When you earn about USD 120 a month, this is a very expensive trip and
we all had tried to work out how much cheaper we could have done it if
we had arranged it ourselves. On reflection, the cost was reasonable.
Car hire is very expensive here (about 100USD a day with a driver),
and arranging permits would probably be too much of a hassle. Even
with this knowledge, it still stings a bit for a trip around Ethiopia.
At the Yonnas, Firew picked up sandwiches for our lunch time stop and
introduced us to the drivers, Teriku and Tadesse, and our cook,
Luleet. Leaving Addis, the rain clouds made the presence known once
more but the only interruption in the journey was to stop near a
garage just outside Addis to pick up a replacement radiator cap for
the second car. Firew explained that they could not take a car into
one of the main garages for fear of something being stolen off of it.
It was also at this point that a third car joined us with four men
from the United Arab Emirates. They had asked Firew if he would be
a guide previously but he had said no he was busy but if they came in
their own car then they could tag along with us for a few days. This
wasn't much of a problem for us, at least not at the moment. Their car
was a big, modern, powerful petrol land cruiser. Painted on the
outside was a map of the world and their pictures. Each year they
would spend time driving in another country and having a look. They claim
to be the "first team drives around the world". I'm not quite sure how
the English works on that but it was there, on the side of the car.
Having driven a short distance, Firew brought all the cars to a stop
to take us to the source of the Awash river. Bear in mind that the
rains had been quite recently so the waterfall at the Awash river
was giving a rather good display. We clambered along narrow rocky
ledges overlooking the water about 30m beneath us. Local children
accompanied us and probably found our awkward movement along the rocks
funny. After returning to the cars, we could see the first difference
between us and the arabs. As VSOs we could all quite easily say no to
any chancers hanging around the cars asking for money. We could even
do this in three of the national languages. However, it seemed that
the arabs had no intention of saying no and as we drove off a fist
full of one birr notes was thrust out of their car. This caused quite
a reaction in our cars. Mostly of mild condemnation. We all try hard
not to encourage chancing, especially with children because they
should be at school. Today was the day that children should have gone
back to school after the summer break. We know that our way is not
the 'one' right way but we were worried about how this would look.
A later stop involved a look at an archeological site. The finds included
ancient human and animal remains, and the weapons and tools used to
kill and skin the animals. There was a good deal of obsidian here and
we were pointed to some hippo bones but they didn't look like much
really. The rains had left the site muddy and we had to work
hard to scrap the mud off of our boots - doubly so for one of the
arabs in his calf-skin boots. It was at this point that we realized
that there was entertainment value in them at least.
Our next stop was a rock-hewn church. These are common in the north
but we were told that this was the only one in the south. Rock-hewn
churches are carved from the rock rather than built from stones. The
drive to the church give us an example of how green parts of Ethiopia
can be, trees were surrounded by seas of grass. Houses had small maize
plantations outside surrounded by fences made of bushes or thin logs.
Many of the houses we passed would have a small child standing by the
entrance of the 'compound'. In England it seems that it is old men
in string vests sucking on a toffee or chewing an apple that perform
the important duty of watching the world go by. The occasional flash
of orange showed us that the meskel bird could be found in the south
as well as the north. As a backdrop, small mountains surrounded us.
The rock-hewn church was more interesting for me than the others.
Not having travelled in Tigray I hadn't actually seen any. Having
said this, although I was more interested I can take or leave churches
but I would like to see the church of St. George at Lalibella. This
must be the most photgraphed place in Ethiopia. It is a large
rock-hewn church cut into the shape of a cross. After leaving the
church, Alison and Terri were surrounded by children coming out
of an English lesson. It seemed that they could say words but had
no understanding of what the words meant. The arabs meanwhile where
fiddling with their oversized video camera.
Another stop took us off-road a bit to visit a burial site with
many large, carved stones. The symbols on the stones were not
fully understood. It is believed that dagger shapes showed how many
people this person had killed. At the bottom of many was a more
interesting shape. We were told of two theories - either a
representation of a false banana tree or one of the pillow/stools
used by the Karo people. I would like to suggest a third theory -
it's a whale's tail. Sure, Ethiopia doesn't have a coast any more
but there is nothing stopping it being a symbol from past times.
The occupants of the graves were all, apart from one, buried in a
seated position and in a different alignment to Christian burials.
Having left the graves behind we were now into Gurage territory
and could see some changes such as the horse and carts (gary)
were very different. We also had a near miss with a donkey. I
mention this because it was tied to a piece of leather and
at the other end an Ethiopian. The leather however seemed to
be elastic and the donkey could reach much further than expected
but not quite enough to end it all. As well as the donkey, we
could see food, such as chillies laid out at the side of the
road to drive. I'm surprised that they don't lose this because of
cars driving over it.
We had our first hut stop. The way Firew did this surprised most
of us. He would stop the cars at some seemingly random location,
go into the hut and ask if they would allow a bunch of strangers
to come in and take photos and ask questions in bad Amharic. Amazingly
nearly everyone said yes. Firew agreed a payment with them before
we were actually invited in. Our first stop took us to a hut with
a woman living with the effects of polio. She required crutches to
support her while walking. The inside of the hut was dark, the only
light coming through the doorway and a few holes near to the
top of the high, steep roof. A small fire meant that the hut was
also smoky. Posessions could just about be seen hanging on the walls.
The drivers then took the cars to Zeway for a tea break. Here I got
more of a chance to talk to the arabs. I'm surprised that Ali didn't
hit me because I was goading them a bit. Especially with one of their
arguments about adoption. I also reacted badly about their comment
that the greatest gifts from god were children and money. I'm not sure
about the money thing. Especially when they seemed to be patronising
by telling us how we were doing good work. The hidden message of
"couldn't you get a real job in your own country" seemed to be hidden
rather badly. So as well as allowing them to look stupid in their
arguments, we found out some more information. One of them was a
policeman, or a customs official with two masters degrees. His story
didn't always tally. Another was a jeweller, one was somehow
connected to the royal family, and the fourth was a friend of the
one with royal connections who he had met at Harvard.
The landscape was changing from being very green to more sparse
and acacia trees were becoming a common sight.
Our stop for the night was at Lake Langano. A nice (well just about
adequate by European standards) hotel was situated next to
the lake. Being able to see water in Ethiopia is a novelty for us.
Not because there isn't any, it's just rare where we live. The
drive into the hotel off of the road held children selling small
wooden toy cars and necklaces.
Before dinner we settled to a serious game of scrabble and Ali
told us her theory of the arabs. She reckoned that the one with
royal connections might have quite good royal connections, and that
the policeman/customs official was really a body guard. He was
quite a big guy and having masters would make sense if he had
accompanied his charge while he studied. We couldn't pursue this
line of investigation further because the arabs were not staying at
the same hotel. They had gone off to posher accommodation, possibly
approved by the local police.
There was a little bit of a problem with the food. Mine was rather
hotter than I was expecting but tasty. However, Daniel's contained
ham. He had specifically asked for carbonara without the meat in
Amharic. When we called the waiter over to complain we were told
with typical Ethiopian waiter logic that ham wasn't meat.
At 07:30 Ali and I went to the Yonnas hotel to be picked up by the
tour guide, Firew. The two land cruisers arrived on time. As we were
later to find out Firew was more Ferenji than Habesha when it came to
time keeping and many other things. The money for the trip (USD 876)
had been burning holes in our pockets and we were glad to hand it over
to him in the hope of being able to relax and spend some time in
Ethiopia with someone looking after us. We had paid not to be "on our