Sunday, July 29, 2007

Some amazing panoramas and a couple movies

As usual, click for larger pics...they span from Murchison Falls at the bottom up to Lalibella


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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Africa Pics!

Was going to update the ethiopia story, but there was a card reader here and fast internet so I posted a bunch of pictures...this goes from ethiopia through uganda.

hiking through mountain village in lallibella

Lallibella from above

Lallibella monk
Lallibella town scene

Church St Georgis
Church St Georgis from above (it is carved into the ground)
Lallibella mist...forget if this is fog or incense

Praying outside a rock-hewn church
Typical Ethiopian mountain scenery
Rainbow from bus window on the way to Lallibella
Childred following us shouting "You You You" in Arba Minch
We wanted a peaceful hike in Arba Minch...couldn't get these little devils away...staying trying to yell at them, but they followed us for over 2 hours
Stacey with our truck drivers Bekalu and Addis
Hamar market in Torme, not as impressive as we expected

Trying to get a truck unstuck on the hill
From the truck window, Omo Valley
Bekalu doing what he does best, pimping and driving
This runt followed us for a half hour in Konso, asked for a picture then tried to make us pay him for it
Video from Konso after winning a soccer match...the whole town went nuts for about 20 minutes...we didn't see the game, just the celebration.

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Cute Ethiopian twins in Yabello

Our "guide" above Yabello
Yabello Market
Yabello Street Scene



Smoking Sheesha in Moyale
The road from Isiolo to Ethiopia...4 flat tires going 100km/hr down this
Fixing a flat tire at 2am on the road to Ethiopia
Me next to Murchison Falls
Murchison Falls from afar

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Egypt Tomorrow

Bought my flight yesterday to Cairo...$370 one way...not cheap at all but better than the $500 other airlines wanted.  Had to go on Yemeni airlines, connecting in Yemen to Egypt - should be interesting.  Also my dad was able to change my flight out of israel to the 16th of September and I booked a ticket to go to Turkey for the first two weeks of September.  I'll try to fill in the rest of the ethiopia story when I get there, just converted all my spare ethiopian money to dollars and don't have much money for the Internet.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ethiopian Buses - the devil's spawn

I would like to finish our adventure in the south, but this ethiopian bus rant has been brewing in my head for some time.

Ethiopian buses are the worst form of transportation I have ever used.  Even worse than the horrible experience i had in the 4ft high cargo hold of the Thai ferry, worse than the pickup truck in Cambodia crammed with 20-some people in the back...at least those were one-off things.  In Ethiopia, unless you pay to fly or rent a car your only choice to get around is the government run bus system.

After having spent roughly 5 full days of my 3 weeks in ethiopia riding on these buses I think I am experienced enough to comment on them.  I was pre-warned by other travellers when I was in Uganda about how bad the buses are, but nothing prepared me for the misery I have endured.  In fact, I was going to stay here another week, but the thought of taking one more of these 12 hour bus rides makes me sick, so i'm leaving this country once i find a flight out. 

First, it is now 10am in Addis right now, but I have been up for 5 and a half hours.  Why?  because every bus in Ethiopia boards at 5am!  What that means...you have to get there at 5am to hopefully buy a ticket, so you have to wake up at 4:30, get to the bus station gate before 5am, and while wiping the crust from your eyes crowd around the gate with a huge pack of rabid ethiopians ready to sprint to the bus to buy their ticket first.  They open the gate at 5am, a mad dash ensues, everyone running in every direction, I refuse to demean myself by running.  There are almost always seats available. 

