Backpacking Africa

Africa Travel Blog

 › entry 72 of 80 › view all entries

Well here i'am in yet another awesome I'm in Africa I'll be writing more about what I've done and where I'm at here so far until then here's a few pictures I've taken so  I hope you enjoy them as much as i have taking them so far!!!!


The flight from South America was not uneventful. I had the good fortune of being seated next to a British freelance journalist who lives in
Nairobi. Ben, the journalist, was an interesting fellow. He has one of those jobs that I've always classified as a dream job. But like most dream jobs, once you hear about the nuts and bolts of it, you realize it might not be quite as great as it sounds. He talked a lot about the high and lows of the work.

'Living a life of extremes', he said. And it seemed to me, after listening to some of his stories, there were a lot more lows than highs. He talked about how wearing it was to see the people of Africa killing each other first hand and how you find yourself screaming, 'Why? Isn't there a better way?' He spoke of losing a journalist friend who was onboard the Kenyan airlines flight that crashed (Not a comforting thought while flying Ethiopian airlines) and how another good friend (also a close friend of the deceased) was informed of his death by a producer minutes before she would go on air to report about the crash. He went on about the stress of deadlines and the highpropensity for substance abuse among journalists.

My first impression of Addis Ababa was poverty.

Sanaa was also very poor but different somehow. It's like Sanaa is a tightly controlled (by Islam) city of very poor people and Addis is just poor people gone wild. The city is very hilly and feels more like a gigantic village than a capital. Just when you think you're driving through an area that is very city-like the next several blocks are just muddy roads and shanty town buildings. I have to admit, there is a certain charm to it all, though.

I arrived rather late and once I checked into my hostel I went to bed. The next  morning I decided to hit the merkato which is said to be the largest market in all of Africa. Wandering around the market in broad daylight I didn't feel very safe. I did have the foresight to not bring my camera bag and only enough money I could afford to lose.
The market was just too big for me to really see all of it and after going through what seemed like the hundreth muddy narrow street crammed with crap I had no interest in buying I decided to head over to the Piazza area.

The Piazza wasn't as chaotic as the merkato but it was still a jumbled mass of run down buildings and winding streets. I found a couple of Internet cafes but neither of them were working. No banks had ATMs. I think it's also worth noting that I, to this point, had not seen a single non-black person in the city. I was the lone whitey in a sea of black faces. To say that I stood out would be a huge understatement. I felt like the whitest person on the continent. After a very long day of walking about I headed back to my hostel to rest.

The next day I had one of my more interesting experiences in Addis involving a local alcoholic brew called 'Tej'.
My Lonely Planet guide book had this to say about it:

If you're a male traveler, don't leave Addis without sampling a flask of tej in a tej bet. The traditional haunt of men, the tej bet is a kind of Ethiopian pub, serving tej instead of beer. It's rough and ready: prepare to be baffled by the raucous ambiance. Ask for directions, there are no signs.

Wow! With a billing like that, how could I refuse? My actual tej experience turned out to be rather tame, but I did come to understand why tej is so male specific. It's an aphrodisiac as I learned from the taxi driver and every other male that I met happy to show me the universal pelvic thrust to indicate sex. I was wondering why all the females at the hotel were giggling when I asked about tej. Good God! I must have come off as quite the randy foreign pervert while inquiring about tej with the mostly female staff; or worse still as some sort of aphrodisiac desperate impotent.
Oh well, I guess it's better to be embarrassed after the fact than during.

The tej bet that I ended up at was nice enough, if a bit boring. The front desk girls at my hotel had asked Jonas (pronounced Yonas) the laundry guy to take me to the place when his shift ended. It was pouring down rain in the late afternoon when we arrived. Jonas told me it would normally be quite busy there at that time of the day, but due to the rain it was very quiet. We sat down and before long a waiter appeared with an old bottle of scotch that was filled with what looked like orange juice. He also had two very strange glasses that Jonas called birle. The glasses looked more like small vases with very narrow beaker like tops that ballooned out at the bottom of the glass. The waiter filled the birles and Jonas and I started drinking from the weird glasses.
Tej is made from fermented honey, and although it didn't taste bad, I could tell it was quite strong. About the time we finished off the first glass of Tej, Jona's girlfriend showed up. She was a lovely girl and the three of us chatted for a bit about Ethiopia. It was interesting for me to see how hopeful these two young people were about the future of their country. Jonas talked about HIV and how too many people in his country have promiscuous sex. But Jonas and his girlfriend were plannning to get married next year and  they said there were many more like themselves that are aware of the problems and are being more careful and in control. Between the three of us, we finished off the bottle of tej. I paid the bill and headed back to the hotel. Jonas and his girlfriend were off to enjoy the evening somewhere.

The next day I hopped in a taxi heading to the Hilton hotel in hopes of drawing money from an ATM there. During the drive my taxi--an ancient Russian car--continously stalled out and died in the middle of the road. On several occasions we were literally stopped in the middle of an intersection as cars worked their way around us. On the last leg of the journey we were heading up a hill and the car gave out completely. After several attempts to get it moving I got out and walked the rest of the way to the Hilton.

The hotel, which looked like a fortress, was quite a change of scenery. After passing through an airportesque security set up, the long lost white people appeared. This was obviously the safe haven for the foreign business people operating in the region.
Despite being in this seemingly western world oasis I was still unable to do anything I had planned. No ATMs accepted my cards and the Internet cafe was down.  Welcome to Africa, John, it's not likely to get easier. I changed US dollars and headed out.

On the drive back to my hotel I was happy that the vehicle seemed to be running more or less smoothly. As I looked out the window I could see the constant stream of impoverished lives go by me. The most shocking sight was a boy of, probably around, twelve strolling down the sidewalk newborn naked and smoking a cigarette!

I'm back at the Hilton and I have been able to secure some more money and use the Internet. Tomorrow, I'm off to the southern part of Ethiopia known as the Rift Valley.

And after that I'll be crossing the border into Kenya. This is the part of the trip I have had the most worry over. They say it's a bit of the wild west down there and transport can be very very slow. I might be out of touch for a while but I'm sure all will be fine.

Oh, and I haven't taken any pictures as I didn't want to walk around with my camera in the city.

xander_van_hoof says:
Great writing. Shame you didn't have an extra pocket camera to take some pictures just before you leave the sites. I did so in San Salvador, where I didn't feel safe.
Posted on: Jun 23, 2014
Ape says:
Hey man, just wanted to say that I love your blog, looking forward to reading the rest! Happy travels mate :)
Posted on: Apr 01, 2010
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!