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Saturday, 11 December 2010

Ethiopia - Addis Ababa, Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Lalibela & Gonder

Ethiopia - Never judge a book by it's cover. We rocked up expecting to see desert land with tiny huts strewn along. Out of these hut should have been starving children with their malnutritioned (Aditor: malnourished) bellies protruding from under their shabby clothes.

Well how wrong could we be! The land was green and lush, the houses were well built all with fields of corn and crops surrounding them. The children were just as they were in all the other countries - happy and excited. It really did shock me - no sign of famine to be seen, and the place was amazing. Even within the first two hours of being there a few people had already commented that Ethiopia was already their favourite country so far.

Kylie looking scared as he and AK share the bed

I must just mention quickly a couple of things AK has wanted me to include - before I get on...
There are some absolutely beautiful women in Ethiopia. Some of the local guys we met referred to them as part of 'the Hybrid mix' where Arabic, black, white and Indian cultures have met and lived together. They made the boys very happy to say the least!

The local time was always about 6 hours different to us, and the current year in Ethiopia is 2003. This is due to there being 13 months in every year - leading to the countires tourist board catchphrase "13 months of sunshine."

So...The first stop was to be the capital Addis Ababa. To get there, however, we would have to drive for 2 days straight, but with (yay!) bush camps in between. I missed bush camping!! We stopped at some of the first proper food markets since the west coast and bought some dinner. The highlight of the first camp was when a few local children arrived and Gab, Kyle and Alison asked them if they could take their photo. I say ask, what I mean is waved their cameras in the kids faces gesturing wildly; blank looks but no protesting made for photo time. The children had obviously never even seen a camera before and were dead amazed to see the pics (although I'm sure they didn't know they were looking at themselves in the screen)...then when someone's flash inadvertantly went off in their faces, one boy almost had a heart attack!

Addis Ababa was not at all how I expected it to be. It was a kind of city, but still had the airs of a village in Ethiopia. It was not as built up as I had expected. It did have the stinky sewers and beggars with no legs as all the cities have, but it just lacked something that I can't put my finger on. (In fact the begging culture in Addis was the worst we'd experienced so far. Apparently this has a lot to do with foreign aid making them dependent upon help and them not doing anything for themsleves and it becoming a mindset for the locals.)

We arrived in the dark after getting a tad lost in the city centre. Roxy is a lot bigger then Ruby used to be and I have no clue how Marjane managed to negotiate some of those roads and the traffic, but we eventually made it to our 'hotel'.....

Imagine if you will a house with a drive way slash front yard. In front of the house are sat African women cooking and cleaning. To the right there is a balcony with a couple of local guys enjoying a brew. To the left is a 8 by 4 metre patch of grass with a small wooden shack at one end. Dead ahead is a concrete block with 2 doors, 1 is a toilet room, the other is a shower room. Introducing the Amber Hotel. The driveway was for parking the truck (taking up the entire walkway), the grass was for our tents, the balcony was in fact the bar (draught beers were approx 30 cents so in this respect we were definately not complaining). The showers were as cold as the weather got at night which was pretty damn cold - Mark advised not to try washing in the evening for the sake of not getting pneumonia, and finally the toilets were so gross and stinking that people preferred to walk 50 metres across the road and use the toilets at the 'proper' hotel across the road. Phew, what a luxurious 3 days we were going to spend. To add to the ambiance of the place, whilst Mark was sleeping in the cab on the first night there, the 'security guard' at Amber, opened the door of the cab and climbed in. Ever vigilant Mark launched himself from the back seat, grabbed the guy and bashed his head against the truck a few times. He didn't try to break in again.

Immediately everyone went off to town to escape. AK and Kenji went off to do cook group shop, coming back that night to pluck and prepare 4 chickens for the best pad thai ever!

Berbs, Pat, AK and Kenji getting messy plucking the chickens
 I digress...Son, Ish, Ronald and I went off to scope accomodation in town. We got in the 30 minute, 10 dollar taxi to get to the town centre (another wonderful perk of Amber Hotel) and found a lovely little lodge called Ankober. I would recommend anyone to stay there if ever in Addis, although I know this is improbable! It was clean and shiny with white tiled floors. We stayed in a family room with 2 rooms to sleep 4 people. Hot showers, working TV and cushty beds for only 10 dollars each per night. Done deal. We even managed to get our laundry done, a service which, surprisingly, the Amber Hotel did not offer.

