Archive for March, 2010

In Africa/Middle East things change quickly…

March 14, 2010

Yemen is out. Apparently there have been convoys from the airport bombed recently (including a South Korean man on his way to his hotel). 3 Germans are confirmed dead and a number of English, French and German hostages being held now. This opens up the possibility of Somaliland again with the extra time we now have. I am not at all concerned about going to Hargeisa. It’s just a really long car ride. We’re trying to work out the rental car situation now to see what the possibilities are. We might look at some other African countries while we’re here.  Unfortunately Yemen will go back on the shelf.  My desire not to be kidnapped and murdered (while just a remote possibility) trumps my desire to see Sana’a.

Plans for Ethiopia

March 13, 2010

We did the math on Somaliland overland from Addis, and we are exactly 1 day short of having the time required to make it work (without jeopardizing Yemen). Instead, we plan to rent a car and drive ourselves to the south of Ethiopia, near the border with Kenya, to see some hippos and zebras. We are going to work out the car logistics and get a map and go today. More updates will follow from the road.

Somaliland Denied Entry…

March 13, 2010

We showed up at the airport this morning only to find our Jubba Airways flight rerouted to Mogadishu.  Neither of us had any plans to go to the south of Somalia, so we went back to the center of the city to find a taxi.  The idea was that we can rent a cab to the border town of Loya’ada, have lunch, then drive back to Djibouti.  We arrived at the border, and the border control were not happy at all to see us.  They basically gave us an ultimatum that we could continue 20 hours to the capital of Somaliland and be denied return entry to Djibouti(we obviously did not have the supplies for this, and it risked us being stranded in Somaliland), or we could turn around and go back to Djibouti City.  The choice was not really a choice.  We will arrive in Addis again tonight and make our contingency plans (whether to rent trucks to Somaliland from Addis, or renting a car and doing a DIY tour of southern Ethiopia).  We did see some great sights on the way to the border.  We obviously had to take the random picture with the camel.  The road was really awful.  I ended up taking about 20 minutes of video of the drive just because nobody would believe the terrain this little Russian Lada car was going over.  It is definitely high on the list of most terrible roads I have ever been on.  I guess we have to pack our things and get to the airport to head back to the thin, oxygenless air of Ethiopia.  I’ll update the blog after we figure out where we are planning on going.

Djibouti

March 12, 2010

We landed in Djibouti.  Djibouti is strange.  Because of prayers, everything is closed on Fridays.  The entire city is empty. 

The vibe of Djibouti is a little different.  It definitely has an edge to it.  Addis was lush and green, Djibouti is hot and desert like.  The price of everything is also 4 to 5 times higher.  We walked about 45 minutes to the Gulf of Aden.  I was really shocked to find out that the water was hotter than most people enjoy their baths.  The sand was also black. 

We got to sit and talk with a few locals chewing khat in the afternoon.  These were the guys running the local shop.  They were nice, but they definitely had an interesting sales pitch.  We watched them yell at all the would-be customers until they got uncomfortable and left. 

Djibouti is still adapting to the very large American military base that was built very soon after September 11th.  The base employs a lot of the population, and the feelings are definitely mixed about it.  The little bit of Arabic I’ve learned has definitely come in handy.

For those curious about the gluten content of the local cuisine, there are very few options here.  There are the fast food type foods that are safe enough.  Eat your heart out:

Visas arranged, we are in transit

March 11, 2010

Four days have past in Ethiopia, and my travel partner and I are at the airport on our way to Djibouti City, Djibouti. Addis is a great city! However we spent most of the last four days taking care of logistics. We had to get visas from the Somaliland liason office and we managed to tweak our schedule enough to accomodate an extra country: Yemen. I am so excited to see Sana’a, Yemen. It has been on my wish list for some time now, and since we are here on the horn of Africa, it just makes sense to get it out of the way now. The Somaliland visa took exactly 11 minutes. Those eleven minutes also included an interview with the consular general who explained that Somaliland was the safest place on earth, and that we wouldn’t have any problems. It is important to know that he does have a horse in this race. The Yemen visa was a series of jumping through hoops to make the visa agent comfortable with us. First we had to go obtain a letter from our embassy that recognized and applauded the Republic of Yemen, then we had to change $27 (no more, no less) from USD to Ethiopian Birr and obtain a receipt. Then we had to come back between the hours of 12:00 and 1:30 and leave our passports. Twenty-seven dollars. This would make some sense if $27 was the price of the visa, but no, not even close.

So now we are at the airport on our way to the “hottest city on earth.” Unfortunately they are not talking about the club scene. It is just really hot. One thing that I forgot to mention about Addis Ababa – the elevation. Addis sits at over 8,000 ft. That is almost twice the elevation of Denver. The lack of oxygen when you leave the airplane is no joke. We have both been wheezing around Addis like 70 year old smokers. That’s all for now, we’ll see how Djibouti goes.

