At about 8am I was at immigration section at the Ethiopian border, but was told that they couldn’t start the process until the building had been swept – under instruction from the border manager – so I had to wait another 30 minutes for the building to be swept!! This is Africa. I eventually managed to get my passport stamped and then waited in the customs queue to get my bike’s carne stamped. There was no-one in the customs office but I was told to wait because he is on his way. By 10am he had still not arrived – so one of the border officials was sent to wake him up. He eventually arrived looking really hung-over. It took him a further 40 minutes to fill out the form (in triplicate) before I could eventually be on my way.
I also drove passed a camel market with hundreds of camels been bartered for – I thought camels were only used in desert areas?
Ethiopia is very different to the rest of Africa that I have seen. The roads are in fairly good condition, but very few people can afford personal vehicles. The majority of vehicles on the road are trucks, buses and taxis. My motorbike is therefore quite a phenomenon and as a result I am constantly hounded by whistles, screams and shouting as I pass. Every time I stop the motorbike I am surrounded by hundreds of people wanting to have a look at (and touch) the bike which can get quite annoying – there seems to be no concept of personal space here!
As there are relatively few vehicles in Ethiopia, fuel is scarce and of poor quality. Maybe one out of every four petrol stations that I have visited has fuel which is quite a concern.
Most modern motorbikes these days are legally obliged to travel with their headlights on – even during the day. In fact most modern motorbikes do not have an off-button for the headlights i.e. as soon as the bike is started the headlight is automatically switched on. My bike is one of these. As there are very few (modern) motorbikes in Ethiopia very few people are aware of this. As a result every person and vehicle I pass feels that it is their duty to inform me that I am riding with my lights on. Very annoying! I suppose that the mere fact that they are trying to tell me that my lights are on, shows that they have seen me – which is the whole idea, isn’t it?
The next day 11/5 I rode to Addis Ababa. Addis is s dirty, dusty city located in the centre of Ethiopia. It is also the place that the poor Ethiopians flock to in search of jobs and better opportunity. As a result the streets are full of beggars and cripples trying their best to make a living and stay alive. Money is very scarce in these parts and unfortunately faranji (white people) are seen to be the money carriers – as a result I was constantly hounded by people offering to be my tour guide through Addis. Even when I said that I didn’t need their services they still continued to follow me around from one place to the next in hope that I would change my mind. Now I know how celebrities feel with the paparazzi constantly following them around!
The first night I stayed at Wims Holland House which had been recommended to me in Nairobi. As it was full, the only room they had was a tiny room in the servants quarters. In the room next door, a dog had just had 5 puppies which kept me up all night, so the next day I moved to the Taitu Hotel which was built in 1898 and hadn’t had any maintenance done to it since. The hotel was awful, but by Ethiopian standards it was one of the better ones.
That day I decided to do a tour of the numerous museums in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia has a fascinating history and much of the evidence is housed within the Addis museums. As the museums only opened at 9am, I first went to the Piazza for some coffee at Tomoca, a world famous coffee house in Addis. The coffee was amazing and I ended up on quite a buzz after treating myself to four different local coffees.
I decided I had enough of the museums for the day. I told my self-appointed tour guide, Solomon that I would be keen to go to an Azmari restaurant that evening. He said that he knew of just the place, about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.
Azmari is an ancient form of entertainment provided by the Azmari (singing minstrel) and his masenko (single-stringed fiddle). He is also accompanied by a drummer and traditional Ethiopian dancers. Azmari’s prance around the restaurant / bars, singing witty songs about anything, which they make up on the spot. Quite an art.
At 7pm, we met up. After walking for about 100 meters to the venue, one of Solomons ‘best friends’ miraculously appeared and decided to join us. Solomon said that there was a slight change in plan and that he would take me to a ‘better’ azmari place about a 10 minute taxi ride away. After the taxi ride (yes, I had to pay for all three of us) I was taken to some dingy house. I was led into the lounge which had been cleared as a dance floor. The next thing about 10 women came out and asked me if I wanted a drink. Judging by the way these women were dressed and their flirtatious ways, I could see that they were hookers. They said that they were just student azmari dancers trying to make a living – I could see this had all been rigged. To humor them, I asked how much it would cost for them to dance but got no response – eventually they said it was free if I buy drinks. I asked for a beer and ordered Solomon and his friend (who seemed to have organized all of this because he knew the women) a glass of wine each. The women then asked me to buy them some wine too – I thought this was strange, so I asked how much wine was only to be told it was 75 birr a glass!! – almost ten times the cost of a beer!!! So I told them that they can have wine but I am not paying!! I was starting to lose my temper as I could see I was being ripped-off so I paid 160 birr (1 beer and 2 glasses of wine for my two ‘friends’) and left. To put this into perspective the average monthly salary for an Ethiopian is 150 birr!!! When I left, some of the hookers thought that I may be persuaded to stay by taking some of their clothes off which got me even more annoyed. I left feeling annoyed and ripped off!
