Friday, August 31, 2007

Israel Recap

Nothing too exciting happened in Israel aside from the wedding in the previous post, but I'll give a little recap of what I did.

The week of the wedding I just hung out around the pimp 5-star hotel I was staying at, wandered around the old city in Jerusalem, went online a lot, caught up on my falafel eating, and went drinking almost every night with my cousin (brother of the one getting married). Was also able to meet up with 2 friends from college, one who turned into a religious jew and has been studying in israel for the last 2 years, the other is getting paid to be here by some fellowship (Jewish agencies love to throw money at Jews going to Israel, for instance if I decided to move here they would pay for my plane ticket, give me several hundred dollars a month for the first few months, and cheap loans for buying a house or furniture or whatever).

After Jerusalem I went down to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, where I met up with my dad's old business partner Avi, who I've met several times in the US and Israel. He hosted me for a couple days. I'd had a bad cough the past week and a half and finally went to see a doctor who quickly diagnosed me with a lung infection and gave me antibiotics (they worked, everything's fine now). I didn't feel sick at all, just had a horrible sounding cough and some wheezing.

3rd day there I met my dad's other business associate at the kibbutz. He is very interested in me helping them out exporting their olive oil to the US, been discussing it with him a lot and it might be an interesting project to take on when I return home in November. That day he drove me to Tel Aviv and I met up with my old friend Eitan...known him since I was a camp counselor almost 6 years ago. Went out with him one night and met some interesting characters like a massive Georgian (the country) guy who runs a liquor shop that sells triple shots of vodka for $1 and one of his philosopher friends who likes to turn every conversation into a philosophical poetic rhyming and flowing match.

Next day I took the bus to Herzeliya and met up with my friend Rachel from home, she moved here 7 years ago, went through the army here, traveled a bit, and is now going through college. She had a very nice apartment with an extra mattress, stayed there for the weekend, went to the beach both days. The first day went out in Tel Aviv to a sushi restaurant (delicious) and to the hottest bar in Tel Aviv...dropped so much cash that night and didn't even get drunk (f obscenely expensive bottle service).

After Herzeliya, took the train up to Haifa and hung out with 2 of my friends from camp 10 years ago. I saw them 4 years ago, and it's always cool to see everyone is still in the military, a chief engineer on a ship in the navy. He told me he just did a training exercise with the US and Turkish Navies and was having a drink with all the US officers, they couldn't believe he was so highly ranked at 24 yrs old, but that's how they have to do it in Israel. My other friend is a student at Technion, considered the MIT of Israel. We played poker one night with their friends, of course I kicked all their asses for a $10 profit (only played about $2.50 buy in per person). Next day hung out at the beach and went out for a few drinks that night.

Now I'm back in Tel Aviv. Was able to get my ticket to Thailand changed and will be leaving tomorrow for Thailand. Will spend a week there, get my visa to China, then fly to china on Sept 8th. Looking forward to getting back to the East...been a long road. Hard to believe i'm more than 2/3 of the way through my trip.

As a side note, started playing poker online again , have had too much free time when my friends were at work and me just sitting around doing nothing. Was down about $140, but last night won $ I'm back in the game! Might play some more in Thailand if I get bored, but probably won't play in China.

Another side note, since I am a huge nerd, I published a spreadsheet of my costs to date...completely up to date, can be viewed here. Israel cut my daily cost a bit due to being treated to so many meals by my relatives and friends, and not having to pay once for housing. Literally all my money was spent on food and with a little on buses/taxis/trains. Thanks friends!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Cousin's Wedding

Been awhile since I posted anything, just been hanging out in Israel with some friends. At the beginning I met up with my family. My cousin (I think technically it's first cousin once removed) was getting married here. He moved to Israel about 5 years ago and became very religious. The wedding was an Orthodox Jewish wedding, which I have never experienced. Men are separated from the women, much more praying and singing than a non-religious wedding. I took a ton of pictures, but mostly videos, which I posted below...some of them I thought were pretty funny. Most of the crowd were people like my cousin, who became religious later in life.

