Sunday, March 30, 2008

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Show me the money, Part deux...

Just when you think you're on a roll is when you're most susceptible to being blindsided. My financial management on this trip has been abysmal. But "blindsided" is really a overstatement because I've been aware that this USD crunch was coming awhile back. Underestimating the cost of the letter of introduction (canada) and egyptian visa just exacerbated the problem. Now I've learned that it's nearly impossible to get USD in Addis.

Why the panic? I need USD to get through Sudan. Credit cards and travelers cheques are useless there.

There were 2 possible solutions: 1) the black market 2) find someone leaving addis on an airplane to exchange birr into USD. it's unfortunate that i have to stoop so low, but what choice do i have?

so, this day, i asked my friend from ireland, emily, to exchange 150 bucks for me at the Hilton. The generosity of fellow travelers is amazing sometimes. I need 150 bucks more and then I'll feel better..

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 30/07
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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Khartoum, here i come!!

siddist kilo...

not many african countries can say they weren't colonies at some point of in their histories. ethiopia can claim colony-free status. that doesn't mean some european country haven't had imperialistic eyes on it's territory though. back in the day (1880s to about 1916) there was the mad dash for establishing african colonies by the likes of England, France, Belgium, and Germany. Italy, the poor sister was stuck with 2 iddy biddy tracks of land, Eritrea and Somalia. they thought it would be a good idea to link the two by forcibly acquiring ethiopia. surprisingly, the plucky ethiopians beat back the kings of pasta at the battle of adwa in 1896. To this day, this victory is a source of great national pride for ethiopians. bloodied and still clearly rankled by it early defeat, the princes of pizza hit back and occupied the country from 1936 to 1941. the italians fought a brave and effective ethiopian insurgency. however, an attempt on the life of a italian viceroy failed miserably in 1937 resulting in a massacre of ethiopians at the hands of their occupiers. the obelisk in the centre of siddist kilo (opposite the university of addis ababa) serves as a memorial to those victims of the massacre. how about that for a history lesson, steve h.?

I got it!!! I got the Sudanese visa (sort of)!!! Overnight service!!! I don't know why they gave it so fast!!! I DON'T CARE!!! It took most of this morning. I got to the embassy early and lined up with 3 other farangi and a large group of Ethiopians nationals. It took me nearly 3 hours of waiting to see this guy, who shall be referred to as the "black" guy. He looked at the passport and the forms I filled in. His verdict? You are the luckiest bastard in the world and you're gonna see Khartoum, baby...! Ok, he didn't use those exact words. I asked for 2 weeks? Why? Well, I'm an overlander... No problem... This whole scene was getting better and better. Then he dropped a bomb.

"I'll give you two weeks to get to the border...", he said. Or, at least that's what I thought he said. I asked him to repeat. Same answer. Two weeks.

"But I've got all of Ethiopia to see yet", I responded.

He told me to pay the 61 USD fee now and come back when I'm finished looking around.

I kept the receipt and had the black man write down the particulars of my situation on the application. And, that was that... Now, I had to juggle the expiry/validation dates of 3 visas. Didn't matter. Just as long as I was assured of the Sudanese one.

I was so excited for the rest of the day. Nothing could wipe the grin off my face the entire bus ride home to the Piazza.

Tonight I went over to the Baro Hotel to visit with my buddy Tom, the border dodger. He was a little discouraged because he had his court date postponed. But, lo and behold, sitting on the deck was the Brittany, the American girl who has been following me (vice versa) since Uganda.

"Why are you here? Where are Claus and John (the Dane and Swede she's been travelling with)?

Apparently, the Sudanese have been screwing around with her visa application. They're prepared to give her only one week to clear Sudan. Now she was considering flying over the whole damn country. The Danish/Swedish expedition was now in Gondar. Way up north. Their Sudanese visas came through. So, they'll be driving...

check out this posting as well. click here.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 29/07
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Friday, March 28, 2008

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Show me the money...

Looking towards downtown Addis. The Sheraton is the red roofed complexed to the left. Noticed the shacks in the front of it.

Luuuuuuuuucccccccccccccyyyyyyyyyyy where are yoooouuu?

Haile Selassie's throne chair...

Addis, from my observations so far, is a place of few socio-economic haves and a whole lot of have nots. The penultimate examples which illustrate this vast divide in Ethiopian society are the shiny towers of the Hilton and Sheraton Hotels and how they soar above the surrounding sorrowful slums.

Today's priorities were to find these hotels (using minibuses, of course). Unfortunately, these are the only places in Addis where it's possible to get a cash advance using a Visa card.

The first stop was at the Hilton (no sign of Paris). Lovely but showing it's age, customers and expats are often found at poolside (10 USD entrance fee) either taking a dip or sipping fru-fru drinks. The ATMs take Visa cards but I don't have a PIN. There are 3 banks in-house banks' exchange rate really sucked.

I had to try the Daschen Bank about 20 minutes walk away at the Sheraton Hotel. Owned by the richest man in Ethiopia, the Sheraton was the poshest place in town (300 USD per night gets you a room with a closeup view of the slums, A/C, and a mini fridge) and don't the NGO's know it. The parking lot is packed with fancy schmancy UN SUVs and the like. Bloody hell, I can see why the Americans are pissed off at the UN. They throw out the book when it comes to expense accounts.

It was hilarious that they let me in the hotel. I must have looked like a hobo with my "well worn" traveling ensemble. I found the Daschen Bank in a maze of dark hardwood paneled corridor lined with first world gift boutiques. How smashing wouldn't you say? Got the necessary cash advance in Birr. I asked if I could withdraw USD, but they would have none of it. The only way to buy USD legitimately was if you were leaving the country on a plane... I sensed a cashflow problem brewing if I can't get USDs. My bad for bad financial planning.

After extracting myself from the A/C of the hotel, I climbed back on the bus and made my way to the Egyptian Embassy. The sidewalk scene I had to walk through to get there was pretty chaotic: students, vendors, beggars, and worst of all, loiterers. I thought I was the target of pickpockets at one point. Working in tandem, one thief in front of me turned into my path and hit me pretty hard with his shoulder. Sorry, sorry he said. I staggered a bit but kept walking. In the next step, his accomplice blocked my way with a open newspaper. What the hell? I just walked through the paper without stopping leaving him in my wake. I wasn't fully aware of what was happening or might have happened. Gotta keep my wits about me. At least nothing was missing.

