Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

Lucy

Posted by Hippo Bean at 1:59 PM 2 comments
"Hi, I'm Lucy (or Dinknesh in Ethiopian language). I'm almost 3.2 million years old, but am walking fully upright."

The final highlight of the trip was of course to see Lucy, the oldest Australopithecus Afarensis, at the National Museum at Addis. But first we had lunch at the 'Lucy Restaurant' adjacent to the museum. menu included Lucy salad and Lucy pasta. The cover of the menu had a nice clear image of Lucy's skeleton.

Men were padded down and searched at the museum gates. There was no female security guard, so the women werent searched at all!

I thought Lucy's skeleton was more complete and was a bit disappointed to find it wasnt as whole as the bushman. I like the way the museum listed all the fossil periods from Chororapithecus Absyssinicus to Australopithecus Afarensis, from Homo Habilis to Homo Erectus to Homo Sapiens, and indicated each fossil in the period it was in. It also included maps of where all the fossils were found in Ethiopia. Very educational and nicely done. The first floor was dedicated to archaeological and paleoanthropological collections which included fossilized remains from early hominids, such as Lucy, and medieval earthenware, pots, bowls, statues, and baskets, dated in Aksumite and Gonder periods. The basement displayed royal regalia and crowns. The top floor showed paintings from traditional to contemporary such as Tekle's. Afewerk Tekle's 'african heritage' was one of the most beautiful paintings I've seen . The museum façade had a mural that mimicked the background of the 'african heritage' and the foreground shows all the major pieces from the museum. Really loved this mural. Needless to say, the museum was a photograph heaven. I really liked this museum. Not overwhelming, only displayed the cream of the crop.

Up on the Entoto hill, we had a grand view of the capital city. big sprawl in the haze but not a particular point stood out. we visited St george church which had a painting of emperor selassie talking in the UN (why was this in the church) and adjacent small museum displaying the beautiful treasures of the church. The entrance to the church was littered with people pestering you to buy their cheap souvenir, and the scene of Jesus tearing down the market stalls at the temple ground came to mind. drove through the famous mercato. I dont know why they take you to these places. completely chaotic, loud and over crowded. Plus the dust. i'm not a big fan of bazaars or openair markets like these. Dust, people, chaos, and not very safe. Finally we went to tomoca to purchase the deliciously aromatic ethiopia coffee. Then graciously, we stopped briefly for a last minute souvenir shopping and I've purchased another cup and saucer with ethiopian religious paintings on the rims, but this time, an eastern cup with no handle, and one more small cup made of cow horn.

Hate having to leave the comfy Avanti Blue Nile hotel, with its attentive service, great buffets, (although breakfast this morning was another communication snafu as the staff wasnt told we were to leave early for our morning flight to Addis, and so breakfast wasnt ready at 6am), nice modern rooms and view of the lake. Although this hotel had no character, the modern amenities, specially the hot water and AC in the room, was very very welcome after 2 weeks of very basic hotels, intermittent water/electricity, constant heat and mosquitoes.

our last dinner, a la compliment of Jacaranda, was at a local restaurant that offered traditional music and dance. I've quite enjoyed the african music, with the begena and the masenko, the ethiopian string instruments, drums, singers and dancers. They performed the different traditional music and from different parts of the country. The head twisting dance of the south was scary to watch. The gonder shoulder flexing which we've already saw in Gonder, was spectacular. We sat on typical ethiopian chairs with a low round table, designed specially for sharing injara. it was a nice evening and a memorable way to end the trip.

My journey home was a thing to endure. a long queue to get through the metal detector to get in to the airport. another long queue to check in. fortunately no queue at the customs. then another super long queue to get to the gates. then again another long queue at the gate to have the boarding pass checked. after this, a long 45 minutes wait for boarding. The plane was completely full and there was no vacant seats at the gate, so I had to stand up the whole 45 minutes. The Virgin Atlantic flight home seemed long and I kept thinking how nice and comfortable my journey home was on my last trip, compared to this one.

i'm not sure if I liked Ethiopia. The rock hewn churches in Lalibela, the castles in Gonder, the adwa mountains, the boat ride on lake tana, the Gheralta Lodge, the Simiens Lodge, the Avanti Blue Nile and Roha hotels, the coffee, were all wonderful and I've enjoyed them. but then there were other sites and hotels that I didnt care about. I could barely put up with the heat, the dust, the mosquitoes and flies, the ever present pestering children, the sight of poverty and the over religious everything, and after a few days, I simply had enough of them. but i'm glad I've experienced and endured it all. The country is rich in history and the people are beautiful. ethiopia, another country in Hippo's repertoire.

Addis Ababa photos:

addis ababa

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

foil fish in lake Tana

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
The foil fish was delicious and tasted fresh from the lake. Even better than the one I had at Captain Nemo in Bishkek. We're sitting in the Lake Shore Resort restaurant next to the body of water that fed the Blue Nile. On our table, there was a 3L dashen draft beer. in the trees shade, with soft wind blowing and clouds slowly moving allowing intermittent sunshine, we partook our last lunch in Bahir Dar overlooking Lake Tana. I never get enough of eating outdoors, next to a lake, in perfect weather. Simply love it so.