On the 3nd night it was Kenji's birthday so we decided to head out for food and heavy drinking. We started at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant called Fasika Restaurant that the taxi drivers had recommended. Sadly, it was a total tourist trap. I won't deny it was a lovely place, with heaps of space, live traditional music and dancing, but the prices were extortionate and so after paying 10 times more for a beer then we were used to, we scarpered to another local restaurant that Ish, Ron, Son and I had gone to for lunch. I normally would have an issue with eating at the same spot twice in one day, but we ate like kings and had 2 beers each for the whopping great cost of 2 dollars each. Awesome. The only down-side was the volumes of incense they were pumping into the room which caused me to choke on a number of occasions. A small price to pay.

After dinner we hit a club that Kyle had been told about by some Rasta guys earlier on that day. It was a great little place, more like a bar but with live music and a seating area outside with a fire. Sure enough the Rastas were there to greet us on the way in and we kicked the night off with a round of tequilas on Ish (who after seeing the bill must have regretted this decision). Tequila led to Sambuca, which led to lots of maniacal dancing. Berbs got lucky and was seen getting very friendly with a chick he was talking to at the bar for quite some time. Unfortunately this did not end well as on their way out of the bar later on, Berbs and the girl for some reason got punched in the head by an unseen assassin, and after the girl left her handbag unattended AK and Kenji brought it home with them thinking it was Kim's! Poor girl, not the best night for her.

Son, Ish and I went home at about 2am leaving the rest of the gang to continue drinking. We had the call of soft warm beds and TV which was too hard to resist. Apparently, though, after we left things turned a little ugly. The Rasta guys were on their way out and started demanding money from the guys to get home. They told them to bugger off and somehow, this escapade ended up with Marjane roughing up one of the guys and them running away. Very bizarre.

So after this interesting interlude in Addis it was time to move on. The next stop was another 2 days drive away to the banks of Lake Tana to stay for a few days in Bahir Dar and go off and do a number of optional side trips.

This woman was so old - I have so much respect for the African women

The Chinese have even made it as far north as Ethiopia

On the way we couldn't bush camp as the area was too built up so we found a hotel off the side of the main road. I didn't catch it's name but that's ok because I would only send my worst enemies to stay there. The staff were so friendly and really wanted to help and impress us, but the place was horrible!!! The room AK and I stayed in had a bed that was collapsed in the middle and so we spent the night rolling into and lying on top of each other (ahem!). The toilet was the most disgusting yet, even worse then in Yaounde, Cameroon which was so bad I felt the need to include a photo of it. Well I've included another photo below (normally the toilet was dark which I thank God for as with the flash on the camera I saw where I had been and it turned my stomach) - as Yoichi, the first one to try them, said - 'Already full.' On the up side we did all catch bed bugs which now plague the truck and everything, and everyone, in it.

Quite literally 'already full'

Bring on the bed bugs

Mark had told us not to expect much more from the accomodation in the rest of Ethiopia so we were pleasantly surpised to find the Ghion Hotel with a good bar, clean rooms (of which one was kept aside for us all to shower in) and a lovely restaurant under a pagoda looking over Lake Tana. It was a great place for someR'n'R. The town was really nice too, with lots of greenery and tidy streets. I much preferred it to Addis and was glad we'd be spending a few days there. The only person who wasn't so thrilled, was Jen who became the next person to fall to malaria (I think the tally is now at 12 people). We hadn't had any casualties for so long we thought it was over. We were sadly wrong...

On the first day a few of us decided to do nothing and some of the others went off to see a waterfall nearby which they said was lovely. AK went off to the internet cafe and I went off for a wee explore of town with Kyle. When we got back, who was sitting in the bar.....The family!! (Neal, Karen and Squirt who had left the truck in Cape Town). We had always known they would be in Ethiopia and Kenya travelling at around the same time as us but hadn't expecting to necessarily see them! It was great to catch up and chat to them about what had been going on and how truck life had been treating us.