As promised I got the visa. The easy one was over and done with.

I'm was so damn efficient today, I had time to visit the National Museum aka home of Lucy (Australopithecus sp.), fossilized remains of the earliest known hominid ever. I was really looking forward to seeing the remains but for the life of me I could not confirm Lucy's presence. I mean they had an impressive number of skulls on display, including 2 or three of Australopithecus sp., but there was no sign pointing out Lucy. Come on. As a museum you have to capitalize on Lucy. She by default should have been THE centre piece of the entire museum... In comparison with it's ethnographic counterpart, the museum just lacked interpretation and flow.

Am I a museum snob?

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 28/07
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Change of plans...

university of addis ababa. nice, eh. the ethnographic museum is in the background.

the museum is on the top floor while the library is on the ground floor. the museum is first rate in my books.
There's been a change in strategy. I'm applying for a Sudanese transit visa. Under advisement from the American girl, Sarah, this is the only way to get a visa of any kind. So, today's project was to apply for an Egyptian visa. The Sudanese will need to see some proof of onward travel.

One of the more challenging things about travel is trying to figure out the public transit system of enormous cities like Addis. I asked the hotel's manager for help. She pointed to the spot on the map of the Piazza de Gaulle where minibuses heading to Arat kilo (square) stopped. From there I have to climb on another minibus and so on...

Theoretically it seemed simple by minibus, but it turned problematic when I got to the Piazza bus stop. First, all the minibuses looked the same. They weren't numbered so I couldn't figure out their routes. Instead, I had to listen for the the conductors to call out their destinations. It was difficult because of the traffic noise and the fact that they spoke really fast. I asked a few conductors where they were going and was brushed off because they didn't understand me. Anyway, the whole situation was pretty chaotic with buses coming and going.

Eventually, I did make somewhat sense of it all. I hit all the landmarks along the way. The last bit about landmarks was necessary because 99 percent of the streets in Addis are not signposted. Of the one percent remaining that were identified by signs, the names did not match the ones on my map. And to top it off, the Egyptian Embassy was not marked on my guidebook's map.

Surprise, surprise...I found the Embassy in a labyrinth of nameless lanes just northwest of the University of Addis Ababa with about an hour to spare till close. I was shocked to find out the visa for Canadians was 50 USD or 410 Ethiopian birr. What the hell did Canada do to Egypt this time. [ed. note: fees for such things as visas are usually set according to diplomatic reciprocation. i.e. canada raises the fee for egyptians applying for canadian visas then the egyptian government reciprocates for canadians. it's insane. apparently, the canadian government has made plenty of enemies around and canadian travelers really pay for it. thanx steve h.] Once again, I didn't have enough of either currency even when added together. The nice Egyptian lady behind the desk pointed towards the door and the closest bank. Shit. It was at least 3 km away. Hot and really bothered, I made it back with the money...I should be able to pick up tomorrow.

I walked back to the main road and parked myself in the patio deck of a cafe. Pastries are a favorite of Ethiopians. I ordered a couple of pieces (chocolate cake and a donut) and washed them down with a couple of macchiatos (better than Starbucks but served in tiny little cups) while watching the University crowd milling about.

It was still early in the day. So, I took in the ethnographic museum on the grounds of the University. It had to be the best museum outside of the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg. Very well organised and the exhibits were jam packed with information about the tribes of Ethiopia. I wished I came here before Omo.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 27/07
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Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - the diplomatic run around...

For lack of a photo to post, i give you another in a series of badly written postcards i sent home. this time i wrote from the omo valley.

[ed. note: the primary reason i'm in Addis is to get a visa for sudan. one of requirements is to get a letter of introduction from the Canadian Embassy. that plus a couple of passport photos and hand in the required application forms. simple as that. not. next few postings will illustrate the hoops that the sudanese made me jump though.]

Not much happened today other than I made it to the Embassy [Canadian]. As usual, there's a couple layers of security to get through. But, once on the grounds, I could not help but feel I stepped into the set of Fantasy Island. The main building is palatial. The cost of the letter was 50 dollars (Steve must be laughing all the way to the bank). Canadian dollars not USD. Who the hell carries Canuck bucks? I had a fat 50 USD bill burning in my pocket but it's worth nothing here. Change was not possible. I didn't have enough Ethiopian birr (the alternative). So, I walked a mile to the closest bank.

I forked over the money only to find out they couldn't issue the form letter (it's always a form letter) right away. Makes me want to, well, hurt someone.

Took an expensive cab ride to the embassy. The cabbie swore, on an orthodox christian bible, that it was impossible and "waste of time" trying to get the Sudanese visa. With that ringing assessment I may as well have stayed home under the bed covers wishing the world would go away.

There is hope though. I met a girl tonight who is picking up her Sudanese visa tomorrow. AND, she's one of those evil Americans! It only took her a week of waiting.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 26/07
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Monday, March 24, 2008

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - deja vu, again...

this is for the incorrigible steve h.
Adi warned me that from here on in bus departures were going to be really early. Practically, it's suppose allow the maximum amount of driving in daylight hours. I can't argue with that. Most long distance routes are just outrageous marathons.

Got up at 0430 filled with dread. I didn't have a ticket and I heard stories of the infamous bus yard stampedes. A huge crowd is supposed to gather around the gates. The instant the gates are flung open, chaos reigns and everyone sprints towards their intended bus. I was a little late this morning and missed the mayhem. Everything seemed calm and orderly when I got to the yards. Fortunately, there were 2 buses headed to Addis this morning. I got shunted to a shorter bus. 8 birr more. Nickel and dimed again. Despite waking up so early, the bus didn't move till 0630.

There was a last minute group of bicyclists from the Czech Republic. Most of them had to sit in the aisle but I gave my seat up a really beautiful biker from Prague. She spoke perfect English. She said this biking thing was an annual group thing. Hell, who cares? She had the most amazing eyes. Really dark eyes. Mesmerizing. We talked for the longest time about the Czech Republic then about Canada. Four hours later, I think, we reached Shashemene. The bikers departed. I watched her fade from we carried on towards Addis.

I originally wanted to visit the Rastafarians of Shashemene. I wanted to buy a Bob Marley T-shirt just to say I was there. I had to move on. Besides, I heard the town was riddled with wasted rastas mugging tourists, taking their money to support their wasted habits.