I woke up and descended to breakfast too early again and it wasnt ready. The restaurant staff was too worried about making the bowl of fruit salad look perfect, and giving each guest a fruit juice, rather than bringing coffee, bread and hot food to the hungry guests. I've asked for bread and got a simple roll. But they did have smoked salmon. Later I found out they had hot croissants. Ah well ...

We hopped on the motor boat docked just outside the hotel entrance and sailed out on the lake. It's really a bit too early to be out on the lake and the air was still cold. There wasnt much in terms of buildings on the lake shores, signs of still developing city. We saw a fisherman working his net on a tankwa, a boat made of papyrus. otherwise the lake was calm, deserted and empty. This lake was reputed to have hippos but to my greatest disappointment, we didnt see any. We stopped at the Zege peninsula and visited 2 churches. the Ura Kidane Mehret had very beautiful paintings of deep royal blue and yellow, really the most colorful I've seen. The 4 doors to the tablets sanctuary were guarded by the 3 big archangels (Raffe was there too!). Scenes of heaven and hell, biblical and apocryphal stories were everywhere and most complete. I've enjoyed this church immensely. The road leading to it was filled with stalls of souvenirs and local artists displaying their colorful paintings and the plants and fruits they needed to create the paint they used. The second church the Azuwa Maryam had pretty much the exact same decor and paintings as the first church. By now, St George slaying the dragon has become very very old.

After the foil fish lunch, we visited the Kurifto Resort, a hotel in traditional Ethiopian style, with stone huts for guests, a beautiful terrace overlooking the lake and a very inviting swimming pool, the only hotel pool I've seen in Ethiopia. Next we wandered briefly through the market, the dust, the chaos, the people again. I finally bought some scarfs. We slowly walked back to the Avanti Blue Nile and this time the security at the gates remembered us so there was no fuzz.

Dinner this evening was a small snafu. Sheraton brought in workers to prepare for the conference and management didnt notify them that they had guests at the hotel. Our usual table was blocked and they didnt know where to put us. After bouncing from table to table, the restaurant manager finally arrived to straighten out the situation. The buffet was again grand and delicious. We stayed up pretty late drinking and chatting by the lake. It's really our last night on this trip.

Lake Tana photos:

tana

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blue Nile

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
Although I've sprayed the mattress, the sheets and pillows with deet and put deet lotion on my body, I woke up with bites on the back of my head. Most likely mosquitoes made their way into my room through the window that wont shut properly. And I probably missed spraying a few spots. Ah well, I hope they're not malaria carrying and that my Malarone will do its job.

A couple of hours later, we've entered Bahir Dar, situated on the shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. The main drag was lined with banana trees and blue bajajs skirted everywhere. It's the second major town we've visited that had major paved roads and showed signs of a developed city. This road was very pretty giving you the feeling of being in the Mediterranean. It was a breath of fresh air after the dusty towns with dirt roads and shanty houses. According to the list of hotels, which first went from the tana hotel to the abayminch, and now as it turned out, we were booked on the new Avanti Blue Nile, located right on the shores of the lake. It was a Sheraton but it changed hands, so it had all the beautiful design features of a Sheraton, my favorite hotel chain. I had quite wanted to experience the abayminch, it being in traditional huts style, and not lake front as I was afraid of the mosquitoes by the lake, but finally staying at a modern hotel with hot and good water pressure for showers and ac in the room, was very welcome. the hotel was beautiful, had a nice bar and terraces overlooking the lake, and we were greeted with juice and by a very young and blond dutch manager. The staff was very attentive, us being the only guests at the hotel. The rooms, which lined a center perfectly manicured garden, had nice new furniture, the bathrooms spotlessly clean, all the signs of a modern high class hotel. My room didnt have a view, so I've asked for one directly in front of the lake and was immediately given one on the top floor. The view was quite spectacular. We were told a major conference of african nations regarding the blue nile waters was scheduled at this hotel on Saturday, so security would be tight and that we would start seeing security personnel with guns all over the hotel. This didnt bother me a bit since by now, i'm so used to this kind of thing abroad.

we had lunch at a restaurant next door to the hotel in openair which looked like a park, with tables and benches, right on the lake shore, with a fantastic view of the beautiful Avanti Blue Nile and papyrus trees.

In the afternoon, we drove through a very dusty dirt road to Tis Isat and started our hike to the Blue Nile falls. One of the highlight of this trip was to see the Blue Nile. We needed first to cross a very picturesque Portuguese stone bridge, over the Nile. The back of the 1 bir note showed the Blue Nile Falls in its former glory, in full force. It looked very much a rival to some of the big falls at Iguazu. However, the hydro-electric dam was built and now the river was reduced to a mere stream. After some more uphill hiking, we saw the falls from afar. The flow of the falls has reduced to such a sad state. It was still quite a nice fall but oh the disappointment of finding the Nile so miniscule, murky and brown. It broke my heart. But the people needed the electricity, so something had to give. To get close to the falls, we had to cross a long suspension bridge, over the Nile, which at this point, was completely dry. On our way back, we took a short boat ride across the Nile. Very narrow river. Sigh.

