Friday, October 26, 2012


How sad.
Zeme and I have parted ways.
I loved 100%
I gave a 100%

So what happened I hear you ask? 
I still love him. 
I honestly thought he was my ‘one’. 
But sometimes no matter how you feel about some-one or something there are some things out of your control that happen that change the course of your future.  Not just in relationships, but work, friends, travel it can be anything.  I have said before that some details are not for the blog and the reasons behind the split will remain between Zeme and I.

But you need to keep people in your life that truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enchance you and make you happy.  If you have people who have NONE of the above.  Let them go.  I had to let Zeme go and it is such a shame when we were so close to starting our life together with my return to Addis in early January. 

So the question people have been asking me is what now? 
What are your plans? 
What will you do now? 
Well now that I am back in control of my own destiny (which feels fantastic) I am going to stick to my original plan and still head to Ethiopia in January.  I was always heading back to Africa well before I met Zeme.  I may have not chosen Ethiopia as my country of choice, but after being there several times now, I love it there.  I feel I can make a real difference, the people are friendly and I think I can still make a life for myself there.  It will just be a bigger challenge not having ‘a loved one’ there to help me adapt.  I am terrified actually.  It is a country where not many people speak English but I have been in touch with my guide from my first trip, Minalu-and he is happy to take me under his wing and he will help me settle in.  So I will not totally be ‘on my own’.  I will then hopefully meet his friends, I will get a job, I will meet more people, make more friends and the circle of life continues.  As my friend Christine told me when I was in LA, if things don’t work out it doesn’t mean I have failed-and she is right.  But if Ethiopia doesn’t fit, I will try Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya…..  until I find somewhere I do fit.  It will happen I know that-I need to have a little patience and that is NOT one of my greatest virtues….  I know-WHO would have thought?

So the breakup has not changed my resolve to help people.  It has not changed my plan to move to Africa.  It is all still go from my end.  What have I got to lose?  And look at what people have to gain…… I will start to find contact details for the charities I saw when we were driving around the country in March and I will touch base with my contact for the UN and see if I can get a foot in the door there as well. But I think my heart lies to work in an orphanage.  I love kids, I would love to give them confidence to tackle a future, be proud of who they are and for me to be a positive role model for them to make a change in their lives.  I think I could do that and how rewarding would that be?  But again no one knows what the future holds and you just need to roll with the punches right.     

Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets.  So, love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don’t and believe that everything happens for a reason.  If you get a chance, take it.  If it changes your life, let it.  Nobody said it’d be easy.  They just promised it would be worth it.
At the end of the day both Zeme and I deserve to be happy.  I wish him all the happiness in the world and if that means to be with different people, follow different paths or have different ideas for the future then I call that fate and I am okay to run with that and see where it takes me.  I know I have done everything right from my end and I have now decided to run with my gut and my heart has had to take a back seat on this one after it being the other way around for a long time.    

A broken heart will heal.  This is my life and this is how I now roll. 
Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.

So I thank everybody for all their kind words, worry and virtual hugs.  If anything this has strengthen my resolve, I will become a stronger person and I am now in charge of ME once again and not reliant on some-one else on what will happen next in MY life.  I can’t believe that I even let it get that far.  I was so desperate in July when Zeme told me I couldn’t come to Ethiopia to live in September.  I was devastated and I think back now and it was quite pathetic.  I don’t know how the Elkins put up with me.  How could I let some-one make me feel like that.  Anyway I am not going to get into details but is super disappointing when I am not even getting return messages-it has been a complete shutdown on his behalf and it makes it difficult for me to get some closure and not even I can answer that question-WHY.  I always knew that firstly long distance relationship’s, suck.  But I thought this was worth it.  Secondly we have a cultural barrier, but I was happy to work through that and lastly the language barrier which was probably the most frustrating for me, but I knew once I moved there and he got better at his English and I learnt Amharic that this would be over-come no problems.  It was a short term issue for me…..

And the last question I know that everyone is thinking is my tattoo that clearly has emblazoned on my left wrist, Zeme.  I still love my tattoo, for what it meant when I got and the way it looks mixed in with my mums tattoo.  What the hell will I do now I hear you ask.  I will leave it for now, but maybe after my move I will go back to the same tattooist in Addis and get him to turn it into something else for me.  After I had Zeme written on my wrist I had an after-thought that it would have been nice to get it written in Amharic as a backup if things didn’t work out there would only be a small amount of people that would know what it said and it still would have looked cool.  Anyway haven’t you people seen LA Ink.  They can change any tattoo into anything.  But that will be down the track as it still symbolizes something to me and is still close to my heart for now. 

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.  That is where I am now and I need to run full throttle into what life will throw at me next.  This is what I have been dealing with on my own the last 2 weeks and as sad as it is, I feel like a weight has been lifted off me, I can breathe and I can see things again.  It all sounds so prophetic but that is how I feel.  So as I sit at a Burger King in Singapore International Airport writing this, waiting for the check-in counter to open for me to check in for my flight to Nepal, with music in my ears and thoughts of people in a much worse position than me, the least I can do is look up, thank my mum, my travel gods and my friends.  I have my health and I am living the dream.  Smile-as my first tear drops.  Smile for what we had. 

I loved 100%
I gave a 100%
….and I don’t regret a minute of it……
How sad…………….

Saturday, September 22, 2012


WEATHER: 2 days travel……

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: All my flights connected

BUMMER OF THE DAY: 36 hours in planes and airports makes for a BIG day

WORD OF THE DAY: Saudi Arabian Airlines


Today I leave Addis Ababa
Today I leave Zeme
Today I fly Saudi Arabia Airlines
Today I head to Phuket.......
I will be back-you can count on that

My flight departs at 2pm today.  It is the first time out of my three visits that I have had a day flight and the last time I left Addis Ababa it was mayhem at the airport so I decided to leave the hotel a little early to account for any snaffu time.  Zeme and I say our good-byes now at the hotel, as public displays of affection is frowned upon, so with promises made, some tears, hugs and plenty of kisses is all done in private and I think I really like that, especially when there are tears as I hate crying in public.  It is sort of nice to get the farewell done, and as a bonus I still get to spend time with Zeme with the drive to the airport and still get a quick hug and kiss anyway when he drops me off.  People are not allowed into the terminal unless they are travelling, so the quick good-bye is all done in the carpark, Zeme gets me a trolley, I load up the monster and my other 2 bags and it is good-bye now and the new countdown begins with only 68 days until I return in the middle of November.  Hopefully to collect Zeme for our trip to Australia, if not I get another precious week with him, before I head home for Christmas.  It is a win win for me and I’m happy with our next plan of attack.  Now I just need to take with me the memories of another great trip and look forward to my last 8 weeks of travel.  I didn’t really do any of Asia on this Odyssey, with its close (well 8 hours) from Australia, I have done a lot of the Asian continent already including China, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Brunei, Hong Kong and Indonesia.  My Tran Mongolian trip took me out of Beijing and we were in China for around 5 days, but that was all of my Asia extent.  Now I am heading back to Asia, as it is cheap, I have a wedding to go to, it is cheap, and it was not far for me to then travel home to Australia at Christmas time. 

So with a wave and a toot Zeme was out of the carpark as I made my way to the terminal building when I was topped at a small security check point booth as I left the carpark.  He asked where I was going, asked to see my passport and my ticket and then I was waved through with have a nice flight.  Your bags are scanned before you are permitted to enter the building and as I did this, with my Ethiopian bangle causing a ruckus in Ethiopia, I looked around and there were more staff than passengers.  The airport was deserted.  I hate that feeling as you then start to think did I miss my flight?  Am I early?  Am I late? Was it cancelled?  As you wander in with that lost look someone came over to me and asked where I was going and where I told them Riyadh he pointed me in the right direction, so it was still going and I was in the right place.  There was only one man in front of me already at the counter and he was taking forever, fishing around in his bag for paperwork etc…  Seriously I was there for like 15 minutes, but the supervisor was really nice and pulled some-one from somewhere else to check me in as this dude fluffed around.  They were all so nice.  I got my window seat; my bag checked only through to Singapore and the BEST news my bag only weighed 22kg!!!  I had successfully unloaded 6kgof stuff with Zeme and I think my day pack was lighter as well, so I think I should be able to slip through Jetstar Asia with only 2kg over what I had paid for.  If they make me pay it isn’t the end of the world with it being like 15AUD a kilo, I can handle that if it comes to it.  So my travel day was starting out brilliantly.

