Friday, April 25, 2014

Harar, Ethiopia is your next vacation.

We had a long Easter/Fasika weekend and decided that we should take a 45-minute flight to the Dire Dawa followed by a 45-minute drive over a mountain pass to the old walled city of Harar. You can say it was sort of like going back to Alexandria, Egypt in the sense that it was mostly Muslim with lots of color, noise, and activity. The familiarity was welcomed. Beware this will be a long post with a lot of photos and stories. Enjoy. 

It was that kind of plane ride where you felt everything. 
Driving to Harar, if the plane ride doesn't make your stomach feel funky and twisted, the drive up the beautiful winding hills will. 
Meet Sherif our trusted guide. No not the rooster, the guy holding it. We thought he was assigned to us, but he was just hanging out when the van dropped us off near our guest house. Good thing he was there because of the endless number of winding alleyways in old city, it would be near impossible to find our place.
We stayed in a traditional Harar home. This is the inside view where the owner stays. Our room was more bland in comparison. I would recommend staying here at Anisa's Guesthouse. You can reach her at: 0915330011. The tour guide we initially contacted is Hailu, he has credentials and such and is super friendly and helpful. He will take you to the more touristy places in Harar. You can contact him at: 0913072931. Our guide Sherif was good at feeling us out to determine what kinds of adventure best suited us. He and his partner Pota, a Rastafarian will show you the more local places. You can contact him at: 

First on the list was the recycle market. Looking for that old spare part they don't make anymore? You might find it here. Other markets around the area included the: Christian Market, Muslim Market, Chat Market, Spice Market, Black Market, Sewing Machine street, and a whole lot more. 
Spice Market goods.
Oh yeah! 
Eating a handful will actually make you stronger.
View from the Spice Market.
Checkers anyone? 
While the Christians were fasting the Muslims (and naughty Christians) enjoyed some hanging meat from the great outdoors. 
Sherif mentioned that there 99 mosques in Harar, I only counted 71. The 99 mosques corresponding with the 99 names of God. There are also about 300 shrines scattered around town as well.
Where has the craft gone?
We stopped by to pick-up some postcards and our guide and shop owner got into a huge argument. We stepped away to check out this guy chewing the afternoon away with his bag of chat. 
Sherif loves Chat, as do most people who live in Harar. In fact you'll see plenty of zombie-like chat heads laying against buildings and alleyways chewing the day away. 

Missing some teeth, no worries, you can mash-up your chat. Add some coffee or tea and really get that buzz going. 

I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Sherif invited Ana and I over to his sister's house for an afternoon chat session. Here are my findings: think of it as a natural Adderall, you get hyper focused but no sensation of feeling buzzed. I could sit down and write a book or make a painting chewing it. It tastes like leaves, you chew it in a big ball until your teeth break it down, then swallow. Expect dry mouth and have at least a 2 liter bottle of water. There is an art to it, you want the soft baby leaves.  
Even the cats and goats enjoy chat.
Where do we begin with this one?
One of the back gates. 
The big hoopla for tourists in Harar is the feeding of the hyenas. The deal is that around 7 pm a tuk-tuk takes you a couple of minutes outside of the walled city to a dark dirt road. The tuk-tuk provides the light, the man provides the meat, and nature provides the animals. The good news is that you can feed one, the guy gives you a stick and you can hold it in your mouth or by hand and let the magic happen.  
A couple of teachers we work with have photos with hyenas jumping on their backs, no thank you. Sure, call me chicken.  
There are several tales regarding the relationship between the Harari people and hyenas. One lore is that the hyenas were upset at the building of the walled city because it would limit their food finding missions, as a response they started attacking people. One way to appease them was to feed them porridge, but even this story conflicts with others we heard. One story that caught my attention was along the lines of Groundhog Day in the USA, if the hyena eats the porridge, then it will be a good year of relationships between man and the animal. Some believe hyenas ward off bad spirits. The folklore element surrounding hyenas is worth another visit to the region. A good blog to read more about the history can be found by clicking here.     

A walk outside the wall. 
The side towards the hill was green and clam. 
Another gate.
It is said that Trader's House is one of the oldest in the city. 
Our guide called this the Egyptian mosque. 
 Painting depicting when the Derg (Communist) were in power in the Haile Selassie Museum (that is what I guide called it), but it was said it was the house he spent his honeymoon in.  
An old Peugeot taxi.
The Harar Brewing Company is there, sadly the Ethiopian government sold it to Heineken International and the locals say that the quality has gone down. 

We were given a tour of the facility, because of downsizing by Heineken International (some 600 people have lost their jobs), there isn't a proper tour operator anymore so we were assigned to a guy who works in international sales. The brewery was built during the communist era by a Czechoslovakian company. Pictured above are some of the old gadgets to control the brewing process. 
This piece of equipment came from Bavaria. 
The brewery makes a Lager (Harar), a Stout (Hakim-dark, doesn't really taste like one) and a non-alcoholic beverage Sofie (a malt beverage with a strong sweet potato taste). There wasn't a tasting room, but the beer garden served up the non-pasturized versions and were very drinkable. Personally, I'm a fan of both the lager and stout.  
The line on a holiday. 
After the beer tasting we headed over to a very local place for lunch. 
Our dish, If you had Egyptian Korshary this might be the Ethiopian cousin of it. There is something like ingera at the bottom with rice piled on top, potatoes in a sauce (Ana called it picadillo) and thinly shredded mystery meat. Most people got the spaghetti version instead of rice. There are a couple of chairs (soft drink crates) but most customers squat on the floor with a group of friends and share the bowl. I eyed the person next to us who was putting a banana in his bowl and he told me I should try the same and handed me one. It complimented the dish well. 
Any leftovers were fed to street children.

While walking around we spotted this guy wearing a "Skinhead" shirt. If you ever wondered where unsold thrift store clothes goes, "to some village in Africa?" might be a good answer. I saw people wearing a Depeche Mode and a Van Halen tour shirt. I highly doubt either band played in Harar. Spotting odd t-shirts of sports teams, colleges, restaurants like Hooters, etc. in Ethiopia is pretty common. 
Goats under 12 ride free. 
Loved the vibrant building.
It is said that some of the best coffee in the world comes from Harar. We bought some back for our housekeeper. I have to agree, some of the best I ever had. Another reason to go back.
French poet's Arthur Rimbaud House-though it is believed he never lived in it.

View form the Rimbaud House
The alleys of Harar lead to some interesting findings such as tool making.
Taking turns pounding it out. 
At the market on the eve of Easter.
A building in the new town. 
Ana checking out the town's Catholic Church on Easter Sunday, we tried mass in the local language. 
Near the meat market, the vulture-like birds wait above on the edge of buildings for scraps. Like the hyenas, you can feed them, but a person we met got scratched from one. Again, no thank you.
The amount of vibrant color in Harar was eye candy.
This little girl was selling chickens out of the basket on her head. People would come up to her and grab a bird and feel it up to determine if there is enough meat and if it was a good weight. Bargaining for the best price came next.  
In the town's center, there is a statue representing the gates of Harar. We stopped at a coffee shop nearby where our guide's friends hung out. Pota got in an argument with his friend because he turned in a lady for having too much cash. Apparently, there is a law that a person in Ethiopia is only allowed to carry a certain amount of hard money on them. The friend wanted a cut of the lady's money and after she refused, he turned her in to the authorities and now she is still in jail. Our guide and Pota were giving their friend a hard time for being greedy and turning in the woman.