put portable little chairs within the circle. The chairs placed against the cars so that we sit inside a cocoon and enjoy little plastic cups of local red wine while they were entertaining us by cracking local tunes and dancing in the middle as a dance floor – enjoying present moment somewhere in Danakil Desert.

Before dinner at the camp, we provided with container of water to wash up our salty legs from waded in salt lake. Meron (Merry) was our amazing cook, who has been with the group cooking delicious local and western fares. Her energy and resourcefulness for cooking amazing dishes in this harsh environment was truly inspiring and definitely an affirmation that WOMEN ARE CAPABLE OF DOING ANYTHING .

A buffet set up outside and we enjoyed eating dinner out in a desert. Our guide gave us brief description for our next day adventure in Danakil Desert. Obviously after dinner, we were craving something cold to drink, so fortunately there was a military joint within the camp compound.

A fridge freezer cornered at the side of the first room which is built by an evenly assembled dry sticks. Long and thick wooden set up at every corner of the room as a bench. There were few chairs were  military members were sitting on and around small tables having local beer and relaxing. Within the next room there was big pool table were other military members playing around it.

We got ourselves slightly cold local beer and start interacting within a military bar somewhere in Danakil Desert. The group I was in for this adventure was a compilation of people who came from different parts of the country that one common interest brought us together at Danakil Desert.

WANDERLUST brought Israelis friends, Polish couples, Swiss women wanderer  amusing English guy, flexible Japanese guy, core hard traveler Japanese women, Belgian, Russian and American … all at the cradle of humanity: a region where 3.2 million – year – old hominid known as Dinknesh (Lucy) unearthed in 1974 – Afar, Ethiopia. The distance between countries seemed to lessen. A defining moment to rise way above ego (the false self) and to actually be able to see citizens of the universe gather at their great great great… grandmother’s home where it all begins – Ethiopia.

There was no toilet facilities at the military camp for the group to use. Bit further away from the military compound behind little stone hills was where we allowed to take care of nature’s call. Once again comfort in a desert is a state of mind. Another day had to come to an end without taking shower in Danakil Desert at Hamed Ela military camp. Feeling the wet wipe on my skin felt like heaven and actuated me to be present enough to appreciate a sacred experience of feeling all clean and fresh.

It was time to sleep. Thin, colorful and foamy mattresses laid up on the woven bed and sleeping bag. The evening was even warmer than the night we spent at a slope next to the volcano – Erta’ Ale. The sleeping bag did not come to be useful until the wind started to kick off after midnight. Letting go the illusion of sense of security, putting trust on strangers and the universe … was another profound life lesson I obtained while sleeping out in Danakil Desert under pitch black sky with sparking stars.

After a short night, we were awoken by a flashlight and a wake up call coming from our guide 5 in the morning. Sunrise above silvery horizon over Hamed Ela. The camel caravans were already started their journey back to the salt mine looking all energized and this time without loads of salt cubes as it is the double backing journey from Berhale to harvest salt. We had amazing breakfast at the same spot we had dinner. After breakfast we immediately started our last day Danakil Adventure.

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Heading to our first stop Dallol was witnessing sand gives way to salt flats. While contemplating the fascinating flatness of the desert, the cars parked under a huge brown mound which seem to be appear by some kind of magic within the endlessness of nothingness and it is the only vertical figure in sight. Dallol is a broad flat –slopped maar formed in 1926, protrudes from the eastern side of a 1,200 km area of windswept salt encrusted flats.

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We had to ascend the slope in order to reach our destination – Dallol.  Our guides advised to take a litter of bottled water with us. After climbing the hill for a little while we were greeted by jaw dropping rock formations and salt structures which sprout like mushroom with smooth marble like table top. These mineral formations has orange, brown, white and pinkish colors and stopped us cold. Half way up and looking back to witness an orange colored desert and the cars parked under the slope now little toys in the vanishing salt and sand horizon.

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After 15 minutes walk, we reached at the top of the hill. Being able to see behind the hill was unimaginable vista. Strange earth formation lead us to another world. Before we knew it while still being mesmerized by the salt structure we walked up on … a live, huge and colorful canvas unfold before us. It seem like stepping into a painting where different kinds of forms, bright and happy colors all over the place.

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Obviously with the limited conscious mind, we would be able to see the scientific facts – colored plain of sulfur deposits, iron oxide crust, sulfur geysers and acid lakes – and all the peculiar colors, shapes and forms all over. Drops, bubbles and smoke. Rock, water, sand and oil.  Yellow, brown, orange, white, green, red and so on.

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Besides being visually stunning, actually being at Dallol is so surreal. We felt the heat not only from the early morning sun of the desert above us but also from the delicate ground of Dallol, and from the bubbling sulfur springs. To make it even more alive the overwhelming smell of sulfur actuated us to be present through our sense of smell.

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Our silent reverie loudly complemented by soft throbbing of water boiling underground, bubble up steaming water of the tiny geysers and from crunching over crystal like formations of the brittle earth with our every mindful but adventurous steps we took within Dallol.

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Dallol had to be visited early in the morning before the desert start baking. It was around 7:30 we arrived there. Though it sounds too early for the desert to heat up we were already sweating. We had to wear hat obviously to protect our skin from the already scorching sun even in the morning.

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No jewelries and it is not because of the adventure but rather to protect your jewelry from discoloration just being at Dallol. Some kind of mask as walking through this whole new world challenges a sense of smell with its intensified sulfuric smell. Trekking shoes as walking within Dallo was a delicate one that one false move leads into bubbling sulfur so being mindful was essential.

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Talking about mindfulness, if you let yourself to see Dallol way beyond the scientific label it putted up on it by scientific facts /logical mind, you can definitely stunned by the inexplicable energy of the universe adorned with breathtaking colors and fascinating details. After an hour wandering around within Dallol, we head back to the cars. Dallol equally impressed us all regardless of our travel histories.

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Danakil Desert is full of strange and stunning earth formation features. Salt hill and canyon was our second stop. We had to literally crawl for two minutes under salt hill to end up in the middle of the salt canyon which was dark so had to use headlight. It was bit challenging but all worth it as we end up being stunned by what we saw at the end.

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Either created by wind and erosion or by the in-explainable universe energy. I choose to be enlightened by the beauty of the details carved on the wall of the salt hill and God lies in details indeed. To get out of the canyon we had to climb up the hill which required a big step, holding on a grip and obviously trusting your own true nature.

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Another magical earth formation of Danakil Desert was our third stop which is named as Yellow Lake. A strange little lake with different colors and yellow potash bubbling. According to the locals it has a healing property for skin aliments. I saw our driver taking the water into plastic bottles and he said it is strong remedies but heals any kind of skin problems.  A miracle in a desert.

