June 17 - August 5, 2011
At the end of my last blog I wrote that I was dealing with the insurance of the hostel where my camera was broken and expected to be paid very soon. I was very wrong. It turns out the guy at the insurance was an even bigger douche than the owner of the hostel. I soon found out that he was just trying to stall me until my visa expired so I would have to leave. He made all kinds of stupid excuses I would have to wait another day but always saying I would be paid soon. Near the end he finally offered me the price to repair the camera but said I would have to surrender the camera. It was pretty obvious he was just trying to get the camera for himself. He was really playing games with me and enjoyed making me mad. I told the hostel owner she had to deal with it because I really didn't have any power as I wasn't a client of the insurance. She said I would have to leave for Ethiopia and she would wire the money later when she got it. I had definitely learned words are cheap in Kenya so I said there was no way. She would have to pay me now and get money from the insurance after I left (what she should have done from the beginning). In the end I got her to look me in the eye and say there would be at least 8000 Kenya Shillings in my bank account in less than 2 weeks. THREE weeks later the money was in my account. At first she was not returning my texts or emails from Ethiopia so I had to make an illegal skype call to her (its banned in Ethiopia) that was still a bit expensive. I sent Miano, my friend in Kenya from couchsurfing, to pick up the money in person then he paypal'ed it to me. After all the conversions and service charges it came to $80. Was all the effort and stress worth $80, of course not but I couldn't let her get away without paying for it and I learned a lot in the process. As for the camera I just sold it 2 days ago for $20 and a bottle of camel milk to a nice guy who said he could get it fixed in Dubai. Yesterday I spent an hour and a half leaving bad reviews for the hostel on forums and hostel booking websites.
One night while I was in Nairobi I heard people fighting outside my hotel at 2am. A group of drunk people were beating up a guy in the street. They had taken his clothes. Then I noticed one guy had a big machete. It seemed to me they were considering chopping the guy's head off right in the street. They had the guy go down on his knees but then suddenly these random village women with babies on their backs walking by saw and started yelling and went to get someone. This video was when they let the guy go. I asked the hotel staff and they said probaly they were going to do it.
ANYWAY, the trip from Nairobi to Ethiopia was pretty epic. It was 20 hours over 3 days through some weird landscapes and some of the bumpiest and dustiest roads.
I was pretty lucky on the 2nd day an English priest gave me a free ride in his land rover. The bus would have taken 4 hours longer.
We would drive for miles without seeing anything then suddenly there would be a tribesman with a herd of goats or camels
The third day was the toughest. This was my ride.
I ended up having to spend a night on both the Kenyan and Ethiopian side of the border. For some reason long distance buses in Ethiopia always leave at 5-6AM which means it was impossible to catch the bus from the Ethiopian side because I had to wait for immigration to open at 7am.
My first stop was Awasa where I had a couchsurfing host Desta. She was really nice and fed me all kinds of Ethiopian food. I stayed a couple days then grabbed a bus to Addis Ababa the capital.
Desta and her niece Sandra
In Addis Desta sent me to stay at her dad's house where her dad, sisters and niece lived which was really nice. They lived next door to Haile Gebresellasie, a really famous Ethiopian marathon runner.
After 2 nights I took another 6am bus to Harar 8 hours away. I stayed just one day. I walked around town in the day. There is a old walled city with lots of narrow alleyways. The kids were really funny. One time for fun I just ran away from some of them and the next thing I knew I was being chased by like 25 kids. At night there are two guys who feed hyenas in town for tourists and I went to see.
The hyena guy
I took a night bus back to Addis and stayed for 3 more days. Addis was nice. For the first time in a while I went to museums. Ethiopia actually has several good museums unlike the countries I'd been to so far.
Crowns at the museum
Big Meskal Square. A product of Ethiopia's Communist period.
After Addis I was going north to travel the "historical circuit", where there are lots of important historical sites and churches. The night before I was going to leave I met Karl a Swedish guy at a hostel and within about an hour of meeting he was convinced to come along with me the next morning at 5am for the 2 day bus trip to Lalibela. On the second day of the bus trip unexpectedly Maurice a guy from New Zealand came on the bus. The 3 of us stuck together for the whole historical circuit.
The sea of people at the bus station in Addis
View on the way to Lalibela
We were quite a varied group we are all from different continents with really different personalities and Karl (middle) just turned 21 years old, Morris (right) is 41 and I'm 28.