There was not a single person at customs and I was processed in 3 seconds.  I am waiting for them to ask me why I keep coming back as I now have 3 visa’s in my passport, and you can’t miss them, they are the big stickers that take up a whole page in your passport, but not once have I been asked which I am fine to say why, but I wonder if that would create some concern at all?  I don’t know but as long as they don’t keep asking I won’t be saying anything.  There were a few people in the departures area, but again it was like a ghost town.  My flight was due to depart at 2pm with us having to be at the gate at 1.15pm.  Because there was no-one around I was at the departures at 11.35am.  I had some time to kill and thought I may as well get some food while I can.  All the shops and duty free stores were closed and a handful of restaurants were open.  It’s obviously not a busy time for them to be open; I guess I can see why with only 30 of us in the terminal!!  I was lucky the café that I picked had free Wi-Fi so over lunch I was able to keep myself busy.  This was New Year’s Day, a public holiday in Ethiopia (maybe that was why it was so quiet, doesn’t work like that in Australia) and the café had a coffee ceremony for the airport staff where coffee is brewed on a little open fire, popcorn and cake is passed around and as I left they were cranking some Ethiopian tunes and I could hear clapping. 

I got to my gate at 1.05pm-keeping in mind we didn’t have to be there till 1.15pm and besides 2 staff members there was not a soul in sight.  My first reaction was that I was the only one on the flight!  But I could see through the glass onto the aero bridge and they had started boarding early.  As I made my way down the aerobridge there were about 10 Arabian women in front of me and 2 men.  I was surprised as I thought that I would have been travelling predominately with men based on their culture.  Our bags were inspected at the aircraft doors on a small table by 2 security guards and the men were also scanned with security wand before they were allowed on the aircraft.  I thought maybe they don’t scan the women, but once we were on board the women were taken into the galley, the curtain drawn and then that was where we were scanned.  Once I was on my boarding pass was checked twice by the crew before I could take my seat.  Talk about security PLUS, but I don’t mind as it is all for a reason and for our own safety.  We were sitting on an Airbus A320 with a seating configuration of 3 x3 and have the capacity to seat 120 economy passengers, when I counted heads there were 28 of us!!!  I would say 20 of them were females.  I wonder what brings Arabian women to Ethiopia. So not only did I have the seat next to me free I had the whole dang row!!!  Woo hoo this trip is just getting better by the minute.  My travel gods have come back and it is good to have them on board.  As everyone was on board the doors closed at 1.20pm and we were in the air at 1.35pm.  Not bad for a 2pm departure and I don’t think I have EVER been on a flight that leaves 40 minutes early.  The plane seemed quite new and anything would be luxury after my hell flight with Ethiopian-ugh I still shudder about that flight.  Well while Saudi Arabian Airlines were on a roll they served us lunch 20 minutes after taking off and we had a choice of beef, chicken or fish, drinks were served and then we were able to settle in for the 2 hour and 45 minute flight to Riyadh. 

Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab world (after Algeria). Saudi Arabia has an area of approximately 2,250,000 km2 and it has an estimated population of 27 million, of which 9 million are registered foreign expatriates and an estimated 2 million are illegal immigrants. Saudi nationals comprise an estimated 16 million people.  The kingdom is sometimes called "The Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram(in Mecca), and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam.  Saudi Arabia has the world's second largest oil reserves which are concentrated largely in the Eastern Province and oil accounts for more than 95% of exports and 70% of government revenue.  It has also the world's sixth largest natural gas reserves.  In short they are quite a wealthy country but not without their own internal issues and tensions.  A rare independent opinion poll published in 2010 indicated that Saudis’ main social concerns were unemployment (at 10% in 2010), corruption and religious extremism. The physical punishments imposed by Saudi courts, such as beheading, stoning, amputation and lashing, and the number of executions have been strongly criticized and the death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion.  One in four children are abused in Saudi Arabia. The National Society for Human Rights reports that almost 45% of the country's children are facing some sort of abuse and domestic violence.  It has also been claimed that trafficking of women is a particular problem in Saudi Arabia as the country's large number of female foreign domestic workers, and loopholes in the system cause many to fall victim to abuse and torture and lastly there is widespread inbreeding in Saudi Arabia, resulting from the traditional practice of encouraging marriage between close relatives, has produced high levels of several genetic disorders including thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, deafness and muteness.  I guess the saying is true that money can’t buy you everything.  Anyway I wasn’t visiting the country, I have not burning desire to visit this country, it does not sound like a country for a visiting single female (I didn’t think you can anyway) and I was just happy to pass through the airport thank you very much.

I like the day flights as I can look out my window, I can take pictures and it was good to see our decent into the country of Saudi Arabia.  Once we had cleared the clouds we had 40 minutes where we could get a small aerial view of the country.  And all you could see was sand, as far as the eye could see was sand.  Not the nice beach yellow sand, this sand had a red tinge to it and it was everywhere.  You could see housing estates as we flew over and there was no grass to be seen anywhere, their backyards were sand.  Sand, sand, sand.  I am not sure I could live in a place like that.  There were brief, very brief glimpses of green, but we aren’t talking the sweet green grass of home, they were shrubby looking trees and certainly nothing you could rub your toes through like you can with soft green grass.  You could see the road network and the main road we were following in was like a black marker pen line drawn on the sand, it was straight as a die and no houses or service stations on this stretch of road, I tell ya you wouldn’t want to break down there that’s for sure.  And the estates that we did see were perfect satellite cities, all perfectly laid out in big massive squares with all the roads running in a beautiful grid style pattern.  Nothing like being able to plan a city from scratch.  We landed at 4.30pm with the welcome to Saudi Arabia information (the English version is very short and sweet) we were told that the current temperature outside was 41C.  WOW.  I was sitting there thinking thank goodness I won’t have to go out in that heat when I could see from my window buses coming to pick us up.  So much for not getting out in the heat.  I must say it didn’t feel like 41C when I stepped off the plane and down the stairs to the waiting bus (only one for 28 of us) and the bus wasn’t really that air-conditioned either but it was a quick 10 minute ride to the terminal where we all got off and as we exited into the terminal proper we were swept up in another plane disembarking and they were all men.  I swear there would have been 100 of them, all dressed in their PJ looking day clothes and this is when I first thought-okay, what have I got myself into?  I could see customs from where I was standing as I tried to get some form of bearings and they were all men, there would have been 300 of them down there with a pinch of a few women….  I was then rescued by a staff member asking where I was going and when I told him I was a transit passenger, he pointed me down this empty wide corridor where I could see a security check point at the end.  I can’t be the only transit passenger out of all these people surely?  So I made my way down to the security booths that were empty when a security man popped out from down the hall and started walking towards me with a smoke in his hands, he had a piece of paper in his hands and welcomed me to his country and asked for my name and destination, checked I had a boarding pass and then asked me to sit on some chairs to wait for the other transit passengers.  I waited around 20 minutes, and was joined in dribs and drabs by about 20 other people where we had to throw our stuff through a security scanner and walk through one.  Well as usual I beeped and I was waved into a small room where a lady sat covered head to toe in her black burka, all I could see were her eyes where I was checked with a security wand, asked where I was going, cleared and as I left she said to me to have a nice trip. 

