The South Terminal

Frequent flyers through Miami International Airport’s south terminal know about it. Well, the male ones do anyway. I had just finished putting myself back together after the security check point when a young male TSA agent came up behind me and said, “Man… that right there is why I love working in this terminal!” I glanced at what he was pointing too and it was two young, good looking women with dark skin and black hair. I immediately turned to him and said, “This must be the terminal that serves South America.” He replied, “Yep!” He wasn’t kidding though. Gate J-12 Buenos Aires, Gate J-17 Cali, Gate J-11 Quito, Gate J-4 Medellin. I was tempted to change my flight and get myself back to Colombia, especially since I found out my flight is delayed.

I guess I could be stuck in worse places for six hours. My dad warned me earlier in the day that the flight coming in from Frankfurt to Miami was running late. Five hours late to be exact. So, I’ve been keeping busy, walking around, people watching and generally just trying to take in the journey. Due to the flexible nature of my travels I’m not overly concerned about the delay. Sure, I’m going to miss my connection to Addis Ababa, but maybe in return I get an overnight stay in Frankfurt and get to see Germany for a night. Das ein gud!

UPDATE: I actually made my connectection. Lufthansa had employees with a sign for passengers connecting to Addis Ababa. Myself and three others were whisked away on a bus, rushed through security and boarded the jet from the tarmac. I had literally no time to stretch my legs and relax before I was on my second consecutive long haul flight. I have made it to my hotel in Addis with ease and settled in for a good night sleep.

Flash Back: Temples of Angkor

(From my 2007 trip to South East Asia)

The main attraction of Cambodia and the cause for the boom in tourism in Siem Reap are the temples of Angkor just outside of the city. They are centuries old and were uncovered in the early 1900’s. Personally, they are more impressive than any other group of ruins that I have seen in my travels and the best part is, the sites are not overcrowded.

I had met a British couple at the airport on the way into town and we grouped up to keep the price of the driver down. We all got a 3-day pass for $40 each and headed to the temple complex. It is really huge so a driver of some sort is a must, unless you rent a bicycle.

Bayon Temples

Bayon Temples

After passing by Angkor Wat which is the main temple we came across Bayon which is famous for massive face carvings cut into large towers. Describing everything in Angkor is pretty difficult to do and is something that actually needs to be seen in order to grasp the full experience. Even pictures don’t capture the full colors.

After Bayon we spent the morning hopping around from temple to temple with lots of interesting carvings and stories being told on the walls. Being in the low season it was quite dead at most of the temples but at Ta Promh the tourists were about. This site is famous for the overgrown trees that intertwine the temple ruins. If you either play the video game Tomb Raider or have seen the movies, some of it was filmed here or themed after this and it is the classic image of the temples of Angkor. This was my favorite temple so far and it is unfortunate that we showed up at the same time as a few tour group buses but it was still interesting and as you can see I was still able to get photos with out people in it.

Ta Promh

Ta Promh

We visited several more temples throughout the afternoon and every one had a unique characteristic for itself. Some were set with huge towers, others were more focused on detailed carvings and some were just basic and not much to look at.

The driver took us around to each area and one of the annoying, but at the same time, unbelievably cute things about temple viewing are the tons of local children that run up to you and try and sell you stuff. These kids are really sharp and pick up on a lot from tourists that come through. They are usually better communicators than their parents. One child will come up and try and sell you a cold drink while the next will have a fist full of postcards for $1. Their sales pitches are usually similar but occasionally vary.