Woldia is not a great place to stay, but provides a springboard to Lalibela which is a further 172km away. That night I stayed at the Arsama Hotel in Woldia. What a dump! I was given a room on the ground floor facing the courtyard – little did I know that the courtyard became the local tavern in the evenings, so I was kept up until 1am with drunken debauchery. At 05h30 I was woken by the hotel manager, banging on the door and asking me: “Mister, are you leaving today? Where are you going?” I responded by hurling my riding boot at the door and telling him to F-off!” About 15 minutes after my rude awakening, I had another knock on the door – this time it was the parking guard to ask me for his “tip” as he was finished his duty for the evening. He got the same treatment. And to top it off at 06h00 I had another knock on the door from a porter asking me if I needed help carrying my bags to the motorbike?? Well, by then I had had enough and went and let the manager know what I thought of his ‘hotel’. By 06h30 I was out of there with a very grumpy staff that had been given a start to the morning with a strongly-worded piece of my mind. The porter seemed to be the most grumpy as I had refused to let him carry my bags the 20m to the motorbike, and he had thus missed out on his opportunity to earn 5 birr.
The road to Lalibela was great.
Again it wound its way through the very dramatic landscape before hitting the 64km gravel section to Lalibela.
That evening I stayed in the Seven Olives Hotel, which is reportedly owned by Haille Selassie’s daughter. The hotel is high up overlooking Lalibela and has gardens populated by a large variety of different bird species. Sunsets from the restaurant balcony are amazing!
The following day (17/5) I headed to Bahir Dar on the shores of Lake Tana. Along the way I passed the following Elementary School. I must admit that on some occasions I felt the same way about my elementary school :-)
The following day I took a boat trip out to visit three of the monasteries. My fellow tourists were Jesus (a guy from Spain) and two nuns (from Italy) … so, I knew I was in good hands :-) I must admit that I was totally amazed with the monasteries. Some of the monasteries are covered in painting’s, some dating back to the 12th century of early bible depictions. Jesus (the Spanish toursit) had a degree in ancient art and it was interesting spending time with him getting his views on the art!
I am amazed by some of the Bible stories that I have heard here. Apparently Jesus’s mother Mary did not die but lived forever. Anyone seen her around? Also one of Jesus’ miracles was that he turned mud into doves? Now I am no expert on the Bible but I have never heard these stories? (There is a good possibility though that I missed those Sunday School lessons – sorry Aunty June - my aunt was my Sunday School teacher). I am also not too sure what Bible scenes these two pictures (below) represent, but I could have missed these Sunday School lessons too!
That afternoon I had a few beers with Jesus :-) whilst watching a contest to see how many people could squeeze onto a boat.
In the early afternoon I took my bike into a tyre repair shop to have the back tyre changed for a new ‘second-hand’ one that I had purchased in Nairobi and have been carrying around since. At the tyre place I met David, an Australian guy from Brisbane, who was travelling south through Africa on his BMW 650GS. When David left the tyre repair place, he realized someone had stolen his wheel spanner. So I told them that I would not pay for my tyre fitment until it was ‘found’ – sure enough about 20 minutes later the spanner miraculously reappeared. Good to see that miracles still happen in Ethiopia.
That evening I met up with David and his travelling mates that he had met up with along the way (Alexis and Adam – from Sweden – both on KTM Adventure’s – see www.gosouth.se). The week before Adam had had an accident and hit a young kid (who turned out to be 28 years old), who had run out into the road. Adam had spent a few hours in jail – in the jail he was told that the ‘kid’ had died and that he would have to pay 3000birr ($US 220) to the family (this just shows how cheap life is around these parts). Luckily Alex went to the hospital only to find that the 28 year old ‘kid’ was still alive – in fact, not only was he alive but he had also been discharged and had walked home! African corruption at its best – anything to get a quick buck out of the faranji! Anyway, Adam was let out of prison, very relieved! He only had to pay the ‘kid’s’ medical bill which was a few dollars. I later found out that the cost for killing a cow on the road is 6000birr; double that of a human being!?!
The next day I planned to visit the Simien National Park, but unfortunately they have recently decided that motorbikes are not allowed into the park. So I would have to pay $US 200 for a one day park excursion (Park Fee + transport + guide). A guide facilitator (called Bewkt) told me that I could take a one-day trip for $US 50 to the southern part of the park which was 1 hour away and where I was guaranteed to see the renowned Gilada Baboons. I paid him the money.
The next day I was picked up. As it happened, Jesus was also on the trip. Following a discussion, I found out that he had only paid $US 15 for the trip and that it was not into the Simien National Park. To top it off, there were few Gelada Baboons where we were going and chances of seeing them were slim! It was also not a full-day trip but a morning only trip! I was furious!
I must admit, the trip was quite scenic and the mountain views were awesome.
I had been cheated. I got back at lunchtime and sent a few scouts out to find Bewkt, the dodgy guide facilitator. By mid-afternoon none of the scouts had managed to locate him, so I decided to go to the police station and report him. I hate been swindled! It didn’t take the cop (with an AK47 strapped around his shoulder) long to locate him and it didn’t take much persuading for him to refund me the rest of the money – he also apologized. Later that evening he was back at my hotel trying to persuade me to take another of his dodgy tours – I obviously told him where to go and stick it.
