Posted by: Alex MacGregor | April 6, 2010

Hyenas in Harar

Although we enjoyed the splendid sights of northern Ethiopia’s ‘historical circuit’ thoroughly, a nagging problem withour itinerary weighed on us. We started to feel like Ethiopia’s hottest attractions were a bit overrun by tourists and the problems they can bring.

Not only were we seeing the same people again and again in different locations, we were also getting tired of being faranjis (foreigners) along Ethiopia’s very own gringo trail, and subjecting ourselves to the most adept set of tourist touts and hustlers we’d ever come across.

By this point, we had grown accustomed to some of the more significant hazards. To sum up a few:

Anyone asking for your attention on the street is going to be either offering you unwanted guide services (which you might find you’ve inadvertently accepted if you so much as respond warmly to them!) or offering a sales pitch.

If anyone offers to help you in any way, however small, you must be endlessly suspicious. If they start ‘translating’ for you during a transaction, they will almost definitely be bloating the price and then getting a commission from the seller. You can’t even count on simple directions–on the trail to Blue Nile Falls, we were flat-out lied to (‘Wrong way, wrong way!’) in hopes that we might get lost and then need to pay a guide (who would materialize in our moment of need, make no mistake). Thankfully, we had a good map!

If you don’t keep your guard, a thirty minute hike can turn into the Fellowship of the Ring, with a plethora of guides expecting payment for some service or another. (Don’t believe me? Look at these two faranjis we saw from afar at the Blue Nile Falls!)

Anyways, whether it was a guy following us around in the market and quintupling the price of everything we looked at, or a guy approaching a minibus we were boarding and claiming there was a 25 Birr ‘baggage fee’ for each of our backpacks (something I’ve never heard of anywhere in the world on a minibus), we had had enough. The northern historical circuit has some amazing sights, but we wanted a break from the hassles. We wanted something with some more intrigue, and something hopefully just a bit less touristed.

We wanted Harar.

Harar (not to be confused with Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, where we had been just two weeks before) is in the eastern part of the country. Unlike the rest of Ethiopia, which is mainly Christian, this area is mostly Muslim. Thinking this was a good change of pace, we pushed forward our flight back to Addis and hopped on a bus–a nice bus, this time–to the eastern part of the country.

Along the way, we saw some of the incredible scenery Ethiopia is famous for.

By mid-afternoon, we made it to the walled city of Harar, only 150km from the Somali border.

A few minutes in the city and you can tell you are in a very different place. You see signs not only on Amharic and English, but also exotic tongues like Harari, Oromo, and Somali.

The main gate. The Harari Kingdom served as an Islamic foil to the Christian kingdoms of the north, and frequently fought for control of Ethiopia. The capital city was walled and foreigners were kept out for hundreds of years. Inside, ‘Old Town’ is a maze of picturesque alleyways and tight corridors.

The blue houses signify that the owner has made the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.

The city is full of very small mosques–some so small they only fit a handful of people.

Our awesome guesthouse:

The Catholic Church in Old Town.

Old Town’s main street.

Just outside the walled city, Harar’s market thrives due to the proximity to northern Somalia’s main port: Berbera. Northern Somalia has put together a pretty stable government that declared independence from the anarchic south of the country. One of its major income sources is importing cheap, sometimes counterfeit, goods from Asia that eventually get sold in Harar’s massive merkato and shipped all over Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s election is coming up, and apparently flag sales are booming.

The ‘recycling market’, where old stuff gets made into new stuff.

Walking around in Old Town you see some pretty wild stuff. There are plenty of animals roaming around.

As we found out, there are more animals on the street than it first seems! One night in Harar, we woke up to a horrid sound. We looked out the window and saw a hyena peering up through the night. I hope the animals in these pictures were nowhere to be found!

The next night, we were able to witness one of Harar’s truly bizarre traditions: the feeding of the hyenas.

The feeding takes place every night, right next to the local slaughterhouse.

We even got to try it ourselves!


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