It’s a long haul to travel to Africa! So we were understandably tired when we arrived in Addis Ababa on February 1st, the day after we had left Ottawa. We got into the city at 7:45am and were meant to be met at the airport by a driver from our hotel. We eagerly combed the many signs held up in the throng of people waiting in the arrivals area but none of them had our names nor the name of our hotel. Half an hour later we were still waiting when a young Ethiopian man in a suit approached us and asked us if we needed help. He led us back to his desk – another hotel’s kiosk – and called our hotel for us and informed us that they were sending the driver right away. Then while we waited in the cozy arm chairs at his desk he told us about Ethiopia, adding that the people are quite warm and friendly, something we’d already discovered ourselves in our meeting with him!
When we arrived at the hotel, Rockr and Junkii were there at the reception desk. It was so nice to be welcomed by their happy familiar faces. The Addis Guesthouse is a mid-range hotel and we were very pleased with the accommodation – we got suites, with living rooms and lots of space. Our view was interesting – right away we noticed the goats grazing across the street. In between the grazing goats was a car wash – just a bunch of guys scrubbing down cars with sponges in a flat, dirt parking lot. Beyond them were some shack-style buildings and beyond that apartments and skyline.
Steve and I went for breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant and sat on the patio, looking out at the bustling street, with the goats in the background. We had fresh mango juice with our meals and it was delicious. For the rest of the trip we often had either fresh mango or fresh passion fruit juice with our meals. After breakfast we set out with the guys to explore the city.
We hadn’t ventured out far when we had a follower. It wasn’t long after we were walking and chatting with him when we had a bunch more followers, these ones little kids. Throughout Ethiopia we often had people come up to us, offering their helpful services for a small price, and often they were children. I had a hard time with this. On the one hand, the travel books tell you not to give them money, and even not to give them food because they will just sell it for money. But on the other hand, it was hard to look these kids in the eyes and say no to their requests when obviously I do have money if I’ve made it all the way to Africa. I learned about a charity in Addis called HOPE Enterprises and it is my one regret that we didn’t try to visit them while we were there. Apparently you can get food vouchers from them and hand those out to any children who come up to you looking for money. For this reason Ethiopia was the most emotionally difficult part of the trip. Yes it is a poor country, and yes it is widespread.
But Ethiopia surprised us in many ways too. It didn’t fit into whatever vague picture we had of it and I’m so glad that we had a chance to see and experience a lot of what makes the country unique.
We didn’t have long in Addis – we were leaving early the next morning – so we wanted to see what sights there were on that first day. Our first stop was Emperor Menelik’s Mausoleum. It proved very difficult to find, but between Rockr’s navigational skills with only a small, basic, black and white guidebook map and the taxi driver’s willingness to stop and ask for directions, we eventually found it. We got the impression that the Mausoleum was off the beaten track a bit since we didn’t see any other tourists there and since the taxi driver had no clue where it was.
The outside of Menelik’s Mausoleum looked like many other buildings I’d seen before in my travels, although it was nonetheless impressive and strikingly different from most of the buildings in Addis. But the inside was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. We had to take off our shoes at the door and when we entered we immediately switched to hushed tones. It was so quiet and still that a thin layer of dust hung in the air, catching the sunlight filtering through the stained-glass windows. A priest guided us through the mausoleum and in broken English pointed and explained things to us.
When we reached the main room, the priest crouched down to the floor and started rolling back the carpet – we had read about this in Lonely Planet. The crypt lies below, through a trapdoor in the floor. We descended the stairs after the priest, into the even quieter, and creepier setting below.
At this point in the tour, a middle-aged Ethiopian man joined us who spoke excellent English. He gave us an impromptu lesson about the mausoleum and when he had finished he informed us “and now I will expect some kind of payment for my services.” We had already just paid the priest for his guidance, as well as a donation to a program for blind children. As we were leaving, the unofficial guide also informed us that the man sitting with our shoes had been watching our shoes for us, and he would be expecting payment as well. We learned that it was always a good idea to have small currency available for these helpful citizens.
Outside the Mausoleum were some giant turtles, brought there to amuse the tourists, according to the unofficial guide. It certainly worked on me – I was tickled by the giant reptiles and could have stayed watching them munch their way across the lawn.
After the mausoleum we headed to the National Museum where the remains of our famous ancestor, Lucy, are kept. I’m really not that enthralled by museums in general, although I do enjoy them in small doses, but the National Museum interested me because of Lucy. I had learned about the discovery of the Australopithecus afarensis in my first-year cultural anthropology course and I wished my professor had been there at the museum to bring the Lucy replica and her significance to life. We quickly made our way through the building, glancing at the cultural, historical, and archaeological artifacts of Ethiopia, and lingered only a little while around Lucy, mostly marvelling at her size – a mere three and a half feet!
Our last stop was the Ethnological Museum and this proved to be more inspiring. It’s laid out in a unique way, detailing an Ethiopian’s life from birth to death throughout history and describing the various cultures. Especially amusing were the confusing children’s tales. They were either a mistranslation or else culturally different and therefor the morals, which were obviously the intent of the tales, were completely lost on me. The museum is housed in Emperor Haile Selassie’s former palace and several of his rooms are a part of the tour. I read in the guidebook after the fact that you can see gunshots in the mirror in his bathroom, but I had not noticed this at the time! I only wish we hadn’t been so tired from jet-lag. At one point Steve and I sat to rest on two chairs and almost fell asleep while Rockr and Junkii went to examine some artwork! So after the second museum, we headed back to the hotel for a short rest before dinner. We were to join up with some of Rockr and Junkii’s friends who coincidentally happened to be in Addis Ababa at the same time. Unfortunately I cannot describe that part of the evening because my nap lasted 12 hours and I woke up the next morning!
I have decided to try out SmugMug for sharing my photos. So if you would like to see more photos from our first day in Addis, they are available on there. I’ll also be adding more photos and galleries from the trip as I get through editing them, so I’ll let you know when I post anything new.
Rockr and Junkii created a blog for the trip as well, so check it out if your interested in their take on it!