A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: rachndave

Toot Toot Splash Splash

Rachel - Gondar

We arrived worn out and smelly from our trek at our prebooked-and-twice-confirmed hotel ready to race each other to the shower only to find that the hotel had “lost” our booking on the busiest weekend of the Ethiopian Calendar: Epiphany (or Timkat as it’s otherwise known). Fortunately, heaven knows how, in fact I fully suspect that it was someone else’s room, there was one room left in the hotel. We overheard a backpacker arrive only two minutes after us having the same problem, but of course now there were no rooms at all and everywhere in town had been booked out for weeks. Poor guy. We offered him our floor if he couldn’t find anywhere but we never heard from him. There are some people you meet that you will always wonder after and he is one of them. (oh and there was no running water till the morning either...)

Epiphany is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus, I’m not sure why this is a big deal really and noone else I asked seemed to know either but it made for a good excuse to dance and sing in the streets for a full three days and nights so we weren’t going to start asking difficult questions and cause a rethink. The version of Christianity here seems to focus on the Ark of the Covenant (again, a bit puzzling since this is an Old Testament relic) which is taken out of the various churches around town, paraded through the streets, taken to a place with water, then taken back to the churches. The water in question is blessed by the priests after which it becomes holy water and then the people are splashed with the water to become blessed themselves. We had made sure we were in Gondar for the celebration because it is a particularly big event here and the pool is big enough for people to swim in and we were told it was a sight to see.

The parades are colourful and noisy with crowds of people watching and joining in with cheering and tooting on golden trumpets which gives it a kind of carnival feel. We were stood watching the groups of church singers and dancers passing by when we were tapped on the knee by Coralie who we’d met in the Simiens (she has one of those perfect jobs working as a mountain guide in Corsica with journalism as a backup for the off season) and her friend Susi and their couch surfing buddies in tow. So we all joined the parade down to the water pool where the replica arks would spend the night. With a bottle of Tej (honey wine) in one hand and a candle in the other we watched the chanting and soked up the atmosphere but after the arks disappeared behind the curtain everyone started to drift off to rest before coming back for 5am when the water blessing ceremony would start. Not everyone though because this is a time for celebration and so we ventured off to find the party. Which of course we did. After a few hours entertaining the children and young men of town with our attempts at shoulder dancing we continued on a small pub crawl lead by the couch surfing guy.

I nearly caused a fight at this point however because the couch surfing guy was talking about “farenjis” to the queue waiting outside one bar. I have an off-and-on problem with this word which means generically “foreigner” and sometimes can mean just non-ethiopian or can mean more like “outsider/them/white folk” in a disparaging sense. I thought he was supposed to be modern and groovy being a couch surfer and someone we’d spent the day with so I very politely asked him please not to talk about us while we were stood right there and using that word – just at that point some English girls came out and said they’d been living here for nearly a year and they hated it too and, although I didn’t hear this, said something like “f***ing ethiopians” which incensed the couch surfing guy and launched himself after them. Oops :-s It all calmed down after a while. The guy was a bit high strung though because the following night when Dave went out with him he nearly got in another fight, which Dave caused this time by accidentally knocking over someone’s beer. Oops again.

So we got up before dawn to go back to the pool and watch the water blessing. Everyone was gather around the pool dressed in white and chanting prayers along with the priest. As it started to get busier and busier we were directed to a special elevated seated area for “farenji”. That felt bit weird. On the one hand the crush and surge of the crowd was intense and frightening so I was glad to be out of it in this calm place which had a privileged view of the wtaer. But on the other hand if I were an Ethiopian, for whom this is an important event, I would be resentful of the white people being given special privileges. Even worse was that the Ethiopian guides such as our couch surfing friend, or visiting Ethiopians who no longer lived in the country who we knew of were first denied entry into the enclosure by the baton wielding security police and we had to plead on their behalf. It’s a very strange racism.