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Saving the best for last. Besides being blown by earth formation my Danakil Desert Adventure lead me straight in to a HEART OPENER experience. Our last stop for our last day in Danakil desert was vising the salt mine.

Salt flats in the Danakil Depression, along the borderline between Ethiopia and Eritrea, are located 100 meters below sea level. This huge salt crust often up to 1000 meters thick, goes deep in the earth’s crust. It is where the salt mine is.

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It was 10:00 am when we reached at the salt mine not even mid-day but I clearly recall checking the odometer to make sure as the heat start becoming unbearable and it was already 44 C. The highlander’s Tigray and the lowlander’s Afar salt miners was working harmoniously and with enthusiasm in spite of the inhospitable nature of the Desert.

The salt miners were breaking plates of salt out of the ground using  ax. Fitting a set of sticks in the indentations made by the ax.  Lifting the big salt slab using the sticks. Cutting the slab into tiles of standard sizes which weight 4kg. Stacking, tying and loading it on the mules and camels for transport.

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Carving one piece of cube salt fetch salt miners 3 Ethiopian Birr so they try to make as many as possible before the day ends. I learn they can make from 100 – 200 salt cubes a day and that would be an estimation of earning from 14 – 25 $ a day.

They were so focused on what they were doing to the point it seem they were not aware of being invaded by tourists walking around and taking picture of the action of the moment. Evidently the salt miners  get used to the fact being visited by tourists but the very fact they were present enough for the task at hand even surpass the suffering of physical body from the merciless sun and heat of the desert.

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As locally know as Amole Chew – is salt block which once was an exchanging commodity worthy as gold here in Ethiopia. Although money notes has replaced Amole, Salt is still “White Gold” for the legendary Ethiopian Afar people who pay price–from taking off burned flab of skin to precious life.

Seeing an Ethiopian within the group who came to visit the salt mine seem flabbergasted many salt miners a bit as it is not an everyday occurrence. I saw a sense of joy on their face in seeing their own person as a tourist and it made me even happier when they took a moment to look at me in the eye and said “HABESHA” – a recognition of souls in a sense of oneness.

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By some kind cosmic force I was being able to detach from the part of me who was being a tourist in my own country and start to see the actual native and tourist connection. Starting with the natives, it’s obvious that not every native is happy with the fact a lenses put up on their face while going through their everyday life especially without their permission and in spite of what the local tour guide say. And being a tourist should be more than seeing places and taking picture rather it should come with compassion and respect for the land and the people being visited.

Arrogance comes when a tourist ask camel drivers while they are crossing the desert to hop on a camel that already carry enough load just to take pictures and saying I have been there. Arrogance comes when not honoring etiquette of the place being visited. Arrogance comes when a tourist thinks the money paid for the itinerary entitled them to do whatever they like – step on culture, tradition, dignity and needs of the natives of the land being visited. Arrogance comes when getting pleasure out of somebody’s misery for the sake of telling a story.

Everywhere in the world, people want the same thing – shelter, food, family, happiness, love, comfort and most importantly we all want to know that we matter that our being here meant something. Seeing people beyond the cover or beyond given conceptual identity. Emitting that sense of oneness by saluting the same soul that abides within all of us can be a heart opener to all of us native or tourist and then we welcome each other with open heart in our own home wherever it may be.

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I packed all the priceless memories and lessons within my heart as my Danakil Adventure has come to an end. Once we reached the city of Mekele which is around 100 km away from the Danakil Depression, the first thing we all wanted to do is dump our smelly and dirty clothes, take real shower, put on clean cloth, have cold drink and sleeping inside and on a bed.

Our car pulled over in front of Ethio Travel and Tours office where it all begins four days ago. At the office we were so welcomed with smile and appreciation. The staff presented us white polo t-shirt – on which JUST DONE IT DANAKIL  words sewed on it with green, yellow and red thread– as a trophy which made us feel a hero. Last but not least, I must say I really had great experience with skilled, experienced, and caring team –from sweet drivers, strong Ethiopian woman cook to thoughtful tour guides of Ethio Travel and Tours (ETT)–whom all made this Danakil Adventure possible.

The End

Posted in Adventure, Afar, Africa, Danakil Depression, Danakil Desert, Erta' Ale Volcano, Ethiopia, Landscape, Photo Essay, Travel, Travel and Tourism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Lake Assale: The Danakil Desert Adventure II

Lies at -116 m  below sea level. It is one of the SALT LAKES in the northern end of the Danakil Depression. Lake Assale (Asale) is an ex harbor of the Red Sea, also known as Lake Karum – CATHARTIC, ALTRUISTIC AND ILLUMINATING.

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Our stirring transition – from witnessing the flaming LAVA LAKE – Erta’ Ale –, to the snow – white SALT LAKE – Lake Assale – within the Danakil Desert, went through a convalescent overnight stay in Abala village.

After a challenging day and an overwhelming night out in a desert. On our second day Journeyed to Abala village to soak in the desert life via mingling with the locals in one of the Afar regions. The road trip from Dodom – entry way to visit Erta’ Ale – to Abala was mostly about processing our Erta’ Ale experience. Reflecting. Going through pictures from last night.

After a while the desert heated up devastatingly. It hinted us that the last time we had cold drink either water or soft drink was the day before in Mekele – getaway to Danakil Desert. Once in a desert, the water we kept drinking was literally lukewarm and tasteless. Realized even room temperature kept water tastes like heaven and sounded priceless at that very moment.

By mid-day the scorching sun already started baking the desert. Stopped at one of the villages for lunch. As if by some kind of magic, the little coffee shop in the desert had an actual godsend – one of human creations out of necessity. Guess What? Fridge-freezer! A cue formed instantly to get cold soft drinks as if we have never had it before. Maybe all you need is a Fridge freezer in a desert to thrive, I thought.

The cold drinks were double the price of the city but was all worth it. I could not wait for the shop keeper to hand me the cold drink. I was just embracing the bottle with both of my hands to soak in the priceless cold feeling from the bottle. The thick soft drink bottle was caressed with little drippings of melting iced water. I kept it towards my face so it gives my sweltering skin a moment of relief from the fire – waft which I became friend with in order to survive in this callous environment.

That lukewarm water we have been drinking in spite of it all, did not quench a thirst and obviously won’t be able to give that cooling effect from inside out. I felt every tiny bit of the cold drink’s taste, texture and movement passing through till it’s very last drop as if for the very first time – another divine moment to be present in the midst of Danakil Desert.

