Face to face with Hyena’s in Harar – My story

Harar in the east of Ethiopia is the place to go if you want to get yourself surrounded by hyena’s, staring at you like a potential meal. However as unbelievable as it may sound, the hyena’s here are friendly with the people living here.
It’s the only place in Ethiopia where these wild animals got used to people.
Hyena’s are being fed with scraps of meat by the locals  in the evening and this became a habit and a tradition since feeding them would prevent them from attacking the livestock or children. This tradition exists for some decades now.

However these are still wild animals so you have to be careful at all times and never completely trust them like you would trust your own pet at home.
The Hyena man who feeds the hyena’s and calls them out whistling while waving a piece of meat in the air that they can smell from far, got bitten a few years ago and the man died in the hospital of the wounds in his face.
There have not been any incidents anymore since then and it’s still unclear why the Hyena’s suddenly bit the man who had fed them for years.
I came so far to the middle of nowhere, not to back down from it, I was ready to face them and to reset my mind to zero.
I wanted to feed the Hyena’s in the Harar, that was one of the things I really wanted to experience on my trip in Ethiopia. I like wild animals and if I can do a unique animal encounter somewhere in the world, I’m definitely excited to experience it.

The Harar City Gate

The day I went to the Harar to meet the Hyena’s

There is no airport in Harar, the nearest airport is about 1 hour drive (traffic permitting)  in the city of Dire Dawa which has connections to Djibouti and Addis Ababa.
I arrived in the late afternoon in Dire Dawa from a flight out of Lalibela to Addis Ababa where I had to change planes. My driver picked me up and because of heavy traffic and mountainous roads with alot of turns and twists the drive to Harar took longer than the 1 hour that I expected it to be. Almost 2 hours it took to arrive in Harar, it was already getting dark, so before going to the hotel and unload my stuff, I directly got to the spot where the Hyena’s are being fed by the Hyena man on the outskirts of the city, by the old city walls near the graveyard.

meeting the hyena’s in the Harar

mouth to mouth

mouth to mouth part 2

in front of my face

in front of my face part 2

powerful bite inch from my nose, damn those teeth look sharp

looks like the hyena is biting in my hand, cause you can’t see the stick very well that I’m holding with the goat meat on

The guy throwing scraps at the Hyena’s sits on a little piece of wood from a chopped off tree with a bucket in front of him filled with all scraps of meat from a goat or sheep.
The Hyena’s smell the blood from the flesh and get easy triggered by it.
I sat next to the guy and he gave me a stick with a scrap of meat on it that I had to put in my mouth and the Hyena would snap it off from the stick and that’s when I got face to face with the Hyena, animal with what is said to have one of the most powerful bite force in their jaws, more than tigers and lions, which is crazy when you think about it.
Next challenge was to have the Hyena biting at a piece of meat dangling an inch from my face, it was crazy and I pulled my face back a little cause it was a bit to close and had my phone in my right hand to film a video of it and the result you can see on my youtube channel :

The Hyenas are distracted by the scraps of meat we gave them, so they are not really interested in attacking or biting you. Strange thing is I wasn’t nervous at all, it just looked to me like some dogs getting their meal, it didn’t really hit me that these were hyena’s and that wild animals always could become unpredictable. It was a great experience after all and I would do it again, special thanks to the hyena’s of the Harar.

What else is there in Harar ?

I visited several places in Harar with a local guide and it’s the best to do, for safety reasons and because a local can tell other people to back off and give you some peace if somebody would start to get a little too pushy asking for things.
My guide took pictures of me at the most important places and also took the pictures  the evening before, with the hyena’s.

The narrow cobbled stone streets between the colorful old city walls is like a labyrinth walking through and has some great spots for picture opportunities.