Around the pool stood holy types, white robed musicians and someone I was told was the president of the country who gave a speech. After 2 hours of speeches and prayers the final blessing was made at which point the crowds (who had until this point been literally beaten back in quite a startling way) surged forwards and young men who had stripped off to their pants jumped into the water. Immediately the atmosphere turned from one of reverence to one of delight and playfulness as the men in the water swam backstroke and did rolls, splashed each other like kids and filled bottles of the water to throw back to the crowds who would splash each other in the face. I now have a holy bag and shoes :)

What is the deal with holy water anyway? How long does the blessing last? I assume a long time since people take it home with them and hang it up outside their doors, but then what happens when the water is washed away, or it evaporates to make rain clouds – will that make for holy rain? What happens if you dilute it, is it still holy? Does the blessing apply to a coherent body of water in which case could a priest bless an ocean? Or is there a“zone of blessing” in which case if we had water in our bags would that be picked up? And how come a priest after his ordainment can suddenly make water “holy” but the day before he couldn’t? I don’t see much logic here.

We watched the people swimming and playing for a while and then decided to follow the arks back up through the streets, at least until a place where we could find breakfast ;) Unfortunately in the crowds to get out of the gates the police were pushing everyone back and using their batons and in the crush Dave had both his pockets picked including taking his camera which was attached to his belt so we lost all the pictures and videos of the day. He’s been smart enough to change the memory cards the day before suspecting that there might be pick pockets working the crowds.

Not much we could do though so we made our way back to be adopted by a group of kids who seemed to be very concerned about oursafety. They were particularly worried about the groups of countryside people whose form of celebration was to shake sticks in the air and bounce around in a small mob of about 15 shouting songs. They weren’t dangerous but they didn’t have much special awareness and would often bounce into the watching crowd. So these kids took our hands and ushered us away with concerned frowns and wagging fingers. They led us right through the town and presented us at the smart tourist hotel as if it were sanctuary. We were really touched. All we could think to do as a thank you was to give them a few rounds of “heads shoulders knees and toes” which they seemed to enjoy and then we thought we should probably go inside the hotel for fear of disappointing them! While we were on the terrace bar light aeroplanes would drop grass or leaflets over the crowds in the main square nearby.

The next day of celebration would be much the same so we paid a visit to the famous castles of Gonder which were impressive even by European castle standards and all 10 or so of them were situated inside a high wall and all was grass except for the castles which gave an atmosphere of medieval serenity. Inside the walls there were some tables set up ready for a posh festival closing ceremony for the president and dignitaries but as the guests were arriving some of them, dressed in traditional white-with-embroidered-coloured-borders dresses, sidled up and asked for official photos with us – in our normal stained and wrinkled tourist clothes, heaven’s knows why but I wonder if we made the papers :)

When we left people were still hooting horns and partying, I do wonder what the town is like at other times of the year but for us Gondar will always be a festive town.

Posted by rachndave 06:26 Tagged religion festivals Comments (0)

Eight days on top of Ethiopia

Rachel - Simien Mountains

I love to hike, but I don’t think my body does. I can’t predict the future but I think by body can. Every time we have been about to embark on a long trek I have been struck by some bug or other. In Iran I had diarrhoea, in Lebanon it was stomach cramps, in Malawi it was vomiting and this time, the day before we were going to head up to over 4000 metres in the Simien mountains I got hit with a nasty cough and cold.

So we started a day later than planned while I felt sorry for myself and tried to recover from the cold and bumpy 4 hour, 5am start bus journey under the covers in our hotel room and dave went to rustle up donkeys and food etc. I think I had it lucky though, our original guide had to cancel on us because his wife had just gone into labour, although super helpful he was so we had to forcibly send him away to his wife’s bedside in the end.

Day 1: Our new guide Shaggy, The scout Den and two nameless mule handlers, Dave and I made our way through the small dusty flat town and its equally small dusty market and down to the smooth rocked and meadow edged river which marked the start of the hills. We crossed the river by rocks and up through the gentle grassy hills, through forest and later wide open plains to our first campsite “Sankaber”. Dave and I had chosen to cook our own meals instead of hiring a cook and in the cooking area we one-by-one met the cast of this week’s stint in the mountains. Although each group would be walking with their guide in their own group and set out at different times we would invariably find ourselves meeting at the lookout points and rest stops and of course in the campsites over the next few days.

