P&O Cruises has cancelled a stop in Egypt’s Port due to fear of unrest

February 20, 2013

Egypt port

P&O Cruises has cancelled a stop in Egypt’s Port Said on Oceana’s current Eastern Mediterranean cruise, opting instead to spend two days in Alexandria.

The cancellation comes just a few weeks after P&O cancelled Ashdod in Israel due to “security issues.” The line took the decision to swap Port Said (for Cairo) for the quieter Mediterranean port of Alexandria, where the ship is currently berthed, to avoid being in Egypt on a Friday. Generally, unrest has typically taken place after morning prayers on a Friday.

Despite security concerns, all tours to Cairo have gone ahead as planned — including an overnight tour in the capital city — without incident.

A spokeswoman for P&O said: “Port Said was cancelled following assessment of the current disorder in that particular city.

“Alexandria does not currently have these levels of disorder, hence we are content for our ships to visit there. The excursions we are currently running to Cairo have been risk-assessed at the highest level and avoid Tahrir Square.

“In summary, Port Said has been cancelled due to specific issues in that City.”

A number of lines have been forced to alter or cancel intineraries to Egypt in recent months, including Regent Seven Seas, which changed an itinerary in November; and Norwegian Cruise Line which cancelled all calls in Egypt for this season.

Seychelles capital named 3rd most romantic city in the world

December 7, 2012


CNN, one of the world’s leading news and information channels, has voted the Seychelles islands as the third most romantic city in the world after ranking New Orleans of the USA as the first one, followed by Moscow, Russia, in second place. The result of the most eight romantic cities was published on November 14, 2012, on the travel website of CNN America.

Others to have made it onto CNN’s list of the world’s eight most romantic cities are Buenos Aires, Argentina; Amsterdam, Holland; Havana, Cuba; Barcelona, Spain; and Paris, France.

Picking up on this good news is the Apple Daily News, the number one circulation in Hong Kong who reported on the eight cities to have as the most romantic in the world in its article, “New Orleans is the most romantic.”

“Paris does not rank 1st, instead New Orleans which has just been seriously destructed by Hurricane Katrina becomes the most romantic city,” remarked the article.

The article goes on to say that though Paris no longer ranks number one as the most romantic city it is, according to the research conducted by the World Tourism Organization the most popular tourism country.

As for Victoria, Seychelles, the article describes it as “a city with charming beaches, beautiful scenery, not densely populated, full of classical British architectural style, just like a paradise on Earth, average temperature is about 27c, all these make people become more passionate.”

The Seychelles Tourism Board received this news selection with great pride. Elsia Grandcourt, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, commented that this selection comes at an opportune time as great marketing efforts are being put on the Asian market visitors.

“Seychelles remains the idyllic destination, attractive not only for romance but an array of niche markets such as eco-tourism, sailing, wellness & spa, diving, snorkelling, and deep sea fishing to appeal to our visitors,” said Mrs. Elsia Grandcourt.

On a similar note, reporting on the voting results on the CNN travel website, journalist Jordan Burchette has described Victoria of Seychelles, saying: “There’s nothing more romantic than being as far from other people as possible, and no capital city offers this kind of isolation with this kind of beachfront.”

“Plus, the architecture of this former British colony often mimics that of its former empire. It’s like they put England somewhere good. The transcendence of its pristine beaches, the prehistoric beauty of Vallee de Mai (the reputed original Garden of Eden), the eroticism of moutya dancing, which increases as the rhythm quickens,” added Jordan Burchette.

Alain St.Ange, the Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism & Culture, said that CNN’s assessment of Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, reflected what our visitors say, “’A city with charming beaches, beautiful scenery, not densely populated,  full of classical British architectural style, just like a paradise on Earth, average temperature is about 27c, all these make people become more passionate,’ is a fair description of Victoria,” Minister St.Ange said.

Seychelles prides itself to be safe and clean and said the Minister, “We are a year-round tourism destination, because we have no winter – so our clean and white sandy beaches will offer unrivaled swimming in our clear and clean turquoise blue seas 365 days of the year.”