The wedding had it all, crazy dancing, gymnastics, rap, and a good band. The only thing it was missing was women.

The bride being led to the wedding ceremony

My cousin, the groom, praying and waiting for the bride to come

The bride being led around the groom 7 times as part of the wedding ceremony...the first time they EVER touch is when he puts the ring on her finger (they have met before, but never touched each other)

My cousin elated immediately after the ceremony

They sit the bride and groom and family down and people perform various acts, like juggling, human pyramids, etc

Various common Jewish stereotypes were shattered at this wedding, if you thought Jews could dance, check out these videos...

If you thought Jews couldn't make funny faces while dancing, check this guy out

These guys actually have some moves...

This one is my favorite...

This guy apparently went to a few raves before he became religious, really very good.

If you thought jews weren't flexible, see below

If you thought Jews couldn't fence, see below

If you thought Jews couldn't do gymnastics, see the next 3 videos to be proven wrong

If you thought Jews couldn't freestyle, see below

Plus a couple videos of the general party...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Jordan - Petra & Amman

Been over a week since I updated, posted so many entries in egypt wanted to take a break for a few days.  Ended up leaving Egypt last thursday...took a minibus to Nuweba where there is a ferry to Aqaba in Jordan.  I wanted to take the ferry b/c I thought it would be less of a hassle than crossing through israel, but I was very wrong.  First it was incredibly expensive, cost $68 to take the hour and a half ferry.  I got to Nuweba around 11:30 in the morning and the ferry was supposed to leave at 2:30...I go to buy the ticket and the ticket window isn't open.  End up having to wait around until 2pm to line up with an angry crowd of egyptians pushing and shoving and cutting in line to finally buy the ticket (you'd think for a $60 ferry ticket they'd be a little more organized...).  Get to the port only to find out the ferry is late and won't be leaving till around 5pm...more waiting, finally get on the boat around 4:30, it leaves at five.  Very smooth ride, and fast, but it was miserable with about 20 different babies crying the whole ride and little kids running around wreaking havoc. 
Got to the port in Jordan and the customs people hold us on the boat for over an hour, I somehow push my way out near first in line, only to get to customs and have them tell us it would take an hour to process the foreigner visas.  Didn't end up getting out of there till 9:30...was planning on going straight to Petra, but decided to take a taxi to town and find a room.  Met a couple Japanese backpackers who could barely speak english, and we booked a three person room together.
Next morning woke up early and took the first bus to Petra, found a room and hit the Petra ruins (ancient civilization that carved a city into the desert rocks...featured in the end of Indiana Jones 3).  Walked over 15km that day and didn't eat anything till around 4:30.  Ruins were very nice though, was able to see everything I wanted in one day which was good because a 1 day ticket was about $30 and 2 day was close to $40 (many people spend 2-3 days there).  There is a really cool 1km long narrow gorge you walk through to get to the main temple there.  I was a little disappointed by the temples...They are really impressive looking from the outside, but I expected they would continue deep into the rock.  Mostly though, they are just a facade, nothing to explore inside.  There is one temple up a mountain that was about 800 steps to climb up...made the hike and it was worth it.  A lot of great views of the desert up there.
Morning after that I took a bus into Amman, still with the Japanese guys...we arrive and none of the taxi drivers know the hostel we are trying to go to & the japanese guys only have a guidebook in japanese.  After a lot of arguing between each other one of the drivers says he knows and takes us...he didn't know, had to ask his friend on the way...f-ing taxi drivers are the same everywhere. Met an Israeli guy travelling up there and a Korean girl at the hostel and we went to Iraq Al Amir, the palace of an ancient jewish family that controlled the area a few thousand years ago.  Mostly ruins, but the israeli guy was a history major so he gave us the whole story of the family and the history of the area, which was interesting.  To get there had to take a taxi who ripped us off, then a bus, then a minibus...was a little adventure.  The ride back was much easier. 
My dad has a customer in Amman named Mahar and he promised to show me around the city and the area.  So that night I met up with him and he took me for dinner and drinks.  He was a really fun guy and we ended up hanging out for another 3 days.  I didn't have much to do in Amman, but I wasn't in a huge rush to get to israel...was pretty bored during the day, but had a lot of fun hanging out with Mahar every night.  One afternoon he took me to Jerash, a city about 30min away where there are ancient Roman was very nice, almost a whole city preserved in ruins.  At night there was a music festival there with performances from all over the world and had a good time watching those.  Was difficult to have to much fun in Amman though, because my hostel had a 12pm curfew...had to cut the drinking with Mahar short every night. 
On tuesday I decided to go to Israel and Mahar dropped me off at the border and I went through, met a few US marines travelling on the bus, and rode with them to Jerusalem.  I had bought a new cell phone in Amman and immediately bought a sim card and got in touch with my family...was able to meet up with them (after almost getting screwed by israeli cab drivers...i hate them, why can't they all just have meters!)  So now I'm staying in a very nice I think 4 star hotel here in Jerusalem getting spoiled on good food and nice beds.  My cousin's wedding is tonight and I'll be sure to write about that, it's a Jewish orthodox wedding, so it should be an interesting experience. 