I visited some important houses like the King Selassie house with museum and the Arthur Rimbaud house who was a French poet and lived here for several years.
The ceiling and walls in the house are painted with images that represents something out of Arthur Rimbaud’s life and on the top floor there are some colorful glasswindows, it’s a building that stands out compared to the others in the old town. Last house that I visited was a typical Ethiopian style house, the Rowda guest house with all kinds of decorations on the walls. It’s more typical in Harar to hang things like potts and plates up on the wall.

colorful houses

local lady in front of her house

King Selassie house

Entrance to Arthur Rimbaud’s house

in front of Arthur Rimbaud’s house

Me at the top floor of Arthur Rimbaud’s house with the colorod glasswindows

colored glass windows

Rowda guest house with potts and plates decorating the walls

After Mecca , Jerusalem and Medina, the city of Harar is considered by Ethiopians as Islam’s fourth holiest city. The city is predominantly Muslim compared to other places in Ethiopia which are more Christian, but in Harar there is diversity of religion, in the city centre there is an orthodox church and next to the Juma mosque there is a Catholic church of Saint Mary.

Juma Mosque

Orthodox church

Inside the Catholic Church of Saint Mary

My guide also showed me the street markets, the spice market and vegetable market at the Showa gate. After that we got to the old city’s meat market square where he got some camel meat from the butcher and threw it in the air for the eagles to scoop it in the air, really impressing how fast these birds are. They sit on the rooftops waiting to snatch the meat, video here below :

old city’s meat market

The Showa gate

vegetable market

vegetable and fruit market

spice market

posing in front of an old peugeot, looks like one of these old timers that they have in Havana Cuba

tuk tuks in Harar are also an option to get yourself around

 

 

 

Lalibela

After Addis Ababa, I took a 1 hour domestic flight with Ethiopian airlines the national airline of Ethiopia. It’s also the airline I came with to Ethiopia from Brussels. A direct flight which for once was very convenient, no stopovers.  You get discounts on your domestic flights with Ethiopian if you book your international flight also with them.
Because Ethiopia is a big country and distances are long, it’s best to take domestic flights if you visit the country for only a limited of time like I did. I was only 6 days in Ethiopia and offcourse I haven’t seen all the nice places in the country, but as always I choose a few places and off I go.

Lalibela wall painting

Typical village house

Lalibela was my 2nd stop on my Ethiopian journey after Addis Ababa.
This place is very famous for its rock-hewn churches and it was something I really wanted to see. Churches are carved into the ground and are on the Unesco site list since 1978.
Ethiopia was one of the first nations to adopt Christianity in the fourth century, and the churches themselves date from the seventh to thirteenth centuries.

Cross Monolith church

locals at the Cross Monolith aka Biete Ghiorghis

Biete Giyorghis

tomb of King Lalibela inside the Cross Monolith church aka the Church of St Georghe

Each church was carved from a single piece of rock by King Gebre Mesquel Lalibela (1181 – 1221).  It is said he designed the churches and other major buildings in the town to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem.
There are 11 monolithic churches split up in 2 groups. the Northern group consists of 6 churches and the South of 5.

Here are the names of all churches : Biete Medhanealem, Biete Maryam, Biete Golgotha, Biete Maskal, Biete Denagel, Biete Ghiorghis, Biete Emanuel, Biete Qeddus Merkoreos,Biete abba Libanos, Biete Gabriel-Raphel, Biete Lehem.

Biete Maryam

Biete Medhane Alem is the biggest Monolitic church in the world

Biete Medhane Alem

Tomb of Adam

 

Biete Gabriel-Raphael

 

The most famous one is the Cross shaped Monolith church of St George also know as Biete Ghiorghis. There was a tunnel in the ground leading to the entrance of the church and inside of the church is incredible hollow, thick walls but enough space to sit, walk around that I was breaking my head over how on earth did they manage to not only carve a church all the way down into the ground but also carve almost the whole inside.

With all these churches and with the historical and ancient background it comes to no surprise that this place is now a pilgrimage site. On holy days people are dressed up in white, even on a funeral as I could witness when I was walking from the church site towards town.

funeral going on

Just outside Lalibela in the near area I visited the 13th century cave-built church of Ne’akuto Leab which is famous for its collection of ancient crosses, manuscripts, icons and crowns which the priest was proud to show me. The water that comes down the caves is being collected in barrels and is considered holy water to drink and wash yourself. The Priest also sprayed me and other visitors sevral times with it.

The Mountainous area

 

Cave churches

cave churches

Priest showing me the crowns and icons

The Bible

The different crosses in the collection

I stayed 2 days in Lalibela in the Lalibela Lodge with great view over the mountains.
It’s in walking distance to the church sites and to the many litlle shops, restaurants and bars.