Lalibela was pretty nice. There is a bunch of churches all carved right out of solid rock. The kids were pretty funny there too. One thing we realized in Lalibela though was we had to be careful of fake bottled water. Karl got a bit sick. Shops refill bottles and add fake seals.
People going to the service
At the service. This was "The Gold Cross". A gift from God that cures all ailments. People took turns having the priest beat them with it.
The bus trips were really torturous. Of course they leave very early but also I was surprised that most of Ethiopia especially in the north is mountains. I always had the image of Ethiopia as a big desert. This makes bus trips long and rough. On top of this people vomit frequently and Ethiopians refuse to open the bus windows so they get hot and stinky. Perhaps worst of all they play non stop loud Ethiopian music, which is definitely an acquired taste. Sometimes they just play 2 or 3 songs on repeat for hours at a time. The music ranges from droning religious chants to very bizarre pop music that sounds like a mix of North Korean propaganda music and something you would hear at a circus.
From Lalibela we went all the all the way to Wukro in the far north. It was a big day. After the first bus (5am of course) we had to change 4 times. The last stop before Wukro was Mekele. This was when my opinion of Ethiopia started to change. Mekele was the first stop in the province of Tigray. Tigrayans are very proud people. All Ethiopians are proud and independent but Tigrayans are over the top. They have a history of fighting in Ethiopian wars and it shows. To this point in the trip lots of people would try to overcharge me and there were a few scammers in Addis especially but in Tigray every day was a battle.
We arrived in Mekele and just needed a bus 1 hour away to Wukro. Soon after we arrived we were surrounded by arrogant teenage guys trying to sell us tickets for $25 each. I guess there was a shortage of buses and to get a seat they wanted us to pay more. They were really annoying and shifty. After 30 minutes of "negotiating" we ended up paying four times the price to get a seat, about $3.50 each. We found out people in the bus were paying a lot less. We arrived in Wukro exhausted. Within 30 minutes of arriving countless young guys harassed us to sell us hotel rooms for twice the price. I had heard rumours of people bicycling through Ethiopia and the kids constantly throwing rocks at them but I was still surprised when I ignored one kid who was trying to sell me a hotel and hit me in the back with a rock. I freaked out on him. There were adults around but no one seemed to care.
The next day we wanted to do a day trip to Tekas Tesflay to see some "Tigray rock churches". We figured it should be easy. It was only 20km away. We went to the bus station and it was another gong show. They said there were no buses but we could "contract" a private bus. They were saying prices as high as $30 each. The occasional bus would come but it would fill up immediately and they would still tell us we could get on if we paid like $7. Finally Morris and Karl said they didn't even really want to go at all anymore. I told the the "bus salesmen" we would pay the actual price (50 cents) or in 30 minutes just go home. They could see we were serious and suddenly plenty of buses arrived. We realized there were actually holding back buses so that we would have to pay more! We got a bus for the actual price.
I'm really glad we ended up going because it was really great. We walked for about 4 hours to check out the churches and the scenery was amazing. Sure enough though we were followed the whole time by kids who were either trying to get money or just trying to annoy us. They really are good at being annoying. They would try to show us the way even though we didn't need it then ask for money and they said we had to pay the church fee even though we didn't go in the church. At one point it was getting really too much. We just wanted to relax and enjoy the scenery without being constantly bothered. I told the kids to leave really seriously and they just waited for me to keep walking and followed. I kept trying but they just laughed. I got really mad and was yelling at them. Again, adults would see and do nothing. An American girl told me that she was biking in Ethiopia and she was really tired and had had a long day. A kid hit her with a big rock that really hit hard and she actually just broke down and cried. Two adults walking by saw everything and as they passed her they laughed. Anyway I realized that getting angry was just like fuel for them. They loved it. It made them feel powerful that they were able to make me mad. I started just putting up with it and ignoring them.
Morris "hanging out" with our friends
The next day we decided to go to some other rock churches. We got a minibus 10km away to Adi Aksfay. Again it was a big fight. They said I had to pay $3 to have my luggage. I argued (it's always free) then they said I had to get out because there were too many people in the bus. I argued and finally we left then they stuffed 3 more people in the bus. He got his Karma though because when we arrived the driver left the handbrake off and the minibus rolled down and rammed into a pole. If the pole wasn't there we all would have rolled into a ditch. The church in Adi Aksfay was nice. We spent half an hour then started waiting for transport. We ended up spending 5 HOURS waiting in the tiny town.