We were all then herded up an escalator right into the oncoming traffic of a boarding flight.  That couldn’t be good.  So we had to wait to one side as they got the travelers through the gate, if we didn’t have our wits we could have been making a trip to Dubai instead.  That was a cock up I rekon as the check-in staff were saying something to the guy that had bought us upstairs.  Welcome to Riyadh GOOGLE INTERNATIONAL NAME where I had the next 9 hours to kill before my flight to Singapore.  It was an old terminal that was going through a makeover, but there seemed to be plenty of seats, a few small duty free shops and a handful of food outlets.  As I did a lap to orientate myself the first thing I noticed was the men, I rekon I was out numbered 100 to 1.  There were women around as well but not as many as the men and I only saw 1 other western woman and she was wearing leggings with a short top, I would never do that in a country like this, even though she did look good.  I was feeling bad enough with what I had on and I dressed with care this morning to make sure I wasn’t showing to much skin with ¾ pants, a shirt with sleeves and no cleavage and I made sure I remembered my scarf, and I still felt bad.  I was certainly attraction attention but it wasn’t leery attention it was just a white woman at the airport attention.  The next thing to check was if they had Wi-Fi and the answer to that was no.  They have a site undergoing construction but it was not yet released to the public and some of the juice places and takeaways claimed to have Wi-Fi but it wasn’t working.  So I had 9 hours to kill with no internet, gee they were making it hard.  So I found a table overlooking one of the gates, O had purchased a drink and I set up the computer to get some serious blogging started.  No more talk, I had to get it done.  So I sat there for 1.5 hours till my computer went flat and I had to pick up stumps and find myself a power point.  I found one right near the juice guy, so I asked if I could use his table and he said that was fine and I sat there for another 2 hours, blog, blog, blogging away.  There is only so much typing one can do so after I finished my 3rd blog I played some games and updated my IPod with some recent photos and by this time it was 10.30pm.  My flight was departing at 2am and boarding time was at 1.15am.  I still had 2.5 hours to go.  Because I was so early in arriving there wasn’t a gate number assigned so I decided to pack up, stretch some legs and find out what gate I was going to be leaving from.  As I walked around the terminal each gate had TV boxes were TV’s used to be but they were all now empty.  Every single one of them, so I went to the main entrance and they had LCD TV’s just through security, but they were all in Arabic, even the numbers, so there was no way I could tell or read a single thing on the screen.  I waited for the screens to click over twice, as they normally show an English version as well, but not this time.  So I walked to the Customer Service desk to ask them, and the first gentleman couldn’t understand I was saying Singapore, the second man next to him abruptly told me gate 25 without making eye contact and I was on my way to gate 25. 

When I got to gate 25, there were a lot of people (mainly men) already waiting, so as an extra check for me I was trying to read their boarding passes to make sure that they too were going to Singapore?  I probably looked like I was staring or a weirdo but I wanted to make sure I could find other people on my flight, cause sometimes they gate change and with no TV’s and not a lot of announcements in English I didn’t want to miss this flight.  I couldn’t see a single one, but there were a group of men sitting across from me with bags labeled to Bangladesh.  Is that where they are going or have come from?  I had a sneaking suspicion that all these people were not on my flight; I couldn’t even see a single Singaporean or Asian person in amongst the 150 or so people at gate 25.  Well I would give it till 1.15am when we were supposed to be boarding and then I will ask a staff member.  I was listening to music and playing solitaire till around 12.45am when I figured I better start listening to the announcements that were blurted out of the speakers, I couldn’t really understand the places the man was saying but I could hear the number and the gate, so I got my flight number in my head and just listened.  At 1.25am, I was just packing my stiff to make my way to the man behind the counter when he got up and called people travelling to Singapore…..  that was me…. It wasn’t over the big speaker and I was the only one to get up….WTF………….. was no-one else travelling to Singapore?  When I got to him, he checked my boarding pass and there was another man behind me and that was it.  They opened the gate, let us in and then closed and locked the door.  Ummmmmmmm where is everyone else.  When I got to the aircraft there was no bag check or security scan and when I boarded the plane there were a few people already on, they must have come from somewhere else, but not many for such a large aircraft.  I was seated in row 44 and when I got to 35 the hostee said I could take a seat anywhere, there were no people to come, and I think they wanted to condense the few people that were in this section which makes sense.  I felt a little awkward this was a Boeing 777-300 with a seating configuration of 3x4x3 and as far as I could count there were 10 of us in economy where the capacity was for 250 economy passengers.  So not only did I have a seat to myself, a row to myself but just about a whole section.  I felt like I was on my own personal flight as you really couldn’t see the people in front, I was the last person in row 35…… have I stumbled on the world best kept airline secret?  All I can say is they must have a crap load of cargo in this flight to make it profitable.  I want to fly them again just to see if it was a freak flight or if it is like this all the time….. I only paid 350USD from Addis to Singapore so I know it aint my ticket helping them pay for the flight. 

So with no further a-do we promptly took off at 2am-destination Singapore.  It was an 8 hour and 10 minute flight and it was going to be a very comfortable flight indeed.  The aircraft had in seat TV’s and a great movie selection, but by the time we were in the air and dinner had been served I had been on the go for nearly 16 hours.  I still had an 8 hour flight, 5 hours on the ground in Singapore, a 2 hour flight to Phuket and then an hour’s drive to the hotel.  I was just about half way…….. I did start to watch a movie after dinner, and out of all the seats I could have picked on the plane, mine had a bad flicker.  That would be right, so I moved into the middle seat and started to watch Safe House before I started to nod off to sleep, so I moved back to the window where I could lean and I bunkered down for the night and got 6 hours sleep and woke to the smell of breakfast wafting through the cabin. I did wake up a few times as the turbulence was pretty bad and as they tried to serve breakfast it was suspended twice because of this and at one stage when I opened my water we hit a massive air pocket and I nearly lost the whole thing over my tray.  We had a choice of pancakes, chicken and rice or poached eggs.   It has been 24 hours since my check-in at Addis and already it seems like a lifetime ago.  This continent jumping is a tiresome job.

We landed into Singapore at 3.35pm local time.  There is a 5 hour time difference between Saudi and Ethiopia and we came into Terminal 3.  I had to collect my bag and get myself to Terminal 1, but I wasn’t in a rush as I had a 5 hour connection here even though I hadn’t done the collect your bags and change terminals here in Singapore before.  I guess I will be good at it by the end as I have to do this 4 more times in the next 6 weeks.  Singapore have a lot of free internet stations located around their airport, so I thought I would quickly check my Facebook while I had a few minutes before having to get my bags.  There were 2 messages from Zeme, I replied back, checked my email and 7 minutes later I was in the escalators down to customs.  I was the only one in this massive hall going through and I am starting to believe I am travelling through some parallel world.  Where are all the people?  I asked the customs chick about getting to terminal 1 and it all sounded quite easy, so after locating a trolley, popping the monster on, getting stopped for a random bag scan, I was on my way to the train station.  I knew you probably couldn’t take the trolley on the train so just before the station I lugged the monster on my back, got to the station and there was a train waiting, travelled the 5 minutes to terminal 1 and when I got off someone had left their trolley right at the train, so I popped monster back on a trolley and I was on my way again.  It could not have been any easier if I had tried.  I found the Jetstar Asia counter and thought I would try and off load my bag early as I was 4 hours early for my flight, but they took it no dramas and didn’t bat an eye lid at me being 2kg over and after passing through customs again for the second time in an hour I was pretty much back where I started as T1, 2 & 3 are all joined together. 

