Bosman's Bush Telegraph - 13 October 2000
Our business in Addis Ababa almost being complete, we will probably head off on Saturday morning in the direction of Lalibela, Bahir Dar and Gondar so I thought I would send you all a quick email. I suspect that there will not be much chance to email between here and Khartoum - communications being rather non existent in the desert and all (if only we had got that satellite phone!) Our visas for the Sudan were granted yesterday and were amazingly easy to get. We had been told by other travellers who had applied for visas here in Addis that the Sudanese were not prepared to consider visa applications without a letter of recommendation from our embassy so our first stop was the South African embassy here. The SA embassy was truly a little part of South Africa here in Ethiopia - complete with bullet proof glass, burglar bars, gun toting security guards and a less than flattering photo of Mrs Zuma on the wall. The lady behind the counter, Marilyn, was a real Souf African "tannie" kitted out in standard SA tannie garb (white shoes, floral skirt, brooch and pearls) and had a perfectly coifed head of peroxided hair. She was absolutely charming and extremely efficient and we had our letters the next day. I must admit that we could not have forged the letters if we had tried! They were full of flowery diplomatic lingo ("the Embassy of South Africa takes the opportunity of renewing ties with the Embassy of the Sudan..." etc etc) and had a rather snazzy gold coat of arms printed on the top. While we were at it we picked up letters of recommendation for our Saudi Arabian transit visas as we are not sure what we will find in Khartoum. The Sudanese were equally charming and amicable (in stark contrast to their Nairobi counterparts). We filled in our application forms, paid our whopping US$60 each and were told to return in 72 hours. True to their word, when we reported back to the embassy yesterday afternoon, our passports were returned to us with the visas (very smart looking arabic jobbies). Now that its all systems go for the Sudan, we are heading north as soon as possible to finish up the remainder of the Ethiopian historical circuit before crossing the border. From Sudan our route is not clear and will depend largely on whether we get visas for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria in Khartoum. Its all rather fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants -stuff and diplomatic conditions seem to change from minute to minute so we will keep you posted.
Aside from hob-nobbing with Sudanese diplomats we have been exploring Addis which is one of the nicest African cities we have visited thus far. Its vibrant and exciting and the people are wonderful. We have experienced much less farangi bashing (you you give me money etc) here than we did in the provinces and its been quite pleasant. Of course Addis does have more than its fair share of beggars, cripples, street kids and screaming loonies but we seem to have managed these regular distressing sights better than usual (perhaps we are starting to mellow or have hardened slightly after 7 months of African travels - who knows?). Addis also seems full of "plonkers", as Philip Briggs (Bradt guide) describes these bores and dullards who latch onto you and will not leave you alone until they have sucked the better part of your will to live! The best part of Addis is the superior Ethiopian cuisine that we have encountered here. Although the Italians were only here for 5 years (and that was in wartime austerity) they certainly left their mark on Ethiopian cuisine. There is a pastry shop on every corner and we have been tempted into sampling all sorts of delicious pastries and cakes. We have also been able to have some fantastic "spiggitti" and "mecarrroni" as well as some fabulous local pizzas which are based on the Italian standby but with distinctly Ethiopian touches. We also discovered a great deli and treated ourselves to some Ethiopian salami and the delectable local cheese. All those kilograms that we dropped during our push from Isiolo to Addis are fast being undone! The highlight though, has definitely been the coffee. Coffee here comes in all shapes and sizes from the freshly ground bitter black coffee that is served in coffee ceremonies (its impolite to leave before the third cup has been brewed and drunk which reaks havoc with night time sleeping patterns) to our personal favourite, the macciato, which is a sort of cross between an espresso and a cappacino (sort of like an espresso sized latte). Everything is ridiculously cheap. Coffee costs about 1 Birr per cup (less than a rand) and a full meal costs 10 Birr (and that's really splashing out!). Transport is also very cheap and we have resorted to leaving our Landi at the hotel and taking the local mini bus taxis which cost less than a birr per trip. Not having to drive in Addis traffic (and on the right hand side of the road nogal) has been great for avoiding massive irritation and full scale bickering (which usually erupts when Nev is doing his best to drive under difficult circumstances and I keep adding my two cents worth on the navigational side!).
We have been staying at a hotel called the Bel Air which is popular with overland travellers. Its locally run and favoured by people like us because you can camp in the "garden" (I use that term very loosely because its more like a sand pit). The Bel Air is a very incongruous place. On the one hand, I suspect that its one of those establishments of ill or little repute (or at the very least of dubious repute) The manager keeps telling us what problems he has with his "short term" customers and we have seen all sorts of people, from business men to police officers, coming for a little short term action. On the other hand, the hotel is popular with budget tourists and overlanders - its quite bizarre. To add to the general weirdness, our neighbours in the campsite are five very rotund gentlemen from Bombay, India who are here in Addis selling Indian artwork. Dining is exceptionally important to these chaps and they seem to feel that fresh ingredients are essential to a good meal. Two nights ago they returned from town with six live chickens which were duly slaughtered, plucked and hacked to pieces (in the campsite - only a couple of metres from where I was preparing our dinner) before being put into the pot. They did not realize that I had my head in a bucket for the better part of the chicken preparation process - its honestly enough to turn you into a vegetarian. Surely they must have a law against this type of thing! Dinner is usually punctuated by lots of drinking, smoking and spitting (yuck) and usually ends off with a rousing rendition of some of the more ear-splitting Indian folk songs. Just when I had thought the chickens were the worst they arrived at the hotel with a live goat all trussed up and ready for the Bombay dinner treatment. Needless to say, Nev and I evacuated the campsite that night and headed for town for a pizza. Despite being totally uncouth they seem to be really nice guys! On the up side though we did meet up with Rudi and Ernest (the mad cyclists who are cycling through Africa) at the Bel Air. It was great to see them and to catch up with all their news and have a really good yarn (not to mention to consume copious amounts of local Ethiopian beer!) They are also headed for the Sudan so hopefully we will catch up with them along the way.
I forgot to mention in our last mail that we had spent a couple of days in the Bale Mountain National Park en route to Addis Ababa. The Bale's are well worth a visit if any of you are headed up this way. Not only are the mountains home to the rare Simeon wolf and the Lamagayer but they also contain the highest all-weather road in Africa which of course Nev had to drive before we left Ethiopia. If the roads, wolves and birds are not attraction enough, the Bale Mountains are amazingly scenic and their calmness provides a welcome distraction from the mania of mainstream Ethiopia. We stayed in the super lodge at the park gates. The staff are very friendly and don't mind ensuring that there is a roaring log fire at any time of the day. We had ferreted away a last bottle of Tanzanian red wine which we savoured next to the fire. Delicious! On our second day there we headed for the Sineti Plateau - home of the Simeon wolf and the highest road in Africa. The Landi spluttered its way up the almost vertical slopes emitting plumes of black smoke. The landscape was breathtaking and looked like Scotland complete with banks of heather, fresh mountain streams and little tarns. After wending our way along the windy road that crosses the plateau and after spotting a pair of Simeon wolves we headed up a koppie to the highest point in the area. It weighs in at a massive 4377 metres above sea level and compares favourably with the situation of Kibo hut on the Kili climb. We had packed ourselves a flask of tea thinking that we could have an impromptu picnic when we got to the top. As always though, you are never alone in Africa - even at the highest point on the highest all-weather road in Africa. Within seconds (as is always the case) an Ethiopian had materialised like a mushroom next to us. Luckily, he was completely fascinated with our kit so we left him to play silly buggers with our binoculars (which he had never seen before) while we had our tea. After we had fed him a cup of tea and condensed milk we hauled out our tripod for a photo session. He could not get enough of the camera and would had done pretty well as a photographic model. He posed proudly with us rusty old gun (which in Ethiopia seems to be some sort of status symbol) and gripped Nev around the shoulder and me by the hand. It was great fun and he looked quite sad when we had to pack up our stuff and head off down the mountain. Well, I guess that's all for now. We are really looking forward to checking out historic Lalibela with its 11 rock-hewn churches before heading to the Blue Nile Falls, Bahir Dar and lake Tana.
We will email as soon as we have the chance but I fear it will probably only be from Khartoum in a couple of weeks. Thanks for all your emails (including all the worried ones mentioning rescue operations and search parties as we had not been heard from in a couple of weeks).
We hope that you are all well.
lots of love or ciao as they say here (more Italian influences)
Penny and Neville