A Travellerspoint blog

April 2010

Week 58, 3.Apr.10 - 9.Apr.10

Mombassa, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda

View Week 58 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Mombasa, Kenya
Here in Mombasa where it is ridiculously hot and humid, and no running water in my crappy hotel to take a shower! Arrived here early this morning on the overnight bus from Nairobi, got checked in to said crappy hotel (although, and I did check, there was running water this morning) and then headed out for some sightseeing: wandered around the Swahili-influenced Old Town with the carved doors and picturesque fretwork balconies.

Passed by the landmark giant aluminum elephant tusks (definitely an eyesore, but at least they're not ivory!)

and then over to the 16th c. Portuguese-built Ft. Jesus, jutting out toward the Indian Ocean.

Now thoroughly in need of a shower, will have to make due with a large bucket full of water my hotel has given me to bathe with... ah, Africa - I'd expect nothing less!

Nairobi, Kenya
Spent my Easter Sunday on a bus from Mombasa back to Nairobi, now back here having dinner at the same cafe restaurant along the conglomerate row of bus companies along Accra/River roads, waiting for another overnight bus to Uganda.

Jinja, Uganda
I'm getting ready to turn in for the night, in my dorm room at the hostel (haven't been able to say that for a while!) here in Jinja, Uganda. Took the overnight bus from Nairobi, where prior to taking off, all passengers were video taped by a worker for the bus company... "Security", I was told, as previous trips had experienced robberies, with faux "passengers" tipping off their bandit friends along the road as to the timing/whereabouts of the bus location. Fortunately, the only issue of the ride was the driver's lack of concern about blaring his radio the entire time - guess he's not familiar with the concept of sleep during an overnight bus ride... Got stamped out of Kenya/stamped into Uganda in the wee hours of the morning. Was dropped off at a gas station along the side of the main road around 04:30 as the bus was continuing on, and waited for the sun to rise to head into town. Found my way here to the hostel where I was able to book a white water rafting trip on the Nile River for today. Met a good group to join on the raft - couple from England, the Israeli and Swiss girls and our Zimbabwean guide.

It was one of the best rivers I've rafted - class 5 rapids, and these were definitely class 5!!

One time the raft went horizontal on the left side and the English guy and myself got dumped out (somehow the Israeli girl behind me stayed in), but other than that we stayed dry the whole day!

BBQ dinner at the rafting company's campsite out at Bujagali Falls afforded some amazing views above the river to enjoy our well-earned Nile Special beers.

Kampala, Uganda
About to head over for some drinks at the bar in the campsite hostel here in Kampala's Bugolobi neighborhood. Today back in Jinja was spent relaxing at the hotel campsite with good breakfast and free wifi (ah, yes... I missed the good ol' hostel atmosphere), then wandered around the town a bit (I chose to walk instead of taking one of the many "boda bodas" (bicycle or motorbike taxis) all over town),

enjoying the pretty relaxed atmosphere and stopping off lakeside (Victoria) for views of the supposed, "Source of the Nile" (Burundians dispute this).

Looks like I'll be spending some time here in Kampala or the immediate area - today I visited the UWA, Uganda Wildlife Authority, to register for a mountain gorilla tracking permit over in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, in the southwest area of Uganda. I signed up for next Wednesday the 14th... I can't remember the last time I spent a week straight in one place... maybe NYC? But one thing is certain - Uganda seems much different than other African countries I've visited... fairly good roads, frequent transportation, very little begging, foreign couples - and I mean white, or "Mzungu" - sometimes with their children, freely roaming around the towns and virtually no harassment - like nothing I've seen in Africa, probably since isolated southern Morocco/Western Sahara. Therefore I have dubbed Uganda, "Africa for beginners".

Today I checked out of the logistically unfriendly campsite hostel in Bugolobi (requiring me to take a "matatu" minibus or worse, "boda boda", back and forth to the city center every day... for a week? No, thanks.), and checked in to the centrally-located hotel across from city square. Paying a bit more for a "real" hotel, but it seems there are enough backpacker tourists staying here to still feel "hostelish". I visited the entirely underwhelming National Museum - dust collecting on the stuffed animal/displays that showed ridiculous expressions.

One of the guards was asleep on the bench - likely not used to much museum activity?

