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Published: January 23rd 2007
Aye it's been a wee while since we updated you on our latest shenanigans - we had to put in some serious bronzing hours so we stopped dazzling our fellow beach bums - so a verrry belated Merry Chrimbo and Happy New Year.
Anyways, time to shatter the idea that Ethiopia is only famous for Bob Geldoff, famine and sick jokes. Historically known as Abyssinia, Ethiopia is:
* a very fertile country with abundant natural resources - we saw fields in every shade of green, much more vivid than back home - but alas prone to cyclical drought, which is a tad problematic given the near total dependance on rain-fed agriculture.
* the only country in Africa with an unbroken sovereignty - it was never colonised by one of the European big hitters during the 'Scramble for Africa' - and has long been an intersection between the civilizations of North Africa, the Middle East and the rest of the continent.
* regarded as 'the cradle of mankind' after the 1974 unearthing of a 3.2 million year old hominid (half human/half ape) called Lucy - the archaeologists were playing the Beatles tune at the moment of discovery.
* the second-oldest official Christian nation in the world, after Armenia.
* Where the Rasta (or Rastafari) movement originated, a religion that accepts Haile Selassie I (the last emperor of Ethiopia) as God. The name Rastafari comes from the pre-coronation name of Haile Selassie I and the movement emerged in Jamaica among working-class and peasant black people in the early 1930s, arising from an interpretation of Biblical prophecy partly based on Selassie's status as the only African monarch of a fully independent state. Rastas follow a strict dietary regime: pork, milk and coffee are forbidden and ganga (aka wacky backy) is held to be a sacrament. There are now over 1 million rastas worldwide, largely due to the popularity of Bob Marley, boy are we sick of his wailing.....
Given their long history of killing each other in large numbers, it's verbotten to travel between Eritrea and Ethiopia by any means thus we had to spend a mandatory one-nighter in Djibouti City - undoubtedly the smelliest, dirtiest and hottest place we've been so far - before we could catch a flight across the border to Harar. The said flight with Djibouti Airlines was a bit of an eye-opener;
after climbing up the step-ladder (which was then pulled into the aircraft, folded in two and wedged across the aisle), it became evident that about two thirds of the seats had been ripped out and were now piled up at the back of the plane, naturally we chose to stretch out in the 'front' row - took a while to find two functioning seat belts mind you - with 50 feet of emptiness (and a half-open curtain) separating us from the crew. Rather bizarre when you can hear the pilot and the tower chatting away before take-off - almost as strange as not being able to see outside cos every 'window space' was full of a yellowish liquid - but all's well that ends well eh? More dodgy flight stories later.....
Harar is famous for several reasons: the much celebrated French poet Arthur Rimbaud (Ram-bo
to you and me), inspiration to Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and Patti Smith (amongst many others), lived and worked here - as a gunrunner - in the 1880's. Apparently his earlier life in Paris was dramatized in a 1995 Leonardo DiCaprio film called Total Eclipse......don't worry, we hadn't heard of it either.....It's also the
fourth holiest city in Islam (with 82 mosques, no long lies then!) and perhaps the only place in the world where you can hand-feed packs of hyenas every night outside the city walls - a rather surreal experience and not for the fainthearted. The local birdlife in the souq was a wee bit daunting too, with eagles and buzzards swooping and dive-bombing for scraps in the butcher's area. Finally, Harar was the first place that we tried the local staple in the Horn of Africa - injera
- after being opportunistically invited to a Professor's house for lunch; unfortunately, it resembled carpet underlay in both appearance and texture so we had to dig very deep and think of Britain when swallowing or things could have got messy, it's not all gravy on the road....
We didn't hang around Addis for too long as it's a real urban sprawl with no real heart and the poverty was of the 'in-your-face' variety - street kids, disabled beggars and homeless people at every corner - so it was off to Lake Tana and The Blue Nile Falls to start our northern 'historical' tour.
Lake Tana hosts a very colourful market every
Saturday - kinda like the Glasgow Barras - to which all the local (barefoot) farmers come to sell their wares.....and have their photos taken by the only farangos
there, it's nice to be nice....
The Blue Nile Falls is one of most spectacular in Africa, as impressive for it's sheer width (over 400m) as for its depth (45m). The Blue Nile rises from Lake Tana before flowing for over a 1,000 km to meet the White Nile in Khartoum to form the great river that gives life to Egypt and the Sudan. Incidently, this summer the Big Trip will also take us to the source of the White Nile (at Lake Victoria in Uganda) to do perhaps the best white-water rafting in the world, can't wait. Anyways, we visited the Falls with three local lads who I'd met the previous day whilst playing football; I was surprised that none of the players had been to such a famous local attraction given it's only one hour away by bus, but apparently they spend most of their free time studying and any spare cash gets splashed in other ways - so promptly told them all that we were going at 8am
the next day and we'd be happy to pay for "three or four" to tag along. Cometh the hour there were at least a dozen boys waiting for us at the hotel gate - much to our surprise! - hence I quickly devolved selection responsibility to the most talkative lad and naturally he chose his two best pals, the other unfortunates took it like men. But the largesse wasn't finished there: buses in Ethiopia only leave when they're jam-packed and any more hanging around after touring the falls would have meant we'd miss our onward flight, so we decided to 'charter' the whole bus i.e. pay for all the empty seats (around 25) so that the driver would head back to town......cost a grand total of 6 quid (!), the locals thought we were mad but happy to accept a free ride all the same, money talks eh?
Our next flight took us to the mountainous Lalibela, a world famous christian pilgrimage site known for its 12th and 13th century monolithic churches carved from red volcanic rock and interconnected by a maze of tunnels and passages with openings to hermit caves and catacombs. It was very impressive to regard
the orthodox pilgrims chanting in their multi-coloured robes whilst carrying huge crosses and staffs, not exactly Church of Scotland. Our return flight was rather less impressive however: within a minute of take-off smoke started to filter into the cabin and it quickly became apparent that one of the plane's two props had caught fire necessitating a rapid emergency landing - squeeky bum time as Sir Alex would say! - but thankfully the pilot kept his cool and all we suffered was a jolt and a four hour wait until a new plane arrived.....all character-building as they say......
We're now lying on a beach in Sri Lanka with our pal Jac who joined us in Goa to spend a month travelling. Hopefully the South Indian update will be a tad more prompt, tan permitting!
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