Little girl: ‘Hello Mr. where you from?’
Me: ‘America?’
Little girl: ‘Washington DC it is the capital. What state you from?’
Me: ‘Florida’
Little girl: ‘Tallahassee is the capital you buy postcards from me?’
Me: ‘no thank you’
Little girl: ‘maybe you buy later if you buy you buy from me’
Me: ‘no thank you really’
Little girls: ‘if you buy you buy from me’

Kids Love to Hang Around the Temples

Kids Love to Hang Around the Temples

Repeat a similar conversation over and over and you have your experience walking up to the temples. Thankfully, they have set up ropes on the ground that the children are not allowed to cross so that you aren’t bugged the entire time. The kids like to sing songs to you or even show off their ability to count to ten in twenty different languages. They do what they can to win the hearts of the tourists but the whole thing is just not good. Unfortunately, their parents forcing them into labor and most likely punishing them harshly if they don’t sell. This little girl was just sitting in the window of a pretty abandoned temple. She wasn’t a beggar.

The final temple of the day was Angkor Wat which is the most recognizable, and the main temple of the entire complex. It was also, in my opinion, a pretty big let down. It is impressive just for its massiveness but other than that it was no more to look at than any of the other temples. It is the largest religious complex in the world and I have heard calls to add it to the list of the Wonders of the World. (2010 UPDATE: It looks like it failed in its bid for New World Wonder status)

Once we finished off here and had enough of the temples for the day we headed back into Siem Reap to get some rest. The first day was a lot of fun and I was impressed with what I saw. A lot of times when you travel, you go places that you think will be great but are usually a let down; however, the temples of Angkor stand as one of the best experiences to live up to the anticipation. To think that it took hundreds of years for them to be rediscovered in the jungles of Cambodia and just imagining what it would have felt like to see it for the first time. I joke a lot about feeling like Indiana Jones when I travel but this is the first time I actually could picture him going through the ruins with a torch and fighting off the Khmer Rouge on his way to find a hidden relic. It was definitely worth the trip to Cambodia itself.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat: The Main Temple

I think it’s gonna be a long long time…

There are travel growing experiences and then there are 2 day journeys on Ethiopian buses. I am currently in the town of Dessie half way between Lalibela and Addis Ababa. (by the way, a truck just passed as I was writing this and a huge tire exploded and I jumped about 3 feet out of my seat. At least I know my reaction time is good. That was scary) I left Lalibela early because the sore throat got worse and I just didn’t enjoy my time there. I feel somewhat guilty for only seeing 2 rock-hewn churches. It is like visiting Rome and missing out on the Vatican City. The hassles from guides were overwhelming and down-right annoying. I decided to start the 2 day bus trip that I wasn’t looking forward to, a day early. I went back to my hotel and took a couple sudafeds and passed out for the rest of the day and into the night. The other thing is that I am running extremely low on money and another night in Lalibela would have meant no food for a couple of days. I didn’t budget my time in Ethiopia correctly and since there were no banks in Lalibela and no way to change money any other way outside of Addis, it was imperative that I get back. It feels very strange only having about $10 usd at my availability right now. After this internet use I am heading back to the hotel room to kick off my shoes and watch some BBC.

At 530a this morning I boarded the bus for Addis Ababa. It is such a long and dangerous trip that they don’t drive at night and stop in the town I’m currently in. I can not believe I am coming to you from only half way through. Today was quite possibly the most uncomfortable, painful but inspiring day of the trip so far. Most of the tourists in Ethiopia tend to use domestic flight to get around so on the bus it is rare to see another group of travelers. My bus had 2 Czech guys that I had seen previously in Ethiopia. I was told that if I tip the organizer 20 birr ($1.50) that he would get me a seat upfront that was better. NO seat on this bus is comfortable. They said my luggage was too big and I would have to pay for them to load it in the top. I declined and they were so kind to shove my huge bag in front of me where my leg room would go. Then came the people. 1, 2… then 3… then 4 all jammed into a space the size of a school bus seat. The doors shut, it was dark out, it was warm and I had a cold. Pleasant will not exist for the next 10 hours.

Ok, well maybe I am being slightly over dramatic. There a few parts of the trip that were enjoyable and that usually consisted of lunch or bathroom breaks. Luckily I was sitting in a row of mostly teenage girls so the odor of old African men stayed in the back of the bus. Then there was my friend Geshemew. He looked to be about 19 years old and he sat next to me the entire trip. He was very friendly but at a certain point I wanted to just be ignored. It is difficult to be ignored when you are a foreigner in Africa.