Getting ready to head out for the famed Kampala night life. Today I headed over to the one highly recommended sight in the guidebook listed for Kampala, the Kasubi tombs. What I expected to see was the century-old, largest thatched mausoleum in Africa. What I actually saw - after paying the 10,000 USH entry fee, was a fenced-off huge orange tarp covering the remains of the largest tomb, having burned down 3 weeks ago!

Needless to say the mandatory guide showing me around the surrounding smaller tombs dedicated for kings' wives,

while explaining how UNESCO plans to rebuild the large tomb by next year, so I should "come back to see", was not not a great consolation...

Posted by rd wrld1yr 12:23 Comments (0)

Week 57, 27.Mar.10 - 2.Apr.10

Loyangalani, Kenya to Nairobi, Kenya

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Loyangalani, Kenya
I'm waiting for my spaghetti and tomato sauce dinner here at what I believe is the only restaurant in the Loyangalani village, Bamboo Inn. Its been an hour since ordering, so its a good thing I'm in no rush to get anywhere. Today was spent wandering around this interesting village - there is a small church

and a couple of small shops selling (relatively) expensive bottled waters, a small museum, and not much else. But the big draw here is seeing a mix of colorful Turkana tribespeople in their traditional outfits (or completely naked in the case of most babies and small children), worn in and around their huts (the sense of tribal loyalty is still very strong in rural Kenya),

while "modern" outfits (jeans & T-shirts) are worn by people hanging around the few solid buildings "in town". After ordering my fish and rice lunch here at the Bamboo Inn (was told, "come back in 1.5 hours"), to kill some time I walked out to the deceptively far away jade colored Lake Turkana,

sweating like crazy - it is SO hot and humid here. Even without a swimsuit or towel, was tempted to jump into the Lake to cool off until I felt the water - the temp was almost hot!

Stuck in Loyangalani. I woke up this morning and headed for breakfast at the Bamboo Inn (passing an interesting religious procession of singing and dancing taking place along the one main road),

and since there are no busses or regular truck schedules that pass through here, it is a matter of asking around for information on transportation. Of course, the information from most people doesn't come free - more local, self-appointed guides who spot tourists, find out what they want (i.e. a ride out of here!), then go through the channels only a local can go through to find out about rides. Seems the same story most everyone and everywhere I've been in Africa - "Hello friend" is the greeting I hear over and over, but there are few people interested in being friends, or anything other than getting money once they see me. So there was a possibility for one guy, Australian I think, with a private 4x4 heading south to Isiolo that my "friends" told me about, but after hanging around for a couple hours waiting for the guy, turns out he didn't have room (uh, hello.. I only spotted 1 passenger in the front seat???), then was told by my "friends" of another car heading back to Marsabit from where I could connect on the road south to Isiolo - not exactly ideal to think about heading back 8.5 hours (minimum, discounting the number of breakdowns/times getting stuck) in the wrong direction, but the reality is, what choice do I have other than maybe waiting another day and taking my chances? Well, turns out to be the same 4x4 taken here 2 days ago, so at least I know the driver and it is a (semi) reliable vehicle. Turns out the owner Joshua yesterday left yesterday on a flight to Nairobi (there's an airport around here???), so the new guy "in charge" quotes me a price (actually, less than 1/2 of what I paid to get here), and tells me they will be right back after grabbing some petrol so they drive off. I pay my "friends" a commission, and so I'm waiting, only to find out that there was another 4x4 on the road somewhere that had broken down, and now my ride had to go help them, so wouldn't be heading to Marsabit until tomorrow. Now the rain - correction, torrential downpouring - has been going on all morning and afternoon flooding everything (including my hut),

I am sure there is zero chance any other cars making it into or out of the village today. Fortunately the campsite here has cold beer to pass the time to mark my 13 months on the road (or, more accurately, not on the road...)