The way was beautiful, matched by the condition of the road. The scenery was flat as we went from one pretty Rift valley lake to another.

As the bus approached Addis, we gained altitude. [ed. note: Addis is located on Ethiopia's central highlands at an altitude of 2400m.] The refreshing cool air mixed with the hot humid air in the bus making it so much more bearable.

The city was huge. The road in was choked with traffic. I had befriended an Addis resident on the bus. We got off in front of an enormous stadium. From there he fixed me up with a taxi driver that would take me to the Piazza area and my hotel of choice, the Baro. It was booked. So, I checked into the Wutma, another backpacker haven across the street. 80 birr per night!! I had it cheap down south.

I took a hot shower. The first in over half a week. Then I hit the internet to report in. While I was in the cafe, Tom, the English border jumper walked in! Incredible. I thought he was long gone. The news was 1) he has to appear in court. He's hoping for just a fine (could be 500 USD) but not do the time and 2) Anna and Jeremy got married yesterday, Coptic-style. Hell, I could have videotaped it for them if I had known.

I hopped over to the Baro Hotel (my original choice) after supper. There they were, Anna and Jeremy drinking on the patio. I congratulated them on their marriage. They put on a slide show of their wedding day. Beauty. Man, they were some kind of wacky. I liked that.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 25/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!

Arba Minch, Ethiopia...Out of the pan and into the fire...

wildlife observation deck at the crocodile farm. lake chamo is in the background. wouldn't take your kids swimmin' in there though. they say it holds some of the biggest crocs in africa.

Switched hotels...thank god. The music was thumping really hard last night. I was so tire that I just faded. I unfortunately woke up at 0230 but by that time the ho's had moved onto other fun stuff they're good at. Now me and the Spanish are staying at the Hallelujah Hotel. It's in a different part of town where it's miraculously a lot quieter.

Managed to pay Adi for a job well done. He arranged a pretty difficult tour fraught with logistical nightmares. I paid him the amount agreed to plus a big tip. I hope the tip was enough. Either he was disappointed or I caused a momentary micro-hyper-inflationary blip in the Ethiopian economy. If it's the latter (I'm not sure), I hope he'll put some of the money towards his education (he wants to study geography in Addis). [ed. note: if you're looking for a Ethiopian guide, I can send you his email address.]

Didn't do much for the rest of the day other than walk to a crocodile farm. Located about 10 K away, on the shores of Lake Chamo, the farm was ok. Wish they had some monster crocs. It was good exercise on a great but really hot day. With hard work there's always a reward at the end. We found an exclusive club next door to the farm where we sat in the shade and sipped ice cold beers for a couple of hours. Damn that was the shizzle.

On the way back through a monkey infested forest, we flagged down a ride with some nice business people from Addis. One of the passengers, a guy, said he saw me snoozing in public the day before in Konso. Why didn't you give me a ride back then, ya bastard? Just kidding... It's a small world, eh?

We made it back to Arba Minch in minutes. Cars are really convenient compared to walking. Starved and dehydrated, we first went to the Flamingo Cafe for mango juice (25 US cents for a big glass) and cake. For dinner afterwards, we each ordered and ate a huge tilapia-like fish with salad on the side. I think we scared the staff with how much we could chow down. Worth the 30 birr (about 3.50 USD - the same cost of our rooms at the hotel) though.

This was the last meal with Luis and Antonio. Tomorrow they're off to Little Jamaica (Shashemene) hoping to see Bob Marley's home away from home and to top up their wacky supply. Since I have plenty of wacky tabacky myself (just kidding), I'm off to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, on a jumbo-sized bus adventure. Kind of worried though 'cause I don't have a ticket yet.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 23/07
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Turme to Arba Minch - Outta da Omo...

Adi posing in front of our sweet ride outta the Omo valley...

Our first encounter with Ethiopian tourists: the girl named Sue (left), her boyfriend Haile (right).

Deep down, everyone's a Farangi.
Farangi Rule of Acquisition #284

This must be at least the sixth ho-house I've had the pleasure of staying in on this trip. Oh how I love the ho-houses. The house music in the adjoining dance hall is blasting and the ho's are lined up on the veranda. What a classic scene. Hi ladies... I'm gonna die if I have to stay another night.

Another long day on the road. Early start in Turme at around 0630. Adi was able to line up a hitch on a landcruiser last night. We just had to share with an Ethiopian couple from Addis: Haile (a very popular name in Ethiopia by the way) and his girlfriend Sue (ok, I forgot her name). It was really interesting traveling with them even if it was for a day. They stopped the vehicle a couple of times to do some shopping right out the window of the landcruiser. Sue bought amongst other things, necklaces made of hundreds of cockroach wings (really cool), brass/copper bracelets (right off the wrist of a Hamer woman - I guess everything was up for grabs for a price...), and fist-sized lumps of black crap which was supposed to be burned as incense ( I thought they were cow patties). Anyway, Haile was an waterworks engineering student at the university in Arba Minch.

Initially, we asked for a ride to Konso but changed our minds when we found out they were going to Arba Minch. So, with one fell swoop, we'd be clear of the Omo. The road was really nice up to Abore, then degraded only to improve dramatically before Konso. Suffice to say, the entire way was a construction project that would see a paved road extending from Konso to Jinka. Adi said it was going to take another 1 to 2 years to lay down the tarmac. Definitely a good/bad news proposition. On one hand the infrastructure improves, but at a huge cost to the indigenous peoples of Omo. Roads bring easier access. Easier access brings more tourists, internal immigration, and, therefore external cultural influences. I personally saw the impact of limited tourism already. Not pretty. Adi expects tribes like the Mursi and their culture to disappear within a decade. Even though he depends on them for his livelihood he seems resigned to the fact that things change (for the worse in this case).

Not sure how I felt about my visit to the Omo. Money, and the thirst of it, tainted the experience somewhat. But then money makes the world go round and these people are the poorest of the poor in the Ethiopia. What would I do in their shoes (or lack thereof) if some fat cat farangi came snooping around? My recommendation is if you want to see what's left of a big chunk of traditional culture in Africa get here before it gone.

Got to Arba Minch before sundown only to find myself booked into a ho-house.

Arba Minch is here: N06 02.020 E037 33.493.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 23/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Turme, Omo Valley, Ethiopia, - Nickle and Dimed.