Our stay at Abala village was affectionately pleasant. Took bucket shower with naturally warm water – no need of a heater here. Walked through the village which suddenly overflown by Abala’s charming children who were excited to see strangers. We had delightful Ethiopian traditional coffee even in a desert. Divinely scrumptious regional delight – stir fried goat meat. Deliciously succulent orange were among the many we indulged ourselves in Abala village.

We stayed overnight at the village in one of the cement built local houses which seem turned into an oven by the heat of the desert. We slept on the foamy little mattresses laid on the cement ground. Even in the evening and with the windows open the room was too warm to sleep, but it was good enough for our recovery from our first day challenging adventure in the desert.

On the third day with in the Danakil desert, the intriguing road trip from south – west to the northern end of the Danakil Desert, to witness the live spectacle of sunset over Lake Assale, started around 8:30 a.m. After half an hour drive, we stopped at the view point to relish in amazing landscape which truly dreamlike.
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Spectacular road trip at the edge of the Danakil Depression as it was driving through Berhale –fascinating town at the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment of the Danakil Depression.

A large town located in the administrative zone 2 of the Afar Region in north – eastern Ethiopia. A town lies at an attitude of 639 meters above sea level. A town made up of two interesting combinations – the characteristically Tigray stone houses and the plain Afar huts. A stopover town for the camel caravans that bring salt from Lake Assale before proceeding to the market of Mekele in the highland.

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Berhale is an interesting town which exist in between two different worlds which gives it a unique charisma – not so much of a highland and not so much of a desert either – hence a treat of enthralling landscape in the valley.

The asphalted road in the desert lead us smoothly through the stripped and brownish twin mountains. It seemed like going through spellbinding transition between two natural kingdoms – highland and desert.

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Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 8After a while, I started to realize why it is said that this is where the Danakil Depression actually starts. Hardly see people along the side of the road but be able to witness the movable Afar house of the nomads constructed somewhere in this barren environment.

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Leaving the mountains way behind, headed to the other village of zone 2 of the Afar region – Hamed Ela. Another Off – road ride following the rough caravan track but this time on the other part of the Danakil Desert where all sand in some expanses, and rocky in others. Passing sand and rock dunes thrown here and there by the universe for beautiful details in a desert.
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Hamed Ela is another small Afar village which exist in the ascetically beautiful desert. It is a village which lies 48 km east of Berhale. An overnight stopover for camel caravans coming from Berhale before proceeding to the salt mine in the morning. Hamed Ela is where we will spend the night sleeping out in the desert in a military camp as it is a springboard village for visit to Lake Assale.

Once we are at Hamed Ela the temperature already soared up to 42 c. The 8 km drive to Lake Assale from Hamed Ela, mostly seem like entering into a wide open space, making your own path leads to nowhere and entranced by the endless horizon.

We stopped in the middle of nowhere and get out of the car into the baking desert and walked through the thick heat towards a spring water. It was about three minute walk and we were already melting. The wide open space actuates you to realize the tiniest place you occupy in this vast universe as the edless desert has the power to make everything looks small.

An oasis in a desert. The spring water proclaims a miracle somewhere in the Danakil desert where existence seem impossible. The naturally created small pool, with interesting salt pattern at the age, contains warm salty water which provides a marvelous opportunity to feel the pacifying energy of water in the Danakil Desert.

Almost all deserts hosts some kind of camel caravan. Here at the Danakil desert,camel caravan is the harmonious bridge between the highland and the desert through a livelihood commodity – SALT. The caravan was coming out of the salt mine with skillfully hand cubed salt from the ground, loaded up on the camels and mules. The caravan was moving toward Berhale in late afternoon when the sun was not at its strongest but for me I was not able to see the difference as it was still hot.

“I can learn something from the desert too. It seems old and wise.” – A profound verse that reveled itself in my mind at the Danakil Desert while being captivated by the caravan from one of my favorite books of all time – THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho. I saw determination, stillness and presence on the faces of the nomads – Afar camel drivers. I felt the enlightening energy coming out of the Danakil desert crossers which was too strong to expand my horizon.

Could not help to be transported to another era and being lead to the source of the livelihood commodity of the Danakil Desert caravan traders. The still existing traditional salt mining. The historical journey of the caravans following the footsteps of their ancestors who brought wealth to the Axum Empire way back then via the once major trading commodity SALT.

It was the sound of the wind, the hoof beat of the animals, and the groan of the camels that were breaking the utter silence of the desert. My eyes followed the camel caravan until which seems at the edge of the horizon and its silhouette upon the abstractedly seen silvery mountain ranges. Suddenly, the captivating image covered by the sand dust that the cars were producing. It was about time to head to Lake Assale.

Unlike the other salt lake in the Danakil Depression – the emerald green lake Afrera. Lake Assale produce different kinds of hypnotic colors. One part is blindly snow white. The other part gives an illusion of golden hues on sparkling salt due to the brown sand.

In remote times, this part of the Danakil Depression was intermittently submerged by the Red Sea which eventually left behind larger amount of aquatic salt accumulated to layers of several hundreds of meters deep and turned into the now salt Lake. Lake Assale is part lake and part salt deposit.

Most of its places covered by thick salt crust that even support vehicles. Our car had to stop at some point in order to avoid sinking in. We waded into the lake feeling the salt crust beneath. Heading further in, then felt the warm salty water on my feet. I tried to imagine Lake Asale overflown with water when it rains in highlands as it hardly rain in the Danakil Desert.
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The brightness of it all was soul ILLUMINATING. It was powerful enough to make you step out of the limited physical realm into the blissfully unlimited spiritual realm for a brief moment. Stepping on the sparkling salt crust suddenly became intimidating out of a sense of respect, which stirred by the camel caravans I witnessed.

Being at its source, I could not help to contemplate salt as I was surrounded by it. A sense of appreciation for this particular element invaded me. A moment of realization that Salt is more than a flavor enhancer of my food which confined within a tiny salt shaker placed at the kitchen cabinet or dining table. Rather, salt is a livelihood of the desert people.
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Obviously Lake Assale is ALTRUISTIC as it has been mined for many years and still is. Conversely, the life changing experience emanated from witnessing the materializing process that comes with a price – the sweat of the salt miners and camel drivers in this harsh desert. The still existing salt mining activity moves seasonally and we were scheduled to witness it on the next day – the last day of our Danakil Desert Adventure.

CATHARTIC indeed. The anticipation of standing on a salt lake that once flooded by the Red Sea was a grand moment as it seem like it was not only salt but an everlasting energy that it left behind. Seeing my reflection on the clear salt lake was priceless as it was a moment of clarity that my adventure of discovering my own country was actually discovering MYSELF!
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Looking up. From a distance part of the lake embellished by the dreamily seen mountains. Part of it provides a fascinating scene of an endless sparkling horizon. Part of it dashed with brown sand which seemed like a painting.

