Category Archives: Ethiopia

Ethiopia familiarisation trip March 2014

Ethiopian Airlines VIP Press Trip celebrates First A350 in African Skies

On Sunday August 14th Africa’s first and most technologically advanced aircraft, the Airbus A350 XWB, was launched on the London Heathrow – Addis Ababa route.  To celebrate this momentous event a press trip of top trade and aviation journalists ventured on a 48-hour London-Addis non-stop press trip.

Excited at the prospect of a night flight at the front of the plane rather than the back our happy band of travelers gathered at London Heathrow Terminal 2 for our six-hour and 50 minute night flight to Addis.  Unusually for mid-summer there was no queuing and we passed swiftly through the business class check-in and, as we had no check-in baggage, in no time receiving boarding passes and an invitation to the business class lounge. Here we downed welcome gin and tonics whilst being briefed on the upcoming hectic 48 hour press trip.

Boarding swiftly, the economy passengers already having taken their seats, all the journalists were given a super goodie bag including a very useful multi-purpose travel adapter kit – who ever has the right plug for the right international socket?

Now for the technical details – Ethiopian Airlines’ first A350 XWB (named “Simien Mountains”) has 313 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration in economy with a 32-inch seat pitch and an 18-inch width. In business class, ‘Cloud 9’, there are 30 business class seats (BCE diamond seats) which convert to a 78” fully lie-flat beds in a 2-2-2 configuration.

The whole flight was extremely comfortable giving everyone a really great first experience of the A350-XWB. Service was extremely friendly and can-do. Dinner was very tasty (there are Ethiopian culinary choices too on the return flight) and then the wonderful lie-flat beds with fluffy duvets made for a very comfortable sleep for all. Some game journalists even woke for the inaugural flight celebratory cake and champagne at 1am – others did not!

First stop was Ethiopian Airlines HQ where we were greeted by many of the Senior Management team led by MD Ethiopian International Services, Mr Esayas WoldeMariam, for a briefing on the current status of the passenger, cargo and ET Holidays services and expansion plans globally.

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After the presentation was over we were led to the very impressive collection of high-tech space-age looking simulators for a simulated landing at LHR which everyone really enjoyed. Sadly there was not the time for us to attempt a landing ourselves or perhaps this was sensible with such highly tuned and sensitive machinery.

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Following lunch came my personal highlight of the day in a tour of the ET aviation academy, an amazing light and spacious facility housing many buzzing cadets all busily training in tens of classrooms or on the many sections of aircraft used for teaching cabin service.

The journalists particularly enjoyed their own chance to try out the evacuation slide with even the very game 74-year-old Editor in Chief of Business Travel News eagerly taking the plunge. Sadly we were not permitted to try the same on the landing on water evacuation slide – we’d forgotten our costumes so saving that experience for next time!

On visiting the pilot training school we were all very impressed to learn that ET trains many hundreds of male and female pilots not only from Ethiopia but from all over Africa and even Europe who go on to fly on many different airlines beyond Ethiopian.

A visit to the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) facility enabled several of the journalists to regale us with tales of their own early piloting experiences and to unleash boyhood tinkering impulses.

By this time, exhausted and seriously impressed we returned to the hotel for a rest before the evening’s festivities. We did manage to squeeze in an impromptu city sightseeing tour en-route enjoying views of Meskel Square, the National Museum and Palace as well as scenes of bustling Ethiopian daily life. It had been easy to forget in the high-tech academy that we were even in Africa.

An evening of cultural dinner and traditional dance at Yod Abyssinia cultural restaurant was a welcome conclusion to the day affording another glimpse into traditional Ethiopian life. Journalists happily dived into trays of the national dish –injera or Ethiopian flatbread surrounded by delicious spicy sauces, meats and vegetables – the mainstay of Ethiopian cuisine.  A few were even persuaded to end the night with a little traditional shoulder dancing to shake it all down.

On Tuesday morning we rose early to get to the airport, check-in and experience the airport facility tour before departure for our day-time, equally comfortable, flight home – a happy, impressed and weary posse.

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Ethiopia – Day 8 – Bale Mountain Lodge