Day 2: Our first view from a height of the volcanic created and then river eroded valley floor. Wow. We shared our lunch with a troop of non-plussed baboons. At first we we thought they hadn’t seen us and kept quiet but then we realised they weren’t bothered in the slightest. We later caught up with some French walkers and while we approached we were hushed as if a rare shy creature had been spotted close by. As we approached we saw that we were looking down on what can only be described as a hilly baboon hobbit-village at some distance. We humoured the French for a little while and then strode noisily into the middle of the pack and watched as baboons of all ages gambled and grazed around us while others pelted themselves down the far woody hillside and chased each other round rocks. The guides had to drag us all away assuring us that there were hundreds more baboons ahead and, to paraphrase, could we, like, get over it already because we had some miles to cover :-p To which we replied “5 more minutes” :) Eventually we followed on, waving goodbye to baboon city and continued a gentle up over open gentle rolling plains, through fields of alien looking giant lobelia and small villages of round thatched houses to the stunningly situated campsite “Gitch”. Although it feels like the campsite is in the middle of nowhere there is actually a village somewhere hidden nearby and we were told we could buy a chicken there for dinner. Which we could…a live one. So while Dave went off to witness the butchery (in the halal sense) I started the sous-cheffing as the sun set and watched the cattle and horses being driven to lower ground for the night (check out the photos of the sunset and location of camp when Dave puts them up – it was breathtaking). After chopping a mountain of ginger, garlic, onions and carrot we made a tasty (if extremely rubbery) marinated chicken. Pah, who needs a chef. The campsite is at 3200 so as soon as the sun sets it gets mighty chilly so we all huddled round the campfire and turned in early only to wake at dawn to find the ground and tent covered in frost! This is not what I imaged Africa to be like! But it only added to the site’s beauty and didn’t last long at all once the sun was up again.

Day 3: Wow…again. This was by far the most spectacular day of the hike. We were climbing higher and higher along the edge of an incomprehensibly high, vertical dropping escarpment and so each turn revealed a new view of the still-high-in-their-own-right plateaus below as we climbed to 4070m to have lunch (where a sheep stole Dave’s lunch hahaha). One particularly good look out was the fabulously names GoGoMater which in Ethiopian means “go go old woman” and is named for the place where a local old woman chased after a foreigner who was walking past. Really it should have been called “Bugger me we’re high up and you can see for hundreds of miles in every direction” because we were stood on the jutting out point of the escarpment which meant you could see the craggy rocky mountains and plateaus on one side and a sheer drop and other face of the escarpment on the other. The guide pointed out where the path would take us on the other side of the vertical cliff, right along the very edge, and I think that should have been named merely “gulp”. It turned out no to be too bad because the path was a few metres back and the slope of the path was towards safety but even Dave had to lie down to peer over the edge and admitted to feeling a bit queasy when looking down. The sheer scale addled my little mind they did. The escarpment took us direct to the third and cutest of the campsites “Chenneck” where we all regrouped, lounged in the sun, drank tea, washed our steaming socks, watched the campsite baboons and eagles, and shared our “wow, wasn’t that amazing”s of the day.

Day 4. This is where all the groups parted company because there are several routes through the Simiens and we were going for the highest peak Ras Dashen. So the two of us made the slog alone down down down through the valley and along the river to the Ras Dashen base camp, stopping for lunch and some provisions shopping in a busy village having its market day. Ambiko camp is right next to a village and unfortunately it has many beggars, particularly children, who come to the camp – partly for entertainment I think - so it isn’t the most relaxing place unfortunately. I mean tot write a little separate piece about the relationship between tourists and locals later on but this place is a particularly interesting example. In the past you could stay in the village in a local person’s house if you wanted. This would give a bit of income to someone from the village and you were able to (in an admittedly small and surface way) get an idea of how people live up in the mountains. But the National Park authorities have put a stop to that – claiming reasons of “hygiene”. Which means that the village is denied an income from tourists except to beg, and tourists are forcedly separated/elevated(?) against their will from the people area they’ve come to visit. And why not in that case *teach* the villagers about hygiene which can only be a benefit to everyone? We thought it was madness and made for an uncomfortable situation all round.

Day 5. The previous day I had decided not to climb Ras Dashen with Dave because I was still coughing very badly from my cold every time we stopped for a rest so Dave went to the summit while I pottered around in camp and made friends with, and did small tasks (what they’d let me!) for the chefs who were preparing meals for the walkers. Dave was first back off the mountain and said it was a lovely walk on top of the world and despite being over 4500m wasn’t too strenuous. Everyone who came down was greeted by the chefs and mule drivers with a “Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back from Ras Dashen” song and a small posy of flowers which was a really sweet touch. Mood in the camp that night was understandably high, with campfire singing and dancing, but everyone was pooped so it was an early satisfied night for all.

