Monday, July 16, 2007

Southern Ethiopia - Part Three

Left off arriving in Konso...

Of course as soon as we arrive, an ethiopian speaking perfect english walks up to us and offers to give us information...his name was Burkett. We say we have no money and are trying to get to Jinka, he says no problem, information is free...right. We are hungry and he takes us to a restaurant, and offers to draw us a map of the area. We protest, there is already a great map in our book...but he insists. He talks to us for 5 minutes, enough to make us realize he doesn't know anything that isn't already in our book. So we leave him and head to another restaurant...queue annoying wannabe guide number 2.

Sitting in the restaurant reading our guidebook and trying to eat lunch, another man speaking perfect english offers to help us with information. We say no thanks, but he sits down in the restaurant and listens to us discussing...every few minutes interjecting with some "free information." We start to get really pissed off since we're trying to make a decision and he keeps butting in...he even offered to draw us a map...there must be a school where they all learn these stupid tricks. After the 5th of 6th time of him butting in (and one time giving us information that turned out to be false and would have cost us $5 each if we listened to him), we started yelling at him to get out of the restaurant and leave us alone. These people just don't go away easily around here...literally have to tell them to fuck off before they act all offended, pout about how rude you are, and walk away. At first i was hesitant to be rude with them, but they don't listen to polite suggestions that we don't want their help.

We finally decide to go to Torme, about 5hrs away on a bumpy dirt is late and we end up having to spend a night in a room with no electricity and no bathroom. No problem though...Wake up at 6am the next morning and try to find a truck going to Torme. We put the word out on the street we looking for a ride, wait on a hotel doorstep, and within 15min some guys come up and say there's a truck to Torme and to come along. We negotiate the price from $6/person to $3/person, and jump in the cab of a huge dump truck carrying beans for UNICEF bound for a town called Dimeka, about 1hr from Torme. The guys who hooked up the truck demand a tip, they keep hasseling us about it, but we know they get paid a commission by the driver and are just trying to suck extra money out of us...

So we meet our new escorts, the driver Bekalu, and his handyman Addis. Bekalu is very talkative and laughs hysterically every time stacey tries to speak Ahmharic. Addis doesn't talk at all, but just sits happily smiling the whole ride. The ride is beautiful, and Bekalu is an excellent host. We stop at a restaurant for lunch, and since the tourist prices are 3x the local prices, we ask him to bring us some food in the truck. He does, and doesn't let us pay for it. Then he invites us for coffee and qat (pronounced "chat") the ethiopian drug of choice while Addis fixed one of the truck tires. Apparently it's illegal in the US, but it's just some green leaves you chew for a few hours and it's a mild stimulant. Stacey and I have done it a few times here, and it's fun...similar feeling to having 3-4 beers, but having the effect last a few hours. Pretty harmless, though not something I have any desire to chew often.

After an hour of chilling and chatting and getting to know Bekalu a little better we hit the road again. The ride is incredibly scenic, we drove straight through the famous Rift Valley, and along the way we start to see Hamar tribespeople. The men wear pretty normal clothes and walk very erect, sometimes they have their face or body painted, but it's the women that the tribe is notorious for. The women don't wear a top, just a goatskin smock with a lot of shells and beads over their there are boobies everywhere. They also put this strange red waxy dye in their hair, and wear very thick bars around their neck and arms. It's pretty interesting...them and all the people in the Omo valley are living in several thousand year old, largely unchanged, tribal cultures.

Finally we arrive in Torme, after stopping once in the middle of a hill to help a truck that was stuck in the sand (it was a double trailer truck and it couldn't make it up the hill with both trailers, so they just left one trailer behind and would come back the next day for it). On the way to Torme, we had decided to go with Bekalu up to Dimeka, and get a ride back with him too...but when we arrive there the police in town fine him 50 birr (about $6) for taking tourists and demand a ride themselves up to Dimeka. He tells us he will pick us up 3km outside of town on the road the next day so we can avoid the police and will take us all the way to Arba Minsch for free (of course we ended up paying him - on our insistence - but felt good about it since we really liked him). He told stacey he loved her, and gave her a ring in case he never saw her again.

