KENYA TO ADDIS - FARANJIS, INJERA, WAT AND OTHER WORDS WE DON'T UNDERSTAND

After two very wet nights at the Kenyan Wildlife Services Campsite in Marsabit, we started out on our drive north to the Ethiopian border.  The road north from Marsabit actually deteriorated even more, but we pushed forward knowing that the roads would improve when we entered Ethiopia. 

Exiting Kenya was a breeze and it was particularly pleasant for us because it was the first border post that we didn't have to worry about the Carnet de Passage or getting Third Party Insurance for the vehicle.  It seems as if this border crossing is much less traveled by tourist as there were almost no people to be seen trying to help us with our border responsibilities.  The Ethiopian side was equally pleasant although slower and we even found our first "money changer" that was soft spoken and not pushy.  His name was Tony.  He was a Rastafarian "businessman" that seemed to have the monopoly on changing money at the Moyale border post (more about Tony later on in the write-up).

We drove through to the far end of Moyale for our first night in Ethiopia.  We camped on the grounds of the Bekele Mola Hotel (a chain of budget to mid-range hotels in Ethiopia).  The site was only OK, but it had toilets and a restaurant that served cold drinks.

Ethiopia is a different world entirely from where we've been before.  Entrenched with tradition, the Ethiopians don't even really consider themselves as part of Africa - to them, there is Africa, and then there's Ethiopia.  In Ethiopia the current year is 1998, they have 13 months on their calendar instead of 12 and there is a 6 hour time change from East Africa - what we would consider 7AM, Ethiopians call 1AM (i.e. their day starts at the beginning - 1).  It makes for interesting conversation, but in the end, it isn't particularly confusing because everyone that we've come across in Ethiopia knows about these differences and can communicate with us in our own language so to speak.

After setting up camp we decided to jump in with both feet and have our first meal in Ethiopia at a local Ethiopian restaurant.  We had a few hours to kill before dinner so Mike decided it would be a perfect time to venture into town to find someone to administer his next (fourth) rabies vaccination, which was due.  Matt and Mike Ozaki from the African Route group joined Mike for the walk which took the three of them to a few interesting pharmacies and medical centres.

Moyale was actually full of medical centres and laboratories that could give vaccinations, but Mike was looking to see if he could find one that actually had the vaccination in stock.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find one so Mike had to settle for the assistance of the man at the counter of the Selema Pharmacy to administer the vaccination that we brought with us from Nairobi.  Getting the vaccination was a less than pleasant experience for Mike, but he is glad that Day 14 is behind him and he only has to look forward to two more rabies shots (Day 28 and Day 56).

Our Ethiopian dinner in Moyale was not for everyone and Cathy and Shannon decided that they'd prefer the pastries to the "injera" and "wat" that we were served.  Ethiopian food is quite unique and is either loved or hated.  The staple of the food is a sour, spongy bread-like pancake, called injera, which is spread out flat on a large plate.  Then a number of different sauces, called wat, are placed on top of the injera.  There are no utensils.  Instead you tear off a piece of the injera and use it to pick up the wat.  The meal is accompanied by fruit juice to wash it down (on this particular night the juice was pineapple and avocado) and a number of different pastries and cakes for dessert.

Wednesday and Friday are considered fasting days in Ethiopia and only vegetarian food is served.  Being a Friday, our wat was therefore meatless.  And, although it was without meat, it was certainly not without character.  Mike and Matt both enjoyed digging into the dinner, but were both a bit sceptical about the restaurant.  Matt was still recovering from a stomach bug that he'd had for the past few days, but he quite likes injera and took the chance that he'd be OK and ate his fill of the food.  Mike also dug in and although he'd prefer a steak or sushi to injera and wat, he enjoyed the atmosphere and the taste of the local eating experience.

While sitting down to dinner on the patio of the quaint (read: dingy) local restaurant who should appear but our friendly Rastafarian from the border, Tony.  Tony was in a bit of a different state at this point in the evening and was interested in escorting our African Routes group around town.  We were polite with Tony, but we all would have preferred if he would have left us alone.  But, as Tony would put it - he is proud of Ethiopia and wants us to learn about his country through an honest person like him.

After dinner we went over to a local bar for a beer before heading back to the campsite for bed.  Tony got a bit out of hand at the bar and Wimpie had to have him escorted away from our gathering.  Unfortunately, even the soft spoken, friendly, honest people in Ethiopia still expect more than they should from the tourists that pass through their towns.