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Luxor, Mt. Sinai, and Dahab

From Cairo I took the overnight train down to Luxor, which was freezing cold b/c the air con was too high...was wearing a fleece and shivering all night. Get to Luxor and it's 110 degrees in the shade! Find a hotel and check out Luxor Temple, which was very nice, cool hieroglyphics and pillars. Then make the decision to walk to Karnak Temple...guidebook said it was 500 meters, but it was really about a 4km walk in the blazing heat. Made it there and had a nice time walking around the temple...some nice obelisks and pillars. Took a cab back b/c i wasn't about to do that walk again and just chilled in the air conditioned room for the rest of the afternoon.

Booked a tour the next day to go to Valley of the Kings...about 70 tombs of ancient Pharaohs nestled in a cliff. With the ticket you can only visit three...they are like saunas inside due to the heat, but all incredible well preserved hieroglyphics...really neat to see...and the tombs go so deep into the rock, overall worth the trip down to Luxor. Then the tour took us to some alabaster factory where they "hand make" alabaster it's some kind of lost Egyptian craft...the honeymooners on our tour bought over $80 worth of the stuff, i didn't even look at it, was a little pissed they hurried us through the tombs to take us to some factory so they could get commissions. Went to another temple, can't remember the name, then the statues you can see in the last picture below.

That night we took the bus up to Dahab, a pleasant 20hr bus wasn't too loud and the driver only smoked about once an hour, air con too. Other people were complaining about how miserable it was, but compared to Ethiopia and other bus rides I've been on recently it was nothing.

Got to Dahab and ended up chilling there for 7 days. Really tranquil, a lot of beach side bars you can just lay on pillows and read books all day. Great snorkeling and the one time i was able to dive (caught a sinus infection...couldn't dive) it was great too. One of the nights I took their Mt. Sinai tour, where Moses supposedly received the 10 commandments. We hiked up in the middle of the night and watched the sunrise from the top...can see some pics below. Absolutely beautiful. Not a difficult hike, worst part is dealing with all the camel droppings from all the tourists riding camels up. At the bottom there is a monastery that houses the supposed descendant of the burning was hanging up on a wall, and so many tourists were grabbing at the branches and ripping leaves off for good luck.

After 7 days in Dahab and not being able to dive I had to go...couldn't justify lounging around there another week, even though I wanted to. Cheap food & room, great scenery, good people, had a really relaxing time...definitely a place I'll go back to & would recommend.

St Catherine Monastery
Mt Sinai surrounds
Polish group praying as the sun rises

sunrise from the summit
Statues at Luxor west

Monday, August 06, 2007

How to Cross the Street in Cairo

When I arrived in Cairo I quickly learned the intricacies of how to cross the street. Cairo probably has the worst traffic of any city I've seen and there is no respect for pedestrians. Furthermore, there are almost no traffic signals, and in the few places they exist they are ignored.