Day 6. Was merely day 4 in reverse and a tough slog up up up. But at Chenneck we met a few new faces and shared our various experiences so far. Oh and a baboon stole Dave’s tea but put it down without spilling a drop just to teach him a lesson I think…cheeky baboon :) One of the newly arrived guides had a history degree and gave us all an interesting history of the country which filled in a few gaps and answered some questions not in the guidebooks. He knew much more about European and british history and politics than any of us did and made me quite ashamed how little I know. Must get one of those ‘orrible history for kids books when I get back

Day 7. We spent the day on the gravel/dust road to cut out Gitch and Sankaber camps and go straight to the site clostest to the final town. Although normally we shun the roads we were quite glad in this case as it was easier walking when we were both quite weary and footsore by now. We spent the journey piecing together what parts of history we could work out (“normans…they were important for something weren’t they…we they before or after the magna carta?”). We arrived at camp super tired after the longest days walk yet but we had promised the guides a chicken so we bought another two live chickens and together we prepared a local spiced meal and shared it with everyone. It was a real sense of achievement for us and even without much language we had a few moments around the small fire.

Day 8. We hobbled the final 4 hours back into town with various blisters and aches but finished at last to share a beer and take winners photos. Tell you what, I was looking forward to sitting on that bus back to Gonder.

I think the Simiens have been some of the most spectacular walking I’ve ever done….and I’ve been to Scotland! You should go.

Posted by rachndave 06:45 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged mountains hiking Comments (0)

The most important thing is the human being

Rachel - Awramba

I'm generalising of course, and we have been here over a period of special religious activity, but I think it's safe to say that Ethiopia is country with a deep seated religious faith. Be that their own unique branch of Christianity or Islam. So we were pretty surprised to hear of a community, an hour or so from Bahir Dar, which professes to be without religion.

The village of Awramba was founded by a man who claims not to be a prophet or a leader but simply a man with an ideal,and that ideal is that the most important thing is to treat fellow human beings with kindness. But furthermore that the problems of poverty will not be alleviated by prayer but by hard work in an equal society. In this village there is no "men's work" (traditionally weaving, fishing) or "women's work" (traditionally spinning cotton, cooking) and older members of society are not discarded once they are too old to contribute,but instead there is education forall ages who want it, care of the elderly and the weaving workshops (which is the main way they generate income for the village) are occupied by both sexes performing all jobs.

The village itself has a very welcoming and peaceful feel. We were greeted by a community member who showedus round the dormitories for the elderly,inside a home with their innovative energy saving stove,the school room, library and the weaving workshops. All the while explaining that the founder doesnt not believe in God but that there is no need for a church or building becuase he doent want to give that creator a name, or designate a place where They are to be "found". It is also fine to have noreligion at all because "the most important thing is how you treat the human being". She also explained about how a member of the community has to adhere to the rules of kindness and respect and hard work, and how conflict is resolved, support is given,developments and improvements made and generally how the community functions under this system. At the end of the talk we were introduced to the founder who could answer any of our questions about his ideas and the community. he was a softly spoken man who stressed that he just had an idea, that was all - he wasnt in charge and he hoped it was a good idea that would be shared by others.

I thought they made a lot of sense and in a place where people often seem to use religion to excuse terrible personal conditions it was also something special to see people using their own skills and resources to improve their own lives. Maybe in some years time they'll have a tent at Glastonbury....

(ps. also of note was amusing a group of schoolgirls on the walk back with only the few Amharic words we had in the back of our guidebook inc. a staged argument using only the word for "cow" and the word for "donkey")

Posted by rachndave 08:53 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (1)

Christmas mark 2 (and a journey)

Rachel - journey to Bahir Dar and Bahir Dar

Whereas Malawi is red, Uganda is green, Ethiopia is yellow.

We are back in the land of the 5.30am bus journey. Yeuch. But the advantage of such an early start at least is being able to watch the sunrise over the countryside. We’d not seen any of the country yet and it is stunning.

