Day 17: What you Give is what you Get

The maid tried to get into my room again at a little after 5am! I guess hotels staff here are used to early risers but I don’t get up at 5 am! Today was Easter Sunday and everywhere was closed and taxis were few and far between as Easter is quite a big thing here. I had plenty of time before the flight and the airport was not too far away possibly 2 miles so I figured I could take a gentle stroll in about 40 minutes. On the walk there were the usual groups of people running, I think everyone wants to be a long distance runner and sees it as a way out of poverty, but what was interesting today, was as people were finishing Lent today, they were going to break their fasting with meat if they could afford it. While walking on the main road to the airport, which was not busy at all, people were out in the streets with goats slaughtering them over the drains in the main road. Of course it wasn’t everyone, it was just two of three but I was amazed to see this and for me it was shocking, particularity as they did it in front of other goats which seemed puzzled about what was happening if anything to their goaty mate, but here it’s normal, it’s just breaking the fast. But that was it, my last image of Ethiopia. Yesterday somebody threatened to slit my throat like a goat, and today I saw it happening for real!

So back in the airport I got rid of all of my loose change and just bought a few rubbish gifts for myself, typically a lot more expensive than the markets in town but on the other hand everything was priced and I could buy food drinks and souvenirs without having to barter, w-hey!

On the plane home I wondered to myself about what I’d learned about my time in Ethiopia. I’m coming to one conclusion and I’m not sure if it’s correct or not, but to me charities in Ethiopia have led to one thing and that’s expectations. When a charity has just been handing out money without proper thought or care or consideration, people will expect that money to continue. I have never been anywhere with so much begging and done by such a cross-section of people, I had thought India was the worst place but here it’s currently on a different level. And I wonder whether when you just hand money and food out to people, but not develop the infrastructure such as farming and work, you are doing nothing more than turning people into those you were hoping to help, i.e. beggars. What you give is what you get.

Never has the line, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, give him the tools to fish and you feed him for life, ring so true. I think Ethiopia was given the fish and not the rod. The West’s good intentions haven’t helped develop this country, if anything it feels to me like it’s being held back. I’m sure this country will go on to develop further as there are some amazing things here, but at this moment the instability, the hassle, the logistics of getting around are just too much. As a country famous for proverbs, maybe they should listen to one meant to originate from Iran…..

“A beggar will always be beggar if they give him the world as a gift.”

Day 16: Slit your Throat like a Chicken or a Goat

After all the 5am starts on the trip my body still hasn’t got used to it so I just laid in bed this morning but was eventually rudely awaken by the maid trying to get into the room. I saw this as the morning alarm call and decided to take a walk up to the museum and university district. To my amazement the boy from last night was waiting for me outside but I sternly told him to leave me alone and he did! Maybe I hadn’t been stern enough with people before? At first the walk was quite pleasant however, I soon remembered why I’d hated Addis Ababa the first time I was here. Every other second I seemed to be called for by a shoe-shine boy, a taxi driver, somebody wanting money, somebody wanting Birr, somebody wanting food, people shouting farenji and laughing…..

I know I leave tomorrow, but today I found a shop in this district that actually sold chocolate bars, I had to buy one. Oh it tasted good. But within seconds somebody, dressed quite smartly I may add, came up to me and asked me if they could have a piece! Arrrg. I think he might have been a university professor, he was dressed smartly but had sandals on! And then when I wanted to take photos of things people would come over and ask me for money as they said that they were in the photo I’d taken, probably students, so I had to just stop taking photos. This was really annoying and majorly irritating. So I took refuge in the National Museum, possibly the smallest museum I’ve ever been in. However I did see Lucy! One of the alleged missing links in human Evolution. I feel I should write more about that, but it is just a few bones bones and most of them are replicas in the case anyway it turns out.

