Monday, March 23, 2009

A Freek A (part 1)

I once quipped to a friend that Ethiopia was a bit like a porn movie. Hot, dirty and full of naked people. Of course there’s a little more to it than that.

Five times the size of Britain, Ethiopia boasts 20 mountains that peak over 4000 metres, it also includes the Danakil Depression, one of the lowest points on earth (120m below sea level), as well as over 277 mammal species, 862 different kinds of bird (the UK has 250) and a partridge in a pear tree.
Addis Ababa has some of the best pizza I have ever tasted.
Add to that some crazy war like tribesmen and some pretty stunning scenery and you have more reasons than not to pop over for a weekend. Except for one - It’s pretty bloody hardcore.

Here are just a few of the warnings from Lonely Planet about our route:
‘This is a tough slog’
‘Africa’s last great wilderness’
‘Before you go, know that travel here will be as tough as it is astounding’
‘You will bake, sweat and swear’
‘As captivating as it is uncomfortable’
‘Hostility between neighbouring tribes is high’
‘For masochists only’
‘Beware of tsetse flies and raiding ethnic groups’

Okay you get the picture. We turned up there with a smile, a zillion quids worth of camera equipment, a rather nice pair of gold lame pumps, a matching faux African print wrap around sarong, absolutely no research whatsoever and a guide book that was 3 years out of date. Oh and Stefan bought a few czech sausages with him in case we got peckish. And I must point out that he wore socks and sandals on several occasions but at least had the decency to apologise.

To save time we took an internal flight as far south as we could, and then took some pretty interesting bus journeys (8 hours in a steaming crowded bus with no toilet breaks) until we ran out of road.

Getting a bus goes like this - get to bus station before dawn. Gates open. Run like hell. First one on the bus wins. Screaming, shouting and threats are often made. At one point we actually hijacked a bus and got the driver to completely change his original destination by getting him more passengers.

We'd already been shoved off the first two buses and we weren't keen to get stuck in the town we were in. Then a gang tried to counter hijack the bus by offering more money to the driver, but we won and as we'd already wasted 2 hours getting the other passengers off the driver wasn't keen to do it again.

It's worth noting that the most up to date map of Addis Ababa was written 5 years ago, before they changed the name of every street in the city. So getting a working map of the rest of the country is damn near impossible. And even if you did, it wouldn't help. What looked like major highways in Lonely Planet, were actually dirt tracks and totally impassable when it rained.

For this reason getting around was slow going. Also it started to get expensive because you have to hire a 4WD with a driver as ferenje (foreigners) are not allowed to drive outside of Addis Ababa by themselves and sometimes its just not possible for a normal vehicle to navigate the roads, although they bloody well try. Interestingly they are mad keen on Ladas. Almost every taxi is one. I'm not sure if they brokered a deal with russia at some point ion their communist heritage.

So when we met an italian dude it seemed like a good idea to team up with him to share costs. We should have realised something was amiss when he hauled 20kg of suitcase on wheels out of the back of the minibus. Who the hell brings a suitcase on wheels to Africa?

Surprisingly he was very well travelled, and wowed us with tales of the prostitutes he had visited around the world. He was most upset with the Ethiopians as apparently they don't give head. And when he wasn't trying to hook up with prostitutes he was shouting at hotel staff, swearing at small children and screaming at waiters. He was most perturbed that there was no hot running water in the places we stayed, and especially that most of them didn't have mirrors in the bathroom so he couldn't preen. As you can imagine I loved him at first sight and secretly suspected for the whole trip that his suitcase contained the body of a hapless girl who had refused to do his bidding - because he wore the same goddamn clothes every day. What was in the case? Maybe a couple of extra pairs of huge oversized sunglasses.

But those were the days of luxury. The further south we went the more dingy the sleeping quarters, the more sporadic the water and electricity and the bigger the cockroaches. Cockroaches the size of hamsters I tell you. I remember in one place the toilet was a filthy squat concrete hole in the ground, splattered in excrement, the walls of which were literally a few sheets of corrugated iron leaning against a wooden post which offered no privacy whatsoever. When I walked in I heard this funny noise and switched my headlamp on only to see the wall and floors were a living seething mass of cockroaches. They were so huge that even light did not scare them. In fact they advanced. I could only thank my lucky stars that I got sick at the hotel before. Here is the best hotel we stayed at:

The scenery was stunning all the way. Everywhere you went you could see native tribesmen going about their business dressed as erm... well God intended. Fishing, herding oxen, washing in rivers. One of my favourite parts of the trip was a visit to lake Chamo which we crossed by boat and then went for a short hike. I saw hippos and zebras and crocodiles, wild flamingo.... totally amazing.

It takes so long to download these bloody photos, which is the reason I have delayed blogging. Next blog I'll cover the tribes. Here's some more wildlife for you.... including a small termite mound

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