After our big day attending church at Abuna Yemata Guh Emily found us another spur of the moment guest house in Mekele. She called and talked to the owner who was an Englishman. His guest house only has three rooms and they were all available so Emily booked without looking at pictures. It was much too fancy for her taste and by far the best place I have ever stayed in Ethiopia. Chris and his Ethiopian wife Saba built this place as their home adding three extra bedrooms to rent out as The Asimba Guest House. Their home is beautiful and very well done. Saba had a beautiful bar built for Chris as a Christmas gift and he served us vodka and wine from the bar. He even cooked a breakfast of our choice and drove us to the Mekele airport the next day.
November 11 was Peter’s last day in Ethiopia. We all flew from Mekele to Addis Ababa where Peter caught his flight back to NYC. Claude and Jeanne had elected to stay in Addis as Emily and I flew on to Dire Dawa and then drove 1.5 hours to Harar. There were demonstrations against the present government in Harar about two weeks prior and we had been getting conflicting advise as to whether it was safe to be there. We decided to give it a go as the situation seemed to have settled down. Please note that this is Harar Ethiopia and not Harare the capital of Zimbabwe.
Guest blogger Emily, here. My dad asked if I could finish up the trip details, so here I am with my recap:
Harar caught my interest for many reasons – It is a walled city with over 300 alleyways in just 1 sq km. It’s a predominantly Muslim city (considered the 4th holiest Muslim city in the world behind Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem) and has been compared to Fez, Morocco.
We arrived in the late afternoon, just before the sun was going down. I have to say I rarely feel unsafe while traveling, but for some reason I felt slightly unsafe from when our taxi picked us up and sped us through the busy mountain road to get out to Harar. He pulled into a nondescript alleyway and said follow this guy. It turns out that guy was Emaj, the tour guide that is associated with the guest house that we were staying at. He walked us a short distance down a few more alleys to another nondescript door that was our guesthouse.
Staying in one of these traditional Harari guesthouses seemed like the most authentic experience, so we were glad when the Rowda had day-before availability on our last weekend in Ethiopia. Being a predominately Muslim city, they had specified that my dad and I could not share a room – so we booked the last 2 ‘rooms’ for 2 nights. They described that one was behind a curtain and we got a clearer picture of what that meant when we arrived. They showed us this bed that was behind a curtain in the hallway and a more traditional room with a locking door and a shared bathroom. I’ve slept in many non-traditional places and opted for what we later learned was the honeymoon ‘room’. It is my understanding that when you get married, the couple is confined to this space for a week. They stay in bed all day if their family is around and their family leaves them food through that small red door on the right. If the family leaves, then the couple is free to come out. Clearly not our idea of a honeymoon with limited privacy from the rest of the family – the family room is right there at the other end of the hallway.
After getting acquainted with our accommodations and talking to our hosts about things to do. We set out on an early evening walk through the narrow colorful streets and busy markets that make Harar quite unique from the rest of Ethiopia.
We were overwhelmed by the activity at the market and for whatever reason I was still carrying around a slight feeling of uncertain safety. We moved through it taking as much in as we could and set off for dinner. Harar is quite a small city with limited options for meals. We ate at one of the better reviewed restaurants and it was unmemorable. After an only ok introduction to Harar, we were both debating cutting this leg of the trip short and just spend a single day here. I retired shortly after dinner to the privacy of my hallway honeymoon suite and my dad ended up staying up talking with the 2 other groups of young people who were staying at the guesthouse.
I woke up early and walked the streets listening to the call to prayer and taking in the uniqueness of the city. I didn’t stray too far as it’s very easy to get lost in the maze of alleys. After a good rest and exploring the city in the daylight, I felt safe and open to letting the unique nature of Harar present itself and we decided to stay for the intended 2 nights. The guesthouse served us an enjoyable simple breakfast of fried bread-like pancakes with honey and world famous Harari coffee.
After breakfast, we talked with the other guests about plans for the day. I had read about a few tour guides that take you around the city. The day previous Emaj had offered to take us and he planted the seed for a hyena feeding (more on that later). All throughout our trip I was noticing how the majority (if not all) of our extended interactions with locals were with males – drivers, tour guides, hoteliers, etc. I was excited to hear there was one woman tour guide, Aeisha. Two other guests were going on a hike with her outside the city that morning so we joined in on their tour and stayed with her the rest of the day.
We met Aeisha and realized that we had seen her the day before at the restaurant. She called a larger tuk tuk for the 5 of us and we took a quick drive to the suburbs of Harar. We walked up a hill to get a view of the city from the outskirts. We would probably call this a hike, but I got the impression that Ethiopian’s don’t hike for recreation, it’s how they get places.
Not shown in this video is the amount of trash that was up here. Aeisha littered several times throughout the day, including here. We all engaged in a quick conversation about it, showing our disappointment while also respecting their culture and habits. The leaves under Chris’s feet are chewed up khat leaves-a native grown plant that people chew as a simulant, similar to coca leaves in South America. After the hike, my dad and I split off and went to lunch at one of the best meals we had in Ethiopia.
We met up with Aeisha again and toured the city – including most or all of the gates, markets and the recycling market. All very picturesque and interesting. The following photos should give a good taste of the colors and textures of the city and the daily street life.
For dinner we opted for fatira – a traditional breakfast or dinner street food. It was essentially a crepe, with egg and peppers and onion. Quite nice!
After the fatira we decided to do as the tourists do and feed the hyenas. It was definitely not the reason we came to Harar, but we decided to partake in the unique experience and support their local economy. I was one of the first to go and certainly not at ease like my dad, but felt comfortable enough to experience it twice. Overall we had a very pleasant stay in Harar and I would recommend it to anyone interested in a unique city experience.
We took an early morning ride back to the Dire Dawa airport and a quick flight back to Addis where we met up with Jeanne at the hotel. We spent our last afternoon with Jeanne and Claude and had a last traditional meal together before heading off to the airport. We got out of the taxi and I immediately knew that I had either left my phone at the restaurant or it had fallen out of my pocket in the taxi. My dad wins the dad of the year award for chasing it down in the taxi and returning it to me in the hour before I was flying back to Portland.
All in all a great trip reconnecting with family, experiencing a beautiful and unique country and culture.
Jim here again. Thanks Emily for that great writing about Harar. It was an extraordinarily exceptional trip for me also and I so appreciate having Claude, Peter and Jeanne join us for this memorable trip. I must add that if was very difficult for Sandy and I to be separated for such a long time. We have been together constantly for almost three years now and the huge separation in distance for such a long time was very tough for both of us. We are so happy to be reunited again at this point and have vowed to never experience this prolonged separation again.
Happy holidays to all.