Location: Austin, TX -- AA PLT 2.8MM+ (life PLT); QF Silver; IHG PLT Ambassador; UA Silver
Ethiopia Adventure for $274.. IAD-ADD-LLI-BJR-ADD-IAD on Ethiopian Airlines
I recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia, courtesy of the$0+tax companion fare mistake. I went with a travel buddy of mine during spring break, we had scheduled 4 days on the ground. Our trip would take us from Austin to IAD on United where we would spend the night, connecting to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, all-in for $274 R/T each. I had wanted to visit Ethiopia for some time, so when this deal came up I jumped on it. We wanted to visit some other parts of the country, specifically the rock carved churches in Lalibela and monasteries of Lake Tana. I was able to book a circle trip on Ethiopian from Addis to Lalibela, Lalibela to Bahar Dar, and Bahar Dar back to Addis for $140 each. After booking the original mistake fare, we wanted to change our tickets for a side trip to Somaliland or Djibouti, but no availability was showing for the return date. We planned to check on changing our return when we reached Addis. For the overnight stop in Washington, I was able to get the Crowne Plaza Dulles on priceline for $52 all-in. The hotel has a complimentary shuttle and was very close to the airport.
March 13, 2008
Flight: Austin (AUS) to Washington DC(IAD), United Airlines 7228, CR7, Economy, miles earned: 1294 (UA)
Hotel: Crowne Plaza Dulles, $53
I set off for the airport early today as it was the middle of SXSW (big Austin music festival) and Spring Break at the University of Texas and was concerned about the airport security lines. My fears were unfounded luckily as when I arrived the airport wasn't busy at all. I had already checked in online for my United flight and had printed the boarding passes the night before. Normally I try to carry on my backpack but since the flight was on a CR7 and we would be spending the night in Washington anyway I dropped off my bag at checkin. Security only took about 5 minutes at the western side of the terminal. After grabbing lunch at Mangia Pizza, I settled into the Admirals Club in Austin to wait out the next few hrs. My friend D was driving up from San Antonio, he arrived a few minutes later, I was able to guest him into the lounge as well. We finally walked down to gate 21, by this time the airport was much busier. When we arrived at the gate some confusion arose as an earlier United flight went mechanical during pullback. They switched our gate to 23 quickly and were able to start boarding our flight only a few minutes late. I hadn't flown United in some time, and never on their CR7, so had never seen their First configuration before. Unfortunately I had to keep moving back to row 11 in cattle class. We ended up pushing back only 10 minutes late but then sat around for another 10 minutes before taking off.
The 3hr flight was otherwise uneventful and we arrived into Dulles terminal D about 10 minutes late. We rode the moonbuggies to the main terminal, then had to go all the way down to belt 1 to pickup our bags. We were pretty hungry by this time, but there wasn't much open this late at night. We then caught the shuttle to the hotel and checked in. The Crowne Plaza is one of the closest hotels to Dulles, located on Centreville Rd just off the toll road. We definitely got the priceline room, clear at the end of the hall. Apparently the hotel had just been renovated so the room was fine and no noise. We had noticed a few restaurants across the street and walked over to TGIFriday's for a late dinner. It was past 11 when we finished so we called it a night when we got back.
March 14, 2008
Flight: Washington DC (IAD) to Addis Ababa (ADD), Ethiopian Airlines 503, 767, Economy, miles earned: 7195 (LH)
An early wakeup call this morning at 7 AM, we planned to catch an early shuttle at 8AM to the airport to get through checkin early. Our flight was supposed to depart at 10:30, but from past performance always ran late. There were quite a few other people waiting on the shuttle, including the TACA airlines crew. They had to bring a bigger bus! When we arrived at 8:10 there was already a line at the Ethiopian counter, only about 15 people ahead of us but the line was moving very slowly. We finally reached the counter about 8:50, the line behind us was much longer at this point! The line was a mix of Ethiopians and gringos, we were surprised to see so many backpacker types. Ethiopians are quite striking looking, a distinctive look different from other Africans. Checkin went smoothly and they didn't mention anything about the fare we paid. I handed the agent my Lufthansa card for mileage credit, but the agent didn't seem to know what to do with it; Ethiopian is a fairly recent addition to Miles-and-More, but you'd think they would know about it! We received our boarding passes and headed to security, only to arrive immediately after a large group of schoolgirls. Luckily the TSA soon opened an extra line just for them. I hadn't flown much since they started the loupes+lights thing, and hadn't noticed them doing this yet in Austin, but the agent here did the routine with my DL, then asked me if I was a Cowboys fan since I'm from Texas. I said no which shut him up. So finally we were through security, an hour after arriving at the airport!