Lalibela Lodge

View from my room over the mountains and the restaurant where I had breakfast every morning

 

Addis Ababa my return to Africa

Image

Addis Ababa , the capital of Ethiopia also known simply as “Addis”.
Here I started my short trip to Ethiopia visiting Lalibela, Harar and Addis Ababa.
I always pick a few places whenever visiting a country, especially when I only travel here for a week  I had to make a choice.

 

What is there to see in Addis Ababa ?

 

Entoto Mountain

From here you have a nice panoramic view over Ethiopia’s capital Addis.
You can take a hike here in the woods, so many eucalyptus trees spreading a special smell over the area. Made me think about my time in Australia visiting the blue mountains. on your way to the top of Mount Entoto you will bump into locals trying to sell you some handmade souvenirs, but also people who are working and carrying piles of wooden branches attached with a cord on their backs and monkeys carrying the more heavy stacks of wood.

Entoto mountain with view over the city

small souvenir shop on Entoto mountain

local women at work

donkeys on the road carrying stacks of wood

 

The national Museum

I think everybody at some point had to learn about the first humans and where they came from, apparently Ethiopia is the place on earth where archeologist and scientist found out that it’s here that the first humans walked the earth. The oldest human skeleton being found from what was one of our ancestors. A crossing between ape and human named Lucy. In the National museum of Addis Ababa where the skeleton of Lucy lays, you can see many other skeletons that have been found in the ground from the Homo Erectus just to give one example. Also skulls of animals that are now extinct.
All of that is downstairs. The first floor has artwork, a throne, crowns, weapons of the former Ethiopian king Haile Sellasie and his wife Empress Zewditu Menelik.
The 2nd floor there are all kinds of African paintings representing the life in Ethiopia and Ethiopian history as well as religious paintings like Maria with child. The paintings look like the once you can see in Orthodox churches. The Christianity in Ethiopia is also mainly Orthodox.
The 3rd floor has traditional clothes on display and tools that are used for farming.

entrance of the national museum

map of Ethiopia at the museum

holding the Ethiopian flag

Here is “Lucy”

 

Lucy how she used to look

more skulls and parts of human skeletons

Crown of king Selassie

portret of King Selassie

portret of empress Zewditu Menelik

museum view from the 2nd floor

just one of the paintings on the 2nd floor

 

The Addis Mercato

The largest open air market in Africa. It goes on for kilometers and has different sections connected by the streets , a real labyrinth.
Vendors trying to sell anything, everything gets recycled, it’s like nothing goes to waste.
So many people, it’s chaotic, you could easily loose yourself. I just watched everything from the backseat of the car and snapped a few pictures. I don’t really like markets with mass crowds and in this heat outside as the sun was burning I was more than happy just to do some people watching and see what people are buying and what they are all carrying on their shoulders, back or heads. I saw one guy believe it or not, carrying a big American fridge on his back. How do you not break your spine? It’s nuts!
Not only people are carrying heavy stuff but also the many donkeys have stacked heavy items on their backs.

the Addis Ababa mercato

a guy carrying heavy bag on his back

little bit chaotic, rooftops full of stuff stacked on it

guy on top of some boxes of refridgerators that have been just loaded on to the truck

 

Churches

The Holy Trinity Cathedral

It’s the most important Cathedral.
This Orthodox Cathedral contains the tombs of king Halie Selassie and his wife. The beautiful glasswork and paintings can also be admired when entering inside. Just like in Buddhist temples and mosques, here in Ethiopia it’s common to take your shoes of when entering an Orthodox church.  It’s not the habit in Russia for example. I never  had to take my shoes of when visiting an Orthodox church or Cathedral in Moscow. For me it was not an issue as I visited so many religious buildings this year, from Buddhist temples in Myanmar and Laos to Mosques in Brunei that I’m used to take my shoes of now when entering a religious building.

The Holy Trinity Cathedral

inside the Cathedral

amazing glasswork

 

Medhane Alem Cathedral

It’s the biggest Cathedral and it’s another Orthodox Cathedral worth visiting.
Works where going on inside so there was no possibility to go in, so I only saw it from the outside. Massive colorful paintings on the outside walls caught my eye and the Jesus Christ statue on the other side of the street facing the Cathedral.

Medhane Alem Cathedral

Jesus Christ statue