The cradle of everything
Trip Start Apr 19, 2009
35Trip End Dec 20, 2009
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Where I stayed
Wim's Holland House
‘Ameseghinalehu, thank you’ we reply but decline the kind offer this time
‘Ishee, ok’ he replies, smiles and waves us goodbye. There have been many such invitations in the past few days. Ranging from a few cups of the fantastically aromatic Ethiopian coffee to a chat with injera (kind of foamy pancake made from tef) and kai wait (spicy curry type sauce). As we continue down the hill towards our Dutch run camp at ‘Kim and Tim’s Village’, only smiles and friendly waves follow us….
Looking back onto the many countries we have visited thus far, Ethiopia is definitely the hardest, and most fascinating to try and put into words. How do you describe the totally foreign smell, look, feel and sound of this country? It is just so very different. Wonderfully different. Perhaps I should start by stating that many of the travellers we met coming out of he country had had less than pleasurable experiences. To put it bluntly, had we only listenend to heir advice (and had their been an alternative route – which there is not) we would have skipped Ethiopia all together….at what a shame that would have been. Other travellers complained of the many people (Ethiopia has one of the greatest populations in Africa with 70 million people counted in 2005!), the constant begging, the crowding and the lacking infrastructure
Our first day in Ethiopia took us from the arid, desolated and corrugated roads of northern Kenya into the green, lush, cultivated and beautifully tarred roads of the Ethiopian highlands. Driving through the small villages dotting the hills felt a little like a celebrity procession. Kids, as well as adults, rushed out of their neat and clean houses to wave and greet us with huge smiles. When we waved backs, the smiles seemed, nearly impossibly, to become even wider. After a couple of hours, we stopped to buy some bread. Somewhat jaded from Kenya, where hard bargaining for becomes horrible second nature, I started haggling with the small kid selling the bread. He seemed flustered, I was relentless…Finally, wee agreed on Br4 (equivalent or R3) for a really big loaf of bread. I waited for my change (trying to look tough) surrounded by a crowd of curious, but very polite onlookers. When my change returned, still distrusting all these friendly smiles, I made an act of carefully counting my money. The small boy had given me back a thick wad of notes. Still unfamiliar with the denominations at this stage, I decided that even if they had cheated me, I seemed to have plenty of cash in hand
This trend continued for us. At the hotel we camped at (in the garden) a young group of students celebrating the end of Ramadan invited us to share in their party…and their freshly slaughtered goat prepared on the fire. We accepted the kind offer, bringing our last chocolate to the feast. A lovely and interesting evening of sharing ideas and views followed. On another occasion we were invited to coffee in one of the simple mud huts in Lalibela. Thinking this might be a trick to get money out of us (we had been warned about the coffee ceremony ploy) Marvin and I apprehensively sipped the lovely dark liquid…secretly waiting for the massive bill. In Ethiopia (the home of coffee by the way – it was used as a stimulant by the monks to stop falling asleep whilst praying) drinking coffee is a ritual – ‘The coffee ceremony’. First the coffee beans are roasted on the fire, some incense (Weihrauch) is then thrown on the hot coals, this lovely smell mixes with that of the roasted beans, creating a wonderfully smoky aroma that fills the room and prepares the drinker for his first sip. The coffee is then ground by hand and placed in an earthenware pot. The boiling water is poured over grounds and the coffee is served in little cups with plenty of sugar. The ritual is repeated three times, each round having a different name, and it is considered rude to leave before the third cup. It all takes about two hours – no espresso here! I now also understand why Ethiopia is such a deeply spiritual and prayerful country! After the third cup we stood up to leave and wanted to pay our host for the wonderful experience
To be sure, children will often beg for bier (the local currency…on our first day, I thought there was a very serious alcoholic-child-abuse situation prevalent here) and shout ‘you, you, you’. I guess this is one of the few words in English that they know. Coming from SA, we just replied, with ‘jo, jo, jo’ (the equivalent, of ‘hey, how you doing’) waved and smiled as we droved off. Very seldom did the kids return anything else than a big grin.
The cultural loop
Given our positive welcome in this country, we decided against the shortest route to Sudan. Instead we opted for the +/-1800km ‘cultural loop’ through Lalibela, Axum and the Semien mountains. It is astounding how little is known about the old and rich history of Ethiopia
Still in awe we continued our travels to Axum. There is no describing how beautiful the Ethiopian landscape is
What will the vast deserts of Sudan bring?