Taxi drivers fly through the city chain smoking in small stick-shift four door Fiats barely paying attention to the road, Buses go 40mph and zip across two lanes of traffic to pass a slow commuter (on the right) only to make a whip-lash inducing stop half a block later to let off passengers (Was standing in a bus waiting to get off and almost fell through the driver's window at one of these stops, only thing that stopped me was almost knocking some poor woman over, was quite a scene). Thankfully, there aren't many motorbikes or walking might be impossible.

So crossing the street is always a small adventure. There is a similar situation in China, but there at least when they see someone trying to cross they tend to slow down and give you a chance. In Cairo they don't slow down...half the cars seem to speed up and try to get by me, usually barely missing me by half a foot or less. Most times I would try and walk alongside an Egyptian and try to walk like an Egyptian (o I crack myself up). It's a little unnerving to stand alone in the middle of intense speeding traffic waiting for an opening to run across. And run I any opening, shamelessly sprinting across the road, there was no other way.

Posted a couple good videos to illustrate what I mean...this is an intersection right by the hostel I stayed at and I crossed it several times a day.

Cost structure

Today marks the 5 month anniversary of the start of my trip and I just spent about an hour on the internet making a spreadsheet tallying all my costs so far.  I haven't broken it down by country yet, but I think I have a total cost unless I missed something.

In total I've spent $6,057, which at 153 days traveling is $39.59 per day or more curiously $.03 per minute - significantly more than I expected to spend...was trying to budget around $30 a day, but the cost of Africa & the dropping dollar conspired against me.

If I remove the various thieves that have stolen money and objects from me, $150 in cash & a $45 cell phone in SA, spending $45 to send a document express in SA that got lost in the mail, $161 from the ATM in Tanzania, a $50 cell phone in Ethiopia, and a $29 late fee on my credit card (this is  99% my fault, 1% the bank for not having an auto-pay option).  This brings the cost per day down to $36.45.

If I remove the flights I've had to pay for, to get only a day to day travel expense, that brings the cost per day down to $30.55.

Also have to remember that my parents treated me to the overland truck from Joburg to Nairobi, so that is 26 days that I only had to pay for extra activities and food...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cairo! - Ethiopia conclusion posted yesterday

Got to Cairo and took the bus from the Airport to downtown, where I knew the name of two cheap hotels to stay. I had no idea where to get off on the bus and a nice guy named Ahmed sitting next to me told me it was the same stop as him. He helps me get off then walks around with me in the sweltering heat (he was wearing a suit and still kept offering to help me carry my bags) for over 20 minutes trying to find the hotel before someone on the street notices our misery and leads us to a hostel called the Canadian Hostel. Egyptian hospitality already proved itself, then the guy who led me to the hostel, what are the odds, his name would be Mohammed, invited me to tea and coffee so I went out with him for an hour or so at a coffee shop...nice guy and wouldn't let me pay. The number of free coffee/meals I've had in Africa continues to pile up.

Ended up meeting a few of the people staying at the hostel and instead of sleeping likeI should have done, was convinced to head to some nightclub. I get there and have an overpriced beer (over $4!), only to learn when the waiter comes around for the second round that there is a minimum charge for men of 100 egyptian pounds (roughly $18) - way out of my budget. There was no warning or sign and the waiter never mentioned it...he kept saying everyone knows everyone knows. So me and another guy argue with the manager for awhile and eventually I leave paying about $6 for my one beer vowing never to return.

Next day with the same people I headed over to the Citadel with an historic mosque and military museum (that just happened to skirt over the unsucessful wars with Israel while glorifying every victory in any conflict...was fun). Spent the afternoon drinking tea and smoking hookah (my new addiction here) and went to sleep early.

I think it was the day after that I went around to the big market with a girl named Jade from Hong Kong who was travelling alone at the hostel. Had a good time wondering around the market and watched the sunset over the Nile at the Hard Rock Cafe Cairo (lame I know, but I was really craving a good burger - it was succulent). So romantic sipping bottomless sugary soft drinks and scarfing greasy burgers with a beautiful sunset...too bad she has a boyfriend at home and I, of course, am a gentleman. We both were on roughly the same travel path and decided to travel down to Luxor (12hr train ride to ancient temples) and up to Dahab (20 hr bus ride to the beach) over the next week together.

