Making good on a promise to get out of Addis and explore the rest of Ethiopia, I jumped at the chance to visit the Eastern city of Harar with a few friends. We opted to take the bus because I definitely wasn’t going to entertain the idea of driving 8 hours on a very busy road that eventually leads to the Djiboutian port. The city is unlike any other place in Ethiopia and while trying to navigate its complex network of narrow alleyways, it definitely did not feel like I was in Ethiopia.
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Harar is a walled city, with 5 main gates that once were closed on a nightly basis to protect the city from invaders. The city is regarded as the 4th most holy city in Islam. It also boasts a whopping 90 mosques within the small radius of 45km2. The old town or Gugul, has a feel of small Maghrib towns with stone homes, brightly painted and very narrow passages. Getting lost and roaming around these passage ways was a highlight of the trip. The first time I stepped into the guesthouse, I was taken aback by the amount of trinkets hanging EVERYWHERE. I thought this was some sort of tourist gimmick, but it turns out this is very much the norm. As the pics in the slide show indicate, it’s customary to hang or display every piece of kitchen ware on the walls and built-in shelfs in the living room area. Decoration meets functionality. It definitely took a minute to take it all in a bit dizzying.
We spent an entire morning fabric shopping and stopping at every cafe for a cup of tea. As shop keepers began to wane off and retreat to their Khat chewing sessions and escape the burning afternoon sun, we took a wonderful siesta and returned to our aimless meandering around the town. As for the tea, amount of sugar used was literally half the small cup it was served it. I thought Sudanese liked their sugar…but Hararis have taken the prize for that one.
We were dragged by a certain someone to go and see the infamous “Hyena man”. An old man who has taken to feeding the hyenas that roam around the city. Ironically, I ended up feeding the disgusting animals, while the person who dragged us there was scared to death to even approach them. I have no idea how this man came across this odd hobby that now probably provides a steady income from various tourists wanting to partake in the experience.
Down side of the trip was the unexpected aggressiveness by young guys around town. We were constantly followed, at time claiming it was for our “safety” or to help us bargain in the market. Constantly trying to ward off these unwanted individuals definitely was a test on our collective patience. Despite these annoyances, the long bus ride and ridiculous amount of customs checks along the ride back, the trip was well worth it and a must see for anyone visiting or living in Ethiopia.