Seychelles is a founding member of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP).

Source: Seychelles Ministry of Tourism and Culture
Source: Global Travel News

In Ethiopia, faith of centuries, carved in stone

November 20, 2012


By Michael Fabey

The van progressed at a pilgrim’s pace, rattling along the rutted Ethiopian mountain road past the hamlets of huts and bouncing alongside the stream of donkeys, cows and schoolchildren making their daily journeys.Swarms of people played and watched games of table tennis on boards propped up on the uneven, dusty footpaths, next to little stalls where grizzled men and women sewed and weaved and watched the traffic of people, beasts and vehicles.These mountain masses of Ethiopians were quite used to vans of tourists making the trek from Lalibela Airport to the rock-hewn churches dug, chiseled and sculpted in the hills above in the mystical days of the medieval millennia. Ethiopia’s remote mountain enclaves have been Orthodox Christian strongholds for centuries.Our guide Wondefraw Girma, in true Ethiopian tradition, weaved tales and legends of magic, of how the Queen of Sheba journeyed from these hills to seek Solomon because, as the queen said in the Kebra Nagast, Ethiopia’s national epic, “Wisdom is the best of all treasures.”

But the queen returned with more than the wisdom of Solomon. She also bore him a son, who brought back the “true Ark of the Covenant” to these hallowed hills — where, many in the country believe, it still rests.

It may sound like the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie, but for Ethiopians, these religious precepts are serious business. The country is an island in a sea of Islamic nations, and for hundreds of years, Christianity, Islam and even native animism have all shared the same faith space.

A sense of history and tradition is inescapable here. At restaurants like Yod Abyssinia in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital, local troupes contort themselves to traditional dances like the eskista as diners enjoy foods such as kitfo, a beef dish, and injera, the pancake-like flatbread that’s a staple of the country. Tej, the local honey-wine, makes you smack your lips and lose depth perception rather quickly.

But it’s about 400 miles north of the capital that Ethiopia’s sense of history really takes hold. Watching the sun sinking below the western rim of Lake Tana, coating the still, blue water with an orange sheen, I recalled the many battles waged around its now placid shores.

This lake fills a thousand square miles with a drainage area five times that size. It is the source of the Blue Nile, and, some believed, it provided the realm with special powers: The Egyptians thought Ethiopians controlled the river’s flow. The river and its source were, in the words of historian Alan Moorehead, “cloaked in mystery” until only a couple of centuries ago.

From here, Emperor Tewodros tried to create order from chaos in the mid-1800s, with a tyrant’s hand. The English disposed of him with an invading force, but the Brits didn’t stay. Italy tried to rule here, too, just before the advent of World War II. They didn’t last long, either. Other than Liberia, Ethiopia is the only African country never to be colonized.

With wars, as with real estate, everything is location, location, location. And these mountains surrounding Lake Tana and the region, home to early Ethiopian capitals, served as a natural fortress against invaders, African or European. The mountains were ideal, too, for hatching and growing, like those surrounding the rock-hewn churches.

King Lalibela, the story goes, was poisoned by his half-brother about a thousand years ago. The ancient monarch slipped into a coma and visited the heavens, where he was ordered to return to Earth and build the churches, to create a New Jerusalem.

The 11 churches, a Unesco heritage site, stand as a monument of human forbearance, fervor and spirit. Climbing through the rock passageways and grottos past crypts and polished stone walls towering to the sky is like taking a trek back through time.

It cost a bit more than $12 to visit the churches and another $6 to capture them on video. A local guide costs about $9, and because shoes are not allowed, visitors should factor in a small tip for the “shoe bearer” who will watch their footwear while they venture inside.

The most striking church is Bet Giyorgis, built to honor St. George, the nation’s patron. Looking at the church — shaped like an enormous Greek cross with its roof, walls and windows intricately carved and chiseled with ornamental flourish — and listening to priests chant in the background, I couldn’t help but wonder how the medieval Ethiopians performed such a task with the most primitive of tools.

