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Behind the Scenes – Made in Addis

Carpet - Made in Addis - Ethiopia

Many visitors to Ethiopia spend merely an afternoon or an overnight in Addis Ababa before hitting the Northern Historical Circuit, heading east to Harar or trekking south to witness tribal traditions. In doing so, these travelers miss out on quite a bit. I have gotten to know Addis well after using it as my travel base for nearly a year and felt confident that I had figured out the most interesting spots in this city of a few million residents. But after a recommendation from a good friend, I ended up getting to see some new and fascinating parts of Addis.

My friend had told me about the Behind the Scenes tours conducted by Pamela of Tatu Tours. These Saturday morning excursions offer an intimate look at places you wouldn’t otherwise discover. The theme of this Behind the Scenes was “Made in Addis.” Pam led us to a few fun sites, starting with a leather goods maker at (who knew?) the stadium near the center of the city. The leather maker had a storefront full of very high quality bags, jackets and other accessories open to the public, but we were able to gain access to the workshop beforehand and then, to the storerooms.

Leather Goods - Ethiopia - Front

Leather Collage - Ethiopia

The back rooms were filled with beautifully-colored leather, which the employees took time to discuss with me and showed me their favorite pieces.

Leather Color Collage

After the leather goods, we went to a rug and carpet maker in the Arat Kilo neighborhood. I had seen the familiar “welcome” mat below at countless homes around the city, so I was excited to view the spot where the weaving took place. The pictures below are representative of the entrepreneurial nature of Ethiopians. Not only can you purchase some handmade rugs – you can also buy fresh produce for a salad!

Carpets - Ethiopia - Welcome

Carpets - Ethiopia - Lettuce

Carpet Ethiopia Addis Ababa

We toured the looms and Teshome, one of the personnel, demonstrated how the wool was stretched a dozen meters between two of the wooden devices below. A bible study was located on the same grounds, which provides a sense of the interplay between religious devotion and craftsmanship so common to many parts of the country.

Carpets - Wool stretcher

The third stop was the Konso store on Churchill Avenue in the Piazza neighborhood. What seemed like a 20-square-meter shop was actually a virtual warehouse of authentic carved pieces, many with deep cultural or religious significance. A circular stairway leads to a lower level filled with more items and, at Pam’s request, the owners opened a hidden door to a massive room that houses Konso’s largest wares. I have no idea how they get these pieces to this level and I had the satisfactory feeling of seeing something special when I pulled back the curtain and walked into those rooms.

Konso Heritage Ethiopia

After Konso, we headed to what would be my favorite part of the morning. Sabahar is a small company that makes hand made fabric items. Their silk products are stunning and here are the guys who start the process.

Sabahar - Caterpillars

Sabahar - Man with Caterpillars

While visitors typically are not permitted to enter the work areas, we were able to walk among the looms, which were filled with color. While others shopped at Sabahar’s, I explored the garden. In a rapidly growing city where development usually takes priority over aesthetics, the moss-covered stones and sculptures were a nice escape. Bonus points for a friendly house cat.

Sabahar Silk Addis Ababa Ethiopia

Sabahar Garden Collage

Ethiopia Cat

The tour concluded with an optional trip to Sole Rebels, which produces eco friendly shoes (I had a lunch date with the wife and had to pass). Overall, the Behind the Scenes tour was an excellent departure from my typical weekend here and gave me the chance to discover interesting sides of the city. If you’d like to join a Behind the Scenes tour or if you’d like to see other unique parts of Ethiopia, just get in touch with Pam at Tatu Tours.

I was provided the Behind the Scenes tour by Tatu Tours on a complimentary basis in exchange for this post. I retain full editorial control over all content on Cook Sip Go and any opinions expressed above are, unequivocally, my own.

{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Sandra @ Tripper July 25, 2014, 2:52 pm

    This would definitely be the kind of tour we’d be interesting in taking!

    • Pam July 25, 2014, 4:23 pm

      Nice write up Dave! Look forward to you coming on another outing with us. Pamela

      • Dave July 25, 2014, 4:37 pm

        Thanks so much, Pam! I had a great time and really enjoyed the group. Looking forward to some more fun experiences with you guys.

    • Dave July 25, 2014, 4:31 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Sandra! It was a lot of fun and a really cool experience.

  • Manouk - Bunch of Backpackers July 26, 2014, 12:23 am

    What an interesting tour Dave! I always love to see how things are made :)! And also a great idea: a ‘behind the scenes’ tour!
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  • Natasha Amar July 26, 2014, 9:36 am

    Nice pictures Dave! Looks like an interesting tour. I’m always interested to see how things are made and love tours which actually take you ‘behind the scenes’ rather than just herd you up at a store to buy souvenirs.
    Natasha Amar recently posted…Ten Tips to Feel Safer As a Solo Woman TravellerMy Profile

  • Annika - Live Laugh Explore July 26, 2014, 2:54 pm

    Wow, what an experience! Looks really great. If I were in the area I would definitely be interested in seeing something like that. I visited a co-op where they make hammocks in Nicaragua and it was a really great place to see!
    Annika – Live Laugh Explore recently posted…Picture perfect AnnecyMy Profile

  • Axelle July 30, 2014, 2:12 pm

    Going off the beaten track always pays off! Looks like a fun idea on my next trip :)
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  • Tracie Howe July 30, 2014, 3:53 pm

    What an interesting tour! How cool to see the actual silk worms used!
    Tracie Howe recently posted…Weekend road trip to the PalouseMy Profile

  • Em July 30, 2014, 4:38 pm

    Nice article, must’ve been an interesting experience :)
    Em recently posted…Off to Aus in 80 days (and counting!)My Profile

  • Claudia July 30, 2014, 7:01 pm

    I LOVE the picture of the kitty hehe. Anyways, to keep on the professional site: I like the idea of encouraging local production, whether it is local produce or local artesania. This tour seems to encourage people to get to know it!

  • Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee) July 30, 2014, 9:18 pm

    Cool post. Is this a tour that someone of layover in Addis could do or is it too far out?
    Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee) recently posted…China | Food, Retail Therapy and Haggling in GuangzhouMy Profile

  • Milosz Zak July 30, 2014, 11:31 pm

    You have a keen eye in capturing a splash of colour or something beautiful, in places with otherwise crushing poverty.

  • Mindi @ 2foodtrippers July 31, 2014, 3:06 am

    What a cool experience to go behind the scenes – especially the silk worms.
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  • Christina July 31, 2014, 6:51 am

    That´s great taking a look behind the scenes. I like this “exclusive” feeling. I was once in a silk factory in Laos which was very interesting.
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  • Hector Cortez July 31, 2014, 10:08 am

    I love when you’re able to find hidden spots where others have seen nothing. Loved the tour, especially the moss-covered stones and sculptures in the garden. I’ll make to sure to explore Addis when in Ethiopia. (:

    Great post, mate!
    Hector Cortez recently posted…Les calanques de Marseilles, Cassis and La Ciotat: one of France’s natural wondersMy Profile

  • Elaine July 31, 2014, 12:37 pm

    Great pics! Nice behind the scenes look at Addis!

  • Alli July 31, 2014, 1:00 pm

    Neat! The leather making reminds me of my time in Florence and the carpetsérugs remind me of my time in Istanbul! Great local post here :) The silk worms would be especially interesting to see be used like that!
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  • Meg @ Mapping Megan July 31, 2014, 2:09 pm

    What an amazing adventure – we live for off the beaten path adventures and tours like this one – will make a note to give Pamela a call once we get to Ethipoia! So cool that you were allowed to walk behind the scenes and photograph the looms and workstations. Would love to get in for a photo opp with those silk worms!!
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  • Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy July 31, 2014, 2:17 pm

    What an awesome tour – love off the path and behind the scenes stuff like this. Isn’t it amazing what’s going on around us that we probably have no idea about?? I’d love to see the silkworms – I think that would be my favorite part!
    Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy recently posted…The Locust Loft – Linville Falls, NCMy Profile

  • Michael Huxley July 31, 2014, 5:00 pm

    I haven’t spent anywhere near as much time in Addis as you, but I did make a point of travelling slowly through it and staying for a little while, purely because (at the time) just the name sounded so exotic that it felt like I was truly exploring somewhere far away from any traditional destination! Your posts just prove even in that time I barely scratched the surface! I would love to go back one day.
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  • Jessica (Barcelona Blonde) July 31, 2014, 5:07 pm

    What a great idea for a tour. The leather products are so beautiful! And the looms are so interesting, I’ve never seen something quite like that. It’s nice that you could get a rug and a salad for lunch too. :)
    Jessica (Barcelona Blonde) recently posted…The Journey That Almost Made Me Reconsider Road TripsMy Profile

  • Serena @ BlackCatSouvenirs July 31, 2014, 6:52 pm

    This tour sounds very interesting and it must be a very effective way to get a closer look to how things are in the country – from an everyday’s life point of view.
    And your narration has made it even more interesting!
    Serena @ BlackCatSouvenirs recently posted…Airports talesMy Profile

  • Kristen Sarra July 31, 2014, 8:43 pm

    That is so cool. I love seeing how locals cultivate their crafts. These are always my favorite types of tours as I feel you always learn so much and see more of the local culture.

  • Jenna August 1, 2014, 6:07 am

    I always love seeing how things are made! Getting a peek behind the scenes is so interesting. This looks like a great tour–I would really like to stop at the silk factory! I will have to make a note of this tour for when we make it there one day!

  • Shannon - 100RoutesAcrossAmerica August 1, 2014, 3:17 pm

    Must have been fascinating to take this tour. Love the silkworms!

  • antonette - we12travel August 1, 2014, 7:11 pm

    Tours like these should be made more all over the world, to make sure also the less fortunate in the travel business get their share of attention and not only the ones that scream or scam the loudest…
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  • Karisa August 3, 2014, 6:20 am

    This sounds like a great tour! I’ve been behind the scenes in a few weaving workshops and it always fascinates me how intricate the woven details are!
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  • Sumit Surai August 4, 2014, 8:28 am

    Nice way to explore a city and know its people
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  • Beth August 4, 2014, 6:19 pm

    That seems like it would be a great tour! I love learning about (and purchasing) local products from the regions I visit.
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  • Chris Boothman August 4, 2014, 9:47 pm

    It’s always interesting to take tours by locals that take you beyond the main tourist attractions and frequently show you hidden gems that you would likely never see unless you were a local within the region. Local products are always a great way to cherish your memory of time in an area so I am sure there is something worth picking up along the way here.
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  • Marilyn August 28, 2014, 10:04 pm

    Pam also does tours visiting the diverse tribes and villages in the south, ancient rock hewn churches, salt mines etc etc around Ethiopia. Highly recommended.

  • Outback Girl September 13, 2014, 1:36 pm

    From personal experience, I can thoroughly recommend any Ethiopian tour Pam organizes. Her local knowledge and keen photographic eye, the diversity of specialty venues and use of local guides when needed, makes the Ethiopian experience the best in the world. Will be back for more soon, Pam.

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