Below are journal entries written over the last five days, describing my experience in Georgia. I am currently in Mestia, a small town in the northern region of Upper Svaneti, waiting for a chance to travel south to Turkey.

When I arrived in Kutaisi, and found my way to the home of Mediko and Suliko - an elderly Georgian couple who open their home to travelers - there was no news yet of any fighting in South Ossetia. Mediko covered the table with a huge spread of traditional Georgian dishes, and Suliko proceeded to propose toast after toast, insisting that I join him in downing a glass of wine with each one. There was a brief mention of some trouble in Tshinkvali but Suliko dismissed it as a routine occurrence. I thought nothing of it and stumbled off to bed.

The next day I did some sight-seeing around Kutaisi. The nearby famous Gelati church was my first stop. On the way I made friends with some young Georgian guys. They were in the country for a visit, actually - they live in Moscow as refugees. During the fighting in the early 1990s, they were forced from their homes in Abkhazia. Just as we were leaving Gelati together, news of the Georgian army having taken Tshinkvali was being broadcast on the radio and they were optimistic about the situation, assuring me that Russia would let it be. Later, when I checked my email in town, I learned that the situation was quickly changing. Russian bombs were falling over Tshinkvali, casualties were adding up, and harsh words were flying between both governments. Still, Kutaisi felt a world away from all of this, and I was reassured by everyone that the rest of Georgia would remain peaceful.

The dinner table at Mediko and Suliko’s house that evening was dominated by the television. Suliko moved it from the bedroom so that we could stay updated on the situation which appeared to be worsening by the hour. There wasn’t much concrete information to be had but we learned that the Georgian army was under heavy attack from the Russians. Despite this dire news, Suliko and Mediko both urged me to continue traveling north to Svaneti.

“This will be over very soon. Mestia is always safe,” Mediko told me.

So, acting against my gut feeling that the fighting was sure to escalate, I caught a mashrutka to Zugdidi and then another to Mestia the next day.

It wasn’t until my arrival in Mestia that the situation reached its worst point. Russia was striking strategic targets throughout the country - Poti, Gori, Tbilisi, Zugdidi, Kutaisi - and most of the international community was issuing limp-wristed threats of “deteriorated relations between Russia and the West” in supposed outrage.

This morning, seemingly in response to the impending arrival of an EU envoy, including French chairman Sarkozy, Medvedez announced an end to the current campaign in Georgia. At the moment, it looks as if the violence in and around the region of South Ossetia has ceased. Russian forces have re-established their control and the Georgian military has been pushed back to Tbilisi. However, a new front appears to have opened up on the border of Abkhazia, a second self-proclaimed independent state which lies to the northwest of Georgia.

The Kodori gorge, the easternmost part of Abkhazia, has been the last piece of the state still controlled by Georgian forces. Taking advantage of current events and with Russia’s support, the Abkhazian army cut off a pocket of Georgian soldiers and civilians from roads connecting them with Georgia and then offered an ultimatum: disarm and retreat or we will “persuade you to do so by any means necessary.”

The Kodori gorge lies less than 50km to the west of Mestia, where I am now. Apparently the Georgian soldiers complied with the the demands of the Abkhaz army and made their way out of the region by taking the old, disused mountain road through Ushguli. Today a small panic rippled through town when Georgian helicopters flew overhead, presumably to help moving refugees to Ushguli. Just this evening, about 50 Georgian soldiers arrived in Mestia.

My personal opinion regarding the situation is that despite his current role as the victim of a supposedly unprecedented response from Russia, Georgian president Saakashvili is mostly to blame for the loss of life on either side of the conflict of the last several days. Knowing full well that Russia has effectively maintained control of South Ossetia for the last decade, he sent his under armed, largely untrained army - a fraction of the size of Russia’s - into a fight that was doomed from the start. It’s possible that he was counting on aid from allies in Europe and the USA, but that was a grave misjudgment on his part. Once within Tshinkvali, the Georgian army was harsly beaten back - according to local news, one unit of 600 men lost all but 60. And this is little in comparison to the number of dead among the Ossetians, which may be in the thousands. In the end, it looks as if Georgia accomplished nothing more than finally losing all control of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia to their Russian-backed enemies and suffering huge losses in the process.