Somewhere between Loyangalani and Marsabit, Kenya
Stuck in Loyangalani. Well, technically, stuck somewhere between Loyangalani and Marsabit at a small settlement of huts (that couldn't even qualify as a village), where I'm about to try and get some sleep in the back of the 4x4 on the bench. Today back in the campsite in Loyangalani when I saw the man who's 4x4 was the one broken down out of town from yesterday, and asked him whether his vehicle had been fixed yet; when he responded "Not yet, we're 'working' on it" while sipping coffee at the table, and it already being 10:00, I just shook my head. I mean, the guy's vehicle is broken down and he hires the 4x4 in the village to help deliver a part for repair - yet, its 10 am and they're still sitting around... no doubt about it, there is just no sense of urgency in Africa. I think maybe by 11:00 they leave to go work on the vehicle, and when the rain started up again I figured another day was blown and so headed into my flooded hut to read a bit. Around 15:30 my "friend" from yesterday comes to the campsite to tell me the 4x4 is ready to head to Marsabit and they're waiting on me (well, at least the guy honored the commission paid yesterday and bothered to come tell me this). So I'm wondering how good of an idea this would seem as it is already the afternoon and has been raining all day, but decide not to ask any questions and just grab my pack and we head off. Along the way we pass a big cargo truck thats coming in from Marsabit... for the past 2 days! We're about 1/2 way, I think, but according to the driver of the truck (and the passengers aboard), the road is impassable and so we've stopped here at the huts for the night. Now more rain is starting to fall... this can't be helping the roads for tomorrow....

Marsabit, Kenya
Miraculously, made it back to Marsabit. And... it IS sort of a miracle, based on the difficult journey today. We started out at 06:00 and drove along some pretty bad roads. At one point the driver - not sure how much experience he actually has - while trying to find us a different path (there is not really one specific "road", in the conventional sense, out here), puts it in reverse and backs into a huge puddle at maybe 10 km/hr we barely punched through initially going forward at 40 km/hour, and surprise - stuck!

And this one is bad - we're digging for a couple hours without much progress. And then to make matters more interesting, 2 bandits donning camouflage and armed with AK-47s and machetes approach us. One of the passengers starts talking with them in their native Kiswahili, and from what I can gather they knew each other, because (instead of robbing us), the 2 start helping us to push the vehicle free! We finally got the vehicle unstuck, but before we took off I bravely snapped a photo of the bandits (as they were walking away).

We continued on and eventually come up to a group of young Maasai tribesmen and stop for a minute for the driver to meet with them - and I get a few photos while we're there.

But unfortunately, the vehicle doesn't start back up once we're ready to go. And no one is quite sure the problem - we're on flat ground, gave the engine time to cool, but it isn't turning over. So we're stuck there for hours, and I'm getting a bit worried - hadn't eaten in about 36 hours and now out of water, haven't seen another vehicle all day, and we're nowhere near a village. And, there was more rain heading our way. I was offered camel's milk (as in, there is a camel over there that you can go get milk from) by one of the passengers who was talking to the Maasai men. While considering this offer, finally another 4x4 comes along and tows our vehicle for a jump start - thankfully it works and we're on our way. Despite some more seriously flooded roads,

the driver was much more careful and finally was able to make it here to Marsabit. Very happy to be able to eat and drink, but will have to wait another day to get clean - no running water in the hotel.

Isiolo, Kenya
I'm here in Isiolo, small town in central Kenya and fortunately in one piece. The 8 hour ride from Marsabit this morning was on a large cargo truck - filled this time not with empty pop bottles, but rather sheep and goats.

Bouncing around in my seat, more than once thought I was going to end up either off the side of the truck where I surely would have been at least seriously injured, or down below in the cargo bed with the sheep and goats and their mess - not sure which would have been worse! But, finally made it over to paved road for the last part of the journey and a (comparatively) smooth ride that allowed me to release my death-grip holding onto the bars, and enjoy the views which were really nice.

Now, I've checked into a cheapie hotel - where I made sure there was running water in the showers.

Nairobi, Kenya
Made it here to Nairobi and getting ready to brave the streets and head out for a drink - well, maybe brave the "street" my hotel is on, since there are plenty of bars right on the block (no reason for unnecessary risk wandering too far around "Nairobbery" at night). I had an uneventful ride on the minibus crossing over to the southern hemisphere through pouring rain this morning from Isolo, then got checked into a cheapie hotel before wandering around a bit of the fast-pace and pretty modern city.

Having dinner at a cafe before I make my way over to the bus for my overnight down to Mombassa. Today was spent wandering around a bit more in Nairobi - stopped by the National Archives museum which had a really good collection of sculptures, crafts and handiwork from all over Africa.

