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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

11/10: A Day of Arduous Journeys Around Addis Ababa

We had made plans to have AA, the young guide we met yesterday, meet us at our hotel at 8:30 prior to then visiting Bishoftu, a town southeast of Addis Ababa. We should have realized that while we were working on Western time, AA was working on African time, which meant a lot later! That was a new concept to us and one that we struggled with as we felt our time was as precious as other people's. When we called AA to find out how much longer he might be, he said, he'd be there in a few minutes as he was caught in traffic. When that turned into 20 plus minutes and still there was no sight of him, we began to wonder at our plans for the day AND about AA too, mind you. He finally did show up in a taxi which he insisted we needed to take to the Akah Bus Station that was located well south of the city. The taxi was so ancient though, it gave up the ghost in the middle of the road and we had to hop into another one right away!
The bus station touts directed AA and us to the proper minibus going to Bishoftu where we had to wait until the bus was full before it left. The fare to the town located 50km to the southeast was only 36 birr per person, a ridiculously low $1.75!

I’ve never seen a driver with such a large number of religious stickers on his windshield before.
I found it hard passing by a number of huge churches amid all the poverty.
The homes we saw close to the road were mostly made of corrugated metal.

We saw very little trash as everything, AA explained, was recycled in the capital area for economic reasons.
We also passed  number of  nurseries where plants were sold to 'rich people,' AA stated.

As we drove, one of the bus station touts began trolling for passengers with his head and most of his body out the van's side door, yelling to passersby the bus was going to Bishoftu and there was room for them too! I considered it free entertainment!
Animals both grazed in the 'medians' and along the side of the 'highway,' although I use those words loosely.

The minibus finally reached Bishoftu about 11. We had wanted to come to the fast growing town because it was built around a field of volcanic calderas and seven crater lakes. There were tuk tuks waiting at the bus station so AA, aged 24, negotiated with one of them to drive us out to Lake Bishoftu, the nearest lake. It was the first time we had seen any tuk tuks in Ethiopia and it was just like their counterparts all over Asia and India.
It didn't take us long to get to the lake which we were able to get a view of after walking through this small resort.
Granted there was a lovely view from the top but there was nothing to do once at the lake so this outing was quickly looking like a bust. We had spent a good chunk of both time and moolah getting to the lake and for what?

AA was able to persuade the young tuk tuk drover to take us further afield to see another of the crater lakes but he had reservations because of the distance and the state of the roads. The driver's quote was so far out of line, even he knew it was unreasonable. In time, though, the three of us agreed on a price and we were off yet again for another tuk tuk ride in the African countryside.
The next lake was just 8 km away but it took a long time to get there because the road was among the worst we had ever been on. I had great admiration for the driver as it had to have been very challenging to drive the tuk tuk.
The terrain was interesting to look at but I was just thankful we all had cast iron stomachs on that road!
Wheat and barley were being grown in the fields.

I don't think we saw more than a couple of cars and the same number of trucks while we were taking our 'African massage,' i.e. our ride in a tuk tuk on the washed out roads! The kids were walking miles and miles home from school for lunch. AA said of course there was no money for them to eat lunch at school which would have saved them so much time.
A local's home:
Animals definitely had the right of way; you could tell that they don't see cars on the road very often.

After a bone-jarring ride, we finally reached as close as we could get to Green Lake in the tuk tuk.

How great being able to get out of the tuk tuk and stretch our legs after having our insides AND everything else jostled. We had to be careful hopping over the cactus before walking through the field and seeing the lake.
The lake, whcih was dead as a doornail, was well named as you can see!

Our ride! Just think of our willingly paying to ride in this thing for an hour or so the next time you're driving and hit a bumpy stretch on an otherwise good road in a car with good shocks!
We weren't going to hike to the bottom of the hill to the lake but a walk through the gorge sounded very enticing.

We noticed cattle grazing down by the lake. Sure hope they had access to other drinking water. 
The positive thing about our coming out all this way was not the lakes but the intersting drive through the countryside. Whether it was worth the money getting there is another point but just trying to paint a 'glass half full' picture!
Back in the tuk tuk and on our bumpy way back to Bishoftu:
Another local home:

Fun seeing the kids trying to catch up to us as we drove through the village!

All i could think of when I saw the local elementary school was wow, do our kids ever have it lucky.