The sunset over the sparkling Salt Lake – Lake Assale. The sky slowly turned into a huge canvas revealing collection of colors being portrayed before us in the desert by the universe.
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The glowing sun slowly moves behind the luminous clouds and swallowed by the silhouette of mountain ranges from a distance. The snow white salt lake turned into pink for an ephemeral moment.
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Another honored day ended at the Danakil Desert.
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To be continued…

Posted in Adventure, Africa, Danakil Depression, Danakil Desert, Ethiopia, Travel and Tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Erta’ Ale: The Danakil Desert Adventure I

Adventurous expedition through Danakil Desert (Danakil Depression) within the Afar region of Ethiopia is more like a transition into an astounding whole new WORLD.

Danakil Desert is full of spectacular highlights and electrifying details that begs for bold exploration. I start with the rare phenomenon that Danakil Desert provides to witness through one of the few persistent lava lakes in the world – Erta’ Ale – HYPNOTIZING, DEFYING AND MEMORABLE.

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The itinerary in which I was on for this experience, required three nights and four days camping in the Danakil Desert – where many areas laying more than 100 meter below sea level, where temperature can soar to 50 c and earns a startling reputation of being the hottest place on earth.

Our journey started from Mekele – the gateway to Danakil Desert – via a village which is the administrative center of Zone 2 of the Afar Region called Abala. Continued to Dodom – a village found around the most desolated landscape and serves as an entry way for visiting Erta’ Ale.

For acquiring the real sense of this whole new world, you have to taste it and feel it. Maybe this is one of the reasons why nothing really prepared me for this captivating adventure than actually be there.

Heading to the Danakil Desert is a mesmerizing experience by itself. The road, the landscape, the desert flora, the villages (yes even in a Desert), the people and so many more to be blown away by. But it takes to be present enough to witness and to let it pass through you while leaving its priceless life lessons or memories imprinted on your heart.

Besides the anticipation seeing Erta’ Ale, it is the ROAD TRIP that kept me so fascinated in so many ways. As we kept driving and leaving behind the comfort of city life or even little villages with cold drinks – felt like heaven at one point -, the landscape slowly start changing as a welcoming sign of another different world.

Green plantations and mountains faded away, the road starts to flatten, less and less people at the side of the road.  Scattered strange plants which grew between rocks started to reveal this harsh environment.

The road trip gone smoothly on asphalted road while enjoying the scenery on each side. Obviously, nothing beats ROAD TRIP AND GOOD PLAYLIST so luckily the driver had some engaging local tunes cranked – perfect match for a memorable ROAD TRIP IN ETHIOPIA.

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It was about time to have lunch at one of the villages and this is when I truly realized that I actually entered into a desert. The moment stepping out of the air conditioned car, my skin greeted by the remorseless fire – waft and the sweltering desert sun, I felt the heat within a second all I wanted was some kind of shade.

The little house we had lunch built by unevenly assembled dried sticks and finished with corrugated iron door and straw roof top. Good enough to provide shade – which seems priceless at the moment – and probably from the sand wind in the evening but no way to escape the heat as the fire – waft invite itself through the gaps of sticks and the open door.  Start sweating already.

Obviously I missed Addis Ababa’s heavenly cool breeze, but now I get to feel the desert with all my being, I knew it was about time to start embracing it rather than resisting in order to alleviate my wanderlust so I continued.

Heading to Dodom in the afternoon means the Road Trip getting tougher, bottle of water getting warmer – time to taste the desert.

All Windows closed to keep out the dust and of course the fire wind, time to rely up on AC inside the car. Could not help wondering what it would be like out there, so checking the odometer becomes an addictive little act out of curiosity.  From 38 c hitting to 45 c seen it and felt it all.

Once off – road and as exactly our driver said it “this is where the battle begin so fasten up your seat belts”. I could not help having a new sense of admiration and respect for all the drivers in the Danakil Desert. Even though a good car that can handle this tough road is essential but an enthusiastic and experienced driver is a must too.

Being able to sit still for a moment and being able to have bottle of water without any effort suddenly becomes hard task that seemed too ordinary and obviously taken for granted –  lesson learned while crossing the Danakil Desert on one of the worst road in the world. It is only 6.5 km, but takes 90 minutes driving on harden lava rock, sand and passing through intermittent desert flora.

It was not a road anymore. It seemed like the three cars before us was making their own way while leaving sand trail behind. It felt like we were on an enticing car rally watching all the action through the car window which is on the race itself. It was just electrifying.

As it is not enough to jolt your comfort zone and awaken your sense of wonder, the Road Trip do provide stunning scenes that I at-least could not help asking myself profound questions about life. Seeing hamlets, people walking outside even kids running around in the middle of nowhere stunned me.

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Yes there are small villages in a Danakil Desert that people live in. I thought I was in a life time adventure but this is an everyday life adventure for the survivor and legendary Afar People.

What dreamily noticeable through the duskiness of sizzling day were Amoyate and Boreale – other bigger volcanoes – embossing the barren landscape.

Erta' Ale Danakil Adventure 15
Arriving at camp –the base of Erta’ Ale – with small stone huts where we rested and waited for the temperature to drop a little for averagely estimated three hour trekking way up to the slope to see Erta’ Ale.

Even though the road trip was bit challenging, it is at this camp that the eagerness to see the lava lake and to spend the night out in a Danakil Desert under the stars and moon builds up as it is now we are just few hours away from the most spectacular live natural scene of the world.

Erta' Ale Danakil Adventure 16
The camels loaded with our mattresses, camping gears and our dinner but the rest we had to carry it with us – two litters of water (believe me you need it), sleeping bag and of course hygiene products – but the rest we left it behind at the camp where the drivers stay overnight to get their good night sleep for another safe road trip on the next day. Two guides, local guide and armed military scouts escort the group all the way to the hill top and to spend the night with us.

9.5 km walk up to the crater rim of Erta’ Ale started around 6 p.m. Talking about the temperature getting cooler well all I can say is “just a little bit cooler” as it was still hot even without the blazing sun.

The very first part even with a keen and new energy can be a bit tough as it is walking on sand where you can put too much effort for a desire of holding on a grip – obviously sand means no traction. Then walking on rocks and through yellowish dried vegetation grew between rocks.

As the time goes by and when the daylight starts fading, it was about time to put on our flashlight as it is important to see where we are stepping on specially when walking on thin solidified lava rock beds.

There were resting moments for 5 to 10 minutes to take our breath and catch up with the rest of the group. It was perfect moment to be present enough and look at the vast sky up on us with sparkling desert stars and a bright moon (it was half quarter moon on that night but still beautiful). To lighten up your soul even better in the midst of Danakil Desert Darkness, it is the red glare that you would be able to see from the far – a sign of Erta’ Ale.

