Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ethiopia - more impressions

I'm getting a bit sick of 'travel posts', even my own. You know what I mean, the blow-by-blow overshare that's more of a diary entry than anything else (first I ate a donut for breakfast and then the taxi was five minutes late and...).  So in an effort to avoid oversharing I thought I'd just intersperse my random observations about Ethiopia with a few pictures (what we're all more interested in anyway, right?) Hopefully that counts as meaningful writing.
Taken in the mountains right outside/above Addis.
Addis Ababa: I'd heard really good things about Addis from other people in the Africa bureau. Namely that it was very livable and developed. It was fine, but honestly it seemed kind of bland as a city. It's entirely possible that I just saw all the quiet, unexciting parts of the city but it felt a lot like...everywhere else I've been in Africa. I will say, though - the green space in Addis was much appreciated and I liked how there were actually some hills in the city. Lagos needs hills. 
Impromptu checkers game while waiting for my flight.
Begging: Oh my goodness - I have never had that many people ask me for money. And I don't mean in the 'I will wash your windshield for 10 cents' sort of asking. I mean more of the 'Excuse me, I saw you standing there and thought "I would like some of that foreigner's money" so I just came over here to ask for some now' kind of way. It was awkward, but I'm not the pushover I was before I started consular work, so I broke a lot of hearts.
Every single place was this scenic. It was kind of ridiculous.
Rainy season: Best time of year to see Ethiopia. All the crowds were gone, I had my pick of the best hotel rooms and restaurant tables, I didn't have seatmates on most of my flights, and the air was perfect and cool. And as a bonus, everything was green, green, green.
Stone church in Lalibela (one of many - each completely awesome)
Money: Ethiopia was WAY cheaper than Nigeria. A typical meal out in Lagos costs $40 a plate and I've had $60 a plate meals that were certainly nothing fancy. We ate burgers at a great little place in Addis for less than $5 apiece. $20 a day would probably be a good estimate. Epic.

The Blue Nile falls. Now I've seen both sources of the Nile (saw the White Nile source in Uganda).
I also owe a shout out to...
GETTS (tour company) - they planned every single step of the vacation so all I had to do was give them my flight information and show up with a wad of cash and they did the rest. They booked flights, hotels, and ground transportation for 5 different locations throughout Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, Axum, Lalibela, Gonder and Bahir Dar). They met me at each airport, drove me everywhere, provided the guides, and answered every question that I had. The service was pretty cheap and their customer service skills are fantastic. Highly recommended.
Also highly recommend the Ben Abeba restaurant in Lalibela. Great food, wonderful service, some of the best views in the world.

I think these are weaver birds.
Ethiopia is certainly still a developing country. The roads are full of people walking or herding cows, sheep and donkeys. None of the hotels I stayed in (or even the house of a fellow FSO!) had central heat. And most poignant of all - a moment I had near the end of the trip. I checked in for my flight at one of the regional airports north of Addis and started to get hungry. I asked if there was a place to buy a drink or a bag of chips or something. Sorry, the staff said, but no - there wasn't even a snack kiosk or a vending machine. Instead, the staff pointed me across a muddy field where there was an abandoned looking garage. So I traipsed across the field, my rolly bag rolling behind me and sure enough, the porch of that little shack was set up with tables and homemade chess sets (the one above was from this place). I had coke in a bottle (I love coke in a bottle) and some of the best food I've had in Ethiopia on the porch while I watched my terrifyingly small prop plane land and taxi around the airport. It was charming and inconvenient and reminded me why I love traveling so much. Who wants a burger from the airport McDonalds when they could have a mini-adventure?
So, thanks Ethiopia for getting my head back into a good place for the last few months in Africa.
Airport McDonalds - rural Ethiopia style


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