Independent Budget Travel through Ethiopia – Part 2

A skeletonof an animal next to the road
A skeleton of an animal next to the road

So there is one question that I want to ask you: Have you ever appreciated, I mean really appreciated, running water? Did you ever appreciate turning the tap on and actual water coming out of this tab? Well I can tell you I don`t think I ever did. Until I came to Ethiopia. Running water is just one of many things that I now fully appreciate.


View from the hill coming into Kosober
View from the hill coming into Kosober

So we had finally made it to Kosober. And this was where we slowly realised how hard it is to travel Ethiopia. The town – while I am not sure you can call it a town, probably the phrase “bigger village” is a better fit – is situated around a junction. After we had found our hotel we left our bags in the room and had a walk around. Which in that case meant we walked down each of the four roads until the end of town and then back to the junction. This procedure took us 30 minutes – then we were standing in the middle of the junction looking around thinking: “What the hell are we going to do now?” Well, the choice was minimal: As we already had a look around we could either go back to our room or sit down and have a beer somewhere. As our room wasn´t really that welcoming we went for the beer option. So we sat down, looked at people walking the street while staring at us and had a beer. The only problem with drinking beer is: You have to go to the toilet quite often. And going to the toilet is quite a deal in Ethiopia. Over the days it became a real issue to me and I tried to go as less as possible. Why? Because when I use the word “toilet” I use it very loosely. Toilets here aren´t what you would be used to. First of all, don´t even think about toilet paper. There is never any. Also, 99 % of the toilets in Ethiopia don´t flush. Instead you have a bucket of water next to the toilet with which you flush it. But a lot of times there isn´t even this bucket of water. So you can´t flush the toilet. And of course the people who went before you couldn´t flush either…

Our "bathroom" in Kosober
Our “bathroom” in Kosober

If you are already disgusted by this – this is not the worst standard. The worst is when there is basically just a hole in the ground. And it´s quite dark in the room. And people miss the hole. And you have Flip-Flops on. Yeah, you get the picture. I class myself as a person who can take quite a lot. I can just pull myself together and get it over with. But let me tell you, these “toilets” took me to my limits. If you just have a hole in the ground one out of ten toilets, I could deal with it. But every toilet I went to in Ethiopia is pretty disgusting. And so going to the toilet becomes a big deal, a thing you just don`t want to do anymore. If you at least would have a “nice” toilet in your hotel. But because Mike and me travel on a pretty low budget the hotels we stay at are budget hotels. (Though the locals think of them as quite a good standard. So you can imagine low standard hotels…) Except one toilet all of them didn´t flush. Getting running water in general was quite a deal. A few places we stayed at didn´t even have a shower. Instead you get a big bucket of water and a small bucket that you fill with this water and then put it over your head. Which is fine in general but believe me – after a long day on the bus, constantly being under attention, when you come to your hotel room all you want is a nice shower. A bucket shower and a stinking, not flushing toilet doesn´t make your time in this country easier. But at least the first day in Kosober, we did actually have a bucket of water. That changed the next day.