The last part becomes a bit challenging and asks for being bit cautious as it is walking up to a slope on a soft solidified lava bed rock that cracks open and leads to an air pocket which is mostly not more than 20 cm. Here it is the crack sound beneath your steps that breaks the utter silence of the desert.

Eventually…We Made it! At the camp where we will spend the night sleeping on the slope beside the volcano. While taking our breath from the three and a half hour climb, we able to see Erta’ Ale for the first time from the first crater rim. Jaw dropping and powerful enough to let you rise way above chattering mind and tired physique.

Nestled within the caldera are two pit craters so we had to descend down into the larger, more northerly one which once held a lava lake though currently inactive. It is about a five minute walk on undulating lava that cracked open beneath almost every step and let you drop a bit – proceed with that eerie feeling.

Getting closer to the outer rim of the second caldera is to automatically feeling the unbearable heat that comes out of the crater lava lake. In spite of the heat, could not help looking down through the intensified red glow which is the mesmerizing effect of the molten red lava on the fume that comes out of it.

Though the upper surface of the lava looks dark it is translucent enough to see what is going on underneath – the slow but heated movement of the bubbling lava.

If all these and the roaring sound of the persistent lava lake are not enough to jolt your imagination, then the yellow and red little explosions that splash out and illuminate the lava lake definitely can and even better can make your pulse move as the heart does.

Spending Saturday night in a Danakil Desert witnessing the naturally spectacular light show and the hypnotic beauty of Erta’ Ale – translucent, enigmatic and startling – was eccentric and cherished. Obviously having dinner, getting rest and good night sleep skipped our mind for that moment as we were all so captivated and could have spent the whole night watching the earth formation magic unfolding before us.

We went back to the camp to have dinner and to sleep out in the Danakil Desert. The thin mattresses laid down on the ground and almost a one inch high rocks built up around the mattresses to protect us from the sand wind (which was not the case that night).

After this overwhelming and exciting day, all you long for taking shower -another everyday but ordinarily holy experience usually taken for granted – here you are at the mercy of wet wipe to clean up yourself. Comfort in a desert is determined by your state of mind.

That night out in the desert was bit warmer so hardly used the sleeping bag until it became a bit chilly and windy way after mid night. Watching the stars and the moon and the whole new experience of sleeping on the slope next to Erta’ Ale in a Danakil Desert was out of this world for me. Another moment to learn to lose control and the illusion of keeping our self-secure.  Letting it all go and be embraced by the vast universe in the darkness of Danakil Desert.

After a short night, we were awoken by our guide around 4:30 a.m. in the morning to go back and see Erta’ Ale once again while it is still dark, not to miss the sunrise over Erta’ Ale and of course to see the lava lake in a daylight.

Erta' Ale Danakil Adventure 18
The volcano was still active and slowly the sky start brighten up and the sunrise against the red glow. This magical transformation of darkness to light had its own effect on Erta’ Ale as well. Erta’ Ale look different in a daylight and still striking in its uniqueness.

It is at this very moment that I truly understand why it is called Erta’ Ale – the Afar word which literally means Smoking Mountain. The intensified red glow that we were hypnotized by last night faded away and turned into a smoke.  Inside dark black lava with red strata running through revealed.

Sunday morning up on the rim of Erta’ Ale, standing still watching the sunrise is one of the unforgettable memories as the magnitude of the universe flashed before me for a split second.

While I was standing on the rim, which once was bubbling lava, granted another defining moment to contemplate UNCERTAINTY.

Scientist suggestion that another major eruption is looming but it is the universal fact that no one knows what the future holds that inspired me to be present enough, to take good look at Erta’ Ale for the last time and say Good Bye!

Erta' Ale Danakil Adventure 20
The camels loaded again and time to walk it back to the Dodom camp. In the daylight we were able to clearly see the slope we climbed up in the dark. Could not help wondering how in the world we walked on it. The daylight revealed the grayish solidified lava rock’s interesting pattern which created while the molten lava cascading out.

Erta' Ale Danakil Adventure 21
We needed to move quickly because we want to make it to the camp before it gets hot. I learn not to take walking back lightly as it took us almost as long to walk down as going up and this time without that dynamite keen and curiosity of seeing Erta’ Ale for the first time to serve as a driving force.

It does get hotter quickly in a desert. The heat definitely played its role in making the way back a bit demanding but we kept on walking.

To be continued…

Posted in Adventure, Afar, Danakil Desert, Erta' Ale Volcano, Ethiopia, Lava Lake, Travel and Tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

PAGUMIENE: The 13th Month Of Ethiopian Calendar

ShopingForEthiopianTraditonalclothing

Shopping Ethiopian Traditional Clothing For Ethiopian New Year

Like the Egyptian Coptic, Ethiopian calendar have a year of 13 months. The first 12 months have 30 days each, and the last 13th month has 5 days and 6 days in leap year.

The name of the 13th month is in Ge’ez and known as PAGUMIENE. This uniquely short but sweet month of PAGUMIENE just started here in Ethiopia and is going to last for the next six days at this time of year.

The 13th month of PAGUMIENE  is more like a transition moment, getting all ready for the New Year celebration, and of course reflecting on the old year and making a resolution for the coming Ethiopian New year which is going to take place on September 12, 2015 for this year.

One of the very interesting details of this particular short month is that it holds a day that rain is actually considered as Holy Water. On that particular day many Ethiopian orthodox religion followers stand under the pouring rain to get the blessing and even save it in a container.

The Ethiopian calendar is always seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian (Western) and Eastern Orthodox Church calendars during September and December and eight years and four months behind during January and August.

And now here in Ethiopia, we are saying goodbye to year 2007 and welcoming year 2008 via the uniquely last, 13th, and shortest month of the year.

Happy PAGUMIENE!

Posted in Addis Ababa, Africa, Ethiopia, Events, Traditional Clothing, Travel and Tourism | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

FIVE LOAVES: Having Breakfast In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

CafeinAddisAbaba1There are many restaurants and cafes established either by an expat to bring their home to another land or a native whom have been abroad for a while brings a foreign experience to their motherland. Positively all these contribute in making up Addis Ababa as an interesting African arena that provides a little bit of everything from all around the world.

CafeinAddisAbaba2Having breakfast in Addis Ababa can be an exciting experience as there are two choices either to relish in the very filling traditional Ethiopian breakfast or to step out of the ordinary and enjoy a simply delightful breakfast for celebrating positive culinary fusion.

