Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Addis Bound!


Church of Maryam (St. Mary) on Entoto Mountain.

Travel days are both exciting and boring at the same time. The flight to Addis was scheduled to depart at 10:15a. I was up at 5:30a and quickly got ready for the long day ahead of me. I had stayed up til 2a last night and though I was groggy when I woke up, I was too excited to even linger in bed. Up and about, I handled my last minute chores which included washing up some glasses from last night before shutting off the main valve to the water. After the flooding fiasco following my Baltics trip, it's now deeply etched in my travel brain to turn off the water before I leave!

I'm a SuperShuttle regular and only once have they been late. True to form, the familiar blue van pulled outside my house at 6:15a. A couple was already on board and we had one more passenger in Silver Spring to pick up and we were on our way. Traffic is light at this time of day so we made it to the Dulles airport in good time and surprisingly, all the passengers got off at the same terminal. Check in was straightforward. Unfortunately, luggage restrictions were tight and my suitcase was too heavy at 23.5 lbs to carry on so I had to check it in. Can't complain really as that meant that all I had to lug around was my backpack. I hope my luggage arrives though. Getting through security was a breeze and it was barely 8a by the time I arrived at the departure gate. Plenty of time to grab a quick bite before boarding the plane.

I waited for the boarding announcement but none came. It's funny how each airline operates so differently. Perhaps it's cultural. Around 9:15a, I saw people crowding around the walkway leading to the departure ramp. I decided to queue up only to quickly realize it wasn't a line....just a small mob of people gently moving forward. I am surprisingly comfortable with this as I've been in so many places where the concept of lining up single file does not exist. I immediately fell in and got swept up in the movement. Indeed, they were boarding people in a particular zone which wasapparently indicated by a colored sticker that had been affixed to our boarding pass. They wanted yellow stickers and I had one.

The plane wasn't full - explains why I was able to get an aisle seat at check in. We took off without incident and I kicked back for the 12+ hour flight to Addis. So nice that this is a direct flight.

I was seated in the aisle seat in the back of the plane. Seated next to me were two women from Michigan, one of whom was coming to Ethiopia to bring her adopted daughter home with her. We had a nice time chatting - I was very curious about what all she had to go to to adopt her daughter. It had been a long and exhaustive effort and I could tell from her face that she was tired of the adoption process and ready to go home with her daughter.

We landed in Addis slightly before scheduled.....not complaining about that. The first order of arrival was to get my visa. It was easy enough to follow the signs to find the visa section. Problem was that I was probably about the 100th person in line and the line didn't seem to be moving fast at all. It seemed like an eternity before I got up to the counter but it was more like a half an hour. There were only 5 *agents* processing requests and everything was done manually (insert photo of visa here). The first woman filled in the small form that would eventually affixed to a page in the passport. That's the photo of the form aka visa in the photo below. She then passes the passport and the $20 USD fee to the woman sitting next to her who then has to manually write up the receipt (insert photo of receipt). Once the receipt was issued, my passport was given back to the first woman who then pressed the visa on to a page. All toll, it took about 10 minutes to get the visa once I got up to the counter.

Next step, I thought, was to get money. But when I walked up to the money exchange counter, the man sharply told me to go to the next bank. No politeness here! So, I joined the line to go through immigration. Surprisingly, it was a short line and I got through in about 10 minutes!

From immigration, I exited to the baggage claim area and immediately got sucked into a massive crowd of people and luggage carts. The place was a zoo!

By now, it's been almost an hour since I got off the plane and I had yet to get my luggage. I headed to the carousel and lo and behold, saw my green Eagle Creek suitcase making its way around. Thank God I got a suitcase in a color that stands out from the sea of black ones. Unfortunately, people and luggage carts were blocking my way so I had to find a clear spot to stand at and wait for it to come around again.

Okay, another 10 minutes had elapsed. Next task was to get money. I usually order my currency in advance of arriving into a country but for this trip, I decided to just do the currency exchange thing. Bad idea! The line was relatively short compared to the visa line but for whatever reason, it was moving at snail's pace. It was almost another 1/2 hour before I made it up to the counter and that took me gently inching forward as close as I could to the people standing in front of me as I noticed several people around me trying to squeeze their way past me. Oh no....that was not going to happen so for every inch they made towards me, I took another inch forward and if I had to, I blocked them. Yep, I can play the game too!