That said, Russia’s underhanded tactics in exercising it’s influence are the ultimate cause of this mess. Ever since the inception of Georgia as an independent country, Russia has been providing support to separatist groups in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a means of weakening Georgia’s integrity. This recent outbreak of violence is only one of many such episodes in the past. Russia’s reasoning for entering the conflict was that it must “defend its citizens” - a situation it cleverly engineered by offering Russian passports to the people of South Ossetia over the past few years. According to Russian sources, as many as 90% of the South Ossetians have accepted these passports. The Georgian media reports this figure to be closer to 50%, but in any case the Russian government has cleverly created a situation in which they can justify all-out war over territory that has not been considered theirs by anyone since 1993.

The nationalist noise coming from Saakashvili, and the sentiment among locals that he has commited an unforgivable wrong against the Georgian people and must step down from his post, all amount to a troubling situation for the country. The U.S. Department of State today issued a warden report advising all American citizens to leave Georgia as soon as possible. They also evacuated all Peace Corps volunteers to Armenia, and are operating a daily convoy from Tbilisi to Yerevan. The problem for me is that I am stuck in western Georgia - if I could get to Tbilisi safely, I’d have little to worry about but all roads from Mestia pass through the troublesome town of Zugdidi.

This evening, a contingent of Russian soldiers arrived and have put themselves up in the administration center just around the corner, right here in Mestia. There is a nervous buzz around town, with little for anyone to do but sit around, eat, and worry. Until I can find someone willing to drive me out of Svaneti, I will remain here…

About 30 minutes ago, my friend Levan at the CTC in Mestia received word that a larger group of Russian soldiers is headed to Mestia, and will arrive in the evening. I will be following the news closely. Another tense day in beautiful Svaneti…

The Nile Route, Days 8 and 9

Sudan doesn’t have much to offer the casual traveler, but the most famous destination in the country, the Meroe pyramids between Khartoum and Atbara, was my reason for taking the long way around on my journey north.

The pyramids are located off the road on which I had just traveled from Khartoum near a tiny village called Bejarawiya. There is no accommodation nearby (besides a $100/night Italian-owned “luxury camp”), so my plan was to make a day trip using the public buses. From Atbara, I rode to ad-Damer, then got on another bus bound for Shendi. About 2 hours into the ride, I spotted the pyramids in the distance and asked the driver to stop. I stepped out into what felt like the absolute middle of nowhere.

The bus drove off and soon I was completely alone. Not wanting to waste any time, I started walking towards the pyramids, a dozen of which were clearly visible atop a large dune about 1/2km away. For a few minutes the only thing I could hear was the sound of my footsteps. As I approached the pyramids, a young boy on a camel emerged from the shimmering horizon, riding towards me. He rode up to offer me his camel for the remaining few hundred meters - I gladly accepted, the mid-day sun was in full effect and I was already tired - and gave him 3SP. He showed me the way to the khaffir, who sold me an entry pass for 20SP.

I spent about 2 hours walking around amongst the 50 or so small pyramids and met not even one other tourist. Although they are miniatures compared to the sheer scale of the pyramids at Giza and Dashur in Egypt, they are just as impressive for their complete isolation. No touts, tour buses, or freelance guides, just the sun and the silence.

I took frequent breaks to rest inside the open pyramids - the only refuge from the intense heat of the direct sun. At one point, I sat down in one of the tombs to study the Egyptian-styled carvings that covered the walls and accidentally fell asleep. It was a bird, returning to its nest in the roof of the tomb, which finally woke me up an hour later. I was soaked in sweat. I had a confusing, surreal experience waking up alone in an ancient pyramid in the middle of the desert…

When I’d had enough sun and sand, I walked back out to the road where the bus had dropped me off. I checked the time: 12:24pm. The sun was beating down - I was a little worried about possibly having to stand by the road for more than an hour with my arm out. I had been told that hitching in Sudan was easy, but I was surprised at just how easy it turned out to be: at 12:25 I was riding high in the cab of a huge truck bound for Atbara with two smiling Sudanese guys.

We stopped at ad-Damer for a break and a tire change. They told me it would be a 30 minute wait, so I went into a small shop to buy cold drinks for everyone (I tried repeatedly to offer money for the ride, it was refused). A policeman in the shop asked me what I was doing, who I was traveling with, and where I was going. When I told him that I needed to get back to Atabara, he said “come with me,” stepped out into the road, flagged down a huge fancy luxury bus from Khartoum, and told the driver that I must ride free to Atbara.

I was back to my cheap dirty lokanda so much sooner than I had expected, I didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the day!