Back at the hotel, security was already tight at the gates and we were asked to show our room cardkeys. Finally the security wrote down our names to speed up the process next time we went in and out of the hotel. We found workers and noise everywhere preparing the hotel for the conference.

The dinner buffet was most excellent and they even had baguettes. Only a few other people were staying at the hotel, all of them workers for the conference. The dutch manager came to check if everything was OK with us and to notify us that electricity would be shut off the following morning between 6:30 and 7 as they'd be doing electrical work for the conference. Ah well. Before going out in the evening, I sprayed the bed anyway and dabbed deet lotion on my body. when the workers departed, it was quiet and the lake was tranquil, and contrary to what i thought, i didnt feel any mosquitoes. having St George beer next to the lake in the dark, was most magical.

Blue Nile photos:

blue nile

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

castles

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
The wind was strong this morning and big dust bowls were blowing everywhere when we departed the Simien Mountains. Back on the dusty dirt roads, passing small villages and in a couple of hours we've reached our destination, Gonder. Again, the hotel Taye Belay was exactly as it was shown online. Very old furniture, very tired bathroom and windows that didnt shut completely. Mine opened up to a huge balcony overlooking the town and the castles compound. Much like Aksum, Gonder was only big in name only. Another dusty town with old stone houses, few paved roads. So much for its more glorious days.

After a very delicious buffet lunch at the hotel, we walked a short distance to visit the medieval castles. The Fasilides, Iyasus, David and Yohannes collection of castles and palaces were all inside a compound enclosed by a stone wall. These castles were european in character, some in a poorer state of ruin than others, and the Yohannes one was renovated by italians. The stables were impressive and the royal enclosure even included a lion cage, a music hall and a library/archive building. the Birhan Seghed Kuregna Iyasu and Itegie Mintiwab castle looked quite modern with decorations in the windows. Fascinating. Being a castle freak, the Hippo had a field day there.

We've also visited the Debre Birhan Selassie, the Light of Trinity church. The inside of this one was completely covered in paintings. Faces of angels and saints decorated the ceiling. having this enormous cold, I retired back to the hotel afterwards while the others went ahead to visit the Fasilides Baths.

After a shower, which consisted of 1 hand holding close the sliding shower doors that kept sliding open, and another hand constantly adjusting the water temperature (either too hot or completely cold), while watching the ants marching happily across the bathroom floor, and intended to rest but the shabby bed in the hotel room was unappealing, so instead I went next door for souvenir shopping. Found a cup and saucer with ethiopian religious paintings on the rims, that kinda had the same style as the one I bought from Egypt (except the egyptian one had king tut on it). Extremely satisfied with this purchase.

tonight's dinner was at a restaurant owned by 4 sisters, called the '4 sisters'. The buffet had traditional ethiopian food on one side and western food on the other. we've sampled the tej, the traditional ethiopian honey wine. extremely sweet. then we had a performance of the traditional shoulder dance of gonder, by the waiters/waitresses. they carried a white hankerchief and flexed their shoulders and upper torsos in tune of the music. very unusual dance and not like any african dance I've seen. too bad I didnt bring my camera.

Tonight, I've started with the deet spray and put deet lotion on my face, neck, arms and hands, all exposed areas.

Gonder photos:

gonder

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

a park, not impressed

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
This park was not like any I've been to. Barren, dirt roads, no signs nor ranger buildings anywhere. total wilderness. We've stopped to observe some gelada baboons doing their baboon things in their baboons way. they sported a bright red spot on their chests, chasing each other like, well, crazy baboons, or otherwise, just picked on the grass and eat and screw. Then came the walias, the ethiopian ibex which proved much more interesting. The bulls had thick curvy horns and were gorgeous. An ibex mom and her little buck lied down next to a tree and looked at me straight in the eye. i wondered what she was thinking looking at me, that crazy human looking at her, mesmerized. We locked gaze for a while before she turned to look at a young male ibex approaching. an older ibex tried to coerce her but she wouldnt have any of it. sorry old goat, no sex with me today! We also saw some Simien wolfs running on the road. And giant Lobelias with huge green and pink leaves. Most beautiful. While having lunch with the gorgeous view of the Adwa mountains, 2 bald ravens descended on the rocks for us to admire.

I didnt like this park much. we've picked up our local guide in the morning, and we were now 8 people in the vehicle. every time the scout entered the vehicle and climbed to the back seat, his riffle was pointed casually at me who was sitting in the middle seat. I was sure the safety was on, but it just seemed a bit careless to handle a loaded weapon this way.

we were given a lousy picnic lunch, that consisted of a lousy sandwich with 2 pieces of bread and a piece of hard cheese or meat, 1 banana and 1 apple. our guide shared his roasted peanuts and barley (really loved these), boiled potatoes and boiled eggs with us. so dinner was on us that evening and the price was high and the buffet lousy. but there's nowhere else to eat. so much for the simiens park.

tonight I've started the Malarone regimen, anticipating side effects and malaria infested lower altitude bahir dar.

