Made Ethiopia easier

This item appears on page 52 of the October 2011 issue.

“There’s no denying it: traveling in Ethiopia is not easy.” So says my Lonely Planet “Guide to Ethiopia and Eritrea” in the chapter “Getting Started.”

And the trip I took — “Ethiopia, the Historic Northern Route & Timket Festival,” Jan. 13-26, 2011, from Spiekermann Travel (Eastpointe, MI; 800/645-3233), at a cost of $5,090, including single supplement; air from Tampa, Florida, and out of Washington Dulles; air taxes and surcharges; all meals, and gratuities to guides, drivers and hotel staff — was one of the more stressful and strenuous trips I’ve taken.

However, Spiekermann’s local operator, Image Ethiopia Tours (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; phone +251 11 663 8127), and Image’s owner, Asrat Kahsay, did much to ease our way.

Our guide for the entire trip, Asrat did his utmost to make the journey a most worthwhile one for our group of six. Speaking excellent English, he gave us succinct information on all the sites.

The roads were often bumpy and unpaved. Food was plentiful, but, among other things, the meat was often tough and flavorless. There was a lot of walking over rocky floors, climbing up rock-cut steps, walking through dark tunnels, etc., especially in Lalibela. You have to accept such things when in Ethiopia.

Although many of the accommodations were “best available” and Spartan at best, Asrat selected a hotel at Lalibela that had spectacular panoramic mountain views, while the lodge in the Simien Mountains was a picturesque grouping of thatch-roofed guest houses.

He arranged for us to attend Timket, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian celebration of Epiphany, at the village of Adwa, where there were very few other tourists. At the festival at Axum, we had “ringside seats” and unobstructed views.

He also arranged for evening entertainment of traditional music and dancing at local nightclubs and a tour of a coffee factory in Addis Ababa, where a souvenir bag of Ethiopia’s excellent coffee awaited us at the tour’s end.

If you tour Ethiopia with Asrat, he will make your trip to his fascinating country a most rewarding one.

Saint Petersburg, FL