25 March, 2007. Leaving Kenya was a snap. I was surpised there was no exit fee. I left that country feeling fleeced. I entered the Ethiopian immigration office and encountered a very unpleasant fellow. He refused to shake my hand and cocked his head back as he began to ask questions. He was surly. He told me he wanted the name of every hotel I planned to stay at during my visit. He also wanted to know how many days I would stay in each place. Frustrated, I walked out of the office and talked to some friendly Kenyans who had also been harassed by this man. I decided to have some fun with the situation. I went back into the office where Mr. Man told me to sit down. I had a book with me so I didn't care. He then told me to take a seat in front of his desk. He asked questions and entered the answers in a book. Then he asked about my hotel itinerary. I gave the actual name of the hotel in Moyale because I knew he knew the town. After that, I let him have it. "In Addis, I'll be staying at The Ambassador Hotel and Residence. In Lalibela, The Seven Olives Plaza Hotel and Campsite." I continued making up the longest names I could. It didn't take long for the "hotel" box to fill. As I continued, he finally held up his hand to shut me up. Bart Simpson would have been proud!
Ethiopia has it's own, unique vibe. It took me only a day to know I was going to like this place. My first destination was Awassa. The ride there was interesting. There was virtually no traffic and the road was fine and paved. There were camel trains working their way north and south by the side of the road. Friendly locals smiled and waved as I passed. Mercifully, much of Ethiopia is at altitude, that means it's cool here. After the past several days, I releshed this cool, clean air.
When I arrived in Awassa I had been in the saddle for more than 8 hours. I was justifiably tired and very hungry. I stopped by the lake and attempted to get my bearings. I parked next to a man in a pick-up truck. He was eating peanuts and offered me some. We spoke for a bit when an Israeli couple stopped by and asked me many questions. They said they had a great hotel and told me where it was. En route to my hotel, a young man on a motorcycle pulled up alongside me shouting for me to stop. I couldn't imagine what for. His name was Nagoose. He told me he had a bike similar to my own and just wanted to talk. He followed me to my hotel and noticed that my left mirror was broken off. I explained that when I loaded my bike into the truck bound for Moyale, one of the men helping me load the bike had snapped it off. He smiled and said he'd be back to collect me in 30 minutes. And he did. He took me to his friend's shop where in 30 minutes, the mirror was repaired. "What do I owe you?" I asked. "10Birr ($1.20usd)" was the answer. Wow, if this were the Jungle Junction, Chris Handscuhe would have charged me $40usd or more! Nagoose then took me to an amazing restaurant where we feasted on beef and chicken and I enjoyed several cold Ethiopian beers. Nagoose knew I hadn't eaten in 10 hours and whenever I put down my fork, he would hold food up to my mouth. I ate 2 bites of his food in this fashion- and I'm glad I did. Refusing to accept food offered this way- or accepting it only once, is considered bad luck. I had no idea until someone told me this in Addis. Offering someone food in this way is a sign of closeness and friendship. Learn something everyday!
Ethiopia, much more than Kenya, fascinates me. I have settled into the country nicely. This is the land of the coffee ceremony. Green beans are roasted, ground and made into coffee in a beautiful, ritualistic process in homes throughout the country. Ethiopia is home to a variety of delicious foods, and an interesting flat bread called Injera. Normally food is piled on the Injera (it resembles a thin pancake), then one tears off a piece of Injera, wraps it around some food and off you go. Utensils are not used. There is plenty of Italian food on order as well. The Italians occupied Ethiopia and Eritrea until the Ethiopians gave them the boot- not before the Italians killed plenty of people here however. Every country I have visited on this trip was, at one time, under control of the Europeans- including my own.
My "man from Sudan," his name is Rudwan!
Getting a visa for the country of Sudan isn't exactly easy. I tried in Nairobi and was refused. I had already been to the Sudanese embassy in Addis Ababa 4 times when I returned to my hotel one afternoon. Sitting in the shade was a man wearing a Muslim cap and a white robe. He was sipping on a coffee; thin wisps of smoke eminated from an ashtray on the table. He regarded myself and the bike with obvious curiosity. As I dismounted, he asked if I spoke english. I approached him and we struck up a conversation. "Where are you from?" he asked. I told him. He said he had been to Europe twice but had always wanted to visit the US. He asked why I was in Addis. "I'm waiting for a visa for Sudan so I can continue to Cairo," I explained. He smiled and asked why I wanted to visit Sudan. I told him (honestly) that I'd heard the people of Sudan were among some of the finest on the planet. I told him I wanted to see the Blue Nile, the White Nile, etc. His smile steadily grew larger as I went on about the Sahara and the ancient ruins of Sudan. He suddenly raised his hand and said, "my name is Rudwan, I am an ambassador from Sudan to the country of Ethiopia." I was flabbergasted. He asked if we could meet at 6pm- of course! He told me to bring a map.