I managed to get through the Ethiopian border in about 30 minutes with no problems – except for a money exchanger who called me an ‘apartheid’ because I had a South African passport??
Jaag maar aan.
My thoughts on the Ethiopian People:
Ethiopian’s have a strongly religious history and are one of the first cultures to have adopted Christianity as their primary religion. This is truly evident by the hundreds of ancient and spectacular monasteries and churches that can be found throughout Ethiopia. Some of these date back to the times of King Solomon and Queen Sheba (who was thought to have lived in the Aksum area of Ethiopia). Even the “Ark of the Covenant’ is thought to be held in Aksum’s St Mary of Zion church.
However, I am failing to see modern Christianity in the Ethiopian way and particularly in the behavior of the modern Ethiopian (rural) population.
The city dwelling Ethiopians are predominantly poor and as a result beggars and chancers flock towards any ‘faranji’s’ (white people) in hope that they can relieve them of their foreign earned cash. As a result I was usually followed around town (Addis Ababa) by an entourage of both beggars and young men who had hopes of becoming my chosen ‘tour guide’. Sometimes they would wait for me for hours outside my hotel. Although this is highly annoying, it is understandable. The people here are poor and they are trying to make a living. Most of the time, they do it in a friendly way and I never felt threatened.
But, it is not the city dwellers that I have a problem with. It is the large rural population. For some reason, rural Ethiopians display a serious hate and anger towards any faranji. Whilst riding past rural groups of people I was often shouted at, often with animated fists raging. Although I had no idea what they were saying, I could see by the intense hatred and anger in their eyes that they were definitely not terms of endearment. In some instances, shouts would be accompanied by stones being thrown at me, cattle whips being cracked in my direction, rocks or branches thrown ahead of the motorbike’s path, or people trying to hit me with a stick as I drove past.
In one instance a young man tried to throw a stick into the spokes of my front wheel as I drove past - at about 100km/h! Luckily he missed and the stick bounced off the front tyre – in this instance I stopped the bike and turned back to confront him. He had long since disappeared as only a coward would. I did find the stick though and it was made of very hard and strong wood – I couldn’t break it. Had he succeeded there is no doubt that I would have been seriously injured, or possibly worse. What concerns me more though is: ‘Why does this young man have so much built-up aggression towards me (purely based on my skin colour), that he would make an attempt at my life’?
In the majority of cases, these acts were carried out by young children and teenagers. However, in a few instances these acts were carried out in front of elders who did nothing about it. In a few instances, I even saw the elders laughing at the children’s misbehavior. In one instance a policeman was even present with the elders. I am a strong believer that children are not born evil – they have learnt this from somewhere. It is their parents and elders that have installed this hatred in them. So, in my opinion, the parents and elders are to blame for idly standing by and in some cases condoning or supporting their violent actions!
I am interested to find out where this intense hatred of the faranji comes from. Following recent Ethiopian history it makes little sense. It was predominantly the faranji countries (the Commonwealth and Western Europe countries) that contributed millions of dollars in the 1980’s to try and help Ethiopia in its time of need, whilst millions of its people died of starvation. If it wasn’t for projects such as Band Aid, started by Sir Bob Geldoff, and his Feed the World efforts, millions of more Ethiopians would have died. It was the faranji’s who stood up and helped when Ethiopia needed it most.
There are apparently about 15 million people in Ethiopia that still rely on foreign food aid. When the Ethiopian Prime Minister was recently asked why it is that some 20 years after the famine, Ethiopia still cannot provide for itself, his response was to blame the food charities. He said that if it wasn’t for the food charities there would not have been a population problem in Ethiopia! I thought governments were meant to work for the people? (I can just imagine Australia's response if K-Rudd had have said that!)
I am really disappointed in the Ethiopian people. In future I will not be contributing to any Ethiopian Famine Relief coffers and I will not be an advocate to tourism in Ethiopia! Instead I would rather silently watch as the current Ethiopian generation rots in their own hatred. I will rather use my energy praying to my God and asking Him to please provide Ethiopia with a new generation of the ‘Kind’ and ‘Caring” people that their tourism posters claim them to be. What happened to “Love thy neighbour”?
(Although I am disappointed with the general behavior of the Ethiopian people, I did meet some nice people (like young Solomon). I am also amazed with the beauty of the Ethiopian countryside.It is truly spectacular and makes up for all the nonsense. Views are breathtaking and the scenery is dramatic. I am very happy that I have seen Ethiopia but, unless there are some serious attitude changes, I would not do so again. Well, not on a motorbike anyway. I am not the only person who has had these bad experiences – they are widely reported on other travel sites and blogs. However, I am led to believe that the current Ethiopian Minister for Tourism has recently made repeated television and media requests for the Ethiopians to treat tourists with the respect they deserve as visitors to the country. A step in the right direction, I suppose.)
Please note that the above is my opinion only – some other travelers that I have spoken to did not have the same experiences as me and in some cases found the people to be genuinely friendly and accommodating. I suppose it depends on when and where you are travelling in Ethiopia.