There is Africa, and then there is Africa. The Africa we ‘know’, and the Africa we ‘think’ we know.
I was in Ethiopia, I was in Africa.
Ethiopia is the only African country that has never been colonised, and that is what you notice when you are there : European influences are minimal, if not non-existent. It truly is a totally different place. Ethiopians don’t even try to be like Europeans, and that is what I like about them. They are authentic, they are themselves.
We went on a photographic road trip, north as well as south. In a group of 4 plus our local driver. I prefer the north, with its harsh nature, the Danakil Depression -of course- but not just that, I prefer the whole region above Addis. I love its few people, the absence of cars on the roads, the constant flow of people walking alongside the roads, the endless magnificently beautiful landscapes. But most people prefer the south, the Omo Valley with the tribes, which is also the most (and only) touristy place. For me that is just a circus, a show for tourists, where I feel like I am in the zoo shooting people instead of animals. A bull jump is cool to see, but there are more tourists than locals.
The great thing about driving +4,000km in a country as large and diverse as Ethiopia is, is that you actually see changes as you drive. In nature, we go from an inhospitable but magnificent desert over very fertile terraced agriculture, towards the ‘back in time’ Omo Valley. But there are also 80 ethnic groups, all with their differences. Differences in physical appearance, clothing, in agriculture,…
But one can not go to Ethiopia without visiting the historical sites. Ethiopia is so much more than the Omo valley with its primitive tribes living as if we are 200 years back in time. It’s one of the oldest christian countries (older than Westen Europe), with not just interesting -traditional- worshipping, but also exceptional architecture. Churches carved out of rocks, connected with each other through tunnels, all still in use for daily worshipping. I have never seen anything like it!
And then there is Gondar, which was the Ethiopian Capital from mid 17th to mid 19th C. It is known for its castles, its nick name being ‘Ethiopian Camelot’. It’s a whole complex of castles, build by several emperors and there is even a huge bathing palace! Going there makes you think you are in a fairy tale!
Of course, Ethiopia is also the traditional ‘African’ markets, the people walking alongside the roads, and then, of course, the children appearing within seconds, out of nowhere, when you stop on an empty road with no houses around it.
It is one of the most beautiful countries, in every single way, but for me it was also the toughest to travel. Distances are vast, roads are going from ok to (very) bad ; driving 5 to 7 hour a day was not unusual, and extremely tiring, trying to remain seated with all the bumps and potholes. Average speed of 40km/h or less is not unusual.
It’s tough because of the altitude, apart from the Danakil Depression (-150m) and the Omo Valley, the whole country is elevated above 2,000m.
It’s tough because of the food, and more particularly, the struggle to remain healthy, and the lack of hygiene.
Still, the balance is more than positive, the beauty and the adventure really makes up for the roughness.
I still have loads of photos to go through, a book to be made, so keep posted to see what’s coming!