The earth is a dusty light brown with short pale yellow grass. Every now and again are smart stick-fenced, or sometimes dry stone walled compounds containing a few rectangle houses and circular huts made of stick and mud with conical thatched roofs on the circular huts and usually a cluster of frosty looking eucalyptus trees being grown for firewood. Lots of these compounds, particularly those with stick-fenced pens for animals, put me in mind of Australian farms. The land we passed through was fairly flat and open but interestingly uneven, slashed by metre deep wriggly gashes revealing the brown earth at the bottom of which would be a stream or a dry bed and small clusters of trees. As the sun rose and people appeared we saw older children, wrapped in blankets, taking out and shaking rugs. Women in blankets standing in doorways watching the day start. Young boys lead donkeys away from the roads across the fields and men driving small herds of cattle with sticks. Young girls walking by the road wrapped in scarves carrying water cans. Horses grazing in fields of recently harvested cultivated lands scattered with small angular rocks. As the houses woke up wood smoke would be rising from the conical roofs. Sometimes in small towns we’d pass rows of corrugated iron shops in bright colours which would remind me of brighton beach huts. And as the sun was rising it was piercing the clouds and the rays would give everything a warm pale yellow glow.

Later we drove along one edge of the Nile river gorge – on one side of the bus I had a view of the huge “crystalline” looking rocks and scrubby slopes, and on the other was a wide open bowl of yellow and green peppered with the silver roves of the town in the far bottom. On the far side of the bowl was the Nile, wide and grey, snaking through the land and mirroring the road on this side of the basin.

That journey was some of the most beautiful landscape and light I’ve ever experienced.

We arrived in Bahir Dar, city of the lake, in the late afternoon and after a frustrating muddle with a hotel who bent the truth about their having space for us we ended up in a super budget place but super friendly too. They loved Dave’s passport photo and liked to touch my hair, giggling all the time. But nevertheless we had wanted to stay in a hotel on the lake so we went that night to negotiate a price and ended up being invited in for drinks by the eccentric manager Bisrat. He had his large double bed in his office which he’d occasionally jump onto to lounge amongst the newspapers, was always on his mobile phone or checking emails and his subject of conversation would jump around every 2 minutes. It took over an hour, and between side discussions about politics and personal desires *and* it turns out he organizes affordable trips to the danakil which we also signed up to, we finally agreed a deal and would come back the next day.

Next day we checked in and signed up to the boat trip running to the monasteries that are found on the islands in the middle of the big lake although we were a little late to visit one of them and one of them didn’t let in women so actually I only saw one. I think they’re all pretty similar though. The focus of the site is the classic Ethiopian style round church with a conical stick roof – inside and at the centre of the church is a room containing a replica of the arc of the covenant which noone but priests can enter, on the outside of which though are almost cartoon like paintings of the life of jesus, mary and the saints and the ring of space that is left is for praying and chanting in with a few drums dotted around. The monks themselves live in the round huts as found everywhere else. So really it doesn’t feel like a monastery so much as a village.

On the boat trip we made friends with an Ethiopian couple who now live in London. They were over here for Christmas to visit family and were more tourists than we were with flashy clothes and sunnies, cameras and video cameras. In the evening we met them in a traditional music bar like the one we went to in Addis and they were snapping and filming away the whole time :) In these bars the customers sit around the edge of the room and the performers dance and sing in the middle and every now and again the singers will pick people out in the room and sing nice but cheeky songs about them while dancing in front of them, after which you’re supposed to stick money (notes) to their foreheads. The dancing is the Ethiopian style which instead of being all about the hips is all about the shoulders. While stamping your feet, with your hands on your hips, you rotate or shimmy your shoulders around energetically. This isn’t just a traditional style either, it’s the same moves in pubs and clubs too. It’s really tricky to get the hang of and tiring to keep going but it feels quite slinky for the 30 seconds when it all comes together.

Bahir Dar is a lazy feeling town with wide streets and lots of cafes and hotels. The fascinating market in the centre of town sells all sorts: frankincense (used in the coffee ceremony) and spices, chickens, coffee pots, all sorts of grains, chat (for chewing), injera stoves (for the sour pancakes) and second hand clothes. We were adopted by a young man and his friend to show us round the market, meet his mother selling coffee pots, and bargain on our behalf for a couple of warm jumpers we’d need for the Simien Mountains. After that we all shared some dinner and drinks to say thank you and then parted because today was Ethiopian Christmas eve and there was a nighttime mass in the church we were curious to see.