The Ethiopian flight departs from Terminal D, near the Admirals club, so we had to board the moonbuggies again for the short ride over to the terminal. The flight screens were showing an hour delay on the Addis flight, which meant we now had two hours to kill. We grabbed breakfast and spent awhile in the Admirals club; I had wanted to check email but both computers were in use by kids the whole time we were there. We walked around the terminal awhile and I picked up a book for the trip and took some photos of the Ethiopian 767 from the gate. Finally we started boarding around 11:15, 45 minutes after we were supposed to depart. We had seats in the middle of row 17. Economy was laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration, seats are blue/green/yellow cloth with seatback video (mine wasn't working). The cabin was very clean. The pitch was pretty tight, made worse by the video box under the seat which only gave about 4" clearance underneath, this meant I wasn't really able to stretch out my legs (I'm 6'). The best seats seemed to be in exit-row (30?) which had a good 4-5' in front of them. We received an amenity kit containing yellow eyemask and socks, and toothbrush/toothpaste. We took off just after noon, so about 90 minutes late. The Ethiopian flights from IAD make a fuel stop in Rome in the middle of the night in both directions; all in flying time is around 15 hrs, 8 hrs from DC to Rome, an hour stop, then an additional 6 to Addis. Passengers weren't allowed off the flight in Rome, it's a technical stop for refueling and crew change only. Three good meals were served enroute.
March 15, 2008
Flight: Addis Ababa (ADD) to Lalibela (LLI), Ethiopian Airlines 126, F50, Economy
Hotel: Jerusalem Guesthouse, $45
We arrived this morning into Addis, coming in for approach we could see how mountainous Ethiopia really is. The Blue Nile river cuts a huge gash through the northern part of the country. Addis sits at over 7500', which gives it a pleasant climate despite being so close to the equator, temperatures are pretty constant year-round. Our flight landed at 9:30 and disembarked via jetbridge. We were one of the first econ pax to get to immigration. Ethiopia requires a visa for US citizens but this can be obtained upon arrival, there is a little office just before immigration where you pay $20 and get a visa (full page) in a few minutes. The airport is pretty nice and new. Immigration was a breeze as the agent welcomed us to Ethiopia, and we didn't have to wait for our bags as we had carried them on with us. We planned to fly straight to Lalibela that day, originally our flight was scheduled @ 1PM, but I had checked our itin before we left and noticed the Lalibela flight departure had changed to 3PM. We were able to checkin for our flight and got rid of our bags, although our boarding passes and departure board still had the original 1PM departure time.
We had some time to kill and wanted to see about changing our return flight to give us an extra 3-4 days, but amazingly there isn't an Ethiopian airlines office at the airport. After checking the Lonely Planet arranged a taxi to take us to the closest office then return us to the airport. Stepping out of the airport things were amazingly calm, no line of people hassling you for taxis, hotels, etc. Weather was gorgeous, sunny and 70 degrees. Most of the taxis were old LADA (Ethiopia had a communist government in the 1970s) or Fiat cars. We drove to the office on Bole Road, past billboards touting the Ethiopian Dreamliner (787). Most signs were in English only, or English and Amharic. Ethiopia has their own alphabet, language, calendar and clock. Ethiopia is the only country still on the Julian calendar; their New Year's day is September 11 and they are 7 years behind, so this is still their year 2000. Their clock is also offset by 6 hrs (most shops have both times displayed). The office turned out to be very close, within walking distance really. No luck changing our tickets though, there wasn't O-class available returning to DC on Saturday and the agent didn't seem interested in putting us on the waitlist. We went back to the airport, by now the departure board was showing the later departure time of 3PM. It was only 11 AM so we still had 4 hrs to kill so we decided to walk into town and see a big church we had seen from the road. The huge Medhane Alem cathedral is the largest in Ethiopia (2nd largest in Africa) and was only completed in 2005. The cathedral was closed so we could not see inside.