Hamer market in Turme.

Hamer girls... I'm not sure how they get the sea shell necklaces.

Hamer woman.

Hamer guy. You can't see it but he's wearing a skirt. Practical I guess. Bracelets signify that he is in fact a Hamer.

Older Hamer Guy...

Hamer house...

A woman wearing clothes is like a man in the kitchen.
-Farangi Rule of Aquisition #4

Not often in the past 2 weeks have I spent more than one night in the same place. Turme is supposed to be action packed with Hamer activity: a village walk, a mini market, a moon dance show (nothing done in Omo is staged, really), and if you're really lucky you'll see a famous mating ritual involving men contestants hoping over cows. I wasn't lucky enough to see the cow hopping ritual but the mini market was ok. It wasn't the official market day. We seemed to miss those repeatedly. However, on this day a hundred or so Hamer were in attendance.

Appearance-wise, the women are quite striking. Like the Mursi, the women are bare-breasted but they adorn themselves with a lot of bead work, animal furs, feathers, necklaces of seashells, and copper or aluminum (tin?) bracelets. Men and women have shorter than shoulder length hair that have been done up in dreads. The women have gone further by dying their locks red with a combination of read earth and oil, giving their hair a sheen.

The men are quite tall and sinewy. Tough and warrior-like, Adi says they live well into their 80's or 90's. Woman are much slighter in stature, averaging 5 ft in height. They too had hard bodies. Quite noticeable on backs of the women were raised scars or tattoos. Sharp implements are used to break the skin and a substance like charcoal is rubbed into wound for colour.

When it came to photos, like their other Omo brethren, they sure weren't shy about asking for payment. They wanted 2 birr per but I said hell no. The weren't exactly Mursi. Regardless, I was getting tired of paying for photos. I ended up taking 6 or 7 photos. It's like shopping. I hate shopping. I was more interested in looking at some of the goods (agricultural stuff like grains, roots, and tubers) that were up for sale.

Later in the day, we went to a nearby Hamer village for a visit. Surprisingly, not a pleasant experience at all. I was invited to enter a house by a lady. Adi was there to translate but she refused to answer a simple question like how many kids she had. Ok, she has the right to clam up. She was more interested in demanding 5 birr for cleaning her tiny hut before my entering. Yikes...

Then some guy, the gatekeeper I guess, tears a strip off Adi for taking me into the village without paying. Tough to do so when there was no one at the gate to collect. Well, it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Me and the boys decided not to attend the moon dance that night. Just as well.

I think I need to leave Omo soon.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 22/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jinka - Key Afer - Turme, Omo Valley, Ethiopia - Another one bites the dust...

She can touch your lobes, but never your latinum.
- Farangi Rule of Acquisition #40.

Tariq, the coffee girl...
Another long, tiring, wacky day. They tend to be that way in Omo it seems. Our driver, John, came by at 8 this morning, and we were off to Turme (deep in Hamer territory) via Key Afer. It was not a good night's sleep. In addition to the pounding rain, there must have been a family of rodents in the ceiling above my room. A lot of rustling and scratching noises kept me awake. The saving grace, I guess, was a spectacular sunrise.

We managed to get to Key Afer with no problem. That was not until John suggested we stop for coffee in Key Afer. Passing through town, we got pulled over by a traffic cop because of a broken right signal light. One thing lead to another and John was hauled away for driving with an expired license. Sparing you the details, it took the rest of the morning to sort out the legalities. John couldn't pay the necessary bribe. So, instead he was punished with 10 days in prison, fined 500 birr, and, to top it off, the car was impounded. Pretty tough justice I thought. The only hope we had was to have Adi and Luis hitch back to Jinka and plead with the 4X4's bastard owner for a refund of our money.

Meantime, Antonio and I hunkered down at Tariq's (sp?) cafe in Key Afer. Tariq was one of the girls who developed an obsession with Luis the first time we were in Key Afer. She's a stunner. Very beautiful, eh. Despite her broken english, we managed to communicate. Hanging out with the guys 24/7, I really missed interacting with women. At age 20, Tariq journeyed down from Addis to make a better life. Addis in her eyes was a money hungry place (despite making a healthy profit with her coffee shop). She loved life in Key Afer. We cooked lunch and invited Tariq.

With the frequency of transport in Omo, we thought it would take Adi and Luis a long time to hitch back from Jinka, but they showed up at 4. Not only did they get our money back, they came back with a 4X4 ride with a couple of road construction workers as well. Maybe our luck had turned for the better. We said goodbye to Tariq.

The road to Turme was indeed torturous transecting numerous dried river beds. I can see why travel in rainy season is impossible. The road's only virtue was the constant stream of Hamer people walking along its side. The driver was pretty reckless to say the least. Tired and sore, we arrived in Turme, a sizable town, just after sunset.

Turme is located here: N04 58.189 E36 29.310

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 21/07
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

now for a two minute intermission...

Keep your ears open.
- Farangi Rule of Acquisition #7

now for a well deserved commercial break...

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 20/08
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!

Jinka - Mago - Home of the Mursi, Omo Valley, Ethiopia - Giddy Up and Tsetse Flies.

Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.
- Farangi Rule of Acquisition #9

Every man has his price.
- Farangi Rule of Acquisition #98

Adi overlooking Mago National Park...

flat tire again...

mursi girl...

Serious dudes with serious weapons.

LP women. Size matters. The bigger the LP the bigger the wedding dowry.
A very long and strange day. First, Mago National Park turned out to be a dud in terms of a safari opportunity, except for 4 elephants we spooked, and the mountain lookout over the park. From the high pass Ethiopia was just incredibly beautiful. Acacia covered ridges seemed to go on forever into the horizon.

As for the wildlife, I'm sure they were there somewhere. The brush was just too dense for spotting any animals though. We did spot leopard footprints (well, I think we did). I wasn't sure if the tsetse flies, 2 flat tires, and being stuck in the mud twice was really worth the 70 birr entrance fee and 5 AM wake up call to get here (another "business" dust up occurred with the driver, John, "forgot" the vehicular entrance fee).

Because of the tsetse fly problem (bastard flies have a really nasty bite to them - in fact, I showered everyone with blood when I slammed a particularly blood engorged tsetse fly with my hand against the ceiling of the 4X4) and an aesthetically unpleasant campsite we decided to cancel the park stay, visit the Mursi tribe in the afternoon, and then spend the night back in Jinka.