I now had 4 hours to kill here, but Singapore is an amazing airport to kill time.  I have to say I was a little hungry and I have this thing for chicken drummettes from Burger King.  I went mad on them when I was in Spain and I know I can get them here in Singapore.  So I bee-lined for Burger King via the customer service counter where you need to pick up passwords if you want to use the Wi-Fi as they have to register you before they can give the code out.  You need one for each device so I got 2 with the idea that I would blog some more and keep my IPod also on the go.  So with my delicious chicken drummettes, my passionfruit iced tea and internet connection I was a happy camper.  This also sucked an hour of my time-woo hoo.  3 hours to go.  They have a Pandora shop here at Changi (well 2) and I thought I would just go for a LOOK to see what new beads they had in.  I am trying to expand my already fill bracelet with travel beads and I was looking for the evil eye bead to represent Turkey, Greece and Egypt.  When I walked into the store she told me that it has been returned and you can’t buy it anymore (I’ll check EBay) I then saw a whole bunch of beads that were perfect and 3 of them you could only get in Singapore.  I won’t tell you what I ended up walking out of that shop with but I think I need to ban myself from there in future, especially as I have 4 more transits through here it could prove fatal to the credit card.  But I managed to kill another hour.  2 to go.  I did need to buy a new watch, so that was next on my shopping list and I am a big fan of Swatch watches.  So I found one that wasn’t too expensive and wasn’t to bling bling and with that helping to kill another 45 minutes I needed to start working out where the hell I was and where my flight was leaving from.  It is easy to get disorientated at Changi.  You can always find your way-everything is well signed but you can lose your bearings all the same.  My flight was now on the departures board, so after getting a snack and some water to drink before my flight I sat outside my gate till we had to board at 7.45pm.  I am not sure if it is me becoming late or not, but again there were no people in the departure lounge and I got to walk straight on the plane!  Maybe my timing is getting better.  Either way we left on time.  This was a low cost airline so no food or drink are included in your price, not that it worried me as I had only paid 65AUD for the ticket, I was FULL and the flight was only 2 hours.  It was a full flight, but I had my window and I think I slept for most of the flight anyway.

We arrived into Phuket at 9pm, 20 minutes early and then it was the final push for me-FINALLY I was in Phuket.  I have 11 wonderful days here.  I have no plans of doing any tours, I just want to chill, get my blog up-to-date and then I will be well rested when the Elkins and Randall’s arrive on the 22nd September.  I have sent a gazillion people to Thailand in the course of my travel agent life and I knew that Australians didn’t need a visa, but I had a small panic when we got to customs there was a booth saying for you to get your visa’s here… WTF-when did that change!?  But it was for certain passports and Australia was not one of them.  After collecting a trolley and the monster I armed myself for the onslaught of taxi drivers pushing for a ride.  I had googled what the cost would be for a taxi to Kata Beach when I was in Addis, so I had an idea and got the tip to use the taxi desk as you come out of customs.  It was exactly as the internet said and I went to the taxi counter and asked how much for a taxi to Kata Beach and the man showed me pictures of cars and pointed to one that was 1650Bhat.  The price I was told was 650Bhat.  So I said not that was too expensive and then he produced a second sheet with cars that read 750Bhat.  You have yourself a deal, I wonder how many people fall for his ploy of offering the most expensive car first, I guess if people have no idea they are caught unawares and get ripped off.  Kata Beach is approximately an hour’s drive from the airport and I think 22AUD is worth the price. 

We made it to the hotel within 50 minutes, there wasn’t too much traffic on the roads at 9.30pm and we also took the back road to Kata by passing Patong and all its craziness, I was expected and I was in my room 10 minutes after arriving.  I just crashed in the bed for a few minutes, like a snow angle, glad to be at my final destination.  Addis Ababa seems like a life time ago already but I take comfort that I am back again in November and I have left the man who I know I am supposed to be with at this moment and forever more.  Is there a better feeling than knowing you are loved?  I don’t know about you but I love being loved.

Welcome to Phuket.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Book Extract From Where There Is No Comfort-Seven Days in Ethiopia

I finished reading this book the other day and it took all my will to not shed a tear at the restaurant I was eating lunch in in Thailand.  I sometimes find it hard to put into words how and why I want to move to Ethiopia when people ask me and all I can say is that Africa changed my life and there must be a way somehow that I can help these people achieve a better quality of life and in the process enrich mine further.  Open up the beautiful country of Ethiopia to people who never would have imagined to travel here – bring tourism to a country that is still, learning the tourist ropes and spread the word it is safe to come and if I can help, in turn get others to help, if it only changes one life then we have been successful. 

Below are the last 4 pages from the book Where There Is No Comfort, Seven Days in Ethiopia-Juliann Troi-Eloquent Books 2009 and it sums up my feelings pretty much to the letter.  If you think you can help in anyway after reading this please get in touch with me.  All it takes is one person to start the ball rolling……..  

The next logical question;
How can one make a difference in a world so seemingly upside down?
Early in the 2003 film ‘Tears of the Sun” Bruce Willis’s character cynically states that ‘God already left Africa’.  For reasons I didn’t understand as I watched from the safety of my living room, that scene stuck in my mind.  I have revisited and mulled it over from time to time over the years since.  Perhaps, deep down all that time I wondered if it really is.  Has God abandoned Africa?  Left her to founder and drown in a sea of darkness.  In the opinion of a Nigerian friend, Africa is not dark at all, but rather blessed because there is a much greater opportunity for good here.  Light is indeed brighter and more effective at night than during the day.

This trip showed me two important things:
God has not left Africa.  He is alive and well and working diligently on behalf of His people.  While in need of help, Africa is not in need of anyone’s quick fixes.  She is in need of slow, healing tender ministrations.  Perhaps it is a continent ravaged by disease, many preventable.  Or it is ripped apart by hatred, brutality and greed but, what if, as poets and optimists believe, love truly can effectively nurture the dying and counter hate?  What if little acts of genuine, heartfelt kindness made by people willing to give of their resources or even leave their places of comfort and be uncomfortable for a week or two, can right the worst wrongs. 

It is true that during my seven days in Ethiopia, while I developed a ‘new  and improved’ definition of discomfort and lost many of my illusions, I found along the road of this adventure something deep inside myself that refuses to be contained in the limitation of human words.  Is it curiosity? A desire to know what makes this indomitable people so indomitable.  I don’t know, perhaps I will never will.  What I do know is that they suffer unspeakably, yet their smiles are wide and genuine.  They look different and speak a different language, yet now I see that we are not so different as we might like to imagine.  We all have hopes; we all have dreams, desired outcomes for our trips, whether it be around the world or down the road to the market.  Each life, whether here or in Africa, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, is a rich and varicolored tapestry, an amazing picture that cannot be reproduced by anyone else, only experienced and remembered. 

My tears are gone.  In their place is resolve, a resolve to share what I have seen and do what I can to help.  But that is for tomorrow.  I see the country folk in their small circular huts of mud and thatched straw scattered in seemingly random fashion throughout the hills, the city dwellers to the cramped square rooms of tin or crumbling mud brick.  But they remain with me.  I fear they always will, to curse me with their want. 

Or is it a gift they’ve given me?  Had I not seen them I would never truly appreciate how blessed I am.  I can feed my two children, my daughter is tall and beautiful and more worried about what to wear to school than cheating the death and deprivation that relentlessly haunts them.  Again I am confronted by the hopeless eyes of a mother who knows that for her child there is no bright future.

I desperately fight with the anguish that suddenly threatens to pull me under again.  Though terrible, this too is a gift I realize, for to see and feel nothing would signal an inexcusable callousness and frightening lack of compassion, cold indifference born of a life of self-indulgence.

I cannot help but wonder how you, the reader, will take what I have shared.  Will you become indignant that I would appeal to you for help?  We do, after all, have so many problems of our own.  I have heard so many say “why should I waste money on a people who lack industry and breed like rabbits’. They are only getting what they deserve.  Ashamedly, I must admit that I have even thought it a time or two myself in the past.  Perhaps you have looked past the enormity of the issue and decided it’s just too big for one person to fix.  You wonder what can you possibly do to make a difference.  I know I have been caught in that web as well.

Thanks to Pat Bradley, I went and saw for myself what one convinced and determined person can do.  You see, Pat learned of the plight of the Ethiopians in 2003 after reading a news story in the growing famine there.  He landed in Addis Ababa a short time later not knowing a soul, with only a phone number in his pocket.  Today, through his tireless efforts to raise support and activate others, he has adopted an Ethiopian family numbering into the thousands and through ICA’s work is transforming the barren landscape and giving many of Ethiopia’s children a future and hope for it.