You find the right bus, everyone is crowded around the ticketmaster trying to buy a ticket, fighting, arguing, etc.  Eventually you get the ticket, or maybe you've purchased a ticket the day before (sometimes possible, sometimes not), now everyone crowds around the door, salivating at the thought of maybe scoring a front row seat, and thus less bumpy for the 2 day trip to whereever you're going.  Before opening the door, the ticketmaster lines everyone up around the bus, then leads the front of the line in a circle around the bus to the back door.  This is entirely pointless though, he opens the door and everyone who didn't line up just runs up and starts pushing and shoving, biting and kicking, women tossing babies up probably just to distract you long enough to get in front of you and squeeze through the door.  It's vicious, no rules, dog eat dog, bare knuckle brawling.  Within a minute, all the people who didn't wait in line push the ticketmaster away, open the front door, and steal all the good seats in the front.  One time, I started screaming while everyone was pushing "Push! Push! Push! Maybe you can kill someone this morning, keep pushing, harder harder, i want to see blood"  stacey thought it was funny, most people probably thought i was nuts. 

Hopefully you avoid getting punched or kicked in the balls, you get to your seat in the bus which is usually 30-50yrs old.  The seat is rock hard and the back goes up to your shoulderblades with no head rest.  The seats are spaced to fit midgets and of course there is a sharp metal bar right where your knees go if you happen to be average sized.  It is now 5:05am, everyone has found a seat, we should be leaving at any moment, we have a 12+hour ride ahead, but no, we wait.  For no conceivable reason, the bus waits until 6am to leave.  If you are in addis, all the buses leave at 6am and it takes you another 45minutes just to get out of the parking lot. 

It's ok though, you're tired so you try to take a nap on the metal bar over the seat in front of you.  It's hard, but it's 5am, who cares.  At 5:30am, the bus starts up, since the exhaust is on the side of the bus and the door is still open, the bus next to you kicks up a huge cloud of thick black acrid exhaust filling your entire bus.  You wake up choking, no one opens a window.  No one even seems to mind that they are all slowly being poisoned by carbon monoxide and lead (ethiopia only recently switched to unleaded gasoline, there is probably still a lot of lead knocking around the engines).

It's 6:00am, you start to move, you start to wist back to sleep, only to be shooken awake by the driver blasting "tradition ethiopian music."  It is the same tape played for 12 hours, the same tape on every bus, every time you take the bus, the same awful tape.  Well there are a few, but every song sounds the same.  It sounds like someone skinning a goat alive using a dull blade with a horrible 80s style synthesized beat in the background.  It is ear-piercingly loud and the speaker is probably 20years old and buzzes at every high note...and there are so many high notes.  No matter how high your turn your ipod up, you can still hear the atrocious music blaring in the background.  An ethiopian woman behind you hums along and loves it...you ask yourself how this is possible, but you find every type of ethiopian enjoying this music.  One day you try to buy a tape on the street in order to beg the bus driver to please put some american music on, but the only thing they sell is Celine Dion, Phil Collins, 50 Cent, and a country music mix tape (Africans south to north, love country music, so strange).

You never full adjust to the music or your painful seat, but you make do for a few hours on a nice road.  Then the road gets bumpy, and since you didn't push and fight your way to the front, you get the full effect of the bumps.  It is also getting close to mid-day and it's getting hot.  You try to open a window, it's 90 degrees in the bus and only about 70 outside, but a chorus of angry people yell at you to close it.  Ethiopians have no resistance to wind, they say quixotically.  You look around, shedding all your layers, sweating profusely, and all the ethiopians still have winter hats and their jackets on, seemingly oblivious to the stifling heat.

The air is stale, it feels like there is no oxygen, no one has opened a window in hours!  Between the music, the seat, the heat, and the stale air, you wonder if you will survive the next 6 hours.  You stop for lunch, it is great, you haven't eaten breakfast since you were up at the ungodly hour of 4am, you are starving, craving coffee, you stumble off the bus and find some food.  It is ok, they try to overcharge you for being a foreigner, but you fight them down to the correct price, maybe with the help of some new friends on the bus.

Everyone piles onto the bus again.  Within 15 minutes it is hot, the air is stale, you are listening to the same tape for the 5th time...the goat never seems to die, just wails and wails to that horrible beat, but at least you are not hungry anymore.  Then the bumps come, suddenly people from all over the bus are yelling to the ticketmaster for a plastic bag, the heat and the stale air have caused women and children all over the bus to start puking.  In an hour, 4 children and 2 women have puked, no one opens a window...the air is now stale, hot, and smelling of puke.  The only respite is when they open a window for 30 seconds to launch another bag of vomit out the window. 

