The primary attraction of Harar is the old city. Historical records show Harar has been around since the 7th C. AD. The 5m wall that surrounds the 60 hectare town was constructed in the 1560's. Access is gained through 5 original gates (2 were added in the early 1900's). The above is Showa Gate.
There's a mini-market surrounding Showa Gate. I found this young lady selling baguettes. She wanted a copy of some photos I took of her. So, she gave me her email address and, in addition, she gave me a glossy pic of herself. See below.
Pretty nice photo, eh...?
This is a "street" scene just inside Showa Gate. There's only one true, auto-accessible road that leads into town.
The population of the old city is about 22,000 people. Just wandering the alley ways gives you a close look at day to day life. Plus, the folks aren't adverse to having their pix taken. In fact, they'll ask you to take their pic more often than not...
Egg-cellent photo. I'm not sure about the significants of the eggs. The kids were really proud of them though...
You won't believe this but there are a lot of kids in Ethiopia... (refer to the inverted demographic pyramid chart you learned about in social studies class)
The sun's pretty hot even before noon. Must. Have. A. Mirinda. Now...
The level of dilapidation in Harar's not bad. Not bad for a 1300 year old city...
Woke up early and started my exploration of Harar. The Old City was a perfect size for walking about in. Walked through the main Harar gate, down the traffic thoroughfare, and straight out into the country side. Interesting cemetery... Traced my footsteps back into town, finding myself meandering slowly through a labyrinth of cobbled alleys infusing the whitewashed adobe type architecture of shopping and living quarters. Just trying to soak in the everyday life of the people of Harrar.
Except for the lively market, human traffic was relatively sparse. Excellent opportunities for people watching and photography. Everyone seemed quite friendly. I even met a couple of Ethiopian-Canadians who had made the trip home for an extended stay. Surprisingly, the much anticipated onslaught of touts did not materialize.
Like I've written before Harar is the 4th holiest Islamic centre (mentioned in the same breath as Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem) in the world. The influence of Islam on the people was unquestionable, but the influence on the architecture was more subtle. I was expecting mosques of monumental size, but many of Old Harar's densely packed 90 or so mosques are small and private, blending in with the rest of Harar.
I spent the afternoon back at the Hotel since the temperature just soared once the sun reached its apex in the sky.
I thought I'd give the guidebook glorified Hirut Restaurant another try. Failure to satisfy once again on a massive scale. There must have been a change in management. I ordered the mixed grill plate but got a meaty sludge served on injera. Not really good, especially considering the premium price.
The joint itself is really nicely decorated but really needs to work on its cookery.
As for service, it rivaled the non-stellar nature of menu. Very slow and indifferent. I was watching the BBC on their TV (a real treat when I can get it). I guess the bartender was bored and he shut off the TV in the middle of the news and proceeded to crank up the awful Ethiopian pop music. Noooooo..!!
I noticed alot of this inconsiderate behaviour in Africa (eg. turning off/blocking the view of TVs, trampling on each other while boarding buses, talking really loud in the hotel at all hours of the night while I'm trying to catch some zzzz's, and the list goes on). There really is no concept of consideration let alone customer service.
Brings me back to a comment or advice given to me at the Sudanese Embassy in Addis. I had been waiting a long time to see the visa guy when an Ethiopian woman sitting beside me encouraged me to crash the que ahead of me. She said that in Africa you've got to fight for everything you want or you'll find yourself outside looking in, regardless of whether its a bus seat, a train ticket, or even a turn at the toilet.
Dog eat dog my friends...
Think I'm visiting Harar beer factory tomorrow. Hopefully they're giving free T-shirts or hats to tourists...
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Apr 30/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
A vulture-like bird staring into my hotel room... Foreshadowing of things to come....?
After weeks of hemming and hawing and yesterday's debacle of sleeping in, I'm here in Harrar, the self proclaimed medieval capital of "the horn of Africa" and 4th holiest city in the Islamic world. That's of course after a excruciatingly painful 10 hour (0600 to 1600), 525km bus ride east of Addis. It wasn't particularly lengthy on paper but really slow. Plus, it was really hot in the cabin.