As I was heading back and walking quite close to the Sheraton hotel I was approached by a man who was behaving very strangely. I could smell alcohol on his breath. I was being very untalkative as I knew he would go on about wanting money at some point. He started to talk about how hard life was etc. He then said that I could take him for a meal and a drink, and then he went on to talk about how I should give him money and that if I didn’t give him any money, food or drink “maybe I should slit your throat like a chicken or a goat”. If this didn’t get my attention, while saying this he produced a knife at the same time, which most definitely did. I continued with my, sorry I don’t speak English, routine but at the same time made sure not to make any eye contact with him or to look directly at the knife. This was so he would have some doubt in his mind as to whether I’d actually seen knife and understood his threat. Luckily I wasn’t too far from the Sheraton entrance gate and I sped up the pace of my walk and was quickly at the gate with the hotel security guards. At this point instead of walking off he decided to have a go at me for not acknowledging him and being unfriendly and that I now should not let my eyes lay on him. The cheek. I waited five minutes until he’d gone and some locals came over for a little quiet chat which was a relief. This place was surrounded by military police anyway so I’m not sure I was ever in that much danger but still it was pretty scary all the same. To recover I had another pizza on the way back and then back in the hotel we had the usual Power cut. This time the hotel staff kindly bought loads of candles when they realised it wasn’t going to come on any time soon. I like candles, the mosquitoes fly into the flames and incinerate themselves, I know I shouldn’t but every time it happened I seemed in involuntarily shout, “die ya ba**ard.” To be fair, they’ve got me a few times this holiday.

Day 15: The Making of a Hard Man

Slowly rose again and eventually checking out at 10:15. I would have checked out earlier but a French woman full of her own self importance pushed her way to the front of the queue, white privilege? Then I just chilled in the courtyard of the hotel enjoying the view overlooking the lake, peaceful. A man came over to ask me about football, then he asked me about my parents. I said that they were dead! They are not, but I knew this would take him by surprise as I had learnt this trick now. It was to make me feel guilty that my parents were still alive while he would say his had died in the famine, hoping that I would feel guilty and give him a bit of cash. Maybe his story is true, but he would still ask for money, but now he was unsure what to say, he looked puzzled. So instead he went on to say that he was an Arsenal fan and that he couldn’t see the match to be shown at the cinema as it cost 20 Birr and he couldn’t afford it. Why is everything 20 or 30 Birr in this country! But I did say to him that I would definitely not pay 20 Birr to watch Arsenal not after that they beat Sheffield Wednesday in two cup finals in the same year! I didn’t respond to him after this I just left him there stewing. I think he didn’t know what to say next and eventually after about 20 minutes of me not responding to him he gave in and left.

I briefly popped out to tip the boy who sorted out my day trip a couple of days ago as I like to honour my word even if not everyone is being truthful, it’s part of the game really. On the way back to the hotel I bumped into Max, the American guy from Lalibela, he seemed like he’d enjoyed the trip here although he said his bus journeys had benn painful and pretty uneventful apart from one minor crash. What amazed me more though was that his multiple bus journeys ended up costing more than my flights which shouldn’t really happen, but that’s the bartering system for you! And it turns out my journey was more pleasant too!

I was given a free minibus to the airport requiring no tip, which makes me think I should have used these government official hotels before and saw the Dutch guys again at the airport, we seem to be on the same schedule, else someone is stalking someone….. They seem to have bought so much stuff, don’t quite know why or how but they have 80kg between three of them, that’s a lot of stuff, I wanted to point out that much of the tourist stuff I’d seen could be bought at Camden Market in London but kept quiet!

Arriving in Addis Ababa a tout from the National Tourist Office, so he said, tried to get me to go to one of the posh expensive hotels in town. I said I would have to sleep in the airport as I’d had my money stolen, waited for him to walk away and find another tourist and then I headed out in peace to find the very cheap Wanza hotel. Really nice and friendly people and a very nice room for just 60 Birr. On the way out for dinner a young boy decided to follow me from the hotel he kept talking all the time, obviously to get money. He even invited himself along for dinner and ordered a drink which I said “I suppose I’m paying for that am I”, no response again so I took that as a yes! I deliberately ordered a meat pizza as I knew he could not have any as he was fasting. Yes this was evil but in my defence it did taste great! I did actually ask him if he wanted a snack and he said no, I’m not that bad! On the way back he then started asking for money giving me his story of his life but after so much of this in Ethiopia I could mentally switch off and say no to anyone now. I think Ethiopian has made me a hard person, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. In the end I just gave him tender to grab something to eat later. But he was lucky to get that the way he was going with his ridiculously outlandish story so I just went to bed and chilled.

Day 14: Hello Hippo

I slowly rose again today making up for the many 5am starts, and headed out to the Deshen bank after deciding I needed a few more pennies, however the bank closed at 11:30! After this I bumped into three kids, one of them accused me of not tipping him for something he’d done for me a few days ago! Amazingly for the first time on this trip he was correct, however he had been the one who ran off before I could actually tip him and arrange anything else. I gave him his tip from two days ago, which was really just a few pennies in UK money. He then said that he wanted to give me a cycle tour of the Selassie Palace. So as I’d kinda also promised two days ago to do this, I thought what the hell and arranged to meet up after I’d had chance to go to the bank after lunch.

