Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ethiopia: Meltdown in Lalibela, Part 2

The evening before, Betty, an American woman I met briefly in Gonder, showed up at the Seven Olives Restaurant. She said she and her two temporary companions, Shin Su and Sank Su (I am butchering their S. Korean names, unfortunately), were trying to put together a minibus for either Mekele (a jumping off point for the Danakil Depression) or to Addis (and then to Harar). I listened and asked Betty to keep me posted.

So this evening, I assumed I'd learn Betty's progress on leaving Lalibela.

In the meantime, appeared the German couple with whom I'd shared a minibus from Gonder to Lalibela, Renate and Hans. Poor Hans had fallen ill en route, with fever and sore throat and generally feeling miserable. Turns out that he'd only just emerged from his sick bed 24 hours after our arrival in Lalibela.

Renate remarked how wonderful I looked. So healthy! So youthful! Yesterday, she said, I looked rather tired. I laughed inside, thinking I must be aglow from my terrible, horrible day, including the interminable trek up the hill in the hot sun. Renate had a drink, and the couple moved on to return to their Mountain View Hotel.

Betty came by (she and the S. Korean couple were staying at the Asheton), saying she and S&S had a line on a minibus or 4x4 or something that would take us to Addis in one day (normally a two-day operation). I told her I was in! Keep me posted. Betty moved on.

Sunset in Lalibela from Seven Olives terrace

As I continued to sit on the Seven Olives' flowery terrace, presently along came Sarah and Henry, the other couple (Danish and Swiss/Indonesian respectively) with whom I'd shared the minibus from Gonder to Lalibela. I shared a bit of my day; we compared notes on our respective hotels; Henry and Sarah lamented they wanted to do the TESFA trek outside of Lalibela, but cash was required, and they only had a VISA card. Lalibela had only one facility that would give cash on the card (the Mountain View Hotel) and it charged a 25% fee! Henry and Sarah had pretty much resigned themselves to paying the fee, but they weren't happy.

The three of us ordered dinner. Betty returned with more information: A minibus, 7 other passengers and we four (Betty, S&S, and I), all in one day to Addis. I asked how she found this arrangement, and she said she just asked guys hanging around the entrance to the hotel. I asked what "our" guy's name was - it wasn't, by any chance, Abiy? By this time, S&S had walked up also, and Betty replied that she thought maybe it was, and when I described him, she said she was pretty sure it was him. I said, "Go as you wish. Hope it works out. But this guy lied to me last night and I'm going to take a pass on him."

Betty said, "Well , he's supposed to bring the vehicle over here so we can actually see it. When he comes, you can look, too, and also see if this is really the same guy." I agreed.

My dinner (grilled veggie sandwich) arrived, and I took a few bites when Betty returned. I had brought Henry and Sarah up to date on this get-out-of-town saga, so when Betty asked me to come take a look at "the guy", I asked Henry and Sarah if they'd mind watching my stuff. They said, "Yes! We want to hear how this all turns out!"

To the reception cottage, Betty and I went. S&S were also there. I didn't see it, but Betty said the minibus was truly filthy, stuff all over the floor, which reduced her confidence in the ride. When we got to the reception lobby, Betty pointed to the arranger and asked me, "Is that him?" Sure was. I said, again, maybe it's all legit, but I'm not going with him.

Now! Enter the hotel manager, who I'd seen around the premises, but didn't know his role. His name was Mesfin, the same as the irritating guide tout from earlier in the day.

Mesfin knew I was the Meltdown Woman. He agreed that Abiy was not trustworthy. Indeed, several men around the hotel entrance had previously told Betty that Abiy was untrustworthy. (Of course, who is one to believe in Lalibela?)

We explained to Mesfin that we wanted to leave Lalibela tomorrow, preferably in a one-day operation. Mesfin made some phone calls and told us he'd arranged a 4x4 for us at the cost of 400 birr per person. We'd leave at 6:30 the next morning, but it was not possible to do it in one day.

The other three demurred a bit about two days versus one day. I said, "I need to trust that if the driver says it takes two days, then there's a reason for that. It wouldn't make economic sense to incur the expense of an overnight stay otherwise." S&S weren't happy about the cost of this 4x4 versus just taking the public bus (also two days), but reluctantly agreed.

Throughout this process, the assistant manager and Mesfin the manager and I had rehashed some of the day's events. I said, "Why are you letting these known liars onto your grounds to harass your customers?" "Why is it that this guy Mesfin (the other tout) can sit right there in your lobby and bother people? When you let them do this, you are giving approval to their activities."

The assistant manager said some bullshit about this being a public place, blah, blah, blah, then pointed to a sign behind the registration desk to the effect that the hotel is not responsible for high prices charged by guides. I said, "Tourists will just view that sign as pertaining to your room rates, not other activities."

When I suggested each hotel maintain the list of registered guides and their phone numbers, Mesfin the manager said, "Oh, we don't trust all of the registered tour guides."

At this, I just threw up my hands at the absurdity of Lalibela. Especially when Mesfin the manager had said minutes before that there are good people in Lalibela. Yes, I believe this, of course, but how would anyone know how to identify them when everyone badmounths everyone else?

Anyway, Mesfin asked me to call the tourism manager, as he had called Mesfin earlier in the day and really tore into him, as I had dropped the name "Mesfin" in relation to the hotel. Ohhh, I got it! The tourism manager thought I was complaining about Mesfin the manager! Mesfin dialed the number for me, and when the tourism manager picked up, I introduced myself, "Hello, this is the crying woman from today. I want to thank you again and to let you know that Mesfin the manager is a different man from Mesfin the man I complained about." He asked if all was well, and I assured him thus.

Our business concluded, I returned to my dinner and Betty joined me. I brought Henry and Sarah up to date and they left shortly after. Betty ordered dinner, and Mesfin the manager came by and comped me a glass of wine.

Presently, I went to my dark room. Undressed to take a shower. No water.

1 comment:

Geoff Reed said...

Under those circumstances, one should definitely be allowed a meltdown or two.