After tearing ourselves away from the pool(s) and switching back into traveler mode, our first order of business was to arrange a trip to the most well-known of Egyptian attractions, the Pyramids of Giza. While it is possible to reach Giza via metro/bus or private taxi, we opted to hire a driver for the day so that we could tackle three sites: the Giza Necropolis, Saqqara, and Memphis.1
By the time we arrived in Cairo, we had been on the road for six months. It was time for a vacation from our trip – and so we cashed in some of Marc’s rewards points for a bit of luxury and booked five nights at the J.W. Marriott in suburban Cairo.
We were delighted to discover, upon check-in, that we had been upgraded to a suite. After our creative sleeping arrangements in the Danakil Depression (volcano-side, on the floor, and in string beds), it felt almost absurd to have two spacious, well-appointed rooms just for us – plus a balcony overlooking the golf course!
After enjoying our night of comparable luxury in Mekele, we ate leftover birthday cake for breakfast and then took a short flight to Addis Ababa. Our afternoon arrival, however, was more than ten hours before Marc’s and my 2:00 a.m. flight out of Ethiopia, so we spent one last (predictably rainy) afternoon in Addis with our friends.1
Leaving Ethiopia, we flew on Qatar Airways, which is one of those airlines about which you always hear really nice things – and I can confirm for you that it is all true. The planes were new, the seats were spacious and comfortable, the food was good, and the in-flight entertainment had an almost bewildering amount of options.
In an effort to beat the heat, we awoke on our string beds around 5:30 a.m. and set off for our final day of sightseeing in the Danakil Depression. On our way through the salt flats, we paused to watch a pair of salt miners work. They pick squares of salt off the ground (yes, off the ground – it’s just sitting there) and hack them into the appropriate shapes, then load them onto camel caravans for transportation to the salt market in Berhale. It seems like a hard way to make a living, mining for salt in such an inhospitable place.1
We were exhausted after climbing Erta Ale volcano – not only had the nearly 20 kilometer trek been physically tiring, we had gotten less than four hours of sleep – and so it wasn’t too disappointing that our second day on our tour of the Danakil Depression was mostly driving. The reality of traveling in the Danakil is that there is not too much that can be (enjoyably) done – beyond sitting in the comfort of a well air-conditioned vehicle – during the day. By the time we had eaten breakfast and packed up to leave the Erta Ale base camp, roughly 8:00 a.m., the temperature had already reached 38°C/100.4°F.
For the most part, the driving was slow and bumpy, it took us hours to traverse the path through the volcanic flows back from the Erta Ale base camp to the main road. At times, however, the driving was exciting: after discovering that a landslide had blocked the road to the village where we planned to eat lunch, we took an off-road detour through a river bed.1Continue reading Days 2 & 3 in the Danakil Depression: Salt Flats & String Beds→
With an average annual temperature that hovers around a staggering 34.4°C/94°F, the Danakil Depression ranks as the hottest place on Earth, on a year-round basis.1 Unfortunately, because of the inhospitable nature of the environment (daytime temperatures regularly exceed 50°C/122°F), as well its proximity to the volatile Eritrean border, the Danakil is not an area which you can explore independently. As such, visits to the area are best arranged with an organized tour. We signed up for a four-day trip with Ethio Travel and Tours, which not only quoted us the best price for visiting the Danakil, but also gave us a discount since there would be four of us (Marc and I, plus our two Kiwi friends that we met in Tanzania) traveling together. Continue reading Sleeping On the Side of Erta Ale Volcano→
From Gondar, we flew to Lalibela, home of some of Ethiopia’s most incredible rock-hewn churches.1 The Church of Saint George is the Pinterest darling (and most often photographed) of the bunch, but the other ten churches in the complex are jaw-dropping in their own right.
Amazingly, the churches are carved directly out of the rock. Rather than cutting building blocks to be constructed into buildings, the creators cut away the negative space, essentially “freeing” the churches from solid rock. No matter how many pictures you see of the churches of Lalibela, nothing can prepare you for actually seeing them in person.
Back in August (a phrase which I almost hate typing because it demonstrates just how far behind we are on updating this blog!), I celebrated my third birthday abroad. The first two of my birthdays abroad each involved border crossings,1 and early on in this trip I had put my foot down: I would not be crossing any land borders on my birthday, and I would prefer not to have to engage in any minibus shenanigans either.
Accordingly, we traveled from Bahir Dar to Gondar the day before my birthday. I’m not going to bore you all with yet another tale of haggling over minibus prices (although this time there was an involved discussion of the fare paid for the giant cabbages being transported on the roof), but I’ll just say that I’m glad that we didn’t have to do it on my birthday.2
When we finally accepted that we were not getting a visa for Sudan, we left Addis Ababa and embarked upon a ten-hour bus ride to Bahir Dar, a fairly picturesque city located on Lake Tana. While there are plenty of places in town to sit and admire the lake, the real attractions are a couple of worthwhile day trips.