Today, Good Friday, is an official holiday where most businesses are closed and so the streets have been busy with people all day - perfect for sitting at the rooftop bar having Tusker beer to pass the time!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 08:01 Comments (0)

Week 56, 20.Mar.10 - 26.Mar.10

Djibouti City, Djibouti to Loyangalani, Kenya

View Week 56 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Dire Dawa, Ethiopia
Unsurprisingly, I spent around 10 hours today on the bus from Djibouti City to cross the Djibouti/Ethiopian border and get as far as Dire Dawa, about 300 km total. I keep telling myself that this is going to happen (spending all day on a bus), but no matter how prepared I try to get mentally, still just amazed how slow and inefficient the Ethiopian (well, African) bus network is. People constantly getting on and off the bus at the border for 1.5 hours to do who-knows-what, but causing the bus to just sit there and wait. Then the constant police checkpoints which seem to be every 20 km or so, some people decide to get off and go do some shopping so the rest of us sit and wait. The bottom line is a good number of people here have no regard for anyone else but themselves - sad, but very true. Of course this is all on top of the barely functioning buses themselves, crawling along the dilapidated roads. Nightmare! Fortunately I did find a bar here in Dire serving cheap beer, so some positive has come about for the day...

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
After my Dire Dawa-Asbe Tefari bus, where I connected to my Awash bus, where I connected to my Nazret bus (passing through an interesting rally/parade)...

I've finally arrived back in good ol' Addis. Staying once again at the Wanza, where the receptionist now knows me by name and waitress at the hotel's restaurant already knows my spaghetti with meat sauce and Dashen beer order once I sit down for dinner!

Today I visited the Kenyan embassy to apply for a visa, and unfortunately will need to wait until tomorrow to pick it up. But on second thought, having a day to relax in Addis and not on a bus, is a good thing! In addition to visiting the embassy, I spent some time scanning and emailing tax documents to my accountant back in NYC for my 2009 return. This is no fun, it feels like I'm back in the real world...

Awasa, Ethiopia
Today I picked up my Kenyan visa, said goodbye to the folks at the Wanza hotel and to Addis (can't believe I won't be going back!), then grabbed a minibus down here to Awasa. I wandered around a bit as the sun was setting, and despite the usual annoying rural Ethiopian calls ("You. You. You. YOU. Where you go?"), enjoyed the really nice town set alongside a lake with the same name.

Moyale, Ethiopia
Another day spent on the road. Early this morning grabbed a minibus from Awasa to Dila, connected to a minibus for Yabelo, then another minibus here to the border town of Moyale - not too much seems to be happening here, other than a few shops along the dusty road leading to the border which opens back up tomorrow at 09:00.

Marsabit, Kenya
Having dinner here in my Marsabit hotel - beef stew with rice (a welcome change from my usual choice of injera or spaghetti). This morning back in Moyale, I got stamped out of Ethiopia and walked across the border to get stamped in Kenya. I was greeted along the way, of course, by the usual blackmarketeer moneychangers and self-appointed guides who just follow alongside telling me things I either already know, or don't care about, and just latch on until I leave town and expecting some tip for their "service" upon departure (which didn't happen). Arriving at the bus "station" (dirt lot) a few hundred meters from the border, I noticed the area conspicuously devoid of busses or minivans. Rather, there were a few large cargo trucks. Well, just when I thought I'd seen the worst possible transportation options/conditions, northern Kenya has just taken the cake! No regular busses run along this area, just occasional trucks that stop to pick up passengers (for a fee, of course). Climbed up my cargo truck filled with cases of empty Schweppes pineapple pop bottles and some Ethiopian passengers, found an uncomfortable spot on one of the cases for the grueling 8.5 hour ride down here to Marsabit.

Along the way, passed through drastically different landscapes - sometimes flat and barren with nothing along the horizon as far the eye could see, sometimes mountainous and really nice.

Passed several police checkpoints along the way, mostly interested in the Ethiopians' documentation (except for the one powerhungry a--hole officer who was trying to play detective with my Ethiopian entry/exit stamps and the dates, while yelling at the passengers "Faster!", to get their documentation out). While I hopped off here in Marsabit, most of the other passengers stayed on for another 12 hours to Nairobi (good luck with that!). When I checked into the hotel, I didn't recognize myself in the mirror - thick coat of dirt over my face, head, body - luckily there is running water in the shower.