Ethiopia’s forgotten attraction

October 9, 2012

BY Tsegaye Tadesse

The crocodile ranch lies almost hidden and largely forgotten behind the  airport in Ethiopia’s southern town of Arba Minch.

The country’s first crocodile farm, it was built by an enterprising  government official in the 1980s to generate foreign currency in one of Africa’s  poorest countries, where people mainly live from subsistence farming.

But the ranch has since fallen into disrepair, its decline a symbol of the  challenges facing Ethiopia as it seeks to lure more tourists to its mountainous  ranges and seemingly endless plains.

At the end of a narrow path, the crocodiles laze in deep pools, their eyes  glittering as they stare down nervous visitors. Separated according to age, the  crocodiles feast on horse meat twice a week.


Thousands of the reptiles are reared in these cement-floored pools, but the  paths leading to the ranch’s star attraction are covered with weeds and hidden  in the dense overgrowth.

Metal fences meant to protect visitors from the crocodiles’ jaws are rusted  and broken in places.

“The place would have been a gold mine, if it had been privatised to a  commercial-minded investor,” one visitor said.

Ethiopia may struggle to reach its target of attracting one million tourists  a year within the next decade.

It’s not that the country — labelled the cradle of mankind after the  discovery of ancient human remains — lacks attractions but its infrastructure  is creaking, with poor roads and a lack of hotels. A 1998-2000 border war with  Eritrea also hit tourist earnings.

Nonetheless, the government aims to promote Ethiopia as one of the top 10  tourist destinations in Africa by 2016, hoping to reap $US650 million ($A873.50  million) a year in much-needed foreign receipts.

Last year, the Horn of Africa country hosted around 227,000 tourists, earning  $US156 million ($A210 million) in foreign exchange, compared with the $US134.5  million ($A181 million) earned from 184,000 visitors the previous year,  according to ministry of tourism figures.

Like many other potential money-spinners, the crocodile ranch is crying out  for investment to improve facilities and boost earnings.

Ethiopia boasts medieval cities, rich in ruined castles, palaces and  churches. One of its holiest cities, Axum, offers teetering stelae, underground  tombs and ancient inscriptions, while the 13th century rock-hewn churches of  Lalibela feature carvings of saints and mystical symbols.

The country has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

But most visitors would never come across the Arba Minch crocodile farm,  which generated a paltry $US48,000 ($A64,503) from visitors in 2000 — far below  its overhead expenses.

Some 500km south of the capital Addis Ababa, Arba Minch is studded with  glistening lakes formed from bubbling streams that flow through the tropical  forests on nearby slopes.

The lakes give the town its Amharic name which means “40 springs” in  Ethiopia’s official language.

Estifanos Endeshaw, one of the ranch’s guides, said some 5,000 crocodiles are  fished out of Lakes Chamo and Abaya each year to be reared on the farm.

Scouts from the ranch scour the lakes’ sandy beaches in search of the hidden  nooks where the crocodiles lay their eggs.

Three months after the eggs hatch, the baby crocs are transported back to the  ranch where they spend the next year in a nursery pool. It takes up to 15 years  for a crocodile to develop into a full-bodied reptile.

Twice a week huge chunks of horse meat are thrown to the crocodiles. The  horses are bought at a nearby market and kept on the ranch before being  slaughtered and fed to the crocodiles.

Some of the crocodiles are killed on the ranch, their skins destined to be  used to make expensive shoes, handbags and belts, mainly for export.

“The crocodiles being reared in the ranch are mostly for tourist attraction,  although those which are old enough are shot for their skins,” Estifanos  said.


Ethiopian Christians celebrate Demera, the discovery of Jesus’ cross

September 27, 2012

By Tinishu Solomon

Millions of Ethiopian Orthodox church members on Wednesday celebrated the  Demera, the eve of the discovery of the cross on which Jesus Christ is believed  to have been crucified.

