7 January 2011
Total Distance: 11 737 km
Distance covered today:482km
Start: Beleka Hotel, Arba Minch, Ethiopia
Finish: Moolla Apartments, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Last night after we left the fancy hotel we could not afford, but could enjoy a lovely mango juice and free internet, we drove pass a long stream of people all wearing white robes. They were all singing and clapping hands in rhythm with a few drums. It was all very peaceful and in preparation for Christmas. Yes, we are having a second Christmas. The reason for this fortune is that the Ethiopians follow a slightly different calendar than the Western World and thus tonight and tomorrow is their Christmas. If you thought that is confusing, wait until I tell you that our 6am is their 12pm and our 7am is their 1am. It still has 24 hours in the day just like ours but to them sunrise is the start of the day. Make sense right.
This morning a long day was ahead and we wasted no time getting on the road. We headed down the small escarpment of Arba Minch and soon realised that the tar road is actually in various stages of completion. In fact we heard from a tour guide who told us that some of the crushed stone heaps ready for the tar road was lying there for already 10 years! What is the hurry, we are in Africa! So on and off we went from the tar road perfectly new onto a gravel by-pass and on both we are often met by cattle and sheep and donkeys and people and every other creature one can find in Ethiopia. To give you an idea - the country is 1.1million square kilometres which is a tiny fraction smaller than SA but it has 80 million people. Since we left this morning it is hard to find a bush without another human close by. Coming closer to villages we were driving through not crowds but waves of people all walking to the market of the town. There is actually nearly no cars in Ethiopia. Trucks, Toyota Hi-Ace taxis and 4x4 tourist vehicles yes, but no cars. People walk everywhere. In the south the poverty is extreme. People don't even have bicycles and everything is loaded on their backs - mainly the women carrying it and bending double to carry massive piles of wood, water, fodder. One does not see though anyone hungry and those images we have of Ethiopia with kids covered in flies and blown-up stomachs just do not appear. Another image of Africa which the world was left with by newspapers and never rectified once the problem was sorted. Today the country is still immensely poor but we drove through endless fields where wheat is planted and the hills and mountains are like giant tapestries of golden yellow harvested wheatfields, lanes of gum trees and lovely African huts. These huts are built very much like in SA by the Zulus however they are much larger. The walls are built by tightly stacked vertical posts and thinner woven horizontal slats. The thatch is very neatly and meticulously packed into an perfectly shaped cone. A meter or two all around the front door, the wood is filled with some sort of clay and then plastered and decorated with lovely paintings of flowers, animals or normal patters.
We were treated with this landscape which reminded us again of the soft rolling hills of the area around Swellendam with a high mountain range on one side. It must look even prettier when the wheat crops are lush green. Around all the houses giant haystacks are packed to complete a pretty African scene.
Some 70km from Arba Minch the road improved dramatically when we reached the town of Sodo and from there it was smooth tar all the way to Addis, which is by the way also the highest capital city in Africa at over 2300m, thus creating a city with very moderate climate. Actually the city is very unlike any other one we have seen except for the typical fact that on one plot there is a slum house and right next door a shiny glass covered luxury tower. For such a large population in the country, the city hosts only some 2 million people. The city is still a maze of new and old buildings and some of the inner roads are still gravel so bad one needs a 4x4 to drive through the street.
Because it is Christmas we went to at least 3 hotels - all full. We gave ourselves a break and stopped at a coffee chain which is nearly a spitting image of Mugg & Bean but serves much better coffee! Even a non-coffee drinker myself I was impressed. Together with a great cake, we felt as if this could be home. We hit the search again and walking into one hotel I realised straight away it is way outside our budget but the friendly receptionist started to explain to me how to get to another one close-by when a man confirmed it is a good place and he knows the manager. I first thought he is the manager of the fancy hotel but later once we checked in, we realised he wasn't. He was just there to check one of his clients into the first hotel. Bedrettin is his name and from Turkey and living here for the last 4 years. When he first arrived he could not talk English nor Armeric. Don't think either improved a lot since then but truly a friendly man. He came over to our hotel to check if we were OK and we invited him for pizza at our hotel's restaurant where he told us his life-story. He also promised to bring us a sim card for our cell phones in the morning and also gave us some Turkish Lira when he heard we are going through his country on the way to Italy. I have yet to come across more generous people than the Turks. We are staying in a rather plush hotel - not only does it have running water (which we did not have for the last 4 days) but it is actually hot!! It is a large room with TV, fridge, microwave and a small lounge. As we have to stay here for a few days, we thought it is time to spoil ourselves a little. And we are enjoying every minute of it.
8 January 2011
Staying at Molla Apartments, Ethiopia
This morning we enjoyed a simple breakfast at the hotel before heading to a shop which Bedrettin said sells the best coffee. We past a beautiful Coptic church on the way there which we hope to visit tomorrow. Two very friendly ladies assisted us and afterwards invited us for a free cup of coffee. I should admit that it was the best cup of coffee I had in my life but as said from a non-coffee connoisseur this statement might not be worth a lot. We bought coffee at about R40 for 1kg. According to Arina a steal.
True to his word, Bedrettin also brought us a Sim Card and did not want a dime for it.
Later we went in search of a supermarket to stack up on a few missing items in our food supplies.
At the moment we are just relaxing in the heart of a rather quiet Addis Ababa before the next leg will begin to enjoy the northern half of Ethiopia which is famous for its religious history and very high mountains.