Friday, February 13, 2015


30 Birr comes to $1.50, by the way.  And when I was trying the hitching a ride gambit, I was prepared to pay 200 birr if someone had stopped.

The 64 km to Lalibela was the type of road where they should be paying you.  Mostly bad gravel, and being plied upon by a beaten up fourth class bus, it was three hours of dusty torture.  It was after dark when we got to the end of the line, still 2 km from the town center and at the mercy of merciless taxi fares.  But for once a hotel tout came in handy; he got me a free ride into town, and although his hotel was pretty basic, what the hell, it was only for one night.

Lalibela is a town of about 20,000 at about 9,000 foot elevation at the end of nowhere.  It is also Ethiopia's biggest tourist attraction AND one of its major religious centers.  One wouldn't guess that from first appearances.  The next morning I walked past some dusty little businesses in the town's 'center', then continued on for about a km to where the Cliff Edge hotel was.  Actually, it turned out that there are now several hotels where the cliff edge is, with more a'building.  A hip young Ethiopian guy named Johannes who had shared the same bad hotel with me last night was now checking into the Top Twelve, so I went in and checked out one of their rooms.

The room itself was actually quite nice, with new furniture and fixtures.  But what was really mind blowing was the view from its balcony.  Indeed right on a cliff edge, the ground dropped 2,000 feet down, and below me and in every direction outwards streched fields and villages and wilderness.  At $35 a night, it could well be my best hotel deal ever.  Which was great, since I had decided to end my trip with a relaxing four day retreat here at the top of the end of the world.

After transferring my stuff from the bad hotel to this one, and then settling in for a while, it was time for lunch.  So I headed out the door and along the cliff for a few hundred meters to where there was another astounding work of man.  Except that this one was by a woman, an old Scots woman who came here seven years ago and decided to build a restaurant.  On the cliff.  In the form of a wacky Dali-esque spaceship with at least five different levels of tables, catwalks, stairs, ladders, you name it.  It's one of the most imaginative little commercial enterprises that I've seen in all my travels.

So I had no problem going back there a few hours later when Chris, the German guy from the lake at Bahir Dar, showed up at the Top Twelve.  And who should be eating there now but Omar, another guy from that boat trip.  Backpackers always tend to bump into each other again, but on the Ethiopian circuit it's really intense.  (Another couple from that boat trip were also staying at the Top Twelve.)

It turned out that Johannes, who operated a tour company in the big city, was originally from Lalibela, and he was back here showing his Canadian girlfriend Ana around.  So Friday morning Chris and I joined the two of them and a tour guide friend of his to do the grand tour of the famous rock hewn churches of Lalibela.

Literally carved out of solid masses of (relatively easily carved) tufa rock in the Twelfth Century, these churches, which are pretty complex and large, would be amazing if found in Turkey or Bulgaria or even France or Italy.  That they were made in Africa is usually seen as astonishing.  However, just as with Aksum a millennium earlier, Ethiopia at this time was just as connected to the Holy Lands, etc., as were, well, France and Italy.  And King Lalibela, who started the construction project, had spent twenty years traveling around the Mediterranean. 

Anyway, I usually like to just buy my entrance ticket, read a little from the guide book, and then sit around and absorb it all.  But now, with a guide, we were all being led from this point to that point, made to look up at that arch, led to the next church, all the while being told endless stories about monks and Jerusalem and King Lalibela's queen, and on and on and on.  Instead of my usually sharp memories, my mind was being filled with a giant jumble.

By noon we had finished with the first interconnected set of about seven churches, they closed the site, and we had to sit at a fancy restaurant doing nothing for two hours.  Then at two we went to the second set of about five churches, and walked up and down ladders, through tunnels, and from rock face to rock face.  It must have been the heat and lack of water, because by now I was starting to lose it, becoming dizzy and not being able to concentrate on all the arches and walls that the guide kept pointing out.  Some water was obtained, which helped.  But by the time we got to the last church, which is the biggest and best, I was kind of numb and dumb.

