I was full of excitement, flying to Ethiopia in East Africa, one of the lesser traveled parts of the world. On the Ethiopian Airlines flight from Hong Kong to Addis Ababa, I tried to recall information about Ethiopia.
This was when I realised I knew very little. I knew it only as the birthplace of world-class runners and the excavation site of the oldest human-related skeleton. Of course, it’s also the source of some of the best coffee in the world.
In other words, I landed in Addis Ababa with bits of knowledge accumulated from having once played a game of trivial pursuit. However, in the course of three weeks, I practically completed a course on the history and culture of Ethiopia. I traveled the width and breadth of the country, met locals, and visited famous natural and manmade wonders.
Where to go in Addis Ababa
During the descent into Addis Ababa, I was stunned by the sheer size and vibrance of the city. The city itself is 2400 meters above sea level, making it the capital with the highest elevation in Africa. No wonder we were short of breath on our first day.
However, this museum is way more than a repository of human remains. It’s a dynamic institution that also showcases contemporary local art, tribal costumes and ancient potter. As such, it gave us a good overview of the depth of Ethiopian history and culture.
Mercato: Africa’s largest market place
The other major attraction is the Addis Mercato, Africa’s largest trading market. Its name is one of the few remaining links to Italy’s short occupation of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941. It’s located in the heart of Addis Ababa.
However, be forewarned. A GPS won’t help at the Mercato so it’s best to go with a local guide. The streets are overflowing with stalls offering all imaginable goods. You’ll find everything from fancy jewelry to plastic water jugs. In one district, we even found rows of houses piled high with bundles of plastic bags on the rooftops.
Travelers should get their shopping done here as long as they know how to haggle with a smile. Also, please make sure your shopping list includes coffee, white honey and berbere, an Ethiopian spice mix.
The traditional Ethiopian clothing for women is also a good souvenir to take back home from Ethiopia. It’s usually made of organic white cotton and embroidered at the hems. You’ll see these dresses worn everywhere, including for religious ceremonies and daily life.