To get to the Mursi we had to drive through the park using it's treacherous road. First we got a flat then minutes after the repair job we were mired in mud. The latter took the entire crew to solve.

The Mursi actually lived outside Mago. Once out of the park, we drove past quite a few Mursi walking along the road to Jinka (2 days by foot) to the market this weekend. We'd stop once in awhile to talk to them. They'd crowd around the 4X4. Very curious folks but quite serious in demeanor at the same time. The men were tough, warrior-like, carrying AK-47's. The women were no slouches either. Most had disfigured, mangled lower lips, lacking their famous lip plates, and sporting tatoos. Did I mention they were bare breasted? Adi said that the Mursi were the most aggressive of all the tribes in Omo, sometimes fighting with neighbours for no apparent reason and always to the death.

We came to a crossroads to see a small band of Mursi men huddled at the side. This was the gate. After paying the entrance fee, a warrior type climbs into our 4X4. After a few minutes we drove into a compound that resembled a village. The moment the car comes to a stop, I swear a pack of 20 or more Mursi women, decked out with lip plates and body paint, rushed towards us, screaming "PHOTO, PHOTO..." I looked towards Adi for advice. I was kind of stunned, not sure of what to do. I just heard of violent encounters with non-compliant tourists.

Adi calmly said, "Take your time. You have choice. Pick the most beautiful..."

Funny he said that because I didn't find the women with larger protruding lip ornaments particularly attractive. Interesting, but not really attractive.

The Spanish and I then split off, each attracting a crowd of about 15 women. Shit...I'm gonna have to disappoint some people with my choices. It's like picking teams in a game of sandlot football. Someone has to be picked last. So, I chose some LP (lip-plated) ladies, some younger ones (non-LP) and even a couple gun-toting guys. Each photo would result in a demand for money. To be specific, "TWO, TWO, TWO..." Ethiopian birr. Money definitely talks. Some women would clutch my arm hoping for a photo in order to get the equivalent of a sum less than a quarter USD. I thought a fight might break out but never did. The photo session went on for about 15 minutes. I would pack up my camera only to be rushed by the women. "PHOTO, PHOTO!!!" Adi literally had to pull me from the crowd.

"Let's get out, these people are crazy..." said Adi.

We drove on. So much for learning about Mursi culture...

That night in Jinka, I couldn't help but wonder about the authenticity of the Mursi experience. That whole village thing was trumped up. Wasn't it? I've never felt so awkward in Africa. It was so bizarre.

Another weird encounter in Jinka last night. Adi was telling us about intimidation used by a local gang of thugs/guides. Apparently, they were pissed at him about hiring a discounted landcruiser. What the hell...Why do they care" How do they profit from the rental of landcruisers? The only explanation was the local big shot travel agent/hotel owner/car renter felt threatened by the lower price and hired the thugs to deliver Adi the message. As far I was concerned, the tourist trade in Ethiopia was run by the mafia.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 20/07
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Key Afer to Jinka - Omo Valley, Ethiopia, Day 3

Even in the worst of times, someone turns a profit.
- Farangi Rule of Acquisition #162

Bana family...

bana house is just one room. to one side is the "kitchen" - just an open fire. the other side is the sleeping area. everyone sleeps on the same mat.

cooking starts at a young age.

life's a grind. this woman is a newlywed. note the bling on her arms...

dinner's on! guacamole and... an unknown substance. i had a taste of the bean-like dish. mmm...a bit gritty though...

guess what i found in the closet? an assortment of hunting implements. well not really. one of the omo's favourite pastimes is goat theft. this almost always results in conflict. i don't mean shouting matches but warfare. lot's of people die. bana people seem at peace but wouldn't hesitate to duke it out with neighbouring tribes in case of goat rustling. having said that, they pale in nastiness compared to their rivals, the mursi. we'll visit them folks tomorra.

Key Afer turned to be an interesting one-street town whose population is mostly Hamer and Bana peoples. Yesterday, late afternoon we got the chance to walk to a nearby Bana village. It's not as straight forward as you think. First, we had to buy as gifts bags of salt and coffee. Then before being admitted to the village you have to find the "gatekeeper" (tall, lean yet very imposing presence) and present him with the gifts. It's a good idea if you know how to say hello in the bana language at least. And, don't even think about sneaking in because you'll have to deal with the gatekeeper and his battle-tested spear.

Visiting a village was pretty exciting. As we walked along, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. In our particular village we got to visit 3 families. The people were very friendly I thought. We photographed whatever we wanted and paid a handsome fee for the privilege. It was a positive but a strange experience. I mean, if you turn the tables, how would a Westerner react if a group of strangers turned up his/her doorstep, proceeded to inspect his/her house, taste what's cooking on the stove, and to documented it all by taking photos? They'd probably have a shotgun ready and have 911 speed dialed on their cell phones.

I'm still having problems sleeping past 7. It didn't help the cause when the tin roof of the hotel was deluged by an early morning monsoonal rainstorm. At least I rescued the clothes from the drying line.

While I was brushing my teeth out the front door. I met a couple from Israel (the guy looked Spanish to me). They were traveling independently without a guide and were interested in helping out with a 4X4 rental. Excellent until they backed out. C'mon, a hundred bucks USD per day split 5 ways that's a killer deal. The man Adi lined up for the 4X4 this morning also backed out. The man couldn't stomach the 110 USD we were going to spoon feed him. This world is going to hell in a hand basket... Miraculously, a 4X4 came by the hotel and we snagged it for the original amount.

Off we went to Jinka. It felt so good to be in a vehicle smaller than a bus. Ride was so sweet.

Jinka's a pretty big town. A two street town with an airstrip running right up the main street. I spent much of the remaining afternoon trying to get on the internet to email home my whereabouts. I had to wait behind a guy applying for a job on workopolis. He couldn't type worth a damn. I ended up explaining Bob Marley lyrics to people waiting with me for a couple of hours. They were most curious about the line "no woman, no cry". Odd person to explain that line, eh.

Tomorrow: Mago National Park and the vaunted headhunting Mursi.