Back at the hotel Ana let on that she was feeling pretty wiped out, too.  So I figured that it wasn't just because I was an old man.  Anyway, since everyone else was leaving town tomorrow, I would have the weekend to myself and relaxation.  Which I would need, since Monday I was starting out on a 48 hour non-stop marathon making my way home.

But Saturday morning I was still feeling wiped out.  Okay, hang out in bed and look out at the vast vista until I get it together.  But at 4 I still felt crappy.  Though I still had enough energy to head off to another cliffside hotel, which was supposed to have one of the best restaurants in Ethiopia.  Then back to my room.

At around 8 all that delicious food came vomiting back up.  And now I was feeling really, really crappy.  Which continued throughout the night and throughout the next day, the last day before I had to start that 48 hour marathon.  Now I was getting worried.  Can you get malaria in Ethiopia?  When I pulled it together enough to go downstairs to talk to the hotel guy, he wanted me to go to the hospital.  That certainly wouldn't do the day before...   

That night Sara, the German girl from Bahir Dar, showed up.  She had been super sick in Aksum, and she had some extra hydration salts left over.  It must have helped, because Monday morning I was at least able to eat some breakfast and pack my bags.  Now started the marathon.

First, a minibus for 26 dirt km to the Lalibela airport.  On the way, though, I had them stop at a pharmacy to pick up some Cipro.  Yes, the stomach bug wasn't the worst ever; but there was no way I was going to make it anywhere without knocking it out first.  Then the prop flight to Addis by way of Gonder.

There was actually a construction zone between the domestic and international terminal, so I had to walk the long way around.  Then, with flights only going out late at night, the international terminal was pretty much shut down here at 3 PM.  Fortunately there was a little cafe, so I sat there for the next four hours, staring into space and trying to put some spaghetti nourishment in my body.  Finally check in at 7:30, through security and up the stairs, and then stare into space until 10, when it was time to board the plane.

Now sit in my seat in the plane for the next 18 hours.  That's right, 18.  Fortunately there were two empty seats next to me, so I was able to lie down and get 5 or 6 hours of sleep.  But it was the same bad selection of movies, so the entire rest of the time I was either reading a magazine or staring into space.

Dulles, minus about 8 time zones, the next morning at 8.  Then a five and a half hour flight to LA at noon.  Then a three hour wait until a flight back to ABQ.  Home at 10 Mountain Time.  So it was actually 50 hours.  While I was feeling pretty, pretty sick.  But who's counting?

Point is, I might be getting too old to be out there overpushing a body which was never all that sturdy to begin with.  I'm certainly still feeling it days later.  In fact, a bad cough I've had since Somaliland has now gotten worse.  So maybe it is finally time to stop with the Third World expeditions.  After all, I've pretty much run out of places to go to. 

On the other hand, though...

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Gonder-Aksum Axis

I don't want to give the misconception that somehow Ethiopia is becoming a developed country.  It has 92 million (eep!) people, and the vast majority of them are dirt poor, spending the vast majority of their time tilling the poor dirt.  In fact, the whole country is mostly just differing shades of brown dirt.

At least the northern part of the country is, and that's where me and most of the tourists end up going to.  It's called the Historical Circuit, and it basically consists of four different places.  Bahir Dar was the first of them, and that's where you take little boat trips to see the nearly identical monasteries.  Gonder was the next stop, and I was now on the four hour, fifteen minute bus ride (the LP always lists it at three hours) to this city of about 300,000 people.

Once I got there at about 12:30 my next task, as it often is in these situations, was to try and arrange something for the next day.  I had a tuk-tuk (they're actually officially called Bajaj in Ethiopia, though everyone ends up calling them tuk-tuks) take me to the moderately upscale Quora hotel, because I knew that they had a travel agency.  It was closed, so I left my stuff at the hotel and walked the half km or so to the Lodge de Chateau, which the LP had strongly recommended, and which I had contacted whilst still back in NM.