Addis Ababa has a lot of taste, and little gluten

March 10, 2010

Just reaching the end of the second day of Ethiopian travel/cuisine. I am really impressed with both so far. The people are truly wonderful. It’s great to be in a country where people are smiling. I have finished the visa gathering process for Somaliland (it was really easy actually – 11 minutes/$40 to be exact). After reviewing the itinerary, the plan has changed slightly. The plan is to go to Somaliland via the Jubba Airways flight and to hire a land cruiser to drive back to Addis. From Addis, there will be a little extra time, so a detour to Yemen is needed. I’ll be flying into Sana’a on the morning of the 17th, and returning on the evening of the 19th. The Yemeni visa situation (which is quite a pain) was taken care of today and I will pick my passport tomorrow. This leaves one more day of soaking up everything Addis has to offer and catching my flight to Djibouti City the day after tomorrow. One thing that I didn’t realize, Ethiopians fast for a little over a month prior to Easter. It’s sort of like a Christian version of Ramadan, however they can only eat vegetables instead of waiting for sundown. The vegetable dishes have been amazing though. Pictures to follow for sure, but take my word for it, they are like nothing you have ever seen! A helpful phrase in Amharic for the gluten free travelers: Sende na besso yamenyal. Meblat alchelem (Wheat and Barley – I can’t eat. It makes me sick).

UPDATE: New pictures below…

Dubai airport hotel

March 8, 2010

After the single longest plane ride of my life, I made it to the United Arab Emirates. I arrived around 6:45 in the evening, and went straight to my hotel and crashed. Sleeping on airplanes has never been my things and not to mention the last 4 hours of the flight was quite bumpy. After some sleep, the phone rang with a wake up call, and it was off to the buffet to see what could be eaten. Surprisingly, it was pretty easy. Eggs, fruit, veggies, etc. No problems. I’m boarding my airplane now, and in about 4 hours I’ll be in Africa.

Dubai – I’ll be back to learn about you in a couple of weeks…

The trip has started!

March 7, 2010

So, as you can most likely gather from the headline, the trip is under way. Gluten free airport food is pretty much not a reality, so going to the airport (or anywhere for that matter) is important. My go to gluten free snack is the Lara Bar. They get the job done. The dense little bars will get you by in a pinch and won’t leave you hungry. I am definitely full enough to get by until my gluten free meal on Emirates arrives. With that said, I’m about to board my 15 hour and 45 minute flight. This is going to be truly painful…

House of Shields – San Francisco,CA

March 4, 2010

Work has ended for the day, and libations are to be had. House of Shields is a favorite local drinkhole that is quite honestly the strangest mix of people I’ve ever seen drinking in one spot. A combination of bike messengers, businessmen, and the ocassional catagory “other” wandering in. Symbiosis among social classes, it encompasses all the best of living in San Francisco. The bar is located at the base of 55 Montgomery St. in the financial district. The place packs people in, and isn’t for those who hold their personal space near and dear, but be patient and it clears out soon enough. Obviously the beer is a no-no for the gluten intolerant (except for a few beers made from fermented sorghum – Redbridge for example). Having always been a beer drinker, not a cocktail guy, getting used to the harder stuff was a change. House of Shields uses V8 for their Bloody Mary mix, and I haven’t had any problems (aside from being over salted at the end of the night). My alternative go to drink when I’m not feeling like a sodium overdose, is the vodka 7. Vodka (an easy liquor for most people to tolerate) and 7up (a fantasticly uncaffeinated beverage – nothing to do with gluten, I voluntarily gave up the caffeine) are together a great choice to ween yourself off of the beer. If you are visiting San Francisco, make sure you experience one of the best happy hour bars in the city, just don’t take my seat!

Itinerary/Menu For Horn of Africa/Middle East

March 4, 2010

I depart this Sunday, March 7th From San Francisco to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and will finally arrive on March 9th around noon. I’ll spend a couple of days arranging visas and hanging out in Addis, before departing for Djibouti City on March 12th. After a quick overnight in Djibouti, I’ll catch a flight on Jubba Airways on the 13th to the northern part of the internationally recognized country of Somalia. Due to very infrequent flight schedules, I’ll be there 6 days until my flight starts backtracking countries on the 19th of March. I will have the opportunity to spend about a week traveling throughout Ethiopia before heading back to the Emirates to spend 5 days in Dubai. I will make my way back to San Francisco on the 30th to show up to the day job the next day.

As far as the important stuff, I am very excited about the meals to be had in this wheat deprived part of the world! Ethiopian food is one of my favorites and it’s a shame that the staple grain (tef – naturally gluten free) is very expensive and usually cut with bisquick/all purpose flour/etc. (all loaded with gluten) in the states. Eating Lamb Begee with a fork is a line that I am just not willing to cross. Injera (Ethiopian Bread made from tef), here I come!

I am a little nervous about the food options in Djibouti. Djibouti was formerly known as French Somaliland and has a huge prevalent French influence. If there is one thing the French are known for, it is their bread. I plan on stocking up on quite a few Lara Bars (gluten free!) just in case, but I am positive I will make this country work somehow.

Somaliland, the self-proclaimed, unrecognized state located in the northern part of the greater Somalia is known for its goat meat. This should be quite a fun time trying to play 20 questions with the waiters in Somali/Arabic. I am specifically excited about the prospect of the gluten free vegetarian opportunities.

Finally, Dubai. It amazes me that the degree to which a country is “developed” is almost always proportional to the amount of Wheat, Barley and Rye their diet consists of. The third world, hasn’t found gluten yet, but the first world seems to use it like it is salt. Dubai is rumored to have some fantastic South Asian food (chickpea flour is usually used – think Pakora) to hold me over. Obviously, I will be scouring the country looking for new options.

A quick comment about the airlines, I was able to select a gluten free meal on both Emirates as well as Kenya Airways. I was very happy to see this option, as the flight is almost 16 hours. Any suggestions are very much welcome…