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Solo to Africa – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Tanzania and Zanzibar Island

Solo to Africa
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Tanzania and Zanzibar Island

I went to Africa as I wanted to use all airline points I had amassed. I could go as far as Addis Ababa, business class on Lufthansa, so said: why not?! Seeing Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge has always been a dream of mine, so I made it come true! And Zanzibar also was a place I have always wanted to see. No one I knew would go with me: husband happy to stay at home! Everyone else said “Africa, why the hell would you want to go to Africa?!” Everyone who hadn’t been there told me how unsafe it was, it only made me want to go more!

True to my A-type personality, I turned the six month prep time into a job! A pleasant one, mind you!

Total trip: 22 days. Two of those days were travel, so 19 days. First trip in five years. I researched well, got all my shots, got visas here in Canada, took only drip-dry, sensible clothes, only packed a carry on. You never need what you think you do. I used a Nikon Coolpix 5200 camera with spare battery and two 512mb memory cards. Took 950 pictures.

Drank only bottled water, peeled everything, was careful what I ate. Did not get sick. Had no problems with anything, really.

I took $1,500 US cash, and used my Mastercard for hotels in Arusha and Addis, as well as for the safari and my Addis-Arusha airline ticket. Everything else I used cash. Literally used every last cent, last $20 used at airport at Addis to pay exit tax on flight home! I bought nothing really: a $5 sarong, some $5 copies of masks, a couple of trinkets.

View from my room at Queen of Sheba Hotel, Addis Ababa
View from my room at Queen of Sheba Hotel, Addis Ababa
Flew to Addis: stayed at Queen of Sheba Hotel for four nights – booked myself on the internet. $59 USD/nite. Excellent hotel. Breakfast $2.50. Clean, huge room, well-run hotel, but no local food in restaurant! Bambi supermarket nearby for all foods. Safe but smelly city! Walked around, no real hassles. Somali beggars, wearing blanket ponchos, no pants and carrying walking stick were the worst, very loud and physically aggressive.

All museums charge high for tourists $10 USD (which is ok) but let locals in for free so beggars still come into museums. A bit of a hassle. City has an unpleasant smell, is very dirty and very poor, but I was prepared for that. I walked everywhere, except when buying water bottles. A taxi driver said most white people were too scared to come to Addis when I asked him why I was only white face around. I saw no other white people walking on the street. Very strange.

National Museum and “Lucy” skeleton were amazing. However, the washroom was one of the grossest I have seen in all my travels. It was so bad I must mention it in conjunction with the well-laid out museum exhibits.

I didn’t have time to do historical route, as Tanzania beckoned!

I booked air flight to Arusha, Tanzania from Ethiopian Airlines office in Hilton hotel – $600 USD.

Flew to Arusha, stayed at Impala Hotel, $72 USD/nite including breakfast. Again, booked myself on the internet. Superbly excellent hotel! Watched Rwandan War Crimes trials in Arusha Int’l Conference Centre (AICC). Hand in your passport at door and get a pass. Bookmark Bookstore on Jacaranda is the best! I booked ticket to Zanzibar at Boma Road Precision Air office – all other airline offices are on Boma Road, as is Jambo Inn, a good place for travelers to hang out. Cheap fruit at the fruit stands, cheap taxis, cheap everything! Tried out a lot of restaurants, all good. Stiggy’s is fun: run by an Australian & his Tanzanian wife.

Deck to lounge and eat, Sunset Hotel, Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar
Deck to lounge and eat, Sunset Hotel, Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar
Zanzibar was amazing: everything I thought it would be. I took a taxi to Stonetown. Walking around Stonetown was enjoyable, ate at a few key places – “Sweet Eazy” and “Mercury’s”. I had taxi arranges spice tour, and it was interesting and fun. One night at Zanzibar Beach Resort: $58 USD/night – I got taxi drive to find for me. Absolutely stunning. Being handed passion fruit juice upon checkin is a nice touch!

Next three nights were at Sunset Hotel on Kendwa beach, northern tip of island. Amazing resort layout, cheap rooms at $40 USD/night. Electricity, hot water, bathroom – not as clean as Miss Picky here would have liked! Overall, good ambience, great laidback staff, a little loud when the kids on the overland trucks came through. (I’m older than I should be!?!)