Loyangalani, Kenya
Just past midnight here in Loyangalani, and I am completely exhausted! Today back in Marsabit i got up at the crack of dawn (pre-dawn, actually, thanks to the mosque morning prayer call next door) and headed to the petrol station down the road to check if and when a cargo truck would be passing through today on its way to Loyangalani - apparently, no set schedule, and not running every day, but if one IS passing by today, the guys at the petrol station will know! I was told to check back between noon and 15:00 (nice window), so I went back to the hotel for breakfast and after wandered around the entire town (which took all of 10 minutes). Surprisingly found an internet cafe to surf a bit. Back at the petrol station I was approached several times by self-appointed guides all giving me the same information about the inconsistent truck schedule that I already knew. After an hour or so sitting around, a guy with a passenger 4x4 shows up and luckily was heading to Loyangalani - no cargo truck, plus I got the front seat! I must say that it had been a while since I actually enjoyed a ride in a bus/taxi/truck, but this was really good - the vehicle's owner, Joshua, was a really nice and interesting guy to talk with, and informative with the terrain and wildlife along the ride. We saw baboons,

gazelles, dik-dik (miniature deer about the size of a small dog),

African jackrabbits and even a pair of pumas (too quick out of sight for my camera - curses) - and this wasn't even a nature reserve/national park safari! It was even a semi-comfortable seat, albeit 3 of us up front (this is Africa), and enjoyed the ride right up until we bogged out in sand that killed the engine. For the next hour we spent pushing the vehicle up the edge of the road to flat ground (of course, I had to set up my camera timer during a break to document the event....),

then another 30 minutes more trying to push-start the truck until the engine eventually caught. 1 more brief stall out along the way up a 45-degree rock patch (can't believe we got out of that!), and finally here in Loyangalani.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 04:12 Comments (0)

Week 55, 13.Mar.10 - 19.Mar.10

Berbera, Somalia to Djibouti City, Djibouti

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Jijiga, Ethiopia
Unfortunately Svenja and I are stuck here in dumpy Jijiga - and what's more, I'm still sick (or sick again?) - really feverish and stomach not doing so good. Well, the day started out early back in Berbera - got to the taxi stand for cars bound for Hargeisa, and after dealing with the usual b.s. of the driver trying to overcharge tourists, then waiting to fill up the station wagon with nine total people,

then the multiple stops for errands (buying items, back to the taxi stand to drop off stuff, getting air in the tires at one place then gas at another, then back to the taxi stand to pick up something and a couple more stops to buy things for the driver and other passengers), we were on our way in no time! Passing the usual sites like men leading their donkeys around town,

eventually arrived in Hargeisa and grabbed another shared taxi to the border town of Wajaale - and while dealing with the same preparation for the short journey crap we've become familiar with by this point, to add to the delays, we had to stop for lunch along the roughly 100 km short journey! Finally at the border to get stamped out and back across no-mans-land to Ethiopia to get stamped in, got to the bus station and - I couldn't make this up if I tried - took four hours to travel 60 km. FOUR HOURS?!? Unbelievable! We were expecting to make it to Harar for an overnight bus back to Addis, but no more busses running out of Jijiga past 19:30 so we're stuck. Luckily after attempt #5, with the help of the local police (which was really nice), we found a hotel with vacancy - not sure what's the draw to come to Jijiga that fills up the hotels.. maybe everyone else got stuck here in transit also?

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Well, I'm back in Addis alone and staying in the Wanza hotel again - funny, this city has kind of a comforting familiarity by this point. So back in Jijiga early this morning - like at midnight - there was a bunch of loud cheering going on - wasn't sure if it was a television or actually people outside, but it was LOUD and going on for a while. Next around 02:30 comes the prayer call from the mosque next door - for one hour. I have no idea what that was for/about; I've traveled quite a bit in the Middle East but never remember hearing a call for prayer at that hour or that long. Started up again at 04:30, and since we needed to get up at 05:00, netted very little sleep. Svenja and I finally found a tuk tuk and headed to the bus station, got a minivan to Harar - but not before the driver pulled over to some lot for at least 30 minutes to "hide from the police", we were told, due to some sort of contraband being transported - such b.s.! Finally arrived in Harar and found another minivan to connect to the next town (while waiting to leave being entertained by the beggar who sounded like a ghost) of Tefari, where we connected to another minivan to Nazret, followed by yet another minivan finally here to Addis where we hopped out, grabbed a cab to the airport for Svenja's flight! Cutting it pretty close and not sure the whole time whether we'd make it, especially with the multiple connections and waiting for the vehicles to fill up, but it worked out OK - unfortunately that meant I had to say goodbye to Svenni. Well, we're already making plans for the next trip we'll take together...

