Ethiopia: Round 2

23 Jul

We’d had a fantastic night in Ethiopia, and the next morning, we had a teensy headache but filled with excitement we were ready to make more mind-blowing puns. We headed to the airport for our trip to Mekele and had some pizza which wasn’t cooked all the way through… and that, my friends, might’ve been my demise. (More on this later,)

We took a casual flight on Ethiopian airways – they didn’t ask to see our IDs once.  Not.a.once. Have you ever been to an airport and then onto a plane where they didn’t check your ID??






We’re here-thiopia


We landed in Mekele and went out to eat. Every time you travel to a different place, some kind of fruit or vegetable is in season, fresh, and cheap. In this case it was prickly pears and we had our first one of the season. SO delicious. (Perhaps this was the start of my demise?)  They keep track of how to charge you (4 for 10 bier) by counting the skins. If we were using USD, they cost pennies to eat.

We had some orange fanta straight from the glass bottle because the actual drinking glasses are served wet here. (Unrelated, all sodas in Africa are served in glass bottles). It’s considered good form to show tourists that the cups have been recently washed. Ironically, that just means there’s still water on it, which is extra dangerous for us. But it’s the thought that counts, right?  (It might have been the glass bottle that led to my sickness…)


While we wandered, we signed up to go to the Danakil Depression, also known as THE HOTTEST PLACE ON EARTH (cue dramatic flames and hardcore metal music). *It’s also supposed to be one of the most beautiful and interesting.


When we checked into our hotel, I started to feel sick. Really sick. Awful sick. 


As J. Maarten Troost reminds us: “Good luck seeks no antecedent, but bad luck demands an inquest.” And so detective Sam was on the case. Who was the culprit? Was it the uncooked pizza dough? The glasses we’d drank from? The mysterious muck on the side of the fanta bottle? The communal spice (which had been sitting out for god knows how long) I’d poured on my rice? The knife used to cut the side-of-the-road prickly pears??

But sometimes, my friends, you don’t get closure. Sometimes, you just have to spend the entire night throwing up and moaning loudly over a toilet bowl. I was VERY uncomfortable, to say the least.  MISERABLE, the kind of sick where you bargain with god.

Overall, I’d made 6 trips to the toilet that night for some unadulterated, good old fashioned retching. It wasn’t great.  Patrick was forced to stay awake too. There was no way he could sleep with me in audible misery.  

The next day, you can imagine, I was still sick.  Patrick was fine though! Yay! We spent the entire day in the hotel (I really had no choice) and discussed what we were going to do with me.  The next day it was our big trip– the Danakil Depression– which we’d come all this way to see. But I couldn’t go. The HOTTEST PLACE ON EARTH?! (cue dramatic flames and hardcore metal music).  I couldn’t do it. My body was still suffering through sweats, I could not imagine trying to survive in rugged Africa. I told Patrick to go on without me because I was out of the “might-actually-die” phase.  We could both see that I was on the mend and it was totally fine to leave me on my own.


Supplementary / concurrent pictures.

Patrick went to see this:



Stock image. But this is what Patrick saw.


While I enjoyed my view (a la Handmaid’s Tale):



What a nice chair.


While Patrick was gone, I didn’t leave the hotel for 3 full days. What I had started out loving, soon became a prison.  On the 4th day, though, I ventured out for some french fries. And learned the only cool fact I’d heard in three days: Ethiopia uses different time. They’re on a 12-hour clock, so school starts at 2, even though it’s 8am our time. So how many days in Ethiopia time was I really sick? Good math problem.

Patrick returned 3 days later, and I was feeling much better but also stir crazy. I hadn’t had human interaction for quite some time — even though I’d tried. But I didn’t speak Ahmeric and no one spoke English. But it was no matter– Patrick was BACK from the Depression to ease my depression. We went for a walk and discovered fresh avocado juice.
Our guidebook (and I’d had time to read it cover to cover) told us what to order and as soon as we took a sip, the angelic chorus descended from the sky. It was just what the doctor ordered after being so sick and in THE HOTTEST PLACE ON EARTH (cue dramatic flames and hardcore metal music), respectivly.


Avocado juice. Conclusively the best juice.