About 2 hours into the ride I decided I would pass my time with my ipod. Phil had given me an audio book of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and I was excited to get into it. Not quite. The ipod was like a strange and fantastic object to these kids on the bus. I tried explaining to Gesh that I was only listening to an audio book but he didn’t quite understand so he asked to listen. After a minute or 2 of confused look on his face I switched it to Elton John. He had never heard of him but I thought Rocket Man was fitting for my situation at the moment. He didn’t seem to be into it so I changed it to Bob Marley and Michael Jackson and he finally smiled.

The scenery in this part of Ethiopia was more like how I imagined it. The fog was low and the grass was green. The mountains were much more dramatic and the traditional huts along the hills accent everything. We stopped in a small town for a break and almost every Ethiopian onboard purchased some oranges from the stalls Once we got on the bus everyone was sharing and enjoying them. At first I wasn’t sure about it because I know how messy an orange can get but I saw them digging and peeling and spitting the rinds on the ground so I said why not. One of the girl’s offered me an orange and I demolished it! I was pretty hungry from not eating all that well the day before so it lifted my spirits a bit.

A few hours outside of Dessie the bus stopped and loads of passengers went to the windows to buy sugar cane from kids on the street. Much like the orange I wasn’t sure if I wanted to embarass myself by getting into sugar cane but again, I was offered it and I tried. It is like a thick stick that you use your molars to shred it off and chew on it. When all the sweetness is gone you just spit it on the floor. I can’t imagine how messy the floor was at the end of the bus ride with all the orange peels and sugar cane. I am not sure if there is a medicinal value to sugar cane but soon after I ate it I was feeling better again.

I’m not sure if this bus ride today will make future uncomfortable situations easier to deal with or make me fear them even more. Only time will tell. or right now I just have to keep focused on the comfort of arriving in Addis Ababa tomorrow evening. A night at the Hilton is looking good right about now.

Lalibela

I have just arrived in Lalibela. I can’t type much because internet connection is ridiculously expensive here. I just wanted to update that I am safe and have arrived. I will be taking a very long 2 day bus journey south back to Addis Ababa on Monday. I am not looking forward to it. I have come down with a soar throat, it was very cold last night. I also have seem to sleep in a bed last night that had some bed bugs because I have bites all over my feet.

Time to go eat some lunch and check out Lalibela.

Aussie Influence

Alright, I’m sorry about the lack of updates but with internet as brutally slow as it is in Ethiopia and the fact that I met up with a couple of Australian guys, the internet has been somewhat of an after thought. This is about the 4th time I’ve tried updating and just a couple of minutes ago after I was about finished one of the guys here unplugs the computer and I lost everything.

My travel plans have changes a bit. I was supposed to have left Bahir Dar after 2 nights and head to Lalibela. We ended up having a few nights of good old fasioned drinking and bar hopping. A lot of people asked me before I left, why I like to travel alone? It isn’t that I specifically like being alone but I’m not worried about it because you don’t normally go a few days without meeting up with other travels and enjoying their company. We sat around all day by the lake and talked about everything from cricket to “gridiron” football (what aussie’s call the NFL) We chatted about Australian parliament, American politics, beer, females and tales of previous travels.

