Exploring Ethiopia: The Merkato

Hello Dear Readers!

This is my last post on my Ethiopia trip. Next up…Dubai!

Our entire trip in Ethiopia was jam packed. The country is huge, and we only had five days to spend, so making the most of our time was really important. Thus, we found ourselves on the last day of the trip having spent some serious time outside of the city, but not much time inside Addis Ababa itself. The Merkato, then, is supposed to be one of the best things to visit inside the city, aptly described as ‘a world unto itself.’ I had originally (and incorrectly) decided that we could visit by ourselves. I was disabused of that notion immediately upon my arrival to Ethiopia, so booked us both a full city tour with a guide (via Viator), who took us through the Merkato.

Words fail me here. The Merkato is…huge, a sprawling mass of commerce. It’s concentrated wealth, business, tourism, and poverty all in one place. It’s a teeming mass of humanity that thrives on the countless customers from across the country.

We had no business being there.

Still, our guide led us adroitly through the narrow alleyways, wending his way through the ironworks, the spice market, the basket weavers, and the textile center, never losing his way as he dragged us across the muddy pathways.

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It was incredible.

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Since the Merkato is well-known as the home of those with the stickiest fingers (so, so, many pickpockets) Harrison and I both walked with our hands inside our pockets. I bought a money belt just for this trip, but managed to forget it in my suitcase, so my cell phone was literally tucked into the waistband of my pants. I let Harrison take all the photos, (I’m not risky enough) which led to a ridiculous situation, in which we were making our way through various piles of injera baskets (of course) and he took his hands out of his pockets (with his phone) in order to take photos of the market.

Immediately, this ragged little kid darted up, his hands reaching for Harrison’s pockets, which I swiftly hip-checked out of the way. I mean they were empty, but still, it’s the principle of the thing.

I then turned full around, faced the kid, who stared unabashedly into my eyes, and shook my head. He grinned at me, knowing full well that I had caught him, then continued to follow us for another five minutes, reaching every so often for one of our pockets.

That cheeky little bugger.

In the end, nothing was stolen and we exited the Merkato, heads spinning and eyes wide open. It was a really cool end to a really cool trip.

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A few other notes before I wrap up. Ethiopia is not the easiest country to navigate, with hardly any internet capability. My T-Mobile plan, sadly, did not provide me data, and social media within the country is literally blocked (Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, etc.)

A VPN will save you from most of those troubles, if you can find WiFi. Hola VPN on the Chrome browser works well, and the iTunes stores has a number of free VPN apps as well.

As for getting around, I used the Addis Map, which cost me ten bucks on Amazon and saved my butt numerous times.

Apparently, (though I didn’t buy one), SIM cards in Ethiopia are dirt cheap. So bringing an unlocked phone and buying a local SIM card should do you good.

Please haggle, haggle, haggle. With everything from souvenirs to taxi drivers, everywhere you go, people are sizing you up and overcharging you to see what you’ll pay. Don’t be fooled, most of those prices can be cut in half.

Finally, both Viator and Go Addis offer some really cool tour options, each of which provided friendly, professional service. We had an excellent time with them, and I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a good tour guide.

My time spent in Ethiopia was just the beginning of a love for Africa, and I look forward to heading back to explore some more in the future.

Until then, I’ll feast myself on some injera.

-Carissa “The Unpickpocketed” Rawson

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5 thoughts on “Exploring Ethiopia: The Merkato

  1. Awesome photos and cool article. I have an huge interest in discovering Africa. I have read that Ethiopia is believed to be the safest country of Africa nowadays. As I am white, locals will probably see me as a tourist. Was that any kind of problem for you?

    Best regards!

    Like

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