Key Afer: N5 31.391 E36 44.068 and Jinka: N5 47.072 E036 33.925.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 19/07
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Konso - Weito - Key Afer, Omo Valley, Ethiopia, Day 2

Too much beer last night. We spent about two hours waiting for the bus to arrive/leave for Key Afer. When it did arrive, it was a cat and mouse game with the bus conductor. When he smelled potential farangi customers [ed. note: the term farangi is a term of endearment used to describe foreigners. not to be confused with characters of similar name in the Star Trek series. synonym: mzungu] the price of tickets increased 2 fold for us. I hate that, particularly when it's blatant like that. There's nothing we could do.

We piled into a really crowded bus. As usual the aisles were jammed with barrels of cooking oil.

Again the scenery was stunning. The route took us up and over mountain passes and along razorback ridges and plunged us down into dry, arid valleys. I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that Ethiopia's one of the most beautiful regions in all of Africa.

It was also on this bus where I could see trouble brewing in the future. A man approached Adi about why he was taking farangi on the bus and not using a rented 4X4 (the expensive way that we wanted to avoid). Apparently 90 percent of rentals was controlled by one guy in the Omo Valley and he could be a thorn in the side of Adi for his (our) oversight. Back home, I would have told the man that it was none of his f&%king business how we travel, but here there could be further implications that we might know nothing about.

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Mar 18/07
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Monday, March 17, 2008

Yabelo to Konso, Into the Omo Valley, Ethiopia...Day 1

The road to Konso.

"You, you, you..." you actually mean me, me, me.

Konso market...

ethiopia's the burf place of coffee...

muy, muy, muy caliente... luis is purdy poplar wid da women...

you'd think this was a just random pic of some goats, eh. think again. after I took it, the supposed owner of the flock demanded money for the privilege... i said no and he grabbed a hold of my camera. A crowd formed around us. we started playing tug of war with my camera. this was not happening to me, i thought. last time i had to fight for my camera in this manner was in borneo when it was in the clutches of a pack of orangutans. well, i eventually ripped it out of his hands. he takes another lunge at the camera and his buddies hold him back. i started walking away. when i looked back, i saw him laughing. what an idiot.

Adi promptly showed up at 0900. First we went to the town market. Sparsely occupied, I presumed it wasn't market day in Yabelo. However, we were soon chased down by a horde of youngsters screaming, "you, you, you, you..." at us. That was the extent of their knowledge of English. Interesting at first but got such adulation got old really fast. From there we went to a cafe to wait for an Isuzu truck to Konso. Friendly folks at the cafe. The girls were all over the Spanish. The boys were hot, I guess. Everyone thinks they're Israelis. Unfortunately, none of them were interested in the Japanese guy. Pity.

The problem with the Omo is that there is very little public transportation. Adi had to negotiate for us. His first attempt went awry when the driver didn't have a permit. But he did find a proper driver albeit a little late in the day.

The truck ride was hellish for the first hour. The Kenyan-style road did a good job rattling my brain cage for the first couple of hours even though I was lucky enough to ride in the cab. The poor bastards, about 30 Ethiopians, Luis and Adi, were riding in the open box at the back. In the third hour, it was my turn to ride the steel. After 40 minutes my forearms were killing me because of the death grip I had on the railing behind me. The same railing that kept me from being thrown from the box and onto the dirt road.

As we approached the town of Konso (named for the local tribe), the hills showed signs of extensive terracing. The Konso people appear to have developed an agrarian society. Each time we passed a group of pedestrians along the road, people would chase us, waving their farming implements in the air...

Once in Konso, I was just covered in dust. I thought I'd splurge and check into a hotel room with a shower. Believe it or not that's a luxury. Having said that, the shower in my room failed to work. So, it was back to the dependable bucket shower.

Just outside the hotel gate I noticed an Ethiopian woman holding what appeared to be a white baby in her arms. She was the mother. I asked her wassup? The father, a German researcher, abandoned them and went back to Germany. What a bastard, eh?

Out of Canuckistan - A travel blog, Mar 17/07
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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Moyale to Yabelo, Ethiopia - My, granny, what green teeth you have...

Adi, our Omo guide. Not often do I hire a guide but in the case of the Omo Valley, but it's necessary to have proper introductions to visit some of the tribes of the area. Otherwise, it's off with our heads.
I desperately wanted out of Moyale. The town itself isn't too bad but the touts give me the heebie jeebies. I had a guy I called Rasta Man (ok, that's a stretch in a place like Ethiopia) follow me around for a long while. He was pretty persistent. He kept sayin' that I didn't trust him. He got that right. The crew from the truck got together for breakfast (real coffee!) complete with our friend Tom. He sneaked across the border under the cover of darkness last night. Brave or dumb? Not sure, myself. Ok, it was dumb. He said he was scared shitless, nearly being caught (or not caught) several times by border patrols. Some kids came by the motel this morning asking for Jeremy. Tom showed up a half hour later. He's a fugitive now. A man on the run. His solution was to travel to Addis to plead for diplomatic leniency and a visa because he entered Ethiopia through Lake Turkana (way out west where there isn't a border post). I'm not sure if his story would jive with the authorities though.

No one at breakfast had a plan going forward... Anna and Jeremy were leaning towards going to Addis. They'll try to expedite their itinerary. The Spanish were leaning towards going to Yabelo and then west to the Omo Valley. Me? My initial plan was to go to Addis immediately and set in motion the request for a Sudanese visa and then come back to Omo. I had second thoughts. 1) the rainy season was coming soon (April). 2) I didn't want to backtrack. Didn't think my body could take the pounding. So, I decided to follow Luis and Antonio to Yabelo. Hopefully, I will team up with them to cut the costs down as well.

Hastily (again), we went to the bank to change money. Afterwards, I watched Anna and Jeremy speed off in their Mercedes. Me and Spanish stayed behind to catch the bus to Yabelo.

The bus ride to Yabelo was better than expected. First, the landscape was really quite striking. Desert scrub on rolling hills and the occasional escarpment. Second, the road was fine. Smoother than a baby's bottom compared to anything in Kenya. Third, the bus was great. Not too crowded. The leg room between seats was meant for short people but I managed. Fourth, most of the passengers were buzzed out by chewing qat - pronounced chat. I saw the stuff first in Kenya. Qat, fresh leaves from a qat tree I guess, gives off a mild stimulant that's suppose to decrease appetite, increase stamina and concentration. Chewing qat is a national obsession amongst men and women alike. The buzzed out guy I sat beside taught me how to pick the best qat leaves off the bunch of stalks he bought at a roadside stand and urged me to try some. I did. No effect. Kind of gross. I felt like a cow chewing it's cud. Anyway, by the end of the trip, the entire floor of the bus was covered with qat byproducts and rejects.