After having a few beers the night before (that ended with going to bed at 10 pm as there was nothing left to do) I got woken up at 4.30 the next morning by some loud singing. Being half asleep I thought “What the hell is going on? Who is singing here?” when I realised that the singing came from the mosque right next to our hotel. It was loud. And it didn´t stop for another hour. Finally asleep again we then woke up by some loud banging at our door at 7 am. The owner of the hotel stood in front of our room wanting to come in. We opened the door and he charged in our room, went to the bathroom and we heard the noise of water getting flushed down the toilet. I had been really careful the day before to not use too much water for my shower so that we would have enough water the next day. But that water was just being flushed away. For no apparent reason. At least not to me. Our hotel owner then took the empty canister, said “I get you new water” and left the room. As we were fully awake at that point we thought we might as well get up, have a quick bucket shower and then go for a walk to a lake six kilometres south of Kosober. So we waited for the owner to return with our new water bucket. And waited. And waited. After some time I went downstairs to have a look for him. I found him and asked for more water. As he couldn´t speak English very well it took me a while to understand his answer. He said: “No water. For no one.” Apparently there was no water in town at that point so we couldn´t get anymore. Why he then just flushed our remaining water away – we will never know. But as I just told you: There was no running water. So if there isn`t even a bucket of water you can neither have a shower nor can you flush the toilet. Which, let´s be honest here, is the much bigger problem. The toilet where you both have to go to and which is part of the room you are sleeping in. And there is no other toilet in town where you could go to. We decided to not think about it and have breakfast first. But after omelette and coffee we had to face the situation. This now would bring us closer than we ever wanted to be. I don´t think you want to be that close to anyone. The only question remaining was? Who would take the bullet and go second? I know this is probably not what you want to know of my trip to Ethiopia but if you want to understand what it means to travel this country on a budget – well, that´s the way it is. So we braced ourselves, went back into the hotel – and saw a water canister at reception. We couldn´t believe it, it seemed like there was water again. We weren´t mistaken. As the owner saw us he brought a big bucket of water with him. Water for us – I don´t think I could have been any happier about a bucket full of water.

Lake Zengena
Lake Zengena

After all that action we then finally put our walking shoes on and made our way to Lake Zengena which lies six kilometres south of Kosober. We walked along the main road, seeing cows, sheep, fields and little villages and were looked at by all the other people walking wherever they had to go to. Finally we came to the lake which is hidden from the main road, surrounded by green hills – a really pretty place. Unfortunately we couldn´t swim in the cool water as the lake is a holy place for the local people of the village. We stayed for a little while, had a delicious Ethiopian coffee (they are so strong, but so nice) and then walked back towards Kosober. It didn´t take us long to get there so we were already back in town around midday. There we were faced with one question: “What now?” There was absolutely nothing to do. The idea of staying in little villages to see the “real” Ethiopia was a good idea itself – but we didn´t realise before that there is nothing to see and nothing to do in these villages. So we went back to the café we were the night before, drank tea, read, talked and tried to fill our time. But with nothing to do and no one else to talk to the day went slow. We went to our room, went back out to had some food, had a beer – and then suddenly the power went. It was black. And there was still nothing to do. We went back to our room and watched something on my laptop. But it wasn´t a very comfortable watch as the bed was one of the most uncomfortable beds I have ever slept in, the smell from the bathroom was just horrible (because even if you have water to flush the toilet it is still not the same as having a running water toilet) and you couldn´t see a thing as the power was still gone. And it was just 8 pm. How I wished I was out of this town. I just wanted to go to a city, meet some other travellers and be able to talk to someone else then Mike. I thought, I can handle all the difficult things for a few days but now I want to get to a city. At that point I didn´t know that it wouldn`t get much better in the city. In fact it would get worse…

After we went to bed at 10 pm and were obviously woken up again by the singing coming from the mosque at 4.30 am we finally woke up at 7 am the next morning, packed our backpacks and went to the bus stop. I just couldn`t wait to get out of this town. We found our bus, sat down and then we left. I felt like I had been in this town for weeks. Four hours later we arrived in Bahir Dar.

