Heading to Addis Ababa
29.06.2012 - 01.07.2012 15 °C
We were sorry to leave Iran after such a brilliant stay there, but excited at the prospect of seeing a new continent. From Tehran's Imam Khomenei airport we took an Iran Air flight down to Dubai. We were relieved to arrive in one piece and switch to a significantly nicer Gulf Air flight to Bahrain, where we would connect to our flight to Addis. On arrival in Bahrain, we received the bad news that there was a seven hour delay to our connection. It was already midnight, we were tired and the prospect of spending the night on a departure lounge chair was depressing.
After a bit of an argument with the Gulf Air staff, they agreed to send us to a hotel for what was left of the night. First, though, we had to get temporary Bahrain visas. We filled out the necessary forms and gave them to a burly, grumpy Bahrain border guard. He asked us to take a seat and the took our passports away for an "in depth analysis". Meanwhile, an Ethiopian guy travelling with us breezed through and off to the hotel. Apparently in-depth checks are only needed for Europeans!
We watched as the border guards stood around bantering and looking through the foreign passports they had gathered. We were growing increasingly frustrated. After almost forty minutes, we saw our border guard in an animated discussion with a senior security guy, dressed in the long white robe and checkered head scarf that seems to be reserved to the upper class here. The senior guy seemed to have concerns, as he occasionally glanced our way, then disappeared. When our passports were finally returned to us, the border guard asked Grant: "what kind of lawyer are you?". Resisting the temptation to say "human rights activist", Grant told the truth. He was then asked to write a declaration on the back of the immigration form that he would not undertake any activity related to the legal profession during his six-hour stay in Bahrain. Given the recent history of repression in Bahrain, it is clear that these guys do not mess around. Suddenly Iran felt veritably liberal!!
Grant resisted the temptation to practice any law, and we both managed to grab about three hours sleep in the nearby hotel. We were woken at around five to head back to the airport for our flight. After dealing with the highly unpleasant border guards we found the other citizens of Bahrain we met - hotel staff and drivers - to be very pleasant, which isn't surprising since they were all Indians!
A place to rest our heads and strictly not practice law - our hotel in Bahrain for four hours
A glance of the Bahrain skyline was all we got as we were whisked from airport to hotel and back
Our flight left on time and we were in Addis by late morning. The successful landing was met by loud and happy cheers by the Ethiopian women onboard, many who work for families in Saudi Arabia. It was strange to have left Bahrain in a humid 40 degrees and arrive to Addis where the air was fresh and the temperature only around 15 degrees. This is Ethiopia's rainy season and that, combined with Addis' situation at almost 2,500 metres, meant it felt quite chilly. Susanna, Helena's good friend, met us at the airport in her huge Ford 4x4 and took us on a cruise around town before heading back to her home. It was great to see Susanna, who is working for the EU representation to the African Union here.
We had under 24 hours to enjoy Susanna's company before she headed off to a conference in Cape Town, leaving us to relax in her house. A guard opened the gates for us - there are always two on duty around the clock. Susanna's house is a very nice two bedroom bungalow and very homely - all the more so since her cook had left lasagne for our lunch! In the afternoon, we headed to the Addis Hilton, a social hub and also home to travel agencies. Benefitting from Susanna's organisational brilliance, we went to Ethiopian Airlines and booked a few internal flights to get around the country for the next ten days. Roads are so poor here that travel time can take days, hence flights are a good option and incredibly cheap as well. Sorted for flights, we relaxed with a cup of tea at the bar by the Hilton pool, where the wealthy locals were enjoying a Saturday afternoon splash.
Susanna flew off to Cape Town on Sunday, leaving us to fend for ourselves in the big city. We did some organising for our trip into the country for the morning, then ventured out into the city in the afternoon. We managed to time our exit with the arrival of the day's rainstorm, and then compounded our misery by walking around for almost an hour bargaining with various taxi drivers. Ultimately we found a guy to take us back to the safe ground of the Hilton for a reasonable price. His taxi was ropey even by Ethiopian standards. After about two kilometres, one of the back wheels started grinding noisily and we pulled over for ten minutes for the driver to tighten up the wheel nuts. Five hundred metres later, the grinding was back and as the driver pulled over again the back left wheel collapsed, leaving the axle scraping along the ground. We climbed out to inspect the damage; the taxi was not going anywhere fast so we opted to walk the last bit.
Something's not quite right with this taxi...
After a cup of tea at the Hilton, we returned to Susanna's area and had some dinner at the local Korean restaurant. The food was surprisingly good, and we saw Korean expats coming in for dinner - always a good sign. The choice of music was slightly bizarre though: a ghetto blaster in the corner was pumping out reggae beats as we ate. A truly Ethiopian experience.
The best Korean restaurant in Addis Ababa. People come for the food but they stay for the reggae beats
We didn't see a whole lot of Addis as we left early Monday morning to see the country, but we will be back for a few days at the end of our trip. First impressions of Addis: A sprawling city strangely devoid of any impressive buildings - the most striking building is a recently built Chinese skyscraper. Traffic is relatively quiet and calm. The city certainly feels like a poor place with roads of very variable quality and plenty of shacks and huts mixed with poorly constructed buildings. It will surely feel like the centre of civilisation after a bit of time out "in the sticks" though!