The most interesting scenery was the drive through Awash National Park. Cinder cones to craters to volcanoes right next to the highway.
At least I'm in Harrar now. I've checked into the Tewodros Hotel with a room facing the famous hyena field of dreams. No first observations so far other than there are a helluva lot of flies and homeless people here.
I borrowed a can of insecticide spray from the manager. The instructions the can didn't list any dangerous side effects so I nuked the room and shut the door. I got the hell out of there of course.
As for the homeless, I'll try to help them out tomorrow.
View Larger Map
The above map indicates the location of the Tewodros Hotel. Just north of the Hotel is a large soccer field/garbage dump... the Old city is to the right...
Later that day:
It was something like 2145. The football field/garbage dump just behind the hotel turned into a hyena fest/convention. I could hardly see them in the dark but I could clearly see the ones walking along the lit street. Even more eerie was that the fact that I heard them wading through the garbage and their whimpering cries.
Long exposure of the football field/dump taken from a balcony at the Tewodros Hotel...
The scene was freakish. People were milling about, seemingly oblivious to the presence of hyenas. Some idiots were even taunting them, drawing muted or non-responses from some of the most ferocious predators in Africa. I was even more surprised that they didn't go after one of the neighbourhood dogs.
Clearly, this phenomenon or behaviour stemmed from the presence of the garbage dump. Poor waste management.
This may sound ridiculous, but I was tempted to go out and shoot some pix. For chrissakes some of them were huge. Easily take down a human being, eh.
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Apr 29/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Ethiopian man in the Simiens (Mulee, Ethiopia) circa 2007.
My heart wasn't into climbing on another bus for 12 hrs. Unfortunately, reception didn't understand my instructions and woke me up at 0430 because they called for a taxi. I kindly declined the taxi service. Then at 0530, the reception guy knocked at my door again. Apparently the cab was still waiting for me. I had to politely send him away again. These guys were killing me with kindness.
Something pleasant happened today. I bumped into my Polish friend, Anthony, here at the Taitu Hotel (remember, I met him in Lalibela). I opened the French doors of my room to let in some fresh air and saw Anthony walking down the driveway. He's been here for the last 2 weeks! Some of his pictures are going to be published (well, at least someone is interested in hiring him to shoot photographs for a coffee table book commemorating the Ethiopian celebrations). I knew he had good stuff.
I told Anthony about my plans to visit Harrar. He has one of his "NGO's" in Harrar. In fact, the "NGO" in Harrar was his first. Walking along the streets of Harrar, he could not help but notice the destitute street boys camped along the side of the streets. He decided to take one of them under his wing (turned out to be the poorest of poor - tattered clothes, shoeless). His philosophy was not to give a handout (in the most traditional sense of the word) but to set up a business for the "NGO" child (in this case selling kleenex, candy, cigarettes, etc...) AND, this is a big "and", find a local person to act as a mentor to help monitor the child's progress. He asked me if I could check up on the NGO. Should be interesting... BTW, when I first met Anthony in Lalibela, he was setting up a shoeshine business for another NGO boy.
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Apr 26/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Ethiopian woman in the Simiens, Mekarebya, Ethiopia...
Man, I'm beat. The minibus ride officially started at 0341 The van was full. Yours truly, the lone farangi as usual, got stuck with the corner seat at the very back. I didn't care much though. I just wanted out of Bahar Dir. Ride was uneventful. Scenery was kind of bland, flatter than an injera at some points. That was until we hit the incredible Blue Nile Gorge. It was huge.
