Few days without internet. What a feeling!
This trip was for us like a time machine. We landed in the middle ages. Extreme poverty mixed with beautiful architecture of the city. Unforgettable, unique but at the same time very difficult experience, which I will never forget.
We took fist available transport in the morning. 10 hours trip in a local bus from Addis Ababa to Harar was for us a big challenge and revealed huge poverty on the road, while we were stopping in poor, dirty and undeveloped villages on the way. But we were very happy to move towards the border with Somalia – the land of mosques, khat and most of all one of the best coffee in the world!
Harar is a walled city in eastern Ethiopia, the capital of the Harari Region. But in fact it has nothing in common with our western understanding of the word “capital”. The city is very undeveloped – poor settlement filled with life based on trade and agriculture, no good road infrastructure, bad water supply and sewage system. On top of that add lack of hygiene which every ordinary European cannot imagine. So why to go to Harar?
World Heritage–listed Harar is the most memorable sight in eastern Ethiopia that shouldn’t be missed.
The labyrinth of over three hundred colorful streets squeezed into just 1 sq km of the old city takes you to a completely different era. It has the spirit which is hard to describe and you will not find any similar place in whole Ethiopia. Strategic location between the coastal lowlands and central highlands led to its development as an important center of Islamic culture and commerce. Harar is the region of the best coffee in the world, gradually replaced by the increasingly popular crops of khat. It’s a sad change coming from the market rules – production of khat (which is an amphetamine-like stimulant, forbidden in most of the countries of the world) gives much better profit than production of coffee.
Colorful streets of Old Town:
Another thing which makes this city unforgettable and I would like to describe it here for you is a possibility to spend the night in the old town settlement.
Going to Harar we booked 3 nights in Rowda Waber Harari Cultural Guest House. For me it was one of the best accommodation in whole Ethiopia! But don’t understand me wrong – the best doesn’t mean the most luxury 🙂
Because they don’t have their own website and don’t exist on booking.com, we booked the room calling them from Addis Ababa few days before our arrival. Tricky thing is that it’s not easy to get the proper number and communicate with the guest house workers in English. But this is part of the game 😉 You can try to communicate directly with the Guest House or with one of the local guides, who live in Harar and offer you their services. I can give you some numbers here, but who knows if they will be working when you will try to use them: (+251) 256 662 211, (+251) 921 872 867, (+251) 936 052 727.
We booked our room with the help of the owner of the hotel in Addis Ababa. We also agreed that upon our arrival, someone from the hostel will pick us up from the bus stop and guide to the place of accommodation. It was the best we could do! Getting to the walls of the old city would not be such a challenge, but finding our hostel inside the maze of winding streets sounds more like winning on the lottery! When we arrived to Harar we were completely lost and grateful to God that we had decided for a guide in advance 😉
He took us directly to Rowda Waber Guest House, but the way form bus stop to our destination was more than shocking. The city is a crazy mix of colorful architecture, the smell of unique spices, food and coffee, huge lack of hygiene (which is for me the most accurate indicator of poverty in Ethiopia that can be visible to the naked eye), multicolored dressed people (mostly ladies), homeless sleeping on the streets and khad-addicted lying on the pavements.
Entering to the yard of our Guest House was like finding an oasis of peace and calm. Suddenly, when we closed the door to the yard I felt we left all this mess behind. The air became fresh and possibility to wash hands was like a blessing.
Rowda Waber Harari Cultural Guest House is a very simple accommodation.
House is a typical old town Muslim-style settlement, with a yard, separate kitchen, bathroom zone and place to sleep. Roofs are flat. You have there three doubled rooms and two shared bathrooms with a shower. Place is very clean, but sometimes there is no hot water (but during our stay all was fine) and power outages so it’s good to have a flashlight. Like in the whole town, you will not have access to the Internet (but maybe this is something good?) and it’s forbidden to drink alcohol. Smoking in the yard is allowed. Breakfast is also very simple but it’s delicious and it was for me a big surprise! What they are serving is kind of “pancake dough” which I know from Yemenite Jewish living in Israel – so called “malawach”. “Malawach” is a traditional Yemenite bread which consists of a thick crepe of thin layers of dough that are quickly fried. They are serving every day the same – “malawach” with honey and tea or coffee. Yummy!
We loved that place and frankly speaking we didn’t want to go out on the street!
Bare in mind that the purpose of staying in this Guest House is not just to have a place to sleep – is an opportunity to discover how ordinary inhabitants of Harar are living.
Courtyard and interior of the house:
Remember: like in whole Ethiopia, people will look at you like at walking ATM. It will not change in this guest house or with cooperating guides. Don’t judge it. Bear in mind that those people were born in one of the poorest country in the World.
We loved the place itself, but not too much the business with guides around it – you can feel the pressure to hire a guide and their prices are like from the moon! But I really wanted to spend the night in this original place and I try to separate it. I don’t judge anybody for trying to make a business and I don’t want to put myself in their skin – being born in one of the poorest country in the world. For me the rule is simple – don’t travel to such places without money. Don’t expect to receive things for free in such a poor country. Of course, don’t lose your mind as well and don’t give money for everything. Just decide earlier in your mind what is worth spending money for you and be consequent.
The list of my pros and cons will help you decide on Rowda Waber Harari Cultural Guest House:
- It’s a very simple accommodation. Go there if you want to discover how is it to live like inhabitants of Harar. Be prepared of some inconvenient like no hot water or alcohol prohibition.
- It’s not easy to make a reservation. People working there don’t speak English and they don’t exist on any booking portal like booking.com. You need to have the number to call them, or you can try to contact with one of the local guides who will make a reservation for you.
- I can give you some numbers, but I don’t guarantee they will be working: (+251) 256 662 211, (+251) 921 872 867, (+251) 936 052 727.
- In whole city there is no internet. So in the hostel you will not find it too. There are power and hot water breaks in whole town.
- You can book double bed room. Bathroom is shared (two bathrooms and showers in whole hostel).
- Hostel is an original 300 years old Muslim-style settlement with unique architecture. You will not find similar accommodation in whole Ethiopia.
- It’s very clean.
- They serve great breakfast: malawach with honey, coffee or tea.
- Place has amazing charm. It’s like an oasis of peace and calm, good for recovery.
- No alcohol, but smoking is allowed.
- Obligatory hire a local guide for your arrival – to show you the way to the Guest House. There are no signs on the way, obviously the hostel doesn’t have an address.
- Watch out with hiring a local guide for whole your stay! Prices for such service are really high and you can try to sightseeing the city alone. With a local guide you will feel more safe, but don’t expect any encyclopedic knowledge from him. He will rather be just your “Google maps”. Be careful, because they will promise you everything what you will ask for, but the results can be disappointing! If you want to know more about guide business in Ethiopia, PM me or write a comment.
If after reading these pros and cons, you feel that this experience is for you, book some time to visit Harar and enjoy this place! As if that wasn’t enough, there are two things which will convince you to go to this town – chance to get up close and personal with wild hyenas or try the khat. It’s a rare traveler who doesn’t enjoy it there.
One of the streets next to the Rowda Waber Guest House. With khat supply on the shoulder:
Feeding hyenas, according to the saying “If you can’t defeat your enemy, make a friendship”:
Time: September 2016