CafeinAddisAbaba3Personally I prefer to enjoy a destination through simple little eateries, patisseries, bakeries or bistros rather than hugely sophisticated restaurants that can be as far as the actual destination – unreachable for many locals. As a firm believer that a destination can be enjoyed through as simple as having Chai at the Indian restaurant or green tea at Chinese restaurant but I believe it should be compellingly accessible to the locals even though there is nothing wrong of making it all fancy.

CafeinAddisAbaba4CafeinAddisAbaba5One Saturday morning in honoring a cosmic urge of try out something new, I found myself at the newly opened little Bistro and Bakery that goes by the name FIVE LOAVES. The brick and wood refined one story building that the bakery housed in is pleasantly inviting. Spotless, well-furnished and creatively designed interior makes it all cozy.

CafeinAddisAbaba6CafeinAddisAbaba7As an inquisitive person, If not outside at verandah, I choose sitting by the window to be enchanted and inspired by Addis Ababa’s everyday life from the street while enjoying my breakfast and the ambiance of the café at the same time. Downstairs at this Bistro, table 1 and 2 beautifully and conveniently set up by the window and I pick table 2 as it is the perfect spot to observe and enjoy my surrounding either from the inside or outside through the window.

Little bit about the ambiance of the Bistro, I really enjoyed the little framed black and white Ethiopian photographs hanged up on the walls reminders of how rich our ordinary life can be as there are pictures that shows everyday life of Ethiopia.

CafeinAddisAbaba8Time for me to order. Well as it is was the beginning of the day. As the place was once just a dream or in the imagination of the owner of this place while being abroad either somewhere in Europe or North America. Even better as it is a Bakery. I thought it would make a perfect sense that I have as simple as sweet breakfast bakery – CROISSANT.

And of course as an Ethiopian and being at its birth place I wouldn’t miss my morning coffee for the world. If it is straight from the espresso machine, then I love my coffee with a dash of Milk so CAFFE MACCHIATO that is. Croissant avec foamy Macchiato made of Ethiopian coffee was a heavenly match at least for me and I thought can it get any simply European than this here in Addis Ababa.

Till my breakfast arrive, why don’t I share with you a little bit more about the bistro I found myself at here in Addis Ababa. Well obviously as a bakery it provides different kinds of freshly baked loafs and breads and sweet treats from doughnuts to beautifully decorated creamy cakes. As a bistro, it serves different kinds of vegetable salads and sandwiches which you pick from the hand written menu on a board that hanged up on a wall behind the counter either to enjoy it downstairs or upstairs.

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OH HAPPY DAY! I ate my food with my eyes already and I must say it really tasted as good as it looked maybe even better. The crispy top kissed with pristine white sweet sugar powder and the not too dense rather fluffy texture from the inside that just crumbled in my mouth was divine. Compared to many bastardized croissant I had here in Addis, this one is just the best by far.

CafeinAddisAbaba11Talking about coffee, l am going to be brutally blunt about the fact that you can have unpleasant coffee at some places even here in Ethiopia where coffee is nothing but a religion. But today here at Five Loaves Bistro and Bakery, my coffee experience through Caffe Macchiato was truly delightful …I crossed my fingers so that it stays the same.

CafeinAddisAbaba12Obviously it feels good to experience a destination without leaving home and even in some places to the point that makes you feel that you are actually somewhere else, but the ordinary Addis Ababa’s everyday life scene which I am being able to capture through the not so much openly reveling wooden framed windowpane is a constant sweet reminder of that I am at Home and apparently for visitors that they are at the interestingly lively capital city of Africa – Addis Ababa.

CafeinAddisAbaba13CafeinAddisAbaba14Anbesa Autobus – the yellow and red local bus with a side sign of Anbesa which literally means a lion.  The 12 seated white and blue minivan local taxis that runs around throughout the city are indeed the eloquent pieces of Addis Ababa besides just being means of transport and this is rather how I see it -live colorful details that portraits the beautifully ordinary everyday life of Africa.

CafeinAddisAbaba15Basking in the ordinary bliss of BREAKFAST!

Posted in Addis Ababa, Africa, Breakfast, Coffee, Ethiopia, Ethiopian Music, Food, Food Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

PIASSA: Addis Ababa’s Mesmeric Old Town II

piassa1The first episode of this virtual tour of Addis Ababa’s Mesmeric Old Town – Piassa – as the locals would call it, brought to me a challenging but inspiring opportunity of actually escorting visitors of Ethiopia from Germany into my world.

PiazzacitytourAs I am being so inspired by this beautiful experience of leading a group as a local for an actual walking tour just recently through this old but charming neighborhood of Addis Ababa –Piassa/Piazza, I decide to bring the last episode of a virtual tour of my favorite neighborhood from my home town to the whole world … and I choose to go back to De Gaulle Square to finalize my adventure of rediscovering Addis Ababa’s mesmeric old town…while reliving the enchanting childhood memories as someone who grew up at this particular area.

aroundkryiasisThere is no doubt that paying a visit to Piassa usually means to stopover at one or more coffee shops as this old mesmerizing old town known for its many time honored and full of character coffee shops where locals still patronize. So heading down south from De Gaulle Square to DEj JOTE or around Ethiopian airlines office in Piassa, there is of course another much adored old patisseries of Addis Ababa which scores more than 40 years in business. KYRIAZIS PATTISERIE still provides the best and delicious pastries in town within one small room and full of character coffee shop which usually overcrowded by the locals.

KryiazisContinuing down further from the coffee shop … is surly to be able to experience the pleasure of glancing at more time honored buildings of Piassa with flair and dated way back during Emperor Menelik’s era (1889 – 1913 G.C.). Starting with the staggeringly elongated five-multistory residential house designed by Minas Kherbekian the Armenian architect who also designed Itegue Taitu Hotel. It is also believed to be the very first skyscraper before the Italian occupation (1936 – 41 G.C.).

multisoreybuilding1multistoreybuilding2From here, if one takes one of the interesting alleyways that takes way up to the Cunningham Street where more interesting old buildings, old cinema, old post office and interesting Piassa’s street life scenes to be spotted but wait …before all that, it is at the center of this particular alleyway’s of Piassa from many that the historical Ethiopia’s very first hotel –Itegue Taitu Hotel– that worth pay a visit can be found.

taitu2taituLike the unique architectural style of Piassa is the multinational touch of Armenia, Ethiopia, India, and Italy, interestingly its winding streets also retains another foreign names and this time it’s British.

Cunningham is one of the streets of Piassa named after one of the British officials and military men by Emperor Haile Selassie regime (1941 – 74 G.C.) to echo his gratefulness to the British officials for their military aid. But of course during the Italian occupation many Piassa’s streets used to retain Italian names like the one from De Gaulle Square all the way to Ras Mekonnen bridge (Arat Kilo – Arada) street name was Corso Vittorio Emanuel III which later renamed Haile Selassie Street.