For any church or holy event, even regular Sundays, everyone wears white with a large white scarf covering the head – for both men and women. On this day the church was packed. The priest would chant/sing sermons and excerpts from the bible and this was piped outside the church over speakers to where we were stood amongst the sparse crowd of white clad worshipers surrounding the church. Every now and again, in unison, with no signal, the people inside and outside the church would mutter or sing something back or bow to the floor in a way you would expect to see in a mosque, or read quietly from their own pocketsized copies of the bible. At some point the replica of the arc of the covenant is brought out under the shade of a glitzy umbrella and paraded around, and at various points the priests would disappear behind a curtain although the singing/chanting would go on. We were able to move freely around the outside of the church, move amongst the corwds and peer in the windows. It was extremely atmospheric and somber mood and a little spooky moving amongst all the white robes. We left about 3am and they we could still hear them chanting at 5am when we got up to go to the loo, the hotel not being far from the church.

The previous day we had been invited by Bisrat the manager to his family’s house for Christmas dinner which was very nice of him. There were several other hotel guests invited as well and we all went by minibus to be greeted by his mother in a very modern 2 up 2 down house in the town. Bisrat The Distracted disappeared and left us to drink beers brought by the maid and get to know each other and then he came back later for dinner. Christmas dinner was just like normal dinner – with various tasty, spicy stews and injira pancakes. Bisrat disappeared again and while he was out some itinerant praise singers paid a visit and sang us all songs (which unfortunately we couldn’t understand) and stopped for some coffee. Just like carol singers really :) We left in the mid afternoon and ended up hooking up with a group of Ethiopian, Swedish and German people we’d crossed paths with the night before round the fire. They’d all been up all night and we still drinking so we went for a birthday dinner for it was one of the Ethiopian lady’s birthday, and ended up back at the fire for a night of deep and strange conversations – for she was quite philosophical and had many opinions which made for a thought provoking evening. A typical Christmas I suppose – boozy conversations round an open fire.

A lovely, interesting day, but Christmas wasn’t the festivity we thought it might have been. Religiously significant and family oriented certainly but without the celebration you might have expected. But wait, Epiphany celebration is just around the corner and that one’s supposed to be a big’un.

Posted by rachndave 09:01 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged landscapes parties markets religion Comments (0)

New Year New Country

Rachel - Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is one of those of those satisfying-to-say places - like Ougadougou and almost anywhere in australia. It always seems a shame to shorten it to Addis as everyone seems to do.

When we drove from the airport we were struck by how modern the city seemed, with wide asphalt roads with proper traffic lights, international hotels and business parks. Now we know that this stretch of road is a recent addition to the city. The centre itself though is a strange mix of both modern-ish shops and rickety stalls all next to each other, a feature that has apparently stretched back right to the birth of the city when palaces and traditional mud and thatch houses were interspersed.

We arrived at our hotel a little weary but decided to check out the lobby of our hotel which despite having budget rooms is the oldest hotel in Addis Ababa and had a man playing piano in the large foyer as we arrived. So we enjoyed some new beers with a young woman, Annabelle, from Berlin but originally from Ethiopia, who was looking to return to her roots and live in Addis for a while.

The first day in a new country is always the same, try and sort out maps and phones and in this case try and buy some second hand warm clothes in the crowded and pungent mercarto (market) but today we had a total fail because everything was closed or too far away to organize after we were lost in the market for too long, which only sold new things and mostly wholesale. An experience nonetheless and we were adopted by a stall owner who tried to show us all the jumper stalls that might sell single prices and seemed baffled why we weren’t really interested in the available floral or neon articles.

