(Status Update) Ethiopian Frenzy

 

In case anyone is wondering why I fell completely silent for the past two/three weeks, yep I am still alive and well. Mobile connection, not to say Internet, is not easy to come by in this part of the planet, and even if it’s available, the speed is so slow and unstable I really didn’t want to waste my time sitting there, staring at the computer screen and waiting for photos to upload at 0.1K per second. Power shortages are frequent and sometimes it so happened that the only electricity outlet available in an entire hotel is located in its kitchen, next to the chopping board.

As I have mentioned in my previous status update, I truly believed that I would come across better things in Ethiopia after the initial hassles. And I guess one just wouldn’t know how to appreciate the good things in life until he”s encountered the bad – hassles aside, yes I am liking Ethiopia more by the day! Children are still begging for birr, pen and highland bottles, but I discovered that they are doing it in ever more cuter ways…. such as dancing rhythmically on the roadside whenever a bus or truck passes, hoping that someone from the passing vehicles would throw out a plastic bottle or two.

Delays still happened all the time, particularly when it came to forming groups on 4WD trips to visit more remote regions such as the Danakil Depression in Afar region (the name so well describes it), the lowest point Africa and a region with the highest year-round temperature on Earth near the border with Eritrea. I was hoping to visit an active volcano (Erta Ale) there but as the region is on average 100m below sea level, rains in the neighbouring regions caused water to be drained into the area, rendering the mudflats (which lined the way to the volcano) too wet for driving. Our 4WD got stuck in the mud a few times and we spent almost one whole afternoon digging out the sunken jeep. Although we couldn’t reach the volcano, the colourful salt flats and bubbling hot springs more than made up for it. The whole trip was fantastically surreal.

The latest news was, Erta Ale just erupted a few days ago, and now the whole region is inaccessible…

Axum is famous for being the holiest site for the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. But my highlight there was not the cathedral, but a Tigrayan wedding I was invited to by the locals. Cheers to the 10th wedding that I’ve crashed in this trip!

I returned to my Asian roots again in Addis Ababa, where I was treated to a big night of dinner, baiju, karaoke and clubbing by a group of Chinese construction workers living in Ethiopia, amongst whom one claimed that he was a ‘big brother’ of the Chinese mafia in Addis.   My host Alan from Norway brought me to this lovely Korean restaurant, to which I returned for two times more afterwards, it was certainly a nice fix for my eternal craving for Chinese/Asian food, which is always the best! I also met up with Wuletta, my second year from LPC, whom I haven’t seen for a decade! We had originally arranged to meet up again in Awasa, a town south of Addis – but TIA! – at the most crucial moment when we were trying to contact each other about our whereabouts in the town, the mobile phone network in the whole town crashed for more than 18 hours. When the network resumed again the next day, Wuletta was already back in Addis, while I would continue my journey south. Bye-bye Wuletta! Hope to see you next time in Hong Kong!!

In Awasa, I stayed in a very cheap hotel which turned out to be a brothel, with squat toilets entirely covered with shit and condoms. Every afternoon, I was invited to hang out and drink coffee with the prostitutes living in this tiny room at the back of the hotel. One girl even gave me her picture and asked me to find a husband for her from China.

And lastly, I hitchhiked around Lower Omo Valley for 9 days, a mountainous region famed for the diverse tribes still living in their primitive ways, and decked in their colourful dresses, decorations and body scarring. Although I felt a bit heartbroken to see how most of these tribesmen were so obsessed with the thought of foreigner = donor of money + anything he/she has on his/her body, and asked me for money whenever and for whatever reason, it was still amazing to see how these people still managed to stick to their original style of living in this modern era. Of course, one cannot avoid the occasional sight of an Adidos or Mickeyland T-shirt amidst the traditional tribal decorations. I was fortuate enough to stay with a really nice family from the Banna tribe for two nights, and had the chance to watch a bull-jumping ceremony (and almost got whipped by the tribal boys!) Hitch-hiking around Lower Omo was not an easy task though, as traffic was scarce and the local police would penalize truck drivers for taking foreigners – basically, the local government wants all tourists to travel around the region in expensive private-hire 4WDs, and the corrupt police were always on the lookout for foreigners with radar eyes in an attempt to ask for baksheesh from any foreigner caught riding trucks. Once I had to pay 150 birr (after negotiation) for being caught. Tough it was, but to me, this is finally the real beginning of sub-Saharan Africa!

And seriously, how can I miss out the steamy macchiatto as one big highlight from this coffee nation?

Detailed stories of some of the above events will follow shortly, I promise – as my next stop will be: Kenya, and I believe Kenya will definitely have better facilities than Ethiopia!