Simien park photos:

simien

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

lodge at 3260m

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
the terrace was the only good thing the yeha hotel had to offer. had my morning coffee in the refreshing cool morning air and panoramic town view.

today is easter sunday, and S's 50th birthday, but we'd be stuck in the car for a long drive up the mountains to the 3000m Simiens National park. dusty dirt roads again, and along the way, many villages with stone huts, sheep and cows crossing the road. it's beginning to be old. while passing through one village, suddenly our driver stopped the car and so did the one behind us. it turned out, a young man was throwing stones and we had to wait to make sure he would not throw anything at our car before proceeding. In another road, big rocks and tree trunks were put on the road to block our passage. Yishak had to get out and removed them. He spotted a blue shirt, which most likely belonged to the perpetrator, hung on a tree. to teach him a lesson, yishak took the shirt. this guy will have quite a beating from his mother for losing the shirt.

We've stopped at the town of Shire for coffee and cake. We chose 4 different kinds to share and they were wonderfully delicious. Not overly sweet like the ones we have at home. I've found a very interesting and sensual painting of poseidon or zeus fondling the breast of a beautiful naked woman (some goddess?), lying down, esposing an enormous vulva.

Since lent fasting was over and each household would be cutting new meat, we had fresh goat meat at a village hotel for lunch. The meat was very tasty but again very chewy. Some of us had bread with it instead of injara. A young blond couple was sitting in front of the hotel where we had lunch and the guy asked us for a ride. He looked completely stoned and the couple looked like they're having trouble of some sort, looked tired and dazed, probably out of money and drugged. We couldnt help them since our car was already full and we didnt know what sort of trouble they're in.

the mountainous landscape going up to the simien was spectacular. the adwa mountains were dramatic looking and we've made many stops to photograph them. We had to stop at the town of Debark to get our park permits and to pick up our scout. by law we could only enter the park with a scout. he carried a loaded riffle to ensure there were no poachers. so one more person added to our already loaded vehicle.

Up at the simiens lodge, at 3260m, the highest hotel in the world, the air was considerably colder. the lodge comprised of 3 rows of stone round guest huts, each hut had 2 rooms. They were roomy and the shower had good pressure and very hot water, powered by solar panels. Their website said the room floors were heated but my room had no heated floors. instead, after dinner, they gave us each a hot water bottle to warm our beds. The rooms offered good views of the mountains. A small sitting area was in front of each room and this was the second amazing lodge we had on this trip. I didnt mind not doing anything at all and just enjoy the lodge. dinner came with a fantastic soup but the main entree was just OK. The night was quiet and to my surprise, not extremely cold at that altitude. In fact, i did not feel the altitude at all except walking to the rooms required some effort as they were on a higher ground than the main building. I was afraid the gelada baboons, which were known to roam the area, would be all over the lodge, but I didnt encounter any.

there's an enormous fire in an enormous fireplace at the center of the bar, the only warm place where the lodge guests congregated in the evening. we celebrated S's bathday there with cake and coffee. We've ordered the cake ahead of time and it was although just simply a 2 layer pound cake, most delicious.


SmallLeo sat in front of the window in our room all day and in the evening, admiring the view of the mountains, and at night he slept in his own bed, resting on a big pillow. He was a happy camper.

Simien Lodge photos:

simien

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

aksum

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
Woke up with a mosquito bite on my right foot.

The stelae proved to be quite more interesting than I first thought. The tallest one still standing had carvings on all sides, while the shorter one was carved only on the front. the biggest and tallest one had since fallen down and the broken blocks were left lying on the ground. Under the stelae, there were tombs of ancient kings. Today was windy and the dust was blowing making those who breath miserable. I walked around with a scarf covering my nose and mouth.

The St Mary of Zion church, exactly like I've seen on TV, was green with blue windows. it was where the original ark of the covenant was kept, but now they've built a more modern church next to it, a new house for the tablets. The museum had wonderful crowns, crosses, garments and other treasures of the church. very nice pieces but photos were not allowed. Next door was a new church, a circular structure just like all the ethiopian churches, with bright colorful paintings and the deacon showed us the holy book, much like the illuminated manuscripts, except instead of latin, it was in geez, the old language that gave way to amharic.

in the afternoon, we visited the Queen Sheba bath, a dirty looking green pool where people stripped and swam in the supposed holy waters. then we saw the Ezana inscription, the ethiopian rosetta stone, a stone stele written in Geez, sabean and greek, to announce the king's victories over his enemies. Just up the hill, more royal tombs and more children pestering you to give them pens or buy souvenirs. Very annoying. We drove to see the ruins of the Palace of Queen Sheba. And it was just ruins and the palace looked too small to be a royal palace. Most likely it was just a house of someone rich.