Traveling long distances for water carrying a wee one on her back:

The local military authority:

More school kids returning for lunch at 12:30:

Statue in the middle of Bishoftu where the tuk tuk driver dropped us off. We didn't want to eat lunch so we arranged to meet AA, who was hungry, at a certain time and place so we could walk around and see the town. We made it clear to AA that we would meet him in 'Amerian time' and not 'African time' but he was still twenty minutes late!
Enough tuk tuks, you think!

Bishoftu was not an exciting place to be or, in any sense, set up for tourists at all. 
Boutique time:

We saw SO many mattresses up and down the town's two streets, we wondered who could be buying all of them.

This was our first Merry Christmas and Happy New Year sign we had seen. I think we'll be seeing lots of those soon as our trip is coming to a close and we'll be home soon in time for the holidays.
I bought a Tshirt for you, Zachary, and the fellow tried to con me into giving him a tip on top of the purchase price with the straightest of faces. 

It was clear that AA's sense of time was way off from our admittedly Western perspective where we consider it rude to keep people waiting. Once AA sauntered along, it was back to the bus station in Bishoftu and then the ride back to Addis via the minibus. 

Since we had hired AA for the day and our trip to Bishoftu hadn't taken as long as we hoped and planned, Steven and I needed to figure out in a hurry where we should have AA take us. He suggested some of the museums and a couple of churches in the center, but we vetoed those ideas as we figured we could see those on our own the next day. The best option, we felt, was Entoto Maryam and Menelik's Palace, located 2km from the most northerly suburbs as it would be hard to reach on our own.

AA wanted us to take a taxi from the southern bus station to the light rail station and from there  the light rail going north a bit. However, we considered the price he gave us or was given by the taxi driver to be an outrageous price: $13 versus just $2 for a shared minibus all the way to the Piazza which was well north of the city center. To us, it was a no brainer and it turned out to be far more of an adventure too!
The driver's associate half leaned out of the minibus, shouting out the destination repeatedly to everyone walking by. When people wanted to hop in, they had to be johnny on the spot or be left by the wayside as the driver barely slowed down the vehicle!
I nicknamed this roundabout the Pepsi Roundabout!

There was great landscaping at the African Union Roundabout; it was one of the few places we saw any flowers in the city.
One of the very few modern buildings in all of Addis that we saw:
We recognized the Bank of Abyssinia at the Piazza from our foray there yesterday. It had taken us an hour to get there from the city's regional bus station located in the far southern part of the capital. AA had said previously it would only take 30 minutes - we soon realized that we needed to double the time to get from Point A to Point B any time given to us by Ethiopians as their sense of time differed so wildly from ours!
Once at the Piazza, AA had to find the minibus going to the next stop on our northern trek: Arat Kilo. 

I mentioned in the last post how many shoeshiners we noticed in Addis; another hugely common sight were carts of very ripe bananas.
Most gas stations in Addis were called OiLibya!
As we drove past the Ethiopian Press Agency, I wondered how much freedom the press enjoys normally in Ethiopia, let alone then when the government had imposed a state of emergency lasting six months.
Arat Kilo was another large roundabout and a pivotal minibus hub surrounded by many shops and cafes. In the center of the roundabout was a 45ft tall black, stone hexagonal pillar that was constructed in 1942. It commemorated the first anniversary of Emperor Haile Selassie's return home from exile to a nation liberated from the Italian occupation. 
Two priests bowing to each other after meeting in the street:

Hopping on yet another minibus to our eventual destination, we passed another large roundabout, Siddist Kilo. It too had a towering column and was dedicated to the Ethiopians who died in the retaliatory massacre that followed the attempted assasination of an Italian Viceroy in early 1937. Interestingly enough, many of the street names were reminders of a bygone British era. Siddist Kilo, for instance, was on King George VI Rd.
Taking minibuses all the way from the far south of the city to the northernmost part was not the easiest nor the quickest way to have done it but it sure gave us a very real sense of the city and the way people got around it. It had taken us 90 minutes just to get this far and we still had one more minibus ride to go! A view from the cramped quarters at the back of the minibus:
Too bad we were stuck in the bus and couldn't get any closer to these beautifully colored and embroidered traditional clothing items as they looked exquisite.

Waiting at the last minibus stop, Maryam, for the bus to be full before reaching our final destination at long last!