In the space of the 12 hour journey, you were undoubtedly stuck for an hour due to mud, a flat tire, someone getting kicked off in the middle of nowhere because the ticketmaster finds he has no ticket and no money to pay, or some other nuisance, but you welcome this since it gives you a chance to get off the bus and get some fresh air.

Finally, you arrive at your destination, only to meet the plonkers at the bus station trying to overcharge you for a room, children screaming "You You You,"  and everyone staring at your everywhere you look.  You want to cry, but that's just what they want, so you suck it up, fight off the parasites, find a room and lay down.  You get some dinner, go to sleep, only to do it again the next day, because it takes 2 full days of travelling to go 300 miles in this country, the roads are just that bad. 

This is why I am leaving a week before i wanted to, and is why I won't be going to Bahir Dar, Gondor, Axum, or Harar.  I'll only come back to this country if the buses improve, I rent a car, or have enough time to spread these bus journeys out to about 3-4 hours and stop somewhere along the way.

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 road...it 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 chest...so 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 it...it 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 10birr...so 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 $175...an 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 Union....to be continued yet again...ethiopia has been a long story, I need it all documented.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Southern Ethiopia Continued....

So I left off arriving in Yabello and somehow scrambling on the bus to
the town. We originally thought Yabello and Konso were very near,
walking distance. In fact, it was over 150km away. We thought we
could get to Konso that day, but we quickly learned the only transport
was by cargo trucks that people pile onto the back of. So we figured
we'd stay the night, I've been following the travel philosophy told to
me by someone I met in Thailand that any town is worth spending a day
in.

It turned out that the day we arrived in Yabello (saturday) was a
market day. They set up a market on the one side of town and
villagers and tribespeople travel from miles away to come and
trade/barter at the market. We were able to walk around with our new
friendMelkius (i wrote his name wrong in the last entry). Of course,
we made it very clear to him in the beginning that we had no money to
give him, surprisingly he didn't care and just walked around with us
practicing his english and explaining some of the strange looking
things they were selling in the market (like mud and salt from the
salt lake 60km away). As were were leaving the market, we got a new
tag-a-along, a supposed student who wanted to be our guide (we have
now learned this is more than common in Ethiopia, there are at least 5
of these people meeting us in every town we've been in). He spoke
much better english than Melkius, and we made it very clear that it
would be great if he could show us around, but we had no money to pay
him (we had already started counting pennies not knowing when we'd be
near a bank). He had a pretty good sense of humor and said it was no
problem.

The town was really picturesque, it is in a valley surrounded by
mountains, so we hiked up to the top of one of the nearby mountains
with our two guides and were followed by children chanting "You You
You", "1 birr", "give me money", etc most of the way until our guides
finally shook them off. The view was very nice, then we took a path
the long way down through some villages who were all extremely
friendly and seemed very surprised to see us walking around the area.
We went back to our hotel, agreeing to meet up with our new guides for
dinner that night. Also important, the guide who spoke good english
had a ethiopian guidebook someone gave him as a tip...since we had
very little money, we paid him $5 for it...looking back it was a
pretty fair price since it's $20 new and it was 6yrs old (he
originally wanted $15). The book's been invaluable since...

After we got back, I go into the bar area for a coke and some drunk
guy named Abraham called me over and bought me a beer. Abraham spoke
very little english, but he was very clear that he loved white people.
Some Norwegian missionaries gave him his first job, and since then he
feels it his duty to help any white people who come along. He forced
me to drink 2 more beers and some snacks, and he showed us the 30
pictures in his phone of his family 3 -4 four times (forgetting that
he just showed us the same pictures 10 minutes before). The
conversation went pretty much like "I love white people, here this is
Abraham wife Mulu, Abraham house, Abraham daughter Melke, Abraham and
Abraham wife, etc." And us saying "o wow, beautiful wife, such a nice
house, aww so cute" He was incredibly sweet, and no doubt genuine.
Finally our one guide came into the bar and Abraham started buying him
drinks too and the guide was translated for us. He then had to go
home to eat but invited us for breakfast the next day.