Getting ready for my overnight minibus back to Dire Dawa (ugh). This morning I stopped by the Djibouti embassy to apply for a visa, then spent the majority of the day updating the travel blog I've neglected recently Its sort of sad to be back in Addis seeing the familiar places alone by myself! After picking up the visa in the afternoon, I also had stopped by the travel agency to inquire on flights from Addis to Djibouti City - way too expensive, hence minibussing it once again. At least this time I had the sense to ask the hotel about calling the minibus company for a reservation, and it turns out they pick up as well. Well, hoping for some sleep tonight....

Dire Dawa, Ethiopia
Seriously, one of the most frustrating and aggravating days I've had on my travels... took the overnight minibus from Addis - super hot and uncomfortable, in the back row (of course) wedged between 2 guys who kept leaning on me, the one on my right who was making out with the girl to his right most of the ride - I was disgusted, and had literally no sleep. Arrived here in Dire Dawa at 05:30, waited at the bus company office to open at 09:00 only to find out there is only one bus per day to Djibouti, and it leaves at midnight. So now in addition to wasting 18.5 hours in this crappy town, I have to take yet another overnight bus - so I checked into a hotel this morning and slept pretty much the whole day, I'm now going to grab dinner and brace myself for the next ride...

Djibouti City, Djibouti
Well, made it to Djibouti finally, and the first impression I have is... this place is HOT - super humid, and must be close to 40 still in the early evening; I'm sweating like crazy! Second impression I have is... this place is EXPENSIVE - cheapest hotel in town cost $30/night for a grungy single with grungy shared bathroom. The overnight from Dire Dawa was painful - literally, I think my butt is permanently bruised. Passed through some nice mountains near the border town of Gelille,

then stopped about 1/2 dozen times during the ~80 km ride for police inspector/bribe-takers, for the busload of chat (literally, everyone had about a garbage bag's worth with them). I understand that chat is "legal" in Djibouti, but as one of the passengers told me, that doesn't stop the police from collecting their self-declared "tax".

Having a ridiculously expensive pizza and beer (3,900 DF, or around $22) at a restaurant with wifi (at least that is free). I spent today wandering around the VERY limited sites of the city - cathedral along Boulevard de la Republique,

the Pointe du Serpent beach (clean enough for the locals, but I took a pass....),

then walked around the "European quarter" with whitewashed colonial style buildings.

Headed on down to the Marche Central to wander around the stalls and glimpse a peek at nearby Hamoudi mosque.

I was also able to do something for the first time in nearly 13 months - stepped on U.S. soil. Well, technically, as I paid a visit to the Embassy to get additional visa pages for my passport - so it looks like I can keep on traveling!

Having a Jus de mangue et banane at my new favorite juicery on Ave Georges Clemenceau - about the only thing in this city that is a good price!

Today I inquired at a tourist agency for information on organized tours to Lac Assal, Djibouti's main tourist draw. Unfortunately there is no public transportation to get there, and really unfortunate at it would cost me $240 to hire a private 4x4 and guide, since there are no other tours coming up in the near future that I'm able to join to cut costs. Well, tomorrow I'll make my way back to Ethiopia since it looks like I've seen all that I can afford to while in Djibouti... which is to say, not much!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 11:15 Comments (1)

Week 54, 6.Mar.10 - 12.Mar.10

Bahir Dar, Ethiopia to Berbera, Somalia

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Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Pretty low key day here in Bahir Dar - after breakfast Svenja and I headed to the Dashen bank ATM (only ATMs in Ethiopia accepting Master Card), then to the Ethiopian Airlines office to book a flight tonight back down to Addis (then back to the Dashen bank, due to the outrageous price for the flight). We relaxed and wandered around the lake a bit where locals were swimming, or fishing (or both?), and had some coffees and juices to pass the day. Arriving here at the airport in Bahir Dar, can only hope the condition of the airplane we'll take is in better shape than the airport....

