"The adventures of the Bole-Bajaj"
AHMED! AHMED!!! AAAAAHMED!!! AAAHMEEEED!!!!! “Can you keep the fucking noise down please! I paid money to sleep at this hotel and I don’t want to listen to you at 3am!!!!”… AHMED!! Prostitutes want money Ahmed! They say they will call Police.
This was how my night was spent in the grubby skeletal remains of a hotel, Taitu Hotel. Replete with 2 Arabs on a business trip who had thrown the budget out the window and hired the services of 3 Ethiopian hookers to entertain them whilst they chewed Khat and drank copious amounts of the sinful elixir (Apparently what happens in Addis stays in Addis). My throat was hoarse from screaming at them to shut up, so I gave up the notion of sleeping and sat outside in the cool morning air before all the busybody backpackers and local touts would start their cogs turning.
Met Dereje (Aka DJ): Ethiopia’s greatest guide/friend/family member. He was to take us, much to the amusement of the other drivers, to the South, in a Toyota Yaris. No fancy 4 x 4 for these Norwegian explorers, we have to do everything the hard way, and so we set out from Addis, with DJ in the front seat, to explore the south in a city car for middle aged women.
After the tangled arms of the dead heaving octopus of Addis’ main roads became distant memories we turned our sights onto the adventures to come on a zip around the Southern lakes. It was festival season and everyone had driven North to Gondor, so we basically did the opposite and managed to wrangle 9 days of very few tourists into the bargain.
The Ethiopian scenery was astounding. Mountain ranges giving way to valleys with villages, rivers and jacaranda trees, small huts lined the streets, old churches hid in the back obscured by trees and a guides insight. Our first stop was an underground church built by King Lalibela, but different to the famous cousins up North. There was a service going on and we stood at the back as throngs of people hushed in revery bowed before icons and muttered desperate prayers into the ether.
Next after doing a slight detour down a village road to see some tombstones we were met by 50 dancing children singing their little faces blue. We handed out a few candies much to their delight, and they even lined up in orderly fashion to grasp the sweets from the two Falangis. Later, as the sun was beginning to perish we felt the cool winds of Lake Ziway washing over our dusty faces. The roads in Ethiopia left a lot to be desired, perpetually caked in the dust left from the churning wheels of faster vehicles than ours. We sat there, winding up and down the windows until it wasn’t fun anymore.
The lake was spotted with enormous pelicans, rather tame, but with that 3 meter limit where they started to shuffle nervously. Keen eyed, they stood by the waters edge watching the fishermen cleaning the catch of the day, seeing small fish slip away and immediately snatched up by hungry beaks. The guesthouse was calm. An oasis by the main road, with wifi and a friendly owner who let us stay up late to watch the Arsenal vs Aston Villa game. Before that we had a slap-up meal of fresh fish at DJs local restaurant and spent a few dollars on some cold beers at a local bar listening to Abba.
Having not woken up early (by choice) for years, unless an early flight or bus had my name on it, we found ourselves increasingly exhausted in Ethiopia where all the wake-up calls were 7-8am to avoid the bastard sun. The views were superb, only marred by the INCESSANT plague of children chasing after you shouting for money and whistling in tinnitus ringing ears. I wept for death.
There was a grand, gorgeous highlight laying ahead on the horizon: Wondo Ganet. The tiny car gripped the road with its bare tyres, slowly ascending to cooler climates after leaving the rat hole of Shashamene with its pseudo hippie-travellers and dodgy rasta criminals. the mountains sprung up, burdened with trees of various origins and coffee and khat plantations as far as the eye could see. There were small brooks, smiling kids, flowers and that fresh feeling of early morning. We spent the whole day walking around the forests, climbing up to where Selassie bathed in a small pool in the mountains, followed small paths, jumped over rocks past bathing Ethiopians in their hot-spring fervour, and came to rest at the pool area where I opted for a cold Harrar Beer whilst the others fannied around in the hot showers. Two Chinese travellers sat behind me grunting while eating whole cucumbers and fried fish.