You see, I was trying to put together a one day tour to the Simien Mountains, which everyone seemed to think was the most amazing place in the world.  But, just as in Djibouti, if you just hired a car and driver by yourself, they would charge over $300.  The trick was to find some people who were already going, and then latch on to them.  The Lodge de Chateau itself was way funkier than the LP had suggested, and the Quora was cheaper to boot.  But the guy there said to come back at 3 because he might have a group of five heading out tomorrow.

So back to the Quora, where I hung out at their patio restaurant looking down on the nondescript downtown of Gonder.  Then back to the Lodge, where the guy said that they hadn't shown up.  The Quora was the much better hotel, though, so I started to trudge back there to sign in.  On the way I saw a little 'travel' office, so I stopped in and the girl there called up someone who said, yes, he did indeed have a tour tomorrow.  But he wanted $110.  I told him that I'd think about it.

For $34 the Quora gave a large clean room with marble floors and bathroom fixtures that actually kind of worked.  I waited about three hours before calling the travel guy back, and got him down to $80.  My next day was now set.

Saturday morning I was up bright and early for the 8 AM pickup.  At 8:30 I had the hotel call the guy, and he said he'd be over in ten minutes.  At 9 the van finally arrived.  In it were five trekkers who were each going on five day treks.  At about $100 a day.  I got to ride shotgun.

Now here's the thing about current day backpackers.  They're mostly nice, polite young people.  They mostly have steady jobs, or are on short hiatuses from somewhat established careers.  But travel for them seems to be a steady succession of xtreem adventures.  Like backpackers of old they almost neurotically stay at bad, supercheap backpacking hotels.  Then they'll pop $500 in order to punish themselves doing the exact same pseudo-dangerous treks, descents, bungee jumps or whatever that every other backpacker on the circuit is doing. 

And it was easy to compute as we were going along that the profit margins that the tour companies make are phenomenal.  It took three hours driving on an easy road to get to the small town of Debark, where we all signed in and picked up a cook and a guide for the trekkers.  Then this old man with a white beard and a white turban and a 150 year old rifle showed up, and the van driver said that he would be my 'scout'.  I couldn't understand what he was talking about.

But twenty km up a dirt road we went, and then the van stopped and they told me to get out.  Turns out that, while the van went further along to drop the trekkers off, my scout would take me on a two hour 'trek'.

The Simien Mountains are more properly a giant raised plateau, ending in a several thousand foot high escarpment.  Now I live in the Southwest, where there are escarpments all over the place.  But, as escarpments go, this one was pretty damn impressive.  My scout led me down the hill to the cliff edge, where I could sit and contemplate, plus enjoy the loaf of bread 'lunch' that had been included in the $80 fee.  It was kind of like southern Utah, only much grander, and instead of red or grey rocks, everything, from the escarpment to the endless badlands to the horizon, was dirt brown.

The scout was a really sweet guy, and he led me along a trail along the cliff edge.  Everything was covered with dry, brown slippery grass.  Also, this wasn't the Canadian Rockies.  The rest of the top of the escarpment, where all the trekkers would be trekking up and down and up again, all looked the same dull, slippery grass brown.  So that when we got to the end of our two hours (all downhill) I figured I had gotten what I needed from the Simiens, without having to submit myself to any stress or strain.

The illusion that my scout had walked straight out of 1870 was shattered when he pulled out his cell phone and called the van.  When it picked us up we drove around a corner, and there were about 15 or 20 of the small baboons who live in the Simiens.  All sizes and shapes, some were much uglier than others, which I've noted before when seeing troops of primates.  But they were all grooming each other (how many fleas can a baboon have?) and/or picking away at that dry brown grass, which seems to be their major source of nutrition.

They were totally nonplussed about someone standing five feet away, so I did that for awhile.  Then I went back to the van, we turned another corner, and there were way more than a hundred of them all neatly spaced on a really large open area, again all picking away at the grass.