Adi Aksfay, the church in the background
Finally an already overstuffed bus came by. Of course they tried to charge us 5X the price to get a ticket meanwhile they let local people get on. They were actually going to leave without us but Karl used religion. He asked if the guy was a Christian and if he thought god approved of lying to us and not allowing us to get on. Ethiopians are very proud of their religion. Everyone is religious and they see their form of orthodox Christianity as more pure as it has not changed for such a long time. The guy reluctantly let us squish in the bus. It only went 15km up the road though. The town we wanted to get to was still 10km away. We decided to just walk. We were in a tiny village with plenty more annoying young guys who saw us as walking money so we didn't want to risk getting stuck.
Walking down the road there were lots of kids but I wasn't worried I just ignored them and it was fine. Again the scenery was fantastic. But suddenly my plan was ruined. One kid came by with his family's guard dog. The dog started barking and really coming close to biting me. I couldn't ignore it. I told the kid to go away so the dog would stop attacking me but he just kept coming. I kept trying to tell him and the other kids to go. I used every hand signal I could. The more I tried the more they kept coming. Karl had to come to help throw rocks at the dog to keep it away. I really got mad the maddest I've been in a long time. The kids understood exactly what I wanted but again they just really loved that I was getting mad. Finally they left and as I was walking away one of them threw a rock near me!
We kept walking. A few more kids threw rocks at us which I barely managed to ignore. They kept throwing though and finally one just hit my leg. It was so frustrating I couldn't just ignore having rocks thrown at me but there was nothing I could do. Fortunately a bit later a guy with a land rover picked us up and drove us a long way. We decided to just pass the town we had planned to go to and went to Hawsien, a bigger town, where it would be easier to get transport from.
The next day we took a relatively easy bus to Adigrat where we had a sort of relaxed day. Then the day after that we went on a day trip to the monastery of Debre Damo. It was another long day. By this time 8 of 10 mornings on our trip we were up before 6am. We got a bus to the turn off for the monastery then walked 11km up to the mountain where the monastery is. The only way to get up the last section of the mountain was being pulled up with a old leather rope by two very old looking monks. It was a bit scary. The monastery was ok but again the definite highlight was the scenery. It seemed as though the kids weren't much of a problem. But on the walk back we were about 100 meters from the main road when there was a big group of kids who were feeling confident and as we walked passed a few rocks whizzed by us. Really unbelievable.
Walking to the monastery
These cactus fruit, "bellas", were everywhere in Tigray. They were amazing and cost only 4 for 5 cents.
The monastery was on top of that mountain.
The monastery compound
The monk showing us an "Illuminated Manuscript", a holy book with images and writing about saints etc
View from the top
The next stop was Aksum where there are lots of ruins from the ancient Aksumite Kingdom in Ethiopia. It was kind of an interesting day. One funny thing is that Ethiopians are certain that inside a chapel in Aksum is the "Ark of the Covenant" (from Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark). They are really proud it. They say it was stolen from Jerusalem long ago by an Ethiopian king. No one is allowed to see the ark except for the "Ark Keeper" who has lived in the church for over 40 years and never left. I guess a while ago 2 Hungarian tourists tried to jump the fence and run in to see it and they were caught and put in jail for 10 years!
Hanging out at the hotel
After Aksum we had to take a grueling 10 hour bus trip to Gondor. It was really tough but it was nice scenery and we were finally leaving Tigray. The funniest thing was to get the bus we had wait outside the bus station then at 6:00 in the morning they opened the gates of the bus station and everyone had to race to the bus to get a seat.
The bus got stuck
From the bus
A village on the way
We spent just a day in Gondor. There is a nice castle to see there and that's about it. We had completed the historical circuit. It was really an accomplishment.
Dual Menus. The tourist menu on the right was about double price.
Karl and I went four hours away to Bahir Dar, while Morris left the team and headed to Sudan. In Bahir Dar we took a boat trip to the monasteries on Lake Tana. It wasn't so amazing. But maybe we were just sick of churches. The team finally completely parted ways when Karl went back to Addis. I needed to put in time because I wanted to enter Sudan on a Thursday so I could stay the whole 2 weeks of my visa because the boat from Sudan to Egypt is only on a Wednesday. I stayed in Bahir Dar 3 more days. I met a Canadian guy Jeremy from Winnipeg. We hung out a lot.
