Addis Ababa: December 15, 2014 – Ethiopia is a country rich in tradition, with a staggering diversity of landscape and a kaleidescope of culture and history, tracing back to the very beginnings of our species. This all makes for one heck of a surprising travel destination.
Let us dispel some more rumours for you…
1. 13 months in a year: There are a multitude of cultures that prefer their own calendar to the universally accepted Gregorian one, but most run their countries based on the 12 months in a year rule. Ethiopia said heck no, in typical trend-bucking fashion, and continued to count 13 months every year for several thousand years. Which technically means it’s still 2007 there, and tourism boards can actually boast 13 months of sunshine a year. Leave the gloom of a European winter behind, head to the warm sunshine of Ethiopia!
2. Ethiopia time: Once upon a time, I would refer to a thing called “Africa time” where buses, trains and other forms of public transport would run to a non-existant schedule determined by the driver and no one else. Ethiopia takes this to a whole new level though, they actually measure the hours of a day to a different schedule. With logic that’s hard to argue with, they think it’s less confusing to start the clocks when the day starts. So, sunrise is 1 o’clock and sunset is 12 o’clock. When buying bus tickets etc, make sure you check if the departure is in Ethiopia time or Western time.
3. Unconquered and proud: Locals will never tire of proudly informing you that they are the ONLY African nation to never be brought under colonial control. The Italians had a go at it back in 1935, during the great African land grab by Europe, and while they succeeded in holding military control for six years, the Ethiopian forces waged military opposition and the entire country was never fully controlled by Italy
4. The possible birth place of Christianity: Archeological artefacts evidencing Christianity as an official state of religion dating back to 324AD have been found all over the country, and claims have been made that this confirms Ethiopia has the first official Christian state. Armenia has held the title for a long time, so we’ll leave this argument to the experts!
5. Birthplace of the Rastafarian movement: Did you think it was Jamaica? You’re only half right. Much of the Rasta movement did evole in Jamaica, but the spiritual home is in actual fact, right here in Ethiopia. In fact, ‘ras’ is the similar title to cheif, and ‘tafari’ is the first name of Emporer Haile Selassie I – which essentially means that the movement posits Selassie as an incarnation of God.
6. The beginning of coffee: While you’re sitting there sipping your morning latte, do you ever wonder where that cup of delicious caffeine comes from? Ethiopian goats. That’s right, GOATS. The story goes that a goat herder was watching his herd, and they seemed to be attracted to a certain bush. So he decided to try the fruits himself, and his day was noticably more efficient for it! Starbucks and the rest of the coffee industry took it from there. We’d like to make a special point, Ethiopian, Kenyan and other coffee farmers around the world are paid a pittance by most of the big coffee companies for their beans. Make sure you give them a fair go, and buy fair trade wherever possible. Oxfam run a wonderful Fair Trade program, and you can keep an eye out for their logo to make sure.
7. The birthplace of humankind: We recently wrote an article about caving in South Africa, and a place called the Cradle of Humankind, however several archaeological findings in Ethiopia’s Afar region go quite some way in suggesting that the country may be where we all started out from. In 1972, Donald Johanson and Tim D. White discovered Lucy, a 3.2 million year old hominid skeleton. For years, Lucy was all the rage, embarking on a nine-year worldwide tour and enjoying widespread fame. Then Ardi, also from the Afar region but one million years her senior, rocked up and blew her out of the water. So you arguably also have the Ethiopians to thank for, well… you.
8. Abebe Bikila: Abebe is the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal, but he only made the team last minute do to another athlete’s broken foot. He opted to run his marathon barefoot, and beat the hot favourite from Morocco by a full 25 seconds. Four years later, he won gold again at the Tokyo Olympics, making him the first ever person (of any colour or either gender) to win the Olympic marathon twice in a row. Since then, Ethiopians have made for some pretty stiff competition in most running events worldwide.
9. Addis Ababa – the New Flower: If Cape Town is the jewel of South Africa, then Addis is the shining beacon of what African capitals should be. Sure, it fits all the dusty, overcrowded cliches of any capital city – but it also hosts the home of the African Union and the HQ for the UN Economic Commission. It’s also the world’s 4th highest capital city, sitting pretty at 2450m above sea level. Addis Ababa translates from Amharic as New Flower, and couldn’t be more fitting.
10. Vegetarian heaven: Africa is renowned for being a terrible destination for vegetarians. In a continent where the diet is basically meat, with a side of meat, Ethiopia has risen to the challenge and given us a tasty, healthy diet that is one of the most diverse on the continent. There’s a perfectly reasonable reason – most Ethiopians follow a particular strand of Orthodox Christianity that prohibits the eating of any animal product on Wednesdays and Fridays, so for two days a week, the entire country is actually vegan. For us hippy backpacker types, that means that restaurants always have spciy vegan stews and soups on the menu, and they actually understand the concept of being vegetarian or vegan. Unlike neighboring Kenya, where it’s considered a sign of wealth and prosperity to be able to eat meat and they just can’t fathom why a rich tourist would forgo the pleasure.