When we rolled into the tiny town of Mega, there was a large group of people at the side of the road. We passed slowly. The focus of people was a yellow mercedes! In the middle, 3 white folks, the usual suspects plus Tom the fugitive! Ha! What the hell... I thought they were gone for good. The bus pulled into a parking compound. It was lunch break. We took off for the car. The town's mercedes mechanic was trying to fix it. Apparently, the tires weren't balanced/aligned correctly resulting in big time grinding/knocking noises that freaked them out. We agreed to meet in Yabelo for brewskies. In fact, that was the last we would see of them. Sad.

We finally got to Yabelo, a 2 street dusty town, just as the sun was setting behind the hills. I had grown tired of talking to semi-conscious qat chewers. As we were fetching our bags from the roof of the bus, we were greeted by a rather articulate young man calling himself Adimasu or Adi. He was a tour guide. Normally, I ignore these types of advances. It's my security program. But the Spanish were hooked in. I wish they hadn't responded. However, I had a good chat with him as he took us around to the few hotels in town. (We checked into a new, rather spartan, but clean pink motel.)

We invited to dinner (pasta and injera) where I grew a little more impressed by him. He showed us pictures of the places he has guided and of his rich white clients. The Spanish were equally impressed. We started talking about our Omo ambitions and later on that night we hired Adi as our Omo guide.

Yabelo is here for all the Google Earth fans out there: N4 53.906 E38 5.351.

Out of Canuckistan, - A travel blog, Mar 16/07
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Moyale, Ethiopia...and the road from hell

is that a mercedes in the back of that truck? (isiolo, kenya)

Jeremy (the white guy). Very cool guy from my hometown of Calgary. He's now living in London as a music producer...

The desert north of Marsabit. Ethiopia is somewhere over the horizon...
I was walking around Isiolo last night hoping to spot these transport trucks that were suppose to materialize. Isiolo's a dump but I needed provisions for the eventual ride to Ethiopia. The supermarket described in LP no existed. So, I tried some of the hole-in-the-wall stores on the main street.

Isiolo wasn't as scary as I was led to believe (even at dusk). There were a lot of people on the streets but they all seem to be busy. I came across a truck. Unusual load I thought. In the back was a yellow car. A mercedes benz! The same people whom I met at the Upper Hill Campsite in Nairobi... They had to be here, somewhere. What were the odds of meeting them again? I started my semi-desperate inquiries.

"Where are the mzungus who own this car", I asked the closest loiterers around the truck. Some guy leads me to a street front hotel. The reception said they were gone (checked out). They're supposed to be in a bar. Which bar? For a one street town, there was a shitload of taverns in Isiolo. DON'T PANIC, I thought to myself. First bar nothing. Second, nothing. Third, zip. We entered the fourth bar, got past the sleazy owner, to find the familiar mzungu faces of a wild haired man and a hot blond woman sitting at a table littered with beer bottles. Our eyes met. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. At the same table were 2 other mzungu men (later I found out they were Spanish - Luis and Antonio.

They (Anna and Jeremy) insisted that I join them on the truck. I didn't think twice and took them up on their offer. I went back to the hotel to pack. Hastily bought some provisions. Went back to the bar to meet them. We loaded up the truck. It was dark by the time we took off at 8 PM.

Within minutes, we ran out of tarmac. The road was horrible. Full of potholes. The truck shook like the devil as we drove over brutal corrugations in the road. The chattering of my teeth would give me a headache. Anna and Jeremy was in the back with the mercedes while I was up front with the Spanish guys. The reverberations of the truck didn't seem to affect the Spanish as they kept up with their contiguous bantering.

After the first break, Anna suggested I move to the back. I wholeheartedly obliged. The rest of the time I drank sweet wine, had shots of whiskey, and listened to good music. Suffice to say, the road didn't seem so bad after that.

We reached the sleepy town of Marsabit, almost at the halfway point, at 4 in the morning. The streets were deserted. We stopped in a nondescript compound lit by a single lonely street lamp. I was exhausted but my legs begged to be stretched. I walked out into the darkness. The starry sky was brilliant. Being so close to the equator, I could see the North Star and the Southern Cross in the same sky. I was exhausted and headed back to the truck hoping to catch a couple of hours of sleep before moving on.

We were rudely awakened by the blast given off by the truck's engine. Damn, it was only 6 AM. Seemed like everyone had deep slumbers. During the night the Mercedes hood ornament went missing. Some kid was walking around with a nice piece of bling hanging around his neck. Further inspection revealed damage to the paint job. Sometime last night a chair had fallen on the side of car. Jeremy and Anna were pretty pissed. "The Manager" thought the situation was rather amusing. He would suffer the wrath of both my friends. They just railed on him. Let's just say he fell into line for he rest of the trip.

As were were departing, we encountered a white guy walking by the road. We stopped. Apparently, Jeremy and Anna knew him. Tom had arrived a few hours before us. He too was on the way to Moyale but this was as far as he got. He climbed on board. En route he informed me that he didn't have an Ethiopian visa!

The scenery beyond Marsabit was surreal and pretty stark. Just outside the town, I saw a huge crater (at least 2 km wide and 500 m deep). I suspect the remnants of a volcano. We were surrounded by plains of scrub and broken by numerous brown volcanic cones dotting the landscape. Occasionally, we encountered camel trains and flocks of sheep tended to by nomadic tribesman.

We finally reached Moyale at 1500h. Only the last kilometre stretch of the road to Ethiopia was paved. We could have spent the night on the Kenyan side but after the torture of the past 36 hours just wanted to get the hell out. The border routine went off without a hitch except for Tom. The Ethiopians wouldn't issue him a visa on the spot. The only legal options were to head back to Nairobi and apply for one or have his government plead his case. Two daunting prospects. He walked off rather pissed off at himself for checking the visa situation beforehand.

See also, this entry...

Moyale is here: N03 31.909 E39 03.123.