Last day in Cairo I still hadn't seen the Pyramids so I took the bus over to Giza paid my fee and saw them in the brutal 110 degree shadeless mid-day heat. You can see pics below of me acting like a goofy is low season here in Egypt, but there were still busloads upon busloads of tourists at the Pyramids. That night took the overnight train down to Luxor and ended my Cairo adventure...nothing too exciting, only got kicked out of one bar! Most people tend to hate Cairo since it's so polluted and busy, but I liked it a lot...first modern city I've been to in over 2 was like paradise to have a functioning western toilet, fast internet, and real architecture in the buildings.

sunset over the nile

Citadel Mosque courtyard

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ethiopia Conclusion - o so long, sorry

So Lalibella Churches were beautiful, had a nice time meeting some other travellers in the area, and we went on a beautiful hike up to a monastery in the mountains (you can see some of the pics from the hike in the earlier posts).  Few disturbances on the hike only a couple villagers trying to carry our water or guide us for expected tips, we made it clear to them we won't be paying them.  At the top, the village was very nice to walk though, some farms, stone huts, and everything extremely green with a small creek running through the middle.  We didn't go into the monastery since it was a fairly high entrance fee...we only were in it for the hike anyway. 
Our plan for going to the north was to try and cram Lalibella & Gondor into the week of travel that we had, but the ethiopian bus system conspired against that.  The next morning we woke up at 5am to find the tickets to Gondor were sold out...since stacey had a flight in a few days without leaving for Gondor that day we couldn't chance trying to go there the next day.  We spent the day relaxing, I locked myself in the room to get away from the teeming masses and read the book Skinny Dip - highly recommended, very funny light read.  I played some Ping Pong again with some kids in the street, it was supposed to be .30 birr per game, and I played one kid and beat him, then played a pretty good teenager and lost 2/3 very close matches.  When I walked away all these kids watching surrounded me and demanded I pay 10 birr for the games...I said no way I'm paying that much...they all said i had to pay and I said I would pay 2 birr total - more than the fair price.  The kid who beat me was leading the mob, and finally he said "OK OK my treat"  so I walked away not paying anything...then he followed me demanding the money with the supposed table owner walking with him (a kid about 16)...I said it was very nice of him to treat me to such an expensive game and kept walking.  Finally, I paid him the 2 birr I was willing to pay from the beginning and that pacified him.  Nobody can just have fun playing ping pong with the white guy, they have to try and make a buck at it...I said from the beginning I would pay...the kid who brought me even told me the mob was yelling at him for telling me the correct price and not trying to rip me off...just another day in ethiopia.
The next day we woke up at 4am to make sure we could buy a ticket back down to Addis. We push and shove our way onto the bus (somehow most of the people already had tickets, but we asked around so many times the day before to buy one and no one would sell it to us!!).  We take another miserable bus ride for 4hrs or so, then stacey starts searching her bag and realizes her passport was missing.  Of course, this is very worrisome considering she has a flight home in just 3 days, but she didn't seem so worried about it at a few minutes it hit her what a big deal it was and she gets more and more nervous.  We searched around the bus and it wasn't there...we figure she left it inside her notebook and accidentally left the notebook in the room (these kinds of things happen when you are waking up at 4am two days in a row to catch a f-ing bus from hell).  So we stop at a town named Woldia, where we knew we could find a ticket down to Addis the next day.  I try to sell our $10 tickets to Addis , but the ticketmaster will only give me less than $2 for it...then i watch him turn around and sell them to someone else for $8...he wouldn't let me sell it directly to that guy for the $ big worry, we had other things to worry about, like whether we had to spend 6 more miserable hours riding back to Lalibella to find Stacey's passport.