Patrick told me that during his trip, he’d met two Polish travelers and they’d invited us to travel with them the next day.  (Reminiscent of Kazakhstan and the Germans.)  Always up for an adventure, we agreed and decided to meet Tommy and Kuba at 6am for a jeep excursion out of town and beyond.



Toot toot, jeep jeep


We headed out bright and early to get our church fix (on the rocks).

It was AMAZING. We literally had to rock climb (as in scale literal rocks with harnesses and belays) to get to these churches.  Later when I had wifi and told Collin about the trip, he said:


Collin: Do people climb to church?

Me: Literally yes

Col: Wow. My church was 3 minutes from my house and I barely went.


In the beginning of our climb, our guide singled me out as not being a good climber.  He said, “Are you sure we’re not going to be too slow” …..whilst giving me the side eye. Ouch. 

When we made it to the top, Kuba took an epic drone selfie (my first!). It rocks.




[Entering a magic zone]


8c044d61-dcf5-4b82-9a5f-b480596b1508 2.jpg

Dedicated churchgoers


We spent all day hiking (7 hours), and visited 3 churches overall (some of which were 1600 years old).  We met priests and we’re given tours of old books and churches. It was an amazing mix of history, culture, and nature. We all agreed it was one of the top 10 best travel experiences that we have ever had.



“5 Stars!” – News Weekly
“Gotta be the best church I’ve ever been in” – Patrick
“If I were to make a church of my own, this would be it.” -God


In the end, I’d not only seen these beautiful churches, but I also received validation from the guide who had questioned my rock climbing ability. He’d told me I was a good trekker, and that made me feel redeemed. Seemed fitting to feel that right after church.



“Sammi’s an AWESOME trekker. Best I’ve ever seen.” – Guide on the tour


The experience with these rock churches was so pure.  It was both religious and spiritual.  There was less of an emphasis on reading and writing, in the art, the images were not depicted as white.  And it made me feel closer to the source.



No words to describe it..



Brb- hiking to church



Bunch of rock stars



Taking 3 points of contact to the next level: 4 points of contact.


The views from the tops of these churches were truly incredible and added to the majesty of the experience. 



At one church, we even met a 95-year-old priest who helped us to open wild prickly pears while we walked.  Food from the heavens. 

What wasn’t quite so majestic was the priests asking for money. It was hard to blame them, really, but our guide had already paid and they just wanted more. It was sort of off-putting but understandable, and we tried not to let that shade the experience.



Prickly pears, rugged views


During the hike, we also learned that people in Ethiopia drink holy water after fasting (every Wednesday and Friday) and before eating. How do you make water holy: Is it blessed in church, or do you just boil the hell out of it?


Seven hours later from when we began, we got back in the jeep and saw some wildlife! It was a group of Gilda baboons, and quite the meta experience because Patrick had just been watching a video of them in the car. 



We also saw some camel road kill, which was less exciting but still interesting and then saw another camel being used as a plow for the fields (versus the more traditional cow).  The scenes outside Ethiopia were so neat!

We stopped at a few roadside stands to get coffee-flavored things, since this country is OBSESSED with coffee. We bought various coffee cookies that we wanted to be good (they weren’t).  And noticed how lots of entrepreneurial people opened up coffee stands (sits).

As we drove to the town called Axum, where we’d be spending the night, I noted how, surprisingly, wasn’t tired. One minute later, Patrick asked if I was tired, and I clarified, “You mean since I said one minute ago I wasn’t?”  Sometimes you take too long to respond and sometimes you respond too quickly. Classic.

When we finally got to Axum, we were pretty impressed. It’s the oldest civilization in Africa and lined with huge grave tombstones. (“is this how we get modern gravestone shapes?”) There are also rumors that this is where the Ark of the Covenant is hidden — but Patrick has his doubts. They won’t let anyone see it!

We walked around a bit and saw some people selling street food– including hard boiled potatoes. Hard boiled potatoes had never been more tempting to me.  I couldn’t eat them still because my stomach was not at a full 100%, and I was trying to be gentle. I whispered to Patrick,” I’m desperate for that.” But it was off limits to us… for now.

God bless (but in a good way),

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