This may surprise many people. Ethiopia’s cell/mobile phone system is much better than that in the United States. We don’t  
think there is anywhere you can’t receive a phone call. Please keep in mind, that even today Embrace Foundation can not  
receive cell phone calls at their retreat in New Mexico. If you wish to rent a cell/mobile phone in Ethiopia you can.

Embrace has a mobile phone that operates on sim cards, so the founders went to a government office and registered. You  
need a photo I.D. It is very fast and inexpensive. The office installs a sim card at the time you go in. They will program  
however many minutes you wish to have. After that you can buy sim cards all over the country.

Many guide books will speak of unpaved roads between Northern cities. This is pretty much a thing of the past. The  
Chinese have built excellent paved roads between most major towns. Having taken an inventory of their technique, once  
again we have to say that their roads are made far better than the ones we have in the United States. They are bedded  
about 8 to 10 inches high and usually go with very steep ditches on each side for runoff.

An Ecumenical Story

Ethiopia is almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims. It is common to see school girls Christian and Muslim  
with linked arms or arms wrapped around each others shoulders coming home from school.

In the small town of Denje, Ajata and Virginia noticed that a newly built church stood on one side of the two lane road and a  
mosque under construction but nearly finished stood directly on the other side of the road. Both buildings appeared to be  
built of the same materials and pretty much the same dimensions.

When the bus stopped for a break, Ajata befriended a high school teacher and asked about the church and mosque. The  
teacher said that the Muslims in the community had helped build the church and now the Christians were helping the  
Muslims build their mosque!

Buses - Mini Vans

If you wish to travel off the beaten path, to small villages or towns, getting back on board a bus or a van to your next  
destination can be a wait. Young men that tourists should compensate can sometimes chase after buses and vans so  
that you can get on one. Some times the situation is more problematic. Information about transportation in smaller towns is  
not easy to get.

One enterprising group of men secured a U.N. pickup truck to take the founders to their destination. (We declined, not  
knowing whether this would be a problem for someone in the long run.) There are many young men in parts of Addis Ababa,  
some in small northern towns and in particular in Lalibella in the 12-30 year age range that try in every conceivable way to  
earn a living. If a tourist can honestly employ or help give them a job, it is often well worth it. The young men frequently work  
in groups, often belonging to the same extended family/ clan and share the little money they get. The idea of sharing  
whatever you get is a traditional and touching aspect of rural Ethiopians.

Hotel Reservations

The one area of baksheesh the Embrace Founders do not subscribe to, is when there is a reservation with a hotel or guest  
house and the van driver picks up a friend along the way, (usually a couple of miles from the hotel) who tells the hotel  
manager or owner that he “brought” you there. This means that the hotel is obligated to pay a commission for steering a  
new guest to the establishment. When a reservation is on file, we make it clear to the manager or owner that we had a  
reservation and that the “tout” had nothing to do with our staying at that particular hotel.

Guest Houses in Addis Ababa

Excellent, fair priced guest houses are available in the capital. Otherwise a Western styled hotel is often twice the price it  
would be in Europe or the United States. This is most likely due to the expected traffic from politicians and diplomats visiting  
the Organization of African Union & the headquarters for the U.N. in African. The U.N. in fact is a help in locating guest  
houses for those with modest means - check their listings in the internet. Also the Ethiopian government has an excellent  
listing of guest houses in Addis Ababa. When we say “Guest Houses” they are really small hotels or B&B’s. They are  
immaculate and have many amenities.

Hotels - General

In general hotels outside of Addis Ababa including the major tourist draws, lack many of the basic necessities. For those  
used to “long stay” travel or “backpacking” in Asia, this will be nothing new. However, what is different in Ethiopia, is that  
even if you wish to take a break from budget hotels and spend more for an upgraded hotel, inn or guest house, such  
hostelries are most often not available.