The New Site

You may have noticed, I’ve finally overhauled the FFF site. I took advantage of an extra day in Dongola, Sudan, and made use of the great internet connection here to upload photos, type out entries and pour some love into this neglected blog.

I’ve chronicled the first few days of my current adventure: traveling the length of the Nile from its source in Ethiopia to its end in Egypt.

Comments are back again! Please leave some!

The Nile Route, Days 6 and 7

I spent 3 days in Khartoum, sleeping on the dusty roof of the Bahara G’zar lokanda with about 40 older Sudanese guys. They paid me little attention but I was told that I was the first khawaja to have ever stayed there. Truly an honor.

I managed to complete the registration process at the Aliens Registration Office. I had to fill out another form, pay a total of 87SD ($43), give 2 more passport photos and photocopies, and have the owner of the lokanda write a letter to “endorse” my visit. The amount of paperwork was staggering.

I also made a couple trips to the Ministry of Tourism - a hard to find building with no English signage - in order to obtain the requisite “Photography Permit” for my camera. Another form, two more passport photos. A note at the bottom of the permit explains the rules:

Military areas, bridges, train stations, broadcasting and public utilities such as water, gas, petrol and electricity works are not be filmed. Slum areas, beggars and other defaming subject are not to be photographed […] Applicant should inform governmental authorities i.e. local government inspector, town clerk, executive officer of general authority before actually start filming.

I made a visit to the fantastic Omdurman souq and explored Khartoum a bit before I headed off to Atbara.

The Nile Route, Day 5

Eight hours later, at 2am, I arrived in Khartoum, tired and disoriented from the full day of bus travel. I asked the first taxi driver I saw to take me to souq as-Shabi.

“OK! Ten Pounds!”

M’rees (my friend from the station in Gedaref) smacked him on the head and then told me that we’re already at as-Shabi. Realizing that in my current state I probably would’t do too well on my own, M’rees got into a taxi with me and tried to locate a hotel. He was starting to get frustrated - we could only find expensive ones - so he took me to his aunt’s place and offered me a spare bed for the night! I was in no position to turn him down, so I very gratefully accepted. M’rees woke me at 8am to serve me tea and biscuits. The tradition of hospitality among the Sudanese is something I’ve heard stories about from everyone I’ve met who’s traveled here, and already I’m experiencing it myself. M’rees’ brother drives a tuk-tuk, so he took us downtown for a 2nd try at finding a hotel.

We visited two places near as-Shabi but they told me that I’ll have to check in with the police before I can get a bed anywhere. So, to the police station… They seemed confused by this “checking in” business I was asking about and sent me across town to the US embassy. M’rees and I went there, only to be met with more confusion. The guard told me that all foreigners should stay at the Hilton. Right! He directed me to the Aliens Registration Office which is, thankfully, right around the corner from the embassy. However, being Friday, the office was closed until the next day.

“Welcome to Sudan!” the guard told me when I threw up my arms in exasperation. “Don’t worry! Come tomorrow.”

M’rees took me back to as-Shabi and after asking around at quite a few lokandas we managed to find one that gave me a bed for 7SD a night. It was far from luxurious - in fact one of the worst places I’ve ever slept - but I wanted to let M’rees go and the price was certainly right. I was given a mattress with a sheet and a pillow. “It is heat - you sleep roof, up up,” the man at the desk told me. I left my bag and met a few of my roofmates.

I bought M’rees lunch and thanked him profusely. It was a struggle to get him to allow me to pay. Just before he said goodbye, he sneakily bought some drinks and thrust them into my arms.

“Welcome to Sudan.”

After a shower and a nap I was feeling much better and so decided to make an outing across the Nile bridge to Omdurman and visit the Mahdi’s tomb. My Bradt guide describes a friday evening at the tomb as “one of the highlights of any visit to Sudan,” but I was pretty underwhelmed by the experience. Described in the book is a lively scene of Sufi whirling dervishes who congregate each week to honor the Mahdi, but I found no dervishes and everyone I asked knew nothing about them. It was still worth a visit - the time and adjoining mosque are nice - but not too exciting.

I sat by the road to drink some tea afterwards and met Liam, the only other khawaja I’d seen so far in Sudan. He has lived in Khartoum for 2 years working for an NGO called Practical Action.