Kim with the tiniest dog in the word, Jambo

The next day we went off on a little boat to see some of the famous monasteries that have given Ethiopia the tourist interest. We were a bit dubious about seeing all the 5 churches as none of us were particularly religious, but we went off with open minds anyway. After the first one, I was feeling a bit depressed. The paintings inside the monasteries were alright, but other then that it was just a small round building with a cross outside. Anticlimax. However, we thought we'd better go to one more seeing as we'd paid for a half day. I'm glad we did - the next monastery was on a tiny island and was much more a monastery then the other one. It had the same types of paintings inside, but this time we had an English speaking guide to tell us what we were looking at! I also got some awesome sneaky shots of the priests. That was our fill of monasteries for the day though and we decided to go back.

One of the priests keeping an eye on us

According to Ethiopian christianity St George (dragon killer) actually died 7 times including being impaled...

People praying outside the monasteries

On the boat on our way to the monastery islands

A very small house?? Or a very tall person?? Hendrik on his way out of the monastery.

500 year old bible drawings

(On the way back, our ferryman took us to see the source of the Blue Nile, not to mention a rogue hippo he'd spotted poking its head out of the water - it was too elusive to get any good photos though.)

Convergence of the white and blue Niles - so different I know....!

The next day we were due to go to a place called Lalibela where there are many churches built into the rocks all around the town. Up we got at 6am in time to have breakfast, put our tents down, and wait for our 7am bus...

  • 7am passes: shuffling of feet.
  • 7.30am passes, people starting to sit down on bags.
  • 8am passes, talk to the hotel manager who assures us the driver is just stuck in traffic.
  • 8.10am passes, hotel manager says the driver has to get petrol as there is petrol shortage.
  • 8.20 passes, tell hotel manager to F*** off we'll go tomorrow.
Back to bed - Oh no not possible as tents have been put away....Ridiculous!

Next morning, due to wake up at 6am for 7am taxi. Sonya wakes us at 5.45am shouting that the taxi driver is already there and waiting for us. Groaning and swearing we resolve that as he made us wait the day before we wouldn't be going anywhere until at least 7.15am. When this time came, off we finally went...finally!I'd like to explain about the driver a little. He couldn't have been much more then 18 years old. He drove like a maniac, narrowly avoiding people and cattle on the sides of the road. We were driving around the hills and cliffs to reach Lalibela and he was accelerating around corners with a 200 metre drop on one side and small children on the other side. Ronald was using his phone to track how fast we were going, top speed was 140km/hr with an average speed off 120km/hr on the cliff road. To put it into perspective we never drive over 80km/hr in the truck. To top it off the car had closing problems and the dust got in and preventing us from breathing and covered us from head to toe in red dirt...AK's beard looked even more orangutan-esque than usual (See below photo for visual aid...)

After stumbling dazed and filthy out of the bus we went off the find somewhere to stay. None of the hotels had enough space for everyone so we scattered around the area. AK, Son, Robert and I decided to pay a little extra (25USD for the room instead of the 6USD everyone else was paying elsewhere) and stay at the Seven Olives Hotel. The guy promised us hot showers, clean and spacious rooms and to be fair the room he showed us seemed to fit the picture he painted. So we paid the money, dropped our stuff off in the room and went to see the churches.

We picked up a guide for a couple of dollars each for the 2 days we were there. He was a funny little man called Abubu. The photo on his name badge was from at least 30 years previously so he must have doing this job for a loooooog time! The churches were pretty stunning from the outside. Some were built free-standing using the rock, some were free-standing but with the roofs still attached to the rock, and the others were called cave churches and were built directly into a rock-face. Some of the churches had passageways and tunnels connecting them which we went through. One must have been about 30 metres long and had no lights whatsoever, you couldn't even see your hand in front of your face. That was pretty scary and I almost fainted when I touched Sonya's hand on the wall in front of me and thought it must have been a small animal/alien living in there. I am glad we went to see the churches as it's the main tourist attraction of the region, but not being religious I, again, was underwhelmed by the whole thing. However, saying that, I would recommend people go there just because I've never seen anything quite like it before.

