“Paradise Lodge”:http://www.paradiselodgeethiopia.com/ at Arba Minch provided overnight accommodation both on our way to and from visiting the tribes in Ethiopia’s South Omo Valley.
On 31 December, we arrived at the relatively late of 6.30pm. After a swift check, complete with cold flannel and tasty lemon grass drink welcome drink, we agreed to join in the New Year’s Eve buffet dinner along with disco and live band (330 Birr or £11 including a free drink).
The individual lodges were similar to the houses (tukuls) we’d seen on our journey, round with a thatched roof and made from natural materials. They could be described as basic, rustic or primitive depending on how generous you were feeling. Despite being pretty small, rooms had a fridge with soft drinks, huge old fashioned freestanding TV, wardrobe, standalone fan and very heavy wooden chair. The small double bed had a mosquito net tightly tucked into the mattress and as the bed was butted up against the circular wall, it meant one person had to climb over the other one and scramble under the mozzie net to get out to the loo. Needless to say, this wasn’t me. The small bathroom was just about functional although shaving meant crouching to see into the low mirror. However, there was plenty of hot water even if the towels had seen better days. When our bags were delivered, I pointed out a huge pair of brown leather men’s sandals suggesting they may have been left by the cleaner only to be told they were provided for guests and could be used in the shower! Although there was no hairdryer, the temperature was warm and my hair dried quickly. Room 102 was very close to the restaurant and reception (where wi-fi was available). There was a thatched wooden deck with misty views over Lake Chamo. At reception there was an ATM and gift shop and in the grounds, a swimming pool (closed for cleaning on Mondays) and sauna
After a quick change we were ready for dinner in the huge open air, but covered restaurant. We were in pole position with good views of everything that was going on but far enough away from the music. The dinner was a buffet with a reasonable selection although, as is often the case, some dishes were luke warm. The band was surprisingly good and everyone was in good spirits with lots of people dancing to a wide variety of music ranging from my all time favourite, Gloria Gaynor’s, ‘I will survive’ to Amy Winehouse and from traditional Ethiopian songs to what seemed to be Indian music. We were sat next to a group of 8 Indian men who were working in the country at the university who were excellent dancers and kept us amused. The countdown arrived and a huge table was brought out with a cake covering it all. A dignity cut the cake and then it was the New Year and poppers and streamers were flying.
The next morning we woke to sun streaming into our hut from over the mountain and lake as we’d not drawn the curtains. We had a quick but very non-traditional breakfast of small spicy meat samosa and little rectangles of pizza with a few roast potatoes.
The second time we stayed there were a number of large tour groups and although there was another buffet dinner, this one provided one of the best meals I had in Ethiopia. I spotted a serving tray labelled fish and chips but on lifting the lid, found the fish tray was disappointingly empty. I was told to wait and was rewarded with palm sized pieces of skinless fish fresh out of the fryer, with crisp batter. The ‘chips’ were thin slices of potato deep fried but again delicious. All that was required was mushy peas and a pot of tea and I could have been at the seaside.
Once again, at breakfast we enjoyed the early morning views and were very impressed when a customer service manager came round to ask how everything was (much better than dreaded questionnaires). I suggested getting rid of the TV in the room as (a) the reception was dreadful and (b) it was the old fashioned large variety and took up valuable space in the small room.
Despite the lodge saying it takes credit cards, the machine wasn’t working.
We were particularly impressed that the lodge put on such a good affair for New Year as Ethiopia still uses the Julian calendar and as a consequence they are still in 2008 and celebrate their New Year on 11 September.