We were near the Somaliland liason office and wanted to check on getting a visa; we walked some more along the streets past Kaldi's Coffee (Starbucks clone, they even use the same font), then down a side street in the embassy district. Lots of nice houses in this area, with big fences and razor wire. The Somaliland office was down another side street near the South African ambassador's residence, but it being a Saturday the visa section was closed. We planned to come back again when we returned to Addis on Tuesday. Next we headed to an Indian place nearby for lunch, where we had our first Ethiopian beer, St. George. Pretty good but low alcohol content. The bill came out to like $8 for both of us. We liked Ethiopia already! We then caught a cab back to the airport. All taxis & minibuses here are painted blue with a white roof. Prices weren't so cheap, the cab ride back to the airport was $4.50 for maybe a mile and a half. We still had some time to wait for our flight, which showed yet another delay. We were a bit confused as the gates are past immigration, but there wasn't anyone at the desks so we just walked through. There were several shops once past security, but most weren't open yet. Finally our flight starts boarding at 3:45. We go downstairs to get on the bus, only to have the bus break down after moving 10 feet and it took 20 minutes to get another bus! Our flight was on a Fokker 50 turboprop which was parked in front of the old terminal building. All internal flights are open seating, despite what your boarding pass says. We didn't get to keep our boarding passes anyway, they collect one section at the gate then the stub when you get on the plane.
The flight to Lalibela was about two hrs, with a stop in Bahar Dar along the way. Drinks and a piece of poundcake were served on all our internal flights. Most of the passengers got off in Bahar Dar. We finally arrive at the airport in Lalibela around 5PM; it was gorgeous late afternoon sunlight. The terrain was very mountainous and dry, similar to western parts of the USA. We had pre-arranged a hotel and transfer, but there were several desks at the airport for local hotels, so it would have been OK to arrive without a hotel reservation. The airport is some 15 miles from Lalibela town itself, which is higher up on the mountain ridge. The road was in good condition as we passed amazing scenery of mud and stick huts, herds of goats, and locals walking along the road. Much poorer here than in Addis. We checked into our hotel, the Jerusalem Guesthouse. It was very basic given the price ($45/night), transfer from the airport was $9. The room had two single beds and a shower (they did have hot water) but with a gorgeous view out over the valley.
One of the hotel guides asked us if we wanted a tour for the next day. It was just about sunset so he took us for a walk over to a viewpoint but by then the sun had gone behind a cloud. We then walked back up into town (we could feel the altitude, Lalibela is 2700m!) and to a local tej bar. Tej is the local honey wine, which comes in nonalcoholic, mild, or knock your socks off. We tried the mild kind, it was OK enough. The bar had local tapestries and art around the walls, and a place for serving coffee. Ethiopia being the birthplace of coffee, it is a serious business here, with a whole ritual. The coffee is brewed over charcoal brazier, then served in small cups with lots of sugar. Popcorn is served with the coffee. After the tej bar, we headed back to our hotel for dinner. This was our first Ethiopian meal; we ordered injera with tibs. Injera is the Ethiopian spongy bread made from fermented dough. You use the bread to pickup food, no forks allowed, and you use your right hand only! The tibs was grilled lamb with garlic. Yummy and good. It had been a long eventful day and tomorrow promised to be just as busy. We planned to visit the 11 rock carved churches of Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Location: Austin, TX -- AA PLT 2.8MM+ (life PLT); QF Silver; IHG PLT Ambassador; UA Silver
March 17, 2008
Flight: Lalibela (LLI) to Bahar Dar (BJR), Ethiopian Airlines 127, F50, Economy
Hotel: Hotel Summerland, $45
We woke up at 6 AM this morning. The shower did have hot water, but the water had a very strong iron/rust/sulphur smell, and the water pressure was negligible. I guess that explained the lack of a shower curtain. We had breakfast (included) at the hotel before meeting our guide around 7AM. He had his 'official' guide jacket on. We walked back up into town and to the ticket office. We noticed the two-story huts that were typical for the area. Several new hotels had been built in this style. Today was Sunday, so there were hundreds of worshipers around the churches, many come and sleep outside overnight. It was a mass of people, most in white robes but there were occasional splashes of color. Although it wasn't supposed to open until 8AM the ticket office was already open at 7:30, the ticket price had recently doubled to 200 birr ($22). The churches at Lalibela have been hewn from the rock, some of them are 2 or 3 stories tall. Most date back to the 11th/12th century. The UN has started putting up scaffolding and roofs to protect the more vulnerable churches from the elements. Some of the churches are damaged from earthquakes or just wear and tear. The king Lalibela had visited Jerusalem, and had a vision that he was supposed to build a new Jerusalem in Ethiopia; when he returned he started a massive church construction program. Thousands of