Last hurrah in Addis
As the UK had brought in the rule that from 4am on 18th January I had to have a covid negative test to board our flight (we were landing at 7am) our trip changed and I decided not to go to Hawassa at all, and our trip to Jinka was curtailed but still lovely. Although covid test are available all over Ethiopia, I really wasn't taking any chances and knew that I really had to get back to Addis to sort it out. The UK's foreign office website said "COVID-19 tests for international travel are available at International Clinical Laboratories Ethiopia and at the New Silk Road Hospital" but the Silk Road Hospital website stated that they "temporarily does not provide travel certificates for passengers of Ethiopian Airlines" and when we drove to the ICL on 15th January they were not testing that day. I had already called Ethiopian Airlines having spotted this though and Girma, our driver, ended up driving us to the Washington Medical Centre where we had more luck.
First of all, it is impossible to book a test online and nobody answers the phone so you simply just turn up. You go to one set of computers for information, then go to photocopy your passport. You are then told to "take a seat" - fatal flaw was that I hadn't put Tiger in her baby carrier and she ran around like a mad person for the entire duration we were there, standard. The cost was 1500 Birr (£28) for a 24 hour turnaround and 5,000 Birr (£93) for an urgent 8 hour turnaround, all to be paid in cash. The UK required us to have the test 72 hours before boarding, so we were at the test centre for 9.45am on 15th January. All in all, we were probably in and out in half an hour (having "taken a seat" - not - I was eventually called to have a rather violent nasal swab) but it was a bit stressful with Tiger running around everywhere. Tiger, being under 11, was exempt from testing. After all of that, we had to wait 24 hours for my result, somewhat stressful as I have known many friends to test positive with absolutely no symptoms and was a little worried about getting stranded in Ethiopia! Still, it was lovely to be back at Geke and Tamrat's house and for Tiger to be playing with Quides.
In the afternoon, after Tiger's nap, we went to Unity Park. I hadn't read up on it at all and it was pretty amazing! The entrance was, I think 850 Birr for me (£15) and 300 Birr for my guide/driver (£5.50) and we had to go through full airport security to get in, as well as show my passport! After I realised that Unity Park is actually located in the premises of the Grand Palace originally dating back to 1887 which is where Prime Minister Abiu Ahmed is based, all the security made sense. Apparently the area used to be solely reserved for dignitaries and it was the current Prime Minister who decided to open it up to the people. That said 300 Birr may put it out of the price range of quite a few Ethiopians! It is in fact very new and only opened on 10th October 2019.
To start with, I wasn't too convinced I would like it (it seemed a bit Disneyland-esque) but as we walked around it got better and better. We stopped for an Ethiopian coffee in a lovely restaurant as Tiger had fallen asleep before we continued on to see the first car in Ethiopia, Banquet Hall, the Throne House, and Emperor Menelik II’s Palace Complex.
The icing on the cake was seeing the zoo animals - meerkats, zebra, lions, peacocks, wildebeast, cheetahs, giraffe and ostrich. We had to be out by 5pm and towards the end were being ushered outwards and I would definitely recommend spending longer than the 2.5 hours we did.
On the way out we saw the Ethiopian regional states pavilions which were built in 2019. These regional pavilions contain information on the regions culture, history, heritage, natural resources and investment opportunities. Each regional state’s pavilion is intended to give visitors an insight into the material, spiritual and natural aspects of the respective region through images, sound, illustrations and various sculptures. They looked amazing and I'd have loved to have spent more time looking at them.
Our driver came with us to what is quickly becoming my favourite restaurant, Ras Hill, and definitely worth a mention as the food is great (pasta for Tiger, pizza and wine for me!), they had screens playing Premier League football, great music and the staff were so helpful and accommodating. We ended up going there daily! It was walkable from the Airbnb in about 15 minutes down the 40 steps, past the man working out and the open air gym, and up the 70 steps to get back... the latter being a bit of a mean feat so it was lovely to have our driver on 15th so I didn't have to climb the mountain getting back!
On 16th January, it was the weekend and Geke and Tamrat whose home we were staying in invited us to go to the Zoma Museum. We all piled into a Ride app taxi to go there with three children Tiger, Quides their 2.5 year old son and their 8 month old baby Samia. When we arrived it was just breath taking. As they don't have foreigner pricing it was just 150 Birr entrance (£3) and I think if I lived in Addis I would go there every weekend! They had a lovely café, a children's playroom, absolutely stunning gardens and architecture, and cows, goats, chickens and a huge slide. What more could you wish for?!
After we all piled back in a taxi and got back home, Tiger had her nap, then we went out in another Ride app taxi back to the Washington Medical Centre to get my results. I should note I had tried calling, and the promised email hadn't arrived although they had managed to email me a receipt! As I arrived, this time with Tiger in the baby carrier, I handed in my passport and probably held my breath as I waited the five minutes for my results to appear. When they did - negative - I was so relieved. So we went back to the Ras Hill restaurant (of course) to celebrate!
On our final day in Addis, Sunday 17th January, Geke invited us to go swimming at the Hilton Hotel. We just took Quides and Tiger as Geke had asked her nanny to come in to look after baby Samia. This was definitely the right decision. We had to pay 1,100 Birr entrance (£20) but then we had access to the incredible pool. Geke lent me a bikini and swimming nappies for Tiger. I can't quite put into words how incredible it was to be in the warm water and in the sunshine. Tiger spent hours in the pool, and we had chips and coffee. Just fabulous and the perfect, relaxing, end to our trip.
In the afternoon I just packed our bags and then Tiger and I slept from 7pm until 10.30pm when we had to get up to get into the taxi to the fairly deserted airport (there were flights heading off to European destinations but it was definitely quiet). The flight to London wasn't until 1.45am so the whole timing thing must have been very strange to her but she coped well. We did a bit of shopping in the airport, and had a juice and a "Mummy juice" (beer!) at a restaurant.
We were able to have a whole row of three seats and Tiger slept across two of them for about 4 hours of the 7 hour flight. I managed a bit of sleep in one seat and then gave up about 4am and watched a film until we landed! Finally, when we landed at Heathrow Terminal 2, the new rules (for covid negative tests) had come in at 4am so there were huge queues for border control. We got through in maybe 45 minutes with our passenger locator form and covid test thoroughly checked by the lady at border control, though and into our taxi to go home. Back home, after a 3 hour nap (both of us!), we had a cake and candles for Tiger's 2nd birthday, I had to work from home and do a "test to release" which eventually released me back into the community!
In so many ways, I can't believe that we made it out of the country for such a fabulous break, and back in one piece. It was truly amazing, and we were so lucky to see Ethiopia at a time where there were so few tourists. We missed Axum and would have liked longer to see the tribes in the South, so maybe we will be back. So long Ethiopia - this trip will long live in our hearts.