After nightfall we decided to head out into town and find a place to have a drink. In Ethiopia foreigners don’t generally go out after night except for maybe dinner so we wanted to get a different experience. We ended up having some guy lead us to a popular spot in Bahir Dar. The evening was interesting to say the least. In Ethiopia, 90% of females in bars are prostitutes (mind you that leaves 10% that are not and you can DEFINITELY spot the difference) Since so many are prostitutes there was really no point in leaving the place we were out to try and find a spot that was a little less seedy because that is just how it is here. It was nice to sit down relax and buy a few beers and try to communicate in broken english but eventually that got old so we trotted off. The way you can tell the difference between the paid girls and the ones that are sincerely out to enjoy themselves are their outfits and demeanor. I did actually meet a girl that night that was not looking for money. I had conversation with her for a little bit and it was funny watching the girls that “worked” there get angry at her. She spoke english very well and said she worked at a tourism agency in Addis. She gave me her telephone number to call her when
I returned to Addis but we’ll see how it works out when I actually try to make a phone call in this country. I felt generally safe at night except for the fight. We were wandering peacefully down a side street on our way back to the hotel and suddenly a door slammed open and 3 guys came running out. One had a bottle in his hand and smashed it over the other’s head while the 3rd picked up a huge rock and heaved it towards both of them. He missed and hit a parked car. I had my wits about me and decided to duck behind a tree. It wasn’t the best idea because I ended up feeling about 4 pairs of hands grab me and pull me into a doorway. It was completely surreal. They said “come come safe safe” I looked around and all I could see were a room full of Ethiopian girls. It had the stench of 10 of the seediest American strip clubs all condensed into a room the size of 7-11. I was in a brothel and as thankful as I was for being yanked off the street I politely nodded and RAN off. The Aussies’ had a good laugh at my expense and we went back to the hotel.

And that was my nightlife experience in Ethiopia. Other than going out tonight for some honey wine and a last hurrah with the Aussie’s, I think I’m done with that. My stomach has been in and out of good health. I had some lamb tibs my first day in Bahir Dar and haven’t really been the same since but that is just part of traveling.

My last day in Bahir Dar I finally got to the historical stuff. The town is set on Lake Tana and there are island monastaries scattered throughout it. I joined a group of Ethiopian’s, an Italian and another Australian girl. We visited 3 of the monastaries and the Christian monks shared their artifacts and scriptures with us as well as different crosses. I have plenty of pictures so don’t worry!

I’m sitting here now in Gondar which is about a 4 hour bus ride north of Bahir Dar. I had no plan of coming here but the great thing about traveling alone is that you can change your plans and no one cares. The guys invited me up here and I had a few extra days to spare so I said why the heck not. It is an old medieval town and has castles to visit. We did that this morning and I took tons of photos. Since I never planned to come here I really didn’t know much about the castles themselves but I do plan on checking it out in my guide book. Tomorrow morning I am going to save a 2 day bus ride by flying to Lalibela. I probably won’t be able to communicate until I return to Addis because electricity is sparce and the internet they do have is very expensive.

I’m having a great time, I’m in good health and I’m staying out of trouble. Don’t let my stories of night ladies and bar fights worry you.

A FEW NOTES THAT I HAVE LEFT OUT OR FORGOTTEN TO TALK ABOUT

On my flight from Nairobi to Addis Ababa the president of Sudan was onboard. They rolled the red carpet for him but the let the other passengers off first so I actually was stepping off the airplane as the carpet was being rolled out. So, in my mind it was for me.

I have brought entirely too many clothes. I plan on ditching a few items once I get to Rwanda. Me and Daisy were talking about visiting an orphanage and I thought that would be a good chance to do it.

The moquito net might have been a mistake. Even in the spots that are supposed to have mosquitos… they aren’t that bad. I can just cover up with my hoody and spray lots of DEET.

I should have brought traveler’s checks.

Hygene is limited on the road. Showering everyday is useless and so is wearing shirts only once. I had my favorite Hurley shirt on for the first 4 days and the cotton is so good that it only started to stink once I put it with my other dirty clothes.

Anyway. Time to post this update and head back out to see the rest of Gondar. I’m thinking once I get to Tanzania the internet connection will allow me to upload loads of photos at a time. I have some pretty good ones.

