Monday, 23 July 2012

Getting to Addis and out again.

Our journey to Addis went very, very smoothly.  There were no hiccups at all.  My sister arrived on time; she collected a prescription for me, the taxi for the airport arrived on time and our six suitcases plus 3 pieces of hand luggage plus 2 laptops plus 2 handbags fitted into the taxi without a problem.  We were on time to check-in; there were no queues and the check-in staff made a point of changing our seats so that we were all sitting together (we had made separate bookings and so were seated separately)

We worked out that we had time for lunch before going to the boarding gate.  We asked a passer-by where McDonalds was and was told there wasn’t one at Heathrow airport and as a French man he was horrified that we would even consider such food and directed us to a French restaurant that co-incidentally turned out to be managed by himself.  We were horrified also about eating McDonalds of course, but lead by a miniscule budget, it was a sensible choice.   The burger we had in the restaurant was delicious and instead of tomato ketchup we were given Harrisa sauce which was very tasty.  However, we worked out that we had spent a third of our total travel budget so far with the cab journey and the yummy francais burger! 
We had enough time to get to get to the boarding gate and in fact this was the least stressful travel time that I had ever experienced.   Being used to airline travel at the economy end of the spectrum we were loving the luxury of ”Egypt Air” with room for our knees plus food and a metal knife (with a blade under 6cm) and fork. We were particularly excited that we were given free headphones and could watch films and TV shows.  The time flew by (pardon the pun) and even our stopover at Cairo was smooth with an immediate boarding for our flight to Addis.
New Arrivals!
The flight was fine and we slept most of the time and we collected our baggage without problem and our first step was to apply for our visa.  The Visa Office is a small room with 2 guys, one at each end of the room seated at tables.  The first one was good cop and the second was bad cop.  We filled in our forms and then me and sis went off to change up money as they only took US Dollars or Euros.  The exchange desk was un-manned and so we had to hang about for 20 minutes until a bloke came in messing around with his shoes and wearing a mack.  This was the man we had been waiting for.  We managed to change up some sterling into dollars and then sterling into Ethiopian Birr all the while people behind us were thrusting money over our shoulders and actually being served; in fact he was serving about what seemed like 8 customers at once.  We returned with the cash and was sent to bad cop to pay.  “How long are you going to be in Ethiopia?” he says “ 2 months” we say.  Consternation.  Finally he signs our application and then sends us back to good cop who sticks our visa into the passport.

Having been warned not to let anyone be “helpful” as they will expect and then demand a tip, Martin was hanging on to the luggage with all his might.   We nearly made it to the exit when there was another inexplicable security check where we had to feed our luggage thought yet another x-ray machine but there were no personnel checking anything.  People with official name badges grabbed our bags and shoved them on to the rollers and then demanded payment for helping us.  We refused.  We hadn’t asked and had actually said “No, Stop!”but it didn’t prevent this guy calling out how he didn’t earn a salary and just got by on tips.

The taxi was the next hurdle and we had been told that the fare from the airport would be $10 to $12 which is 255 to 275 Ethiopian birr.  “400 Birr” said one of the orange bibbed drivers and I, not yet skilled in the art of haggling I offer a mere whine “but the owner of the hotel said 250 birr”  I did nothing and so another orange bibbed driver said “350 - there is a lot of baggage”  So I agreed, as it was 4.30 in the morning and we had been travelling for 12 hours or more.  They piled the luggage on to the roof rack rather precariously and a small boy was doing the piling.  I gave him 10 birr and he went away but came back and said that it was “too small”.  I gave him another 10 birr. (36p)  But I was learning fast.  Or so I thought.   I had been warned about the leeching but it is hard to know what is the right amount to give.  You can’t compare it to English prices (which is what you do because you say well its only 36p in England) as the salaries are so low here.  What to do?

We arrived at our hotel and was swiftly put into our rooms and so went to bed and slept till 11 when we woke up and gathered ourselves at about 10 in the morning.  I sent a text to Daniel (the brother-in-law of Dawit) to check what time he wanted to come and pick up our luggage.  But at 11 Dawit from the school turned up. He had been at the hotel earlier but we were asleep so he left us to sleep and rest.  He had come to collect our luggage as Daniel didn’t have a car.  The trouble as that we had so much luggage that had been carefully packed and Martin (poor bloke) had to take out the stuff we needed for our tour and fit everything else back in the bags so that it could be taken to the school ahead of us.  This took about an hour to do!  Dawit went on his way and then we got ready and went out exploring with the view to making our plans to travel to Bahir Dar the next day.  We planned to fly so that we could have a relaxing time after traveling especially as Gill had only just got back from Turkey 2 days before we left.  However we had trouble finding anything. 

