Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ethiopia Trip

Hello! We are not dead, just traveling. We hit Ethiopia for 8 days and had a great time! Kerri knew some folks from the Sonlight homeschool user forums who live in Addis Ababa, so we brought over some stuff that might be hard to get over there. We travel light, so were able to cram a lot of extra stuff into the additional baggage allowance that we usually never take advantage of. They were really nice and took us to lunch and we got to experience taking public transportation back to our hotel (Adot Tina again).

The next day we found a travel agent and asked about flights to local destinations. Ethiopia is twice the size of Texas, so you really need to fly around. Luckily flights were easily booked in the standard tourist triangle: Addis to Lalibella, Lalibella to Gonder, bus to Bahir Dar, and flight back to Addis.

Lalibella was our favorite I think, very pretty and clean, and just seemed very real. Not the crazy tourism of Bahir Dar or the icky pollution in Gonder. Anyway, the rock hewn churches were neat, but I just liked the feel of the place. We were only there for one night, then on to Gonder. Gonder has some old castles and a "swimming pool" which is a big bath that was used by an old king, but is now used for a baptism ceremony during the festival of Timkat. We were there the week before and so got to see it filling with water. The castles are oddly european looking and nicely kept. We splurged and stayed at the nicest hotel up on a hill over looking the city.

Our taxi driver convinced us to take a minivan instead of the bus to Bahir Dar, which was a good choice I think. A little more expensive, but not much. The trip was a nice way to see the country-side some more. Kerri and Rowan were lucky enough to sit up front, although they did attract a lot of attention as we drove, and especially when we stopped! Poor Rowan was constantly being pinched, petted and prodded, something he is not very used to. I didn't like it either much. I guess tourists don't travel with their kids much in Ethiopia, so he was an unusual site. Even worse when the local word for "kid" translates to "baby" in english. He was not a happy camper with that stuff.

Bahir Dar was the most disappointing. It was partially our fault, we were done being tourists and just wanted to walk around town, but it's not a very nice town and we were constantly being pestered by men wanting to take us on the lake and beggars. On our last evening there we stumbled upon a very nice path that stretches for some kilometers around the lake and found some nice views and pleasant places, but it was too late to really enjoy it.

Our flight left that evening, so that morning we happened to walk past the local Ethiopian Airlines office and we thought we should check on it. Well...turns out there was a schedule change. So we got called later and told it was canceled! We were not happy as we had only enough cash to last out our time there and unlike more remote areas like Lalibella and Gonder, our hotel did not take visa. Luckily Ethiopian paid for another night and dinner, which was appreciated. That night we got a call from the front desk saying that our check-in time at the airport would be 5:30am the next morning, so the hotel shuttle would leave at 5am. Our shuttle driver was late and kept saying, "too early". We agreed that it was way too early, but what can you do. When we got to the gates of the airport, cars were lined up and a bunch of other "westerners" were standing around looking foolish. Turns out the airport doesn't open until 6am and our driver was trying to tell us that we were too early. We had to get out and wait by the side of the road for the guards to let us in the airport. It was pitch black out and really cold, so the guards had made a fire for those of us "too early".

We made it back to Addis and had one more night and day to kill. Not wanting to spend more money, we pretty much stayed close to our hotel (had to move to a different one as Adot Tina was full).

Forgot to mention, I got sick 2 days before we left and was under the weather pretty much until we got back to Addis. Then Kerri started getting sick. We were pretty pathetic. Most know I am a very adventurous eater, but I really didn't feel like it this time (I blame the sickness!!!!). So we ate very conservatively when we could, which didn't stop a couple of interesting surprises from sneaking through, like the time I ordered a club sandwich and got a 4-layer surprise with egg, fried fish, processed meat and heavily spiced cooked chicken on the bottom. The best thing though was that last couple of days, I went walking up the main road and came across Peony Garden, a gen-u-wine Chinese restaurant, complete with nearly incomprehensible menu and plenty of local Chinese patrons who were there to eat good food and smoke continuously. We ate twice there (no I did not eat the pork pizzle).

Ethiopia has some ok beer and pretty good local wine. We ended up liking the Meta beer best. The absolute best though was the coffee. Everywhere there are cafes with cheap but excellent coffee (50c per cup). It's all espresso in tiny cups and very very good. We loaded up our now empty luggage with coffee for the return trip.

All in all a fun but fast run through Ethiopia. I think we could live in Addis someday. It's definitely a big stinky city, but has character and isn't totally homogenized with the Western industrial hegemony yet (i.e. no chain restaurants, period). The history of the country provides a strong cultural glue that seems to knit its people together closely. Who knows, we may be back this way sometime.

Edited to add: The pictures at the end of the slide show are some of the offerings on sale at one of the "duty free" shops at the Addis Ababa International Airport. Maybe you had to be there, but we laughed and laughed.

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