I saw for myself there is nothing to fear, that they are only people, a once mighty people part of Kish, Nubia and Axum.  Each was a great empire that ruled much of East Africa and even rated prominent mention in the Christian Bible.  They have fallen into disgrace and despair, becoming a nation crippled by need with hands out to receive crumbs and scraps from the great foreign table.

I would assert that it isn’t a situation entirely of their own making, that they are not merely ‘getting what they deserve’.  Rather, they are victims of circumstances largely beyond their control-the men can’t control the weather, that sometimes the rains don’t come, or they come too greatly and wash away the crops or make them rot in the ground.  The children can’t control the fact that their parents grow sick and die leaving them without shelter or support.

Perhaps the saddest fact of all is that the Ethiopian people have been in the grips of hopelessness for so long they have forgotten what hope is.  If they are only getting what they deserve, then how much worse could we, who have control of our own destiny and they, deserve for seeing their plight and doing nothing or, worse, not caring at all.

I think of young America with our pioneering spirit and our willingness to help a neighbor in need.  Are we not all neighbors in this ever shrinking world?  The Ethiopian man being consumed by leprosy is no less human and able to feel pain and the devastation of his disease than you or I.  Perhaps he and the rest if his people feel pain more acutely because they are so intimately acquainted with it.  Perhaps they bear their burden so gracefully because they have felt it for so long they have become numb to it and simply accept us as an immutable fact of life.

Perhaps, this generation is hopeless but the next need not be.  With a little help for our sick and dying sister, Ethiopia can become a beacon of hope, a bright light in a very dark place.  Call it terminal optimism if you like.  I prefer to think of it as a good start on rescuing all of Africa.

It is a grand vision I have.  But I realize it is not one I can accomplish on my own.  I can only put words to paper and tell you of their suffering.  It is you, the now informed, knowledgeable reader, who must take my words and give then substance.  You must make them into something real and give them power by joining them to your actions.  Perhaps you have no such vision, are not equipped or even desire to go, but then you don’t have to.  Perhaps you have a little extra that you can give.  Therein lays the real power as it puts resources into the hands of people, like Pat Bradley, who choose and desire to go and meet the Ethiopian people at the place of their need-a place where there is no comfort.

For more information on Pat Bradley and the International Crisis Aid’s work in Ethiopia and around the world go to    

Where There Is No Comfort
Seven Days in Ethiopia
Juliann Troi-Eloquent Books 2009


Waiting, watching
Listening to every little sign I see
You are so bright, shining above all the city lights
You know, it's right when all of the stars in the sky align
If you and I, we are together as one tonight

So get up, stand up
What you waiting for?
Let's go, jump in
We gotta live like live in to begin
We've got a love like no one knows
Now I'm with you
Now I'm with you
Now I'm with you
Sitting on top, sitting on top of the world
Saved me from me, gave me everything I need
You'll be forever in my heart

So get up, stand up
What you waiting for?
Let's go, jump in
We gotta live like live in to begin
We've got a love like no one knows
Now I'm with you
Now I'm with you
Now I'm with you
Sitting on top, sitting on top of the world

All is quiet at night
We say only things for us to hear

So get up, stand up
What you waiting for?
Let's go, jump in
We gotta live like live in to begin
We've got a love like no one knows

Now I'm with you
Now I'm with you
Now I'm with you

Sitting on top, sitting on top of the world
Sitting on top, sitting on top of the world
Sitting on top, sitting on top of the world

 Delta Goodrem 



HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Spending the last day of the year with Zeme

BUMMER OF THE DAY: My last night in Addis Ababa


Happy New Year.
Today is the last day of the Ethiopian calendar.
The date is the 10th of September.
The year is 2004.

So how does that work?  The Ethiopian Calendar is 7 years behind the Georgian calendar, so when you come to visit the country you are 7 years younger and the Ethiopian Tourism Board claim 13 months of sunshine a year…..

The Ethiopian Calendar is based on the ancient Coptic calendar and still in use today. It includes twelve 30-day months and a 13th month of five days (six days in leap years).   So that makes the current year according to the Ethiopian calendar as 2004, which began on September 12, 2011AD of the Gregorian calendar.  Does that make sense?  So I was really born in 1967 and I am really 7 years younger than what I actually am!  I knew I would love this country.  But I guess that makes Zeme 7 years younger and those numbers don’t look healthy at all….. Oh well I guess you can’t have it both ways.  Me being 30 or Zeme being 18?  Hmmmmmm moving on……….

The Ethiopian clock is also different it still has 24 hours in a day, similar to it’s the western clock. However, Ethiopia has shifted their clock by six hours so that the clock rolls over at 6 am - the start of the day. This is an entirely sensible approach given Ethiopia is located near the equator and the sun comes up at the same time every day of the year. To convert between the Ethiopian and western clocks, simply subtract six hours.  So midday for the western time is actually 6pm Ethiopian time-okay that will take just a little getting used to.  Both on tour and on my second return Minalu and Zeme would give Ethiopian times and just at the end of my last trip I was starting to get the hang of it and I would tell Zeme the time based on the Ethiopian clock when he asked what the time was. 

The Ethiopian New Year, also known as Enkutatashnew year in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, while it is called Ri'se Awde Amet (Head Anniversary) in Ge'ez, the term preferred by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It occurs on September 11 in the Gregorian calendar, except for leap years, when it occurs on September 12. This date correspondence applies from the Gregorian years 1900 to 2099. Generally, because every fourth Ethiopian year is a leap year without exception, while Gregorian years divisible by 100 are not leap years, a set of corresponding dates will thus apply only for one century. However, because the Gregorian year 2000 is a leap year, then in this case the correspondences continue for two centuries.  Get it?

Do what did we have planned for New Year’s Eve.  Well I actually got ONE blog written and uploaded.  And I had to get all my gear together and start to pack this morning as I fly tomorrow and while I did that Zeme ran around and picked up the photos, bought some vodka for celebrations tonight and washed the 4WD that was filthy as from yesterday’s drive out of town.  I decided I could no longer carry a 27.5kg bag and instead of off-loading some clothes in Phuket to Shelly, for her to bring them to Australia, for me to bring them back to Ethiopia in January made no sense what so ever.  So I will leave the clothes and the things I don’t need/use with Zeme and he can look after them till my return.  I was happy with my cull and I hope that it has made a difference to the weight of my bag.  Firstly I will have Jetstar Asia to deal with if I have too much weight, as you pay for your luggage with them anyways and I had only purchased 20kg and secondly when I get to Sri Lanka we are using public transport for some of the legs we are doing and I just CANNOT be carrying a 27kg bag-I think it will kill me…… and I will look like a loser with such a big bag.  I may even be able to zip up my extender section of my bag that was let out before I even left Australia.  Loser…… I should know better.  But I have off loaded now, so it will be interesting to see how much the monster weighs tomorrow.  I also got some washing done and they picked it up at 10am and I had it back at 3pm.  Now that is a fast wash and the total cost for like 20 pieces was 3AUD.   

So that took the morning up and then Zeme was back at lunch time.  Ethiopians don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve like we do.  There are functions that are held and they do have fireworks and a concert most years but their Prime Minister died a few weeks ago in Belgium and his funeral was on Sunday, so the country is still in a state of morning and a lot of things have been cancelled this year.  Music shops are still not allowed to play music from their massive speakers and there is a TV channel dedicated just to him, interviews, pictures etc.  24 hours a day.  Meles Zenawi was a loved man here, especially with the farmers and this was another reason for us to stay out of the city as there could be some political unrest in regards to the selection of the new Prime Minister.

So we decided to stay in for the night and just spend what last hours we had together, rather than raging around on the town and this suited me fine.  Chombe was at a function, Minalu had gone home for the week and Lemma was with his family-so it all worked out in the end and over some vodka’s, some text messages and phone calls from Zeme’s friends as we said goodbye to 2004 and welcomed in 2005. It is pretty cool I am actually here for the last day of one year and here for the first day of the next year, in September.    

