Ethiopia is not often associated with tourism, but as Fionn Davenport heard today during The Irish Times travel podcast, that might be changing.
Ethiopia is easy to get to, with direct flights from London and Frankfurt. Next year, it will get easier with a new Ethiopian Airlines route from Addis Ababa to Los Angeles making a stop in Dublin.
Travel writer Gary Quinn spoke of how he highly recommends taking an organised trip with a guide. “The distances you’re going to travel and the number of places you want to see are so vast, you need someone who really knows the area.”
He also says that the internal flight network is great, especially along the historic trail in the north, but added: “I don’t know if they’re set up yet for really independent travel”.
The country is large – about the size of France and Spain combined and with a population of 90 million – and incredibly diverse. About 90 different languages are spoken. “We’ve had translators for translators. You can go 40 kilometres down the road, and you’ll need a different translator,” said Diane Weatherup of sight-saving charity Orbis. She takes a charity group to Ethiopia every November. They do the Great Ethiopian Run, a 10-kilometre run popular with locals and visitors alike.
There are vast differences in landscape, with the arid Omo Valley in the south and the lush historic trail in the north. Writer Anto Howard took a trek through the villages near Lalibella in the north of the country. He travelled to Ethiopia in 2010 while his wife was filming there for her work.
He said while she was filming at a market in capital city Addis Ababa, “people came and took her camera away”, claiming she did not have the necessary permits to film there. “The state is definitely in charge,” he said, referring to the country’s poor human rights record.
“I think we don’t explore enough what our responsibilities are and how deeply we should look at these countries when we go into them,” said Gary Quinn.
Weatherup, however, works closely with the government for her charity. “Our purpose is to educate them” about health and sanitation. “We try to involve the government, and it works really well for us.
For more information about Diane’s charity work in Ethiopia, go to www.orbis.ie. It’s not too late to sign up for the Great Ethiopian Run on Sunday, November 23rd. See www.orbis.org/GreatEthiopianRun.