That evening Rudwan and I spent several hours going over my map. He showed me where he was from and high-lighted the places I should visit. He then wrote out a long letter in Arabic (I made a copy!) and told me to give it to the staff at the Sudanese embassy. I took the letter to the embassy the next day. I had my passport/visa less than 24 hours later! Yet another positive experience in this amazing country- and I'm still only in Addis!
With all my paperwork in hand, I should be northbound by now. It dawned on me today that I'm not highly motivated to head north. I have really fallen in love with this continent and its peoples. And what's waiting for me after Africa?- Europe. Having lived in Europe for 8 years, I know the place. I fear it will be terribly boring after Africa and the Americas!
Two girls of the Amhara Tribe. Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
18 April, 2007. I'm now in the town of Bahia Dar. It's a pretty place with palm lined streets. The lake is the towns biggest draw though. As I type this, I'm sitting under the shade of of a huge tree by the lake. A cool breeze is blowing and the temperature couldn't be more perfect. I'm enjoying a cold glass of St George lager...
A Dutch woman I met in Kenya told me she hated Ethiopia. She told me peple here viewed white folks as "walking ATM machines." To her credit, many do. I have been asked for money more here than in any country on my trip. Even more so than in Kenya, the effects of tourists can be felt here. Anyplace tourists stay there are beggars and touts- but get past that, into the REAL Ethiopia and I promise you one thing: Ethiopia will show you a whole new gear! Unbelievable is the word I would choose to describe this fascinating country filled with warm, wonderful people. I have been fortunate to be welcomed into the "real" Ethiopia in Awassa, Adis Ababa, Debre Markos and Bahir Dar.
In Addis Ababa a hotel receptionist named Fre invited me to her family's home for a coffee ceremony at 9pm. I arrived on time with flowers and wine for the family. Fre's Mother was delighted by the flowers. Grass covered a concrete floor and tools for the ceremony were strewn about the room. Coals were glowing in what looked like a hibatchi. Beans were carefully sorted. Finally the beans were placed in a pan atop the coals and gently roasted. The smoke simply rose up to the thatched roof and made its way out. I was surprised by the lack of smoke. The beans were then cooled and placed into a type of mortar. Then the beans were pounded into a coarse grind before being brewed in a steel pot. The whole procedure took more than an hour. It is consider impolite to drink fewer than 3 cups- this stuff was strong, luckily the cups were small. The third cup of coffee offered is considered the Berekha (blessing) cup. The idea of the ceremony is to spend time together. No television or music, just conversation. Ethiopia is very much about community.
Last night I decided to wade into the night to see what Bahir Dar was like on a Sunday night. I'm glad I did. I walked through the dimly lit steets seeing what I could see. I heard music in a very "rustic" looking bar. I stepped in and was warmly welcomed by some surprised Ethiopians. The place met my one requirement for a bar in Ethiopia- there were no white people! A small group of people invited me to join them. After a number of beers they were finally able to get me to dance. To dance here you place your hands on your hips and pop your shoulders in and out. Men will square off with each other and see who can "flap" their shoulders faster. Some men can certainly "flap" fast! Everyone dancing is either smiling or laughing, very fun. The people were VERY amused to watch a faranji (white man) cut the rug in this very Ethiopian bar. There was a man playing a one string fiddle and 2 men playing drums. The fiddle player was also a singer. At one point he approached my group and asked for my name. One of my new friends told him about my trip. He then sang about me to the crowd. People cheered and clapped and sent me beers. A woman near me translated what he said. At one point there was a loud roar and people stood and cheered, some came over to shake my hand. I asked what the man had said and was told- and I doubt I'll ever forget this- "all of Ethiopia welcomes you and we wish you a safe journey!" It was a great night, more fun than I've had in a long time. As I walked back to the hotel a group of 9 women were getting ready to perfom a coffee ceremony (this is at midnight!). I jokingly asked if they had enough for me. They immediately asked me to join them, produced a chair and giggled throughout my stay there. They also gave me home-made Tej, a wine made from honey. We communicated as best we could and all had more than a few laughs. Two days later I brought them flowers and was pleased with their reaction. This trully is a spectacular place. I had no idea before I came here. Your mission in Ethiopia- if you should choose to accept it- is to stay as far away from white people as is humanly possible. Work your way into black Africa and your life will be enrichened by the experience- mine has. See you in Sudan!
You go girl! Nightlife in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.