Where are you going?
Ethiopia? What’s even there?
It was the question that I was to hear countless times in the weeks to come that led to my trip. People were surprised with my destination choice as when they thought of Ethiopia the only image they had was that of starvation and endless desert. Not many of them heard of Ethiopian coffee, even fewer knew it was one of the first countries to accept Christianity.
“Who’s read the guidebook?” I asked after meeting my travel companions at the airport. Nobody has. Neither have I.
The group consisted of me (and I was going because of the attractive price of the plane ticket), Eliza (who once asked where I was going and five minutes later, after seeing a few quickly googled pics, said she would go as well) and Gosia (“I’ve always dreamt of travelling to Ethiopia,” she said).
We arrived in Addis Abeba in the middle of the night. We had no accommodation booked because all our emails sent to guesthouses had been ignored. There was a drizzle and no African heat and it was to be like that throughout our journey.
The national terminal is just a short walk away so we went to check our options. Gosia managed to get ahead of a man pushing a trolley with such a huge pile of luggage that his bags kept falling off it until the moment he got stuck in the entrance. She tried to find out if anything was flying north – no matter where, just north. A flight to Bahir Dar was the first one to depart so that was the one we booked.
Bahir Dar welcomed us with sun and the town centre seemed to be friendly, neat and civilised. Reflecting upon my first days in West Africa a few years back, I was almost disappointed.
The very first Ethiopian coffee was drunk in a modest street cafe. Gigi was a tout we’d met a few hours before. He found us a good, affordable hotel and offered his guiding services.
“That’s your first African lesson,” I said to Gosia, was we sat down on old plastic chairs, “This is how it works”. And indeed, sipping our black coffee we were listening to typical touristy marketing.
And I did wonder (as I already did many times before) if our new friend’s surprise after hearing we don’t want to rent a boat for loads of money was genuine or pretended.
60 euros per person
a very special discount for you my friend
only 210 euros for the three of you.
A real bargain, wasn’t it? No, we didn’t want this special price, much too expensive for us. We didn’t want to see too many monasteries. And we didn’t want a two-weeks’ organised tour of Ethiopia.
Just because, we don’t travel like that.
No, we don’t.
Wandering aimlessly we observed the life going on. Even with a map held tightly in my hands we managed to get lost after we turned the third turn left. Or right – it was hard to say.
There were very few white tourists, yet I didn’t feel out of place. It didn’t even feel as if I was standing out of the crowd which definitely was the case because many people tried to talk to us.
We found a famous backpacker’s hotel and bought a cheap boat trip for the following day. The terrace there was really attractive so we decided to have a rest. We were slowly drinking beer and chatting to the owner all afternoon until it got late and mosquitoes attacked us – it was time to go back then.
Turn left when you go out of the hotel, then walk till the roundabout, left, right and walk on till you get to the park.
Well, that was what we thought, but somehow we didn’t reach the park (Where the hell is the park??)
Oh, wait, there’s a mosque, the park should be near. Not this mosque…hmm?
Nothing to worry about, though, it’s funny to get lost in those windy, sandy streets behind messy backyards where locals pay hardly any attention at all.
Look! There’s high building over there! Our hotel was next to a very high building.
Fifteen more minutes’ walking and we got to the hotel. The only problem was, it was not our hotel, it was the backpacker’s hotel we’d left over an hour before.
OK, let’s try again: walk till the roundabout, left, right…
A boy stopped us asking why were were walking there again (the third time).
What is the name of our hotel… Jesus! What’s the name of the hotel???
The boy smiled at us and trying to be helpful started listing all the hotels in the area.
Yes! There? Oh, we should’ve taken the second right, not the first left!
The sky was turning dusk dark as we passed the park. Relieved, we entered the hotel room five minutes later.
Mosquitoes were flying in through the window cracks.
It started to rain.