Traveling in many third-world countries has left me with a generally low opinion of most foreign aid efforts. All too often I see the ill effects of organizations who throw money at the symptoms of problems without addressing the real causes. There is no shortage of volunteers who seem to genuinely care and are devoted to their efforts, but there seems to be a real lack of good long-sighted guidance among these organizations, especially the ones I’ve encountered in Africa. So it was with skeptical ears that I listened to Liam describe the projects sponsored by Practical Action.

For once, I was genuinely impressed and very happy to learn about an organization that seems to be actually helping those in need on a permanent basis. For example: One of their projects addressed the famine in Darfur. The goal was to help the farmers regain the use of their land, most of which had fallen into disuse because they couldn’t afford the oxen needed to plow their fields. The engineers of the NGO worked with the local blacksmiths to invent a plow which can be operated with a donkey, a much more affordable alternative. The local blacksmiths build and sell the plows completely from local materials, the farmers are able to raise more crops, and the organization can remove itself from the equation and move on to other issues. Check out their website:

Liam and I chatted for a couple hours over sheesha. He shared some stories about his travels around the Middle East and recommended some places for me to visit. We may cross paths again in Jordan in a couple months, insha Allah!

I’m beginning to get acclimatized to traveling in Sudan, and so far it’s been a great experience. Its amazing how far off the image i used to have of the country was from the reality. Of course, war and extreme poverty continue to affect many people in some provinces, but for millions of others, life is relatively good by east African standards and getting better. Khartoum has developed into a modern city to rival Dar es Salaam or Addis Ababa, thanks to the riches of the southern oil fields.

The civil war in the south appears, at least for now, to be over. I’ve met several Sudanis on the way to visit their families in the south for the first time in 10, 15 and even 20 years. And unlike certain other developing countries that have a strong security apparatus, Sudan has fully embraced the internet. The speed of the connections I’ve used in Khartoum are the fastest I’ve seen in Africa. The Sudanis I’ve met are well-informed about current events and are generally well-educated. I feel completely safe walking the streets ar any hour, and I’m never lost for than a few minutes before someone comes to my aid, often insisting that they personally show me to my destination.

If only it wasn’t so damn hot!

The Nile Route, Day 4

Well Come. 1) Our objective is to give Full service for guests. 2) When you Enter to us there is payment for Registration. 3) If you Have full traveling Document you can move to any place of Sudan. Have Agood Journey

I’ve just completed the immigration formalities at the border at Metema / Gallabat. The whole process cost me 3 passport photos and 2 photocopies of my passport, the unofficial currency on which Sudanese bureaucracy operates. After walking across the bridge into Sudan, I was sent to passport control to have my visa stamped and fill out a long form. The form required such critical data as blood type, parents names, religion and tribe (optional). It required one passport photo. After passport control, it was off to customs, where my bag was inspected and I was asked to explain some of the contents: a mean-looking game skinning knife from Kenya (for peeling fruit!), a bag of hundreds of unlabeled capsules (doxycyclene for malaria!), all those stamps in my passport (long vacation!). Then finally on to “security”. I fielded another barrage of questions, provided signatures, 2 more passport photos and another photocopy, and… I was done! I’ll be required to register again within 3 days at the Aliens Registration Office in Khartoum. I can’t wait.

Now, I’m sitting in a tea shack in Gallabat, waiting for the bus to Gedaref to fill up with passengers. I’m beginning to wonder if it ever will - 4 hours have passed and I’ve noticed hardly anything happening at all. Gallabat is certainly not a busy place.

First impressions:

  • Truck drivers of each region of Africa seem to have their own style of decorating their vehicles. Gallabat is full of big old blue Bedford trucks covered with colorful painted designs - eyes, slogans, faces - and big plumes of ostrich feathers in place of hood ornaments. Some of the wheels also have Ben Hur / Mad Max style steel spikes bolted on (most of the tuk-tuks also have these)!
  • Sudan seems to be considerably more expensive than the rest of east Africa. The 150km bus ride to Gedaref is costing me 10SD ($5.00) and a light meal of fuul and bread cost me 5SD ($2.50).
  • The currency: Sudan appears to be back on a new version of the Sudanese Pound - the 2nd currency switch-up in the last decade. This makes things a little confusing. 100 Dinars = 1,000 old Pounds = 1 new Pound. Prices are still variously quoted in any of the 3 currencies, so the answer to “how much?” can be easily misunderstood.