With money in hand,I was ready to leave the airport. But, not so easy. Your luggage needs to be scanned first. Another damn long line moving at snail's pace. Didn't help that they only had one scanner machine working. You would think you would fire up the other machines to speed things up for people but you'd be wrong.

By now it had been more than an hour and half since I deplaned and I was starting to get worried that the tour group driver who was sent to pick several of us up was going to give up on me. So, as the minutes passed, I began to formulate a plan to take a taxi to the hotel.

Then, out of the blue, a young man dressed in what looked like an official airport employee uniform instructed several of us to break out of the line. He pointed his hand in the direction he wanted us to go in and we followed. I was expecting that we would end up at another scanner but instead, we were quickly stopped in our tracks as we had already stepped beyond the security zone. As so often happens, the right hand doesn't talk to the left hand so the person who stopped us had not been told to let us pass and rightfully, she held us back. A few minutes later, we found the official walking about the scanners. He seemed to have forgotten what he told us and he wanted us to get back in line. Collectively, we protested firmly and he let us pass. So, I ask you. Exactly how important is it to scan the luggage of people exiting the airport if you can just willy nilly let ones go by? Hmmmm......you have to wonder.

I scooted as quickly as I could to get to the exit doors. It took almost 2 hours to go from plane to airport exit. Unbelievable!

I scanned the crowd to look for someone holding up a placard with my name on it and thank God, he was there! So too were the four other people who had also flown in on the same flight. We did a quick round of intros. There was Judith (Judy) and Sam from New Jersey, Pat from upstate NY and Gale from Oregon. All are much older than I. I was beginning to wonder if I somehow ended up on a seniors tour without realizing it. I apologized to everyone for their having to wait for me. Seemed like the time difference was that I did the money exchange whereas the others had yet to get their money - except for Gail who pulled from the ATM machine that she found in the airport lobby.

No matter. I made it to Addis. It was a beautiful day. Temperature was cool - probably low 70's, very comfortable humidity and sunny.

My room at the Jupiter Hotel. Very comfortable!
We piled into the van for the short ride to the hotel. It was shortly after 9a when I walked into the lobby. We all checked in but our rooms were not quite ready for us - too early. We all took seats and patiently waited. As we rested, our driver informed us that we had to all meet back in the lobby at 1 pm - we would be doing a bit of sightseeing in the afternoon. By now, fatigue was beginning to set in for me was looking forward to getting into my room and taking a power nap.

While we waited for our rooms, two of our tour group members introduced themselves to us.  Marianne from Atlanta and Robert from Sonoma, CA had arrived the day. Both are quite a bit older than me. Evidence is beginning to affirm my suspicion that I somehow inadvertently signed up for a seniors tour. I'm very much feeling like the child in this group. Luckily, everyone is very friendly and I'm fitting in well.

It seemed like another eternity before my room was ready. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw when I opened the door. A small room but very modern and comfortable. Good sized bathroom with a large shower. Free bottled water which I was in desperate need of and free coffee/tea.

I spent a few minutes unpacking a few things before drawing the curtains and getting into bed for a short nap. By the way, the view outside my window is not worth remembering - a construction pit. Even with all the construction noise outside my window, I was able to nap for a couple of hours. Not enough for me to feel fully rested but enough of a pick me up to carry me through to the end of the day.

I was in the lobby a few minutes before 1pm. The others were already there except for two women who had arrived into Addis at 1a this morning! Hope they wereable to catch up on some sleep while waiting for the rest of us to show up. Our guide was also there. We introduced ourselves to each other and I am sorry to say that I pretty much forgot his name less than 5 minutes later. I have to really make an effort to figure out a way to remember Ethiopian names or else give him a nickname that I can easily remember :-)  Our guide Belay ("Buh-lai"), who I would later on find out is the owner of the local tour company that is handling our trip, also handed me the receipt for my internal flights. I noticed the first one was for tomorrow to Aksum - plane leaves at 7:15awhich means a VERY early morning start! Ugh.

Belay mentioned that perhaps the two women had not been informed about the 1p meeting time so I guide decided to call them. Luckily, they were both in their rooms and a short time later, appeared in the lobby. Carol from NY and Jeanfrom Texas completed our group. Both look like they're in their 50's! Very happy to see some younger looking faces.

After our round of introductions, the group headed outside the hotel where our local guide, whose name I did not catch,and two vans were waiting for us. Our first destination of the day was to go for lunch at the Lucy restaurant located adjacent to the National Museum. When I walked in, I noticed all the foreign faces. I already thisis a tourist joint. Sigh. We were seated at a table outside -it was a gorgeous day to be lunching al fresco.