Back at the hotel the kids “Pimp” had turned up wanting to know why I had not paid the kid “guide” a tip. I said I just had and then laid into him about child labour and that I was disgusted that he was profiting. I know it wouldn’t achieve much but would mean the tourists around reception heard what was happening and he might think better of doing it in the future. He must be the Fagin character of the group, it’s a shame as the kids are great. I so wanted to hit him though.

Anyway, at the bank it would have been quicker to change travellers cheques than cash which I couldn’t understand. After about 45 minutes I eventually changed just $40US as I think that’s all I need to get by now. Then I hired a bike for the cycle to the Haile Selassie Palace. I looked at my now “two” guides, not sure where the second came from, and noticed they both had rented bikes too, I said “I suppose I’m paying for both of you guys and both of your hire bikes too yeah?” They just looked at me and smiled with slightly embarrassed expressions. But all their mates were around and you could see how happy they were to be on these bikes and taking me for a cycle ride so I could not begrudge any of it.

The cycle was really good although I was still suffering a decidedly dodgy stomach which was not ideal for cycling. At the bridge over the River Nile there was a soldier on either side making sure I did not take pictures. Shouts of “Farenji no” were used. I dislike this as although not it’s original meaning, it now pretty much means “white guy”. Although they say it’s meant to just mean foreigner, they definitely don’t use it on other Africans. It does however sound like a race from the Star Trek TV programme which is quite funny. We continued through some very nice scenery with a mixture of scrubland to lush valleys, mad monkeys and little villages with lots of people just waving as we went by. On the way I got the usual shouts from kids asking for money, footballs, and then fake crying. One of them then shouted hello hippo!

I was hoping they were talking about the hippos that might be in the river and not me. In fact he did and pointed to the river and showed some hippos, unfortunately they were not doing that much so equally they might have just been big rocks! We climbed to the top of a hill overlooking the start of the Blue Nile as just sat there where the two boys just wanted to talk. They went on to discuss what they thought of gay people, Muslims etc, lets just say that their thinking was all quite orthodox and I thought it best not to argue but say that there are many different arguments for such things and directed the conversation away as I’m just a visitor to their country and my opinion would have only antagonised them. Sad really, but I hope attitudes will changed though education and the country becoming more stable. On the way back one of the kids decided that he wanted to race. Okay, challenge, I thought, I’m not letting someone with his views on people win! Let’s just say I beat them back by quite a distance! And me a 30-year-old with a stomach problem too? However it did make my stomach feel worse. Not to mention how bad it would look back home and not be much of a story to say that I’d been in a cycle race in a country not famed for cycling but with a history of famine and beat two kids cycling…. Still, it was a satisfying day though, although I did wish I’d challenged the kids personal views a bit more!

Date 13: Back in 1996!

My second lazy day today as I felt a little under the weather as I’m still recovering from the stomach problems of the last week and the boat trip on the rough waters didn’t help at all yesterday. As I still needed to confirm my flight back to the UK, I’ve never figured out why you need to do this, I’ve come out here, of course I want to go back home! I headed out into town for a little while to find an airline office. Typically and maybe expectedly given the experience on my first day here the Ethiopian Airlines people said that I had to phone Addis Ababa head office myself to confirm which is quite frankly ridiculous. So I had to head off to the local telecom office to do this. So I could make this phone call I had to leave my day pack at the hotel as security at the telecom office wouldn’t let me take it in. Security is paramount it appears, unless you’re someone’s mate coming in for a chat with a mass of shopping bags! When I eventually got in all there was were three teller windows and eight cubicles each with a white washed phone covered in grubby black fingerprint marks. After spending ages waiting and trying to figure out what I had to do and getting nowhere with the staff, I decided to walk back to the hotel and ask whether or not they could do it for me instead. Amazingly the new staff on the desk not only understood me but they said yes and did it there and then, cool. I just wondered why I hadn’t thought of asking before I headed out.

