Posted by: Alex MacGregor | April 4, 2010

Addis Ababa

After a month a half in the wilds of Southern Africa, we were off to a completely different part of the continent for two weeks: Ethiopia. The first stop for the vast majority of travellers into the country is the capital, Addis Ababa.

Although we love to travel overland–crossing borders on the ground rather than flying over them–Ethiopia seemed impossible to access this way. Fırst of all, it lies in a rough part of Africa–Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea form most of its broders–and the only neighbor that makes any sense to reach it through, Kenya, lies on the other side of a bandit-ridden desert that buses don’t even manage to cross.

So, for once, we decided to fly in like normal people.

Ethiopia’s capital is unimaginably scrambled and sprawling. While the typical African city is basically laid out like any other city–a defined, dense city center, eventually giving way to a network of major streets and side streets that fizzles out into the countryside–Addis is completely different. (Everything about Ethiopia is completely different, we would soon find out.) Addis has only a handful of major streets; once you get off of these, you’re basically in a maze of alleyways and footpaths that wind right between people’s houses.

Bole Road, which we found to be the nicest area and spent most of our time.

Chruchill Road, another main street.

Just off Niger Street, looking towards the Piazza.

I should mention that at this point you know about as many street names in Addis as a typical taxi driver! Although the street names are actually pretty well-labeled for an African city, nobody bothers to read them. (Even if they did, we found the names change every few hundred meters, and sometimes the names in Roman characters were even different from the names in Amharic!) Instead, navigation occurs solely by landmarks.

When a herd of sheep is thrown into the mix with Addis’ terrible traffic, chaos ensues.

Although Addis has a number of qualities we really enjoyed–great food, great coffee, a decent level of services, easy to use transport, and so forth–a few things got frustrating. We were at times harrassed and singled out for being foreigners, especially by adolescent boys.

‘Where are you from?’

‘Hi you you you!’

‘Where are you goıng?’

About a third of the time this would be folled by a sales pitch of some sort, or perhaps an invitation to take part in some sort of gathering or event which may or may not cost an unknown amount of money.

Worse, someone attempted to pick pocket us at least once. İt was our first day there and we were somewhat disoriented at the moment when two males walked in such a way as to separate us. One of them stopped and then leaned hard towards me, slamming into me pretty hard. When I didn’t fall over, he proceeded to grab my arm and try to trip me by pulling me over his leg. (He wasn’t very big and didn’t come close to succeeding; the feeling was more of confusion than panic as it happened.) Slow witted, I eventually pushed him away and left.

Thankfully, my hands were safely on my wallet and camera in their respective pockets the whole time, and my small backpack was left safely in place. But this event caused us to come up with a new, even harder-to-rob way of walking around. We also started walking very unpredictably whenever someone was doing something erratic (which seemed to happen very often).

Addis is the capital of the United Nations in Africa.

My collection of train station photographs grows! This one is defunct, but it still counts…

The terrifying voltage converter in our hotel, which made all sorts of noises in the night and always seemed on the brink of explosion!

All in all, Addis is a pleasant enough place to spend the days before, in between, and after trips into rural Ethiopia–much more straightforward and pleasant than Maputo, for instance. But I don’t think you’ll fınd me checking out the housing market any time soon!


  1. Never mess with the Almaz 6.

  2. I know nary a thing about the Almaz 6, but I do know a bit, a tiny bit, about alligators. Your defense, should one be after you, is to run zig zag so that they are confused about the direction to go to get to you. Similar to your defense against pickpockets. I’ve not actually had to escape an alligator–yet. Those south GA folks might be lying to me anyway. Trying to get rid of ‘nother city slicker…..

  3. No one puts Alex over their knee! I love keeping up with you guys! Looks like you are having a great adventure!

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  6. […] this blog is no stranger to wonton exploration of random capital cities; why not take in another in the form of Romania’s capital, […]

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