Stacey went to the manager of the bus station, we only knew the name of the hotel we stayed at and wanted to call there and make sure the book/passport was there.  They were more than helpful, found someone to translate for us and ran around town trying to find someone who knew the number to the Blulal hotel we were at in Lalibella.  They ended up finding a woman who was friends with the owner of the Blulal and we got the owner's cell phone number.  We talked to the owner and she called the hotel, after a few calls back and forth they had found the passport, and even found someone who was flying down to Addis the next day who would meet us and give it back!  Insane luck...Stacey was still a little nervous it would work out, but everything seemed to be in order...she would get her passport back the day before she left...she was thanking her lucky stars over and over again. 
We checked into a hotel in Woldia and sat down to eat some lunch/ was about 4pm and we hadn't eaten anything all day b/c of the damn bus ride.  There was only a table with some guys chewing qat and drinking coffee so we sat with them.  We ask them where we could buy a ticket to go to Addis the next day and it turned out we were sitting with the bus driver and tickettakers for the bus!  Ended up drinking some beers, chewing some qat, and smoking hookah with them till late that night - they wouldn't let us pay for anything, but I made sure to at least pay for the hookah.  They told us they'll be sure to save a couple tickets for their new brothers...
Next morning we get to the bus station early, walk over to the bus, and our new friends usher us in through the driver's door and sit us in the front before they let anyone else in!  Had a 4-5hr morning ride, significantly more enjoyable in the front where i could stretch my legs out.  I kept trying to sleep but the driver kept saying "Josh Josh...if you go to sleep I'll fall aren't allowed to sleep"  so I chatted with him a bit and the people around me.  We stopped for coffee somewhere and the driver/tickettakers wouldn't let us pay...treating us to coffee.
At lunch we stop in some small town and stacey and I go to a cafe to get some cokes...I want to get some bread and a customer, not the waiter, says 2 birr and he will buy it for me.  I know it is supposed to be one birr so I try to call the waiter and pay him at the same time arguing with the scam artist.  I sit down and end up spilling my coke all over me and knocking the bottle on the floor...that jackass customer made me do it, he knew it too, and didn't even apologize.  I got the bread, and a new coke...then when I went to pay i had to pay for the broken bottle, which was more than the coke...I paid with a 100 note for a 13.25 birr check, the guy gave me 81.75 birr in change...then i said he owed me 5 more was like extracting teeth getting him to pay me...first he gave me two more, then i had to pester him again and he gave me one more, then i had to ask again and he gave me the rest.  Not sure what these people think...i can't count or I don't care about money or something...the money is small, but when people try to pull these little scams it pisses me off so much I'll fight for a penny just on principle.  In the end I still gave him a tip since he had to clean up the coke.  After that debacle, i'm a little angry, then our bus driving friends call us over and insist on making the whole bus wait while they buy us a papaya was delicious. 
Lunch is over, everyone is getting on the bus, and this little local kid, maybe 10yrs old, is standing near the entrance trying to get my attention by shouting "You You You" in my face...i turn around and say "what do you want"  and he screams "Fuck You!" at I say "go fuck yourself"...was not in the mood for this crap...he shouts back "fuck you" and I just get back on the bus visibly angry.  One of my new friends on the bus asks me if there's a problem, I said one of the kids just said fuck you to me...he asks which one and I point him out.  The guy starts shouting at the kid in Ahmharic, telling him off, then the manager of the restaurant where we just ate papaya comes out, grabs the kid and starts smacking him in the face...holding the kid's head with one hand and smacking him with the other, all while yelling at him.  Finally some justice in Ethiopia...I don't think he'll be yelling at foreigners again.  Yet again, Ethiopia proves to be a land of extreme annoyances and extreme generosity, one minute i'm arguing with a guy trying to rip me off, the next minute someone is buying me a meal and beating up a kid trying to insult me.  You can probably see how travelling in this country can be so exhausting, but the stories are worth it :-)
That night we stop at some town and the bus driver and his pals get us a hotel room at the best hotel in town (we paid, but they made sure we had a reservation b/c everyone on the bus rushed to that hotel).  Then we were relaxing in the room and they brought us down for dinner - again wouldn't let us pay for food or drinks...
