. I was lucky enough to spend the entire plane ride from Johannesburg talking to a wonderful Nigerian woman - we met each other on line trying to get our VAT back in Joburg and she then changed her seat so she could sit with me for the 5+ hour flight. Against many odds, she'd started her own tourism business in Lagos (recently expanded to two offices) and has dreamed of becoming a pilot - she's also helped put her employees through school. It's amazing how much you can get to know someone in such a short time. . .
After a fairly quick run through immigration, I took a taxi through the Addis streets, where only men seemed to be walking around, and arrived at my hotel (at least what I thought was my hotel). When I tried to check in, however, my reservation (which had consisted of a quick e-mail exchange with someone named Debebe) was nowhere to be found. (Ethiopia Lesson #1: There's No Such Thing as Too Much Confirmation.) I was pretty unexcited by the thought of trying to find another hotel in the middle of the night - particularly because my friend Lydia was meeting me there at 4 am, and I had no way of communicating with her otherwise. Luckily, two British guys came in at that moment, heard about my plight, and did one of the nicest things - offered to bunk together for the night and give me one of their rooms. After much back and forth (I felt pretty horrible about accepting their offer) I relented after they wouldn't take "no" for an answer
. So Lydia arrived as planned in the wee hours, at which point between bouts of laughter I explained that all the luggage in the room wasn't mine but some guy named Phil's who had graciously given us his room and who would just be back at around 7:30 am to change his clothes. In fact we were super lucky since a Kenyan woman had come in right after me and, after realizing she'd locked herself out of her room, had to sleep on a mattress in the office behind the front desk - I'm sure if I'd been 10 minutes later, Phil's room would have been hers . . . So, as Lydia tried to get some sleep (she'd had two overnight flights), I had breakfast with Phil and his new roommate, Henry, and tried to figure out what Lydia and I might do over the next couple of weeks. Turns out that Phil and Henry were both in Ethiopia for their work involving a wonderful charity that provides ophthamologic equipment, training, eye exams, and eyeglasses. We would soon learn that most people visiting Ethiopia were aid workers, as we often got the question, "Which organization are you with?".
We then started our day in Addis in the early afternoon, first visiting Tomoca (great macchiato) - an old Italian cafe in the Piazza region, and then grabbing something to eat. We'd tried to find a travel agency to book a few internal flights and a possible trip to the South, but discovered the building was demolished
. (We'd soon learn that much of the information contained in the Lonely Planet was out of date and Ethiopia Lesson #2: Things Can Change Overnight - Always Ask Someone for the Latest Info.) We then made our way to the Hilton - knowing that it had one of the few ATMs in Addis and another travel agency (we subsequently referred to the Hilton as "the beacon"). For some reason, we seemed to be constantly foiled in Addis - of course, the Hilton ATM was out of money, we had an incredible amount of trouble booking our flights, and then learned that we needed a minimum of 8 days for the trip we'd wanted to take to the South (we only had 6 to spare after doing the North), since Ethiopian Airlines had just stopped running its flights to one of the key southern cities (despite what we'd read on-line and in LP, and thus reaffirming Lesson #2).
So after finally buying flights for our trip to the northern "historical circuit", we decided to put off trying to plan a trip to the South until the next morning and went to Fasika for dinner - a great restaurant with traditional Ethiopian food and dance. We saw a couple of folks from our hotel there - the aforementioned Kenyan woman and a woman from the British Museum who was in Addis to train the Ethiopians and Kenyans with respect to their own national museums. Of course on the next day, the foiling continued, as our taxi driver seemed to be driving around in circles and then again we couldn't find another recommended travel agency - it had recently moved locations
. Running short on time (we had an afternoon flight to catch and wanted to visit the Merkato), we decided to hunt for a 4th agency (no longer there, of course), but luckily found a 5th one a few doors down. After a couple of hours (and much foiling by the credit card machine), we decided we had to leave if we wanted to make the Merkato and our flight - we'd pay a deposit in cash and the rest when we started our trip (this would come back to haunt us). But being Saturday (and HEAVY traffic day) we realized the Merkato couldn't happen and just went back to get our bags. After an argument with our taxi driver at the airport regarding how much money we owed for his racing us around all morning (difficult since we didn't speak the same language), we finally made our way to the North. Whew!!
After a bush plane ride and two other flights, I was incredibly excited to move on to my next destination in Africa - Ethiopia. Though I wasn't completely sure what to expect there (many people I'd told I was going asked the same question with some incredulity - "Why Ethiopia?" - and then conjured up images of the horrible drought and famine of the mid-80s), I knew it would be an unforgettable experience - I'd read about a long list of Ethiopian treasures, from isolated lake monasteries to ancient rock-hewn churches and other significant archaeological sites, to striking landscapes and colorful tribes. I was also looking forward to the weather, as Ethiopia boasts "13 months of Sunshine" - alluding along with its typically glorious weather to the ancient Coptic calendar to which it adheres, which has an extra month of 5 or 6 days. Visiting Ethiopia is also the easiest and quickest way to turn back the clock, since their calendar is 7 1/2 years behind the Gregorian one - so I turned my watch back to 2001 and stepped off the plane at around ten at night