As it turned out, I was able to go all the way to Khartoum in one overnight 1,200km+ session. The ride to Gedaref was an easy 3 hours on sealed roads (recently completed by a Chinese company, this used to be a 10-hour journey). At the Gedaref station, a guy my age on his way home to southern Darfur came to my aid when he saw me having trouble with the taxi drivers. He helped me get a seat on a night bus to Khartoum and register (again) with the police in Gedaref.

Before the bus left, I sat down to chat over tea with an older Sudanese man. His English was excellent and he translated for some of his friends who joined us later. We talked about Saudi Arabia (“They aren’t real Muslims!”), Ethiopia (or Asubia as its called in Arabic) and American politics. His friend said, “I’ve never seen a khawaja [foreigner] with such a long mustache before, is it a tradition for you?” They were also very curious about my tooth and crown tattoo. I tried to tell them that it doesn’t mean anything but they simply couldn’t accept that answer.

The ride to Khartoum was reasonably comfortable. Before the sun went down I was able to see some small villages and long stretches of countryside as we rolled by. We drove past watering holes surrounded by herds of cattle, small complexes of mud-brick homes enclosed by fences made from flattened oil barrels, and caravans of camels carrying bundles of goods led by white-robed men.

I’m not usually able to sleep on the bus, but I never even got the chance to try this time because of the constant security checkpoints. At least once an hour we would pull over. Sometimes the stop would require no more than some questions and a passport check for the lone khawaja (me), but a few times I was marched off to a small office where I was questioned by a friendly soldier who wrote my details into a ledger. My backpack was lightly searched twice. Never before have I been subjected to this level of scrutiny in the name of security!

The Nile Route, Day 3

I arrived in Shihedi after a rough ride from Gonder that began at 4am. The last few days have brought the first rains of the season - normally dusty dirt roads have turned into muddy tracks. My backpack got thoroughly soaked on top of the bus thanks to a poor covering job by the weyero. It was slow going.

In just one afternoon I was able to see all that Shihedi had to offer. I passed the day chewing chat, drinking coffee, and chatting with locals. Most of that time was spent sitting in a dingy “chat den” conversing in broken English with a few strange characters.

The “den” was a small typical Ethiopian construction, with a dirt floor and mud-plastered walls. Balanced atop a pile of bricks in the corner sat a TV and DVD player, blasting out a continuous stream of Ethiopian pop music videos. The owner sat by the doorway, weighing out bags of chat on an old balance scale. A cooler stocked with Coca-cola and water sat opposite him across the room. A bench along each wall filled the remaining space. The walls were bare but for 3 large posters: Britney Spears (circa 2003, captioned “In the Zone”), Ronaldinho (“OK”), and Jennifer Lopez (striking a sexy pose, showing off her wedding ring).

I chewed nearly 100 grams of fer-fer (loose leaves) over a few hours - I was a bit high. The conversations, all translated by the one guy present who spoke some English, revealed a lot about the sad story of Shihedi.

Just an hour into Ethiopia from the border with Sudan, Shihedi is a small truck-stop town for drivers who ply the route between the two countries. Most of it is made up of cheap hotels, bars and brothels. It has a reputation for being quite a rowdy place - the horrible state of the economy has made catering to these truck drivers Shihedi’s main business. Tragically this has also earned it the #1 spot on the list of Ethiopian cities worst-affected by HIV/AIDS.

“Ethiopia is sick! We are dying,” one man told me with tears in his eyes.

I asked how often faranjis pass through Shihedi.

“Oh, quite often,” I was told. “Almost 1 every 2 weeks.” Often indeed!

Any many Americans?

“Not so many. Maybe some in a year. 10, 15.”

Thus began my departure from the beaten track. Walking around town made me feel like quite a celebrity. I could hardly go a few meters without giving handshakes to a dozen children. “You!” is the one English word that every Ethiopian child seems to know (the Amharic/Tigrinya equivalent, ante/at’ta, is the casual way to get someone’s attention and isn’t at all rude) and I heard it everywhere. I got used to the “faranji-frenzy” effect throughout Ethiopia, but here I was amazed at the level of excitement caused just by walking down the road. I slept poorly (too much chat) and left Shihedi on the first bus the next day at 8am.

