Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ethiopia: Day 1, To Addis Ababa from Lalibela

Arose at 5:00 a.m. Insufficient water for shower this morning or last night.

Ready to meet the bus at 6:30 a.m. for its arranged arrival at 6:45.

Betty appeared, then Shin Su and Sank Su (I'm butchering the South Korean couple's names). No driver.

S&S went on a hunt for tea. Presently, I went to the hotel restaurant and ordered boiled eggs and toast to go. As I returned with the goods, passed the bus driver by the reception cottage and he asked if we were ready to go - as if he'd been waiting for us. I informed him, to the effect, "Well, gosh, you were late, so we ordered breakfast." Walked further down the lane and encountered this huge tour bus with some 50 seats, for the four of us temporary co-travelers. Also discovered that while I was ordering and awaiting our shared breakfast, S&S had gone down to the Unique Restaurant (renowned by Betty and S&S for its agonizingly slow service) for egg sandwiches.

So we waited for the egg sandwich delivery before taking off. Driver was Waschayo (another name butchering) and his assistant, Yonas, who I later learned is the son of Waschayo's sister's sister. (Complicated.)

We paid 200 birr up front, with the arrangement that we'd pay the remaining 200 birr upon arrival in Addis.

Waschayo cruised about Lalibela a bit to rustle up other travelers to Addis, to no avail. Once we left town, he did the same as we passed through other towns. We did pick people up at various places along the way. One poor sod had motion sickness; every once in awhile, Yonas headed back with a small plastic bag. Fortunately, the activity was quiet and non-odorous.

Shin Su objected to this, stating we were told last night by Mesfin the hotel manager that the driver might pick up a "few tourists," but otherwise, we were to be the only passengers. I declined to get involved, as it didn't bother me if additional passengers boarded this large bus, as long as I could keep my window open and not get packed into discomfort.

I also was not clear how Shin Su defined "tourist". At any rate, travel in other countries does wear on you at times, especially a country like Ethiopia - you can become distrustful and sometimes irrationally stingy over the smallest amounts of money. Certainly I've been in both those places.

The bus trip, by the way, at 400 birr is equivalent of about $24 US for a day and a half trip.

Some sights along the way on this first day of travel from Lalibela to Addis:

  • A stream of people walking on both sides of the road, most women carrying decorative injera baskets or other containers on their backs. Waschayo learned they were walking to the funeral of a young boy killed in an accident.
  • Wash day --> Clothes spread out over boulders in wide, almost-dry stream beds.
  • Camels! First time I've seen them in Ethiopia. Carrying immense loads of sorghum canes. Saw a couple of camels taking a lunch break under a shady tree, munching bright green grass.
  • Hundreds of sorghum stacks in the fields as far as one can see. Really, they must number in the thousands. The sorghum canes look like bamboo; the stacks are cone-shaped.

    We stopped for the night at about 4:00 or so, in the town of Kombolcha.

    Kombolcha is an interesting town - it is a major overnight truck stop and an intersection for travel to Addis, Djibouti, Lalibela, Bahir Dar, and other points. There are trucks, trucks, trucks.

    The driver put us up at the Meron Hotel, same place he was staying. He negotiated a price of 80 birr (about $5 US), bypassing the usual faranji tax. The hotel is very pretty on the outside, a sunny pink with tropical-style balconies gated by open metalwork. A gated courtyard. Tiled stairs and open corridors. Sounds nice, eh?
    The good news: Cheap. A bed. An inside toilet and cold shower. Electricity. Back in the day, it was probably quite pleasant. Now... Well... at least I didn't carry away any tiny stowaways when I left the next morning. So why am I complaining?

    Betty and the S&S took off for dinner as soon as we shucked our gear, but I wasn't hungry yet, plus Waschayo's offer to take us later to a beer garden and dinner sounded appealing.

    (We had stopped for lunch at an unknown town. We each had a delicious juice. I had a mango. Shin Su had "mixed", which means there was avocado juice as a bottom layer and mango juice on the top layer. Sank Su had avocado juice. S&S also had a piece of cake, and I got a delicious deep - yellow scrambled egg on a hearty-style croissant.)

    When we were ready to go to the beer garden, I looked into cafes up and down the street seeking the others, to no avail. So off Waschayo, Yonas, and I went in the big bus to the beer garden. Where our hotel neighborhood was choked with trucks, dust, exhaust fumes, and a row of low-lying shanties, the beer garden was on a street framed by healthy green palms amidst fresh air. The beer garden is on the campus of the St. George brewery - nice courtyard, a boccie ball court, three rooms with pool tables and a lounge with a television, and an interior tavern. It's a great place for truck drivers (and tourists) to spend a relaxing evening after a long day's travel.

    Castel and a third beer), which I found less tasty than Dashen. I sampled a samosa, a fried triangle of dough that encases lentils. Tasty, albeit greasy. It was also kind of weird when I broke it open - the lentils, small, round, and dark, spilled out onto the plate as if they were eggs spilling out of a gutted, pregnant fish.

    A fellow tour bus driver joined us. We got onto the subject of the various merits of tourist nationalities, from the tour bus drivers' perspective. Generally, Americans enjoy a good reputation for two reasons: 1) friendliness and openness, and 2) don't care too much about money. The Germans' reputation is, sadly, not so good, again, from the tour group drivers' perspective. Too walled-off, too concerned about money, and allegedly racist, perceived as a carryover from Germany's history.

    From the beer garden we went to Tekla Hotel Restaurant, which is reputed to be the best restaurant in Kombolcha. While I liked the bread, my lamb tibs were only so-so. (In fact, I've been pretty disappointed by meat in general in Ethiopia. Probably a cultural taste thing.)

    When we got back to the Meron Hotel, Betty and S&S were sitting in the hotel restaurant's veranda. Turned out they had gone to the Tekla Restaurant for their dinner.

    Off to bed I went after a cold shower. I took care that not too much of my stuff touched the blanket on the bed. The toilet seat was hopeless -- pieces broken off, cracks, and stains -- that I'd earlier lifted it to just sit on the porcelain basin rim. Set my alarm and slept fine.

    I will note that although the hotel was the worst thus far on my trip, the hotel staff were friendly and kind.

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