Village near Bahir Dar
Village near Bahir Dar

Bahir Dar

Bahir Dar is one of the bigger cities in Ethiopia. In fact it´s classed as the number one tourist city in the country. So our expectations were high, all we wanted was to talk to some other travellers. Exchange experiences, see what other people where up to, basically just to talk to someone else except the two of us. Well, those expectations weren´t met in the slightest. In fact, the three days we spent in Bahir Dar were probably the worst days of our Ethiopia trip. There was NO ONE. No other tourists. Nada. Niente. Just us in a hotel where everyone looked at us 24 hours of the day. So we decided to do some sightseeing. Bahir Dar lies at the Lake Tana, the biggest lake of Ethiopia. There are lots of different islands with monasteries on the lake which are supposed to be really nice. You can also visit the Blue Nile Fall, a – when you look at pictures – very impressive waterfall. So on the second day in Bahir Dar we wanted to do at least one of the two things. The problem is that if you go with an organised tour it´s quite expensive. That´s why we wanted to do it independently. Which was a great thought – but basically impossible to actually do. Unfortunately we just realised that when it was already around noon time. As we went to the harbour to ask about the public ferry going to a few of the monasteries we were told that the only ferry goes at 7am in the morning. So we had to do that the next day. The problem: The next day was the Ethiopian Easter, which is quite a big deal in Ethiopia. So I asked the guy from the tourist office around four times if the ferry was running the next day even though it was Easter, which he reassured me every time. So we decided to see the monasteries the next day. But what do today? We had read in our guide book that it was possible to walk to one of the monasteries. (By the way: The BRADT guide for Ethiopia was probably the most positive thing about this country. I even got Mike who normally hates any kind of guidebooks to admit how useful this book was!)So we walked out of town, through some little villages until we finally came to the river that we had to cross to get to the church. But as we walked over the stones Mike slipped, his Flip Flop broke and he cut his toe so badly that it just didn´t stop bleeding. There was no way he could have walked barefoot all the way we just came here and as he obviously didn´t fancy getting his toe infected in a country where a hospital doesn´t really look like a hospital we decided to just take the boat back to town. That was our second day in Bahir Dar. Still no people, still nothing to do that we could afford, still being stared at. Slowly but surely we realised more and more how all this was just no fun. I think it was around evening time when we just had dinner (obviously injera, what else) and were looking ahead at a night of boredom and a little room with a horrible toilet, when Mike said: “Why don´t we just leave and fly to Bali?” Even though it was more like a joke then a serious suggestion, it stuck in our heads. But I still wanted to give this country another chance.

Lake Tana in Bahir Dar
Lake Tana in Bahir Dar

So the next day came and we got up at 6 am to be at the harbour for 6.30 am – the time we were told to be there for the ferry. As we arrived we walked along the whole harbour – but no ferry in sight. We asked some guys who asked some other guys and guess what? Because it was Easter Sunday, there was no public ferry running today! Why did this not surprise me? So we were standing at the harbour at 7 am not being able AGAIN to see these freaking monasteries. As I didn´t want to give up actually seeing something we decided to go to the bus station to get a bus to the Blue Nile Falls. So we went there, found the bus that was apparently going there and sat down. Only to realise that there was no one else in the bus so far. And buses in Ethiopia just leave when they are full. We waited around 15 minutes, got off the bus, were told it´s leaving soon, got on the bus again, some people were getting on, some people were getting off, waited another 15 minutes, got off again, got told it leaves super soon – you get the picture. In the end we waited for one hour only to be told the bus wouldn´t go any time soon. Fully frustrated we walked back to the hotel. Then we called one of the tourist guys we knew who offered tours to the monasteries and booked on a tour leaving in one hour. We paid what he asked – I just wanted to see SOMETHING. So we got on the boat and saw three different monasteries around the lake. Well actually, Mike and me just saw one, as you had to pay 100 Birr (6 US$) for every monastery you wanted to see. Was it worth it? Not one single cent. I don´t mean to sound bigheaded but I reckon coming from Europe with all our old churches and having seen temples in Thailand – it just wasn´t impressive. They were little huts with paint on – and the paint looked pretty new… But at least we had seen something. (As we found out from the first white people we met on that boattrip who were – how could it be any different – on an organised trip, the Blue Nile Falls were one of the worst things they had ever seen. Apparently they weren´t even close to looking like a waterfall. At least we didn´t miss out not making it there.) As our boat was heading back to the city and in front of us lay another night with no one else to talk to and nothing to do the idea of just flying to Bali didn´t seem that ridiculous anymore. Mike had already decided that that was what he would like to do. For me it wasn´t just as easy. I guess you could say the German came out in me 😉 (Even though I claim that this doesn´t happen that often.) I just felt like giving up. Because I had said I would go to Africa my German mind told me I have to stick with it. Ride it out, see if it gets better. But what was there to get better? We already were in the most touristic city – and there was no one else around. If we would keep on traveling we would get into more remote areas. And the things that were supposed to be great to see in Bahir Dar weren´t that great at all. So how would all the other sightseeing things be? Everything about this country was just so hard. I felt like I had been here for months, I felt exhausted and constantly dirty. Traveling should be fun. I worked pretty hard to earn the money to go traveling – so the time when I´m spending this money should be fun. I happily would have spent more days in Ethiopia if I would have been paid for it or even if it was free – but I was spending my hard earned money on something that didn´t make me happy. So where was the point?