The Nile Route, Days 1 and 2

I’m sitting in a minibus in my least favorite place in Ethiopia: the Bahir Dar bus station. It’s 11am. I’m waiting for the bus to fill up with other passengers going north to Gonder. Three weeks ago, when I had given up on trying to get a visa for Sudan, I left Addis Ababa for a trip around northern Ethiopia that took me to Bahir Dar, Gonder, Shire, Aksum, Wukro, Mekele, Woldia and Lalibela. I’ve traveled on this road before; its a pleasant trip - just a couple hours with nice views - but the scene at the bus station is ruining it for me. I know that the correct price of this ride is 35 Birr, yet I keep being told the most creative, elaborate lies in attempts to get me to pay 50 or 60 Birr. The only way to get the touts to leave me alone is to shout at them. It gets old fast. For some reason, the Bahir Dar station is the worst for this.

Finally, we’ve left. The weyero came around and I quietly paid my 35 Birr along with everyone else.

Bahir Dar was my first stop on the long journey north into Sudan from Ethiopia. After weeks of runaround and diminishing hope, the Sudanese consulate in Addis finally granted me a two-week transit visa. Because my plan in to move overland across the country and enter Egypt via the weekly Lake Nasser ferry at Wadi Halfa, I must time my entry into Sudan carefully in order to have enough time to comfortably get to Wadi Halfa in time for the ferry. It should take 5 days to reach Khartoum from Addis by bus.

I stopped for a day in Bahir Dar to make a symbolic visit to the source of the Blue Nile. Lake Tana is the source of one half of the great Nile, which I will follow, more or less directly from there all the way to Cairo, just before it flows into the Mediterranean Sea. I went out to the village of Tis Abay in order to see the famed Blue Nile falls (Tis Isat). A few years ago, the falls were reduced to just a depressing trickle compared to their former glory with the construction of a large hydro-electric dam. Lucky for me, though, the turbines were undergoing repairs and the water had been temporarily diverted back to the falls. The falls were impressive, the perpetual wall of mist creating several vivid rainbows in the afternoon sun. I was able to walk directly up to the rocks on which the falls broke and get completely soaked in the spray. It was a spectacular way to start the 3-week adventure which will finish thousands of miles later at the other end of the Nile.

Addis Ababa

The short bus ride from Awasa to Addis included a stop in Shashemene, a place with an interesting history as the ‘homeland’ of the Rastafarians. Wikipedia provides a brief description of Rastafarianism:

The Rastafari movement (also known as Rastafari, or simply Rasta) is a new religious movement that accepts Haile Selassie I, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, as God incarnate, called Jah or Jah Rastafari. He is also seen as part of the Holy Trinity as the messiah promised in the Bible to return. The name Rastafari comes from Ras (literally “Head,” an Ethiopian title equivalent to Duke), and Tafari Makonnen, the pre-coronation name of Haile Selassie I

And then later on explains the connection with Shashemene:

Haile Selassie I had already met with several Rasta elders in Addis Ababa in 1961, giving them gold medals, and had allowed West Indians of African descent to settle on his personal land in Shashamane in the 1950s. The first actual Rastafarian settler, Papa Noel Dyer, arrived in September 1965, having hitch-hiked all the way from England. Haile Selassie visited Jamaica on April 21, 1966. Somewhere between one and two hundred thousand Rastafari from all over Jamaica descended on Kingston airport having heard that the man whom they considered to be God was coming to visit them. They waited at the airport smoking a great amount of cannabis and playing drums. When Haile Selassie arrived at the airport he delayed disembarking from the aeroplane for an hour until Mortimer Planno, a well-known Rasta, personally welcomed him. From then on, the visit was a success. Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s wife, converted to the Rastafari faith after seeing Haile Selassie; she has stated that she saw stigmata appear on his person, and was instantly convinced of his divinity.

Read the rest of the Wikipedia article here.

Several dozen Rasta families still call Shashemene their home. As Tedy explained, most Ethiopians these days think the Rastas are a bit silly to consider their former king a divine figure and frown upon the cultivation and use of cannabis. Since we stopped in Shashemene for only an hour or so, I didn’t get the chance to meet any locals.


When we arrived in Addis, Tedy took me to his parents’ home in the outer eastern district of Altad. Although he referred to the area as a village, it was completely urban. He led me through several dark unpaved alleys on the way to his place. I’ll admit that I was feeling a little nervous about being led into an area where foreigners rarely tread by a stranger whom I had just met the day before, but everything turned out fine.

Tedy’s place was three small, externally identical, free-standing concrete rooms in a little yard sealed off by a corrugated steel wall. I greeted his mother, his father, his sister and her husband, and played with his little niece. They set out some pillows and a blanket for me on a sofa, which was pushed into the corner of one of the rooms underneath a large shrine to the virgin mary, complete with electric candles. I dropped off my bags, then we set out for dinner and a night on the town.

