Upon departure from Sudan and arrival in Ethiopia, I noticed three stark contrasts: (1) the temperature dropped from 40-50 degrees Celsius in the deserts to a mild 20+ degrees Celsius in the highlands, which I absolutely love, including the occasional rain that came together with the moderate temperature; (2) alcohol is no longer banned, and there is real coffee from the machine; (3) in Sudan, you can trust everyone but in Ethiopia, you cannot trust anyone.
Apart from the bureaucracy, the Sudanese are really one of the nicest people that I have ever encountered. Almost anyone would go out of their ways to try to help you with anything and everything. We got a bit spoiled by the hospitality of the Sudanese and lost our sense of caution on our first day in Ethiopia. On the minivan from the border to Gondar, the driver already tried to cheat us by charging an additional ‘luggage’ fee for our backpacks on the roof, which cost nearly half of the cost for the ride itself, took us a lot of energy to haggle and argue before we could settle for something lower. We immediately regretted for not having discussed with the driver about this beforehand. These kinds of things are not unheard of and with our experience, we could have been able to avoid this in normal situations.
It was only our first day in Ethiopia and we really had no idea about the price levels of things and as we arrived in late afternoon, our orientation around the town. Immediately after we left the minivan, we met this guy Dave who seemed friendly at first, he took us around and we had a great night out. We really didn’t mind treating him drinks for the whole night, which were dirt cheap to begin with. HK$3 for a bottle of beer – cheaper than bottled water! But then we gradually came to realize that he was lying to us about many things. He got someone to sell us a pack of cigarettes for 35 Bir which cost only 12 Bir in the shops, as we later found out, he also lied to us about the distances between places, and hence the prices for the tuktuk rides. It was no big money lost but we still decided to make a scene on the street by calling him a liar when he tried to approach us again on the next day – just disappointed with our trust being exploited. Here’s a photo of him (No, he’s not the guy in the middle!) for anyone who’s planning to go to Gondar, please keep this handy.
We also did a 3-day trek around the Simien Mountains, and reached a peak of nearly 4000 meters. The trek was not so tough apart from the last rainy afternoon, when all the roads became muddy and slippery. Again, all those mule driver / scout wannabes on the mountains were annoying, one even followed us the whole way although we kept asking him to leave, carrying one plastic bag or two taken from our mules, and asked us for a tip afterwards for carrying some of the stuff for us. Of course we would never pay for any service that we hadn’t asked for.
I really don’t want to judge Ethiopians yet as I have only arrived here for a week. I have started to meet some nice and honest people and I believe I will meet more over the remainder of my stay here. Ethiopia has a lot of charm by reason of its culture, history and landscape and it will certainly be a real shame if the people get into the habit of being dishonest in order to get into the pockets of the foreigners. I have been to many poor countries where people wanted to rip tourists off by being annoying and aggressive, but at least they were honest. Dishonesty and sham are a different matter. You will realize how sad it is when you see a kid in his school uniform coming up to you saying his exam is coming up in 3 days and he needs money to buy English books so that he can become a tour guide, and after a while another comes up to you with exactly the same story, only that the subject had turned into Science as he wanted to become an engineer.
I have also just split ways with Phil and Maputo after a month of travelling together through Sudan to Ethiopia, as I am planning to visit the Danakil Depression, said to be one of the hottest places year-round anywhere on Earth, with many active volcanoes, a lava lake and colourful sulphurous springs – more miracles of our Mother Earth. Right now is not the best season to go as the temperature may climb over 50C, so I am still waiting to hear from the trip organizer. I really hope it will work out!