Okay, check that off the list, too.  My Simien adventure was complete.  And I also got to hang out with the driver on the way back to Gonder.  You see, what I worry about with the young backpackers is that, what with their ziplines and white water rafting, they're really not paying any attention to the actual people and countries that are around them.  The whole world just becomes some adventure theme park.

Well, that's their problem.  Sunday morning I had set aside for the other reason that people go to Gonder: The ruined castle.  In the 1600s this was the capital of Ethiopia, and the kings then had built a succession of palaces/forts.  In a suitably ruined, though kept up, condition, the compound wouldn't have been out of place in Europe or Asia.  Okay, the truth is that those places have far more impressive ruins.  But the truth also is that nowhere else in Africa is there anything like this.  So it was actually kind of nice to walk around the crumbled buildings, climbing up the ramparts, walking down into the subterranean dark rooms. 

Now it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready to leave for the airport.  I'd finally (kind of) learned my lesson.  Not to mention that, since I had flown in on Ethiopian, I could get domestic flights for half price.  And that the alternative was taking a 14 hour (old crappy) bus ride up and down and up and down all those badlands that I had seen at the escarpment.  Plus the hotel, being a classy place, provided free shuttle service the 20 km or so to the airport.

It's hard to imagine an airport being smaller than Gonder's.  And the plane only left forty minutes late.  Then, thirty minutes after that, we were at the slightly larger airport at Aksum.  I quickly made friends with a middle class Ethiopian upon landing, and so I wasn't ripped off too much on the taxi ride into this town of about 30,000.

Aksum was actually a relatively advanced civilization around the Fourth Century AD, minting their own coins, controlling the hippo hide and ivory trade, etc. Most importantly, they were entirely connected with the rest of the ancient world.  So, archeologically speaking, it's a pretty interesting site.

But not too much has been dug up yet.  And the tourists come for the giant field of giant stelae, or obelisks.  I could hardly wait to see them myself.

When I walked over the next morning, though, I was pretty quickly disappointed.  First of all, there were only two tall stelae, with one of them held up by guy wires.  Nor were they all that awesomely tall.  Worse, the entire stelae area was only about a tenth of an acre at most.  Sure, there were a couple of excavated tombs and a small museum with some interesting items.  But I could quickly see that the two days I had set aside for Aksum were at least one day too many.

Oh, right next to the stelae field was Ethiopia's most important church, but it was built in 1965 so it looked way more Sunday school than sacred.  And right next to it is the most Holy of Holies, a small building that contains the true Ark of the Covenant.  Somebody should have told Indiana Jones and saved him a lot of effort.

So I went back to the Africa hotel ($10 a night; nothing worked).  Since this was Aksum's premier backpacker destination, it was filled with touts trying to sell excursions to the Danakil depression, another Great Rift phenomenon as in Djibouti.  Here, though, even if you joined a group it was about $500 for four or five days.  And I've been to both Death Valley and the Dead Sea.  How much more amazing could this place be?  Not to mention that one of the 'thrills' was climbing a 2000 foot volcano in the middle of the freezing night.  And bake in 130 degree temperatures the rest of the time.

Then there were the tours to the rock hewn churches of Tigray.  Even the LP said that everyone, especially the priests, were obnoxious once you got there.  Plus you had to scale vertical cliffs in the hot sun. 

Instead I was in bed before 9.

That was because the bus to Mekele left at 6 AM, and I was supposed to be there at 5:30.  So I walked the ten minutes or so uphill and found the bus park.  Except that they didn't even open it until 6:10.  Then everyone went running for the buses.  I snagged a semi-decent seat, and off we went at around 6:40.

This part of Ethiopia was slightly greener.  (And I imagine that during the summer rainy season the whole place gets less brown.)  Past endless fields and tiny villages.  I was in Tigray now, and here the houses were built with thin flat stones.