Out of Canuckistan - A travel blog, Mar 15/07
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Friday, March 14, 2008

Isiolo, Kenya - and the road to hell...

crummy picture of mt. kenya, tallest mountain in, you guest it, kenya at 5199 m. my apologies for the the high tension wire in the frame. I had to climb over someone to take the pic.

came all this way to africa only to find longview, alberta...where's ian tyson when you need him?

isiolo's main street...a few metres behind me was the end of civilization as i knew it (until Ethiopia)...

one of isiolo's back streets. i have no idea why people live here. there's absolutely nothing here...

[ed. note: for those keeping track, isiolo is located here: N00 21.106 E037 34.901]

Ok, I'm here in the feared town of Isiolo. First took a matatu to the town of Nanyuki (two hours). Road was fine. The climate has certainly changed. Palm trees in Nairobi have given way to rolling fields of wheat. Reminds me of the prairies of Alberta. I wanted to take a picture of Mt Kenya but was sitting on the wrong side of the bus. On the map, the mountain is on the wrong side!

It was a quick matatu change in Nanyuki and then a really short ride (along more fields of grain) to Isiolo. It took 1.5 hours on a painfully slow matatu (180 KSH). LP (lonely planet) said the trip would take 3 hrs! Normally I'm pretty alert when entering a new town, but I was caught dozing. When the bus stopped on what seemed to be the main street, I had to ask the lady beside me to confirm that it was indeed Isiolo. I felt like such a confused tourist stumbling off the bus, stunned by the intense midday sunlight and ever present dust.

10 seconds didn't go by when I heard the word mzungu. Next thing I knew I was accosted by 2 kids asking me for money and jobs. Gimme a break people...I'm half asleep. I then dragged my sorry backpack, sitting in a sea of dust, to the veranda of the closest building.

I sat there for awhile trying to gather my senses. I just remember alot of people milling about, some in colourful tribal dress. Close by were a group of nattering young men huddled together like they were playing some sort of gambling game. I swear I stepped into a spaghetti western starring black people. All that was missing were horses and a gunslinging sheriff.

A young man in perhaps his twenties (hard to tell) spotted my clued out face. He asked me, in the worst broken English, what I was doing and whether he could help. I asked him about the trucks to Moyale (the Ethiopian border town). He pointed to the main street. He wasn't sure about the details though. He said he could find someone who could help. We walked to the Morcharo Hotel. By this time, we were being shadowed by a tout claiming he was a "broker". Brokers, as it turned out, are low-life middle men (annoying yet essential buffoons), who put together those looking for rides to Ethiopia with truck drivers headed that way and negotiate things like cabin seats - for an extra fee of course. I had lunch at the Hotel after telling Livio (the original helper) what I was after in terms of a ride.

After I had a lunch of generic meat, I went to reception for further clarification. Caroline, the receptionist, informed me that I had preceded the transport trucks (leaving Nairobi) by 4 hrs. Most if not all trucks get here at about 4 PM and leave at around midnight. 1000 KSH (or 14 USD) for lying on top of the load (often the load was cattle) and 1500 KSH (21 USD) for riding shotgun in the cabin. So many options... Damn that's alot of money but I was hardly in the position to negotiate.

About 45 minutes ago, a guy calling himself an assistant driver (he was lying like a sidewalk as I found out later - he was a lousy tout) approached me in the restaurant to announce his truck was leaving right then and there. Remembering Caroline's advice, I told him to push off.

Looks like I was gonna take the red eye!

[It's getting weirder here as I'm writing this. Martha Stewart's blaring on the restaurant's vid with guest Kenny Rogers crooning a long lost hit single...]

This morning in Nairobi was pretty rough. I can say for certain that I had a great time there. I've written a few times about this, but sometimes it's very difficult sayin' farewell to friends. In this case, saying goodbye to a certain girl was awful tough. We had grown to be good friends in the short time I was there.

Out of Canuckistan, - A travel blog, Mar 14/07
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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nairobi, Kenya, Day 9 - Stop the donuts!!

Tiffany's race number on her really sweet koga-miyata bike.

Tan lines galore, eh...

Now that's my kind of "water" bottle...
I still have a bit of research to do but did zip/nodda thing this morning. Got off the TV couch at noon. That was life drainingly difficult. Managed to tap into the WWW. No reply from Aaron, the dude I met in Kampala. He's got critical data for the stretch into Ethiopia. Do have to take the plunge myself? Do I really need to put myself into danger again and again... Damn it's like I'm on a giant adventure or something. Ok, Ethiopia here I come. Ready or not.

Later on, "the gang" and I went downtown for chocolate covered donuts (i.e. me and thomas were the only ones cramming donuts) and cafe lattes at a "fancy" cafe. Newest gang member today was Tiffany from the States, a cool cyclist/burnt out lawyer from S. Carolina but working in London.

What's a nice girl like Tiffany doing in a place like Nairobi? Well, the Tour D'afrique (not to be confused with the Cirque du Soleil) just rolled into Camp. She's gonna be a participant! The famous Tour is a bike race from Cairo to Capetown. It's legendary. It also costs something like $12,000 USD to enter the race. Yikes...that's some serious money. Thomas reckons it would pay for a four year bike ride, non-stop.

Well, the Camp grounds are now packed with cyclists' tents now. There must be at least 25 bikers. That's a whole lotta tan lines...

Out of Canuckistan, Mar 11/07
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Monday, March 10, 2008

Nairobi, Kenya, Day 8

that's thomas on the right...
I've met some very interesting people here at the Hilltop. First there's Thomas from Germany (he's riding his bike from his homeland to Capetown). He's living the life I'm supposed to be living. He's a journeyman traveler/cyclist/author (i.e. he's a pro). He's been all over the world. He gives slide shows. Writes articles. Makes a living doing it. Talking with him for the last few days has really inspired me. Maybe this travel "career" isn't over quite yet. I must work on a strategy to earn money and travel at the same time. Anywho, Thomas is an amazing guy.

If you can read German or wanna see some pretty pix, check him out at his webpage, here.

that's leonard on the left...
Another guy I have to mention is Leonard from Kelowna. He's the guy setting up the slum tours. He looks exactly like the goal keeper for the German National Soccer Team. He reminds me of Don Cherry in his forthrightness. But he's an anti-Cherry-ite. He's much more intelligent (not a stretch for anyone I guess, ha!). He's sharp as a tack. A man of his convictions. To do what he's done here is an incredible feat.

Out of Canuckistan, Mar 10/07
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