Mercato (or Merkato)

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Addis Katema, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Mercato (or Merkato) Addis Ababa Reviews

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Surviving the Mercato: East Africa's largest outdoor market Sep 07, 2009
So you find yourself in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You want to get away from the Hilton, the cinemas and see something a little more challenging, a little more Ethiopian. You need to see the Merkato!

East Africa's largest open air market lies just to the north west of Addis city centre. It is a truly inspiring and wonderful place too busy to care about the poverty which inflicts it. How do I know? I lived there.

The Merkato has a bad reputation, even amongst Ethiopians. In some respects this is rightly so, but don't let this stop you from wondering its crowded streets and old Italian architecture.

The Market is vast, and can be reached by contract taxis or line taxis from Piassa or Mexico Stadium. A good start would be the old Italian archways to the north. Here you will find countless electronics stalls. The architecture is beautiful if you look hard enough. Head west and you will find the bus station (not to be confused with the main bus station, called 'Autobus Terra'. The newer buildings here offer a wide range of traditional Ethiopian clothes. The sheer number of shops give you a good opportunity to barter, and many of the shop owners are all to happy to share this fun with you!

Heading south into the grid-iron pattern of the newer market you can find the grain stores, often highlighted by the presence of people and donkeys alike stuggling to carry huge sacks at such a high altitude. Grain soon gives way to perfumes and stalls selling shampoos and soaps. It is in this area you can find the Metropol Hotel. A low-end hotel situated on the top few floors of an office building, recognisable by its rounded balconies on each corner. Here you can get suburb 360 degree vies of the market and everyone that makes it so special. The restaurant also serves good quality Ethiopian food and pastas.

After escaping the madness briefly, prepare yourself for more! Head west into the narrow streets and alleys that sell a mixture of plastics, hardware goods, clothes and souvenirs. This area is incredibly busy and compact, do your best to avoid those who have 10 or 20 plastic tubs stacked on their heads - they will not move out of the way for you!

I feel it is very difficult to do the Mercato justice here, you really have to experience it for yourself. There are of course some safety precautions you should take.

Firstly, thieves do operate in the Mercato. It is usually a case of dramatics, someone will bump into you and apologise profusely while their friend slips their hand into your pocket. This is quite rare - most people are too busy earning a living to even notice you! But caution should be taken. For the line-taxis, keep a few one Birr notes in an easy to reach pocket. This helps when making small purchases in Mercato too!

Avoid the Mercato at night. It is not a residential area and the streets are unwelcomingly deserted. The surrounding areas of Sabategna (where I lived), Abanet and Piassa are much safer places to travel through after dark thanks to the numbers of people.

As it states in the lonely planet guidebook, don't accept approaches offering help. Simply smile, shake your head and say 'De na wal' (Have a good day). Street food vendors are generally safe as they sell Samosas and fries straight out of the fryer but if you're not sure then wait for one of the plentiful and suprisingly clean cafes!

All in all, an exciting and hectic place to visit! The bustle of the Mercato can be too much at times, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the good trucks are arriving/leaving. This provides an excellent people watching opportunity as you amaze at the disorganised organisation of it all.

So enjoy! Be friendly to people! Smile at them and laugh with them (especially if they're laughing at you) and always reply to shouts of 'Farenji!' with 'Habesha!'.
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photo by: Aopaq