Another friendly middle class Ethiopian got us to the center of town, and here the premier backpacker hotel was a pretty friendly and clean place.  Since the museum/palace across the street was closed, there was nothing else to do except hang around in the restaurant and then go to bed once again.

Because this time I had to get up at 4 so I could be at the bus park at 4:30 so that I could get the Woldia bus at 5.  Once again, though, they didn't even open the gates until 5:15.  And this time I was the only white person in the giant scrum to get on the bus.

This bus had to stop for a flat tire (they were all totally bald), etc., so we didn't pull into Woldia until right before noon.  The touts here immediately tell every white person that there isn't a bus to Lalibela until the next morning.  An American couple from another bus, he with a suitcase about four times larger than my pretty large backpack, fell for it and followed a guy to a hotel.  I knew better though.

I knew that there almost definitely would be a minivan to Gashena, a town two-thirds the way to Lalibela.  And although the bus park people initially said that there wasn't one, it turned out that at least 15 of us wanted to go.  So somebody rounded up a spare minivan, and we all piled in.

Except that ten minutes later somebody came and said that they couldn't get 'permission', so we all piled out again.  One of us, though, was a middle class Ethiopian in a brown jacket, and he immediately set out to write all our names down and then go get an official contract van.

Which he did in about a half an hour.  So we all piled in and set out for Gashena at around 1 PM.  Up, up, and up we went.  All of Ethiopia is on a pretty high plateau, close to the 7000+ elevation that I live at in NM.  But when we got to Gashena we must have been past 10,000 feet.  It looked it, too.  Kind of like the high areas of Bolivia or Peru, with an even emptier brown to it all.  Pretty poor, too, even for Ethiopia.

It was now about 3:15, and I stood there at the Lalibela turnoff, hoping for some ride that I could flag down and then offer them money to take me along.  But nothing at all.  Well, I could always stay at another really crappy hotel...  But at around 3:30 a young guy came by and said that there was actually a bus coming from Lalibela in about ten minutes, and once it turned around it would take me there.  That sounded surprisingly hopeful.  But you can't ever believe what people tell you in these places.

Ten minutes later, though, another guy walked by and said the exact same thing.  And ten minutes after that, sure enough, a small bus was chugging its way into town.  I hurried lugged my stuff the 300 meters or so to where the bus stopped.

I've already remarked how friendly and modest Ethiopians are.  And also that the only exception is at some of the bus parks.  So when I got on this bus the driver annoyingly said that the 'foreigner' price was 150 birr.  I told him I would pay that if he would write a ticket receipt, but of course he wasn't going for that.  So finally I said I would pay 100 birr, and went back to my seat.

But when his flunkies came back to collect it I didn't feel like playing the game any more.  I said that I would pay whatever the regular price was.  Now they started getting really annoying, and said that I should get off the bus.  I said, 'No'.

Now they took it to another level and told all the poor Ethiopians to get off the bus, claiming that they weren't going to Lalibela tonight after all.  I said, 'How stupid do you think I am?  As soon as I get off, you'll tell them all to get back on.

They kept it up.  Finally I had had enough, and decided it was time for my Angry Person act.  Standing up to my full height, so that I was towering above the nearest one of them, I got right in his face and snarled, 'And are you going to make me get off the bus?

In a more martial society those would indeed have been fighting words.  But such cultures also usually have a strict code of honor which would make it unthinkable to try and rip off a foreign guest.

These guys folded like pages of bad origami.  One guy said meekly, 'Well, sir, the official fare is 40 birr.  So could you please give 70?'

But I wasn't letting up just yet.  'It's pathetic how you assholes made these poor people get off the bus.'  Then I pulled out a 100 birr note and waved it at them.  'You want a 100 birr, then take it.  After all, I'm a rich American!'

'No, sir, just 70 please.'