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Back here in Addis, this time staying in the pretty nice (and pretty expensive) La Source guest house. Today Svenja and I spent pretty much the entire day trying to track down our Israeli-connection friend Arnab from D.C., who has also been traveling the past couple weeks in Ethiopia, following essentially the same circuit up north but a couple days ahead. As I discovered upon first arriving a couple weeks ago, not too many internet places open on Sundays, so trying to coordinate/get updates where to meet Arnab wasn't easy! Finally met up back at La Source and out to dinner before his flight back home, good to catch up on stories from Israel, and making plans to perhaps meet up on a future trip!

Today Svenja and I started out in the morning with a stop over to the Somaliland "embassy" to pick up a visa (surprisingly easy), then took a minibus taxi over to the super-shady (even for African standards) "merkato" to find the Adearby bus station, only to be told there were no overnight busses to Harar. But, some old man working in the station with passable English helped and directed us to the minivan "station" (some small lot down an alleyway) a km or so away, where they do run overnights to Harar so we booked our spots. We headed back to the hotel (helping the taxi driver understand the concept of street names as intended destinations instead of general neighborhoods), grabbed our packs and back to the minivan lot for the overnight. We've been "assigned" the back row, cramming 4 of us back there... not expecting a comfortable night's sleep....

Harar, Ethiopia
Svenja and I arrived this morning here in Harar on the overnight minivan from Addis, via Dire Dawa (every bit as comfortable as I imagined), got checked in to a cheapie hotel (splurged an extra 10 Birr for hot water!), then had breakfast at another hotel restaurant (the waiter was thoroughly confused with the order of "2 coffees with milk"), since ours did not have electricity. We wandered around inside Harar's old walled medina with narrow streets lined with shops. The locals here seem to be either less accustomed to tourists, or perhaps just a bit less sure of what to beg for - several times local kids yelled out "Farinja! Farinja!", and ran up just holding out their hand, not using the traditional Ethiopian well-rehearsed "You. You. You. YOU. Where you go? Give me plastic. Give me pen. No mother. No father.", etc., that we've become all too familiar with. Trying to dodge a "student" (meaning, guy who tries to get commissions as an impromptu tour guide), we visited the Harari National Cultural Center for a peek at what the traditional Adare homes looked like for centuries (there apparently was no shortage of bowls for the walls...).

Next, we swung by the market area to purchase the smallest quantity of "chat" they would sell us (still got a huge bunch for 5 Birr) - by now we've seen daily nearly every Ethiopian man chewing this stuff, so figured we may as well give it a try later. After dinner as dusk turned to darkness, we hired a "garis" taxi driver to take us outside the gates and visit a family that has the peculiar tradition of feeding wild hyenas from the surrounding mountains, raw meat every night. For 50 Birr tourists can watch and join in -- and that's just what we did! The family placed the meat on the stick we held out with our hands, the hyenas initially were a bit timid but then one by one came up and snatched the meat.

To make things a bit more interesting, the man demonstrated for us putting the stick in his mouth for the hyenas to come up - and we did the same crazy thing!

Once I felt a splatter of either blood from the meat or the hyenas' own saliva (not sure which is worse) hitting my shirt and pants. Having our (and the hyenas) fill, we headed back to the hotel and proceeded to have a contest how many large cherries (or small plums?) we could fit in our mouths at a time (I think 9 was the record), now settling back to chew some chat - supposedly a mild narcotic. Although I feel pretty groovy now,

think it has more to do from lack of sleep on the overnight minivan vs. any side affect of the plant...

Hargeisa, Somalia
This must rank somewhere near the top of crazy/random places I've traveled to, but here I am in Somalia! Technically it is Somalia, but in practice, Svenja and I are in the self-declared "Republic of Somaliland" (which I believe Ethiopia is the only nation that formally recognizes), and although it has the usual African amenities (horrible roads, police check points), it is not a lawless banditry area like Mogadishu down south, nor filled with pirates like off the Puntland coast east of here. So early this morning Svenja and I took a minibus from Harar to Jijiga, passing some spectacular rock formations along the way where huge boulders were delicately balanced on each other.