workers were needed, and it was said the angels continued the work at night. Each church was different style, some were Axumite style with alternating levels carved to look like wood beams and false windows, other churches had Greek crosses or swastikas. All around the churches were pilgrims and monks praying and chanting. You have to take your shoes off to enter the churches, there are carpets on the floor to help soften but you are still walking on bare uneven rock. ouch. Most churches were very dim inside, some were painted or had amazing colored religious themes (St. George was very popular). Each church has its own priest and church treasures, usually these are crowns and crosses, which they bring out to show to tourists. Most priests look really bored when they do this, I imagine they do this many times a day. The priests put on sunglasses when you take flash photos, which does make for cool pictures. You leave a tip of $0.50-$1 per church. Each church cross is different, there is a Lalibela style cross which has a cross in the middle surrounded by a horseshoe shaped curve with 12 tines representing the apostles. Most of the crosses are hundreds of years old. A few years ago, one was stolen and sold to a tourist, luckily it was recovered. The UN has also been working on cataloguing Ethiopia's treasures to ensure this doesn't happen again. Most churches also have their own Bibles. Many of these are hundreds of years old as well, printed and illuminated in bright colors on goatskin in Ge'ez, an ancient language. The alphabet is the same as Amharic, but the words are only known to the old priests (does this make them Geezers?)
There are 11 churches in total, in three different groups. We finished the first (Northern) group by 9 AM, then walked down through town to the Bet Giorgis church. This is the most famous of the churches in Lalibela, it is cross-shaped and still in good enough condition to not require scaffolding. We were in luck too, the church service was still going on and there were several dozen worshippers standing on the other side of the church. Most of the churches are too small to actually hold services, so they are held outside with the priest on a loudspeaker. Most photos I have seen of the St. George church don't have people in it, so it was nice to get photos with locals in the background! The church is quite amazing, the pit surrounding it is maybe 50-60 feet wide, and another 30 feet deep. There is a side tunnel that leads down to the bottom. Several alcoves lined the side of the pit, some of them contained mummified skeletons. This was probably the most scenic of the churches, with moss growing on the side. When we came out of the church the service was over, so we had just gotten there in time. I don't think we had seen another tourist this whole morning! The Southern group of churches were next... these weren't as impressive as they were in worse condition, and we were starting to get tired/thirsty by this time. However saving the best for last, after going through a dark tunnel some distance we emerged at Bet Emmanuel, another Axumite style church in good condition. We headed back to the hotel for lunch, and to checkout. Our flight to Bahar Dar wasn't until 4 PM so we still had a little time to kill. Our guide suggested visiting another monastery nearby that had more manuscripts. The monastery was on the way to the airport, they could take us there, drop us off then come back and pick us up when they took the other guests to the airport later that afternoon. The guide was really expensive though, $60 for the day when probably that's more than most Ethiopians earn in a month. We had noticed prices had gone up on most things anywhere 10%-200% from the prices in the Lonely Planet and the book was only a year old, and that's due not the decline of the dollar. The USD-Birr rate has been pretty stable, if anything it's one of the few currencies that has been heading in a favorable direction. We went souvenir shopping and bought a few crosses before heading to the new monastery. This one was different from the others, not carved out of the rock but built into the side of a cliff like a pueblo village. 'Holy' water dripped from the ceiling into a pool. The church treasures here included some beautiful manuscripts and crosses. As we emerged from the monastery, several villagers had set out handicrafts to sell. I bought a beautifully carved gourd for a few $ that had been used to store butter; it looked nice but I ended up ditching it later as it smelled horrible, even after washing it several times. But at least my money went to help the locals directly there. As we were waiting for the bus, some boys invited me to play foosball for $0.10. I won the first goal but then lost the rest of the match after getting grease from the spin pole all over my hands! The hotel shuttle soon picked us up and we were on our way to the airport. There are only a few flights a day and everyone shows up at once, even though our flight was still almost 2 hrs away. The airport is tiny, just a few checkin desks and a cafe upstairs. There is also a souvenir stall here, the prices were actually pretty comparable to those we had seen in town. Finally our flght arrived for the quick trip to Bahar Dar, the flight is only about 30 minutes. Much quicker than the overland trip which can take two days! We had spent 24 hrs in Lalibela, and I think that was plenty of time to see everything there. There are other churches further afield if you have more time to visit.