 With only one day at BML, we wanted to make the most of our time so we split into groups with the keen birders going off with the naturalist James and the rest of us attempting to summit Mt Gushuralle, the volcanic plug in front of the lodge (seen on the right of the picture below).
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The walk took us through the Harenna Forest and up through the bamboo forest which provides the very important habitat for the Bale Monkey.  Unfortunately the Bale Monkeys were shy that day but we did see plenty of Colobus monkeys and birds.
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Ibrahim our guide was excellent at telling us about the birds & plants that we were walking past and the view from the top was well worth the 2 hour climb.
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Ibrahim is passionate about the mountains and has been so motivated by the work that Guy & Yvonne are trying to do that he has set up an environmental club to educate the local population about over grazing etc.  It was great to see how the impact of BML being built has motivated local young people like him to help preserve the forest and their surroundings.  The forest is home to the Bale monkey, a vervet type monkey wtih a little white beard.  It is also home to many bird species including the Abyssinian catbird, yellow-fronted parrot. Menelick’s bushbuck & giant forest hog are easily seen with more rare visitors being African wild dog and black maned lions.  We saw a number of droppings from leopards, lions, honey badgers and hyenas but unfortunately none of them were brave enough to show their faces!
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 Ibrahim pointing to the lodge location
After a delicious lunch of pumpkin soup, pasta salad and fritata, a group of us went on a short horse ride.   In this area of Ethiopia there are horsemen with horses everywhere.   The horses look well looked after and the saddles & bridles were very comfortable.  Unfortunately we only had time for a 45 minute short hack but it would be lovely to spend half a day exploring the forest by horseback.
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Next up was a site inspection of the rooms.  So far 7 of the intended 12 rooms of phase one have been completed.  The remaining rooms will be completed over the rainy season and will come online in September.  The final 3 rooms will be completed in phase two which will finish by the end of 2015. There are 3 rooms attached to the main lodge which are wheelchair friendly and 5 rooms dotted on the hill side in front of the main area with amazing views of the mountains and overlooking the stream that runs through the plot.   The stream has two waterfalls just in front of the rooms and Guy & Yvonne are planning to create a decked area around these stunning natural swimming pools.  This will be a lovely area to be able to chill out at.
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As it can get cold in the evenings at BML due to the altitude, all of the rooms have wood burning stoves & hot water bottles which make them very cosy!
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View from Room 5 – this is room which is furthest away from the mess area therefore perfect for those who want to be completely immersed into the forest.
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All the rooms have been built using traditional materials, in order to blend in with the forest and to be as ‘low impact’ as possible. Before any construction began a thorough environmental impact assessment was made, and technologies put in place to help make the Lodge carbon neutral. No trees have been felled in the construction of the Lodge, as the rooms have been built around the trees that were here, inside a natural clearing.
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We finished off our jam-packed day by witnessing some traditional honeyharvesting.  It was fascinating to the see the honey farmer shimmying up the tree with such ease and also terrifying to see how high he had to go!  Once he is safely settled up at the top of the tree, his partner on the ground sends up the Spanish moss bundle which he lights and puts into the hive.  This sends the bees out of the hive & makes them sleepy which makes it safe for him to put his hand in and collect the honey.
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The honey was absolutely delicious and one of the projects Guy & Yvonne are helping the local community with is to help start selling it to tourists & to other parts of Ethiopia.
The delicious lamb stew and amazing sticky toffee pudding was the perfect way to round up the day.   We were also lucky enough to be treated to a traditional coffee ceremony as a farewell…..I’ll certainly miss the delicious Ethiopian coffee!
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Day 8 – Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

I was keen to make the most of our last day in Zanzibar & wanted to go & visit The Residence Hotel having represented the hotel group previously and before the Zanzibar property being built.  I was so impressed at how impeccable the staff & service were and the whole hotel seemed so serene.  The infinity pool was particularly cool with the glass side walls…..it took all my will power not to dive in to cool down from the Zanzibari heat!

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Returning to Zanzibar White Sand, I realised the reason why I love working with smaller, more personal properties rather than bigger hotel chains.  The hotel is a real labour of love built on Natalia’s father’s passion for Zanzibar and it comes through in everything they are doing.  It is great fun to be part of that.  The service isn’t as slick or serene yet as The Residence (yet!) but the team are incredibly passionate and switched on and considering it is the owner’s first experience of opening a hotel, they have thought of everything. Most of the things I suggested they had considered or were in the process of doing.  Antoni the GM has opened two hotels in Europe & Dubai and is very professional and rather than being frustrated by the African pace of doing things, he is enjoying the challenge!

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The remainder of the day was spent chilling out in our stunning villa…..after all its critical that I know exactly how the sun loungers feel to lie on,  how comfy the swing bed is & the exact temperature of the plunge pool!  It wasn’t all play though as I did tap into the villas wireless internet to download all my emails.  Each of the villas will have wireless and sound systems, tvs etc for those guests who can’t switch off from the outside world.

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I am so glad that I got to see Zanzibar White Sand before it was completely finished as its always nice to then go back & see the finished product.  I have no doubt that Zanzibar White Sand will be a real success as the design, the team, the location, the food & the activities all combine to offer something very special for Zanzibar.  I will definitely be back very soon and maybe next time I’ll have time to give kite surfing a go!

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Day 7 – Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

There is something very cool about arriving in the dark to a new hotel and only discovering your surroundings in the morning light.  Needless to say we were pretty delighted with our view when we opened the curtains…

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After a pre-breakfast plunge pool swim we were treated to a delicious breaky of unbelievable fresh fruit, still-warm Mandazi (donuts…..my new year diet is on hold!) and freshly squeezed orange juice.  Fuelled up we were ready for our tour of the property.

