Conde Nast Traveler describes Ethiopia as “a trip of a lifetime”. Lonely Planet advertises Ethiopia as a “Best in travel 2017” destination. Jezzy Wally says Ethiopia was the most frustrating and dangerous three-and-a-half weeks of his life. While it’s true that Ethiopia has many unique sites for tourists to see the country remains unstable. I almost went to prison, I could not leave the country, I was held hostage by 50,000 Birr, I had $1,400 worth of items taken from me, and I was left on top of a mountain at 11,000 feet.
While doing research on places to visit in Africa I came across pictures of the Danikal Depression and the Dallol Sulphur Springs in Ethiopia. After seeing the color’s of the sulphur springs, the other worldly scenery, and learning that I could camp overnight next to a live volcano I knew I had to go. I spoke with a friend who grew up in Ethiopia and she warned me not to go. A buddy I talked with said when his friends visited one got dysentery and the other one got bit by a bug which required immediate medical attention. He also pointed out the government had just killed about 500 protesters and put others in jail.
The Government of Ethiopia declared a State of Emergency effective October 8, 2016. A decree stated that individuals may be arrested without a court order for activities they may otherwise consider routine. The United States Bureau of Consolar Affairs (USBCA) had a travel warning and advised against any non-essential travel to Ethiopia due to ongoing unrest that led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests, especially in the Amhara and Oromia States. The USBCA suggested that U.S. citizens in Ethiopia should continuously assess their surroundings, monitor their personal level of safety and security situation, and have contingency plans in place in case you need to depart suddenly. Internet, cellular data, and phone services have been periodically restricted or shut down throughout the country as well.
I decided that I wasn’t going to go to Ethiopia after the warnings and learning about the current political climate. I arrived to Zanzibar Island off the coast of Tanzania a few weeks after the State of Emergency was declared with nothing set in stone as to where I would travel next. A couple weeks later island fever set in and I had to make a move. I couldn’t stop thinking about the sulphur springs and volcano so I ended up booking a flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
I had a layover in Nairobi, Kenya, and a stop over in Djibouti to pick people up and to re-fuel while on the way to Addis Ababa. While on the ground in Djibouti I saw Doctors without Borders airplanes as well as Red Cross airplanes. This was my first time being on mainland Africa and the tone was being set. I met several Ethiopians on the airplane who were very friendly and who all had suggestions of things to do.
After landing I walked down the concourse and saw a giant banner with pictures showing some of the highlights of the country. I couldn’t help but stop and stare at it feeling proud of myself for making it there. Months prior I saw pictures of colorful sulphur springs and now I was there.
I paid $50 for a Visa on arrival, grabbed my bags and walked outside to find a representative from the tour operator I had contacted. The driver took me to the companies “Penthouse Suite” to stay for three nights prior to my 21 day tour starting.
When I arrived there were three Polish guys in the apartment who were going home the next day. One of them was visibly ill and not moving well, one contracted typhoid fever (He didn’t get vaccinated but I had), and the third one was fine. They all had good things to say about the country other than getting sick. The Polish guy who hadn’t gotten sick sold me his North Face jacket because he said when camping in the Simien Mountains the temperature drops to 32 degrees fahrenheit/zero celsius. He also gave me his winter hat and some warm socks. These guys were pretty cool, which will always make me think highly of people from Poland.
An hour later one of the tour operator managers came to get me to go to dinner. This is when I found out my bedroom door didn’t lock from the outside. We had a few beers, some grilled chicken and a nice conversation. After dinner I went back to the apartment which is when I realized the lights in the bathroom and hallway didn’t work, there was no towel to use, there wasn’t any toilet paper, the security guard for the building was not 24/7, and the front door to the apartment didn’t lock. I rolled with the punches and kept my mouth shut. Little did I know this would be one of the last days I would tolerate bullshit.