A post-trip interview on Ethiopia with tour managers, Kelly Bryson and Heather Stoeckley
How long was your trip to Ethiopia and where did you visit?
The main tour – Addis Ababa, Axum, Lalibela, Gondar, Simien Mountains, Lake Tana – was 15 days plus a 2-day extension to Harar and a 5-day extension to the Omo Valley in the Southeast part of the country.
Ethiopia has a rich history and a vibrant cultural heritage surrounding Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Each city and region offered its own unique highlight. Big draws of course are the amazing stelae of Axum, the delicate rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the powerful royal enclosure of Fasil Ghebbi in Gondar, the hungry gelada baboons of the Simien Mountains and the richly adorned small churches on the islands of Lake Tana. The Omo Valley was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with indigenous tribes, whose traditional lifestyle and way of dressing is rapidly disappearing.
What was your most memorable moment of your trip to Ethiopia?
Exploring the churches of Lalibela was a very powerful experience. The devotion and faith that brought about these magnificent creations are truly mind boggling. The intricacy of each structure was purely inspiring. Another memorable moment was standing mere feet apart from dozens of Gelada baboons as they forage through the vegetation. The natural beauty and stunning vistas of the Simien Mountains is unrivaled!
What did you learn from your study leader, Dr. Luisa Sernicola?
Dr. Sernicola was extremely thorough in all of her explanations, particularly the transition between the various periods. She was always very apt at pointing out the Pre-Axumite features of the Axumite sites where present which really added an additional layer to each site visit.
Did you have the opportunity to interact with local people in Ethiopia, and if so, what were your impressions?
Yes, we met local people at every church and most especially in the Omo Valley. Ethiopians are innately friendly and eager to meet foreigners. They have big, radiant smiles, peaceful demeanors and a welcoming attitude… All of my interactions were very positive.
What are two interesting things about Ethiopia that people might not know?
#1 – The local bread, injera, is made from a grain called teff. On tourwe found out that there are different types of teff – white, red and mixed. Injera can be made from each variety. Also, depending on teff accessibility and availability in the region, some injera is made with rice, corn or barley flour.
#2 – Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee! The word coffee is thought to derive from kaffe, a province on the southwestern side of the country where the Arabica bean grows wild. The coffee in Ethiopia is incredible and they have their own ritualized way of making, pouring and consuming this delicious beverage.
What advice would you give to others who want to travel to Ethiopia?
There are so many reasons to visit Ethiopia! In addition to this wealth of sites, the cultural and territorial diversity keep travelers on their toes as there is always something new to take in. From a logistical standpoint, it is an easy country to visit as well. Ethiopian Airlines offers non-stop flights to Addis from Washington DC (plus they partner with United Airlines for connections). The opportunities for adventure and cultural exchange in Ethiopia are vast!