Fleeced in Aksum

Trip Start Dec 16, 2005
Trip End Jun 12, 2006

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Sunday, January 8, 2006

Left as 6:30 for my 9am flight to Aksum. Met Matt and Athene, 2 english students at the airport. Some great views of the Simien Mountains from plane, the mountains looked very arid from the air. Arrived in Aksum and managed to get fleeced by some taxi driver who managed to persuade me I couldn't take the hotel bus and had to go with him! Oh well another dollar wasted! Luckily Matt and Athene want to hire a 4WD and go to Debra Damo and Yeha, excellent news as it would probably be a bit expensive by myself! Not many other independent travelers in Aksum, although a number of small organized tour groups.

Tried to crack a joke about Yeha, something along the lines of 'ride 'em cowboy', don't think the guy from the hotel really understood!

The 3 of us headed out to check out the town stopping at the main square for lunch. They introduced my to Shiro, a chickpea dish laced with garlic - a new favourite. Most people complained about the Ethiopian food but I found it very tasty, especially the vegetarian food. Every Wednesday and Friday was a fasting day for orthodox Ethiopians when they would go vegie - the rest of the week they were big meat eaters and the though of having to eat vegetable was not entertained.

The square like all the places I'd been had a grand old fig tree, the largest ones were enormous and must have been well over a century old. I think only 3 percent of the original forest was left in Ethiopia and that was one of the main reason they had gone from a great civilization to a land especially in the east that experienced a lot of cyclical droughts and famines. The country has some of the best topsoil in the world that originally supported these civilizations but deforestation is causing a lot of erosion and the removal of the trees has caused a lot of the areas further east not to get the rains they once used to. Places in the highland of Ethiopia such as Addis get on average 1.5m of rain every year and after the rainy season the place is green with vegetation. It's a shame more tourists don't come, put off by the pictures on TV of drought. For one of the 10 poorest countries in the world tourism is a big boost to the economy and from what I have seen the country is one of the most interesting in terms or history, wildlife and also it's tribes people in the south (that I won't get to see this time!).

We could tell we were getting closer to the mighty Sahara as besides the usual array of donkeys, carts and tuk-tuks this town was full of camels! Outside the main stelae (obelisk)park is were the usual crowd of beggars including people without limbs and eyesight - a lot of it is very sad indeed. Inside the stelae park they have the largest obelisks in the world. The biggest is believed to have been transported from a quarry 4km away, it weighed over 500 tons and fell as it was been erected in the 6 century, many say causing the downfall of the Aksumite civilization. Also in the park were plenty of birds, African starlings, much prettier than their European counterparts. The other cool bird was a Hoopoe, very colourful with a crown on its head that it kept raising and lowering.

After walking past Queen Sheba's baths and Kink Kalib's tomb where we had a rather close encounter with a whole load of bats we headed across some pleasant countryside to Abba Pentalewon Monastery. Perched high on a hill, besides the usual objects there were some superb views across the Tigrayan countryside.

That evening we went to the Abyssinia Café and met Zak and his wife (sorry I never did manage to pick up her name properly), the couple from New Years eve. True to form they spent the whole evening complaining about everything and anything, I hope I'm not like that after 3 months on the road!

Next morning after a tasty egg sandwich and coffee, Abebe our driver turned up with his smart jacket, flat cap and landrover. He looked like he would have been right at home as a 1960s chauffeur!

There was plenty of dust on the roads in that part of the world and overtaking consisted of driving up to a dust ball, trying not to breath in too much, moving out from the back wheels of the vehicle in front. Next you'd hope nothing was coming the other way, before overtaking, opening the windows to clear out all the dust that was floating in the vehicle! Thankfully the roads were very quiet. The villages we passed through were mainly small dusty towns also, but the locals had a habit of painting all the houses bright colours that gave them a certain charm.

The scenery on the 4 hour journey to Debra Damo was fantastic and we made lots of photo stops along the way. Pinnacle shaped mountain and local agriculture made for nice scenery.

I'd decided to go to Debra Damo after watching some poor hapless guy on PBS making has way up the 25 foot cliff face using only cowhide for support, he looked truly scared. Young Matt made it all the way up without a safety rope held by the monks at the top. I got about 1/4 of the way up before going back down and spending the $2 on the safety rope. I think it was a wise choice. I managed to get tangled in the safety rope halfway up and one of the monks came down to un-tie me! On the table top plateau every side was surrounded by vertical cliffs. They had a monastery, livestock, crops, housing and watering holes up there, that at times since its 6th C construction had been used to house up to 600 monks. Also on top were plenty of open tombs with skulls of passed monks clearly showing.

From the top Eritrea could be clearly seen a few kilometers away, due to the ongoing hostilities I think we were about 20km closer than the British government was recommending. Oh well we lived to tell another day.

We stopped at Yeha on the way home, the site of Ethiopia's first capital build back in the 8th C BC! The remains of one building we amazingly still standing, its stones fitting together so well, some as long as 3 meters, that you could not get anything in the gaps in between them. The guide book described the place as peaceful and evocative. After our long journey over some terrain that only 4WD could go, I was starting to feel more jaded and fleeced as one more unofficial guide followed us around and tried to extract money from us or as the kids who roamed the complex asked for pens, birrs and plastic bottles. A Meta beer back at the hotel and I was soon back on form.

Up early next morning for a walk in the hills behind the hotel. I was followed all morning by a group of kids who eventually had to be told strongly to go away. Saw an Auger Buzzard up close that was pretty cool. Lots of people walking around in this part of the world with brightly coloured umbrella trying to escape the sun. Went out to see Queen Shebas Palace and another Stelae Park in the afternoon. Not too much to report apart from a pile of rubble. Went to an Ethnographical Museum in the afternoon where a woman had preserved her house as it was in the old days. All very interesting indeed.

Feel like my time getting fleeced in Ethiopia is coming to an end, so spent the evening doing some research on Uganda to see what interesting way the locals have of fleecing the tourists there!
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jonclark2000 on

Thanks for all the e-mails etc. again I appologies for not replying to them all, but keep them coming I really appreciate them especially been so far away.
If you haven't signed up, sign up you will get an e-mail every time I add a new entry - also feel free to add me as you favourite travelogue :-)

Hope you are all well - as you can imagine I'm still having a fantastic time and fly to Uganda on 17th - I've been to a place called Lalibella and am now in Addis, more info on those places in the travelogie soon, to keep checking it out.

Take care.


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