View Larger Map
[Ed. note: the elevation of the south rim of the gorge (10° 1'9.00"N 38°14'49.38"E) was 2485m resulting in a gorge depth here of 1417m]
Arrived in Addis at about 1315. A welcomed homecoming in a sense. I'd spent 3 weeks out in the boonies. The minibus stopped in a familiar roundabout just a short walk from the hotel district of the Piazza. Strange but I found comfort in dragging my overstuffed backpack through the crowded streets despite skirting the numerous beggars at the side of the roads (people afflicted with blindness and one particular guy with horrific boils all over his body).
Not sure what to do next. Two options: 1) go east to visit the islamic town of Harrar (I still have a couple of hundred bucks worth of birr burning a hole in my pocket, 2) get the Sudanese visa and get out of town (the logistical stars seem aligned well for catching the Lake Nasser ferry). I'll sleep on it (at the Taitu hotel where I'm staying now) and make some kind of plan tomorrow.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Ethiopian girl, Arkwasiye, Ethiopia - April 19, 2007
After leaving Debark, I was exhausted but the time I got to Gondor. It was already 1630. Buses aren't allowed to travel in the dark of night or would I want to. I was forced to find alternate accommodation when the nice, clean Salam Hotel was fully booked. Instead I made another stupid decision by booking into a dump for 80 birr (combination of being really tired and not giving a hoot). Tried to talk the reception down on the rate but she insisted on the farangi price. I had 3 minutes to take a "hot" shower before the hot water ran out. 3 minutes to scrape off what felt like half of Ethiopia caked on my body. 80 birr also got me a TV. Every TV in the hotel was hooked up to the same satellite dish. So, I was stuck with watching soccer. That was OK, until someone in reception changed the channel to Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ". Kind of a sad movie... I guess Christians, even those in Ethiopia, really get a kick out of that movie. There never seemed to be a dull moment that night. First, a street brawl erupted in front of the hotel and then the loud moans of men and women resonating through the hallways and amplified by my room door. Dang. I booked into another ho house.
Well, I'm back in Bahar Dir. Shite. I bolted outta here over a week ago. For I good reason, I thought. I just don't think it's a pleasant place. Tourism has really screwed it up. Case in point, I was lucky enough to check into the cheap but pleasant Tana Hotel. I struck up a conversation with a guy who I thought was the "receptionist". He had me spilling my guts pretty fast. I needed a minibus for Addis I said. Sure, the hotel was running a service... How convenient I thought. All he needed was a deposit. Long story short, I gave him some money to reserve a seat and that's the last I saw him. I got the deposit back. Not from the scumbag fake receptionist but from the nice owner of the hotel. He had a good idea of who the culprit was (a disgruntled ex-employee). I guess there was justice in Ethiopia afterall. The owner also got me a 120 birr minibus ticket for tomorrow @ 3 AM as well. Wahoo! Why does it take this much effort just to take a minibus to Addis? I better hit the hay or I'll miss the bus...
[Ed. notes: re: the fake receptionist. My bad.]
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Apr 24/07
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008
[Ed. note: Two days have gone by since Mulee. I wrote this post in the town of Bahar Dir on the shores of Lake Tana...]
Packing Jackie the Mule on an early Mekarebya morning...We camped beside this shack...
The Mekarebya school yard...
From Mekarebya it's back down to business on the riverbed. I kept stubbing my toes on these stupid rocks...
Climbing out of the river valley towards Mulee. Ambient temperature is rising. Must find water...
Weird rock formations. If you are a regular reader, the monolith in the foreground is part of the flat top mountain and in the background is the submarine conning tower mountain that we saw way back on the plateau...
Now it's really getting hot...
To the left is Fasil's sister. She's holding her daughter's hand. I think she was trying to fix me up with her daughter. Took me a while to figure out she was running the village pub. That's explained the number of hosed people sitting on the veranda...
Little dude #1.
Little dudes #2 and #3...
Walking home from the local Home Depot...
Drink up little dude #4... Not sure what they were drinking other than there were alot of floaties in it...
Mother and daughter in the house...
PLA infantry grunt taking pix of the locals...
Fasil and friend...does Fasil look hosed to you or is it just me?
Landscape surrounding Mulee...