So HAPPY NEW YEARS EVE.... Good-bye 2004 and Hello 2005.  I was just happy to be here to celebrate this with Zeme and may it be a new year blessed with love, compassion, consideration and new beginnings.  It was nice to go to sleep in the arms of someone who loves me unconditionally.  Bliss……


WEATHER: Rainy and wet, sunny and then rainy and wet 14C-24C-11C

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Getting my most favorite photo of Zeme and I so far

BUMMER OF THE DAY: Not making it to Debre Zeyit – another time

WORD OF THE DAY:  Bumpy roads


We were heading out for the afternoon today, so we had Sunday morning to have a sleep in after our mammoth driving day yesterday, breakfast and then I had to start to think about getting all my stuff together as tomorrow is my last day in Ethiopia before I head to Phuket-Thailand via Saudi Arabia and Singapore.  It sounds like a long way round and there is a direct flight from Addis to Singapore with Ethiopian Airlines but they were 3 times the cost of me flying via Saudi and having a 9 hour stop there.  To save 800AUD I thought that was well worth the extra time. 

Zeme and I get photos from our trips printed when we come back from the road.  So I popped 40 of them on a flash drive and then he headed out to get them printed, visit home and swap the rental cars back as we didn’t need to keep the 4WD for my last 3 days.  This gave me time to go through some of my things and just watch some National Geographic in TV when I really should have been putting some fingers to a keyboard and getting a blog done.  As it stands I am currently still in Brighton, which is bad, bad, bad but I won’t feel bad as I use this important time with Zeme and I will just have to knuckle down when I get to Phuket.  But it is quite daunting that I will have around 22 days to catch up on and I would be totally at a loss if I lost my trusty notebook-that would be disastrous. 

It started to rain just as Zeme got back before lunch and he didn’t seem to perturbed that it was coming down like cats and dogs, I was thinking that maybe we would have to call off our afternoon trip.  As it works out we had to keep the 4WD as our little 1980’s Mazda had been given to someone else and with it being New Year’s Eve tomorrow there is not much left available, so we will just keep the big car till I leave.  This was a blessing in disguise as the rain had dumped a lot of water in the road, like serious amount of water that it all just pooled in the dips in the roads and some of the puddles we had to pass through were huge.  We invited Chombe along for this afternoon’s drive; he wasn’t working, so we thought it would be nice to have him see some more of his own country.  So after wading through the streets of Addis Ababa, picking up Chombe and encountering HAIL-who would have thought, 35 minutes later you would have thought we were in a different city.  It was dry as bone-dusty and not a single rain drop to be seen.  If you had of been asleep for the first 40 minutes of that drive you wouldn’t believe that we were swimming in rain puddles and seen some hail.  Really it was quite bizarre.

I have travelled on this road before that we were using to get to Bishofte.  It is an industrial road and is the main road artery that connects the Port of Djibouti to Addis Ababa.  Being a land locked country; this is where a lot of Ethiopia’s trade comes from.  So that means lots of trucks, lots of pollution, lots of factories, lots of people and really bad roads.  You think that they would look after a pretty important road but how can you fix such a busy road that has traffic 24 hours a day?  I can see they will just wait until the absolutely have to fix then they will.  A perfect case of this is one of the bridges is getting fixed and the traffic had to converge from 3 lanes to 1 lane to cross and the backlog of traffic around this area is murder.  All the niceness is gone from people that have been sitting there for 20 minutes as they all try and shimmy their way past busses and the massive road-train trucks.

It took over an hour and 20 minutes to travel 45km to the town of Debre Zeyit also known as Bishoftu.  Since the late 1990s it has been officially known by the Oromo name, Bishoftu, which was its name until 1955 at an elevation of 1,920 meters.  It is a resort town, known for its five crater lakes: Lake Bishoftu, Lake Hora (a base for watersports, many water birds and an annual festival), Lake Bishoftu Guda, Lake Koriftuand the seasonal Lake Cheleklaka. Debre Zeyit is also home to the Ethiopian Air Force and the Harar Meda Airport.  The township has had telephone service since 1954.   

We turned off at the town with the purpose of heading to the mountains and seeing a church that is located there.  Every year there is a big celebration up at this church and the roads are graded and fixed in the anticipation of thousands of people commuting for the festival.  Once the festival is finished the road is left to its own devices again till the next year when they will fix it in time for festival again.  So it has been a few months since this year’s festival and the second we left the main road we were on a dirt road and the condition of this was shocking.  Poor Chombe was bouncing around in the back of the car and then Zeme mentioned that the road was 30km to our destination!  ONE WAY.  We then had to bump and weave our way back the 30km to get back.  You should have seen this road it was in such bad shape and the bumps were just too much to handle.  Chombe and I just looked at each other and then 11km into the trip we all decided that it was just too much and we decided to cut our loss and we will come back when the festival is on and see the church then.  I can’t remember the name of the church (hence it is omitted) as I left my guide books in Addis with Zeme and I am writing this 2 weeks later.  But I was happy with the decision and not all was lost as we had a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains and the plains and there were some rain clouds on the horizon that made for some great photos with the blue/black of the sky, the lush green of the grass and trees and the brown of the dark soil.  We also saw some birds that I haven’t seen before and I am more determined than ever to find a bird book on Ethiopian birds so that when we see the birds we can tick them off and look at some more information.  UH OH I think Zeme and I have turned into ‘twitches’ aka bird watches.  Early stages but hell they have some great looking birds here and endemic ones that can only be found in Ethiopia, so why not?

There is another area to visit while you are in the Bishoftu area and that is the 7 crater lakes they have here.  A crater lake is a lake that forms in a volcanic crater or caldera.  Lakes located in dormant or extinct volcanoes tend to have fresh water, and the water clarity in such lakes can be exceptional due to the lack of inflowing streams and sediment and that is what you find in these lakes, they are alkaline and are supplied with rainfall and underground waters.  The 3 main lakes are:  Bishoftu Lake which is the deepest of the craters lakes and is rich in Tilapias, a type of African fish.  Hora Lake which is the largest of the crater lakes and is well known for hot water springs and Babogaya Lake which is known as the surroundings used for famous Ethiopian Music video-clips.  We were just going to head to Lake Hora today which was a wise choice.  You are required to pay a fee to enter each of the Lakes and Lake Hora also worked out to be the cheapest at 12Birr for the 3 of us which is like 66c but the other lakes charge 200Birr per person so it’s like 33AUD for the 3 of us per lake.  The reason Lake Hora is way cheaper than the others is it owned and managed by the government and is subsidized the other lakes are privately owned and that is why their fees are higher.  We decided that Lake Hora was fine for today, it was beautiful with large Eucalyptus trees and I really thought I could have been in Australia.  There were a few brave souls swimming in there and you can catch a boat to do a cruise if you wish.  It was nearly 4.45pm by this time, so we just took some photos but it would definitely be a spot I would come back to. 

So it was time to hit the road and run the gauntlet back to the capital city.  I am not sure if there is any such thing as peak hour as there is just traffic all the time on the roads during the day.  But it was busy and as we lined up next to local buses in the traffic I would get looks from its passengers and drivers as we sat in traffic to which I would give a small wave and a smile to them and I was rewards with a smile and most times a wave as well.  I feel like I am the bearded lady or the elephant man but again, I say this all the time it is something I am going to have to get used to. 

