Ethiopia, the Hidden Treasure of Africa

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Selected Nigerian aviation journalists Recently visited exotic tourist destinations in Ethiopia. Chinedu Eze who was part of the trip, writes that Ethiopia remains invaluable treasure to Africa and mankind.

It is true that COVID-19 devastated the global economy. It also eroded air transport, which it left writhing and sprawling hopelessly during the lockdown, but the grim and strict travel protocol that followed the lockdown opened a vista of opportunities for Africa. The pandemic made many holiday markers in Africa realise that Africa has great tourist destinations and without the grim and sometimes prejudiced travel protocol introduced by some countries, especially in the West and Middle East.

Some of such great destinations on the continent are in the region’s oldest country, Ethiopia.

There are some well-known off the cuff knowledge about Ethiopia, which includes the fact that the country has its unique calendar; it has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the African continent; over 80 languages are spoken in Ethiopia; over half of Africa’s mountains are in Ethiopia; the first African to win an Olympic gold medal was Ethiopian and that Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest country.

But these facts are a mere prologue to the great story about Ethiopia, which, has not been maximally explored as tourist destination of history, culture, unique geography and pleasure. Every region in Ethiopia has a irresistible history and natural gifts like smoking mountain, which is said to be the hottest regions on the planet, home to two lava lakes; historical sites such as the Chapel of Tablet, obelisk of Axum, the Afar Rift, the Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela. There are also the Siemen Mountains, the Holy City of Harar and the Blue Nile Falls.

The city of Gondar has the castle, described as the medieval home to Ethiopian Emperors and Princesses who led the country for nearly 1000 years. Addis Ababa, of course, has is the fourth largest city in Africa and is the diplomatic home to the African Union. This vibrant city sits atop the Entoto Mountains and has both an African and international feel. Addis Ababa has a long history and mystical aura like Jerusalem. It is a place where you can explore the beautiful orthodox churches and museums and recently it is metamorphosing into a modern city with state-of-the-art hospitality facilities. The National Museum in Addis Ababa hosts the 2.3 million-year-old fossilized hominid “Lucy”. At the Museum you will surely be welcomed by great tortoise that may have celebrated over 70 years.

Travelling through Addis Ababa reveals something discerning, its growing urbanity and ensconced in most streets are growing high rise structures, which awakens the reality of a country that its economy is rapidly improving. Life looks better and the ever friendly and welcoming Ethiopians smile at you at every turn. It is a country where visitors feel at home, no anxieties; no worries.

Ethiopia is just opening up its treasures to the world. It has so much but has exposed so little. It is one of the countries in Africa that should earn so much GDP from tourism.

Ethiopian Holidays

Realising the great potential tourism has, the country established Ethiopian Holiday to facilitate travel packages and provide seamless movement for travellers to different parts of the country from any part of the world. Buoyed by Africa’s most profitable and finest carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Holidays can connect you from the 131 East African carrier’s destinations to the region’s oldest nation.

Head of Ethiopian Holidays, Mrs. Mahlet Kebede, explained to THISDAY that Ethiopian Holidays is the tour operator wing of Ethiopian Airlines. It is a department, which handles inbound as well as outbound packages, as well as conference market. “We call it the new face of Addis, which include some of the sites that you have seen like Entoto. So there are new places, some are still under construction, which will be finalised within few months,” Kebede said.

She disclosed that there are different packages. There is a package for Ethiopian passengers from all over Africa. This can be arranged while on transit; you can spend a day or two to visit some tourist destinations and connect your flight again to your final destinations.

There is also another package where a traveller can visit the country throughout the year, as the rains are never heavy to obstruct movement and the country has no adverse weather that can hinder such visits

“So we have the culture in the north and in the south we have history and the wild life. So you can visit either as a full package destination passenger and also we have stopover packages. Stopover package is in response to the fact that Ethiopian Airlines has mostly transit passengers going through Addis Ababa Airport. So the plan is to have these transit passengers to come for a day, two, three and up to seven days. We have already made different package combinations, depending on the interest of the customer.

“Once the passenger has decided to travel on Ethiopian Airlines, the only thing we have to convince the passenger is to ask him to come for few days into Addis while going or coming. So the motto that we have is ‘One Trip, Two Destinations’, going to other destinations. So we would like to make it a pleasant one, and we would not be charging any additional fare for the passenger to come and stop here in Addis. This is our incentive to encourage travellers to visit and people will be comfortable seeing Addis and next time they will request for full package visit,” she said.

