Sunday, May 3, 2015

Addis Ababa

I arrived in Addis Ababa at 6am, just as the sun was coming up. Got my visa at the border and changed some US dollars to Ethiopian Birr. Caught a taxi (a bright yellow, decrepit Lada) to my hotel. There wasn't much in the way of lovely sights on the drive in. Busy streets with traffic, pedestrians, and donkeys. Aside from a few nice churches and mosques, it's all just very shabby, which is, what i expected. What was nice though was seeing the crowds of people going to church, dressed in white robes and veils and some of the residential side streets we drove down, which were very poor, but i liked seeing all of the people out starting their day.

My hotel is a a chandelier crazy 3 star (ish) hotel. When i arrived, all of the staff were crowded around a tv watching the Mayweather flight and when the bell boy (he was probably 40 but his badge said "bell boy") took me to my room he immediately put the boxing match on my tv too.

My room looks out over tne city and directly down on a corregated tin conglomeration of houses.
I headed out to explore. All i knew about Addis Ababa (which means 'new flower' is that it is about 4 million people, home to a handful of decent sights, and according to most reports is poor and one is likely to be harassed, cheated, and mugged. Oh and i was told that you shouldn't walk anywhere. So of course i spent the whole day walking. The weather was warm and lovely. The streets are admittedly not good for walking. Only intermittently paved and when they are they are broken and often you have to walk with the traffic, but if you don't walk you can't really experience things.
Today was not only a sunday but some sort of a holiday so many businsses were closed but people were out in throngs. I walked past hole in the wall stores selling beverages and fruit, at least a hundred shoe shine guys, several blocks of shops selling colorful, fringed coffins and flowers, and tons of butchers which were either marked with a cross or a moon and star so you can tell the christian from the halal meat. And there were people on the street selling peppers, limes, books, bits of wood that people chew on instead of brushing their teeth, candy, and cigarettes. Lots of very thin homeless people, often crippled or high on glue or gasoline, i am told. Also in the streets are dogs, goats, sheep, donkeys and a few cows.

Was it charming? Not at all, but i really liked it. It was bustling and interesting and sometimes i would meander off a main road into the side streets where i caught glimpses of very simple homes. There were many things that i wanted to take photos of but didn't, as people didn't seem keen on having their picture taken and it was imposible for me to be discrete since in every scenario i was the only tourist/white person and i attracted a lot of attention. But i took some pictures of people.
I went to a few churches, where people were praying or in the midst of weddings - lots of weddings with ethusiastic singing and dancing. 

I walked past multiple squares and countless streets, until i got to Meskel Sqaure, which last week was the site of violent protests. No so today. I visited the Museum of the Red Terror, which shares the history of the oppression and genocide by the Derg regime, primarily in the 1970s. They killed a half million people and tortured countless more. It was very similar to what you see and hear in Cambodia - photos of the dead, mass graves, human remains, general misery. It was however very interesting.
By mid afternoon i was exhausted and starving. The people who approached me on the street were friendly and curious, but by this point i was too exhausted to be pleasant. One guy came up to me and i blew him off but he kept walking along side me and talking and, well, he was actually pretty nice. When i said i was starving and vegetarian, he took me to the historia Taitu Hotel, which although recently damaged in a fire, was till open for business. It had a cozy interior and a shady patio and, most importantly, it has a daily vegan lunch buffet of Ethiopian delights. The food was awesome and it was $3.50. He didn't eat but had a drink and we carried on chatting. After that we went to a rooftop cafe and had coffee and smoked. I had a really nice time. 
Refreshed, we parted ways and i went back to my hotel, where i crashed. I had thought i would go out again tonight, but it is imtimdatingly dark out in this neighborhood (like no street lights, power outtage dark), so i am at the hotel cafe having a sandwich and trying not to eat this delicious looking salad they brought be which will certainly make me sick.

Oh, i must say something about the coffee. Ethiopia, being the birthplace of coffee, is mad for cafes. There are cafes on every block, tons of them and the coffee is amazing. Basically they serve espresso or machiattos and sometimes they roast and pound to a powder the beans right in front of you. I hot several cafes, but particularly sought out Tomoca, which is considered to be the best. It is a hole in the wall joint where you order and drink standing at the counter. It's packed and understandably so. I blurted out "oh my god" after every sip.
My Amaharic is poor, but i have mastered hello, goodbye, please, thank you, yes, no, and coffee. What more could i need on my first day?

Tomorrow i have an early flight to Dire Dawa where i will hopefully convince someone to drinve me to Harar, where i will spend the next few days.
It's off to a good start.


Betty-Lou said...

Great post. I love the photo of the women. Good idea to stay in when it is that dark.

Alan said...

So were they Mayweather fans or Pacquiao fans? Also while you're there try to find evidence of the legendary Prestor John. Also bring back coffee.

Wandering North said...

Alan: Mayweather all the way.