Celebrations began in the afternoon with tens of thousands of followers  gathering at Meskel Square to celebrate the holy day, together with hundreds of  pilgrims, tourists and foreign diplomats.

In Addis Ababa, all roads leading to the city’s famous Meskel Square were  closed for the day to avoid traffic jams.

Demera, the eve of the discovery of the cross, one of the main religious  ceremonies of Ethiopia’s most dominant religion, is celebrated colorfully  throughout the country.

More than 100,000 people, including hundreds of priests and deacons  attired in Ethiopia’s traditional plain white clothes, gathered to mark the day  with a grand bonfire ceremony, lit by the leader of the Orthodox  Church.

Demera, also known as Meskel Festival, is also celebrated in remembrance of  Empress Helena, who according to tradition was led to the cross after smoke from  incense she was burning during her prayers drifted towards the direction of  three buried crosses, one of which was the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was  crucified. She gave pieces of the True Cross to all churches, including the  Ethiopian Church, with parts of it said to be in Israel.

The ancient festival, dating back 1,600 years, is celebrated with yellow  Meskel daisies placed on top of huge bonfires as priests, carrying silver Coptic  crosses and flaming torches, dance with their followers around the fires singing  and chanting.

This year, however, marked the first time in 21 years when the celebration  was observed in the absence of the late Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox  Church, Abune Paulos who died in August.

The celebration also marks the end of Ethiopia’s three month long rainy  season. The Horn of Africa country uses its own calendar, which has 13 months,  or Pagume. Like a leap year, Pagume has either 5 or 6 days depending on the  season.

According to Ethiopian tradition, the Meskel cross was reburied on the  mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery in Wollo region after a powerful light  emanating from it stripped naked anyone who approached.

The monastery of Gishen Mariam, one of the country’s main tourist  attractions, has records of the story of the True Cross of Christ and how it was  acquired.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has more than 50,000 churches and 1,200  monasteries with about 50,000 monks and nuns for an estimated 40 million plus  orthodox Christians, about half of the country’s total population.

Ethiopia is lobbying that the Meskel Festival be granted UNESCO World  Heritage status.

Read the original article on Theafricareport.com : Ethiopian Christians celebrate Demera, the discovery of Jesus’ cross | The Africa Report.com Follow us: @theafricareport on Twitter

Etihad Airways to launch flights to Ethiopia

July 6, 2012

Best Airline by all means.

Ethad Airways will add  the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to its rapidly growing network in November  2012.

The airline will also  start flying to the Indian city of Ahmedabad in the same month. The two new cities  will expand the airline’s reach to 86 passenger and cargo destinations around  the world.

The new routes will each  be served by an Airbus A320 aircraft and support Etihad Airways’ aims to  connect key strategic cities with its home base of Abu Dhabi, enhancing commercial  and leisure travel with the UAE’s capital city.

Flights between Abu  Dhabi and Addis Ababa, its ninth destination in Africa, will initially operate five  times a week, increasing to daily in 2013. Flights will operate daily between  Abu Dhabi and Ahmedabad, the airline’s ninth destination in India.

James Hogan, Etihad  Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “We continue to build  strength and depth to our global network and the addition of Addis Ababa, a major  East African hub, and Ahmedabad, the fifth largest city in India, will make  significant contributions to traffic flows to Abu Dhabi and beyond.

“Addis Ababa and  Ahmedabad are economic centres in their respective countries and daily flights  to Abu Dhabi will build greater ties with the UAE’s capital as it continues to  invest in world-class development projects and attract business and leisure  travellers.”

Ethiopia is the  largest African market that Etihad Airways is yet to serve and the second most  populous country in Africa. It is expected to contribute strong business and  leisure traffic within the airline’s network.

There is also a  growing Ethiopian population living and working in Abu Dhabi and the UAE which  will benefit from the new Abu Dhabi   Addis Ababa service.

Etihad Airways’ new  service to Ahmedabad will offer nearly 1,000 seats a week into the Guajarati  city and the November 2012 launch will coincide with the beginning of the peak  travel season in India.