We were back to the city just after 6pm and I needed to get some more cash out of an ATM.  So we pulled up to the first one and I think it may have been out of money, as it came up with a machine error rather than my card having something wrong.  So Zeme just decided to take me to an ATM he knew would work and give me a small tour of that part of the city I haven’t seen before, more of the major chain hotels were here.  The Radisson Blu was here, The Hilton and an Ibis hotel.  We were heading to the Sheraton Addis Ababa and wow it looked amazing.  It reminded me of the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi or The Palace Hotel at Sun City in South Africa.  It was amazing.  There was a security gate we had to pass and obviously just having me in the car was enough to get us through with no questions asked, Zeme dropped me at the fancy front door and then went to park on the side while I ran in, well I had to pop my purse on the security belt and walk through a scanner, and then I walked in like a lady who had a room there.  I have seen a lot of hotels in my time and this one looked very luxurious and totally not like a Sheraton.  I have always said of big chain hotels, you could be anywhere in the world their hotels all look the same.  Well not this one and it was interesting to note that there weren’t a lot of farangees around.  The lobby was busy; there were people everywhere but not many western people in the mix.  I located the ATM without having to ask anyone, used it and on my way out one of the doorman opened the door for me and said I hope you enjoyed your stay.  Yeah I wish-but thanks anyway. I got back in the car and made a vow that Zeme and I would stay there for one night just to experience it and then I said hell, Chombe you can stay with us as well.  He would not have seen anything like that in his life and I am serious.  I know it is an expensive hotel, but I wonder if I can somehow wrangle an agent rate.  I’ll check with the guys when I am back in Brisbane-but WOW.  Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve, I’m going to check the prices for tomorrow night anyway, and maybe we may get lucky with a rate?  Yeah right!!! 

As it was my second last night we decided to try the pizza place again for dinner and hope that it was open this time which it was.  It was too cold to sit outside so we sat inside and ordered garlic bread, 2 pizzas to share between the 3 of us and 4 drinks and the grand total was 17AUD that’s total for the 3 of us and that is a western meal as well.  We dropped Chombe home and once I got home I checked the rates for the Sheraton tomorrow night and being New Year’s Eve the cost was 492AUD for the night!  Zeme looked like he was about to pass out and he worked out that would pay for a WEEKS accommodation here at Baks.  Yes it is a lot of money, so I will need to work on the agent rate. 

So even though we did have a failed attempt at getting to the Debre Zeyit church we still had a pretty good day all round for what was to be my second last day in Addis Ababa till November.     


WEATHER: 18C and overcast with a touch of fog!

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Back in the road again

BUMMER OF THE DAY: 12 hours on the road is a long day

WORD OF THE DAY:  Zna-rain in Amharic


It’s Saturday today and time to head back to Addis Ababa today.  We have a long drive ahead with it only being broken towards the end of the day at Debra Libanos and the Portuguese Bridge just out of Addis.  I do like drive days as there is so much to see and being in the front seat I have my camera next to me at the ready and I can just snap away as we drive through.  I try and take care in when I take photos as I don’t want to be in people’s faces with a camera, it is part of my East Africa coming out of me where they HATE having their photo taken which is to do with superstition, the Ethiopians are more likely to see it as unpaid revenue than anything else, especially from children.

We were on the road at 8am this morning having paid the hotel bill and breakfast.  Bahir Dar is a busy town and I do like driving around as they have more baja’s (tuk tuk’s) than cars driving the streets.  I love those things and to see so many all the time driving around is really cool to see.  As we head out of town it is market day for this region today, so the roads are busy with the usual traffic but there seems to be more donkey and carts with long branches of wood trailing behind them today.  So of the village men are standing on their carts and directing their animals, others are running beside theirs.  I love market day as there is so much to see.  Another thing I saw a lot of were chickens being carried.  There are several different ways that this is done.  On a stick over the shoulder is one way.  They tie the chicken feet and then hook them over the branch that is on their shoulder.  Some just carry the chickens by their feet and some chickens sit high in a basket like the Queen of Sheeba with its feet tied so it can’t go far.  I have to say the chickens don’t look like they are in pain or stressed out but I guess they have been carried like that all their life, put an Aussie chicken in there and it would probably be a different story.  It’s cold this morning (13C) so all the villages are rugged up in blankets as they make their trek to the markets.  I saw yesterday and now this morning there are women and girls wearing silver looking coin around their necks.  I want one.  So Zeme stopped a few times to ask them where they f=got them from and they literally are an old coin that they have made into a pendant.  They suggested the market, but if you see that place when we drive past there are thousands of people in there.  We may have to look into it a little further when I get back.  Maybe I could get Minalu to have a look around on his next tour south.  We stopped at 11.45 at Debre Markos and we had lunch where we stayed last time we were here.  I ordered chicken breast and you should have seen the size of this thing when it came out-it was massive.  It must have come from a super chicken!!!!   

We really were just hauling arse back to the capital today and at 12.30 we were back in the road.  It is interesting to see how much and how people carry their goods on any day, nit just market day.  Not everyone has a donkey so they just carry as much as they possibly can the best way they know how.  The women will have baskets on their head and if they have a lot to carry will also carry things on their back wrapped in a blanket that they tie on their fronts and also the 10kg of water is carried on their backs with both their arms supporting the yellow jerry can hunched over.  The men carrying the sacks of food or charcoal carry the bags on their shoulders, some of these sacks are massive and they use the length of a stick to take most of the load from their shoulders and distribute it onto the stick-quite smart really.  So most ways it leaves their hands free for small children or to keep their herd of sheep and goats in line.  The usual rule applies as we pass through, Zeme gives a toot if there is a car coming the other way or if the village people stray too far onto the road, and it must just be instinct the second they hear that noise they move over straight away, including 95% of the time.  The donkeys can be a bit of an arse (ha ha ha ha) sometimes and we have to stop or some stray goats cross over.  The small villages we have to go slow as they are packed with people and animals and there were even some police officers stopping traffic to let people cross the road it was that busy.  I seriously have seen nothing like it before anywhere.  The push of humanity all in one spot is just surreal. 

Crossing back across the plateau before getting back to the Abbay Gorge we hit fog!!!  It was 1.30pm in the afternoon and you should see the line of fog ahead, like a brick wall and then we drove through it for about 20 minutes.  It was so thick in places we couldn’t even see past the bonnet of the car.  It was really eerie and we had to be careful as we couldn’t see people on the side of the road till we were right on top of them, but then we couldn’t serve too far on the road because you couldn’t see what was coming the other way.  Who would ever think you would get fog in Northern Africa, but then we are quite high up-I would say higher than 1500m above sea level so I guess you would expect it at some stage.  The country Ethiopians are always prepared for the rain.  There are a lot of umbrellas floating around but there are also what look like plastic sacks and what they do is they wrap them in the shape of a hat (looks like a pirate shape) and they wear them on their heads and then when it rains they unfold them, find a tree if possible to hunch under and then they pull this 1m bag over their heads to keep themselves dry till the rain passes.  I have found when it rains it doesn’t hang around all day.  It may rain more than once, but they get a down pour and then it stops and then it rains again.  There hasn’t been a day that I have been here that it has just rained all day continuously.  

We hit the Abay Gorge again in the afternoon and I don’t think it matters how many times you see it the views still take my breath away.  There are trucks coming up the hill just jammed packed with locals, like seriously you couldn’t fit a small child in there it was that packed and as we hit the bottom of the valley there were people everywhere, buses, more trucks loading with people (seriously they are just standing in the tip trucks tray) just mass moving people.  There was a church tucked away at the bottom that O hadn’t noticed before and there was a festival on there hence the mass of people around.  There were like 3 people here 2 days ago and now there were hundreds.  We crossed back over Japanese built bridge over the Abay River.  It was financed by a 14 million dollar Japanese government grant, the new structure has been constructed alongside a 60-year old bridge built by an Italian construction firm; the government of Italy covered the cost of the older bridge as a compensation for war damages it had caused during its brief occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s.  The new bridge is 55 meters high, standing 22 meters above the existing one and you could see the old bridge was very busy with foot traffic today due to the festival. 