After arriving in Bahar Dar had a bit of a scare as only one of our bags came through; turnarounds are quick on ET flights but luckily they found my bag! By the time we had come out of the terminal there was only one taxi left, ours was the last flight of the day and we were the only passengers getting off here. The ride into town was 60 birr, about $6.50. Very different scenery here in Bahar Dar than Lalibela, much flatter here but there are volcanic cinder cones all over. We had reserved a room at the Summerland, a new hotel on the main street. Same price ($45) as the Hotel Jerusalem and nicer. We had a bit of a wait till they could find a room with two single beds, meanwhile we arranged for a trip out to the monasteries and the Blue Nile falls for the next day. We went down the street to a nearby restaurant for dinner, excellent and delicious fish with St. George beer while we watched people walking down below on the street. All this for $4! We liked the feel of Bahar Dar, the main street was lined with palm trees and there were couples and single women walking down on the street even after it got dark; not something I had usually seen in other parts of Africa. Ethiopia felt like a very safe place. After dinner, we decided to check out a local wandering minstrel bar the book had recommended, the Belageru club was just around the corner from the hotel. It was so much fun! It was a tiny place, only could hold maybe 30 people. The singers come out and play bawdy lyrics, while audience members clap to the tune. Dancers come out and try to get the audience to come and dance; we being the only foreigners there of course the girls came up to get us to dance! I don't need much an excuse so got up and danced for awhile, what a blast! I was quite exhausted by this point, jetlag was finally starting to kick in so we went back to crash.
Very nice trip report, hauteboy. I have also traveled to LLI and BJR on Ethiopian Airlines in the past and this thread brings back many memories. However, it has been a few years since I took ET last long-distance and I was wondering if you could write a bit more about the inflight experience, i.e. seats, meals, IFE etc. I remember that they revamped their widebody fleet after my last visit, so I'm really wondering how the new planes are.
The Ethiopian flights were fine, but only 1 of our 5 flights left on time. The flight from DC was on a 767, it departs from the D-terminal near the Admirals Club. Three meals are served enroute to Addis, dinner/lunch after takeoff, a snack before arriving in Rome, then breakfast before arriving in Addis. I have some pics of the meals on my flickr page. They offer a fasting food (vegetarian) menu. The Rome stopover is in the middle of the night and is for crew change only, all passengers stay in their seats. All econ seats had chair-back video (IFE), although mine was not working, so not able to comment on it. Seating is 2-3-2 in Economy class, pitch is rather tight, made more so by the video box under the seat, only gives 4-5" clearance so not much room to put things/legs under the seat. I had trouble stretching out. The seats themselves were blue+light green cloth. The exit row (30?) have the best legroom, several feet of space. This is a 2-class flight. Biz class is 2-2-2, followed by a mini econ-cabin maybe 4 rows, then the main econ cabin.
We had three internal flights, Addis to Lalibela, Lalibela to Bahar Dar and Bahar Dar to Addis. All these flights were on Fokker 50 turboprops, with open 2x2 seating (the boarding pass says differently, one of mine said 22K!) Unfortunately they collect the entire boarding pass so you don't get to keep the stub. They serve drinks and a piece of pound cake on these flights.
Our return flight to DC was on a different 767, this one did not have seat-back IFE, these seats were a blue leather. This flight was completely full, and there were probably 8-10 people adopting babies on our flight. One of the babies screamed the whole way back.
Location: Austin, TX -- AA PLT 2.8MM+ (life PLT); QF Silver; IHG PLT Ambassador; UA Silver
March 17, 2008
Hotel: Hotel Summerland, $45
Today we had arranged a tour to go out to the island monasteries in the morning, then in the afternoon we would go out to the Blue Nile falls. The Blue Nile starts its journey from Lake Tana, the largest in Ethiopia. There are a dozen or so monasteries scattered on islands throughout the lake. Breakfast at the hotel took forever, in general you can't be in a hurry to eat in Ethiopia. We had to ask for a bottle of water several times before finally going down to the bar and just buying one. And it turns out breakfast wasn't included for the $45. Our ride wasn't here yet so we spent a few minutes out on the street just watching people go by. They had tuk-tuks here, painted bright blue like the other public transportation. Finally our minivan arrives and takes us to a nearby park where the boats to the islands depart. It was pretty warm already (80's) and was wondering about being in the sun for several hrs, but it turned out all the motorboats were covered. We were still waiting on another group to arrive, so wandered around the park for a few minutes and discovered a troop of green monkeys swinging in the trees. The other group arrived, turned out they were Americans as well, a family from Virginia with two cute daughters. The eldest daughter was living in Ethiopia working as a photographer.