The airline  anticipates strong traffic flows from Ahmedabad to Abu Dhabi and onto its  European and US destinations. It also underlines Etihad Airways’ commitment to  serve the major population centres across India with direct flights to Abu  Dhabi.

The A320 aircraft  that will serve Addis Ababa and Ahmedabad have two cabins with 16 Pearl Business  Class seats and 120 Coral Economy Class seats.

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson: Books Worth Your Time

June 29, 2012

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

By Getachew Teklu

This is a lovely autobiography of one of America’s super chefs, who went from being an Ethiopian orphan, to a Swedish adoptee, to one of the most famous chefs in the US. It traces his life growing up in Sweden, the impact of being black in a predominately white world, and his path to becoming a chef, from cooking school in Sweden through the grueling internships at various restaurants and around the world. He shares his personal joys and struggles, his rise and the life choices he made and regrets, his period as the executive chef of Aquavit-in Minneapolis, and the founding of his new restaurant in Harlem in New York City.

Marcus Samuelsson’s story is inspiring, thought-provoking, and truth seeking. It is an intense but rewarding read, one that examines racial identity, belonging, acceptance, and pursuit of excellence. Portions of the book suffer from dense culinary descriptions that may be inaccessible to readers not so inclined; yet, it is integral to the book’s basis, which begins and ends in the kitchen. A masterpiece! From a child adopted out of Africa-Ethiopia, and growing up in Sweden to one of America’s top chefs, this is the story of the surprising journey Marcus Samuelsson has taken. Chef Marcus Samuelsson has the flavors of many countries in his mind.  There is the Ethiopian spice flavor, used by the birth mother he no longer remembers. There are the herring, pickles, and jams of Sweden, where he grew up with his adopted family, and the roast chicken that was the specialty of his grandmother, who inspired his love of cooking and gave him his first lessons.

The book covers both the good and admirable in his life as well as the parts many of us would prefer to keep under wraps, so it ranges from the strong family that raised him and his strong work ethic. I knew nothing about his life beyond that point and found this memoir to be a fascinating story. He is such a diverse, focused and talented individual. His story of being a famous chef is a true testament to the dedication and extreme hard work that it takes to become an award winning chef. The book was an insightful look into the upscale restaurant world and was written with a no holds barred eloquence. A true story worth your time to read.

I’ve been a Marcus Samuelson fan since his Top Chef Masters appearance, and am always pleased to find him on shows like Chopped, Chopped Champions, and more. I was excited to find he’d written a memoir, and I can honestly say, not one page of this book disappointed me or changed my opinion of him. I’m definitely a fan, and proud of him.

Finally, A James Beard  Award-Winning chef and author of several cookbooks,  Marcus Samuelsson has appeared on Today, Charlie rose, Iron chef, and Top chef masters, where he took first place. In 1995, for his work at Aquavit, Samuelsson becomes the youngest chef ever to receive a three star review from the New York Times. His newest restaurant, Red Rooster, recently opened in Harlem, where he lives with his wife.  He also won the James Beard award, appear on “Top Chef Masters,” and create the Obama’s’ first official state dinner.

DNA clues to Queen of Sheba tale-Ethiopia

June 22, 2012

Modern day Ethiopians show great cultural, linguistic and historical diversity

By Helen Briggs

Clues to the origins of the Queen of Sheba legend are written in the DNA of some Africans, according to scientists.

Genetic research suggests Ethiopians mixed with Egyptian, Israeli or Syrian populations about 3,000 years ago.

This is the time the queen, mentioned in great religious works, is said to have ruled the kingdom of Sheba.

The Queen of Sheba

  • Queen mentioned in the Bible, the Koran and the Ethiopian Kabra Nagast
  • Sheba was a rich kingdom that prospered through trade with Jerusalem and the Roman Empire, and spanned modern day Ethiopia and Yemen
  • Queen said to have visited Jerusalem with gold to give to King Solomon
  • Some texts record that she had a son with King Solomon

According to fossil evidence, human history goes back longer in Ethiopia than anywhere else in the world. But little has been known until now about the human genetics of Ethiopians.