A Lake Tana church
Karl perplexed in the Market
Fresh Juice. We loved this stuff. It was so thick. In Bahir Dar it cost 40 cents.
A nice tree in Bahir Dar
Jeremy, me and more juice
Ethiopia was a bit tough but overall it was a great adventure and it was nice to travel with other people again. It really is a unique country. They have completely unique food. Anjera is a big spongy thin pancake that they use to eat food with. Its made from a grain only found in Ethiopia. You eat it with all kinds of meat and beans. Ethiopia has its own film industry and of course music industry all in their language Amharic. The characters they use to write their language are unique to Ethiopia too. They also use a different calendar than the rest of the world. Its about 8 years behind the western calendar. They just had a big celebration for the year 2000 3 years ago. Even the time is different 6:00 is 12:00 and 12:00 is 6:00. A big part of the reason they are so independent is that they are the only African country that was never fully colonized. The Italians began to colonize them but then Ethiopia beat them in a big war. Ethiopians are really proud of this but I think a bit too much. They forget that Italy was famous for having one of the worst armies.
This was Jeremy with our "fasting food". Every Wednesday and Friday they don't eat meat so they eat this. It's anjera with a mix of vegetarian foods.
Ethiopia was definitely the cheapest country I travelled in Africa. In exactly a month of constant travelling I only spent 468$US.
I was really looking forward to Sudan I knew it was going to be so much easier and the people would be really nice but I still had one more pretty tough day to cross the border. I got one more early Ethiopian bus to the border with one more fight to get the right price. I crossed to the Sudan side. It was really hot. I wasn't used to it and I was sweating like crazy. The black market exchange rate in Sudan is a lot more than the government rate. I didn't know what it was though. After a battle with the 4-5 young guys who work together to change at a low rate I just changed $20 at 3 Sudanese pounds for 1 dollar (2 days ago in Khartoum I got 3.55 pounds. The government rate is just 2.6). I got a bus to the next town and then a really nice guy helped me get the last bus from there to Kassala. It was a big change. In Ethiopia it was not very hot and full of mountains and now in Sudan it was super hot and the roads were flat and straight as an arrow. I arrived at 8pm. I was really tired and it was really hot but it was nice to be in Sudan. I spent 1 day in Kassala. I hiked around the mountains there.
A Kassala Street
The mountains were nice but there were a couple packs of vicious dogs on the way that I had to avoid and near the top some big birds were swooping by my head
My Kassala buddies
Next I took a long bus to Khartoum. I've been here for a few days. I went to some museums, done lots of stuff on internet (its super fast) and I actually just met another traveller, a French guy on his way to Ethiopia which is really lucky because there aren't many tourists in Sudan. I had to "register my visa" here as well. It was a pain. The office is way out of town and its really bureaucratic. Also, it cost $35 which is a bit annoying considering I already payed $50 for the visa.
Sudan is a muslim country which means Ramadan started a few days ago. Its pretty funny. No one eats or drinks all day. People just kind of hang out all day trying not to do much. I stay in a "lokanda" which is a public dorm and all day there's just guys lying around waiting for sunset. I spend a lot of time in the day scouring the city looking for something to eat but its nice at night because you get to eat special Ramadan food and restaurants stay open until well after midnight.
The National Museum
A cool lock at the Ethnological Museum
So far I like Sudan. The people in are nice. Everyone wants to talk to me. The food is pretty good. Lots of swarmas, felafal and kebabs. The also have ful. Its a little bean mix that you eat with bread. Its nice and cheap. Sudan is a bit more expensive than Ethiopia but not bad. As for the heat its pretty intense but actually I kind of like it.
One funny thing I've noticed in Africa is that africans really like watching WWE wrestling and really old (and cheesy) American action movies. Its really funny. Also, I think a lot of people think the wrestling is real. They are really disappointed when their favourite guy loses.
I just booked my flight home. I fly home from Cairo on September 16 so I'll have 5 weeks in Egypt. I think I might go for a week to Israel and maybe Petra in Jordan. I'm looking forward to getting home. It will be nice to see family and just let my guard down.
This was me when I was yelling at some kids