The ride to the first monastery took maybe 30-40 minutes, the first one we visited was Entos Eyesu. We disembarked onto a lava breakwall and wandered into the forest. The island was covered with lush tropical vegetation, there were banana and papaya trees, coffee, etc. We paid our entrance fee, then the priest opened the doors to the monastery. This one was pretty small, a round building maybe 25' in diameter. We all had to take off our shoes and the girls had to go in a different entrance. The walls inside were covered with brightly painted religious themes and Bible stories. This monastery must have been newer or refurbished as the paintings looked brand new. The priest stood by reading from his book the whole time we were there. Wandering back down the hill, we found another priest sitting outside studying a beautifully illuminated book. We bought some fresh bananas and papaya to much on before getting back on the boat.
The next monastery we visited was Khebran Gabriel. No women were allowed in this monastery, one of the oldest in the lake and dating back to the 1300's. The girls had to stay behind while we walked up the hill. The guide here showed off some of the church treasures, these were the most impressive we had seen, more crosses, crowns and goatskin books. The monastery itself was huge, but again in the same style as the first we had seen. The main building is round with a square internal sanctum. There were 12 pillars representing the apostles. The paintings here were definitely much older, but still very vivid colors. After Khebran Ghabriel, the boat headed towards the start of the Blue Nile and the Debra Maryam monastery. The ride took about 40 minutes. Sometimes hippo and croc can be seen around the river but we only saw flocks of birds. We passed by several papyrus reed boats along the shore before disembarking. The walk to this monastery led through qat fields; qat or chat being a mild narcotic commonly chewed in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. This was another impressive monastery, the priest here seemed quite proud to show off the books! This was our last stop and we headed back towards Bahar Dar.
We had lunch at the same hotel we'd eaten the night before, then went to the Ethiopian airlines office to see about changing our tickets again. Unfortunately they said we'd have to do that in Addis, they couldn't check the availability here. We had a short nap then before our guide came to pick us up for the trip out to the Blue Nile falls. The other group had backed out, so it ended up just being the two of us in a minivan. The road soon left town and turned to dirt, passing by mud hut villages, fields of sugarcane, and people walking everywhere. Amazing scenes of daily Ethiopian life! The landscape was quite flat and dusty here. It took almost an hour to go the 30km to Tis Abay village. Once we arrived, several 'helpers' offered to be guides. There are two ways to visit the falls, one is long and flat, or the other is short but a walk uphill. We decided to do the 2nd one! After buying our tickets it's about another km past the hydroelectric plant to the start of the trail. The Falls aren't as big as they used to be since they built the hydroplant, but we were lucky today as one of the turbines was offline and the water flow was more than usual. It took about 40 minutes to walk to the falls, across an old Portuguese bridge and up the hill through a small village. The view of the falls was quite impressive, water tumbling off the lava escarpment, but only 1/4 probably what it would be in full flow. The drive back to town was similar, this time we saw kids who were on their way back from school.
For dinner we wanted to try out a place recommended for their fresh fish; we hopped in a tuk-tuk on the street for a ride of maybe a mile and a quarter, then he wanted $5! That seemed quite outrageous, but he wouldn't back down from $4. To top it off he'd taken us to the wrong restaurant, this one didn't have the fish! We ended up getting the national food plate, injera bread with tibs, kitfo (steak tartare), etc. We decided to walk back to the hotel, it was darker part of town here but there were still women and couples walking around so we figured it was still safe. We went back to the Belageru club for more minstrel music. The same dancers were here tonight, but it was a different singer. One tradition here is tipping the dancers, you stick a 10 birr bill to their forehead to tip them. Well when the dancers got me up again tonight, I must have been doing a good job because another one of them came over and gave me a 1Birr tip!!
March 18, 2008
Flight: Bahar Dar (BJR) to Addis Ababa (ADD), Ethiopian Airlines 121, F50, Economy
Flight: Addis Ababa (ADD) to Washington DC (IAD), Ethiopian Airlines 500, 767, Economy, miles earned: 7195 (LH)
Our last day in Ethiopia, we had an early flight out this morning back to Addis. We ran into the American family again in the hotel lobby, they were going to Gondar today. It's a 17 minute flight or 4 hours in a bus. Checkin at the airport went quickly and we headed upstairs to grab breakfast when I heard my name called on the loudspeaker. I went down to find out they wanted to examine D's bag, he had bought a souvenir cross in Lalibela and they were just making sure he wasn't trying to steal a real one! Early morning is rush hour at Bahar Dar airport, two flights showed up at the same time. Our flight to Addis this morning actually left and arrived on time, the only one of our Ethiopian flights that did! We arrived in Addis at 10AM had all day to kill, we were still hoping to change our tickets to visit Somaliland, but if not our flight back to the US left at 10PM. Visiting Somaliland would have involved a 20 hr ride in a minivan, first going overland to Harar, then overland again to Hargeisa in Somaliland. Normally you can fly nonstop from Addis on Ethiopian Airlines , but the outbound was showing sold out. We would then fly back to Addis from there and connect directly to the flight back to the US.
We were able to leave our bags at the Addis airport and caught a cab to the Ethiopian office. No luck again for Saturday, they did offer to put us on a waitlist for the Friday flight, but that did not give us enough time to get to Somaliland and back. Stymied, we decided to go to the Somaliland office anyway, if nothing else to get a souvenir visa! It was within walking distance, so we headed there before they closed for siesta. The visa only took a few minutes to issue, cost $40 and they needed a passport photo. We passed the 'interview' with the ambassador there, he had lived in Seattle for some time. But now we were pretty resigned to having to head back to the US today. Next we caught a cab across town to the Ethiopia National Museum, where they have the Lucy skeleton (not the real one, currently it is in Houston!) The museum had old bones and stones in the basement, then tribal weapons/clothing/etc on the top floor. There was also a huge wooden throne that had belonged to Haile Selassie.
For lunch, we headed across the street to the Blue Tops restaurant. This is popular with expats and has delicious homemade pasta and icecream. It was also our most expensive meal in Ethiopia, and it came to $6.50! We walked up the street some more to the Yekatit 12 monument to the martyrs killed during the Italian occupation, then over to the Ethnographic museum, part of Addis University. They had a very impressive set of pottery and other tribal artifacts, much better organized and presented here than they had been at the National Museum. The museum is in Haile Selassie's old palace; you can see his 'throne' room (blue toilet) and his wife's bathroom (pink). Next we caught a cab to the Piazza area and St. Georges Cathedral. From there, we walked down Churchill Rd to the Derg monument in front of the hospital. The Derg were the communist government during the 70's, and this was a very soviet style obelisk monument, giant red star on top. It was located in the 'Ethiopia-Cuba Friendship Memorial Park'. The Sheraton Addis was nearby so we decided to walk over there to check it out. It's quite out of place in the rest of Addis, very opulent with fountains and well manicured gardens. As we were leaving, some street kids attached themselves to us, assuming we were staying there. We only had a few hrs left, but had been walking for quite awhile. We caught a cab to a British pub close to the airport, our last meal in Ethiopia was cornish pasties with chips, served by a West Indian Rasta! We then walked to the airport and checked in for our flight back to the US. We mentioned that since tonight's flight was full, could we take Saturday's instead? But still no luck, they said the Saturday flight was full (as it turned out, O-class opened up the day after we left, we could have done the Somaliland trip after all!!! ). We noticed lots of couples adopting Ethiopian babies were going to be on this flight; we saw at least 6 babies! We still had quite a bit of a wait, as our outbound flight to the US ended up leaving 45 minutes late. This flight was a 767 as well, but did not have seatback IFE. These seats were blue leather instead of the cloth. The flight was quite full, but did have a few empty seats. The worst bit was the baby express; most were seated in the rows just in front of us, and one of them had quite a set of lungs. Though finally they all settled down and I was able to get some rest. The flight stopped again in Rome to refuel and change crew, and we arrived in Washington around 9:30AM. So that brings an end to the Ethiopian adventure.