My flight into Addis Ababa arrived at 3:30am. It was not my original plan, but with Egypt seeming a little unstable I decided to just connect in Cairo and not stick around.
In getting off the plane I was one of the first. This gave me some sense of relief as I could get to the baggage claim before my gear got tossed into the Ethiopian Wall of Airport Woe.
I was also the first one in the tourist visa line. I was somewhat nervous. I had not really researched Ethiopia while planning the trip as it was originally just a connection. The day before flying I saw that they had a lengthy and byzantine set of Visa expectations, including photos, and a tone strongly implying that I should have got this done back home well ahead of time. Fortunately, once the staff woke up (they were all dozing behind the counter given it was the middle of the night) they were happy to prioritize: I give the US money, $40, they give the visa. Nice and easy.
I’d arranged an airport pickup as well. It seemed to be not happening. After an hour wait I was freezing in my t-shirt (Addis is 2300 m above sea level) plus I suddenly had nothing more to read. I ended up waking up a fellow at a desk for a hotel and asked if I could pay to use his phone. He let me use his mobile for free which was nice. It turns out the driver was just not allowed in the airport and had been waiting on the other side of the door – the same wait as me but only colder.
A big part of why I’d wanted to stay for a longer layover was that I’d found a nice place to stay. It supports local charities with all its profits too which is amazing. I arrived at 5:00am and found that the basic room I’d booked was not on – they were not busy so they upgraded me to their nicest room.
I got up late that day, I’d missed breakfast but the staff were having lunch and insisted I join them. It was the injera bread which is really good… but the stuff on it seemed to be neon coloured beets that were not quite my thing. There was some contingency white bread which was lucky.
While in town the next day with the driver I had hired, Yosi, I found by card didn’t work at the ATM. We went off to the Sheraton to change some US into Ethiopian Birr. It seems to be a ritzy landmark and after a token walk through a metal detector and security it was on to take a tour. It had a great view of downtown.
Later I checked out the National Museum. It periodically has the original Lucy remains – the oldest human. Very cool. There was more security here too and Yosi had to scrambled to get his knife out of his pants before the frisking. So, maybe he was a driver/bodyguard in retrospect. The big card is 3.2 M year old Lucy, who National Geographic calls “the most famous early human ancestor.”
The museum itself was quite modest but also had interesting exhibits on art and history. Some of the military aspects are interesting in their battles with Italy which reflect the status of only one of two African countries never colonized.
There was construction everywhere in Addis. Much of the capital is apparently Chinese and it shows in small ways like the makes of the vehicles.
Later a “cultural restaurant” was on the agenda. Frisking was also on the agenda but no metal detector action this time. It was a place that catered to non-Ethiopians. Yet, the food was great and they put on some good live music and dance shows. All it all it was a great time.
When I arrived from the airport there was deceptively fast Wi-Fi at 5am. I then went to bed and it was the last I ever saw of it for my 3 day stay. Apparently the state owned monopoly, Ethio Telecom, does not work weekends under any situations. I suddenly have warmer feelings for the Canadian cartel who maybe aren’t so bad after all. Yet, their office (at least the one I drove past) could be a little nicer if they gouged a little harder. Then they can build one like the big shiny thing TELUS is putting up in Calgary.
The next day I made it to Meskel Square. There was an honest/sad/poinigent museam about the politcal repression when they had a military coup in the 70’s I went to. Afterwards, I was on the hunt for a Lonely Planet book but stuck. I needed something for the plane so I settled for a Time magazine. Settled is the right word here. That night I walked out to a local place for pizza with the staff. It was a good time. It was fun to go as a small group (and undoubtedly prudent from a safety standpoint) and everything is so shockingly inexpensive it’s a win for all because I could just pick up the entire tab.
The next day it was off to Tanzania. Like usual I hitched a ride with Yosi which was great as the public transit looked a little frightening. And by a little I mean a lot. Overall, it would have been nice to go outside of Addis and see more of the country but there is always next time. It’s well worth a visit.