I did discover one of the biggest reasons for the confusion with booking things here though and now understand some of the problems I’ve had wih domestic and international flights. They have a completely different calendar here. Although quite a few countries do, such as China which has a different year, but here every thing is different. They actually have 13 months in a year, 12 of these have 30 days and the 13th has 5 or 6 days depending on the leap year…. So today is 29/07/1996 and not 07/04/2004, the reception said that airline offices sometimes book the wrong month for tourists so I’m glad I’ve been lucky so far, although I do wish I was back in 1996, that was a good year!

Day 12: Musket Monk

Got up at 5am, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is not normal! I met the kids who are going to take me to the pickup point for the long tour. For some reason unbeknown to me they took me on a long walk to the bus station and then all the way back again. Then on a mile walk to the Tana Hotel….. and then I waited for about 1 1/2 hours for no reason whatsoever until eventually a boat pulled up containing the three Dutch guys again! Firstly I apologised to the guys for invading their tour, but they said they completely understood how things worked here and then they apologised for being over an hour late thanks for two of them getting food poisoning!

The boat was a little small and a bit crappy and maybe this is why this was called the long tour because it was so slow it took ages to see things a faster boat could have done in half the time! On the journey to the island in the middle of the lake there were lots of weird flies which would land on you and then grab hold of your clothing and shed their skins leaving a perfect ghostly copy of themselves. The only major difference between the new body were the three antenna that now protruded out of their bottoms. I promised myself to look up what type of flies these are but am concerned about using the internet to search for “three antenna protruding out of bottom”, that can only go wrong. Eventually we arrived at the island monastery. As not completely unexpected it was a little disappointing as I’ve seen quite a lot of similar looking things now as although it’s only been 12 days, I seen a lot in a short time. The most unusual thing here was the head monk walking up to us with his rifle, well more of a musket really but I don’t remember that bit of the bible where monks have guns, but he wanted to have his picture taken so I did as he asked, after all he had a gun. Maybe I’ll show that picture to St Peter too, if I was him I’d let the monk in!

Then as we sat in the boat to set off again we got surrounded by lots of people begging and selling stuff from home-made reed boats. “Hello pen, give me pen”, hello give me, hello give me, give me! Arrrggg, it was constant, why wasn’t the monk shooting these guys? Due to the ineptitude of the boats crew, I managed to cut my right elbow open when trying to escape and move up the boat. All I need now is the bilharzia infected lake to splash into the open wound! Right on cue, I got soaked on the way back as the weather changed dramatically. In fact the weather got so rough that although there were more churches around lake we all agreed and asked to go back as it was now driving rain. We just made sure we headed past the source of the blue Nile almost as a tick box exercise as there was not much to see from this side, but it was amazing to think that from here it goes all the way to the Mediterranean on its amazingly long journey. Oh and the pelicans, lots of pelicans here…. After this I headed straight back to the hotel and just chilled as the day on the boat taken it out of me and the needless 5am start and loads of walking.

Day 11: Who Thought a Birthday Cake in Ethiopia was a Good Idea?

So today was the reason I was here, I had a target to try and visit 50 countries by the time I was 30 years old. Ethiopia is my 50th country and today is my 30th birthday. Ta daaaaa.

I’d bought some of my birthday cards with me and a few very small lightweight presents I could open which I did while looking at the “wonderful” views outside of my posh luxurious hotel. Not so wonderful really though, but hey, I did have working aircon! After having an interesting breakfast, posh hotels in Africa just seem to serve Chinese noodles for breakfast these days! I went to see how much the Ghion hotel was. The man behind reception said it was 90 but I managed to get him down to 80 in the end although as usual it was more than the lonely planet guide but it is nearly always wrong these days anyway. Not because they got it wrong, it’s because Ethiopian exchange rates vary so quickly and dramatically these days information becomes outdated almost as soon as it’s printed. Leaving the posh hotel they tried to charge me the full rate without the reduction so I had a bit of an argument until they accepted what I’d been told. On the way out I saw the kid from the hotel tofurfist office who’d brought me there and decided to play a guilt trip on him for a change and said I was leaving as they had charged me the full price and not what he had promised. He said he would go in to sort it our….. So as he went in I just walked off to my new hotel. Small victories, and a good day to have one…..

The setting of the new hotel was worth it though, it’s much more quieter and in fact closer to the lake. The people in reception were painfully slow but this is a government run hotel so what can you say, it will be slow, but it will do it’s job… eventually… But here as no one gets my accent I’ve even taken to saying my room number in Amharic when I ask for my key but that doesn’t seem to help either, northerers! After a few hours rest I headed out in the hope of finding the Tana Pastry shop amd getting some sort of birthday cake, on the way out I bumped into the three Dutch guys again and they wished me a happy birthday which was sweet.

