So, uh... I think we should just be friends...

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Africa » Ethiopia » Amhara Region » Gondar
November 9th 2008
Published: November 24th 2008
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In fact, it does take nearly 11 hours to reach Gondar via Bahir Dar the next morning, and this is considered a short ride as I have taken a hired minibus instead of a normal public transport bus estimated for 2 days. The guesthouse I have stopped at in Gondar is the second one I have tried after the first one being full. This one has no single rooms and no dorms (not unlike the rest of Africa) but actually only has rooms with two twin beds for the price of 120 Birr. This is only like 12 USD but thats probably 50% more than I really need to be paying here. I try to negotiate with the guy at reception but to no avail, however the rooms are really clean and they each have their own hot shower and normal toilet, and a small TV showing English movies and BBC which is a HUGE plus in Ethiopia. I tell him then that I will take the room, but if another single traveler stumbles in later to offer them the second bed as I don't mind sharing to split the cost. "But please nobody too old or too weird..." Reception Guy seems thrilled I have taken the room and nods his head in agreement enthusiastically.

After an uneventful day wandering around an (sorry to say it, but) unimpressive "Africa's Camelot" I am settled back in my relatively luxurious double room. I am not too disappointed though as I didn't really care about the supposed castles and royal ruins of the town that used to house one dynasty of Ethiopian rulers, in fact I skipped Lake Tana and the monasteries of Bahir Dar completely. I have actually come to Gondar as a jumping off point for the Simien Mountains, those which I have heard to be the most visually spectacular mountains in all of Africa, and I need to wake up uber early the next morning to begin the trek. Lucky for me I jump into bed right as my English Movie Channel starts Just Married. Call me lame, but I am thrilled to watch the first movie in my native language start to finish in like, seven months.

It is just past midnight and Ashton Kutcher has just blown up the castle hotel in the French Alps with a foreign vibrating dildo, when I hear a soft knocking on my door. Really weird, I try to ignore it because to be honest I am creeped out (and I am really nice and warm in my bed). *Tap tap tap again, three times more until I decide I can't pretend to ignore it if whoever it is can hear the TV going. Grudgingly I open the door a crack and see of all people that it is Reception Guy. Reception Guy (he has told me his actual name earlier but I can't remember it for the life of me) is a local Ethiopian man, thin and wiry in build, around 30 in age, and unattractive in looks. He has a harmless enough looking face but there is a huge gap in his teeth that makes him look like an injured gopher. His English is halted and labored, his breath smells a bit of an unnamed unpleasant spice.

"Hello Amy!"
Um, hello....
"Did you still want to share the room with somebody else?"
... Well... it's kind of late, no? I mean... it's past midnight...
Feel free to add in uncomfortable pauses in a plethora of intervals, after every other syllable in this entire awkward exchange.
"Do you still want to share the room though?" ...
Well... how old are they? Are they really weird? Did they JUST get here? That's kind of weird, right?

"Well, the other person is.... me. Can I share your room tonight?"

What the fuck?! Is he hitting on me??

He gives me a sheepish smile that makes me want to hurl and then eat my own barf. I ask him if he does not have a bed, as I can't bring myself to openly jump to the conclusion that he is, in fact, inviting himself into my bed for the night. I don't want to embarrass him, but with each time I ask, "so where do you normally sleep?" it just gets worse and worse. "I can bring some drinks, we can drink some beers before we sleep too." Uh.... no, no, and NO!!!!

I tell him that unfortunately I have to wake up really early to head to the Simiens, and actually I am pretty tired and don't want any company after all. Door shuts. Gag me with a spoon, yuck.

Oh, the joys of traveling alone as a female.

Have I written about this yet? I'm not really sure. It usually doesn't bother me too much, but in my opinion it does hamper experiences traveling a fair bit. Yeah yeah, it's "liberating" and blah blah, but in some ways I think travel would be so much better if I had a real pair of balls. Sure, in some countries we get special treatment, we can jump to the front of the line, we get the front seat if we want it. But that's not what I'm talking about, and for me that doesn't outweigh the negatives.

The negatives include the usuals, the fact that you have a vagina means you get raped more often, sexually harassed, all that good stuff. However my biggest resentment towards my gender on the road is that fact that making local friends is a tricky, tricky thing. Generally I have found the more underdeveloped a country is, the greater the tendency that any English-speaker be male. The women of these countries tend to take a more domestic role, are less educated, and aren't found running around on the streets or throwing back a few at the pub. I found this true in the Middle East half a year ago, and I find it true now in Africa as well.

Male friends are the best. They're funny, they kick it, they don't backstab, and they don't whine. If you're a relaxed girl, making male friends is a cinch and in my opinion, usually preferable. But when you are a tourist traveling, unless you are a hugely overweight, bald hag male friends are also most probably out to just get in your pants. I find myself time and time again befriending local guys as they are the only ones walking about on the streets speaking English, and usually the only sex educated enough to have a semi-interesting conversation with in underdeveloped countries. Unfortunately I can't forget that I am a single female and to them I am a sitting duck. Too many times have I spent entire days thinking I was making real friendships and just that, only to find that in the end the"friend" in question has only been nice because he is trying to have sex with me. There are also many, many guys that are just simply completely full of shit and lie out their asses.

This has resulted in many behavioral adjustments on my part. I don't drink much when I travel, and I never, ever get drunk abroad. I can't go all out, let go, and party til dawn, and I have to be really skeptical when my "friends" want to head to an after party. I even have to watch my drink around my "friends" when they generously buy for me. I sometimes don't even tell them which hotel I am really staying at.

Sure, I have made a few good friends in these countries, but I have doubtlessly led on way too many more of these "friends." It is disheartening to see these seemingly so open locals immediately pull back once I lie that "I have a boyfriend back home." The guy travelers I meet usually have such better stories of local friendships. They bond, the locals are real with them (and inevitably always ask questions on how much sex we have abroad and what our girls are like.) But still, I mean I never get asked questions like that.

It is kind of sad, in my opinion, to always be questioning and on guard when I should be trying to really know these potentially amazing people. I am not a raging feminist of any sort, I typically trust quite easily, and would estimate something like 8/10 of my friends are male back home. I know platonic relationships are also sometimes dubious at home, but I do not think I exaggerate when I make this observation while traveling. This is real irk of mine, and probably many other solo female travelers as well. Unless you are majorly unattractive, it would be the prudent thing to assume all male locals approaching you either want your money or your bedroom luuurve. It's not a pretty thing to realize, but it is definitely pretty real!

The next night, nevertheless, I get more knocking at my door, this time at a slightly more acceptable 11pm instead. This time Reception Guy has the lame excuse of wanting to know if I need to change any USD for Birr with him, as he (full of shit) thinks I cannot do so in Axum, where I am headed next.

Additional photos below
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30th November 2009

too old
Thanks for your blog which I enjoy. Have to tell you though how disappointing it is to read you say you told the hotel owner not to share your room with someone too old or too weird. How about having the guy get you when they find someone willing to share so you can meet the person. Maybe the other person does not want to share a room with someone who looks Chinese, would that be ok? One thing is likely, you might just get the chance to grow old and be one of the old who you wish to avoid. Happy travels.
15th December 2009

30th July 2011

The photos are amazing, but I was waiting and waiting to read more positiveISH stories, well it wasn’t meant to be …..
7th January 2014

I love your blog Amy! Your travels sound absolutely amazing. I'm a solo female traveler headed to Ethiopia in March and would love any advice you have to offer, especially about visiting the South Omo tribes.

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