Stunning drive to Lalibela

This was the only truly free standing church

Some of the churches were linked by underground passages

Ah, Jules!

Ah, Ish - looking so tiny!

I love the Ethiopian Jesus

No, he's not stealing our shoes...this was our shoe man who ran our shoes from one church to the next. We offered to carry our own shoes but weren't allowed!

AK and Jules on top of a church wall

We had arranged to meet Abubu the next morning and see the rest of the churches before heading back to Bahir Dar in the bus. We gathered for dinner that night - the driver turned up and said we would be leaving at 6am the next morning. After a lot of angry arm waving and swearing and arguing he spoke to the hotel manager who told him to do what we wanted to do, we agreed we would leave after lunch. The driver left clearly pissed off, and I think we all wished the next day that we hadn't angered the already road-raged racing driver that would be in care of our lives for the 5 hour drive home....

Now, the Seven Olives Hotel, had sadly not lived up to the money we had paid for it. The toilet didn't flush, and not only was there no hot water in the shower, there was no water in the shower. We hadn't realised this until quite late as we'd been out all day and had dinner out. So I filled a bucket from the tap and had an African shower. This was not unpleasant, but just not what I'd paid $25 for. So I decided to go against my Lara ways of not doing anything about it, and went off to reception to try to get some money back. I explained to the manager what had happened and that I wasn't pleased as I could have got better staying somewhere for a quarter of the price. The conversation afterwards went a little something like this:

Me: "I would like some, not all, of my money back as all the things I paid for I did not get."

Hotel Manager: "I understand your worries, if you had asked me this morning I could have helped you, but not now."

"Well we had to go and meet our guide at 7am so I couldn't come and talk to you. I'm not asking for much, just a token refund, even $5 will be fine."

"I'm afraid I can't give you anything as all the money has gone off to the accountant this morning."

"So you're telling me there's no money in your hotel at all at the moment?"

"That's correct."

"So, there's not even $5 in your hotel or restaurant this morning?"

"That's correct. Otherwise I would like to help you."

"You're lying to me now aren't you?"

"No I'm not lying."

This went on for some time until I finally told him I was disappointed and left. I wonder if the outcome would have different if it was a man that had gone in to negotiate. Nonetheless I was proud of myself for trying!!

Then it was time to get back in the car and be thrown around again. Luckily for me I was in the back seat and couldn't really see what was going on in the road. All I can tell you is that I have never in all my life heard a car horn so many times in short a space of time. Alison was not so lucky: she was in the front row and at one point had to shout at the driver to try to avoid the children after he came within inches of one. Now, I agree that the locals do have a tendancy to stand in the middle of the road...but then again they wouldn't expect some idiot driver to come racing through their village at 140km/hr either. He was going out of his way to swerve in the direction of the if to tell them "This is a road. It's for cars not people."

We made it back in one piece, were filled in on the night before's drinking debauchery (it had been Marjane's birthday which I was sad we had missed. I blame the driver for being late that first day,) and went off to bed.

Next day was on to our final stop in Ethiopia, a town called Gonder. This was only a 3 hour drive away which made a nice change and we arrived at lunch time. This hotel was definitely not as nice as the previous one, and after much deliberation AK and I followed Jen & Jule's lead and went to stay at the posh, posh, posh, brand new Taye Hotel across the road. It was as fancy as any nice hotel at home and it was lovely to have a spot of luxury.

Gabs shaving Kay's head for Movember - in memory of her mum

The boys preparing for Movember

Unfortunately, I'd had some bad news from home that day and so I wasn't feeling my most sociable and spent the next couple of days hiding in the room. The town itself had a castle and I think a few other sights to see - I would suggest having a look at Sonya's blog for more info as she went to see the sights and also went on a brewery tour which would have been fun! (

Next day we were on our way to the Sudanese border for more bush camping and more heat (hopefully not as hot as Mauritania was earlier this year though)!!

Homeless and Berbs hanging out on the roof

Kenji cut his face and aquired this gruff pirate-esque scar!

Just to let the folks at home see what has become of AK!!

The  herds of cows passing through camp has become the norm in Africa

Hendrik fetching coal from the roof of Roxy

Gab supervising Marjane changing a busted tyre

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