Diesel, Dust and Frankincense: Adventures in Ethiopia

Depending on your comfort zone, or willingness to abandon it, a journey through Ethiopia is like an epic adventure story you wish you wrote. Life is simple, hard–beautiful. The people are kind and inquisitive, guided by faith and strong ties to family. There is also just the right mix of opportunists and swindlers to keep you on your toes.


Ethiopia has been aptly recognized for its cultural richness and incredible landscapes, but be ready, you’re going to have to work for it. The tourism infrastructure is in its infancy and local purveyors struggle to understand how to meet the demands of expectant ‘Farangi’. No doubt this will change in the coming years as travelers learn more of what Ethiopia has to offer. My advice is not to wait. The haphazardness of it all is what makes the experience that much more special.


So what exactly are you getting yourself into? If hiring a personal driver isn’t your style or budget, then cramming into the back of minibus with 12 people and some livestock might be. You will have to haggle for a fair price on accommodations or a lift in a Bajaji (tuk tuk). You will get used to mosques calling prayer at 4 am, well before your alarm. You will have to get comfortable being around men carrying Kalashnikovs and have a stomach for passing a bottle of Ouzo around a fire.


The reward comes after that 12 hour bus ride they said was 6, when you lose yourself in the ancient tunnels of Lalibela and pretend you’re Indiana Jones. You’ll drink freshly roasted coffee with strangers as Frankincense smoke dances around your feet. You will walk among hundreds of wild Gelada Baboons in the Simien Mountains 3500m overlooking the valley below. You will sit under the vastness of the night sky sharing a meal with friends you’ve made while camping in a traditional Hamar village. I could go on…


The hardship of it all is sickly romantic. It’s the stuff of films and epic adventure novels. Each moment you are there, you shed another layer. You also get more dusty, weathered and creative with minimal resources. If you’re thinking of going, consider making a pact with yourself to push beyond your comfort zone.


Be open. Go with a willingness to truly let the wind take you where it may. Try. Whether it’s haggling, or trial and error on transportation, it’s usually worth it. Share. Ethiopia is poor and the government controls nearly every facet of life. When given the opportunity, share ideas, information, or even the clothes on your back. All will be deeply appreciated.


Now get going!


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Sarah Tesla
Sarah Tesla

Sarah is a professional adventurer, travel writer, and creative agency owner. When she is not in Vancouver running a youth-centred digital agency called Make, she can be found tromping through the mountains of East Africa or blasting through Argentinian roads on her motorbike.

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