Amanda in Addis and Adventures Up North

Amanda’s now back in the UK, recovering from our adventures in Ethiopia. For her first week, I was working but we managed to see quite a bit of Addis together, and then she was ably escorted by my taxi-driver-cum-friend Teddy.

Hills and pancakes

First night was a meal at Fasika’s with a bunch of friends – Dagnachew and partner, Mekdes and friends, Mesfin from DFID, Mesfin from way back, Yared, Jillian and partner, and others. First Sunday was a day of lounging by the pool. And then in the week when I was working Amanda went to up to the Entoto hills, had a day on the Embassy compound (swimming and horse-riding!), and a day of exploring the markets with Teddy. Oh, and we met up with Alex – a long-time friend of Amanda’s – as he was passing through Addis.

Fasika, food and Friends

Then on the Friday we flew up to Lalibela and checked into the Tukul village hotel – with Amanda with her Kate Adie get-up on – before spending the afternoon having a look at the first group of underground churches. I’m not the biggest fan of looking round old buildings, but these were something different. Think Indiana Jones. That’s me. And Lara Croft. That’s Angelina Jolie. And there were some pretty cool – and entrepreneurial – priests. After a beaker of tej, we were well set for an evening of amharic dancing, where I suspect that we were the entertainment.

Indiana with Priest

On Saturday morning we went off to the weekly market and saw stalls laid out selling all sorts of grains and pulses and vegetables, and plastic pots, and clothes, and areas for selling cattle and sheep and goats, and shoes made out of car tyres. And people walking to the market carry huge bags, or with convoys of donkeys, from miles and miles around. All very interesting. And then – with a short delay while we (I) was trapped in a tej house with a ferocious dog blocking my exit, while Amanda laughed at my extreme dog-aversion – we went round the second group of churches, before being picked up to begin our TESFA (Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Alternative Futures) trek.

Towards site 1

We drove an hour and a half out of Lalibela, along a very rough road, through a mountainous landscape reminiscent of the grand canyon. The first afternoon was very easy. Just an hour and a half until we arrived at the huts we’d be staying in, although the pace set by the guides and the shaggy donkey was a bit more Ethiopian marathon runner than not very fit English. On arrival we had tea and pancakes and then a few hours to explore the site – and spot baboons and hyrax – before a dinner by firelight and then sleep (although it was freezing cold, especially for me as Amanda had wisely brought a sleeping bag).

Day 2 started with a breakfast of eggs and bread and then a day’s walk along the escarpment with amazing views all day. Lunch stop was for injera and vegetables, where we met a bunch of irish folks heading the other way and were joined by an indian/american woman would be with us for the rest of our trek. Site 2 was down a bit from the top of the escarpment and was more part of a village than site 1. Tea and “pizza” and an explore preceded a dinner of spaghetti, followed by music, dancing and popcorn. Oh, and my offer to buy a beer or two for the guides being mis-interpreted as me paying for everyone’s beer for the whole night! All the locals were suitably grateful. And drunk.

Start of day 3

Day 3 saw us trek up and then across a plateau, away from the escarpment to Meket Mariam, perhaps the most stunning of the sites. Amanda was now perking up after a day or so of possible altitude sickness and we had a good evening which included chatting to the local political leader (who had previously been a leader in the Derg – my efforts to understand his/the village’s changing political allegiances came up against a linguistic barrier, which may have been a good thing) who told us that German radio would be the one that he would trust out of the BBC, Voice of America, German and Ethiopian radio. He also said that he had been to Lalibela only 3 times in his life of 50+ years – an illustration of how local the worlds of the people of the rural highlands are. With the donkeys loaded up the next morning, we set off early down into the valley to catch our long and bumpy bus-ride to Bahir Dar – five hours down from the mountains to the lake, along a partially asphalted (courtesy of China) road with some very bleak and dusty towns along the way – after a quick lunch of injera.

Bahir Dar is on the southern shore of Lake Tana, so the main day there – Wednesday – was a day of boat tours and watching the pelicans. The half-day boat tour took us round 5 different monasteries, which were full of very colourful paintings – used, in part for sunday (actually, probably every day) school for people who couldn’t/can’t read. We also went round a museum and were shown shoes with bi-directional hoof marks on them, for getting around un (or confusingly) detected. Must be a market for them amongst philanderers and ne’er do wells. Then we spent a few hours in the afternoon on a floating jetty moored off mango park, eating lentil samosas and watching the pelicans. Oh, and we had a swim in a pool, in preference to going to look at the Blue Nile Falls. A wee bit lazy, but very refreshing. And then more dancing and music.

Monastery Paintings

Thursday morning saw us up early and off in a tuk-tuk to the airport for a 20 minute flight to Gonder and a quick look round the Royal Enclosure before flying back to Addis. Gonder was our least favourite place, probably because the taxi driver there had us over a many-birr-barrel as it was 20km to town and there was no competition. My efforts to pretend to be ringing up for another taxi – to magic up some competition – failed miserably. Still, was good to have a gander at gonder, although by this point Amanda had had enough of old buildings and had taken to playing “spot the amanda” in the photo. I had had enough of Gonder too, but as it had been my idea to go there I was pretending to still be keen.

Gonder and hiding-amanda

We got back to Addis on Thursday afternoon, just in time to get ready for dinner at one of the poshest places in Addis – or at least it’s the place that DFID folks from London HQ get taken to. Food was amazing and we had a great time. But what with hindsight was a risky choice of rice led to Amanda’s downfall, which meant that Friday – her last day in Addis – was spent recovering and bracing herself for the flight back to London. We nearly went halves on our main courses, so it was a narrow escape for me too!

Nevertheless, we had a great couple of weeks and a wonderful time in Lalibela, trekking and Bahir Dar. Whether I managed to sell living in Ethiopia – or a different developing country – to Amanda is a different matter. It may need to be somewhere less dusty and with a coast. Sierra Leone? Tanzania? Ghana? Brighton? My money’s on …

With my development hat on – rather than my Ras Tafari lion of Judah baseball hat – the three things that struck me on our adventures were:

1) How local the lives of the rural poor in Ethiopia seem to be, and yet how they are shaped by global forces too – climate change, food prices, migration.

2) How little technology – or at least what I recognise as technology – the people have; wheeled carts were rare and things like plastic buckets seemed to be the cutting edge in some places (although in the trek area they had got mobile reception a month ago, which might lead to interesting changes)

3) How up-beat the people seem to be – as I have always found in Africa – despite the fact that many of them live in conditions that would drive most of us to despair.

PS: More – far too many – pictures can be found on the six tiles starting from the picture of just Amanda on this page

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