Fortunately, Ethiopian visas are issued to Americans on arrival for the sum of 50 dollars USD. Unfortunately, these visas are single-entry so I’ll have to get two before my time in Africa is up. I lament the space lost in my passport, but seeing as I’ll spend most of the next year trapped on a tropical island I don’t imagine I’ll need more than a few blank pages for the coming months. If anything, I am more worried about spending the cash and would rather pay with card or local currency. Neither option is feasible due to poor exchange rates, and so I buy the visa and get out.
I am able to talk a cab driver down from 500 (roughly 17 USD) to 300 Birr (10 USD) for the ride to my hostel, though I learn even that is far above market price for the 10-minute ride. It is a Tuesday night, and as the city grows dark and cold I become increasingly sick and achy. I take my second malaria dose for the day, and grab a drink at the bar before setting up my bookings for the following days. I want to visit Hargeisa, Somaliland while I am here, so I book a morning flight for the day after. I also call friends and family, notifying them of my overnight continental drift. Plus, I figure I should tell them where I am now, so that they don’t grow worried in a couple of days when I don’t tell them my location during my Somali trip. I find it is better to tell parents of a trip to places like Somalia or Iraq only after you’ve left. Tell me I’m irresponsible, but you can bet I’d be talked out of such great experiences if I gave my parents the option. I also keep my illness to myself. This way everyone is happy.
I awake feeling like a cocooned butterfly under a stack of sheets and fleece blankets an inch thick. If I had a cold, it is cured. If I had malaria, the pills wiped it out. Addis is malaria-free, so I don’t have to worry about my twice-daily doses. I still take my morning capsule, just in case, before exploring the city.
I step out of the hostel and try to make it to the main road. A Polish man, whom I shared a room with the night before, is standing on a corner, looking at a paper map and getting called at by Ababan passersby. I have a map downloaded, so I cross the street to give him some assistance. We chat, and I learn his is doing a similar trip to me, bopping around the Horn over the course of a couple weeks. He needs to get to a travel agency, and when I plot it I realize it is on my way. I happily agree to take the man, named Adam, under my wing.
We find no buses going our way, and cabs aren’t pulling over. Now, it is both of us who feel lost, and a cafe owner tells us to sit down and have a cup of coffee while she calls her cab driver-friend. We sip our 30-cent cups, which are garnished with bitter herbs that she tells us to put inside the coffee. It changes the flavor, but as a coffee neophyte I can’t tell you if it makes the cup better or worse.
Adam tells me he works for T-Mobile, and while I praise his company (who never responded to my request for sponsorship, btw) he has nothing but negative things to say. In fact, he doesn’t even use T-Mobile as his provider, and I tell him about all of the places that I’ve visited and been covered by the Simple Global plan (which I swear I am not being paid to promote, as much as I wish I was). We chat about his hometown of Warsaw, which I visited and enjoyed, and about the logistics of traveling this region. I offer what little expertise I’ve gathered. He does the same.
After fifteen minutes, the cafe owner’s friend, a beautiful, kind-looking woman named Jeri pulls over in her silver-blue sedan and smiles at us to get in. I give her the rundown of where Adam is going, and where I am going, and we plan to drop him off first. I tell him that I’ll be going out to dinner later, and if he wants to join he is welcome. He nods before exiting the car.
As we chat on the drive to Trinity Church, Jeri seems willing to give me a whole tour of Addis, then drop me off back at the hostel. When I ask ‘how much?,’ a necessity in Ethiopian taxi acquisition, she says “whatever you want.” This is unnerving, but her kindness convinces me that she actually doesn’t have a rate in mind, and would take anything reasonable. If this is a business tactic, it works. Rather than pay a flat fare for a series of rides through town, her tour skills add value to the experience, and I enjoy myself way more than if she had just driven me places. At each church, where a hefty admittance fee for tourists is charged, Jeri drives by slowly, sometimes taking my phone to snap pictures of the religious sites before peeling off back into the confusion of Ethiopian Capital traffic. We smile and nod at the church guards.
“If he see us... he will kill us,” she assures me.
At night I meet up with Adam once more, and we walk to "2000 Habesha," a cultural restaurant that promises an Ethiopian buffet dinner and a show. For 27 dollars, no restaurant could provide more. Every five minutes, a new act takes the stage and sings and/ or dances, and the beauty, movement, harmony and color don’t even begin to compare to the overwhelming flavors of the buffet. Adam only finds one lamb dish he likes; I struggle to find one dish that I couldn’t eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When one travels to Ethiopia, one may feel they are in some long-lost Indian city. Ethiopians, with their slim, statuesque figures, dark skin, and dramatically shaped faces, may appear Indian to those unaware. And, even for speakers of other Semitic languages Amharic may sound unplaceable and foreign.
I can’t wait to come back.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.