I Saw Africa Today

Bus Ride From Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar

Well, I’ve arrived in Bahir Dar. Think Daytona Beach, but set in Africa. It lies on the southern end of Ethiopia’s largest lake. Lake Tana. The journey here was long but well worth it. I finally left the dusty, sprawling and noisy confines of the capital and have arrived at my lake side hotel. It is a rather large room with twin beds sitting next to the hotel’s terrace restaurant. It seems like just when I’m getting down about everything and feeling like I’m going to suffocate in my own travels, along comes an experience like today. Four days in two of Africa’s largest cities (Nairobi, Addis Ababa) was enough for me and now I can relax.

The journey started very early this morning at 4:30am. I was told that a driver would be in front of the hotel to pick me up. A 4WD arrived at about 5am and we took off. I thought I was going to be the only one on this trip but that is not the African way. The vehicle was soon packed with 7 Ethiopian’s all on a journey north to the city of Gondar. I was to be let off in the town of Bahir Dar before they continued on. At the time I didn’t know it but the journey took about nine hours. We left Addis Ababa and after only about a three minute drive we were suddenly in the mountains. The sun crept up after an hour or so and I finally got to see the countryside I had been waiting for. Rolling hills with huts scattered along the landscape. Although I thought it would be greener than it was, apparently it is dry season right now.

Ethiopian Countryside

Ethiopian Countryside

Along the side of the road you could see small villages, farmers and herders getting to work early. We stopped to stretch our legs in a small town near the Blue Nile Gorge. Here comes the “faranji frenzy” (or “foreigner frenzy”). I was warned about it but you really don’t expect it to be as uncomfortable as it is till you experience it. We stepped out of the car and immediately a crowd of Ethiopian children came up to it and looked inside, around, and underneath the car then all eyes turned to me. It seems as though every person on this specific block was staring at me. This is not the polite glance back and forth type either. One teenager stood no more than five feet away stared endlessly at me. I looked off in the distance and the same for the elders. I was strange. I am sure I was not the first white person to pass through this town because it is on the way to some places frequented by tourists but I guess the novelty never wears off. It is uncomfortable at first but after a few stops I decide to make sure I kept a smile on my face and waved. The small kids LOVE to wave.

The scenery on the way was fantastic. Although, while it was similar to, it does not have the colors that Morocco had. Our driver was driving fast and a few times I thought we were going to collide head on with buses traveling the other direction. This another one of those things that you learn to get used to after enough time traveling in the developing world.

After the Blue Nile Gorge the trip can be taken two different ways. A smooth paved road that takes longer or a bumpy back road that is much quicker but still several hours. Our driver took the bumpy, and I imagine, more scenic route. It seemed like we were passing through backyards and I swear some of the roads were paved in dung. We did not go more than a minute or two without seeing people. Civilization is everywhere in Ethiopia, however limited and poor it may seem. And that is just the thing, they don’t LOOK poor. It is just rural farming and very basic housing. I imagine it is not much worse than having a nice little shack to camp in. The problem is that is how it looks superficially and when the rains don’t fall and crops don’t grow, the people suffer.

I came to the conclusion that I enjoy rural Ethiopia much more. We stopped to use the bathroom (pee off a cliff on the side of a road) right near these huts. It was no development, no neighborhood, just a family who lived in that area. The children that came up to us didn’t stare but they smiled and played and laughed and tried to talk to me. It seemed I got more attention than the others in the vehicle but even they were stared at. Imagine living a simple life herding sheep and every couple of hours a huge, loud and dusty white monster comes barrel-assing down the hills then suddenly seven people jump out. I would be curious too.

Lake Tana

Lake Tana

Fast forward a few more hours and we arrived in the last town before Bahir Dar. The driver was apparently supposed to pick up his manager and bring him here but he never showed up so we were hanging out for about twenty minutes. I was a bit uncomfortable at first because this was the type of area where the people just stared. Then one of them came up to me. He was probably in his early 20’s or late teens. He asked me where I came from. Of course, as I tell everyone, without shame “the U.S.A.” He introduced himself with a hand shake and a name I can’t remember and told me that he is muslim but doesn’t like what Bin Laden is doing and that he and his friends were on our side. I didn’t know how to respond to it really other than to say thank you. He then ran off with his friends chewing on sugar cane like all of them seem to do.