It was latish afternoon by the time we set off and we were hungry so were looking for a restaurant.  Our walk from the hotel to the centre of town was a bit overwhelming as we had several kids and young people approach us for money.  We had been warned about the boys who have trays around their necks, like the old cinema usherettes, selling cigarettes and tissues and the like, as while they thrust their wares at you, someone is stealing your wallet.  Me and Martin were walking quickly but my sister was a bit slower and she became separated from the pack as such, so we re-grouped and made our way out.  We stuck out like sore thumbs.  We were the only white people and tourists are thin on the ground in rainy season and so we were like fresh meat.  We moved on quickly and found the office for Sky bus but it was crowded so in our infinite wisdom we said we could go and find food then come back. 

Addis is not like capital cities elsewhere.  Capital cities are normally the business centre of the country and quite impressive.  Not so in Addis which looked a lot like Brick Lane without the character. We found an agreeable looking café / restaurant and had some tasty cheap food while it was really pouring with rain. I was surprised at the extent of the rain; knew it was rainy season but thought it only rained at night lol.

Here are some pics to give you an idea of what Addis looks like:

Addis billboard: "Corruption is an impediment to development"
Addis Ababa. Modern and old methods of transport co-exist. Is this a new branch of Primark?
Addis Ababa. Looks just like Aldgate.
Addis Ababa. Fruit seller.
Addis Ababa. Fumes.
Addis Ababa. Donkey going the wrong way down the road.
Addis Ababa. Dead creepy - looks like a crowd.
Addis Ababa. More fruit sellers.
Addis Ababa. Building site.
Addis Ababa. More building.
Addis Ababa. Funeral parlour.

Anyhow we ventured out and tried to make our way to the Hilton to check out the Ethiopian airlines office and flights, which was miles away, gave up and returned the Sky bus office only to find that the bus was full up for the next day. What to do?  Could we face another day in this place? We were down but not yet out and so we searched out the tour guide round the corner to find out our options.  He had nothing to offer us only that the Ethiopian Airlines office was now closed and therefore there was no chance of booking a flight for the next morning either.  So we seemed destined to spend yet another day in dreary Addis after all.

Back to the hotel and we explained our predicament to the son of the Hotel Owner.  His suggestion was to get a cab for 200 birr to the airport on the off-chance we could buy a ticket then and there for the 20:15 flight.  If we were out of luck he would drive us in a mini-bus the next morning for 350 birr each.  With nothing to lose we packed and got a taxi to the airport and asked about how we could buy a ticket.  We were told to queue up at check-in office and then buy our tickets.  Finally we made it to the front of the queue and were told that the plane was full.  Why couldn’t someone have just checked?  It wasn’t a bad way to spend and evening! Anyway we got a taxi back the hotel and asked about the private bus trip for the next day.  The deal had now moved from him driving us in a private minibus to his friend driving us that night with other people.  We assumed that it was perhaps that he couldn’t actually borrow the minibus the next day but that obviously was not the case.  Totally confused but desperate to get out of the city we accepted and arranged for the bus to come to the hotel and meet us in an hour’s time. 

We went across the road to the Hotel Wutwo to eat.  We were happy and relaxed because we knew we were on our way and me and Martin tried traditional Ethiopian dishes.  I had injera which is the traditional Ethiopian bread with a casserole served on it and Martin had a puff pastry jobby with egg and tomato in the middle.  Very cheap food and the egg and tomato pastry jobbywas particularly tasty but the injera was something else.  It not only looked like a grey dishcloth but it also tasted like a wet dish cloth.  It had a distinct vinegary flavor and was grey / beige in colour, like when you give a toddler a bit of pastry to play with for a couple of hours.  I tried, we all tried, but it just couldn’t be eaten.

Pastry with egg and tomato. Yummy.
Injera and something that was quite tasty
Nice pic of Martin and Gillian

We went back over to the hotel to catch our minibus but surprise, surprise, found that it wasn’t going to be driven by his friend for us but instead it was a group minibus (think Georgian marshutka).  Our luggage was loaded onto the roof rack and one customer was shifted to make way for us to sit together.  We had paid the owner’s son 350 ETB for setting it up and 600ETB to the driver for taking us.  This was the same price as tickets on the Sky Bus route – a large coach with air conditioning and on-board toilet.  Do you think we were ripped off in any way, shape or form? It was now 9:30 at night; the door was slammed shut and we were excited to be on our way out of Addis for the next stage of our journey.

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