Let me back up a bit. I could not, for the life of me, find my pen. My last entry referred to gale force winds outside tent. Did I mention the resultant dust storm within the tent? I don't know how the tent was completely consumed by dust. All I knew was I had to bail, scram, vamoose outta there, especially when the tent fabric started to rip from its poles.
I was worried about the dust. There's a whole lotta shit lying around (all over). Once it starts flying around, it wreaks havoc on unprotected eyes (perhaps lungs as well). I'm not surprised by all the eye infections I saw in the countryside. In addition, I think I saw a lot of cataracts as well. It was like a ophthalmologist's candy store out there. An eye doctor should really volunteer their services out here, for a while at least.
Yah, it was a very long day coming from Mekarebya. Started at 0618 and took nearly a half hour of steep switch backs to regain the canyon bottom. I certainly did not have a good feeling in my left foot (don't think it's broken though). Once on the bottom we'd follow the dry river bed. Not nice. Big rocks strewn all over the place (hate to see the rage of this river during wet season) plus multiple stream crossings just killed my bruised feet.
Scenery reminded me of the American West: scrub vegetation, odd shaped monolithic structures, and ancient sea stacks. The heat started picking up at about 1000, making the last major uphill to Mulee a real beast of a climb. Reached a point high enough to see the Simien escarpment again. Arrived at the first significant village on the foot of the Mulee butte. I took the chance to suck back a couple of cool Mirindas (aka Orange Crush) in the shade.
We reached Mulee early (1230), setting up camp at Fasil's sister's place. Spent the afternoon taking photos of the village people and watching Fasil drink the local brew. After a couple of pints, he became quite abusive not towards me but to his relatives. That's until he started getting into my camera gear. I should have stopped him. If anything happened to the d70 I would have been hooped.
I was beginning to wish this little adventure was over soon...
A Short Walk in the Simiens - Day 7 to Adi Arkey, Ethiopia...
Sunrise in Mulee...
Exiting Mulee and final glimpses of the Simiens...
Having breakfast with the crew in Adi Arkey...
Next day, in fact, was the last day on the trail . Adi Arkey, on the Debark-Axum road, was a mere 2 hours away. The sunrise was magnificent, casting an awesome yet eerie pinkish orange glow over the silhouette of the surrounding canyon lands.
I was excited. The trek was coming to a end. It was well above my expectations. I did it.
It was pretty much all downhill to Adi Arkey along what I call the freeway. The trail widened and was clear of most debris. I looked back often, wondering how the hell I could have negotiated such a tortured landscape. I will never forget this place.
We got to Adi Arkey. It seemed no different than most dumpy little Ethiopian towns. Hordes of people were out and about, tending to their daily business. I drew a fair amount of attention. A few of them shouted "Japanese" at me but for the most part people just gawked at a strange oriental face.
We found a cafe on the main street. While we waited for the Debark bus, I had the honour of buying brekkie for the crew. After the obligatory photos, Fantee packed up Jackie the mule and set off back to Debark on foot. Earlier, I divested myself of the stove and kerosene by giving it to Fantee as a tip. For the past seven days, he lugged that thing around, setting it up for me when required. He was a hard worker, the best employee I've ever had. Before he moseyed on, I slipped him some money to make sure he got back to Debark in comfort.
Fasil and I would take the bus at 1100. He would disembark at Debark while I would continue onto Gonder. The road would mimick the surrounding landscape: twisted, convoluted and undulating. After almost 3 hours into the ride, we could still see the jagged mountains behind Adi Arkey. As the bus climbed out of the last coulee, we arrived in Debark. I followed Fasil out. After he fetched his bag of belongs off the roof of the bus, we shook hands. I was having second thoughts over his tip while in Mulee because of his antics. But, I gave him a handsome tip as originally planned. Every Ethiopian involved in this trekking business is dependent on his/her tips to feed their families. They, the scouts/muleteers, operate on a rotational basis. So, who knows when his next trip will be?
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Apr 23/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!