The Northwestern and Southeastern plateaus of Ethiopia are separated by the Rift Valley. Along the western margin of the Northwestern Plateau is the Blue Nile Gorge aka Abay Gorge and this is where we found ourselves for the second time in 2 days and we now needed to ascend this massive mountain.  The Abay Gorge spans an altitude range of 2500m to 1200m and is over a mile wide and deeper than the Grand Canyon of the United States of America. The Abbay or Blue Nile Gorge is known to be the most stunning gorge in Ethiopia and I really can see why.  You aren’t supposed to stop on the road, but at one of the best vantage points on the climb and where it was safe for us to pull off the road; we stopped and got some great photos of the view with the bay River in the background.  I should pull out my March photos to just show you the remarkable difference between the wet season and dry season of the same area.  It really is like you are in a different world.  With a wave to our baboon friends we wound our way up the escarpment back to cooler weather leaving the chaos of the festivities behind us. 

We arrived at the turn off to Debre Libanos just before 4pm.  A big day of driving and we still had another 2 hours or so to go after this stop.  Driving our way down it is a little more than four kilometers long to the church we saw some Gelada monkeys.  This is a pretty big deal as they can only be seen in numbers in the Semien Mountains further north.  The gelada, sometimes called the gelada baboon, is a species of Old World monkey found only in the Ethiopian Highlands. Like its close relatives the baboons, it is largely terrestrial, spending much of its time foraging in grasslands.  The gelada is large and robust. It is covered with buff to dark brown, coarse hair and has a dark face with pale eyelids. Its arms and feet are nearly black.  The gelada has a hairless face with a short muzzle that is closer to a chimpanzee's than a baboon's.  It can also be physically distinguished from a baboon by the bright patch of skin on its chest. This patch is hourglass-shaped. On males it is bright red and surrounded by white hair; on females it is far less pronounced and is endemic to Ethiopia, they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.  We were able to stop briefly on the way down for some snaps but they didn’t hang around too long.  I also noticed on our way down that the small village we had to pass through had a different feel to it.  The people here seemed sick, walking on sticks, older and half of them had some deformity-the Debre Libanos is known for the amount of miracles performed here and they all wait here in the hope of being cured.     

Debre Libanos is a monastery in Ethiopia.  Founded in the thirteenth century by Saint Tekle Haymanot, according to the belief, he meditated in a cave for 29 years. He is frequently represented as an old man with wings on his back and only one leg visible. There are a number of explanations for this popular image that the saint "having stood too long, one of his legs broke, whereupon he stood on one foot for seven years.  The monastery's chief abbot, called the Ichege, was the second most powerful official in the Ethiopian Church after the Abuna.  The monastery complex sits on a terrace between a cliff and the gorge of one of the tributaries of the Abbay River. None of the original buildings of Debre Libanos survive.  Current buildings include the church over Tekle Haymanot's tomb, which Emperor Haile Selassie ordered constructed in 1961; a slightly older Church of the Cross, where apparently a fragment of the True Cross is preserved; and five religious schools. The cave where the saint lived is in the nearby cliffs, which is around a 20 minute walk away. This cave contains a spring, whose water is considered holy and is the object of pilgrimages.  Emperor Haile Selassie's interest in Debre Libanos dates to when he was governor of the district of Selale. The Emperor notes in his autobiography that during the reconstruction of the church at Debre Libanos, an inscribed gold ring was found in the excavations, which he personally delivered to then Emperor Menelik II.  Following the attempted assassination on his life on 19 February 1937, governor Rodolfo Graziani believed the monastery's monks and novices were involved in this attack, and unwilling to wait for the results of the official investigation, ordered Italian colonialists to massacre the inhabitants of this monastery. On 21 May of that year, 297 monks and 23 laymen were killed.  We paid our entrance fee for the church and the extra money for me to be able to take my camera in and the entered the 1950’s Emperor Haile Selassie's built church.  As impressive as the church looks, it doesn’t have that much historical value, but once inside there were paintings and relics from the original 12th century and following churches after that time.  I kept asking if it was okay to take photos as I didn’t want to offend the guide that was taking us through.  After the tour of the church we made our way to the museum also on the church grounds and got a tour of that as well with more relics from the other churches that were on this site.  We weren’t allowed to take photos in here and after 20 minutes as we were leaving there was security and church staff near the door and they asked if I would like to sign the guest book.  As a joke (I hope) they said I need to put my name, my country, a comment and my weight…. Yes my weight.  I told you I am a bit of an attraction myself, so I took it in the form I hope it was given and told them I would be happy to sign less my weight with a laugh.  When people stare I know it is not out of meanness with me being larger, they are just intrigued-I am yet to see an over-weight Ethiopian and Minalu once said that Ethiopian men like the ‘larger’ women so I just have to take all in my stride and get used to it, unless I lose 60kg and then they will need to find someone else to stare at.  I have plans of getting to a gym or walking when I move here, but that will just have to wait till January.  By this time it was nearly 5pm and we didn’t have enough time to climb to the cave where the Saint Tekle Haymanot meditated for 26 years and I had a feeling from what Zeme was saying that it wasn’t an easy climb and maybe I will just have to come back one day to see the cave.

Our last stop as the day stated to fade was the Portuguese Bridge.  The dirt road for the bridge is right near the Debre Libanos turn off so it was only 10 minutes away.  There is accommodation located at the top of the walk that drops down to the bridge and the view from here was breath taking overlooking a massive canyon.  It would be magic to stay here and may need to add that to the list upon my return.  Because we were so high up and we were going to see a bridge, I didn’t know just how far we had to trek to get to the bridge, it was a long way down to the valley floor and for a fleeting moment I was wondering if we had to walk to the bottom of the valley, which is crazy because that would have taken days and after asking Zeme it was a 15 minute walk.  So we started out and to get there we had to hike along a rocky slippery path that lead down slightly before it evened out for a magical walk in the side of the mountain.  The path seemed rather close to the edge of the 1000 meter cliff and Zeme freaked out when I took a step closer to get a photo.  There were no guardrails and I wouldn’t want to be there with active children. You normally have to pay as you pass through a gate to get to the bridge but the ranger guy wasn’t there and we got a guide to tell us a little about the bridge.  He also came in handy as the path (or lack of) was very steep, no steps and full of small and large rocks so with Zeme holding one hand and the guide holding my other hand I made it down safely to be able to walk across the bridge.  The bridge was intriguing.  It is said to be partially constructed from eggshells and constructed in the 16th century by the Portuguese but the most impressive thing was the view.  The river flowed roaring underneath the bridge and then the water fell 30m away down a waterfall that we couldn’t see.  It looked like a natural ‘infinity’ pool that you see in fancy hotels, but the view that followed the ‘infinity’ pool was SPECTACULAR.  After some magnificent photos I had to climb the neck breaking rocky slope to get back to the top and I had a man and sheep overtake me on this, and we circled back to the accommodation buildings and to make the most of the view Zeme and I bought a beer each and just kicked back and soaked it all up.  I was speechless, it was so beautiful.

But we still had around 110km to go, around 2 more hours, and as it was nearly 6pm we would be driving the last section into Addis in the dark.  It doesn’t seem like such a big deal but there are no street lights on this country road and not all the cars had their headlights on as the sun set.  I was on high alert.  There were a few brave souls walking along the side of the road, but I think they know it is unsafe to walk the roads at night and we didn’t have to worry too much about people but rather cars now that the sun had gone.  The truck look even scarier at night and when they try and overtake on these dark roads I can see how easy it is to have accidents out here.  I was a little nervous to be honest and it had nothing to do with Zeme’s safe driving but what other people do on the roads.  But just after 8pm we made it back to our home in Addis, Baks Hotel and it was good to be back.  We were checked back into ‘our’ room and I was able to get all my bags that I left behind tomorrow.  Needless to say dinner was at the hotel and after a few beers was in bed by 11pm.

What an amazing 3 days.  I love getting out of the city as it is so different and there is so much to see and keeping in mind this was my third trip back I never get tired of seeing the friendly people doing their daily routines and it just reiterates back to me just how lucky we are with what we have and I am more determined than ever to help out some way, somehow upon my return in January.