Professor Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, a researcher on the study, told BBC News: “Genetics can tell us about historical events.

“By analysing the genetics of Ethiopia and several other regions we can see that there was gene flow into Ethiopia, probably from the Levant, around 3,000 years ago, and this fits perfectly with the story of the Queen of Sheba.”

“Start Quote

This paper sheds light on the very interesting recent and ancient population history of a region that played an important role in both recent and ancient human migration events”

End Quote Dr Sarah Tishcoff Department of Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania

Lead researcher Luca Pagani of the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute added: “The genetic evidence is in support of the legend of the Queen of Sheba.”

More than 200 individuals from 10 Ethiopian and two neighbouring African populations were analysed in the largest genetic investigation of its kind on Ethiopian populations.

About a million genetic letters in each genome were studied. Previous Ethiopian genetic studies have focussed on smaller sections of the human genome and mitochondrial DNA, which passes along the maternal line.

Dr Sarah Tishcoff of the Department of Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, said Ethiopia would be an important region to study in the future.

Commenting on the study, she said: “Ethiopia is a very diverse region culturally and linguistically but, until now, we’ve known little about genetic diversity in the region.

“This paper sheds light on the very interesting recent and ancient population history of a region that played an important role in both recent and ancient human migration events.

“In particular, the inference of timing and location of admixture with populations from the Levant is very interesting and is a unique example of how genetic data can be integrated with historical data.”

The scientists acknowledge that there are uncertainties about dating, with a probable margin of error of a few hundred years either side of 3,000 years.

They plan to look at all three billion genetic letters of DNA in the genome of individual Ethiopians to learn more about human genetic diversity and evolution.

Source BBC News

Going to Ethiopia? If you use Skype, you will be back after 15 years.

June 14, 2012

Travel to Ethiopia-NO SKYPE

By Getachew Teklu

If you’re heading to Ethiopia  sometime soon, I’d like to offer you one small but crucial bit of advice: Don’t get on SKYPE. It will cost you 15 years in prison. Not a bad deal for cheap talk.

The government of Ethiopia has just passed new legislation that criminalizes the usage of Internet-based voice communications such as Skype, Oovoo, and other systems that fall under this category.

The reason for this new law is because of the constant and ever increasing security threats globally and especially in Ethiopia. However, many believe that this is a way to limit freedom of expression.

Anyone who does commit the crime of internet-based voice communications will be prosecuted and could be jailed for up to 15 years, or heavily fined if found guilty.

The two commonly cited explanations for the law are “national security” (read: tough to monitor) and to protect the Ethiopian government’s state-owned telecommunications service. Ethio Telecom is a monopoly, and much-despised for its expensive calling rates, especially internationally. Skype and Google Voice provide cheaper, or often free, ways to place calls. Ethiopia’s Internet penetration rate is the second-lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the country’s economy booming, its cities expanding, and its middle class growing.

Those factors tend to coincide with higher rates of Internet access — both because more people can afford it, and because internal migration (moving from a town to a city to find work, say) makes long-distance communication more important — but not yet here. Criminalizing a popular Internet service isn’t likely to do much to make Ethiopia more wired, nor will it likely attract many of the foreign investors who are otherwise blanketing Africa and accelerating its rise.

As for Skype and other VoIP services, the new law doesn’t just criminalize their usage, but the Ethiopian ministry of communication and information technology now has “the power to supervise and issue licenses to all privately owned companies that import equipment used for the communication of information.” It’s worth noting that, as TechCentral points out; the new law also prohibits “audio and video data traffic via social media.” It’s not clear how exactly the government plans to enforce this restriction, but a potential 15-year prison term will likely keep most people from using Skype in Ethiopia anytime soon.