In town I just changed some money in the bank and send some postcards, which is always an absolute pain in the backside, bartering for postcards with crappy pictures on, finding a post office, then trying to find out the cost of sending to the UK, then writing something you know full well will never be read before being stuck to a fridge door at which point it will fall off and be put straight in the bin. I’m over thinking it, right? Either way, as soon as people start using emails are better….. Still, at least I found the pastry shop but no birthday cakes, I suppose it is Ethiopia, what did I expect, but I did get two ring doughnuts, I figured I could cut one in half and create the number 30 out of them! Yeah, you go a bit mad travelling on your own.

After little rest, after all I’m in my 30s now, I headed out for a little walk along the lake. However, after only just leaving the hotel a group of young children ran up to me and started to beg for money, pulling up my clothes, using a hand symbol I’d seen so many times now, using their fingers as if squeezing small amounts of food between fingers and thumb and bringing it up to their mouths. Then one of the older girls said that her mother and father had died and then broke into absolute hysterics, crying all over the place, using exaggerated hand movements to hit herself to show how distressed she was. I suppose a good story for today would be…. So I gave her my birthday cake and she was happy…. but there are no real fairytales in the real world, it was all clearly for a massive show to make me feel uncomfortable and give her money and it really did upset me but I’m sure not in the way she’d hoped. I just thought, I don’t need this today, turned around and walked back into the hotel. Her crying and hysterics stopped instantly, she put a handout to grab the other children and just walked off towards her next target as if nothing had happened. It is disappointing, I’m sure her family has real suffering, but I don’t know what to believe here any more. I decided to have my Birthday dinner in the hotel instead which was nice because along with no hassle from people asking for money, as it’s a government hotel they cater for tourists and during Lent they serve meat so I treated myself to a grilled steak, although it was like no steak I’ve ever had before. I was tempted to ask which breed of dog it had come from but for a birthday meal it was memorable and to be fair it did actually taste quite nice. Unfortunately though, as I have not eaten that much meat for the last two weeks, the richness didn’t half turn my stomach. As I sat and looked at the sun go down I had some good news, a little kid who I’d asked earlier to try to find me some tourist things to do on the lake here came up to me and said that he’d got me on a tour of the lake tomorrow which would take me to the “famous” church on the main island. Should be interesting mainly as I have no idea what he’s talking about! But this shows you how by helping people in a nice way will get you tips rather than just asking for money all of the time. The kid was so afraid that I did not trust him, as I gave him a bit of money upfront (about £2 worth!) that he gave me his ID, he really didn’t have to, but this is probably the true side of Ethiopia and the one I really haven’t seen much of, but it clearly exists, the honest helping side. Quite exhausted today, but a very nice way to finish.

Day 10: Colonialism Through Capitalism

Got up as late as possible as my flight was not scheduled until 16:20 and my stomach was not great. I haven’t actually been great since the bus incident before Gonder when I suffered severe dehydration and although the Pepsi was good at the time, it was probably not the best thing to have on an empty dehydrated stomach. After checking out about 12, I sat in the courtyard and relaxed. Three Dutch teenagers, two girls and one guy, were also here and were going on the same flight. They have been doing some kind of voluntary work for Oxfam and now they were going to do a little travelling before heading home. Eventually our taxis came and as were all going together the Dutch guys suggested we use one vehicle but the taxi drivers said we each individually had a contract with them and therefore I had to take the second vehicle. I didn’t of course have a contract, a guy asked me outside when I was going to the airport and he said he had a “friend” who could take me…. He just wanted to make his money as they charge foreigners more for taxis try to get a large tip out of me but hey I’m not going to argue…. for once! I’m fed up with it all to be honest, it’s draining.

My journey was not direct as we drove all the way down to the Jerusalem hotel right at the bottom of town to pick up a weird African American guy who kept going on about how much he hated the Chinese people. I think this was because of the impact the Chinese are having in this part of Africa, where they are helping local governments develop and build infrastructure however this is at the expense of raw materials, resources and increasing debts. After all they’re not going to do it for nothing. I think he saw it as another type of colonialism which I guess it is, “colonialism through capitalism” as I like to call it. But the way he was going on about it made me think that he may have had some kind of mental problem. He was talking about the need to kill people to make a point, bit scary really. At the airport the guy who had bought me clearly wanted his anticipated tip for bringing me here instead of me travelling with the Dutch guys. So I just said thanks, and walked away, no tip. Maybe he learnt a bit about being nice to people instead of trying to grab money out of them, but although he still got the fare I knew he daren’t follow me into the airport to demand a tip as he clearly wasn’t a proper taxi driver and security would have got him.