Steven counted more than 20 people on the bus although the 'capacity' was probably more like 15. Just hope the bus would make it up the winding hills still ahead with all that weight on board!
The women were pushing massive loads of eucalyptus branches. This was the only area in Ethiopia were the trees grew because of the high sltitude, AA explained.

I shudder to think how much the branches weighed the women were carrying and how often they made these same trips. I didn't need to remind myself how incredibly fortunate we were to be seeing this from the comfort of the bus and not having to perform such back-breaking labor day in and day out.

A panoramic view of AA far below us:
The temperature had dropped considerably as we slowly ascended the mountain.

A live eucalyptus tree:

At 4:30, some two hours and five minibuses later, we finally reached Entoto Maryam and Menelik's Palace, something we could never have achieved without AA's assistance. The altitude here was 2900m or 9,500 feet, another 1,500 feet higher than the city.
The church and palace were at the end of the road; there was nowhere north from there.

In order to see the church, we had to take a guided tour of the small Entoto History Museum first. Emperor Menelik established his original capital and the church of Entoto Maryam here in the early 1880s after relocating from Ankober. The museum, which didn't allow any photography, had a wonderful collection of Ethiopian crosses, silver and gold chalices and other religious items and cereomonial clothing dating from Menelik's time. There was a superb 18th century painting of Jesus being breastfed by Mary, something we hadn't seen before. Also included were some Olympic gold medals won by Ethiopian marathoners in Athens and Sydney that had been promised to the museum if they won.
The octagonal church is known as the first and most important church on the city. The church is of supreme importance to faithful Ethiopians as sick people still flock here to take holy water. Six thousand oxen were slaughtered at the church's opening when Menelik was crowned emperor. 
Unfortunately, the traditionally painted interior could only be seen during and immediately after morning services so we made do poking around Menelik's old palace instead after seeing the original church built by Menelik in 1877.

The Bell Tower also was built in 1877.
This was the first tomb for Emperor Menelik's wife, Empress Taitu, when she died in 1918; I don't know if it was still her tomb though.
We wandered around the guest house and palace area.

It's very hard to tell but the doors were made of cow skin.
Ox horns used to hang raw meat:
There was nothing in the rooms to give a sense of how the Emperor and his family lived.
The wood roof in the assembly hall was intricately woven.

Even though the site is a revered and sacred place for so may faithful, it was still a thriving community for many locals.

The kids had a hoot as I joined in their hopscotch game for a few seconds. It was the first time I had played in over 50 years!

The faithful outside the church, attired in white robes as per Ethiopian custom.

In the open area just outside the church grounds was this large cross.

The first of our many bus rides back down the hill toward Addis!
The many hills up to Entoto Maryam must be a perfect place to train for cyclists as we saw many of them at the end of the day.
Steven though that the driver asked me to take his photo but it turned out he expected to be paid for it. Once another passenger explained the misunderstanding, he was more or less okay as there was no way we were going to pay him.

The first couple of days in and around Addis Ababa was a real assault on the senses coming from the wealth and prosperity of Oman. The abject poverty, the total disregard for any sense of cleanliness and the desperate roads really got to me for the first couple of days at least but I got used to it for the most part after that. As you know we've been in some profoundly poor nations but never like in Addis Ababa where we often saw men peeing in the streets, one man buck naked going through trash, huge numbers of people asleep on sidewalks, often as not covered totally by blankets or sacks and of course many, many people begging.

Posted from Cape Town, South Africa on December 7th, 2016.


  1. We were there for a long layover on our way to Bangkok. Unfortunately we both got bad colds and could not explore the city, just slept through our layover at the hotel. There was a cold snap and we had just shirts. Just roaming around the hotel and we were sneezing, coughing. We are in Nigeria right now and i

  2. My comment got cut off..I was saying how lucky we are. Seeing the poverty all around really brings home how lucky we are. Loved this detailed post. Can't believe you guys were on the bus..hell no! I've taken it just once when l was in high school..never again. You are to be commended.

  3. Kemkem,

    I don't know about being 'commended' for taking local transport so much as we both continue to get a charge out of traveling like the locals as much as possible and where it makes sense to us. I know for most people spending two plus hours getting from Point A to Point B would be ludicrous when there were far faster ways but, in that instance, it made perfect sense to us and was all part of the 'adventure' which is what we like to call our trips!

    Perhaps one day we might make it to Nigeria too - Africa is SO huge and we only saw a minute part of it.

    Safe travels,
    Annie and Steven


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