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ZWS consists of 5 one-bedroom villas, 5 two-bedroom villas and a 3 bedroom villa.  The one bedroom villas are all finished & ready for the hotels first guests who arrive on 20th Feb.  The two & three bedroom villas still have some finishing off to do but there is a 200 strong workforce working at quite some pace!

Villa 1 at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

Each of the villas are really spacious with stunning interiors.  The villas consist of two buildings – the bedroom and a dining/sitting room.

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Bedroom at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

(Mosquito net & a few more soft furnishings still to be added!)

During our tour Natalia & Antoni also showed us their carpenters workshop where the majority of the furniture, roofing and flooring are made.

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It was fascinating to see how they are combining contemporary styles with traditional methods and using local wood.

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What I hadn’t realised from the photos I had seen of ZWSLVS was how the roofs are a real work of art.   They have beautiful curves and waves within them but are also thatched using wood slats.

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This is the lofty roof in the restaurant.  They will also have a ‘green’ wall which will be full of flowers & greenery.

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This is the view of restaurant & roof top bar as you drive into the hotel.

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This spa will be in a walled garden with swimming pool, sauna, hammam (picture above) and two open treatment rooms (pictured below).

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The gardens at ZWSLVS are stunning and colours of the flowers against the white stone walls are beautiful.

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The vegetable garden is blooming with chillies, tomatoes, herbs, salad & lots of other yummy edibles.

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After our tour & lunch the wind had picked up and the kite surfers were making the most of it.  It was so entertaining to sit on our roof terrace and enjoy watching the beautiful kites swirl & fly around…it was like a dance!   I have no idea how the 100 or so kites didn’t get completely tangled up in one big kite surfing ball!  Andre Niznik, the owner of ZWSLVS also owns the kite surfing school next door & his passion for the sport is the reason why the hotel was first dreamed up.

Kite surfers paradise, Zanzibar

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Unfortunately the obligatory sundowner had a stronger pull than giving kite surfing a go but I was seriously tempted….particularly as they made it look so easy!

Day 6 – Zanzibar here we come..

Matt & I were very sad to leave Naibor & the Mara after a couple of unforgettable days.   We had some fantastic game viewings and only saw 7 other cars during our 5 game drives.  There is something to be said for going to the Mara in the off season!!

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Next stop Zanzibar. ….but first we had to clear the buffalo off the runway!

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I last went to Zanzibar 19 years ago so I was fascinated to see how it had changed. We landed at 8.30 in the evening and were met by Antoni Rygiel, GM and Natalia Niznik, the Executive Assistant Manager & daughter of the owner of Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa.    Our first stop was the newly opened 6 degrees South restaurant (http://www.6degreessouth.co.tz)  It was ultra cool & I felt like I was sitting in Cape Town rather than the old, shabby Stone Town I remembered!   I would highly recommend it to anyone needing a watering hole in Stone Town!

Day 5 – Naibor

My wake up call was the sound of a lion calling.  I mistakenly thought it was far away only for me to find out later that a small pride of one male, a female & two young cubs were just outside our tent….I must have been deeply asleep to have got that so wrong!

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This female obviously approves of the Naibor tents as she had given birth to the two cubs just outside Little Naibor in November.

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The Mara showed us all her glory this morning with the most amazing photo opportunities….

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…..and the most stunning leopard sighting.  It was like he was working it for his audience as he chose the stunning river backdrop & proudly stretched & yawned & looked around. They call him goldenboy & I could see why…..he was beautiful.

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After we returned from our game drive we had a guided tour of Naibor Wilderness.  Naibor Wilderness consists of 3 large tents with a communal mess tent.  Guests staying here can be incorporated into the activities/dinners etc at Main camp unless the camp is full in which case they will have dinner in their mess area.

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Naibor Wilderness is a great option for people whose budgets don’t quite stretch to main camp as they still have the same food, service, guiding experience and tent sizes.  The only difference is the location is slightly further away from main camp & the tents have wrought iron furniture rather than the lovely chunky wood furniture of main Naibor……but they are still stunning!  IMG_7750

Day 4 – Naibor

I was joined at Naibor by my husband who had flown out to meet me for the remainder of the trip.  I hadn’t been to Naibor for nearly 4 years so it was great to catch up on the camp & the team.

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The new addition of the wooden floored mess area created a lovely light, airy lounge area which was perfect for chilling & going online with the surprisingly strong wireless (far faster than mine in rural Wiltshire!)

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Lunch was a deliciously light salad & yummy home made pizza under the trees overlooking the Talek river.  The beauty of Naibor is that you are right in the heart of the action.  Within yards of the camp we had come across elephants, lion, topje and buffalo and a hippo wallowing in the smallest puddle of mud!  We had been thoroughly spoilt within 15 minutes of our drive!

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The rest of the drive was quite quiet but the Mara provides such a stunning backdrop that we were more than happy just to take in the vast open plains & huge skies…..just bliss!

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