Next morning we get to Addis, find a hotel.  The whole bus ride we were a little worried about the passport situation, stacey called the woman who would be delivering it, and she was already in addis and knew the hotel we'd be at.  We get to Addis, call the woman, and she showed up right on time at 11am, brought Stacey's notebook and passport...even tried to buy us coffee...Stacey gave her a thank you note with some money slipped in, and we bought her coffee after sitting with her for 20 awkward minutes of strained conversation...we were so thankful though.  This story is probably luckier than me getting my camera back after dropping it in the taxi in Thailand - at least then I noticed within 15 minutes and could take some the time stacey noticed we were 4hours outside of town. 
That night we took it easy and Stacey flew out the next morning.  I bought my plane ticket to Cairo.  Also, my friend Eitan from Israel was in town the next day, so I was able to meet up with him and tour addis with his group of Israelis.  Had a good time seeing some new sites and caught up with him.  That night we made plans to meet up and go to a bar, but somehow they fell through.  I ended up going to a bar with someone people I had met in Uganda that I bumped into in the Addis hotel, and a couple other people I met hanging around the hotel. 
We got pretty drunk on cheap wine, and these two prostitutes come into the bar with a slovakian guy who was at our hotel and immediately ditch him and start trying to flirt with us.  We joked around with them for an hour or so, all good fun...they ended up leaving with the slovakian guy...the bar closes we leave...I walk halfway down the street and realize I left my bag in there with my passport, camera, cell phone.  I go into the bar, the waiters pretended they didn't know anything about a bag...we searched the place and found it in some corner...passport was there, camera...but I forgot I even had my cell phone in the bag.  Later we decide to go surprise the slovakian guy, one of the people in our group knew where the prostitutes lived and we wanted to knock on the door and just see what would was 2am or so...and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  We go to knock on the door and one of the girls walks down the street and sees the other girl comes out and they kept trying to throw themselves on us...meanwhile the slovakian guy peeks his head out the door and we just start laughing...all in good fun, not sure if he spoke english, but he didn't get angry.  Nothing too exciting happened, it was all just a little surreal standing on some Addis back alley at 2am telling these girls to show him a good time while they kept trying to invite us in.  Eventually the joke got a little old and we went back to the hotel.
That night I got back to my room and realized my cell phone was gone my bag...making that the 2nd cell phone stolen on this trip.  Bad luck with phones..I blame myself for drunkenly leaving my bag in a sketchy bar.
Next day I didn't do much, just read and hung around, I had my flight to Cairo the next morning.  We went out again to a bar, turned out one of the prostitutes from the night before was hanging out at the bar with one of the friends of the people I met in Uganda.  We sit with them for awhile and this drunken guy keeps yelling at us about something.  I walked out to the bathroom at one point and that same drunken midget smacks me in the face unprovoked.  I'd never even seen him before that night...I've never been in a drunken bar fight and I wasn't drunk at all, but I almost punched the guy before considering the consequences of what might happen if I got arrested in Ethiopia.  So I had some angry words and walked away...the "security guard" from the bar did nothing...then I tried to go back in and the guard tried not to let ME back into the bar, not caring about the guy who smacked me for no reason...I pushed my way in and went back to the table.  The guys I was with were ready to help me jump the guy who smacked me, but I told them it wasn't worth it and we let it go. 
To tally it all up, in the span of two nights without stacey, I lose my cell phone, walk around Addis streets at 2am with a multinational gang of backpackers to bother some Slovakian whoremonger with no fear of AIDS (he was allegedly a 28yr old virgin trying to have his first experience...), and almost get into a bar fight with a drunken midget. 
For Sub-Saharan Africa tallies...7 flat tires, 2 cell phones stolen, $150 cash stolen through mugging, $161 in cash stolen by a fraudulent ATM that my bank says I can't get back, 2 emergency outdoor toilet runs, 11 countries visited, somewhere around 10,000 km travelled on truck, bus, taxi, minibus, whitewater raft, small airplane, jet, foot, motorbike, ferry, speedboat, dump truck, and probably more I've forgotten. 

