Hyenas and festivals

Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
Trip End Aug 25, 2006

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

We had a short 1 hour minibus trip from Dire Dawa to Harar.

We asked to be dropped at Towderos hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet - big mistake. The owner, knowing he had a good write-up, had more than doubled his prices. We of course weren't having any of that, so backpacks strapped on, we started to wander the streets of Harar.

It didn't take too long for trouble, in the form of two young lads, to find us. They said that our best bet was to stay in a 'Private House'. We went to the first one and it was a lovely traditional house with an roomy living room in different levels with carpets on each - perfect for reading and relaxing. The only problem was that there was only one bed and Kirsty and I were sick of sleeping together (5 nights out of 7 we share a bed to save money) - and the price. They were asking an exoberant fee equivalent of a bus drivers salary for 2 weeks ($15) and again, we didn't think that was right. So backpacks on again, we trooped across town following the lads to the 2nd private house. It was a looooong trek in the midday sun and we were more than exhausted when we got to the house, to find that there were no rooms... Disillusioned, we ditched the lads and decided to make our own way around town. (People in this country are just too friendly sometimes - we hardly ever get a minute alone).

We found a nice-ish looking hotel, but here we truely hit the Ethiopian Double 'farangi' price system - whereby a foreigner has to pay double what an Ethiopian pays for the same room. On principle we are totally against this and refuse to get 'farangi' priced. The hotel wanted $25 for a dingy $10 room. So we dumped our bags at the reception there and went to look around other hotels. All hotels in Harar had double pricing, and we got more and more angry, and fought with more and more hotel managers. Eventually, we trekked 3km out of town and found a newish looking hotel. I asked the assistant what the REAL price was - not the Ethiopian price - and we were at last told a decent price for the room. Finally! Half a day and a lot of frustration later! We went back into town to pick up our bags and to the hotel to check in, only to be told that the price we were told was Ethiopian Price and that our price would be double that. Kirsty and I went wild - and got our own way of course. Grrrrrr....

The next day we wandered into town and explored the streets of Harar in a much better frame-of-mind, and enjoyed the colourful vibrant feel of muslim-dominated Harar. The city is built in a medina, surrounded by an ancient city wall accessed by 5 gates. Harar is in fact the 4th most holy Islamic City, and is also the home of 'Qat' (that awful green leaf...well over it now!). We found it to be a rather crazy city. Youngsters just lying in the street chewing on qat all day, occassionally having angry outbursts.

At one point, wandering aimlessly through narrow alleyways, we came across a man who beckoned us to come into his house. It was a lovely traditional house (much like the one we nearly stayed in) and we spent a pleasant half hour eating biscuits and talking to him and his daughter Hana.

In spite of a fairly pleasant morning, we weren't as taken with the city as we had expected to be, and were all geared on to move on the next day, when I wandered across a sewing/clothes shop where the shop assistant beckoned me in. He offered us bananas and we chatted away. He told us that we can't leave tomorrow, there is one of the biggest festivals of the year on! At that our ears pricked up. All we figured out was that it was a Muslim festival - 6 days since the end of Ramadam celebration - and that people come from all over Ethiopia for it. We decided to stay.

That evening we headed up to the hotel next door where we had previously arranged to meet Dutch Jan (who was in Ethiopia investigating potatoes) and Assistant University Professor Takale. We had arranged to go hyena-feeding, a Harari tradition. We got the 4WD to the location and watched as the hyena-man feed a pack of hyena rancid meat. He beckoned us to come over and join in. Quite scary hearing the jaws crunch so close, but the hyenas appeared more scared of us than we were of them! The hyena-man was making a small fortune ripping off the (small amount of) foreigners coming to watch (grrr...) but it was a most unusual experience that I'm glad we had the opportunity to participate in. The hyenas were followed by beers down at the local Harar Brewery. A very pleasant day all round!

The next day we spent on the internet and hanging out at the local farangi hotel watching movies on TV all day, getting our western fix. At 7pm that night we headed into town, not knowing quite where to head for, but figuring it would work out. As it did! Some kids in the street pointed us down a street, and at the end, lo and behold, there was a tent! There were a few people hanging around inside the tent, but not much else happening. It all looked like fun though, so Kirsty and I hung around talking to the children. It was due to start anytime between 30min and 3 hours later. Luckily for us, it was the 30min.

Drummers came and set up drums and women milled around in the corner, next to a raised stage. We sat down quietly at the front, the only farangi in sight, to immediately be told to go to where the women were. We weren't sure at the time, but boy was it a good move! The women's section was full so they gestured to us to sit on the side of the stage. Feeling a bit self-conscious we did and just by sitting managed to entertain the entire audience (at this stage, a couple of hundred). The music started pretty quickly and the crowd gathered around us and the drums. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and hitting with sticks (happens a lot here - sticks and stones!) but luckily we were well away from that, sitting with the elders on the stage.

Quite soon after the drums and singing started up, there was a big uproar as the (we think) leader of the Muslim community appeared with his 20 or so apprentices. He had a magnetic personality and lead the performance for the rest of the night. In the meantime, his apprentices all came and sat up on stage with us, each laden down with huge bags full of Qat (as did everyone else in the tent - woman and child alike!) and started to feed us. Apparantely the festival goes until 4pm the next day, so they needed the qat, followed by copious amounts of Ethiopian coffee, to keep them alive and kicking until then.

We were at the centre of the festivalities and absolutely loved it. We stood up and danced and sang along to the songs where we could - we were entertained and also entertained most of the crowd.

As we had to get up at 4am the next morning (more public buses...) we gracefully bowed out and headed home close to midnight. The crowd didn't want us to leave and we had to promise to go back. Sigh... Ethiopia is such a lovely country.

A quick note on common prices for anyone coming to Ethiopia (Charlotte!) so you don't pay farangi price (we have been fighting hard for this!):
- soft tissue (paper tissues) - 1 br a packet ($0.10)
- oranges - 4 for 1 br (though in some big towns you only get 3. Same for bananas)
- coca cola and other soft drinks - 2-2.5 br. Never pay more than 3 br
- fresh juice (really good!) - usually 3br though some places will charge 4br. It is never 5br
- mini bus ride - 5br for about half an hour
- tips for bag porters etc - 1br for a normal service. Keep in mind when tipping that a cleaner or laborer gets 5br per day ($0.50) and a bus assistant gets 150br ($20) per month so never tip too much
- toilet paper - 3br per roll
- 'hip hop' biscuits - 1br (all shops and boys selling on the streets have these, so its a good way of finding out if they are selling products at a fair price or not)
- hotel room only with shared toilet and no running water/shower - 7-15br
- hotel room only with shared toilet and shower - 10-25br
- hotel room with ensuite bathroom with cold water - 15-35br
- hotel room with ensuite bathroom with hot water - 30-50br
Slideshow Report as Spam
Where I stayed
Towderos Hotel
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ed on

"They were asking an exoberant fee equivalent of a bus drivers salary for 2 weeks ($15) and again, we didn't think that was right."

Wow. And what's $15 to you? Half an hours wages? Some of the entries in this blog show the worst side of budget traveling. It's one thing to avoid getting ripped off, but you have to expect higher prices as a foreigner. Spending days looking for cheaper prices and arguing over a few bucks is the worst way to travel, in my opinion.

The Bradt guide to Ethiopia has a very good prelude which explains the etiquette and rationale behind paying a bit more and avoiding pointless arguments over a few dollars.

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