My years of working in diplomacy have taught me that you always need to give the other guy a way out, even if he's a total jerk.  So, point having been made, I gave them the 70, and all of a sudden transformed into Mr Nice Guy, smiling and shaking their hands just to show that there were no hard feelings.  Then I said semi-sternly, 'Now you let those other people back on the bus.'

Which they did.  And then we took off.


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Ethiopia, Take Two

The plane took off approximately on time at eleven. I figured that it was about an hour's flight to Addis, which was important, inasmuch as I had a carefully choreographed sequence of events I had to execute once we landed. But ten minutes after takeoff the pilot announced that we were about to descend to Dire Dawa, a dusty berg about fifty miles from Harar. Oh oh. This was going to mess things up.

An hour later the previously nearly empty plane was now full of Ethiopians traveling on, for them, a local flight. So I might have expected that when we landed at Addis the plane would roll past the international terminal—the place where you got those visas on arrival—and taxied up to the domestic one.
After everyone else had been cleared, there was only me, a Chinese businessman who didn't speak a word of non-Chinese, and two ethnically indeterminate guys. And an immigration lady who kept saying, 'Just wait'. It took at least twenty minutes for someone to commandeer a bus to drives us the hundred yards or so to the international terminal. Fortunately, it being the middle of the day, there was no line for the visas, so that part was pretty painless.
Out of the terminal and at the taxi line, I now had the look of someone who knew what he was doing, so the driver only slightly overcharged me for the ride past all the insane construction and into downtown. I had previously scouted out the Ras Hotel. Built around 1970, during the time of the Derg, the insane sadistic pseudo-Marxists, it was a shabby mess reminiscent of Soviet times. But it was extremely centrally located, and thus vital to my plans. I lugged my stuff in and brightly asked for a single.
'No rooms' the matronly manager said. Okay, that wasn't good. Think fast. 'Well, can I leave my things here for an hour?' 'Sure, why not?' Around the side to the left luggage room. Now a brisk fifteen minute walk through construction to the small bus ticket office. Where I snagged the last ticked to Bahir Dar. Yes! Back fifteen minutes to the Ethiopian Airlines office across the street from the Ras. Where, with typical crisp, intelligent Ethiopian Airlines efficiency the nice girl fixed up all my onward travel plans. And as a bonus called the National Museum to see if my camera was there. Of course not. But at least it saved me a useless taxi ride there and back.
I now remembered something from my travels to former Soviet hotels. When they tell you that they don't have a room, if you are pleasant and persistent, sooner or later they usually come up with something. So back across the street, where I tried my charm with the manager matron. Sure enough, twenty minutes later a room materialized. A really crappy one, with no wifi, for $34. But, triumphant, I fell back on the mushy bed. Missions accomplished. I still had it.
Next morning I was up at 4:30, brushed my teeth, and took a taxi the 1 km to the Meskel Square bus lot. The flip side of getting the last ticket is that you get the last seat, so there I was in the back corner, with my long American legs with nowhere to go. Totally coincidentally, once again the only other foreigner on the bus was sitting next to me. This time it was a 27 year old German girl named Sara, whose long legs were also squooshed, and who didn't handle motion sickness all that well, either.
On top of that the windows were mostly blacked out, so it was hard to see outside. What I did see was mostly unattractive brown fields and small hillsides, kind of like California in the summertime. All in all, though the ten hour ride went smoothly enough, and at a little before four we were deposited in the center of Bahir Dar.
This small city is situated on Lake Tana, Ethiopia's largest, and is thus a vacation destination for middle class Ethiopians. At a lower altitude than Addis, it is distinctively hot and humid, and is replete with palm trees. Descending from the bus, we were surrounded by a group of semi-annoying touts, whose purpose was to route us to a hotel. But it turned out that they weren't particular about which one, since they would get a commission from whoever. So we let one take us on a tuk-tuk (autorickshaw to you India hands) to a few of them. We settled on the NGG, which for $10 had decent backpacker rooms with hot water and wifi.
