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Day 195 – Easy Visas

4th April 2012


The moment we’d entered Ethiopia, everything had changed. It wasn’t just skin colour and facial features that had transformed; it wasn’t that we were now driving on the right hand side of the road. We’d entered Ethiopia on the 26th March 2012, according to the Gregorian calendar so taken for granted in Europe. It had been around four o’clock in the afternoon. The second we crossed that border though, time had changed. The date was the 17th March 2004 and it was around ten o’clock. Ethiopia uses the Julian calendar with thirteen months; twelve of thirty days and the last month is one of five or six days depending upon the presence of a leap year. The clock starts at 6am every morning and undergoes a twelve hour cycle that resets to zero at our 6pm. Our seven is their one, our nine is their three and vice versa. The city seemed to keep us informed with European date and time but that was only because when we asked the time it was ‘translated’ for us.

The Ethiopians were indeed a beautiful race, if that is the correct term. Both men and women had a far higher ‘average beauty’ than say the English or the Germans. It was peculiar, to our eyes at least, to see individuals with such a wealth of beauty in such poverty. The city was a tale of two ‘haves.’ The haves’ had all they wanted, they ate in fine restaurants, drove flash cars (there are Mercedes and Land Cruisers galore in Addis, there are even limousines and a plethora of slightly cheaper old school VW Beetles) and they shop for laptops, SLR cameras, perfumes and croissants. The have-nots line the streets occupying fifty percent of the pavement wherever you walk. The blind, the old, the drunk, the weak, the sick, the malformed all stretch out a hand asking for a birr or two. Entrepreneurs line the other fifty percent of the pavement; shoe shines, watch fixers, sellers of airtime and scratch cards. You could buy shoes, clothes, food and books over any one kilometre stretch of pavement.

Our first impressions of the city had been of a relatively clean city free of rubbish, we’d jumped the gun using the word ‘clean.’ Addis Ababa was a city averagely littered in context with other African cities but it had a trump card that we smelt before we saw. Some streets just smelt of urine, others smelt of something one rung up the ladder of filth. If you need a wee in Addis you generally find a quieter street and just go, against a bush if possible but almost anywhere seemed to do. The bigger problem was that if you need a number two some people used the same logic. Whilst we missed out on seeing the action live we did spot a number of numbers as it were dotted around telephone boxes and street corners. We subsequently retracted ‘clean’ and replaced it with ‘averagely dirty and occasionally filthy.’

The mean streets of Addis however were not particularly mean. Shouts of ‘Farangi’ were limited, pestering was limited; we were more likely to told ‘Hello. Welcome,’ Than be told anything more sinister. Most kids wanted a to practise a bit of English and despite what we’d been told, we didn’t suffer a single ‘pick pocket’ incident. Most beggars targeted everyone and not just the foreigners and we felt very accepted in the city.

We were trying to make the most of Ethiopian cuisine and culture and so we nipped out to the now defunct Djibouti Railway Station to a cafe for coffee and pancakes before we started the day proper. It would appear that we belonged to the ‘have’s’ though this was not forgotten while we ate; even as the castor sugar stuck to our upper lips.

A quick e-mail inspection and the camera lens had been collected in England and was already at Heathrow. Better still, George at the Acropole Hotel in Khartoum had e-mailed us with our letters of invitation to Sudan. He’d been a hero stating our duration of stay; we hadn’t booked, and an itinerary for our stay. We were pleased as punch and printed off four copies to take with us to the Sudanese Embassy.

We made for the Egyptian Embassy and first visited the close by, and fantastic ,National Museum of Ethiopia and saw crowns, carvings and crania, in particular, the plastic skull and skeleton of ‘Lucy’ the 3.2 million year old hominid discovered in 1974 that, when alive, had been able to walk in an upright position. This was exciting at the time (1974 specifically but still just as exciting for us,) because Lucy had lived 2.5 million years before the previous known date upon which our hairy ancestors got bored of hunches and lower back pain.

Back outside we ate ‘tibs’ (meat, in this case beef) and on ordering juices were presented with two shot glasses, one containing strawberry presse and one containing mango. Laura’s face appeared shocked and mildly disgusted that for a dollar we’d received such small quantities of fresh nectar. Laura’s face clearly wasn’t lost on the waitress either as she hastened to explain that the small glasses were to taste before the large ones were presented.

We were allowed to collect our Egyptian Visas between three and four o’clock only and so we reached the gates as the clock struck three. Egyptian time would clearly be different to both European and Ethiopian time as it was another ten minutes before anyone appeared to hand out the passports. With on visa done acquired we jumped in a minibus taxi and hot wheeled it across the city to Mexico Square and on to the Sudanese Embassy. We’d done the donkey work two days earlier, we felt bombproof, but expected there to be something wrong. It was with bitter expectation that the chap at the desk told us that the letters of invitation had to be taken, b the writer, to the foreign affairs office in Khartoum so that they could be scanned and e-mailed to the embassy in Addis where they’d be presented to us not by us.

We were so close but our man was not one to budge. We questioned him and after some time he offered us his superior, we accepted gladly and five minutes later met the man who had told us to bring the letters with us. He was in good form and said that the letters would not only be fine but if we were prepared to wait he’d have them processed for us immediately. We smiled silently before folding in a fit of ‘Thank you’s.’

Two North African visas in three days was unbelievable. We stopped in a small shop on the walk home and spotted some Ethiopian red wine that we could celebrate with. Back at WIm’s we cracked it open and celebrated our success with the Japanese motor bike trio we’d met upon our arrival; Shin, the young solo traveller, and ‘The Sensai’ and his wife, a couple heading in the same direction as us. We quite liked what was an all too easily drinkable red and I was soon legging it back to the shop to get two more bottles. The Japs introduced a bottle of Korean rice wine that would double as cold sake and we were off. We finished the night in the bar.

Posted by ibeamish 10:07 Archived in Ethiopia

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Wow! You guys are having an experience of a lifetime, perhaps even several lifetimes!! I have perused your photos and they are in a word excellent and I am loving your travel writings! Thanks for sharing it all with those of us stuck in one place!! xoxo Leslie

by Leslie Shooter

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