I spent last weekend visiting Harar, a World Heritage (and Peace and Tolerance) city over in the East of the country. It’s reputedly over 1000 years old, and is the 4th holiest Muslim city (after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem).  It’s also the birthplace of Haile Selassie.

It involved a slightly gruelling 10 hour bus journey, but I got a chance to see some spectacular scenery on the way across (once you finally get out of the Addis surrounds, the road passes through savannah/scrub with the Rift Valley wall in the background, then climbs up through beautiful, fertile mountains and valleys with views for hundreds of miles around).

Harar itself is a world away from Addis, and reminded me more of Morocco (there’s a heavy Egyptian and Turkish influence). Apart from the beautiful, narrow twisting alleyways, the mosques and the markets, there are two key things that Harar is famous for today.  Firstly, the hyena man (who feeds wild hyenas outside the city walls each evening), and secondly the chewing of ‘chat’ (a mildly narcotic plant that is a huge part of the culture here: practically everyone, of all ages, chews it from mid afternoon onwards).

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The city gets its income from the farming of chat, coffee and fruit (particularly mangos), taking advantage of its strategic location on the way to Djibouti and Somalia. The streets are full of heaving markets.

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Arthur Rimbaud (the French poet) spent time here in the late 1890s, and there’s an interesting display of photos he took (the first ever taken of Harar). Mine aren’t just as skilled (!!) but it was interesting how he described bands of young children following him to get their photos taken: I had exactly the same experience 100 years later…

I also headed slightly further East, into the Somalia region of the country, to see the ‘Valley of Marvels’ (precarious rock formations in a lunar-like landscape), and to visit a twice-weekly camel market that’s held in the town of Babile (with the local Somalian people, exceptionally tall and carrying their traditional sticks over their shoulders, buying and selling hundreds of camels – apparently they go for £750-£1000 each, so there was plenty of haggling).

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Anyway, on a final note, one of the other good things about the trip was coming back to the welcome from the students in the hostel on Tuesday ! Being greeted at the hostel, getting my bags carried to my room, getting quizzed on what it was like and what I thought of Ethiopia – a very nice ‘homecoming’ 🙂

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