We spent the rest of the day walking around the town of Axum to do souvenir shopping and I bought a colorful ethiopian basket. Axum, once the mighty empire capital of the legendary Queen Sheba, was now nothing but a small town, with broken roads and rundown stone buildings. Walking back to the hotel, we caught a bajaj, a small blue car with 3 wheels, the ethiopian taxi. With all 4 of us inside it and the driver, the bajaj had trouble making up the small incline to the hotel and we had to bail about 3/4 ways up. it was a fun ride nonetheless. Mr Bean would have a field day with the bajaj. not wanting the bad food at the hotel, we went to another hotel for a late buffet dinner. tonight was Easter eve and everyone would be attending church from midnite to 3am, so there was a lot of commotion and people on the streets. tomorrow, everyone will sleep in and get ready for the big feast on doro wat (chicken stew) with injara, after the 50 days of lent fasting. I was so tired and I could barely keep my eyes open after dinner. even with the stuffy hot hotel room, and bed smelling of eucalyptus lemon, that bed was welcome.

Aksum photos:

aksum

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

so much for sheba's capital

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:49 PM 0 comments
The drive to Queen Sheba's capital city of Axum was accompanied by spectacular views of the Adwa Mountains.

The Yeha palace and stone temple, the oldest building still standing in ethiopia, were nothing but ruins and what more, the temple was completely covered in scaffolding, impossible to even make a photo. There was a church in the compound, so again, people crowded everywhere, persistent children bugging you to buy from them, dust everywhere and intense heat. I just about had enough of it all and by then I was quite uncomfortable and struck by heatstroke. I couldnt wait to get this over with and get to the hotel to rest. After enduring all this, we finally made it to the yeha hotel, another government run hotel that looked exactly the same as the Roha, except in this one, the insect screen was mounted outside the window on the stone wall and didnt quite covered the window frame, allowing huge gaps between the screen frame and the window structure. there was no fan this time and the shower and bathroom just as old and tired as the Roha. The towels, the same armpit smell. But the bedsheets were OK and as far as I could discern, no bed bugs. I got several bites in my arms and leg in Lalibela and R said he got bitten in Mekele, and by the way he described the bites, they didnt look like mosquitoes but bed bugs instead. I had soup for lunch as I was still unable to eat much and the soup was just starch, thick and tasteless. The hotel had traditional ethiopian decor but nothing as tasteful as the Roha. For dinner, we simply ordered pasta as the food was so bad. However, the location was excellent as it's a stone throw away from the main sites, the stellae and the st mary of zion where the ark was supposed to be housed. the hotel vast terrace was the best part of the hotel as it had a clear view of the stellae and the Axum town.

before going to bed, the eucalyptus lemon juice routine and dabbed my body with deet lotion. So far, still just the bites from Lalibela.

Aksum photos:

axum

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

evening at gheralta

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:49 PM 0 comments
I was quite pissed when I've discovered we werent going to stay at the Agoro lodge in Tigray. That was one place I was looking forward to staying as the online pictures showed very pretty quaint rooms, and I even emailed the website to my friends to show off. so I quite made a fuzz about my disappointment.

My other disappointment was that I specifically chose this trip because the itinerary included the Tigray churches. however, we're not going to the ones that were not accessible by car. Most of these rock cut churches sat high on the cliffs, and required climbing through steep hills to reach them. Nonetheless, we've visited 3 in the teka Tesfau cluster, that lied along the Hawzien, the main road between Wukro and Adigrat. These were different from the ones in Lalibela. All were cut into the rock, cave style.

Tigray rock cut churches are older than the ones in lalibela and much more extensive. they were in clusters and the ones in Tembien and Gheralta were not as well known (in fact most tourists dont even know they exist) and much less accessible. One needs to hike for a few hours or days and climb with ropes to reach them. They were built in high isolated remote locations to fend off attackers. I've seen some online images and I'd very much love to visit some of them. however, not this time.

The first one we visited was Adi Kesho Medahane Alem, a cave church. It's accessible by a few minutes easy climb up a big boulder. The interior had some carvings but otherwise not very interesting. The next one, the Wukro cherkos had beautiful wall paintings and the garden with bright green cactus. one can also walk behind it and up the roof which offered wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. next to the church was a family grave and i spotted the grave of a young ethiopian woman who died in a car accident in california and who coincidentally graduated from Hayward State! Abrehawe Asbeha, the last church we've visited in Tigray was the most beautiful one. The exterior was all pink/orange rock and surrounded by pink/orange hills, that resembled arizona. The interior was filled every inch with paintings. I was happy to find the adam and eve naked painting on the side of the main entrance. I first found it online and was wondering if i would visit the church that had this painting. we caught the communion in the church and the women filed in a line to receive the holy eucharist while the men waited their turn.

