Expat Tales: Kiwi offers an Ethiopia escape

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Pamela Robbie, left, says she loves getting to meet all kinds of people through her job.

(Stuff)– Pamela Robbie has been organising and escorting tailor-made tours in Ethiopia for the past 10 years.

What inspired your move and how long have you been there?
Divorce – if life was going to be different, I wanted to try things I had never experienced before. I’ve lived in Ethiopia for just over 10 years now.

What do you do there? 
I run a tour company offering tailor-made tours. We arrange itineraries all over the country visiting historical sites, tribal villages, trekking to the highest peaks, and seeing endemic wildlife.

Lake Chamo in southern Ethiopia.

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Lake Chamo in southern Ethiopia.

 What are the greatest advantages to living there?

Being in a country that is so incredibly diverse. From 150 metres below sea level with live lava lakes, to climbing the fourth highest peak in Africa, Ras Dashen, 4700m above sea level in the Simien Mountain National Park, to visiting tribal villages still wearing animal skins and observing ancient rituals. Not to mention being in the birthplace of coffee!

Disadvantages?
Even though the country has developed a lot over the time I have been here, it is still difficult to work with limited internet and phone services, regular power cuts and water shortages.

How expensive is it compared to New Zealand? 
If you live a local lifestyle, it is very inexpensive. However, if you live an expat lifestyle, and want to live in a nice house with a nice vehicle and all the things that make life easier, rentals and prices are through the roof with huge taxes imposed.

The view from Dorze Lodge, overlooking the lakes of Arba Minch.

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The view from Dorze Lodge, overlooking the lakes of Arba Minch.

 How much is a beer?

If you buy beer locally, it is pretty much the same price as soft drinks. Beer here is excellent. There are now five companies each producing about five beer types.

What do you do in your spare time?
I usually jump on a plane and visit my daughters. One is in Dubai with her family, and the other in the United Kingdom with her family. Otherwise I work here all the time I am in Ethiopia. Quite often I escort tours so that I can keep up to date with roading, accommodation, and check on the performance of our team.

What’s the local delicacy and would you recommend eating it?
The traditional food is injera made from a tiny seed called teff. It is made into a crepe which is served with sauces, lentils and stews.

Taking a ride in a tuk tuk.

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Taking a ride in a tuk tuk.

 Easiest way to get around?

The domestic flights are regular and now quite reliable. Otherwise we use four-wheel-drives or a minibus for our trips.

What’s the shopping like?
Leather goods are excellent if you know where to look for export quality, as are the cotton and silk products. There are some very good artists here also.

Best after-dark activity?
Considering there are something like 150 embassies based here, including the New Zealand embassy, there are some very nice foreign restaurants, as well as lots of traditional cuisine with ethnic dancing. The Italian, German and French embassies are particularly active in providing cultural evenings. There’s also a good cinema showing the latest films and plenty of night clubs.

Best time of year to visit?
If you like it green, then following the rainy season is the nicest time to visit – September/October. Otherwise, some people like to time their visit to see some of the colourful festivals in January, September or Easter.

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?
Danakil Depression is like visiting another planet – a live lava lake, manual salt extraction which is still transported out by camel and donkey caravans, and colourful sulphur pools. Otherwise trekking in the mountains to combine visiting some of the local villages and seeing which seasonal crops are growing, and getting an in-depth appreciation of how they live. Third, seeing the birdlife and wildlife is a thrill. There are many endemic species here.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?
Reliable internet and communications would be number one.

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?
Very easy. There’s a daily flight out of Addis either with Emirates (which I prefer because I usually have a stopover in Dubai with family), or Ethiopian Airlines, then onto New Zealand.

For Kiwis looking to move there, which industries are seeking fresh talent?
Always looking for teachers and people working in the United Nations or related work. It is much better for anyone coming if they have worked in other developing countries.