On the plane, and these are small propeller planes with just two seats on either side, I had the amazing luck to be sat next to the mad guy from the taxi…. joys…. I thought I should at least try and make conversation before he started to say something on the plane that would scare the other passengers. He went on about not knowing who he really was any more because he’d been travelling for so long. He’d been able to travel like this as he had businesses back home that offered him this lifestyle. Lucky man. Then he asked me how much I tipped the minibus driver. So I said I didn’t as I wasn’t happy with them but for taxi drivers in general one or two per or even 5 to 10 if they have been very very helpful in arranging things as well. At this point he actually looked shocked as if he was going to do something really bad to be before saying, “I gave him 100” and muttered something about the locals being racist. I did point out to him that a 100 Birr was about US$13 and would be a big tip in the States so why would you do it here? But I did try to comfort him by telling him that on my first day here I did the same because it was easier than putting up with the hassle. It turned out he’d been tipping absolutely everybody 100 Birr for everything and I suppose it’s no wonder local people see tourist as easy money. So just in case I thought I’d ask him for 100 Birr for the information I’d just given him, he said “no”, so I responded “racist”, which luckily he found this hysterical remembering what he’s just said previously, otherwise that could have been disastrous!

At Bahar Dar airport he was back on form and started to argue with the staff getting annoyed at them for what seemed like no reason whatsoever, but I think it was because his luggage was taking so long. So at this point when a boy offered me free transport into town which would usually cost 40 Birr and a room with 40 Birr knocked off the price per night, and which overlooked the famous lake here I figured I’d go along with it. He was of course offering such a cheap rate for this expensive hotel as he was hoping that I would join one of his expensive tours and pay around US$100. So I decided to spend my birthday morning in the nice hotel and went along with him with every intention of leaving the next day. After an interesting day I had a nice meal in the hotel and relaxed in bed after watching English football on TV, seems to be the big thing here.

Day 9: Giving in to Flies

I got up early to climb to the Asherten monastery and church. We hired a kid, which sounds really really dodgy, but we’d discovered that hiring a kid as guide means his family gets money and we pay a fare price! Although we knew the route and didn’t really need him we figured at only 20 Birr each which was really cheap his family would appreciate it.

The walk was very hard going especially as the kid had endless energy and ran as quickly as possible. In the end we got to the church in one hour 10 minutes, practically half of the time the guidebooks suggest. First we headed up and climbed to the peak of the mountain. The views were really amazing. It was a shame that there always seems to be a dusty haze hanging in the sky, I don’t know if this is usual for this time of year but even with this hanging in the air the barrenness of the view, sparsity of the shrubs, the inhospitable nature of the environment really stands out here at this altitude. Below us were little islands of villages surrounded by small stones looking so isolated, so vulnerable. After taking in the views and having a bit of a rest we headed back down to the monastery where typically the local madman, everywhere touristy has them, wanted his picture taken….. for a fee!

At this point I stopped a small kid, who had been following us for over an hour up from Asherten and back down and would not stop, and asked him what he wanted and amazingly for the first time ever on this trip he said nothing and just smiled. I just think he just wanted to go for a walk with us. The strange thing is I didn’t think about it at the time, but this child was probably no more than four or five years old and had come on this journey with us without knowledge of his family. Maybe it’s an innocent way of life but maybe it reflects more that when you have nothing what is there to take? I took a picture of the kids when we got back to his village and met his friends or family, well the other children anyway.

Getting back to the hotel I grabbed a quick shower and we headed out to the local pastry shop which took a bit of time to find. I guess it’s a symptom of what you can afford and what resources you have but I have to be honest that the pastries were not very nice at all but I have to be realistic, I’m halfway up a barren mountain in the middle of Ethiopia in the heart of Africa, just coming out of another famine, why would I expect Parisian style pastries! The only real difficulty here was around trying to eat them as you end up eating small flies and pastries. That is one thing I never appreciated before. When you see images of people in Africa starving for food you will often see flies all over their faces and they don’t even raise a hand to wipe them away, obviously this is partly to do with the horrible condition they find themselves in but also, I myself and others here find themselves eventually giving into the flies. You wave them away and within seconds they are back again and you keep doing this and again and again. And then at certain points you just don’t do it any more, you could feel the flies crawling on your forehead your nose the edges of your mouth but you just let them. There are just so many of them.

