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Trip Report Ethiopia Trip Report

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Following is a trip report from an 11 day trip through the historical route in Ethiopia. This was a very, very low budget trip. I accounted for every last birr I spent and averaged $96 / day including six internal flights ($45 / day excluding my flight costs).
Most of the problems I experienced (the expected issues involved in being a female backpacking around alone, repeatedly having prices changed after agreement had been reached on a price, dealing with the utter incompetence of Ethiopian Air) would be avoided by having a guide. Despite the frustrations, it was a very memorable and worthwhile trip and provided an unforgettable contrast to my two prior experiences in east Africa.

Pictures are at http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=9nhoja.cboxw66j&x=0&y=-aljvy8

Addis

I really only had a half day to explore Addis, and only ended up seeing the Merkato, which is supposed to be the largest open air market in east Africa. The merkato is huge – very little I wanted to buy (and certainly nothing I wanted to carry around on my back for the next seven weeks!). I paid my taxi driver from the night before (about 5 USD) to drive me there and walk around with me. For someone like me with no sense of direction, having someone walk around with me was a necessity or I would still be trying to find my way out of the Merkato right now. I saw no other tourists during my hour and a half cruising around the market – definitely worth wandering around if you have some time to kill.

Bahar Dar: My night in a brothel

I took an afternoon flight to Bahar Dar from Addis. It’s a fairly relaxed, pleasant little town and easy to wonder around on foot. I had already picked out a budget place in Lonely Planet, but due to some unclear signage (and me not paying careful enough attention) I ended up next door to my intended destination. After checking out the room, I decided it was fine for 6USD. I noticed I was the only faranji there, but I really wasn’t seeing many other tourists so thought nothing of it.

I spent the afternoon wandering around Bahar Dar and had a small posse with me at all times. (E.g., I’d stop to check email somewhere and my posse would either sit inside the internet place or stand outside waiting for me until I came out…as soon as I convinced my posse of the moment that I was not interested in a tour, a coffee ceremony, or being their girlfriend, they would usually wander off and within two minutes I’d have a new posse). All harmless entertainment, or so I thought…

After dinner at the Ghion Hotel, which is located right on Lake Tana, I headed “home.” I had stayed at the Ghion fairly late talking to people, and based on the timing of when the knocking on my door started, I assume people were waiting for me to return. Within ten minutes of retuning to my room, the delightful offers/inquiries I received from my would be suitors included:

“Have you consummated yet?”
“Would you like to go back to my village?”
“But the man at the desk said I could come see you!”
“Would you like to join me next door?”
and my absolute favorite… “I’ll give you 100 birr!” (about ten dollars)

In retrospect it is all terribly funny, but at the time I started to wonder if the guys at the front would give my visitors my door key. After a bit of screaming on my part to “get the hell away from my door!” and repeated “NO NO NO!” the knocking stopped. I did find out later that a night with a local woman can go for as little as 15 birr, so I was pleased that my boyfriends were at least offering an above market price. (At this point in the story most people are completely disgusted that I was sleeping on some possibly very funky sheets….for the record, I was snuggled up in my sleeping bag liner, which was washed about five times after that night!)

The next morning I packed up as quickly as possible and hightailed it out of the brothel (stopping to tell the man at the desk that what he did was bull----) and headed over to the Ghion. The rooms at the Ghion were only marginally better, but it had a lakeside setting and was definitely not being used as a brothel. (Many of the budget hotels double as brothels, and even though I tried to avoid this for the remainder of my trip, I was still fairly certain that other places I stayed later in the trip were also being used as brothels.)

The manager of the Ghion had befriended me the previous day and I had promised to do some editing of his term paper. I rolled into his office to relay the events of the previous evening. When I finished telling him about my visitors, he expressed surprise at what had happened, but then asked me, in all seriousness, “Well, did you take the money?” What?!?!?!

I headed out that morning on a tour of the monasteries on Lake Tana. (You can arrange any kind of tour you would like through the Ghion, and they can usually find someone to split the cost of the trip with you.) We saw Ura Kidane Meret, which is the most visited and quite interesting. The other two monasteries were fairly nondescript – unfortunately women were not permitted to visit the other monasteries that sounded the most interesting.

I met a woman from New Zealand traveling alone and headed off with her after the tour to eat at a local restaurant for some injera and fasting food. (If you like injera and are vegetarian, there will be plenty to eat on Wednesday and Friday…other than those days though, you are going to find little else to eat other than spaghetti and eggs.) I have never liked injera. I want to like injera. I even came up with a strategy of learning to love, or at least not gag, when eating injera. (This well thought out strategy involved drinking a beer fairly quickly prior to facing the injera – the theory being that perhaps with a slight buzz perhaps I would find the injera more palatable.) yeah…no.

After lunch we headed over to the market with a stomach full of injera. The market is fairly large and interesting to wander around. We saw only a couple of other faranjis there, and always had a small posse following us. People were very friendly though and did not mind us taking pictures. I should note that I bumped into several locals I had met the prior day and they were all very embarrassed about my visitors the night before.

Two little girls (not more than four or five years old) followed us all the way home from the market. The images of these little girls and all the other little kids I met along the way are seared in my brain…although I can laugh about being propositioned in Bahar Dar, the statistics regarding the likelihood of a little girl becoming a prostitute in Ethiopia are heartbreaking. It’s impossible to interact with these innocent little girls without thinking about what the future may hold for them….

Next up, Gondar…

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