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NOVEMBER 06, 2007

Addis Ababa



Addis Ababa - for some reason this was one African city I was actually looking forward to visiting - as it was, probably as a result of the grueling style of travel through South Omo over the last eight days as well as the long haul north from Nairobi in Kenya, I woke on our first morning in this bustling city feeling decidedly shitty with a bastard of a cold hanging over my head.

We did not hang around long at the Taitu Hotel - after washing down some scrambled eggs with a shot of hot coffee we moved our belongings down to the somewhat cheaper Baro Hotel. Being the weekend, and our plans for Addis really only included the processing of our Sudanese Visa's, we took the opportunity to have a relaxed day doing nothing bar easing the travellers addiction of internet and email.

With Monday we hit the visa trail. In order to get the Sudan Visa we first headed into the suburbs to process our Egyptian visa's. This was a two day process that was actually quite smooth. While the visa's were in process we did manage to take in the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. We have skipped most of the National Museums on route for one reason or another, the main draw card for the Ethiopian Museum is without a doubt the Lucy exhibit.

Now we have spent a few weeks already in southern Ethiopia and strangely enough none of what we had seen was represented in the museum, nor in fact was there much to do with the history of the north. There was an out of place exhibition by a local painter, and in the basement a few odds and bods excavated by archeologists exploring the bountiful soils for signs of prehistoric man.

Tucked in a back room in the basement was the museums draw card. The original was not on display, instead we stood there admiring a brilliant little replica of Lucy, at one time the oldest near complete skeleton of pre-man.

Two days later, armed with our Egyptian visas, a stack of photocopies, a kodak wallet full of passport photos we stormed the Sudanese Embassy. In reality the process of getting a transit visa for the Sudan is much much simpler than even we expected. Sudan is arguably one of the hardest countries to get a visa for outside of Egypt which oddly enough hands them out willy nilly.

We went to the embassy on one of their non-visa processing days. The heavily armed guards on the gate were all to happy to make enough racket to get us into the gates where the 'Very Helpful Man' went through our documentation and took us up to the first counter . There a gentlemen rifled through our papers and then grunted pointing to the window next to his. After a half an hour we were handed the official transit visa forms.

Moving to the back of the shed we completed the required documents where the very helpful man went through them again to check we had completed them correctly, he then put them all in the correct order and took them into another room off to the side of the shed. Ten minutes later our forms, now covered in big blue texta (marker pen) were handed back to us and we were then asked to head back to the second window (which by now had a rather long line attached). A benefit of being white in a black country, the very helpful man walked us to the front of the line where again our forms disappeared into the office for another perusal.

At last our signed and sealed forms were handed back to us, from where we got to leave the shed, heading around the corner to yet another window where we could pay for our as yet unprocessed visa's. Getting a photo copy of our receipt (as we are not allowed to keep the original) we gave the forms and paper work and photos of everything to the very helpful man who put them in the to be processed stack.

The next day at the nominated time of 3pm we arrived back at the gates of the Sudan embassy to collect our visa's. Unfortunately we were not the only ones with that thought in mind, at least 200 people lined the sidewalk in each direction waiting for the gates to open. At 3:40 the gate opened enough to let a single person out of the compound, and to create a mad rush towards the door similar to a Myer Christmas sale. Unfortunately the guards snapped the door shut quicker than you can say boo, causing a mild sense of panic to ripple through the waiting crowd.

Two false starts later we had managed to wedge ourselves close enough to the door so that when the guards did fully open it we were carried through into the courtyard beyond on a wave of Somali hopefuls.

As it was all the pushing and shoving was for no real purpose, inside the gates we were greeted by the very helpful man who guided us into the corner to wait for the general toing and froing to subside. Once most of the people were calmly sitting in the shed waiting the very helpful man brought out the confirmed visa's and while the others were all sitting around waiting, then signing for their confirmed visa's - he handed us our completed papers and ushered us out the front gate.

With the whole visa issue sorted I spent the next two days shivering away in bed. The cold had turned a little feverish and for some reason the Ethiopian chemists refuse to stock anything even remotely resembling a decent cold and flu medicine. We did manage to get briefly down to the famous Mercato - the largest market in Africa. However I was feeling decidedly crappy and managed to make what should have been a cracker of a day out pretty depressing.

With the Sudan visa now ticking unfortunately I had no choice but to suck it up and push on north. We arranged with the manager of the Baro Hotel for the minibus direct from Addis to Bahar Dar. We set out alarm for 4am to give us enough time to pack and dress etc, at 3:30 we had a knock on the door announcing the early arrival of the bus.

We quickly scrambled out of bed, threw everything into our day bags and packs that was lying around the room and dragged ourselves out to the front gate. After waking the night guard he looked outside slightly confused, there was no bus.

Donna went and found the night manager who told us that the bus had called and was on it’s way – it would be there in about five minutes. Meanwhile I waited out the front and sure enough it pulled up. It was a comfortable looking hi-ace, with actual seats instead of bench seating. Two across – not Four.

Our packs were loaded onto the roof and we took our seats in comfort. We spent the next half hour driving around the back of Addis picking up one more passenger and dropping off one of the load boys. Then we hit the road.

We had two traffic check points to get through – no major issues other than a cursory look by the police. Then we were off.

Our driver was a young man – could not have been much older than 20 – who had a fascination with driving on the wrong side of the road. We had several near misses with trucks and other oncoming vehicles. We drove through until we had a breakdown – which looked to be either a transmission problem or a change of brake pads – who knows. Either way they tinkered for half an hour then we were back on the road again.

What would have taken two days on the public bus got us safely to Bahar Day mid afternoon where a short minibus ride later found us at the rather run down, Ghion Hotel. What more could you want though for $10 a night, a massive room with unlimited hot water, set right on the lake in leafy surrounds.

And so ended our Addis Ababa experience - cut short by visa requirements and ailing health. It's no secret we prefer the country side as opposed to the big cities. Ahead of us lies the majestic north, littered with historical remnants, thousand year old churches and the promise of discovering more about the Axumite Empire.

Tomorrow though it's the Monasteries of Lake Tana

 

     
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