Inside one of the monasteries
Inside one of the monasteries

I´m sure Ethiopia is a great country to see. And if you come with more money and you can afford better hotels and do organised tours to places I bet it´s a fully different experiences. It would be so much easier to just sit down in a shuttle bus, be driven somewhere, look at something and come back to your nice hotel. But that isn´t the way I like to travel. I want to experience the real life of the country I´m going to: Travel on local buses, eat food where the locals eat it, have a beer where the locals have one– and as I learned with Ethiopia it sometimes doesn´t work. Sometimes to travel this way is no fun at all. And then you have to have the courage to admit defeat. And that´s what we did. We admitted defeat.

So what do now? Go to another country in Africa, rent a jeep, drive through the country and do the Safari I wanted to do for so long? I would have liked to do that. But as the previous months through South – and Central America took most of our money we simply couldn´t have both: Do these things & still have enough money to travel for a few months. Also we realised that traveling for eight months beforehand when going to an even more difficult continent to travel in afterwards was probably not the smartest idea. So we did it. We booked a flight to Bangkok and from there an onwards flight to Bali.

We left the next morning to go on a ten hours bus ride back to Addis Ababa. And we realised more and more we made the right choice. Things were just not getting any easier. The next morning we tried to change our Ethiopian Birr into US Dollars. In the beginning of our journey both of us had taken quite a bit of money out of the ATM because we didn´t know how easy it would be to get money in smaller towns. Now each of us had 3000 Birr (150 US$) left. But we just couldn´t get it changed. No bank in the city would trade the Birr for US$ – just the other way around. So we decided to try it at the airport – I mean where else if not at the airport should you be able to change money, right? We went to the airport, wanted to check in – and nearly got a heart attack. The woman at the counter just didn´t want to check us in. She claimed she needed a 10-digit-number for our onwards flight from Bali – but we didn´t have such a number. After what seemed like endless minutes her boss came, talked to her and she finally checked us in. I just wanted to leave this country. I don´t think it will surprise anyone of you if I tell you now that we weren´t able to change our money. They just didn´t want to take it – at the main airport in the capital city of the country. Needless to say that neither the airports in Nairobi, Bangkok, Singapore or Bali wanted to change it. So: If anyone of you knows anyone who is going to Ethiopia at any point in the future – I have 3000 Birr I am more than happy to get rid of 😉

So this was why we left Ethiopia after ten days. I´m not giving up on my Africa dream though. One day I come back, rent a jeep, drive around some countries, do a safari and some volunteering work. But I realised that some countries you just need to have a plan for. (And that´s coming from me who never goes anywhere with a plan…) And more money too, so that you can actually afford to do all these things. For now I am going to spend the rest of my cash in the cheap land of Indonesia. It took us 40 hours, five airports and four planes to get here – but that is another story…

And for anyone who still thinks I gave up, should have ridden it out and surely, I must be exaggerating: Come and see it by yourself. Do it the way we did it. And then, when you go to the toilet in a local bar and while you are hovering over the hole in the ground, in a darkish room with dirt and whatever else on the floor, getting rid of your drink and you suddenly see a big, fat, black rat coming out of this hole you are peeing in, running between your legs and out beneath the door– well let´s have a chat then.

…A few more impressions from Ethiopia…

The Blue Nile












One of the "better" toilets in Ethiopia...
One of the “better” toilets in Ethiopia…



At Lake Tana




Lake Tana






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