After the church visit, we drove a short distance to our lodge at Tigray. With all my fuzz about not going to the Agoro, the Gheralta lodge proved to possibly be even better. The rooms were simple in style, and in several spread out stone bungalows. The double rooms were big with 2 windows. however, my single was very small but the bed was a double and the bathroom was clean with very hot water. the view from the window was spectacular with an unobstructed sight of the Gheralta rock mountain, and SmallLeo perched itself in front of it, awestruck.

The lodge is owned and run by an italian who greeted us when we arrived and joined us for the evening meal which consisted of a very good minestrone soup, meat lasagna and green salad with a very nice tiramisu dessert and coffee. The main building offered nice lounge areas with traditional ethiopian chairs, and the outside terrace had lounge chairs with small tables and blankets. the bar had a leopard skin on the wall. There was an american group from the ehtiopian women foundation and we played texas hold'em at the bar. Losers had to do push ups. There's a very good looking young man in the group who is a juggler, and he and I both ended up losing. He did his mandatory 10 push ups while I wiggled out of the punishment. the leader of the group kept telling me I still owed them 10 push ups! After dinner, we pulled the lounge chairs on to the lawn and lied down with blankets to star gaze and exchange stories. We were wondering what the star next to the full moon was. Since nobody knew, I just said it was Jupiter. The evening was cool and quiet, and the stars brilliant which added an extra spark to our stay. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable evening.

Even though at this altitude the mosquitoes were not malaria carrying, I continued to spray the bed and bedding with eucalyptus lemon juice. It has become a nightly routine now.

The lodge had a direct and very magnificent view of the Gheralta mountains, and in the clear morning light the next day, I just stood there to take it all in. maybe the agoro offers more. or maybe less. I'll never know but I liked the Gheralta very much, and the nice evening I had there will remain with me always.


Tigray photos:

tigray

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

dirt roads, poverty, cows, sheep, camels and great mountains

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
today a long drive to Mekele. intermittent paved roads but mostly dirt. We passed by many Amhara villages along the way (so many villages in ethiopia!), crowded with people, with round huts and thatch roofs, or rectangular stone houses. dusty roads. shepherds with cows and sheep and even camels on the road. We were told there was a salt mine nearby and the camels were there to transport the salt. Mountains were always present. We're beginning to see the Adwa mountains. jagged. pointed, round and rectangular peeks.

Mekele was quite a big sprawling city with paved roads (really the first one we've seen since Addis), not very pretty, and nothing worth visiting. Just an overnight stop.

We reached the Aksum hotel in Mekele and we're put in the new wing. Lobby was shabby and bare, but the rooms were modern and with balconies. however, constructions and scaffolding were all around and the noise was constant. But it was nice to have a good hot shower. i immediately took one and washed my hair, fearing the hot water might be turned off later. We dined in the old wing which was actually quite ornate. But the food was terrible and my mixed meat was once again covered in thick gravy. I couldnt swallow any and couldnt even finish the fruit salad. There was cream caramel on the menu but as predicted, they didnt have any. since I didnt finish my food, the restaurant staff wasnt too happy. ethiopian didnt waste anything, but what can I do. I just couldnt eat that evening. The streets were dark after sunset so we couldnt go for a walk after dinner. with nothing else to do, we retired early.

Adwa Mountains photos:

adwa

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Raffe's house

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
The morning was cool and crisp. We had a choice of excursion by mule up the mountain to visit the Ashetan Maryam monastery, the oldest church built inside a cave, or take the 4x4. i opted for the drive since I didnt care for mule rides as riding on animals were uncomfortable and the going was most likely treacherous. After the ride we had to climb to about 3000m. from the church we could see the lalibela mountains from up close, the town of lalibela below, and the river jordan cutting the region in half. The church itself wasnt too impressive but the priest showed us the lalibela crosses and holy books. After church visiting, we had coffee and bread offered by a local family. They piled dunks high next to their tukuls, the circular stone huts that the locals lived in.

back at the hotel, I had my second injara lunch. unlike other local food, I was not beginning to love it.

This afternoon we visited the second group of the rock hewn churches, east of the river. Started with a very impressive Bet Gabriel-Rufael, cut entirely on the face of the pink volcanic mother rock, and in a very deep enormous ditch, this was a double church where one was dedicated to Raffe. i liked this one the best (and not only because it was Raffe's) for it was separated from the entrance by the deep trench and had sort of an open area where one could admire the enormous wall of the trench and really get to appreciate how deep and long the trench had to be cut in order to build this church. Really very awe inspiring!

Next we went down the dark tunnels that connected the churches, and emerged to be greeted by fantastic orange rock arch formations and the Bet Merkorios. Down the tunnel we went again and re-emerged to the awestruck sight of the 2 stories free standing Bet Amanuel. Priests were chanting scriptures in front of the church and faithfuls were praying, all the while tourists were wandering around and taking photos unimpeded and without the slightest respect. Some even pointed their cameras right at the chanting priest's face! the final church in this group was the only one that had the roof attached to the mother rock. The Bet Abba Libanos was a small church, cut entirely free all around except at the top. it looked a bit strange but it was a novelty.