We took our two guides out to dinner, woke up the next day and met
Abraham who somehow remembered to come pick us up. We met the one
guide who could translate and we went to Abraham's house and met his
family which we had seen so many pictures of. His house was very
nice, he was relatively well off in Ethiopia, and we sat down and he
showed us all his photo albums of the Norwegian missionaries, his
wedding, and his family. Was all very nice, a little awkward, but we
really appreciated him, he said if we ever come back we must stay at
his house, he will definitely be getting a holiday card, along with
Dennis in Tanzania...we left there about 9am then went back to find a
truck to hitch onto and take to Konso.

Stacey went to look for a truck, and I played our guide in ping
pong...of course the white guy playing ping pong attracted a lot of
attention around the town...within 10 minutes a crowd of 30 people
were watching us. He was no match for my skills and i beat him by
8-10 points 3 games in a row. Our "guide" had told us no truck leaves
till noon, but this was probably just a ploy to get us stuck there
another day or to get us on a truck that will pay him a commission
because stacey found one leaving at 10am and we somehow got the real
ethiopian price of $2/person with a little help from some other
passengers. We gathered our stuff and jumped in the back. This being
africa, 10am meant they pull out of the parking spot, then slowly go
through town stopping roughly every 10 meters for about an hour
picking up more passengers before really leaving.

The truck ride was a trip in itself. Everyone stared at us for most
of the ride talking about us (i counted about 22 people piled in the
back, with all sorts of luggage), then a couple people who spoke
english started talking to us. There was mix of tribespeople and
townspeople...everyone thought we were husband and wife and it took a
lot of convincing till they believed we were brother and sister. It
was a nice, scenic ride and relatively uneventful until we get near a
stream...suddenly, one of the guys jumps off the truck while it's
still moving and he runs into the stream strips down and starts
swimming. Before we knew it the truck pulls into the stream and all
the guys jump out, strip down to their underwear (one of them naked)
running around in the water like 5 year olds in a swimming pool
splashing and wrestling. Then someone produces soap and they all take
a bath. It was very surreal...i kept thinking "where the hell am I."
This lasted over an hour.

After 5 hours on the road/bathing, we arrive in Konso. Suddenly, a
huge argument erupts between two of the passengers. Everyone had been
sitting on everyone elses' bags the whole time and the one guy who
wouldn't let anyone even touch his bag was sitting on a woman's
plastic container the whole ride and had cracked the top. The woman
started screaming at him, on the verge of tears, and picked up his bag
threatening to throw it off the truck in the dirt. It's time for the
goofy looking foreigner to come in to save the day...I produce God's
holy instrument of repair, my mini roll of duct tape, patch up her
container and calmed the situation down...a few more words were
exchanged but she had a huge smile on her face and the crowd
dispersed. Stacey got a great picture of me introducing duct tape to
the locals and we went off to find some food and a hotel...

Enough excited blogging today...I'll try to finish our story
tomorrow...more hitchiking, skirting the law, and naked tribeswomen to
come.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Long Adventure from Kampala through Southern Ethiopia - Verrrry Long

Have had no internet access the last week as I travelled through the bowels of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia.  Been an incredible adventure though.
 
About a week ago we were trying to go through Kenya as quickly as possible; and we did it in record time, roughly 41 hours...everyone told us it would take at least 3 days. 
 
We took an overnight bus from Kampala to Nairobi, arrived in Nairobi at 8am, found a bus to Isiolo (according to africans we talked to it should take 3-4 hours, but according to african time ((always multiply by 2-3x)) it actually took 6 hours), and arrived in Isiolo at 5pm.  We were only in Nairobi for about 3hours, but that was enough time to see a thief get beaten up by a mob of people in a muddy street...Nairobi is notorious for thieves, the Kenyans call it "Nairobbery." Back to Isiolo, Normally people jump on the back of a cargo truck for the 18-36 hour ride from Isiolo to the Kenya/Ethiopia border, but we were lucky and got hooked up with a Land Rover who was making the trip leaving at 7pm.  Negotiated the price from about $22 to about $15 a person and jumped in.
 