We finally arrived where I am now and it is so refreshing. I haven’t gotten around to taking many photos, but as soon as I do, and when I can get to a connection that is faster than here, I will show you. Tomorrow I should be visiting some of the island Christian monasteries scattered on Lake Tana. I’m excited to be able to use my mosquito net for the first time, I heard the bugs here are vicious.

Time for some more macchiatos (Italy occupied Ethiopia for a few years so they have great cafes)

Merry Christmas from Ethiopia

Ok, first of all you are probably wondering why I am getting on the internet so much after leaving the comforts of home for new and exciting things. Well, they make it too damn easy. A lot of backpacking hotels have an internet shop right next to them or below them so it doesn’t take much to jump on here and update.

And yea, today is Christmas Day for Ethiopians. They are still on the coptic/gregorian calandar so their days are slightly off from ours. If I remember correctly it is 12 months plus an additional 13th month added on at the end of only 4-5 days. It is interesting to see the mix of traditional and modern Christmas. I even caught a few men walking around in Santa Claus costumes.

I mentioned yesterday that I would be heading north to the town of Bahir Dar but my driver never showed up this morning. I was told I could have my money back or just try again tomorrow. I guess that is one thing about the African way of life… time is NOT everything.

I took a walk this morning and snapped a few photos. I haven’t worked up the nerve to start asking locals if I can photograph them and I’m not really comfortable with the idea. I saw some great opportunities too but rather then show the picture I can just detail it. The strange thing about Addis Ababa is that you really can’t tell where the tourist path ends and where you have wondered into a neighborhood. I found myself away from the shop signs and hotels this morning in what seemed like a residential area. I could tell because I got more stares here than anywhere else. There were 2 separate groups if kids playing foosball in the street. I almost wanted to jump in and play but then I remembered I’m terrible at it. Then you had your usual soccer matches, women and children bringing water from their homes down to the drainage, homeless laying in the street, groups of men chatting about whatever it is they chat about. I expected to see a more modern city and I’m sure the business district is like that but where I am is mostly markets and residential. There is a lot of contrast here though. Nothing like seeing a man in a suit next to another man with a goat draped over his shoulders.

Another first observation about Ethiopia is that the people are very friendly and very good looking. I even got a few smiles out of some women. I hope they weren’t prostitutes.

I fought the law… and I won

So it is safe to say I had my first true African experience this morning. On my way to Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi my taxi driver was pulled to the side just outside of the entrance. I figured due to the increased tension in East Africa right now that this was a routine random check. 4-5 police officers surrounded the car. One reviewed his stickers on the car and another took his ID and other forms of proof that he was in fact legit. Another officer came by my window and tapped on it. The window didn’t work so I opened the door. He asked me…wait no, he actually TOLD me I wasn’t wearing my seat belt so he would have to take me down to the police station where I would have to pay a fine.

I told him I could not as I had a flight to catch in 2 hours. He wasn’t very confident in demanding that I get out of the car so I took it that he only wanted a bribe from me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out $5 USD. His eyes lit up and helped himself inside the taxi to finish the deal. After I was ready to hand it to him one of the other officers said something to him in swahili and he immediately got out of the car and my driver was given the OK to continue on.

Well, apparently I handled the situation well. I took the bribe money and held it in the air and told him he could have it and in doing this it caused civilians, other officers and his BOSS off in the distance to see it so they told him to not take it. My driver said it wasn’t that they didn’t want him taking my bribe but it was too blatent and they could have gotten in a lot of trouble.

So, my first dealing with corrupt officials ended well for me. I have to admit after that I was feeling very confident in my travels.

Not so fast though.

I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this afternoon. I don’t want to post too much because I haven’t really had a chance to explore the city and want to give it a fair shot. Tomorrow is Christmas day so I decide to use it as another travel day and will be heading north to Lake Tana and the town of Bahir Dar by hired vehicle. I won’t be back to Addis for a little while.