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Southern Ethiopia part 4

Sorry it has taken so long to complete Ethiopia. I'm about 3 weeks behind in writing.

I left off arriving in Arba Minch, fighting off the plonkers and finally finding a room. It was an ok price, but it was probably the worst room we stayed in in Africa. The toilet was broken, there was a horrible smell of sewage and sweat, and the bar was loud late into the night. We went to sleep worrying if we'd be able to get money from Western Union the next day since we spent almost half of our remaining cash online trying to transfer money to ourselves.

The next morning we go into the bank, show our ID, and they can't find our transaction in the system. Then they tell us there is no way to send money direct from abroad to this town, it has to be sent to Addis. We say there has to be a way and we have to go up and talk to the bank manager. Stacey was on the verge of a breakdown, very worried. We started explaining the story to the bank manager and she started crying. I told her to wait outside and I asked the manager what the options were. He was more than helpful, even took out 100 birr and offered it to me "for my touble" he said...I told him that wasn't neccessary yet, just needed help getting our transfer. He said he will make some calls and find out.

In the meantime I went back online and grabbed the receipt number for the transfer...brought that over to the bank and finally something happened and they found the money. Still took about 45 minutes for it all to clear, but we were free and loaded with cash. Moved to a nice clean room, bought a bus ticket to Addis for the next day, and decided to spend the afternoon hiking in the mountains.

We wanted a nice serene hike, away from all the hassles, but as soon as we started walking a herd of runty children started following us. We hoped online for a short distance (we had walked through their village) and most of them dropped away after about 20 minutes, but a pack of about 6 kids followed us for over 2 hours trying to show us the way. It was a nice hike, bumped into a lot of farmers and people gathering wood in the hills. Everyone was very friendly. We tried to reach the summit of a nearby peak, but couldn't find a trail to the top. On the way back the kids following us (who now knew our names) started chanting "Josh 1 birr" and "Josh money" for a good half hour. I picked up a rock and pretended to throw it at them a couple times, but they kept coming back. Never expect any peaceful moments in ethiopia...lesson learned. There's always a child trying to beg from you, an asshole trying to show you a hotel, and so many times i'm at the edge of screaming dealing with those bastards right when someone extremely nice comes along and just wants to talk to a foreigner and maybe buy you a coffee...a land of extremes.

We bumped into our friend Wanderson who we met in Torme and made plans to meet up in Addis that weekend. Next morning at 5am took the bus from Arba Minch to Addis, rouchly 13 hours on the aforementioned miserable ethiopian bus system.

Got to Addis, checked into a decent hotel, and called Mahala. She is one of my best friends from home's mom who has moved back to Ethiopia. She came and picked us up, took us out to a nice dinner and promised to show us around town. Next day we met up with Wanderson after lunch, and he took us out to chew qat for the afternoon. Had a nice time sitting in a little cramped room chewing qat and eating peanuts with a bunch of wild-eyed qat-crazed ethiopians. That night met up with Mahala again and got to call home to the parents for the first time in a few weeks.

Next day was stacey's birthday and we checked into a decent hotel with a real shower paid for by the parents. Nothing too extravagant, but it was better than we were used to. We found a ticket to lalibella and booked the bus for the next day. It would take 2 full days to get there. Nothing too exciting happened on the 2 days of bus rides, just the usual getting stuck for an hour, tire blowout in the rain, children puking, and horrible bleating goat music.

Finally, got to lalibella and it was beautiful. As you can see from some of the pictures below (some were from the bus window, it was incredibly scenic) northern ethiopia is stunning. The town itself is extremely religious and centered around 2 clusters of rock-hewn churches. they took about 40 years each to carve out of the rock and they are still in use today. In fact, much more interesting to me than the physical churches, arethe pilgrims and various monks/nuns who live in and around the churches giving them a very holy feel and making them seem alive. The walls are covered with pictures from the old and new testament, interestingly usually with black characters instead of white ones...I tried to take a picture of Jesus with an afro, but it was too dark to come out. We took a guide and it was nice to learn more about the symbolism inherent in the design. He also took us into one church with an incense ceremony going on...he never fully explained what the ceremony was about, just that it only happened once a month so we were lucky to see it. There is a video of it in the first picture post.

Getting a little long, will try to finish off ethiopia and start on egypt in the next couple days.