This being my first meal in Ethiopia, I decided I had to have traditional Ethiopian cuisine so I ordered tibs wot which are small chunks of beef cooked in a spicy sauce and a pineapple juice to wash it all down with. My tibs wot came, served bubbling hot, in a small clay pot. The waiter placed two small pieces on injera on a plate for me and unfurled them.I dug into the tibs wot. Tasty though the beef was slight tough and although the waiter said the dish was spicy, it was barely spicy for me. I'm going to have to tell them to amp it up! I was seated next to Gale and Judith. Both were curious about how to eat the tibs wot and the injera. I got so caught up showing them how to tear off pieces of the injera and using it to wrap around the tibs wot that I forgot totake a photo. Oh well. I told them the real way to eat the meal is to go communal with a much larger sheet of injera dotted with various meats and veggies. Maybe we'll get to experience this later in the trip.

National Museum
After lunch, National Museum which is housed in a small building. The grounds could do with a bit of manicuring and landscaping - would spiffy up the entire place.

Inside, the museum's tiny collection of things is housed in exhibits on 4 floors.


Our local guide started our tour in the paleo section where the displays, with their shards of bones and detailed descriptions walk you through the timeline of mankind....from the beginning starting with the famed bones belonging to Lucy who is described as the most intact humanoid ever discovered to Homo Sapiens. According to our guide, the bones of Lucy are the original but I read somewhere that they are actually replicas.



The Paleo section.

Several members of our group + two *outsiders* listening to our guide recount the discovery of Lucy.

Skeletal remains of Lucy.


There was also a model of how Lucy might have looked standing upright. There's something very surreal about seeing bones and skeletal reconstructions of something that is thought to be your predecessor from millennia ago. I know humans evolved over time butseeing what you yourself might have looked like in 3 million years BCis difficult to digest. At times, it almost feels like you're talking about some species other than human.

Also in the museum's collection are archeological findings like shards of stone used for various purposes, pottery, and jewelry.

Little pottery sculptures.

Pottery shards.

Next, he took us to what he described as the *modern history* room which contained paintings and artifacts from Ethiopian kingdoms starting with the ruler who preceded Menelik II all the way to Menguiste Haile Mariam.


In the room was Haile Selassie's enormous carved wood throne. Quite something. If I remember correctly, he was of pretty slight build. This throne must have overwhelmed him!


Lastly, we headed to the second floor where there were paintings on displayed. Our guide provided descriptions for several of them including this large one which depicts scenes from the life of Queen Sheba, a beloved character in Ethiopian history.




This one of the three wise men caught my eye. Love the overall design and vibrant colors.


Although it was a Tuesday afternoon, the small museum was crowded. On the first floor, we kept bumping into a small group of Caucasian people who wereall toting around Ethiopian toddlers and babies. I'm guessing thesewere parents spending time with their newly adopted children. There was also a large group of loud, boisterous local school children who were obviously on a field trip. Typical school kids :-)



After we finished with thepaintings, we headed back downstairs and left the museum. Other than the small collection of bones and historic artifacts from Ethiopian rulers, there really isn't much to this museum. At this point, I don't have plans to return.

Located on the museum grounds - a sculpture of Emperor Haile Selassie delivering a message to students.
A few tortoises call the museum grounds their home.

Before we left the museum complex, our guide walked us over to an adjacent building where the first ever car to be introduced into Ethiopia was parked.


According to our guide, the car belonged to a Frenchman living in Djibouti. He drove the car to Ethiopia but back then, there were no roads so he had to build the roads at the same time that he drove the car. Once he arrived in to Ethiopia, he could not convince any local to get into the car as theybelieved it was something evil in nature. Guide says that's theEthiopian way when it comes to technology - people shied away from phones when they were first introduced. Somehow, it doesn't surprise me given the country's tribal, animalistic cultural heritage. These days though, technology is fully embraced. I'm sure Ethiopian has its fair share of Facebook and iPhone users :-)

We then piled back into our vans to drive to the next destination on our sightseeing itinerary -  Church of Maryam (St. Mary) on Entoto Mountain and the former palace of Emperor Menelik II and his wife, Empress Taytu.

As we drove through town, my eyes were glued to the world that passed by us.