Reporters without borders also report that Ethio Telecom installed a system to block access to the Tor network, which allows users to surf the Web anonymously. The organization notes that the ISP must be using relatively sophisticated Deep Packet Inspection to filter out this traffic.

According to Internet filtering and censorship watchdog  open Net initiative, Ethiopia currently has the second lowest Internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa and just around 700,000 of the country’s 84 million citizens had Internet access in 2010 (that’s the most recent data we could find). The average Internet speed in Ethiopia, says Akamai, is currently 622 kbps.

The Ethiopian town that’s home to the world’s greatest runners

May 21, 2012

What do Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba, Derartu Tulu and Fatuma Roba have in common, apart from being Olympic gold medal-winning runners? They all come from Bekoji in Ethiopia – and they were all trained by one man.

Outside the blue hut is a plaque with a beautifully calligraphed set of rules and regulations – athletes must train hard, respect each other, work as a team and honour their homeland. At the top of the plaque three flags have pride of place: Ethiopia, the local region of Oromia and the Olympics. This is the office of Sentayehu Eshetu, known to everybody as Coach. To be honest, it’s more run-down garden shed than office. Inside, it is dark and dusty, but the late afternoon sun lights up a series of photographs of athletes on the wall. All have won at least one gold medal at middle- or long-distance running. Amazingly, six of the champions originate from this tiny town of Bekoji, and have been coached by Coach.

If Sentayehu Eshetu is not the world’s greatest coach, he is surely the greatest discoverer of running talent. In London this summer, two of the 54-year-old’s most successful former prodigies, Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, will defend Olympic golds at 5,000m and 10,000m. Then there’s his first champion, Derartu Tulu, who won the Olympic 10,000m in Barcelona in 1992 and eight years later in Sydney, and Fatuma Roba, who won the Olympic marathon in 1996 in Atlanta; and the latest generation of champions – Tirunesh’s sister Genzebe, only 21 and already world indoor champion at 1500m, and Kenenisa’s younger brother Tariku who won the 3000m gold at the World Indoor Championships.

Coach is a small man with a big smile. He talks quietly and is not one for hyperbole. When I suggest he has a magical touch, he looks alarmed. “No! No magic,” he says intensely. “I don’t do any magic. It’s the weather and the fact that everything is helping them.” He must have something special? “They listen well and work hard. And eat well. You know barley? They eat barley.” He grins and says I should eat more barley.

Bekoji is 170 miles south of the capital, Addis Ababa. There are plenty of donkeys and horses and goats and cows on the road, but few cars. Coach says around 17,000 people live in the town of Bekoji; there are 25 car owners and he knows all of them. The landscape looks arid but is incredibly fertile. Everything grows here – oil seeds, coffee, tea, spices, sugar cane, cotton, cereals. The centre of Bekoji sits 10,500 feet above sea level and has an average temperature of 66 degrees. Its inhabitants are proud of its climate and special air. On arriving, I find it hard to breathe, but when I do manage to gulp some in, I quickly realise how crisp and pure it is. If you can run here, they say, you can run anywhere.

We head off across the red ochre soil, which blows up yet another mini dust storm, past the corrugated shacks and rubble and randomly parked lorries, and head for Bekoji stadium. It’s not as grand as it sounds. There is one primitive stand, a grassy bank for people to sit on and a straggly football pitch in the middle. This is where Coach takes his youngsters, between the ages of 12 and 20, through their paces five times a week.

There must be more to your success than feeding the runners barley, I say to Coach. “I give full attention to my team and I’m always on time, and I will do anything it takes to make them a champion. I tell them what they should do, and if they follow that, they run very well.” Coach never ran himself. His sport was football. He taught PE and played in central defence. These days he hobbles more than runs. He shows me the knackered knee that did for his football ambitions.

Until now, the rest of the world has remained oblivious to Coach’s achievements, but for the past four years a documentary film crew has recorded in Bekoji and has produced a lovely film called Town Of Runners. It’s no exaggeration – any day at sunrise you will see groups of teenagers or adults running up the hill. Most will be on their way to the two-hour daily training session with Coach. Within an hour the sky goes from red to white to perfect blue. By 8am, the sun is burning through in the 80s.