Kebede said that at the beginning, Covid-19 was a disincentive to travel, which adversely affected tourism, but now the world is learning to live with the pandemic.

Meskel Festival

During the Ethiopian trip, we were lucky to witness a very major religious festival, the Meskel Festival. It is a Christian holiday event in the Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox churches that commemorates the discovery of the True Cross by the Roman Empress Helena in the fourth century. Meskel occurs on the 17 Meskerem in the Ethiopian calendar.

It was breathtaking event to witness. Thousands of men and women turn out at the Meskel Square at the centre of Addis Ababa, sartorially resplendent in diverse pious apparel, with largely white robes, decorated with golden embroidery, yellow and green stripes, depicting the Ethiopian flag. What was overwhelming was the ability of the church leaders to control the thousands of people that thronged the event as active participants who rose in unison, guided by the rhythm of the musical, the messages and the gestures of the leading team. The choreography was sublime, very inspirational and evocative.

The tour guide who took the Nigerian journalists to the festival, Thomas Yilma, told THISDAY that the Meskel festival marks the founding of the true cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.

“The true cross was buried for over 300 years and it was piled up with different trash. Around the 4th century, Saint Helena who was very curious and courageous about connecting different religious artifacts collated many religious works and wanted to find out where the true cross was buried, so she had to communicate with different religious fathers and finally it is believed that she dreamt that she lit up fire and put an incense on it, the smoke went up to the sky and down to the ground, pointing where the cross was buried.

“She did exactly what she saw in her dream and she found the true cross. So, she distributed it to different Christian countries. Most of the people you see here are Orthodox Christians but sometimes friends who are not Orthodox come but majority of the people here today are Orthodox because this is a Christian festival. So, every year, the 26th and 27th of September is bonfire festival,” he narrated.

Kuriftu Resort

The tour took the journalists to Kuriftu Resort and Kuriftu Tented Camp at the Entoto Mountain with its unique heated beds. The resort offers high-end luxury in exceptionally cultural settings located at the edge of a lake, where guests can boat and immerse in the beauty of nature. The rooms are enveloped in flowery vegetation in a milieu that is inimitable, calm with chirping birds and intervening hooting of the owl, especially in the mornings. The resort is beyond imitation because it is nature itself and can only be captured in the imagination with a physical experience.

Operations Director, Kuriftu Resorts, Ethiopia, Yonaiel Belete gave a historical perspective of the resort.

“I have been here from the very beginning when we had 18 rooms, but you can see there is a lot of growth. In fact, we just inaugurated an additional 61 rooms and another 131 beds to this property so that we can accommodate more people because we are gearing up to become a powerhouse especially in inter-African tourism. Obviously, we have not always been a very stronger contender, but we have always showed a very strong promise.

“Now, we are trying to raise the bar, invest our ideas and finances to areas within our country so that we can develop because there are a lot of incentives to grow within this country.

“Destination is regarded as natural here, but you have to bring infrastructure and investments. Presently, we have about 12 business units and a few of them, we have to bring in expertise from abroad, but most of them, we do it ourselves. When you look at this location, it is more of organic and not mechanical. This location is actually one of the seven created lakes. The lake is not actually meant for swimming, it is meant for car hiking and when you go hiking; you can see a lot of birds. It’s more like a natural scene and it’s quieter here. We also have our spa facilities for massaging. People can come here to relax, especially couples that can use the spa facilities.

“In addition to that we have the water park, which is a big attraction to families especially for those who never had exposure for such water park. We are also planning to expand the park so that we can stay more competitive and add more to the needs of the customers. So, we have clients from the African Unions (AU), United Nations (UN) and a lot of the non-governmental organisations and others,” Belete explained.

The beautiful sceneries are irresistible. At the Entoto Mountain tented camp, a monkey sitting comfortably on a tree in front of the restaurant watched human beings pass and came down, maybe be for greetings. But when it glared at many human eyes, it became frightened and quickly skimmed up the tree to watch curiously, as we longed for a handshake from the animal, which otherwise was comfortable in its habitat.