I've really enjoyed visiting these rock cut churches, and admiring the art, the architecture and the paintings inside them. Just hated having to take off my shoes every time we entered one, and putting them back on when we exited the churches. We even had to pay a guy who did nothing but looked after our shoes outside of every church we've visited.

Tonight's dinner was at a peculiar restaurant named Bet Abeba, owned by a Scotish woman. It was built in a very strange design, not resembling anything at all. the upper floors were several openair terraces and the sunset this evening was most spectacular. Although the food wasnt very good and eating in openair was a bit cold after the sun had set. The moon was full and again, like so many times before in my travels, once the sun set on one side, the moon rose on the other. 2 brits sat on the table next to ours, and one sounded very much like Andy Murray. We were discussing the lack of public transport in lalibela and one of the brits said one could walk back to the hotel, as it couldnt be that far since it's a small town, and sure enough while we're driving back to the Roha, we saw them walking!

We spent the evening chitchatting in the hotel garden, sitting on wooden chairs around a stone table. it was cool but the mosquitoes were incessant. I got a few bites even with my eucalyptus lemon juice on.

I'll have fond memories of Lalibela.

Lalibela photos:

lalibela

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

rock hewn churches - lalibela

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
The giant cross in the huge pit was exactly as I've seen in the images when I googled lalibela. it's very impressive to actually see it with your own eyes. The square pit was big and deep to house the 2 story church constructed in a shape of a cross. the iconic Bete Giyorgis was considered the most intricate and elaborate of the rock hewn churches in Lalibela as this was the last one built. We walked around the pit to admire the church architecture from 360. then we entered the pit through a dugged out trench. After visiting the inside of the church, we walked up a small hill to look down on the cross figure. It was indeed most impressive from this angle. Small rain drops had started to fall and the temperature had started to cool off. After a whole afternoon of rock hewn churches, flies, tourists and religious devotees chanting and praying, the dust and the heat and children begging, seeing this last magnificent cross shaped church in the ground and cooling resfreshing temperature, was a good way to end the day in Lalibela.

Woke up at 4:30 for our 7:30 domestic flight to lalibela, and to our surprise, the Jupiter hotel had a full breakfast buffet, with vast choices of food items, laid out for us. We were all very impressed. Although the dinner the night before wasnt good, the breakfast was most excellent.

The Bombardier twin propellers of ethiopian airlines deposited us in lalibela via gonder. The air has became much hotter although lalibela was only about 400m lower than addis. They didnt bother putting the passengers luggage on the conveyer. they drove the luggage carts up to the terminal gate and we simply picked up our own luggage from there. It was faster this way anyway. our young friendly driver Yishak was there to pick us up. all around were mountains. We went up a hill and stopped to take in the dry barren volcanic red rock landscape. It was hauntingly beautiful even in the haze. The mountainous silence was appreciated and heartfelt after the hustle and bustles of Addis. locals had spread out their goods to sell and thus began the never ending pestering of children trying to sell you something.

We drove through the center of the small town, not a single paved road. the dust was everywhere. the souvenir shops lining the dusty road were small tin red houses. each city had a different color, I was told. Inhabitants were poor, living in small rectangular stone shacks and mud huts with thatch or tin roofs. Our hotel, the Roha, was at the edge of the town. And it looked exactly as I've seen it online. The lounge and bar were filled with traditional ethiopian chairs and decor, and the restaurant was airy with big windows that overlooked the garden outside, and walls decorated with ethiopian motifs. My room was also exactly as I've seen it online. the window was stuck open but there's an insect screen. I've checked for cracks and openings and luckily there were none. Above the small desk that looked like a tree trunk, there's a small TV and above it a fan. unfortunately the fan was stuck in a position that pointed upwards and impossible to adjust since it's mounted so high. Nonetheless, that's better than nothing as it at least could circulate the stale air as the air inside the room was hot and stuffy. the sink was located in the bedroom on a triangular counter. the tub and toilet were in a very small bathroom. the fixtures were tired and used and rusty, and there's a stain in the tub but otherwise everything looked clean. the towels though smelled of armpits. I've anticipated this so I've brought a small towel with me. water was shut off sometime during the night until in the morning, and in the afternoon hours. The shower was handheld and there's almost no water pressure. I knew the Roha was a government owned hotel (all government owned hotels in ethiopia looked exactly the same, have exactly the same design and decor) but it has since been privatized and even though everything in the room was old fashioned and tired, the new owners had tried to make it comfortable by providing, for example, a fan. I've inspected the beds for bed bugs. the sheets smelled OK. there were 2 single beds and I've selected the one closest to the window as the mattress felt more comfy and the location got the best of the fan. I've pulled the bed away from the wall and sprayed the mattress and headboard with eucalyptus lemon juice. I was very determined not to get bitten by mosquitoes or bed bugs. or at least get as few bites as possible. the window looked out to a field and SmallLeo positioned itself on the windowsill and looked out in total happiness. Welcome to ethiopia Stuffie!