Arriving in Jijiga amid the usual stares at Svenja, walked a couple kms past some nasty garbage dump where huge birds were feasting to the bus station, then grabbed a connecting minibus to the border at Wajaale. We followed a local lady to the immigration shack to get stamped out of Ethiopia, then crossed about 500 m of "no-mans-land" to the Somalia border (not sure if the woman was Ethiopian or Somalian, because she didn't stop inside either immigration point). We were greeted by the immigration officer with a suggestion that while traveling together here in Somaliland, if asked we are "married" (i.e., welcome back to an Islamic country...). So, we grabbed a shared taxi (5-seat compact car that surprisingly seats 7 if you squeeze close enough!) to Hargeisa, Somalilands' "capital". Several police checkpoints, but no problems/harassments or pickup trucks filled with rebels wielding machine guns, that we passed along the way. When we arrived, got checked in to a pretty decent hotel (for US $10) with a super-friendly English-speaking owner, now heading to the hotels' strangely arranged restaurant (with individual private dining rooms) for some Somalian dinner!

Berbera, Somalia
Uh - the Somalian dinner did not sit so well - I got super sick last night! Not sure what did it, but suspect the fish since that is the only thing Svenja didn't also eat. Well, after recovering somewhat this morning, had some breakfast then taxied over to the central police station to request a travel permit, required for tourists traveling outside Hargeisa (or alternately we could have hired an armed escort). Back in town we checked out some of the few sites Hargeisa offered, like the Somalia airforce MiG jet on a stand,

a few mosques, the "Republic of Somaliland" flag,

and copious colorful stands selling chat.

We researched a couple travel agencies for flights back to Addis, but no luck - we will be bussing it. We next grabbed a couple fruit shakes at a cafe (strangely unwilling to sell us plain bread on display), and changed some USD to Somaliland Shillings, 6500:Dollar and only available in 500 Shilling notes. So changing $10 required us to haul around stacks of money bound by rubber bands, looking like we just robbed a bank. Our hotel owner gave us a lift to the shared taxi stand (and fortunately told us the "real" price, as the drivers were trying to rip us off) for the transport to Berbera. Piling in the people and a couple stops for chat, drinks, back to the taxi stand to drop something off, a couple more stops then eventually on our way. The views on the Hargeisa-Berbera road ranged from really beautiful

to bizarre (the bombed out tank on the side of the road).

Also along the way were at least half dozen checkpoints where flashing our travel permit granted free passage (once the guard took the 5 minutes to read the 5 lines on the piece of paper). Arrived in Berbera - barely, as we got a flat on the outskirts of town - to a locust of flies. I mean, probably a hundred filled our taxi in the few minutes we stopped to change the tire! Hitched a ride from an SUV passing by to the Esco hotel - not exactly what I would call "nice", and we had to choose between a room with bathroom and running water but no light, or room with bathroom and light but no running water, but there were good views to the ship graveyard in the bay - very cool!

For dinner at Al Xayaat restaurant across the street, we were joined by a bunch of cats. I had the fish, so hoping there isn't a problem again tonight....

Today Svenja and I had our usual breakfast (omelette), and along with the cats, were joined by around 1,000 or so flies.

Apparently, it has just rained for 5 days straight here in Berbera, so this is the result - the locals don't seemed too bothered by it, although they can tell it is a bit annoying/disgusting for the foreigners. We got a cab from a local who was having breakfast at the same restaurant and struck up a conversation - funny guy who drove a piece of sh-t car filled with garbage (but still charged us $5 for the ride) to Baathela beach - not exactly powdered soft sand, but clean nonetheless and super warm water in the Gulf of Aden. We were (well, more likely Svenja was) quite an interesting site for the locals at the beach - not begging, just stopping to stare for minutes at a time. One boy was so fascinated he plunked down next to us the entire time for a few hours (I decided to get my picture with him).

Other than the somewhat uncomfortable stares, really nice and relaxing day at the beach swimming and looking for seashells.

Had lunch at the hotel "resort" (not what I would classify as 5-star) nearby, then back to the beach for a bit longer - quite deserted by this point. We cabbed it back to town and wandered around a bit - plenty of chat stands, but not much else to see (although there was plenty of interest in us). And now after dinner (fish at Al Xayaat restaurant once again!), getting ready to spend our Friday night watching a bootleg DVD I picked up a while back.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 00:33 Comments (0)

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