To try and salvage the day we did manage to squeeze in a visit to a church and it’s attached museum. Ethiopians take their church seriously it seems – even the building itself. While we were in the courtyard we noticed many people coming up just to kiss the door or steps without it even being open. The day somewhat rescued we headed off for our first taste of Ethiopian food, on the way we passed a small darkened entrance with assorted men just in view sitting inside which caught Dave’s eye. It turned out to be a tejabet or “house of tej” which is the local honey wine, only really sold in these speciallity houses. We were made to sit down and to everyone’s great interest and encouragement try our first tej which is served in a special bulbous glass with a tall thin spout which looks something like a distillation bottle from chemistry class…we weren’t too impressed (although we have found out since that we hadn’t tried a very good one). But the owner took a shine to us and showed us to the restaurant, and spent the next hour or so with us teaching us some words, describing the food and generally being a nice introduction to the country.

We had been looking forward to the food here having been to Ethiopian restaurants in London. In case you’ve not tried it yourself it’s invariably some kind of spicy stew served on a sourish spongey pancake plate which you eat with your hands by breaking off some of the pancake and scooping up some of the stew before popping it all in your mouth. It takes some practice, and apparently it’s not allowed to lick your fingers.

Oh I forgot to mention – today was New Years eve (for us) and Annabelle had invited us to a party near to our hotel so after a delicious dinner we went back to meet her and some of her friends. The street next to our hotel is full of small bars playing very loud music so we spent the hours leading up to midnight (for us) doing a tour of most of them, ending up in a great little place playing Ethiopian pop music and full of people dancing (I’ll describe the dancing in another entry because it’s pretty unique). At the stroke of midnight we were ushered outside because for the first time they had put on fireworks for “European” new year. Ethiopia has a different calendar, the Julian calendar, because they rejected the Pope and the pope’s Gregorian calendar. (note for the geeks, so *now* we know why we have all those different Calendar classes – it’s for Ethiopia). So the Ethiopian new year is actually in September and Christmas is on January 7th. The time here is even different too – midnight is 6 o’clock because they start counting from zero at 6am, which does actually make a kind of sense – start counting when you wake up. But anyway it seems like they like an excuse to party so just for us they pulled one out the bag. Dave and I tried to get everyone to join in a bouncing circle of Auld Langs Eyne which took two attempts but I think it’ll catch on.

Unfortunately almost exactly this time Dave realized that he’d been pickpocketed in the bar and they’d taken our hotel key which had the name of the hotel and the room number on it so we dashed back to find that they’d already ransacked the room and taken a few electricals that were out in sight. Fortunately they must have been in a rush so they hadn’t found our well hidden passports and cash, or Dave’s not so well hidden camera or iPod luckily, so we decided to deal with it later and headed back to meet everyone. The rest of the night was brilliant fun too – we visited a bar with traditional music and praise singing (will describe that properly later too) and later a cheesy nightclub with more Ethiopian pop. Finally at 5am the four of us staggered home happy.

Next day we reported the theft to the police, purely for the insurance report. But because we hadn’t reported the incident immediately they didn’t want to take our report until a few days later than we’d planned to move on, so the lady in the hotel reception – without telling us – told the policeman that we had a flight to catch so we couldn’t come back later which made for some very uncomfortable moments during the eventual interview when he was asking about our flight details and how come we could come back to Addis to collect the head-office-signed report. I’m not sure the insurance company will even accept the report because it’s written in Amharic script on the back of a piece of already-written-on rough paper which was all he could get his hands on at the time. It looks like I just wrote it myself! And another awkward moment was when we, via our translators who we’d to scrounge in the hotel bar by the way, had to decline to pay him a “small fee” to “start the investigation”. Our translators afterwards even tried to get us to go back to pay the bribe and then asked us for money themselves. A weird evening that was, although not unpleasant. The policeman was polite and concerned about doing a thorough job and he was clearly busy because people would come in and out of his office all the time to ask something.

On our final day we ran about town talking to tour agencies about trips to the Danakil depression (i.e. THE HOT-TEST PLACE ON EEEARTH) and then putting up posters in backpacker frequented places trying to find people to join with us, otherwise it will be a very expensive trip. But after we missed out on the volcano in the Congo we have a second chance because there’s another active lava lake in the Danakil so we *have* to go this time. Have to.

After several days in the city we didn’t really get to see much of Addis Ababa, not on the tourist trail anyway and there are some interesting looking museums here too. But we’ll be back again in a few weeks at least, and it’s the sign of a good city at least that you need to come back. Au reviour Addis Ababa(bababa).

Posted by rachndave 08:21 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged parties food cities Comments (0)

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