Monday, April 21, 2008
Gale force winds. All hell broke loose. Tent imploded. I'm just glad I wasn't blown away with it.
I'm hunkered down in the scout's sister's house. Is she really his sister? Maybe. I'll never know exactly.
It's been a really long day. Tomorrow is the end. I'm looking forward to it.
It's dark. I gotta go now.
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Apr 20/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Arkwasiye in the early morn... Well, early for me...
Surrounding mountains. Ras Dashen, Africa's 4th highest peak at 4620m, is the flat protrusion (left of centre) in the upper tier of hills in this picture...
Fantee and Jackie...
Family that put me up for the night.
On our way to Mekarebya...
The great western plateau in the background...not alot going on in the fields. Wanted to see some farmers in action. Oh well...
Going down, way down. I hate going downhill. Nearly destroyed my knees...
Here I was worried about trekking in the raining season. Doh!
The little walk to Mekarebya nearly killed me today. Started unusually late today at 0848. Fasil, the scout, decided to have a few breakfast brewskies with his buddies before hitting the trail. Nice to know I hired the Foster Brooks of armed guards. I, in turn, had a couple of coffees with the family I was staying with.
Multiple dog fights outside the door, omnipresent roosters AND a rat scurrying around the rafters all night long made for a semi-horrendous night. At least the family (parents and 4 kids) was friendly enough.
Once the walk got underway it was pretty spectacular. Rolling fields of idle farm fields and the east face of the towering plateau in the distance. It was only when we reached the village of Sona, all hell broke loose. Steep switchbacks for 1000m downwards into one helluva gorge. Gravel strewn trails made for exciting times and numerous one point landings on my part.
By the time we hit rock bottom, I was exhausted. Really exhausted. Suffering major toe jam, I hoped my left foot was OK and not broken. We then walked by the near dry river bed. The river itself was a mere trickle. After a couple of hours rock and creek hopping, we reach a gigantic baobob tree that overhung a tranquil set of waterpools. It may have been hasty on my part but I ripped off my boots and dunked my feet into the cool refreshing creek water. While soaking my feet, I washed up a bit. The dirt on my body was so caked on. Must have spent an hour there just relaxing.
Took nearly 15 hours to reach Mekarebya (another small village). Just had enough energy to pitch the tent in an empty school yard. I fell into the tent for a nap. Woke up at 1730 to cook dinner. As it turned out, the boys had no food. So, I had to stretch my supplies. What does the National Park dudes pay these guys? No much, apparently.
Tomorrow's an early start at 0500. Not that we're losing mega-elevation, the daytime temps should make the walking hellish. I'm going to have to speed up the morning routine.
Mekareya's water supply was dodgy. So, I broke out the water treatment (chlorination solution) for the first time. Wish me luck.
The GPS says Mekarebya is at 13°21'8.31"N 38° 1'18.38"E at an elevation of 1879m ASL.
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Apr 19/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The great western plateau of Simiens National Park at sun up. It took us a day to traverse the massif from right to left. Imet Gogo is the first peak on the right.
We're on our way to Bhawit Pass, the highest point on the journey. Weird looking plant. Perhaps a lobelia. If you blow up the picture, you'll see the road on the left. The slope is kind of horrific so there's a lot of switchbacks.
Fantee hauling jackass up to Bhawit. Sorry, that's Joey, the mule.
Notice the diversity of species is diminishing as we went higher... 4430 m is pretty high. I was surprised I didn't get a headache from the altitude. As a reference, Calgary is something like 1050 m ASL.
Man, I love the scenery. If you look closely at the massive cliff to the right you'll see ledge that the route follows. A bit exposed but not too bad. Ok, it was nothing.
While traversing the crux I caught a glimpse of the Exit Strategy (if Dubya doesn't have one, I'll have one). It's the deep chasm straight ahead. Looks like that Valley of the Cresent Moon to me, eh?
Looking down the ridge towards Arkwasiye...
Scores of monkeys...
