Hilary Bradt: Visiting Ethiopia -1976 vs 2010

The rock-hewn church of Bet Giyorgis, Lalibela, Ethiopia. (Photo: Alamy)

Hilary Bradt, founder of Bradt guides, first visited Ethiopia in 1976, and wrote home about fleas, unrest and staggering beauty. How different would it be now?

In 1976 I backpacked through Ethiopia during the final stages of an 11-month overland journey from Cape Town to Cairo. I was arrested for discussing capitalism, bitten to distraction by fleas, walked for three days to reach the holy city of Lalibela, and was forbidden to travel at night because of shifta (bandits). Nevertheless, it was one of the highlights of my African travels because of its cultural distinctiveness and gorgeous landscape.

During the trip I wrote home to my parents regularly, describing the highs and lows of our travels. They kept my letters, and I rediscovered them last October, when I decided to return to Ethiopia and see for myself the changes that had taken place.

My 2010 itinerary covered just the popular northern historical circuit, but these places were also the highlight of the 1976 journey. Then we took a series of buses from the Kenyan border town of Moyale to Addis Ababa, where we stopped to research what there was to see in the rest of the country. In 1976 there were no guidebooks to this part of Africa, so we talked to as many people as possible, experts and locals. Then we spent two months in Ethiopia, crossing the border into Sudan just a few hours before our visas were due to expire. In 2010 I travelled in much more style, staying in new luxury lodges, and found a country that is still exotic, but now safe and accessible. Read Report on the Guardian