Entrance to Addis Ababa University which was formerly the palace of Haile Selassie.  It's now also home to the country's Ethnographic Museum

The Yekatit 12 Square is a monument that commemorates victims of Italian reprisals
following an attempt to kill the Italian Viceroy Rodolfo Graziani 19 February 1937,
or Yekatit 12 in the Ethiopian calendar. 

Addis is like many a city in a lesser developing country - poor roads, ramshackled bulidings and crowded with people. There were people walking everywhere.  I wondered about the city's public transportation options.




It was a short drive to the outskirts oftown and we soon began to ascend up the hill - at the top would be the museum and palace. Along the way, we passed more people walking - lots of school children on their way home.
 
Forests of eucalyptus trees.

School children on their way home. 

We also passed by several women who were hauling unbelievably large bundles of very long sticks on their backs. The women walked completely hunched over so as to be able to fully carry the weight on their back. Then, when we passed by a small herd of donkeys, I wondered why they don't use the infamous beasts of burden to do the heavy hauling. Perhaps it's because the women are from families who cannot afford to own a donkey. But then, what about the men?? Why aren't they seen carrying wood?

Can you believe the load she's carrying on her back?

As you would naturally conclude, the wood is used for cooking and heating which would indicate that electricity is not necessarily available in every house - even in the city.

The wood comes from the eucalyptus that populate the landscape. In fact, I was originally wondering why the base of the trees had such an odd look to them and then I figured out it was because they've been repeated cut for the wood so there is no leader trunk (is this what you call it?). The result is that the base of each tree is a cluster of limbs.

Church of Maryam (St. Mary).  I mistook it for the museum.


As the driver pulled the van into the parking lot, there was a brightly colored church just up ahead of us. I thought that was the museum but in fact the museum was a separate and very nondescript building.

We were not allowed to take our cameras and cellphones inside so we had to leave everything behind in storage lockers located just outside the entrance. I always feel like I will be missing out on memory without being able to take photos but in this case, there would not have been too many images taken. Like the National Museum, the collection of artifacts in this tiny museum was a mish mash of items. There were things that had been given to the Emperor from foreign dignataries like a mirror that was supposedly given to him by Queen Victoria; his bed; drums that were used back in the day to warn people of danger; a group of accordions (huh?) wooden crosses used bypriests; old manuscripts printed on parchment and and personal memorabilia belonging to the Emperor and his wife. Very odd collection. Lucky we had the Guide to provide explanation for the items as there were few posted descriptions and where there were, the text was all in Amharic.

After the museum, we walked towards the palace, passing right back the colorful Church of Maryam.


For a King, the palace complex was remarkably humble. The buildings were all constructed of adobe with thatched roofs. Inside, rooms were small and devoid of any furnishings or decorations. Not much to see and without any furniture, difficult to imagine how each room might have looked back in the Emperor's days and how each room might have looked.

Pat (with the white hat) and Judy (with the blue jacket) walking towards the palace complex.

Not like any other palace grounds I've ever visited!

Inside the Emperor's public greeting hall.

Supposedly the first eucalyptus tree introduced into the area.

Looking up at the roof.  Not sure what the pottery pieces are for.  Ventilation perhaps?

We wrapped up our visit with a quick peek inside the Store Room which was used by the royal couple to store their personal possessions. Right next door was a small chapel.


On our way back to the car, we stopped at a small church built by the Emperor. Legend is that he slaugtered 500 cows to pay for the building of the church.  I don't know what a cow was worth back then but I'm sure it was a royal sum!

A church worth a herd of cattle!

Back in the van, we back tracked to the hotel - more views of the city along the way.



We pulled into the small parking area of the hotel and there we said good bye to guide and our drivers. I gave him a reasonably good tip as had done an acceptable job.

We were on our own for dinner. I have to admit, jet lag had begun to take its toll on me and all I wanted to do was hit the sack. I had eaten enough at lunch that my stomach was not going to be growling anytime soon. I pillow won over the fork tonight.

Back in my room, I took a shower, boiled some water for drinking and started writing this posting. Tomorrow is an early start day with a wake upcall at 4:30a, breakfast at 5:00a and departure at 5:30a. The plane that will take us to Aksum leaves at 7:15a. I'm ready to get the roadshow started and I will rest as best as I can tonight.

The trip is off to a great start!

Goodnight from Addis Ababa!

p.s. I found out today that I had been pronouncing the name of this city completely wrong!! It's *Ah-dis Ah-bey-bah" not *Ah-dis Ah-bah-bah". I heard it first while listening to an Ethiopian singer on the radio. I stand gratefully corrected!