Walking back up the hill to the hotel a child who had followed us from the hotel and was now following us all of the way back again, ironically, considering the distance he’d covered following us, he had been asking us for shoes but we noticed this suddenly stopped. Looking back we saw a local policeman had seen the boy following us and took a massive stick and whacked him on the back of his legs, ouch. I know the policeman probably meant well as the hassle in Ethiopia for a tourist is pretty intense but surely there’s a better way to deal with this.

But then nearing the hotel some kids kicked bottles at us and tried to steal our bags….. I have this on video. Now where’s the policeman when I need his stick! I have no idea what the kids were trying to achieve or what they were thinking, but they were demanding money! Really bizarre!

In the evening we all went together to a local bar and a hand some Tej, which is Ethiopian honey wine. It’s very nice and at altitude, very dangerous. We then had some traditional Ethiopian coffee after the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. After this it rained really heavily again so we just headed to dinner where I had some really disgusting Tibs (a local dish) far too spicy for me. Had a couple of beers back to the hotel and got the squits not a good sign, I’m hoping it’s the beer rather than the Tibs.

Day 8: Non-Pious Priests

I got a taxi to the airport for 40 Birr, as seems usual around here another person jumped into the taxi and got a free ride with me, a little bit annoying. Everything at the airport was unbelievably slow, even more slower than usual which is still pretty outstanding but eventually the plane arrived into Lalibela. The flight was pretty uneventful apart from the landing which was terrible, it’s almost as if the pilot wants to get down as fast as possible so they hit the runway as hard as possible. Lalibela is quite high up and very mountainous and the airport runway relatively short and difficult to land on which might explain it, but still, it’s scary. On the first attempt we put the wheels down and clearly the pilot was not happy, so we almost immediately took off back up in the air again. This has never happened to me before and to be honest it was quite scary, on the next attempt we hit the tarmac heavily and then bumped up and down quite violently three times before finally landing. There was a real sense of relief when the plane came to a standstill.

There was an American guy on the plane who actually lives in Cairo. He asked if he could hang with me for some reason, but I’m guessing it’s to do with safety in numbers. It’s a lot less hassle when there 2 or more of you as you can share the hassle. So we got a minibus to the Asheten hotel and quickly got a guy to take us around the sites. We managed to get this “official, because I have a badly printed piece of paper” guide for 60 Birr each down from 75 which wasn’t too bad.

In the morning we went around the northern churches starting with the famous St George’s Chapel. These have to be seen to be at appreciated as the churches are chiselled out of hard rock. Saint Georges Chapel is carved from the top of the rock downwards and it’s amazing to see. Although, maybe I’ve been a little bit spoilt as although these are unique in this part of the world, and to a certain extent Christianity, you see temples carved this way all over Asia and I’ve seem some astonishing places in India. But I think what makes it different here is the remoteness.

The tour was okay although it was sometimes hard to understand exactly what he was trying to say but the most confusing thing here for me was that we were expected to tip the priests, this didn’t seem right at all. We have paid our Lalibela fee, and the temple fees, but then we have to pay these priests if they are in the chapels. In the end I got so fed up that I said I would only pay them tips if I could take pictures of them. So all the pictures I have of priests are the ones who demanded money from me, I thought it would be nice record just in case St Peter at the gates needs pictorial evidence. Those who didn’t ask for money will be left anonymous as I’m sure they would’ve wished and as St Peter would I’m sure appreciate. Interestingly, maybe due to embarrassment, they did all demand that they wore sunglasses!

After lunch we headed out to the eastern group of churches. But then after a few visits, it started to rain quite heavily so we decided to call today head back to the hotel. Here we met up with an overland tour group who had arrived at the hotel at lunchtime. They were all very kind and invited us into the group, I think they did this as you don’t currently really get many backpackers in Ethiopia as it’s a little bit off the main backpacker route, and very hard. But we went along and got some food at a big buffet event they had organised. It was really nice to get some western-ish food particularly as we were currently in the middle of lent and Ethiopia being quite orthodox means no meat and I was famished. I appear to need meat or at least better protein! Afterwards we watched a bit of James Bond in the hotel lounge for reasons I’ve forgotten! and then went to bed.