I spent the first half of today in Addis Ababa, which is the pleasant capital of Ethiopia and a major travel hub for Eastern Africa. This was my fifth trip to the dark continent and third in the last 16 months. I spent my time touring around the city with my Ethiopian tour guide in his ramshackle black and yellow taxi that is very commonplace to see in Africa. I think the cab topped out at 25mph…maybe. The good news was it only stalled twice and the friendly Ethiopian guys in the street were always happy to lend a hand in pushing the car to help get it started again.
Addis Ababa, like Ethiopia in general has been war town for most of the last century and has seen many different governments sit in its palace. Italy’s Mussolini invaded in the 1930’s and claimed it as Italian land and ordered mass executions of many of its residents and even tens of thousands more in the countryside. Next it was the British who forced the Italians out eventually and then stepped aside so the Ethiopians could self rule. That never really worked out so well.
They have fought many different wars with neighboring countries, mainly Eritrea which became independent in the early 1990’s and of course Somalia and it has seen many different Emperors rule including a stint of Socialism. They are still fighting to this day with both of those countries-it’s a real mess.
Yet Addis Ababa has persevered so to speak and ranks as one of Africa’s most important cities. It is home to one of the continents largest airlines, Ethiopian Airlines which I flew and it was really great-no complaints. Just in the last week or so, Addis served as home to summit discussions about the future of neighboring Kenya’s ridiculously botched, tainted and disputed election that was overseen by former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
Addis on the surface is much more attractive than a lot of African cities in that it has a lovely park and just a safe, friendly vibe to it. Sometimes African cities can be downright scary. But walking around with my guide, he introduced me to many people and everyone was great. The biggest problem I had with my quick stop in Ethiopia was that I wouldn’t have time to go up and see the sites of Axum and Lalibella. But because of Ethiopias status as the regional hub, I know I will be back here at some point and will definitely get a chance to get up to them.
Flying out this afternoon in a small plane, I was treated to great views of Ethiopia’s legendary landscapes from above. Ethiopia has some of highest peaks in Africa and also some of the best trekking. From the air, I was able to see the canyons and great desert landscapes that you can’t see from the ground so it made me feel a lot better about missing some of the more historical parts up north.