Day 2 in Ethiopia proved to be just as exciting as Day 1 as we drove north from Moyale to bush camp in a small town just south of Dilla. 

We stopped off at a town called Yabelo just before lunch where Wimpie needed to pick up some supplies.  The rest of the group decided to walk around town to see what we could see.  Having done a lot of travel in Africa, all four of us are quite used to being stared at and shouted at as we walk or drive through the small towns, but we were not ready for what we would experience in Yabelo (and all ofEthiopia for that matter).

The Ethiopians (children mostly, but teenagers and adults as well) seem fascinated with white people and are not ashamed in the least to stare, touch, point and yell at the tourists that venture into their towns.  In Yabelo it seemed that as long as we were walking we would only be hassled "in passing", but as soon as we returned to our truck we were hassled to an uncomfortable level as people came within inches of us standing and staring at us, mocking our words and gestures, moving as we moved and grabbing and pushing their way to get a better view of the "faranjis" (as they call us).

Another thing about Ethiopians is that they are actually quite a bit more aggressive and violent than some of the other countries we visited and the "gathering" turned into a shoving, kicking and stone throwing frenzy with the children as they jockeyed to get a better position to look us.  Luckily for us, the stone throwing was reserved for only the locals and none of us were hit by any fly-rock.

All the guide books about Ethiopia say that there is nothing to do to avoid this type of treatment by the locals and although it is impossible to get used to it, you have to just deal with it as best you can.  It is quite unpleasant to say the least and there have been a few quick stops where many people on the tour have just opted to stay on the truck rather than walk around town.

After Yabelo we stopped on the side of the road to look at a cattle watering trench that had been carved out of the land as the water table dropped.  It was a neat stop that we would never have known about had it not been for Wimpie and the African Routes tour.  Lunch was served on the side of the road with the standard Ethiopian audience before pushing on to our camp for the night.

We experienced our 2nd vehicle maintenance stop (the first was a flat tire on the rough northern roads in Kenya) just before camp as our brakes overheated because of all the mountain driving we'd been doing that day.  Of course, we had our regular audience, but for some reason this town was quite a bit more polite opting to watch peacefully.  The best part about this stop was that one of the locals actually brought out a camera and snuck a photo of us standing on the side of road - quite ironic.  We caught him taking the picture because he forgot to turn his flash off.  Once we realized what was happening, we of course, requested that he "give me some money" as is always asked of us by the locals.

That night we constructed our first bush camp in a small town south of Dilla.  We pulled the truck up onto a soccer field and pitched our tents in a laager / corral formation using string to create a barrier between us and the gathering of local "watchers".  It is quite amazing at how quickly the tourists attract the locals and even more amazing at how strictly the string barrier is obeyed by all the onlookers.

The bush camp was actually quite a fun night although as night fell the children onlookers left only to be replaced by large men with cloaks, daggers and rifles.  We did our best to ignore them, but in the morning we found that the driver side mirror was missing from the truck - not exactly what we were hoping for.  We left the town quite irritated with what had transpired and short one side mirror.

Our drive on Day 3 in Ethiopia took us through the Rastafarian homeland town of Shashemene and on to another Bekele Mola Hotel on the shores of Lake Langano.  It was a nice campsite where we were all able to have a shower and Mike and Matt even went for a swim in the lake (that boasts no bilharzia). 

Although it was a nice campsite (relatively speaking), a number of people on the trip unfortunately came down with a bit of a stomach bug that afternoon.  The guesses of what it could be ranged from the fruit juice from the coffee shop earlier that morning to the local Ethiopian food we had on our first night in Moyale.  Regardless of what it was that made people sick, Cathy unfortunately ended up with the worst of the bug and spent the afternoon trying to sleep off the effects. 

The next morning was only a short drive into Addis Ababa to the Taitu Hotel in the Piazza district of town where after lunch at a good restaurant (serving western foods) we went to the Canadian embassy for the infamous "letters of introduction" for our applications for our 2nd Sudan visas (we need these to return to Sudan after Dubai).

That's all we really had time for that afternoon, but we left the embassy with our introduction letters in hand. 

We've all heard a great deal about the violence and problems that Addis Ababa has experienced since the elections in May so we've been extra careful and observant since entering the city.  A number of people have talked to us about the violence and everyone says that things have died down now but we will still be sticking to the advice we received at the Canadian embassy to "avoid talking politics with anyone in Ethiopia over a beer".