Tedy took me to a part of town nicknamed “Chechniya” (he couldn’t explain why nor could i figure it out). Its a safe but slightly seedy district and thus perfect for cheap drinks a late night out. We hit a few bars and then went to a restaurant hosting an Ethiopian singer and some traditional dancers. We split a bottle of tej - a traditional Ethiopian drink made from fermented honey, like mead.

One of my favorite things about going out in Ethiopia is that Ethiopians have no fear of being first on the dance floor. If their song comes on, they’ll just get up and start shaking it. I often saw people at restaurants just stand up at their table, dance for a minute, and then sit down. And the way they dance! Like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Here’s someone else’s video of a Tigrinya “headshaker”.

We drank and danced until late.


I’m not feeling very inspired to write at the moment, but I’ve got a 70-page notebook full of notes from my 5 weeks in Ethiopia and I would like to put it aside so I can start writing about Sudan. I have so much to write about but its just piling up and I’m not going to be able to take the time and type out entries for everything.

So, instead of some stories, here is a list of some things I loved about traveling in Ethiopia:

  • Coffee - Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. According to legend, a farmer discovered it thousands of years ago while tending to his sheep. He noticed that they became very active when they ate the berries of a certain bush. He brought them to a local monastery where they eventually figured out that you could brew them into a drink… Modern Italian espresso machines are found in even the smallest, least developed towns around the country. A cup never costs more than 2 or 3 Birr ($0.30 at the most). Served strong and sweet!
  • Fresh Juice - Also found nearly everywhere throughout the country are little bars serving fresh juice. The best thing for breakfast or after a day walking around in the heat.
  • Food - I love Ethiopian food.
  • Language - The official language of Ethiopia, Amharic, is unique in many respects. It is a semetic language, but uses its own syllabary (alphabet). When I first arrived in Gonder I bought a children’s schoolbook and over the next few weeks managed to teach myself to read and write using the Amharic and Tigrinya syllabaries. They have some notable connections to Hebrew and Arabic and even share a couple of the same letters.

My apologies for the most boring post in a while.

In the meantime, I am in Khartoum, Sudan. I finally got my visa from the Sudan Embassy in Addis! I’ll be here for 10 more days before I cross into Egypt and make my way to Cairo for the great reunion with Gartholomew J!


I could tell right away that I was going to love Ethiopia: my bus left right on time, with just one person in each seat. There weren’t mysterious, foul-smelling sacks stuffed into every crevice. The driver obeyed the speed limit and the road was smooth. At every stop, other passengers wanted to make sure I was enjoying the ride - did I need any water? A snack? It was one the best bus rides I’ve had in Africa.

We picked up a few passengers in Mega about an hour into the journey. An Ethiopian guy about my age took the seat next to me. I noticed that he was reading Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux, a book I’ve seen a couple times in the hands of travelers on my up from South Africa. Its about the author’s trip from Cairo to Cape Town - my route in reverse. Since he obviously spoke English, I started up a conversation and we talked for hours - about politics, religion, travel. Tewodoros (Tedy) told me lots of interesting things about Ethiopia.

“Ethiopia has 80 different tribes. They’re everywhere. Just behind this hill here, there is a community where it is written law that the men must not ever work. They sit all day chewing chat while their wives do all of the farming. It’s crazy, but that it what they do.”

I borrowed his book long enough to read the chapters about the same leg of travel that I had just done over the past few days (Nairobi to Moyale). It was nice to see that Theroux was as impressed as I was with the madness in northern Kenya, although he didn’t have my luck with avoiding the shifta! It doesn’t seem as if much has changed since his trip 5 years ago. I also quickly read through the chapter about his days in Sudan. If I can secure a visa, I have a lot to look forward to…

Tedy used to run a record shop in Addis, so I asked him for some music recomendations. I’ve heard some great/interesting/downright weird music here so far. Most of it sounds like a blend of Indian/Arabic/African styles - rhythmic, energetic music with overblown Arabic-sounding vocals.

When we arrived in Awasa, Tedy offered to show me around for the day and then take me to stay with his family in Addis! I was amazed - he hadn’t even been planning to go all the way to Addis, yet he gave up his entire weekend to show a random foreigner around.

We ended up having a good night out in Awasa. We hit every club in town (all 5 of them) and drank and danced ‘till the wee hours.