Back to the Bole Bajaj, back down the road hiding 20 grams of pristine Ethiopian smoke in the glove compartment, off to Awassa where we found a great hotel and headed down to the lake to enjoy a cold drink while the sun kept strong. That night we ate at a mediocre Ethiopian place before heading back into town and finding a bar that promised good times. An hour later and the owner had offered me a DJ gig the next day from 5-7pm. The set was fun, and people danced along to the Ethiopian part of the set but sat disgruntled when I tried to play anything other. Fair enough.
Next on the horizon was Arba Minch. A 6 hour drive in our little beast along the dustiest roads since early 2000’s Cambodia and enough rocks to keep us a snails pace which mean’t more children begging and more people whistling and screaming in our ears. Oh Ethiopia! Grin and bear it.
Arba Minch was a pleasant small town, with a charming guesthouse complete with huge outdoor seating area, comfortable chairs, WIFI!!!!, and a spaghetti that actually tasted fine (much praise to the homemade green chilli sauce). Up early the next morning to drive up to Dorze, a small traditional village in the mountains just beyond our sight. This would prove to be one of the most monstrous nights of my life, but more about that later. We reached Dorze in the early afternoon, stored our luggage in our “rooms”, sat and had a cold beer in the campsite area and then headed down for a tour of the forest and surrounding hills by a rastaman. It was gorgeous. Lush forests, fields full of blooming flowers and crops, small paths, brooks, smiling children, all until he told us that there were leopards in the area. My pace quickened.
We made it down to the village as the sun fell beneath to the plains, and ended up at a local Honey Wine establishment, sat on arse-numbingly tiny stools and started consuming the polite amount of his violently disgusting concoction. It took the bravery of my ancestors to not projectile vomit all over DJ and the Rastaman. Willy tried to shift some of his into my glass but I was having none of it. With one final push we downed the rest only to find out that the bartender had his teapot ready with another go. Where is a good sinkhole when you need one? We laboured through, spilling as much as possible onto the ground, then turned and walked the 3 kilometres back up to the campground in utter darkness with stars above and dust from passing vehicles coating you in dismay.
After some foolish traditional dancing which saw Willy and I don ridiculous clothes and jump over a fire, we headed to our huts and fell asleep. At 3am I woke up to something prodding my back. In my bed. In complete darkness, with no electricity. I fucking shat myself (almost). 10 minutes went before I mustered the courage to turn on my iphone light, but whatever it was had gone and I heard strange noise behind the hut below my bed. I stood in the doorway with the moonlight illuminating my terrified face for 4 hours until the weak sun arose, my salvation, my lover.
A couple of days later we went to the Omo Valley to see some tribes, got chased by 20000 kids screaming for money, the novelty wore off fast, the dust choked us, the roads were abysmal, but the nature was beautiful and DJ kept us alive with his endless supply of laughs and Khat.
With one final night spent in Lake Ziway at the same beautiful guesthouse, we took a boat out on the lake and visited a monastery cloaked with spiders, then drank some putrid beer from a sweet old lady, and ate one more mouthful of banana bread before fleeing down the hill to our waiting boat and pointing yonder.
The entire next day was devoted to driving back to Addis, and as soon as the outskirts of the town appeared on the horizon all I could honestly think of was leaving. Ethiopia was a beautiful, stunning country, but the constant hassle and the screams from the kids completely ruined any moment of peace you could hope for.
Sitting on the lawn at Grani Di Pepe eating a fantastic Italian meal washed down with 3 bottles of white wine, we paid our bill, hailed a cab and headed to the airport to see what Oman had to offer, secretly praying there would be no banana bread or honey wine.
The Bitter Man
A backpacker by default since birth, have scanned almost 100 countries in the search for perfection and imperfection in equal measure.