Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bicycling up to the Palace and a Flat

The girls

Next, now the sun has lessened in intensity slightly, I go to rent a bicycle with Ishi, the younger of the two maid girls, who is very sweet but also doesn’t speak a word of English,

and for some reason leads me along a road full of bicycle rental places to a dodgy roadside place with just a few bikes. Presumably there’s a reason for this. I agree a price of 4 birr per hour for the bike they offer me, which is not great but will do, and set off. Through town, I cross the bridge over the Blue Nile, then start heading up the hill. Lots of people shout hellos or salaams to me.

Up the hill, I get a bit lost, but am soon pointed in the right direction by kids who keep coming up and walking or cycling along with me. It gets annoying very fast, as they all want to be my guide, and all want to exchange address with me. I think if I’d said yes to every request I’d have picked up about 30 pen-pals by the end of the afternoon! Before the palace, I reach the War memorial, supposedly for those who died fighting the Derg.

The road then runs along the valley high above the Nile, and passes through beautiful pastoral scenes.

The Blue Nile

Indeed it has an English autumnal feel – deep blue skies, brown leaves and grass, cool air, very pleasant.

It’s hard work up to the palace, and I end up walking as the road gets too bad, more from the state of the surface than the angle of ascent.

Up top, it’s a lovely view, but we can’t actually go into the palace (though it’s not clear whether there is royalty living there or not). Even up here, the kids are hassling me, which is pretty annoying, so I speed down the hill down the terrible bumpy surface. Of course the tyre goes. It slowly flattens, until I can feel the valve bumping on each revolution.

I cycle for a while until I find a bike shop, where I ask them to inflate it for me. They unfortunately pull off the valve, losing any residual air, then are unable to pump it up again, so I give them 2 birr for their efforts, and walk the remaining distance into town.

When I hand it over, I’m ready for an argument about who pays, but the kid who takes the bike off me says “Easy to fix” and just ask me to pay an extra half hour, or 2 birr, which I happily do.

Past the mosque

Atsedeweyn’s Zimmanesh Building

Afterwards, I talk with Atsedeweyn for a while, and we exchange addresses, before I have dinner with Alex, some more of the lamb, which this time is more tender, having been slow-cooked. Again, before retiring I head out with Alex for a beer, trying Meta, with a strange slightly sweet milky taste, then another I can’t remember. Bedele perhaps?

In the morning, the family are all going to the Debra-Mariam monastery for the day, and are all dressed up beautifully.

I’m given the typical Ethiopian breakfast, tea and plain bread.


After some photos, I walk them down to the boat, where there is a nun who has been trained classically and knows the whole bible, new and old testament, by heart!


We say goodbyes, and I head back for breakfast,

print some of the photos for them, use the internet, have lunch, then head to the airport. Ethiopian Air had told me to go to the airport early, as apparently the flights were leaving early from Bahir Dar – I should be there by 2pm for my 3:30pm flight, they say. Of course, I get there just before 2pm, to find that my flight is late and won’t be arriving until about 4:30pm. I’m the only passenger boarding!

Another Night in Bahir Dar After All
Update: oh no I’m not. The flight is cancelled, supposedly because of congestion at Addis Airport because of the African Union conference! What rubbish! Ethiopian Air only run half a dozen domestic flights a day anyway. And surely they should take priority over the ineffective AU and their frequent jollies?! This clearly isn’t the first time this has happened though, as we are quickly bussed to the Papyrus Hotel, with meal vouchers, and will be brought back the following morning.

Dinner I enjoy with Rob, Chris and Mary, three Brits who are in a similar predicament to myself. I order the curry rice dish, which comes highly recommended by the waitress. I receive a plate of rice, decorated with curry powder. Fortunately I have my last tube of Korean chilli paste with me, so use that to great effect. Unfortunately it’s a tube which had been open for a while, and, well, let’s leave it that the food came through with indecent haste that night!

So, morning comes, a bus back to the airport, and it’s very busy. Obviously there are about 30 people from yesterday who were bumped, plus the usual allocation of people. Naturally anticipating this, having known about it since yesterday afternoon, Ethiopian Air have laid on precisely zero extra staff – we have a single rushed girl servicing about 60 people. To her credit, she does a good job, though she does put me on the second of two flights that eventually go to Gonder.

Whilst we wait for the planes, we watch Ethiopian Air Force fighter jets take off and land, doing practice runs. On landing they use parachutes to slow down. There is some speculation as to whether it’s just the same single plane repeating manoeuvres.

1 comment:

Paul Hawkins said...

Hey Sam,
I've just discovered your site! Fantastic, I'll be looking all the time from now on.
What you are doing is my dream!
I did a bit when I was younger - 20-21 in Israel and Greece. Then I travelled quite extensively on business in my early 30's, Japan, Korea, Aus, NZ, all Scandanavian, most of Europe, bit of US.... But it was all business and so you dont get to have a good look about or meet people etc.
Just family holidays now though... I have started trekking (fund raiseers for charity) though. I did Mt Olympus (Greece) in 2005. The follwoing year I did a 5 day trek on the Mt Blanc tour. This year I'm supposed to be doing Mount Kenya (10 day trip)but I might plan something independently as these organised things are so dear (albeit for good cause).
Anyway, enjoy. I'll start reading the rest of the blogs now!
Paul Hawkins