Escape to Ethiopia
Updated: Aug 18
Way back in May 2020, and at the very start of the first lockdown, I decided that I needed something to look forward to, and with me that almost always means booking a trip. I knew that the flight prices would suddenly go right up after Tiger hit two years old - typically child fares are 50% of the adult fare and lap infants (up to 2 years) are only 10% - and thought what a good idea to celebrate New Years Eve and then fly on the 1st and back on her birthday, the 18th January.
So far, so good. But where? I then started googling best places to go in January and cross referencing that with where I actually wanted to go and... drum roll... Ethiopia sprang up in more than one online list to "experience a traditional vibe". The top five, though, if you're interested were Phuket, Bali, the Maldives, the Seychelles and Dubai. I tend to (obviously) not go for the well trodden path. The flights were booked.
Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic continued its upward trajectory and on 20th December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, "cancelled Christmas" upscaling tier restrictions in the UK. We were still in Tier 2 but things were looking precarious for international travel so our flights were moved forwards to the 30th and then to 25th December. In order to comply with Ethiopian entry requirements I had to have a Covid negative PCR test result 120 hours before arriving in the country. No mean feat, I thought, as I queued up (sans Tiger thank God, as being under 10 she was exempt) at the Collinson Group test facility at London Heathrow Terminal 2 on Christmas Eve. For the 9.30-9.45am test slot I queued in freezing conditions for almost 2 hours. Finally, late but better late than never, the test result came through and we were good to go.
Interestingly, although the proverbial had absolutely hit the fan in the UK with a new strain of the virus, the statistics for Ethiopia's own case load seemed tame at just 397 positive cases in the last 30 days in comparison with the UK which had 33,364. We travelled under FCO "all but essential travel" guidelines with so-called High Risk Travel Insurance from High Risk Voyager for £150 just to cover all bases for full covid cover should we need it.
Arriving in Heathrow Terminal 2 for the second time after my freezing queuing experience, for an 8.15pm flight with Ethiopian Airlines, it was surprising to see the airport so busy - albeit with everybody in masks - and certainly our airline seemed to be doing a roaring trade with transiting travellers escaping the UK or returning home. We "wrapped" the big backpack for £13 and dropped our bags, the big one was just short of 18kg and the travel cot just 6kg.
Packing to travel with a toddler is always, shall we say, interesting. We travelled with the same large and small Deuter backpacks which had served us so well in India and Bangladesh. No buggy (deep breath..) but the Deuter Kid Comfort SL well used on our Romania trip, to carry Tiger in. And the new kid on the block, the Baby Bjorn Travel Cot Light, £261 new but £50 on Facebook Marketplace. I tried to limit clothes as much as possible, and the only bulky items were two packs of Pampers Active Fit Nappy Pants, wet wipes, and as I was a tad worried about being able to buy, and refrigerate cow's milk everywhere on our trip, two boxes of Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk for 2-3 year olds. We also had warm and cool clothes as for much of the trip we'd be above 2000m altitude, as well as Deet and adult and child Malarone for three days under 2000m. In terms of injections, I was up to date but Tiger had her second MMR and Hepatitis A mid-December.
I had high hopes for a relatively painless "we'll sleep through it" flight of 7h45, leaving at 8.15pm and arriving at 7am into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city. Alas, not quite as easy as I'd hoped. Although Tiger was given her own seat (I was in the middle she was at the window), she was into a clean nappy, in her bedclothes and in her sleeping bag, the lights were still on for at least the first two hours of the flight whilst we were served dinner. She was in good spirits playing peek-a-boo with our neighbours, but I was very aware of bedtime creeping on to 10.30pm or so. Eventually the lights were dimmed and we had some sort of sleep for three (?) hours. We endured, we arrived, but it was hard work.
On arrival in Addis Ababa, we were sent the wrong way a few times as we were assumed to be transit customers (most, it seemed, were). Due to Tiger being on my back, we were fast tracked at the covid checking desk, where we had to show my certificate, and at passport control though which was good. The big backpack and the travel cot arrived! We managed to pull out 4,000 Ethiopian Birr (£76) twice from the ATMs and got an Ethiopian Sim, unlimited data and calls for 30 days for 2545 Birr plus 30 Birr for the card (£50). Once the sim was installed I was able to call our driver, Girma, to let him know we were walking out in the warm morning sunshine - he found us and delivered us safely to our Airbnb for 500 Birr (£9.50).
The Airbnb is hosted by Geke and her husband Tamrat and is £62 for a minimum two night stay. It's located in the Armenian quarter near and has a lovely green garden close to Piazza, the National Museum and Addis Ababa University. I'd booked it mainly, however, as it was family friendly as they have a son, Edisona, who is about 8 months older than Tiger at 2.5 and a 7 month old baby boy. As soon as we arrived, we felt safe and Tiger was off playing with the toys and her new buddy!
Our body clocks were all over the shop though and although we managed to get ready to go for a short walk at 10.30am, Tiger was almost immediately asleep on my back within ten minutes so we returned to both have a long nap. When we finally awoke at 3pm ish, we met the nanny Tijitu, the cleaning lady and finally Geke herself who was just lovely and after Tiger had had a good old bounce on the trampoline in the back garden, took us out on a circular walk around her house, down to Piazza, to her husband's studio, and had our first real Ethiopian coffee ceremony after having walked up the "seventy steps".
As I write I am trying to reset Tiger's body clock to Ethiopia time (3h ahead of the UK) which seems to almost have worked as we are both so completely shattered from the flight!