For lunch on this first day, I've shared a chiro and meat injara with S and C. I cant say that I liked or disliked injara. it didnt taste sour to me but it's not a staple I'd like every day. the meat was tough here. I had to chew and chew. I was told because the animals were free range so they walked/exercised quite a bit, and therefore their meat was not tender. Eh, right. I was really surprised that water or soft drink came with the meal, and bread was free. We've discovered the local st george beer which was very light and went down smooth. although it had the normal beer alcohol content, it didnt taste it. We quite liked this beer.

After lunch we've started with the first group of the 11 monolithic rock hewn churches built by king lalibela. Carved out of red volcanic rock, built from top down, the famous churches were built in different styles. Some of them were cut into the rock. others, like the famous st george, are completely free-standing structures, attached to their mother rock only at their bases. And some are semi-detached. the rock and location determined the style in which the church was constructed. Complex and extensive tunnels connected the underground structures.

We've started off with the group north of the river Jordan. The first one we saw was Beite Medhane Alem, the House of the Saviour of the world. it's massive and quite imposing. tiny decorated windows dotted the 4 faces of the church. multitude of pilgrims and faithfuls were around it, while tourists were all over the place. so were the incessant flies and children pestering to sell you things or asking for money. the inside of the church was as chaotic as the outside. devotees praying and priests chanting religious scriptures, while tourists pouring all over, taking photos and showing no respect. Those who were praying and chanting simply ignored the tourists. This was simply not right for a house of god! Bet Maryan (house of Mary) and Bet Meskel (House of the Cross) were adjacent to the first one, and the church of the Virgin just behind it, and we went in and out all of them, taking off and putting on our shoes, as one wasnt allowed to wear shoes inside the church.

The most interesting one was one that only males were allowed in. the Bet Gogotha could be reached by climbing a set of very steep staircase cut into the rock. Inside it, the Bet Mika-el, a separate church inside a church, contained carvings of the 12 apostles and said to contain the tomb of king lalibela. since I wasnt allowed to go in, our guide took photos for me. What I could see by peeping through the door was rows of colorful carvings on the walls.


when we came out of the churches compound, there's an openair museum of well preserved tukuls, the circular stone dwellings that ethiopians used to live in.

with little time remaining, we walked over to visit the most beautiful of these churches, st george, built in the ground, in the shape of a cross. If you fly above lalibela, you can spot this cross on the ground. quite impressive.

For dinner, I've chosen the veal. Again the meat was tough and it was covered in gravy. but the minestrone soup was very good. Just like the one Mom makes. The hotel had a very big and nice terrace and I was looking forward to sit there to watch the sunset. but tonight was cloudy. the room on that first night was hot even with the fan on and window stuck open. I took out my cheap japanese electric handheld fan, and fanned myself throughout most of the night. it had proved useful already on the first day.

Lalibela photos:

lalibela

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

to abyssinia

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
"What is your final destination?" the agent at the Virgin Atlantic check-in counter asked. "Addis Ababa, Ethiopia" I said "can my luggage be checked all the way to Ethiopia or do I need to re-check it at Heathrow?" After checking the system, the agent said "your luggage is checked all the way to Otopia, but you need to get the boarding pass for your next flight in London."

Two long flights later I've reached the mysterious "Otopia". Addis was cool, being at 7000ft. Buildings were old and congested traffic everywhere. Our hotel the Jupiter had nice facilities, free internet stations and a gorgeous bar. However, my room was small and dark as the windows were small. The bed was clean and comfy and as far as I could tell, no beg bugs. Mosquitoes were not dangerous at this altitude, so I refrained from starting the Malarone regimen, the malaria pills, afraid of their potential side effects, until we get to the malaria zone in Bahir Dar. I did not go out to explore town because I was simply too knacked from the journey and just rested until dinner. The hotel restaurant looked very nice and modern and there was a lot of food selection on the menu. I've ordered a chicken but it was chewy and covered in thick gravy and tasted very salty. Plenty of time to try injara later on the trip.

I've already started planning this trip even before I went to Morocco. Although it wasnt originally on my travel list, the lure of the rock cut churches with their religious paintings (the Hippo is a sucker for these), the castles, the source of the Blue Nile, the spectacular mountains, the food and the Ark legend, had infected me when E told me about her trip to this country. It's so different in its religious fervor, legends and history. Ethiopia stood alone in this respect among other African nations. It's worth a visit.

For months I've been planning this trip, researching the historical sites and hotels online. The warnings about the malaria spreading mosquitoes, bed bugs, no hot water or lack of water in hotels, and transportation with no ac, had me worried, and as precautions, I've even researched on potential mosquitoes at the sites I was going to visit, read up on bed bugs, and got eucalyptus lemon juice and deet sprays and an electric handheld fan. This was probably the most researched and awaited trip I've ever done.

So Abyssinia, the Hippo is here!

Ethiopia photos:

ethiopia

 

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