Nice lady we met on the way to Arkwasiye...
Arkwasiye. The complimentary toilet is to the left. The field to the left, that is...
School's out and everyone wants their pix done. Don't let the glum faces fool you but these kids were as bubbly as they get. After each press of the shutter, they'd rush the camera hoping to see themselves in the tiny LCD screen...
By special request, this guy (I think I'll call him the Fonz of Arkwasiye) really wanted his pic done. The guy to his left was particularly hilarious...lighten up buddy.
Foosball in da hood. I'm sure there's some kind of underground economy of second hand foosball tables in Ethiopia. They popped up in the most unusual places. Reminds me of the thousands of pool tables in Tibet...
I slept in this guy's (a seamster?) sewing shop. I didn't see any seamstresses.
Folks I was staying with were really nice. Here the eldest daughter was roasting some coffee beans for coffee ceremony. Coffee had a distinctive smokey taste but delicious...
Bubba's clutching dinner or asking for a wicked case of avian flu...
Fasil plucking the feather's off of dinner. I had no objections buying dinner but I left the cooking to others...the little kid in the corner was kind of cute...
Mmmm... blowed up chicken. I had no idea why he blowed up the chicken.
Looking at the innards, can u tell me the sex of the chicken?
I'm in the village of Arkwasiye. Stopped short of our intended goal of Sona. However, it started hailing/raining shortly after we arrived. The weather seems to have a familiar pattern here. Sunny in the morning followed by late afternoon rainstorms.
Started at 0749 and finished at 1400. I was very happy to leave behind the other tourists entourage of guides and cooks. The guide book was correct when it questioned why would anyone would want to hire a guide who will in turn blather in your ear non-stop 24/7 (especially a guide named Peter aka Mr. Barcelona. What a maroon...).
Anyway, it was a beautiful morning, clear skies and a bit nippy. Fasil found a couple dozen ibexes grazing on the bottom of a cliff above Chennak for me to photograph. I sneaked to within 30 m of them. Lucky for me they weren't exactly camera shy. They were quite handsome creatures thought. Reminded me of the Rocky Mountain Sheep back home. Hiding behind lobelia plants, I shot for 20 minutes before the entire troupe scaled the cliff and disappeared over the rim.
From this point it long long haul up to Bhawit Pass via a combination of steep roads and pastures. Again, outstanding views from the escarpment edge. In due time, we went over that edge. The road, an incredible engineering feat, continued up to the pass while we turned left to faced the crux, a short exposed path beneath a massive promontory. Afterwards, it was all downhill till the trail lead to long flats of pasture land and eventually Arkwasiye.
Fasil has fixed me up with a family. I'll be sleeping in their sewing shop for the night. Bought the crew and myself a live chicken (doro) for tonight. It's the second live chicken I've ever bought. The first was in Pakistan. All I asked was that once cooked, this chicken better have 2 legs and other meaty parts, damn it. So, it's a whopping 30 birr for the chicken, and 20 birr for the accommodations. I figure it's a good monetary contribution towards the local economy. Personal finances are still healthy...
Funny story. I asked to use the toilet. The young man I asked pointed towards a small shack near the edge of town (Arkwasiye was so tiny). I walked over. There was a woman by the door. I mentioned the toilet. She nodded. I stepped into the hut. Huddled in the dark dank interior was a man and a bunch of kids in the hut. Where's the toilet hole, I wondered. The original young man stepped in and tugged at my arm, saying this wasn't the toilet. It was the family's home. My guide took me outside and pointed to the large flat field behind the shack. Where I asked? The answer: anywhere. I walked about a hundred metres away to find a small divet in the ground behind a rock where I unfortunately took the most time consuming and biggest dump of my life. Well, at least the view from this vantage point was amazing.
The GPS said the crux on Bhawit Pass was here at N13 15.315 E38 13.316 (4189 m) and Arkwasiye was here at N13 18.004 E38 14.254 (3635 m)
Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, Apr 18/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!