Coach is thinking about why so many great runners come from here – determination, physical strength from working the land, huge lungs, role models, perfect body shape. (Many of the most successful distance runners have been small, light and immensely strong, with a superhuman capacity to endure – the biopic of Ethiopia‘s most famous runner, Haile Gebrselassie, who comes from down the road in Asella, is called Endurance.) Running is a means of escape and transcendence in Ethiopia – Coach’s best runners will go to “finishing school” in Addis Ababa and that is just the start of their journey. Every day, Coach says, parents will ask him to train their children. “Kids want to run to make their parents happy, and the parents want them to run so they don’t have to work the land. They say, come and take my son or daughter.”

It must be heartbreaking telling them that they are not going to make it, I say. He shakes his head. If they have any natural ability, he insists, you can never write them off. Athletes come through unexpectedly – and fail unexpectedly. He tells me about Zegeue Shifarawu Abebe, the young man who takes training with him. “He used to train with Kenenisa, and we thought he was the better runner; that he was the one who was going to win Olympic medals.” For whatever reason, Zegeue never made it, and now he’s out every morning coaching tomorrow’s champions.

The Ethiopian running dynasty:  What is the secret to its success? 

About a month ago, we did a post questioning whether we were about to witness the end of the Ethiopian era of long distance running dominance.  The jury is still out on that one, though a world record for Meseret Defar in Oslo in the 5000 m seems to suggest that even in Kenenisa Bekele is not going to continue his dominance, the women athletes will probably reign for a good few years yet.
The next question is why are the Ethiopian athletes so successful?  Usually, when one asks about African runners dominating in middle and long distance running, we think of the Kenyans, because there seem to be infinite numbers of them and they win just about every major marathon in the world.  On the track though, it’s a different story.  Since 1993, Ethiopians have won all but one of the World and Olympic 10 000 m titles.  The athletes in question are Haile Gebrselassie and the afore-mentioned Bekele, who now share 5 out of the last 6 world titles and all three of the Olympic titles (Trivial pursuit fact – the only man other than these two to have won a title in the last 12 years is Charles Kamathi of Kenya, who won in Edmonton in 2001).
In addition to this dominance on the track, they have also dominated the Cross Country scene, with Bekele winning 5 out of 5 long races and 5 out 5 short races at the World Cross Country championships between 2002 and 2006.
Yet they clearly don’t have the depth that the Kenyans do.  I was speaking with a colleague at the Sports Science Institute here in Cape Town.  He is Kenyan and is in South Africa to try to set up a relationship with the University of Kenyatta so that we can do some research on the Kenyan runners.  He tells me that a typical track meeting in Kenya will have not one, but ten 10000 m races!  Each one has 30 participants, and every single one runs under 30 minutes!  Think about that – 300 runners all running under 30 minutes at EACH meeting!  Astonishing depth.  And he says to me that the Ethiopians have nothing like this level of depth, but that they use their talent more effectively.
So this post is not about the reasons for East African running success – that is a post for the future, when we will look at just what it is that makes these guys so good – is it training, is it genes, is it diet, is it lifestyle (it’s probably all of them, but we’ll cover that in the future).  And one really important thing to realise is that the Kenyans who are most successful are a mere stone’s throw away from the Ethiopians who are successful.  If you looked at a map of where the best runners come from in both countries, you could draw a circle around the border between them and you’d pretty much have the catchment area.  So if the reasons for the dominance of both Kenya and Ethiopia are physical and physiological, then one would be able to treat them almost the same, because they are very similar in that regard.  But for now, we concentrate on the Ethiopians and ask how it is that they have managed to dominant where it counts even though they have a smaller talent pool than the Kenyans.  And I believe that there are two key reasons why they do:

  1. Administration and policy, which has created a more narrow focus and restraint than in Kenya
  2. Training differences

%d bloggers like this: