Day 6: Let Them Drink Pepsi

I got up ridiculously early at 5am. The one thing I’m really starting to hate about this country is that everybody gets up really early, they get up and go to bed with sunrise and sunset something I am definately not used to. I had been hoping to miss the annoying hotel bloke when I left, but no, he was waiting for me! For the next 45 minutes he kept calling me his friend and telling everybody who came in that I was, wearing it like some sort of badge of honour. When I was about to set off he asked for the money I have promised him, the 20 Birr from yesterday. I’d already decided that I was going to give him no more than 10 for helping as he’d had quite a few extras out of me. So I pointed out to him that I’d given him frequent tips yesterday which were included in my “promise” and just gave him 10, he looked really puzzled but didn’t push it as I think he was shocked his charms hadn’t worked…. And maybe my angry face!

I heard shouts of “Gonder” and then saw the bus arriving in a cloud of dust. Typically for this part of the world the inside of the bus and its engine power could not live up the paintwork on the outside. I saw the 1990s and entered the 1950s! I quickly put my bag on the roof of the bus myself to avoid another tip as I was running out of change, although this didn’t stop a random kid asking for money for showing me where to put it, where did he think I was going to put it? I did have some thoughts on that now. I jumped on the bus, went back in time, and headed to the back seat in full knowledge that the little kid would eventually make his way to the back. I wasn’t disappointed as if by magic he appeared and demanded that I should give him 30 Birr for his help as the Czech couple (my “friends” as he called them as people seem to assume all white guys know each other!) who are getting another bus gave him 30 Birr to “help”. I pointed out to the little chap that if that was the case I should just give him 15 Birr as there was only one of me but added that as I put the bag on the roof myself I’d made sure I paid myself 15 Birr. It may seem harsh, but there has to be a balance between what you do and don’t give, offering a service/job is different to begging. That said, I have to remember there maybe a bigger reason for his begging, ill family etc. so I just gave a couple of really small coins as this is realistic and what locals would give. Hopefully in time tourists will be treated not like walking money machines and will be treated like everybody else.

The bus eventually set off at about 7:20am little later than I had hoped given my 5am start. More worryingly though, the people who worked there had to push the bus to get it to start….. This turned out to be a bad omen. We sped along a pretty flat dusty/sandy road, littered all around were destroyed minibuses and other cars, sadly I didn’t have enough time to take any pictures when I saw them but many looked like they had been destroyed by gunfire rather than breaking down, covered in bullet holes and shattered windows. I’m hoping these were remnants of the war with Eritrea from four years ago which I guess would make my confrontation in Aksum a little bit more understandable, but from the number of minibuses I had a feeling that this could have actually just been for robbery, which was a little more scary. Further down the road there were bombed out tanks and armoured Russian looking personnel carriers. Armoured windows slightly open with the green dirty paint slowly giving away to rust.

Then after an hour so came my biggest surprise, I hadn’t realised at all that we were on top of a massive plateau about 2km above sea level. The views were amazing as we came to the edge, I tried to take pictures but the windows are far too dirty, covered in layers of sweat and grease from the 1000s of heads that have rested on the windows. And it would barely open. We drove down the plateau side, along a rocky bumpy winding road, down into the surprisingly lush valley, and then bumping our way up on more winding roads up the mountain on the other side, this was an amazing part of the journey and by the time we got to the top I could see that we were barely 2 miles away, in line of sight, from the edge of the previous plateau but the journey had taken almost two hours to get there! This made me come to understand how difficult it is to get around in this famine struck region and also provided me have a better understanding of the famine that has hit Ethiopia. Most of the population live at altitude on these massive plateaus, so where does the water come from? If the rains fail, then there is an immediate impact and life fails.

As we continued, some of the bends on the winding roads were so tight that we had to do three-point turns to get around. And then as we drove towards a place called Adi Arkay, the views became unbelievably spectacular. It’s a landscape I have not really seen before and the contrast between the desert plateau and the seemingly green lush peaks of the Semien Mountains did not look of this world. We stopped here for a short time, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I was travelling alone, visiting these mountains for a few hikes would’ve been spectacular but I realised I did not have the time to stop or the safety. This is always the problem when trying to fit a holiday in around work, I have to stick as close as possible to a rough timetable else I’ll never get back in time, maybe next time…… but I recommend people do a search on the Internet for the Simien Mountains Ethiopia, amazing views. In this town I gave little kid my water bottle after I’d finished and had a look round the markets and got back on the bus for an expected seven more hours to Gonder. But this was starting to get a little painful. Not to mention the fact that I hadn’t realised Ethiopians might not be used to travelling on buses and so the little old ladies sat around me were vomiting profusely with all the tight turns and bumps. This was probably not helped and made worse by the fact that grotty curtains covered the windows preventing those inside knowing where the bus was going, and the windows had to be closed as even on the hottest day Ethiopians seem to believe that the draft from the windows will lead to pneumonia and you will die…. opposed the the stench inside that wouldn’t! I on the other hand didn’t believe this I was able to open the window just a little bit so I got a little draft. It also blew the smell of the vomit away….

On one of the many twists going back up to the top of one of the plateaus, and to put it into perspective these were at least 1000 metre climbs, the bus while turning a tight corner, stalled, but this was relatively flat stretch of slightly downhill road and with a roll and a bump the bus bump started again. The journey continued with the scariness of what were up to 1000 metre drops on one side of the road and the fact that if a corner was too tight the bus had to roll backwards with nothing more than a man at the back jumping off and putting a metal block behind the back wheel to stop it from plummeting down the mountain barely a foot from the edge. I hate to think how many buses have gone over the edge this way, how many people have died, it’s absolutely treacherous. Along with the vomiting, at this stage the constant change and altitude had given people nosebleeds although this might have also been caused by the amount of dust being thrown around from the roads. But then halfway up on the final and most impressive climb to a town called Debark the bus stalled on a very tight corner. It was 12:30 PM, pretty much the hottest part of the day and I was pretty dehydrated by now being sat on the bus in hot dry conditions with very little air. I did have half a litre of water left but I was rationing myself for the journey. I would’ve had more if it wasn’t for the fucktard overcharging stallholder at the market who had prevented me from buying more as he wanted 3 pounds equivalent to the small bottle of water. I’d had no option but to buy this but then had no change for any more. He was charging the locals about 30 pence!

After much trying to restart everyone was asked to get off the bus and the driver told everyone try and push it to bump start it. Bump starting a massive bus on a tight turn on a dirty track with rocks everywhere on a steep climb on a hot day at altitude in a dusty he area was never going to be easy, especially as it was also diesel! Not surprisingly we could not get the bus moving to any speed which would turn the engine over. Worse still they couldn’t put the engine in reverse to bump start it downhill as we were part way through a three-point turn and reversing would simply let the bus plummet down the cliff edge. What was worse was when I joined in pushing the bus it became apparent that a lot of people, well men, who were pushing were doing pretty much nothing more than just placing their hands on the bus while only a few of us were really putting any effort into it. After this disappointment we eventually had to give in. At this point and after this effort I thought I would grab my bottle of water from the bus and just take a small sip to keep me going and I was gasping. Well, what a surprise, someone had stolen my water, nowhere to be seen, when I asked if anyone had picked up by “mistake” everyone just blanked me. Words could not describe my hate for the people on the bus and the country at this time. Yes, maybe it’s all about survival and I was being irrational, but here we were all on a bus journey together, not a plane crash in the Andes where we were about to turn to cannibalism!

Hours went by with no traffic other than the odd car which could do nothing more than drive past and take a message. Then maybe 5 or 6 hours later a lorry came along, the only lorry in all this time. In a rather large amount of irony when you’ve had your water stolen and are dying of thirst, the lorry was transporting 1000’s of empty drinks bottles! After ages trying to tie a knot in some wire rope they somehow found, which made me think this could have been a regular occurrence, they managed to tow the bus part way up the hill until there was a relatively flat piece of road. They were then able to try bump starting the bus in reverse. He was really bad at this so we all helped to give another bit of a push and then, with the roar and accompanying belch of black smoke the engine started. The lorry driver said something to the bus driver, something changed hands, I’m guessing 30 Birr, seems standard here! and we set off. I don’t quite know exactly what was said but I’m guessing by the way the bus driver drove from this point on, it was to take the bus out of gear and keep the revs high at all times when he was slowing down for a corner. But for us or maybe just me there was a little inwardly cheer and for a moment I didn’t hate my fellow passengers. But then just add to the irony just a little further on up the hill there was actually a water stop with a water pipe feeding fresh water from the mountain down into a water tank, if I’d known this was there I could’ve walked up the hill and got some of the water, which around here at this altitude would’ve been relatively safe, and I travel with a water purifier anyway just in case…

Just as it was getting dark we pulled into the village of Debark at the top of the plateau. The driver left the engine running while we were all allowed off to visit pretty much the only restaurant here and open. When I say restaurant it was little more than a wooden shack randomly placed in a field, quite common here. At this point though I was really feeling unwell, dizzy and slightly delirious. My knees were also bruised from the seat in front, not helped by the nail sticking out in the seats, my arse was killing me as the roads are extremely rocky and bumpy, particularly at speed, and there was simply no padding (on the bus, not may arse). I walked to the hut and opened the door of the restaurant. I looked at what they had to drink, no water, nothing other than Pepsi! So I ordered a Pepsi. The taste was unbelievable. I think because we’re used to these things we take the flavour of sugary foods and drinks for granted. You have them with your burger meal, you have them at work as part of your lunchtime meal deal, but trust me when you’re suffering extreme dehydration because some arsehole stole your water, the flavour you get is so intense, it almost felt like it was burning my mouth, I really can’t describe it but this wasn’t just fasting. This had been a build up of a lack of water over a few days and also from being in an environment where there was no shelter or shade from the extreme conditions. I bought a couple more bottles for the rest of the journey and amazingly unlike the man in the tourist town he charged me the going rate, I like to Debark! Bugger all here, but I like it!

After a nice man in the restaurant had offered me food to share with him which bought back some of the humanity of the country, we continued on but the driver was so focused on making sure he didn’t switch the engine off and stall the bus, he had forgotten that we needed diesel, we ran out! You should never let a diesel engine run dry as you have to manually pump diesel back through the system to get it working again but luckily for once today we went on a downhill slope so after filling up the tank and about 30 minutes of tweaking the engine it started up again and eventually we pulled into the town of Gonder at about 8 or 9 o’clock. I took a taxi to the Belegez Hotel which was recommended as I figured I should treat myself after today but it was late and it was already full, so I ended up in a hotel called The Circle. So I have booked into an expensive 70 Birr per night hotel which I have to be honest is not worth it but I’m just happy to have a bed and I have already arranged for a guide for tomorrow as I’ve learned so far that these guys can limit the amount of hassle you get as a tourist walking around town. The only other thing I did tonight was buy loads and loads of water. I was so very thirsty and was only satisfied after drinking almost 4 litres which made me realise just how dehydrated I’d become.

Day 5: As long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable…..

….. I shall find wandering more bearable.

A quote from Tolkein, Fellowship of the ring, and mentioned here as I was on the way to Shire today and quite apt it turns out…..

As I left the hotel a little after 10:30am outside of the front gate a little boy asked for some money. I said no as I needed my money to get a bus to Shire but as soon as I did he jumped into the middle of the street and started to wave down what appeared to be a random minibus. The guy in the minibussaid “shire” I said yes, and then my bag was in the back and I was sat in the passenger seat! Wow, that was simple and it was all thanks to the boy who I knew would now want a tip, but before I had chance to give him some money, he got chased away for being a thief! It was quite funny but also quite sad as he had done something for me so I don’t see that as begging and wanted to give him someting for the “service.” But it is strange here, it’s becoming apparent that if a grown man begs or tries to get money out of you then that’s acceptable, however, if you try to support an impoverished child then they are just thieves! I suppose for some here, begging is a full-time job and you don’t want children taking your jobs! Child labour laws and all that! Still annoyed at that!

The minibus drove up and down through the town before heading off, this was to pick up as many people as it could but I was lucky, I’d obviously paid more for being foreign so it meant that they’d given me all of the front passenger seat while the poor local guys got rammed in, five on the back seats!

The journey however was quite scary with the driving very much on the edge of safety. But some of the sights and sounds, the views from the road on the way quite amazing an memorising. I’d paid 30Birr for the trip, twice what I should have but at 90p more I wasn’t going to argue as not only did I have the front seat, I had a great view of the passing world…. and a curtain I could pull across when we stopped so I could stop people seeing me and coming over to either beg or try to sell me something. But from my vantage point I could see the extremes of poverty, not just individuals, but entire villages where people were wearing age old clothes or travelling with their lives strapped to be back of or donkey or camel.

Eventually arriving into the town of Shire I quickly found myself being ripped off by a hotelier, however I choose to be ripped off on this occasion as the journey had taken longer than anticipated and it was too late to get an onward bus to the place I’d hoped to end up tonight, Gonder. But sometimes you find when backpacking, knowingly letting yourself be ripped off a little can make life a hell of a lot easier. It can mean that a person will pretty much do anything to help you just to get that little bit more money, so on occasion I do see it as not being ripped off but literally paying for an assistant to do the hard work for you! In this case, giving him 20 Birr as he “suggested”, which is just £1.20, but OK, I know it’s a lot but here, but for this money he can get rid of all the hassle, he would keep people away from me so I didn’t have to keep saying no to people begging, no need to worry about my luggage being stolen and I could just rest while he got info on the bus for tomorrow.

I just spent the afternoon recuperating and recollecting all the moments of the drive this morning. The driver mainly aiming to kill most things walking across the road! I’m sure it was accidental but there are a lot fewer Lizards in Ethiopia now! There is absolutely nothing to do in this town though, although it’s interesting to see a normal, non-touristy provincial Ethiopian town to see everyday life. I’m sure the Dutch guy I met last night will be very happy that I’ve seen this town as it’s “proper” travelling! I had a traditional dinner at the hotel which I was expecting to be like the food I’d had back at my favourite Ethiopean restaurant in Kentish Town but no, the light fluffy almost pancake like zesty injura bread you scoop up your food with and eat was full of sandy grit and tasteless. I hadn’t really thought about it, but of course, here the flour is ground an old grindstones with no sieving, I was just sat grinding my teeth down eating sand. A rather weird by very chatty Czechoslovakian couple were also suffering the same ordeal, they too had been grabbed by the “in your face” hotelier and were now in the process of turning their teeth to powder. The hotel bloke, well boy really, was now starting to piss me off a little, he was now asking for money all the time for anything and eveything. He would polish my shoes “you can’t polish fabric walking shoes” I would say, then he would respond, “yes I can!” then when he gave trying to sell this, “I can wash your clothing” he said, “not while I’m wearing it you won’t!” I responded….. it went on. It took me ages to get him to leave my room, I suggested it would be his best interests if he expected any kind of tip!

Day 4: Who do you think you are, the Queen of Sheba!

I left the hotel about 10:30am and headed out to the tourist office where I hired a guide for the day. I figured after yesterday it might be safer to do this as I reckon spy’s don’t hire tour guides! I did have a bit of trouble understanding what the guide said at times but he seemed quite nice and it was nice to talk to local who wasn’t begging or trying to steal something from me. While I was walking along with the guide I started to get hassled by all the people who tied to sell me their tourist trips yesterday, they were strangely quite aggressive at the fact I had hired this “official” guide and were quite insulting to the guide even though he was here walking with me! This was all very strange and quite intimidating but he acted as if all this was quite normal and ignored it.

Leaving these friendly people behind, we continued with the tour. First we went around the Northern Stelae Park fields. The stelae are really quite impressive but also really quite bizarre, it shows you how much effort humans can put into their devotion to a supreme being, fictitious or otherwise, but how little devotion they have for looking after each other or even themselves. After this we headed uphill to see some more monuments, namely the Gudit Stelae and the surrounding 4th century tombs, however the gates were locked and there was no way in. I said we didn’t have to go in as although there was only barbed wire around the site, I could see just as well from outside but my guide was determined and found another way in which I had to follow. Typically following his advice, on the way back out of the barbwire I tore a big hole in my trousers in a rather inconvenient place. He was a little apologetic but I guess at least my trousers looked more like his now, I’m guessing he’d done the same thing a fair few times! After this he took me around the the main church, Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, with its old and new buildings. It is really important here in Ethiopia as they believe in the grounds, in the new Chapel of the Tablet lies the Ark of the Covenant, but in true “do they or don’t they” style, only the guardian monk is allowed to enter and I was told he lives there too and never leaves, so no one can ever see what’s actually inside! Even though there might be nothing more in there than a microwave and a play-station this place is the holiest place of pilgrimage in Ethiopia and their orthodox church.

In the main church the priest and rector would keep bringing out artefacts or as they’d call them, “special things” to look at…. for a fee….. First a book from a millennia ago, with the Amharic language written on cowhide with brightly coloured pictures, these were paintings from the first days of Christianity in Ethiopia. What was interesting was the imagery of the people in the book, the disciples all had faces painted brown as did the face of Jesus. He then showed me a new book to show that now people paint Jesus with a white face, it was quite startling how the Europeans have influenced the white Jesus image and it’s now been adopted here to a certain extent. But the European looking Jesus looks out of place here, particularly considering that although he may not have been African his skin would not have been European either, that’s for certain. As well as special tings, they also kept showing me the “most secret things”….. the crowns people wore at ceremonies. They said they were over a 1000 years old and they way well have been, but to my admittedly ignorant eye, they looked like failed metal work projects from a failing school that was just happy that the kids could hit something with a hammer. “Do you want to wear one for a fee” was the question, “no I can happily look like a knob without one thanks…..” was the reply!

I then headed back to the hotel for a brief lunch break and after we got a taxi to more ruins, here the guide opened up a small door amongst what I thought were tombs to show the Ezana Stone. This is the Ethiopian equivalent of the Rosetta stone. I think it has rules/laws written on it in three languages, Sabaean, Ge’ez and Ancient Greek, the latter making it possible to translate the others. It was all quite impressive and so was the view further up the hill. I could see the start of a mountain range in the far distance which looked like they had been hammered out of the ground by a particularly angry giant, I think I’ll be heading that way in a few days for a closer look. But after getting the story of the tombs, it was down the hill to the Queen of Sheba’s Palace, hopefully it would be less hassle than yesterday! But no, here there was a woman with a little child who would not leave me alone for one second, the begging was constant with the mother forcing the child back when they walked off, nothing I did would stop them and it ruined the visit here. But all in all, even with this, it had been a far better day than yesterday and I really quite enjoyed it, although you wouldn’t believe it to read this!

Finally I went around a small museum back at the tour office and gave the guide small tip, but when I went back to say thanks his boss who had done absolutely nothing also demanded a tip! What I’ve learned so far is that you don’t engage with somebody who is either begging or demanding money from you else you’ll get drawn into a conversation and they will not let go until they get something. So I’ve developed my new “not engaging” technique, so I took my bag and just walked off while he was still shouting! I didn’t get to far though as on the way out of the office one of the kids who had been following me yesterday accused me of “playing with him” regarding saying I was going to use him for a guide today and now he was demanding money too….. When will this stop…… He wanted some sort of compensation for what I’d done to him! I just continued walking back to the hotel as the whining slowly faded into the distance…… On the way I also had a quick look from the top of the street to see where the bus station was for my journey out of this beggars paradise tomorrow. And breath…..

Day 3: The Spy Who Loved Me Tours

I set off at 6am and headed for the airport after the porter got a taxi for me. I say porter, it was a man who sat on a broken chair outside the front gate for which seemed all day and night, wearing an oil stained t-shirt with a worn out suit jacket over the top. But Porter makes it sound like a posh hotel and more in line with what he thought he was. It had rained all night and the roads had become become very slippy with a film of orange muddy sand so the taxi driver seemed to enjoy sliding around corners in his beaten up old Lada scaring me half to death.

The plane I got seemed to be yet another stopping service, it seems to be an Ethiopian Airlines kind of thing! This time we stopped in a place called Mekele before eventually arriving in Aksum at about 10am. At the airport I was mobbed by loads of people trying to get me to go to their hotel. Although this can be annoying and you are unlikely to get the best deal, they can remove a lot of the hassle as they will usually take you to hotel and keep everyone else away. Although if you do this, you have to understand that they do this at another cost…… as far as they are concerned, you are now theirs and it’s their intention to try to get as much money out of you as possible by making you spend money things you never knew you wanted. ‘Tour packages’, ‘professional guides’, ‘authentic clothing’ and the weirdest…. a small carving of Haile Selassie which looked like a Easter Island stone head! So you have to be strong and decide if you want to spend anything, and if you don’t then you really have to switch off even when the hardest emotional heartstrings are pulled. Weighing all this up I settled for a hotel called ‘The Africa’, only slightly less original than the hotel called ‘The Ethiopia!’ I relaxed for a bit in the hotel before heading out as it was only midday and I’d been up since 5am, it’s not natural for me!

As usual I got surrounded by beggars as soon as I stepped out of the hotel and a little while further people started to offer to show me around as a “me-guide” as they would keep saying. The beggars are quite smartly dressed though but what is more surprising, people who are clearly not usually “beggars” walk past on their daily business but when they see me they will put their hand out, say “money” and then just continue on their way as if this is a normal thing to do! Why? This was so strange. Have western tourists just been coming here and throwing money at people under the belief everyone needs money and the people here now expect it? Is this what the charities have done, just thrown money at people? I really can’t get this place at all.

After spending an hour or so walking I headed out of town slightly towards Dungur, the Queen of Sheba’s Palace, only to be stopped by a man accusing me of spying. He had noticed a hole in my bag from which my camera sticks out. I had actually done this so that people were not aware that I have an expensive camera as I’d had hassle in Addis Ababa, it had nothing to do with Spying at all, I was also just heeding foreign office advice which says to keep your cameras and precious items hidden. After all what would a spy be doing walking around a dusty road in the middle of nowhere looking for a historic monument. I don’t ever remember this situation arising in a James Bond film! Amazingly for being in the middle of nowhere, a small crowd quickly gathered, from where I have no idea, while this guy angrily asked me more and more questions. He was going on about the security situation and wanted me to show him what was in my bag, he was getting quite forceful and at one point made a grab for the bag. In the end I figured he was just trying to pretend to be a figure of authority so he could steal my equipment so I just my turned my back and walked off. I hoped this was the right thing to do, but I didn’t hear a single gunshot as I left so I think it was alright! What he said about security didn’t seem to make sense to me. Yes, I was about 20km away from the border with Eritrea which I would think is quite safe distance. The border itself is meant to be a little dangerous still as the war with Eritrea only finished in 2000, having started in 1998. But even if there are still tensions, do I look Eritrean? Mmmmmmmm.

I slowly walked back to the hotel but got followed by an evil looking man from the gathered group. He had a very poorly fitted and slightly military looking uniform on. A lot of the people around here seem to wear ex-army gear, maybe it’s good clothing and they can’t afford new things? But you are never quite sure whether they are really army or just old soldiers. But having said that, old soldiers in this part of the world have a lot of power, so I’d better be careful. After a mile or so speed walk, with the accompaniment of a small child who decided to walk along with me and stare at me constantly rather than look where he was going, I was back at the hotel. I had dinner in the hotel where I met a Dutch guy who was travelling around the country. He was typical of what I would call an ‘anal backpacker’, he went into great detail of how I was travelling all wrong by flying here rather than taking the bus and that he was doing it the correct way….. Arrogant arse, he’s got no idea how much travelling I’ve done, not to mention the time constraints you have when you have a job! I didn’t say anything though as I didn’t want to turn into what he is….. The anything you’ve done……. I’ve done better traveller!

Day 2: Hotels by the Hour

I arrived early into Addis Ababa. After finding an airline office in the airport to check a few things I found that I could not book an internal Ethiopian airlines flight here at the airport but had to head into town to a “doestic office!” I have no idea why you can’t buy a domestic ticket at the airport, was this a sign of the bureaucracy to come? So I had no option but to head into town. Got a taxi to the Baro Hotel which was interesting. When I arrived he said that they were full but would have rooms available later. So after some ridiculously heavy sales techniques to try and prevent me from going somewhere else, I left my bag and set off for a walk into town.

I wasn’t aware straight away but realised later that a lot of the cheaper hotels double as places young couples go to have sex during the day. It turns out that in Ethiopia, there is no stigma associated with casual sex outside of marriage and people book rooms for the hour during the day! What is more interesting though is that it’s accepted that men who are married can continue to sleep around, while women who are married cannot! Not only is this wrong on so many levels, never mind equality, it’s also led to an Aids epidemic that is pretty much out of control here. Anyway, I’m trying not to think too much about that and hope when I get my bed back when the locals have stopped shagging on it!

Leaving the hotel I quickly got accosted by somebody claiming to work there. He was going to show me around no matter what I said, so I let him. The city itself looks pretty messy, dirty, with grime and squalor everywhere, plus you have that smell you only get in a place where rubbish is left to putrefy in the street in hot weather. Eventually, after a long tiring walk, more tiring because the altitude was 2,300m above sea level, I found an Ethiopian airlines office and booked a ticket for tomorrow to Axum (Aksum). I wouldn’t usually take a flight when I backpack as you miss the everyday sights and sounds of life, people in the streets, the scenery etc. You tend to only see the airports and the tourist sites this way, only getting small snap shots of the world around you but for me time was short as I was fitting this holiday in around my job, and checking the guidebook it said travelling to Axum would take days so I figured I would fly over to the far side of the country and slowly make my way around and back to Addis Ababa.

After buying my ticket I headed outside to where my self assigned guide was waiting where he suddenly turned on the water works and demanded 150 Birr for the tour. I did point out to him that when he said he was going to give me a tour I had said I didn’t want one, and fundamentally he had actually just followed me as I walked to the ticket office! And actually, more disturbingly for me I also pointed out that he tried to get me to attend a dance “show” (Eskesta, I think it was called) where he took me to an isolated street and an isolated house where I had to firmly say stop before I got anywhere near to going inside the building. I don’t think he understood in the process of trying to extract money out of me or any tourist for that matter. I can’t judge whether going into a random house I didn’t plan to is safe or dangerous, but travelling over the years has taught me to be more cautious and I can’t really trust someone who has lied to me every minute since he forced himself on me so why would I trust him on this. If there’s doubt then there’s no doubt. So I did not appreciate his “help” but suffering some guilt in the end I gave in and gave him 100 Birr just to make him go away. He kind of did win though as his pressure had made me feel that I had to do this, particularly as it’s quite a lot here, about £6.50. Looking back I should’ve really just given him 50 but hey, he was gone now.

That is one thing which is hard to get used to here, the amount of emotional blackmail you get and it’s constant. It’s only my first day and already the begging has surpassed anything I’ve ever had before. I thought India was bad but I guess I just have to be more hardened to it and be more harsh to people which I hate being like, but I guess this is how I have to be here to stay sane. But people here make you feel so uncomfortable being emotionally challenged in this way that you give in and pay.

After a short break from the attention in the hotel I headed back along the route I took this morning but this time to take pictures without somebody following me around all the time. Sadly though it rained which is something I didn’t really expect here, and more than that, there wasn’t much worth taking a picture of anyway if I’m honest.

Day 1: Stopping all Stations to Ethiopia

Before I set off to the airport to get my flight I quickly phoned home. A member of the family who shall remain nameless still doesn’t want to talk on the phone, they are really unhappy that I’m going to Ethiopia as unfortunately they appear to have seen a Channel 5 programme which tells everyone that you will die if you go to such a place as the rivers are full of flesh eating parasites and people are murdered for money in their sleep. Good old channel 5, shock tactics to get viewing figures up and to make people to hate foreigners…. But as a result of this they think I shouldn’t go. I’m not sure whether they think I will change my mind, but…..

Getting my ticket to come here to Ethiopia was quite strange. I couldn’t book the flights on the Internet, I had to go to the airport offices about 3 miles away from Heathrow airport to buy the tickets, and I had to pay by cheque or get a bankers draft (as that’s not a pain in the arse at all!) as credit cards were not accepted. This is all a bit weird particularly as most airlines are starting to use the internet more and more for booking flights (2004!). But why not at least use a travel agent that is located more conveniently….. Either way, I had my ticket and I was on the plane on what was going to be quite a long overnight flight to Addis Ababa. The flight was made longer by the fact that it went via Rome even though I didn’t have to get off. I seem to have got stopping service which I didn’t think existed on airlines!