Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ Category

Goodbye Africa

March 20, 2010

Tonight I am heading back to the Middle East for 9 days before returning to San Francisco. Erik left the night before last, and I feel like I have seen the sights of Addis. I’ll fly back to Dubai tonight and arrive around 1:00am, then tomorrow I’ll take a bus to Muscat, Oman. The drive should be 4 hours with no sights except sand to see. Oman is at the south-eastern most part of the Arabian Peninsula and borders Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the UAE. I’m excited about getting to see more of the Middle East than just Dubai. It’s kind of like the equivalent of going to Las Vegas and believing you’ve seen the US.

Yesterday I went to find some liquor. I love bringing home local libations. Whenever you want to travel the world, you can hop a flight to your liquor cabinet. The idea was to score some Tej (next time you want a laugh, ask me to try to pronounce it!). After some rangling with the taxi drivers, they took me to what looked like an Ethiopian speakeasy. They asked me if I brought a water bottle (in hindsight this is telling). I had to pay extra for a bottle, which they filled with the sauce. Tej is a wine brewed out of water and honey. Think back to your english literature classes from high school (it was called Mead). Apparently there are no national brands, or even properly bottled brands. You simply show up to the place they brew it, and they fill up your bottle. Beacuse the bottle they gave me is leaking and doesn’t hold liquid, I have no idea how I’m going to get this stuff back on the plane. The last thing I want is to land in San Francisco and discover a backback full of clothes covered in honey.

Donkeycide

March 18, 2010

We made the journey back from Arba Minch to Addis Ababa. I have never been so happy to be in a hotel in my life. This trip was scary. Flat out scary.

We left the lodge this morning at about 9:00am and headed to the Dorze tribal community. We looked around at their market and snapped some photos and were on our way by 11:45 to Addis. The trip to Addis usually takes about 6-7 hours. All was going well and we stopped and ate lunch, and we were making great time. There were showers here and there and the sky was getting really dark. Our driver was dodging the usual people in the road, and animals running around (keep in mind that we are only going 35-45 MPH). We saw two donkeys ahead in the road, ahem, “socializing.” One donkey was simply not having any part of this “socialization.” The donkey abruptly broke loose from it’s previous position and ran in front of our path.

Our land cruiser killed the donkey.

Not just killed the donkey. Destroyed the donkey. We didn’t hit the donkey straight on, the front left quarter of the car hit the donkey straight in the head. The car squeeled to a stop and it was quiet for a second.

Our driver then did the predictable move of slamming on the gas and flying through the village to make our escape.

At first we thought he was trying to avoid paying for the donkey he killed, but no, things were a bit sketchier than that apparently. As we peeled out through this town, every person in the town came out of nowhere and pelted the car with stones. Not little stones, huge stones. Volleyball sized chunks of concrete were hitting the car. We were driving the gauntlet. The driver had a terrified look on his face and was driving about 65 MPH. He explained that they would be calling ahead to the other towns up the road to set up road blocks and they would crush our skulls with rocks like he did to the donkey.

Our skulls?!?

I was still trying to figure out why all of us had to die for his shitty driving, but I eventually just went with it and focused on the situation at hand. He had to beat the roadblocks and get out of there really quick-like. So, speeding down the road dodging people and animals while being pelted with rocks can be pretty stressful. Our driver doesn’t even break before hitting two small goats crossing the road dead on.

The total is now 3 in case you are keeping track.

We’ve now pissed off an entirely new group of people (luckily they weren’t as organized when it came to rock throwing). It is also completely dark now, pouring rain, and there is now crazy lightning all around. It’s like a Scooby Doo episode.

The next three hours were spent in silence. Eyeing the road for people. We were all just watching in front (and behind) of us. Every car that passed, could have been the people catching up to us. Every town we drove through, we were waiting for a roadblock. Tense situation.

When we finally made it to Addis, our driver was beating on the dashboard and screaming “not killed, not today, not killed.” This was about the point when we realized that he was quite serious.

Nechsar Park

March 17, 2010

Today we took a tour of Nechsar Park located in Arba Minch, southern Ethiopia.  This included six hours of chaotic driving at 10 KM per hour through some terrible terrain.  But the payoff was huge.

We were able to see kudus, zebras, gazelles, and some strange birds.  Zebras were definitely the highlight. They are a lot larger than I had pictured.  They seemed like gigantic, horse sized donkeys.

We were escorted through the park by a guard and were told that every butterfly we killed (accidentally or otherwise) would cost us a dollar.  The sandflies however were free to kill, and we took them up on this offer.  They were the meanest incects I have ever seen.  One bit me, through my sock, and drew blood.  Evil, terrible bugs. We ended up driving through a good section of the park with the windows rolled up, during the hottest part of the day (there is video of this experience).

So, I am going to attach some pictures and let the photos tell the story:

Somaliland Denied (Round 2)

March 16, 2010

We had our driver hired, bags packed, schedule set, and the Ethiopia visa office gave us the big “no.”  They refused to give us a visa while our current visas were valid.  We would have to apply for a multiple entry visa and wait overnight, thus throwing a wrench into our tight schedule.  So, we headed south toward the South Omo Valley. 

The first day we drove from Addis (after our awesome visa experience) to Awassa.  I really love the rural 3rd world.  One of my favorite experiences that everyone should have at least once is arriving in a city or town that has absolutely no power.  Because the entire city is dark, everyone is walking around the town, eating by candle light, and enjoying the chaos.  Surprisingly this brings out the best in everyone’s moods.  Smiles are everywhere and life is great. 

Day  two we headed from Awassa to Arba Minch.  There is an incredible national park located here and we dropped our things off and went straight to a boat to go see crocodiles and hippos.  This was one of the coolest things I have ever done.  Being 10 feet away from a 15 foot crocodile is amazing.  The hippos freaked me out a bit, but some great pictures are now mine. 

Tomorrow we will go spend the day in the national park to check out the zebras, kudus, and baboons.  We are staying at a great lodge on a hillside overlooking Lake Chamo.  I’ll upload pictures tomorrow hopefully…

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.

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…