We check out Torme, all the tribespeople want 1 birr for a picture, and i refuse to pay people for pictures. I got a few pictures on the road, and took one picture of the market they were all gathered around. We can't walk half a block down the street without kids coming up asking for money or people speaking perfect english coming up and wanting to be our guide. We got a room for $4 after having to negotiate hard...they are obsessed with tourist prices around there...the real ethiopian price for our room was $2, but they tried to charge us $6. All the food prices were double for tourists and there was no negotiating was infuriating since we literally had $25 between us at this point and if Bekalu didn't come to pick us up the next day we might be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no money. Cheering me up, that night I met two guys both named Wenderson who are engineers on the roads in the area. We had a long discussion about politics and ethiopia and america, then he said he'll be in addis when we are there, so we agreed to meet up (did meet up last saturday and had a fun time)

Next day we carry our bags 3km outside of town and wait on the side of the road...I can't think of a more remote location i've ever been. Bekalu said he would arrive between 10am and 11am. We sit there for 2hours under a tree while all these tribespeople keep walking by looking at us like we're nuts (we were). It was about 90 degrees, luckily we were smart enough to bring a lot of water. Two guys herding some cattle come up and speak to us in broken english...the one guy walks off and the other skinny old man stands over me with an ax in his hand not saying a word, just staring at me. So I took out my little binocular to break the ice and showed him. He liked it, but he kept standing there...finally i open my bag and found a dirty white t-shirt that i was planning on throwing away anyway and offer it to him. He gets a huge smile, puts the shirt on immediately (this was the shirt i white-water rafted in, and haven't cleaned since) and he walks proudly away into the blazing sun. A bunch of women come by asking for 1 birr for a photo, but we decline. Herd after herd of cattle, sheep, and goats wander by and we take it all in stride, confident that Bekalu and his oversized truck will come eventually. Everyone was very friendly though...finally just as we were losing hope in ever seeing Bekalu we hear a rumbling in the distance...soon I see Bekalu's huge red Nissan barreling down the dirt road flashing his lights at me. He jumps out (literally jumps...he is about 5'6") and runs over and hugs us. He had had a flat tire on the way...we happily jump in and hit the road. We thought we were going to Arba Minch that day, but turned out we were stopping overnight in Konso again, then going to Arba Minch.

We go to the same place for lunch. I try to buy Bekalu a pack of cigarettes, but since i'm white they try to charge me 25birr...normal price is some kid says he'll buy it for me, and he does for 12birr then demands a 1birr tip...for ripping me off for 2 birr...hilarious. Bekalu treats us to lunch and coffee, then we ride back to Konso, where he treats us to dinner and beer. Along the way Stacey introduces him to her iPod and we learn he's a huge Shakira fan...he spends 2 hours with the headphones on singing and dancing to Shakira. He tells us about his son who was an accident with some girl he met on the road, but he loves him very much. He was a real character.

After a night in Konso we expect to go straight to Arba Minch the next day at 6am, but Bekalu has other plans. We jump in the truck at 6:15 and head straight for a dry river bed...we don't know what's going on. Soon we see 10 guys with shovels come out and start loading up a truck with sand. We had to wait for 2 other trucks to get loaded with sand by 10 guys with shovels (about 45minutes each), then they broke for breakfast, then our truck. Finally, about 11am we get out of there with a full load of sand. Bekalu tells us he can buy the load in Konso for about $30 and sell it in Arba Minch for about $ incredible profit for a few hours work by any standards. Of course, this is a side game and he can't tell the trucking company about it. He pays Addis about $30 not to tell anyone.

Get to Arba Minch at about 3pm and stop outside of town waiting to drop the load off. I ask if I can walk around and look for a bank, Bekalu says no problem, 5 minutes later I see the truck flying down the road with stacey, driving right by me...I run after it but he doesn't stop. I figure my only option is to wait...i end up waiting 1.5hrs for them to come back, but I had a nice conversation with a man on the street who spoke perfect english about Ethiopia, America, politics, and economy while i was waiting. When they get back I found out stacey was on the verge of tears screaming at Bekalu to go back for me. He picked me up, and dropped us in the center of town. We pay him about $15 and say goodbye for good.

We are immediately surrounded by what our guidebook calls "plonkers" - people who speak about 5 sentences in english and are endemic to every ethiopian tourist town, they run up to you seem polite, and ask if you need a hotel room. We try to shoo them away, because we know if we go with them to a hotel they increase the price at least 25% because they have to pay these douchebags a commission. It is not difficult to find a hotel, the whole town is about 3 blocks square! Eventually they won't leave us alone and we literally scream at them to go away...we walk into some fleabag hotel and get a room for $3.50...One of the plonkers comes in right after me I say "what are you doing here, go away" he claims "I came here to eat" and I say "why the fuck are you standing there then and not sitting and eating" he has no response...oh man I hate these people, they are true parasites. After the room I have about $7 left to my name and our only hope is Western be continued yet again...ethiopia has been a long story, I need it all documented.


Stacey said...

sitting in this internet cafe
literally snorting and laughing hysterically at your recount of our experiences...

and for the record, bekalu was about 2 inches SHORTER than ME coming in at about 5'1 (not 5'6!)

good work brother.
memories to last a lifetime.
no doubt


July 16, 2007 10:52 AM  

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