This brings us to Harar. The hotels in Harar are limited and don’t offer a break from hard travel. Those on an extremely tight  
budget will opt for staying there but Dire Dawa has an excellent hotel for very reasonable rates. We don’t like to recommend  
either hotels or restaurants, but with such limited options, we are going to say, if you can stay at the Selam Hotel in Dire  
Dawa, do so. It is preferable to anything in Harar and it has a very good restaurant. It is a short van ride to and from Harar.


Harar is an old Muslim city which travel writers will encourage you to visit. At present one of the more lively areas of the city  
is not behind the “old city” walls but the new Somali refugee market. These people are always energetic and bringing in new  
products. Chat is another issue in Harar. It is dismissed as pretty much harmless in the travel guides and as a large  
amount of currency is evolved with it’s trade on the exchange, it should be. But there are a number of Harar residents  
addicted to it. This gives rise to people walking up to you or others on the street and acting fairly insane. It also gives rise to  
people who apparently can not judge distance adequately and bush, touch or bump into others on the street regularly. The  
addicts are not hostile to visitors nor are they pickpockets, they are just stoned.


It is difficult in a few tourist areas to just “ask” for directions. If you ask for directions you may find that you have unwittingly  
extended an invitation for a young man to be with you for the rest of the day trying to offer you his services -be it as a guide  
or any other sundry service. (Anyone who has traveled in Asia is already familiar with a version of this.) When you need  
directions- store clerks, bank security guards and other employed people will politely and gladly help you. This is  
particularly important in Lalibella, where it seems young men from all the distant surrounding countryside have come to  
town in the hopes of earning money by rendering service to tourists.


For those who do not want to walk up hill in the heat or can not walk up hill each day they wish to visit the great rock hewn  
churches, you need to be aware of the fact that there are two areas for hotels. One at the top of the hill, so that you walk  
down to the churches and the other at the bottom, so that you walk up to the churches. There is no reliable transportation  
from the top to the bottom of the hill. Taxis are non existent and so are Bajajas due to the fact that the street is cobbled with  
giant and widely spaced cobblestones. Lalibella is a good place to visit really ancient monasteries that exist as they have for  
hundreds of years. Most visitors do not go to them. Do not expect any thing like a Western monastery. Ethiopians are very  
much into asceticism. Both nuns and monks often live in caves.

Monasteries & the Elderly

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a custom identical to devout Hindus. That is, at the end of your life, you are likely to join  
a monastery to contemplate the Divine and to prepare for your next stage of your life. There are many elderly monks and  
nuns you will see traveling to pilgrimage sights on the road or by bus. However, many elderly monks and nuns have also  
joined monasteries when they are young and have grown up through serving the church.

Car Rental, Taxis & Bajajas

If you do want to rent a car, you must do so with a driver. Taxis are often non-existent in smaller towns. (The ones you are  
likely to get stranded in.) However motor rickshaws, known as Bajajas in Ethiopia (three wheeled vehicles) are often  
around. They can travel some distance but are limited per their gas capacity and speed.


Ethiopia has excellent airline routes between many destinations and all major cities. The flights are professional, very  
reasonable and generally leave on time.

Vegans & Vegetarians

Visit Ethiopia during Easter Lent! All devout Ethiopian Christians abstain from meat and animal products during this 56 day  
period. There is a 40 day Lent prior to Christmas which is celebrated on the 7th of January. (Only once at a hotel, did we  
see fish including in a fasting buffet, on a separate plate and not included in any of the dishes.) Fasting food is easy to come  
by and pretty much everyone in Ethiopia, Christian or not knows what fasting food is. Incidentally, all signs in Ethiopia are in  
English or pretty close to 99% (possibly excluding the tribal South) including signage announcing “Fasting Buffets.”

Coffee & Tea

Coffee roasting and drinking began in Ethiopia. Needless to say, Ethiopian coffee is a connoisseurs delight. Machiotta  
(spelled different ways in different menus) seems to be the national coffee specialty and it is a very strong (expresso) with a  
steamed rich creamy foam. Ethiopia also grows an excellent tea.

Exchange Rates

Every thing is going up in Ethiopia. Do not rely on guide books. Go into or some other exchange rate website  
and find out the exchange rate before you go.

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