I walked to Nungwi from Kendwa at noon, and contrary to other women’s experiences, I had no problems. But then again, I can put on “mean face” as required! Lots of people walking. Roads in and out of the Kendwa and Nungwi Resort areas are very rough – dirt and coral and rocks! Taxis are very uncomfortable – need a 4×4, not the sedan they like to use!

Flew back to Arusha, booked a two day safari with Bushbuck Safaris. They managed to get me a night at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge with one day’s notice, during high season! Wow! I Saw Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge and Ngorongoro Crater – fantastic! My stay at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge was one of the best experiences of my life! 5-star food and staff. Had my own vehicle and driver, very worth it – $900 USD for two days: all taxes, meals, park and guide fees into Oldupai gorge to dig sites included. They even dropped me at the airport, after oogling my pictures of cheetahs and lions feeding and hippos, etc!!

Flew back to Addis, stayed at Hilton: $160 US/nite. Very enjoyable. I like my rooms to be a haven and I also like to hang out in rooms at night (I don’t drink or party, yup, I guess I’m old!) The Hilton was a perfect oasis for me. I took in some more sights, walked around, but truly enjoyed Hilton: could sit out and read and not be bothered by anyone.

Overall: I would not go back to Ethiopia – I found it a little unfriendly, you could say. I felt safe, but I didn’t really have fun, and I have fun anywhere I go. Give me a phrase book and a map and I’m off and running! Addis was a bit of a struggle: smelly, dirty, beggars, unsafe water, no place to sit and relax as a solo traveler ie: no “haven”. Plus, it seemed that the antiquities were not as respected as they should be, ie: tourists viewing them are not treated very well in general, and again, the bathroom in the main museum, as well as “there’s this smell…”! Yes, I knew what to expect, I just didn’t realize it would be all at once, full time!

I would go back to Zanzibar, however, would likely go somewhere tropical nearby Canada instead, Zanzibar is a long way! Tanzania mainland was ok, but I feel the corruption, poverty and unemployment will eventually lead to an unsafe situation. And my reading of local papers confirmed my feeling.

40 degrees, and Me in Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania, at site where Mary Leakey's major archaeological find
40 degrees, and Me in Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania, at site where Mary Leakey’s major archaeological find “Zinjanthropus” early man skull
My humble opinion: The saddest thing is the corruption on the whole continent. 90% of governments and staff are pocketing 90% of the aid money. Yes, the people are very poor, yet aid groups are more detached than have ever been – money is being thrown at the people (hence the “African Malaise” as I call it – they now expect money, and, as a result, don’t expect to work for the money!) or the money is handed over to corrupt officials – suddenly schools initially funded by aid money are closed due to “lack of funds”. Africans need education if they are going to help themselves. There are so many bright youngsters, but they need education and guidance, not good intentions. It appears that schools run by Rotary clubs and associated volunteers are the best: they are being run by people who are there because they want to be, not because they feel they should be, or for the prestige, or just want to “help out for a month”. By the way, I have sent a local kid there for school for several years to School of St. Jude, run by an Australian Rotary Club. I also visited her and her family: her English is so good, she has now been teaching her parents. Her father, who couldn’t get a job, as he couldn’t read a word of English, now works full time. The mother also works part-time, her English skills have given her confidence in doing housework for all the “muzungus” (Swahili for whitey!) Yes, they still live with no electricity or running water, but they have so many more opportunities and knowledge: They know not to drink the local water unless boiled, they know how to keep clean and therefore not get sick. Basic things we take for granted.

I never think there’s any big deal to be made that I am helping educate those less fortunate than myself, I just think it’s my duty to help as directly as I can, my duty a result of my luck that I was born in Canada and that little girl was born in Africa. “But there for the grace of God go I”.
I also feel we can all help in our own little touristy way: my rules to myself were: Don’t try to bargain down a beachfront room from $10 to $5. Don’t haggle a $2 taxi ride to 80 cents. Yes it’s cheap there, but don’t insult by not paying more than $1 for anything. Gasoline costs the same there as it does in Canada. The people still spend an hour of their time making something…how is their time worth 1/10th of ours? African economy must be allowed to get up at least to half of what ours is. So, that is my humble opinion!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with comments or questions. Next trip…Cambodia? Vietnam?! Can I drag my husband along this time?! If not, again I will not hesitate to go on my own! I truly think having a nice hotel room is one of the more important requirements for a enjoyable trip. I’m 44 and have earned it!

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