All Things Holy (#14, 38)

My trip to Ethiopia wasn’t all work and no play. I had plenty of free time to explore and partake in all the wonderful things Harar had to offer.

Located in Eastern Ethiopia, a mere 45 minute plane ride from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa and then a 1 hour bus ride, Harar is a city worth visiting. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is an ancient walled city and the “fourth holy city” of Islam. It is known for its rich culture and architecture, best coffee in Ethiopia, amazing foods, local brewery, and the hyena man.

There are two areas to the city. Outside the old wall and inside. Outside the wall is a more modern Harar, with nice hotels and restaurants for dining and staying while visiting. Walk through the main gate of the wall and you are transported into a mecca of old architecture resembling Islamic styles and colors. Just walking through the old city you will need a guide unless you don’t mind getting lost because there are over 200 passageways cutting through the streets like a maze.

Make sure to go on a market day to experience the aroma of spice, different fabrics, and foods for sale in the shops and along the street. Inside the walled city you will also find the small coffee factory with its intoxicating aroma of roasted beans. Make sure to buy some of the coffee from there, absolutely delicious

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One of the famed things to do at dark is go just outside the city and see the hyena man. He has trained wild hyenas to eat off sticks held by the curious and adventurous tourist. They are wild though. Completely. And if you have never heard what a laughing hyena sounds like…well they cackle with the smile of the Cheshire cat.  It is unnerving because for the brave person he has you sit on the ground and first feeds the hyena himself…with it standing on your back. Then if your nerves haven’t given out on you, he gives you a stick, and holding one end in your mouth you feed the hyena yourself. The close proximity made it think I was going to kiss it. It was really so close I slightly recoiled back. BUT. Entirely worth the small price and safety risk.

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The last thing we did after a day of sightseeing was visit the brewery. We didn’t get to see the inside, but we did have a few drinks in the beer garden. There are two beers made here, the Harar Beer and Hakim Stout. These beers are on tap at the garden (very cheap) and ordered in a very humorous manner. If you want the Harar Beer order the Bush. If you want the Hakim Stout order the Obama. I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to. I tried both. On tap I prefer the Hakim, bottled I prefer the Harar.

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Don’t forget to eat as much local food as possible because it is delicious. I recommend the non-fasting wot options with injera or if you don’t like injera they will give you rice. Wot is the spicy curry sauce and it is served with different types of meat and is just damn delicious.

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So, for all things holy go to the walled city of Harar. You will not only see amazing things, but you have a chance to experience things out of the ordinary.

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