Despite the fact the old town of Addis Ababa – Piassa- comes with street names that is foreign for Ethiopia like Waverly street and Churchill avenue, the interesting detail I would like to mention here and of course the inside truth is locals use mostly native names for most areas of Piassa and obviously that would make the foreign street names usually to be functional on city maps, guide books and alike.

Doro Manekia, Serategna Sefer, Mazegaja, Arada, Mohamud Muzika Bet, Giorgis, Ras Mekonnen Dildiye, Yehager Fiker, Seba Dereja and many more local names which usually used in everyday life of the locals … whether it is to meet up somewhere in Piassa or to tell the location of a particular area.

piassacunnighamstreetNow we are at the Cunningham Street and for many locals one of the reasons of being at this particular street of Piassais to stopover at one of the oldest cinemas of Ethiopia. The now Cinema Ethiopia or formerly known as Nageliz is one of the still operating old cinemas which is known by entertaining via local Ethiopian movies and western movies alike till this day.

cinemaethiopia1Regarding entertainment, it is at this mesmeric old town that cinema was being introduced to Ethiopia during the early 20th century by screening black and white silent pictures to being a host of a pioneering event when talkie movies first brought to Ethiopia by Monsieur Glize.

CinemaEthiopia2Besides entertainment, the other usual reasons for many locals to be at this particular area of Piassa would be shopping or window shopping as this area also encloses many shops as Piassa is indeed the old commercial center of Addis Ababa.

arada3Talking about shopping, Arada Business Center which is one of the oldest even the very first modern shopping center of Addis Ababa which Piassa still proudly embraces at the Cunningham Street. It is the history that it represent that makes it more impressive than its looks as the name suggest – Arada. This one Amharic word – ARADA – is the original name of this mesmeric old town of Addis Ababa before christened it Piazza del Littorio during the Italian occupation.

aradabusinesscenterIn spite of being the original name that represent the now Piassa, at the end of the 19th century Arada was Ethiopia’s pivotal area of commerce and spot of the city’s most important bank, post office, entertainment center, local market (Arada Market) and shops way before the bustling local market of Arada moved to the now Merkato (One of the biggest open market in Africa) during the Italian occupation…so it seems like this particular shopping mall which is named after this historical commerce district– Arada – is the refection of the golden times of Piassa when it was the soul of urbanization for Ethiopia.

arada1While capturing the feel of Piazza starting from De Gaulle Square on Cunningham Street that leads all the way at the intersection of Gebeyehu Street provides ordinary but interesting everyday life scenes of this mesmeric old town of Addis Ababa along with more time honored interesting buildings and residential houses, old post office and many more.

piassacunninghamstreet2piassacunninghamstreet3postofficepiassapiassaoldpostoffice1Talking about interesting street scenes of Addis Ababa, I pick the small street markets as I always find it fascinating and as it usually being Piassa’s signature – different kinds of amazingly colorful and fresh fruit and vegetables, outdated magazines, movie and music CD and DVD…all sold on the streets of Piassa.

streetvendorstreetvendor2The Cunningham street do lead to few different interesting alleyways that takes its visitors to the southern part of Piassa which make it more like unveiling the hidden treasures of this old town … so for today I would like to take the world through one particular narrow alleyway of Piassa which known as the Mahatama Gandhi Street which I think worth taking to really experience Addis Ababa and to discover more … so please stay with me.

ghandistreet1ghandistreet2ghandistreet3ghandistreet4Reaching at the intersection of Mahatama Gandhi and General Wingate Street means more old coffee shops, restaurant, bank, old buildings and more. When every time I found myself at this particular intersection my feet usually take me to one of the oldest patisseries of Addis Ababa or Piassa – one of those places where I can be able to pour more sugar on the sweet memories of childhood. I do really hope I can relate on this one with many other Ethiopians whom had once or twice visit the little Italy in Ethiopia through Piazza’s ENRICO.

generalwingetstreet2General Winget streetEnrico3Enrico is the first patisserie of Addis Ababa which was established by one of Italian migrants more than 50 years ago. In spite the test of time, Enrico still provides amazingly delicious pastries. Its specialties are delicate custard cakes that just melt in your mouth. The steel and Formica made of solid furnishing, vibrant picture boards of assorted Italian specialty cakes on display, the half – dozen basic tables which are usually full and the overall atmosphere of the bustling café has the power to transport you to the golden times of Piazza and even more better as my Italian friend once affirmed you could also be in Italy somewhere around mid-20th century through Piazza’s time honored Italian café – ENRICO PASTRY.

Enrico1Enrico2Next to Enrico there is another time honored restaurant –Oroscopo – where locals still frequent to delight in Italian dishes like Spaghetti or Lasagna in Addis Ababa.

enricoandoroscopoBefore heading further to cross the street and find yourself at the other exciting street – Waverly Street – another historical building dated 1905 G.C. can be found. The stone Bank of Abyssinia is indeed one of the treasures Piassa inherited from Menelik’s era …February 15, 1906 G.C. memorialized the beginning of banking in Ethiopia when the bank was inaugurated by Emperor Menelike II.

AbyssiniabankCrossing the street to continue further… couldn’t help being hypnotized by the revitalizing coffee aroma that tantalizingly emanates from another old coffee shop. To stopover for another coffee might sound extreme but believe me Ethiopia is the birth place of coffee and this mesmeric old town is at the top of the list when it comes to serving up coffee for the soul as it also comes with the very fascinating history of introducing café culture to Ethiopia in spite of the fact coffee is a religion in Ethiopia.

tomoca4Legend has it, back then the locals find it strange to buy cup of coffee made out of espresso machine and enjoying it in a café outside their home as making coffee at home with Jebena (traditional coffee pot) and with all its traditional eloquent pieces from the scratch and enjoying it with family, friends and neighbors for free almost every day was and still the most valued coffee tradition of Ethiopia… so these old café’s used to be frequented by foreigners and few Ethiopians back then but they finally manage to attract the locals and played huge role on today’s interesting Addis Ababa’s Café culture.

tomoca3TOMOCA is one of Addis Ababa’s must visit coffee shops. The one that you find in Piassa comes with unique character as it has been there for more than 50 years not only serving up great coffee but a pleasant ambiance to delight your soul.

tomoca2tomoca5tomoca6Addis Ababa is one of the cosmopolitan cities of Africa, where a visitor still be able to experience the good old past that present is built up on with its very own unique African character.

aroundkryazisAnd this is the final installment of my tribute to Arada/Piassa – a neighborhood created up on the historical rich era!