The driver flew...the road is one of the worst i've ever seen, 800km of rocky potholed desert, and he was going 100km/hr (~60mph) and almost fishtailing around every turn.  To put that in perspective, normal trucks go about 15-25km/hour most of the way since the road is so terrible.  I feared for my life at several points.  Of course because of the speed we had quite a few flat tires...you would think driving 800km through one of the most sparsely populated stretches of land in Africa, and on one of the worst roads in Africa the driver would come prepared for flats, but he only had one spare tire and a spare inner tube...and a bicycle pump to pump the inner tube.  It took 45 minutes to pump the inner tube in the 2nd flat...and the pump only worked because i had duct tape to fix the broken hose (thanks mom!).  The third flat we had to whittle the hole down, cut the first busted inner tube (with my scissors, they had none) and use the other tube to patch the hole.  From there we were only 3km from a small town, so we slept the night in the Land Rover, not having any money to pay for a room, we wanted to take as little money as possible through kenya, so many thieves.  Next morning got a new spare tire, and set off for the border.  Luckily, only one more flat on the way, and we made it into town...asses bruised from the bumps, but it only took 17hrs with 6 of that sleeping and about 4 fixing flats in the middle of the night. 
 
Finally get into Ethiopia, we have no guidebook, no map, and only about $90 cash between us.  We want to go to the Southwest where a lot of the native tribes live, they still live the same way they've lived for thousands of years, we read it is like driving through a museum.  I trade $20 for ethiopian birr and get ripped off for $2 when he quickly runs away after shorting me on the exchange.  As we walk children shout "You, You, You" from every direction, we discover that is what they shout to foreigners...a nice change from "Muzungu, Muzungo" everywhere in the Swahili speaking world.  We find a cheap room in Moyale, the border town and ask around for a bus to Jinka, which we thought was north but is actually Northwest.  We talk to someone and he recommends Yabello, so we go to Yabello the next morning because we don't have enough money for a bus anywhere else. 
 
We get to Yabello and there is no place to change money.  A nice guy befriends us, helps us get the bus from where we got dropped off to town, i have never seen such hysteria to get on a bus, pushing shoving, wouldn't be surprised if there was hair pulling and biting.  The drivers helps us go through the driver door because he knows we'll never make it.  Meleka, our new friend, takes us to a hotel for about $3 and finds someone to change anout $40 for us at 8.5 birr to the dollar, normally it is about 9, but we have no choice.  We walk around town, it is a market day, so tribal people are coming from all around to trade in the market...to be continued, out of time here.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Jinja, Whitewater Rafting

My last post was pretty long and I threw a lot of detail in because looking back it was amazing that it all worked out as planned.  So many things could have gone wrong along the way, and we were almost ripped off several times, but travelling in Africa has taught me that things just seem to work out in the end.  Would have been much easier to book the organized tour, but it was full.  In the end we were able to return the tarps (unused) with no problem and got our $30 back.
 
Yesterday I went to Jinja to do what is described as one of the world's best places to whitewater raft.  They picked me up in the morning and we went about 1.5hrs south to near the source of the Nile.  After a quick lesson on the rafting commands we hit the rapids...4 level 5 rapids (the highest you're allowed to go down on a raft) and about 7 or 8 level 4 & 3 rapids.  It was a great time, and when we flipped on the level 5 rapids I panicked a little after being dragged along and spun underwater for about 30 seconds.  The only problem with the trip was the 2 hour long stretches of no rapids...got a little boring roasting in the sun paddling along until the next rapid.  Overall we went 30km down the nile. 
 
Now we need to get our ethiopian visas and make our way over to Kenya.