That evening I was sitting on the 'patio' of a semi-Ethiopian-hip cafe, overlooking the town and contemplating the country. By now, being reasonably well and rested, not to mentioned properly seasoned, I decided that I really liked the place. And I especially liked the people. They are markedly intelligent, moderate, and pleasant, and I was most impressed by their sense of self respect, which is usually pretty absent in really poor countries. Even the beggars are mostly polite. I've seen touts which are much worse. And the rest of the Ethiopian public is incredibly embarrassed and apologetic about them.
Speaking of touts, it turns out that their main purpose is to try and sell you a lake tour. Although they all work for the same company. So the only question is whether you pay $15, $20, or $25 for the exact same thing.
Anyway, next morning there was me, Lisa, a young German go-getter named Chris, a black bodybuilder from Brooklyn named Omar, and several sets of middle class Ethiopians, all sitting in our smallish tour boat with canvas roof and 25 hp motor. Off we went across brown, mostly stable water to a first, small island, which contained a first, small monastery. We each paid our $5 entrance fee.
When you hear the word 'monastery' you probably think of some giant Medieval structure, with old monks' quarters, a beautiful chapel, and sacred relics. Here the monastery consisted of a small round church, with an even smaller building nearby where a tiny monk showed us an old book. And that was it. I have absolutely no idea where any monks would live.
Feeling ripped off, we all got back on the boat, which dutifully motored on to another small island which, you guessed it, had another small monastery. This time none of the Westerners paid, although the Ethiopians did (they probably had a much, much lower rate). So we all stood around, appreciating the trees which surrounded us, while they trooped off.
Next our boat chugged over to a peninsula, and from the landing there was a three minute walk to another monastery, which was a somewhat larger circular church. I was the only Westerner to pay the $5 to go in, and when I did I was confronted with a circular interior wall which was covered head to toe with tens and tens of religious paintings. All of which I am sure illustrated well known Ethiopian Christian stories. But for me it was just innumerable people in halos slaying dragons and looking heavenward.
The entrance fee also covered a small museum, where contained various crosses and books and crowns. But with my 'camera' now being that $20 cell phone, good luck getting any pictures of that in the dark.
One more stop further down the peninsula. This time a fifteen minute walk through the woods uphill past innumerable souvenir stalls to an even larger church. Okay, this was definitely going to be a repeat of the last one. But, hey, I had just invested all that energy to get here, so I gave $5 more to see even more chockablock floor to ceiling religious paintings.
Strolling back down to the boat, I stopped to chat with the locals, as I am wont to do. Being a small businessman myself, I am always sympathetic to the plight of these stall keepers. Still, there are so many of them, and so few things that I want to/can buy.
Puttering back across the lake, we ended up where the Blue Nile exits the lake and begins its journey up to Egypt. Having also been at the spot in Uganda where the White Nile exits Lake Victoria, this was kind of neat for me. The Ethiopians, however, were intent on walking up the 'pier' to a fish 'restaurant', actually a little lean to where they were each served plates of two charred tilapia with their blank eyes helpfully removed. Omar, Chris, and the Ethiopians all dug in.
It was past 4:30 when our 'half day' cruise was finally over. Chris, Sara & I walked for a half mile or so along the lakefront, ending up at an (Ethiopian) upper end restaurant, where we used up the early evening eating and talking. Then it was time to slowly walk back and have a mango juice at that semi-hip cafe. And then retire for the evening.
The next morning Chris, Sara & Omar all took off for Gonder. But by now I've learned my travel lessons, and I took my mandatory Old Man Day Off. The past three days, which would have been fine and normal even ten years ago, actually would have been pretty exhausting for most normal people. And my age has now made me one of them. So I deliberately did absolutely nothing: Have a long breakfast; walk along the lake; stop for some coffee; more walk around the lake; rest in the room and get frustrated by the bad internet connections; walk around the lake; order a dinner which was exactly the same as my breakfast.
And that was about it.