Benimosqu“To see the World in a Grain of Sand, and a Heaven in a Wild Flower…”

The End…

Posted in Addis Ababa, Architecture, Coffee, Ethiopia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ETHIOPIA: Romancing HOME through TRAVEL!

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between

man and the universe.”  Anatole France

Travelmemoirsaragenene

Home Sweet Home… I live for moments like these!

Posted in Adventure, Africa, Architecture, Ethiopia, Historical Travel, Landscape, Nature, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

PIAZZA: Addis Ababa’s Mesmeric Old Town I

PiazzaAddisAbaba1Piazza is the heart of Addis Ababa and the old neighborhood which still captures the spirit of the past that invites for exploration. This picturesque Old town’s name is a legacy of the Italian Occupation (1936 – 41 G.C.), thus Piazza is still preserves a bit of an Italian flavor.

Piazza is an interestingly historical place of Addis Ababa where old buildings constructed in the early twentieth century with their touch of Ethiopia, Greek, Armenia, India and Italy. Still functional old Italian first patisserie, restaurants, Coffee Houses, Cinema Halls, Playhouse, the very first Ethiopian Hotel, silver and gold smiths, Historical Ethiopian, Greek and Armenian Orthodox churches, Old schools, impressive stairs, historical old bank, post office and many more.

PiazzaAddisAbaba2This part I episode is giving the world a virtual tour through this mesmerizing Addis Ababa’s very own old town locally known as Piassa /Arada. This particular journey starting from around Doro Manekia (Eden Street) all the way through Haile Selassie Street to Ras Mekonnen Bridge.

PiazzaAddisAbaba3For many locals including me, Eden Street at Piazza means … stopping over at one of the oldest local cafés in Addis Ababa which locally known as Ras Mekonnen Café as Piazza is home to many still operating old cafés and restaurants which most scores more than 50 years in business and still being a timeless and memorable place where local patronize.

The paintings behind the espresso machine counter, the sturdy old furniture, the glooming woodwork and even the old building this café housed in gives it a historical aura worth experiencing.

Many remember this fascinating old café for its unforgettable signature of serving up the adored sweet treat by the locals – Baklava – and most probably being the first one to give this palate to Addis Ababa and still do in spite of the test of time.

PiazzaAddisAbaba4For me this is more like pouring some sugar on sweet memories of childhood growing up in Piazza while enjoying the crunchiness of the honey drenched thin fried filo dough at the top and getting all rewarded by the roasted peanuts sprinkled inside…So Delicious!

PiazzaAddisAbaba5Passing De Gaulle Square and heading to Haile Selassie Street means interesting block of shops. Here you can find one of Addis Ababa’s oldest Cinema Empire which is one of the legacies of the early twentieth century, many jewelry shops, Boutiques, shoes shops, watch shops and many more.

PiazzaAddisAbaba6PiazzaAddisAbaba7PiazzaAddisAbaba8PiazzaAddisAbaba9Chasing back on history… legend has it; during the early twentieth century Greeks and Armenians were active community and were playing huge role in the economy. The Greeks were running many factories, cinemas, retail shops, import export enterprises and more.

PiazzaAddisAbaba10PiazzaAddisAbaba11PiazzaAddisAbaba12PiazzaAddisAbaba13PiazzaAddisAbaba14The Armenians in the other hand was well known in the city as cultured shoe factories, eyeglass and watch repair business, gold smith, shoe factories, cinemas and more along with the building in piazza where the shops located.

PiazzaAddisAbaba15PiazzaAddisAbaba16PiazzaAddisAbaba17PiazzaAddisAbaba18One of the fascinating legacies of the Greek community is The Greek Orthodox church which was built in 1935 G.C. Besides being one of Piazza’s historical sights of interests, services are still held in the church every Sunday till this day.

PiazzaAddisAbaba19Talking about leaving legacies, in spite of the fact that Coffee is a religion here in Ethiopia, it is without a doubt that Italians put a mark on Addis Ababa’s most adored Café culture of enjoying the delightful foamy Macchiato – espresso with a dash of milk – and of course Italian cuisines along with still operating old Italian restaurants in Piazza are the most cherished ones by the locals till this day.

PiazzaAddisAbaba20PiazzaAddisAbaba21Therefore, an excursion in piazza would not be complete without indulging in delicious Spaghetti or Lasagna and watching the captivating everyday life of piazza while having the revitalizing Macchiato afterwards somewhere at this mesmeric old town of Addis Ababa – Piazza.

PiazzaAddisAbaba22PiazzaAddisAbaba23The Haile Selassie Street gracefully takes its visitors all the way to another historical spot of Piazza – Ras Mekonnen Bridge and Terrace.

PiazzaAddisAbaba24Ras Mekonnen Wolde Michael (May 8, 1852 – March 21, 1906) was a general and the governor of Harar province in Ethiopia and The father of Ras Tefari Mekonnen (Pre-coronation name of Emperor Haile Selassie I).

PiazzaAddisAbaba25PiazzaAddisAbaba26The Ras Mekonnen Wolde Michael monument was established in May 1944 G.C. and it was built on the foundation laid near Ras Makonnen Bridge by his son Emperor Haile Selassie I as a tribute for his service to the country.

PiazzaAddisAbaba27PiazzaAddisAbaba28At the interestingly green terrace there is a local café and restaurant bar where locals hang out. It is a relaxing place which provides an opportunity to enjoy refreshing local beers that Ethiopia is also known for and Piazza has always being an enchanting place.

Just right pass Ras Mekonnen Bridge there is also another Piazza’s very own old bar and restaurant where locals patronize which known as Turaco.

PiazzaAddisAbaba30Seba Dereja (Seventy Stairs) is another attraction of Piazza.

PiazzaAddisAbaba31Stopping for another Macchiatto…why not? this is Addis Ababa and Piazza for that matter!

PiazzaAddisAbaba32Another fascinating church that graces the historical old town Piazza is the St. George Armenian Apostolic Holy Orthodox Church which was built in 1935 G.C. in the replacement of a chapel that existed since 1923. Legend hast it, the first stone was set by the Archbishop Asanian who came from Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1928 G.C.

PiazzaAddisAbaba33While walking through this old town, you could not help noticing interesting old buildings with high ceiling and hard wood floor so here is another building which have been housing one of Piazza’s old school for very long time now which formerly and locally known as La Fontaine Kindergarten. I bet this one brings up sweet memories of childhood for many.

PiazzaAddisAbaba34Stepping on the foundation of the past – Present – here is a toast to the enchanting past … Long Live Piazza!

To Be Continued…

Posted in Addis Ababa, Africa, Architecture, Art, Coffee, culture, Ethiopia, Historical Travel, Religious, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments