Oct 28, 2008

Fifteen Minutes of Love (I'm back!)

It's me! I'm back from Ethiopia and doing great. Mom and I had a blast in Ethiopia (mom is actually still there for a couple more days). Blast is such a poor word! It was out of this world! And yes, the boys and I are loving our reunion and man did it make the heart grow fonder. Wow, it's like honeymoon these days. Thank you Jerry's mom for your mega helping hands! And thanks papa for whipping those boys into really good behavior (not literally, of course!). Nothing like scary dad power while scary mom's away.

I hate writing so much so I made a whopper of a travel montage for your viewing and listening pleasure. So very sparingly will I quickly jot down here a few travel tidbits and perhaps a tip or two. But then darn it, please watch my video, all 15 minutes of it . Yes, pull up a chair, it's a doozy! You'll love it.

Village Ethiopia, the Ethiopia-based travel agency we used, is phenomenal. I mean really truly amazing. They stole my heart.

Bilen Lodge near Awash National Park, in the heart of Afari tribe and camel country, was our favorite part. Bring your binoculars and Eastern African bird books. During our last trip to Ethiopia (the Bale Mountains) Jerry and I saw wart hogs, dik dik, vervet monkeys, & olive baboons; during this trip add all that plus oryx, gazelle, gernuk and a whole lot of bird species (carmine bee eaters, corey and little brown bustards, and ground hornbills, among my favorites . . . as well as flamingoes en route to Harar). No lions, no lion roars, and no crocs sadly enough, although I searched and stayed awake in the hopes of one itty bitty lion roar (just the sad aahh-wooo of hyenas instead). A bit of warning, though; this part of the country is hot, dry, still, quiet, volcanic, and minimal. Not for the city-only lovers. It was perfect.

Harar was insane. Crowded, busy, and over-stimulated. One lady threw chat at me when she thought I was taking her picture, but she did so with a pretty smile and a pretty gold tooth shining at me. Chat, chat, chat, even the goats are enjoying it off the streets. Men use mortar and pestle after teeth have rotted out to grind their morsels of chat where their teeth cannot (it's bad for teeth). I tried it, but didn't really feel anything. I think I needed more . . . judge if you must, the people seemed happy and it is widely exported and bringing home cash. Muslims consume it as well as Christians.

Harari people are Muslim like the Afari, and populate behind the walls of Harar. Indeed, there are some 82 mosques. Christians and Oromo largely populate outside the walls. Despite the global hatred between these two religions, Harar won the 2004 UNESCO Cities for Peace Award. I also think it's funny that at heart, it's a party town of sorts and they have a thriving brewery (which we toured). I recommend Harar Beer during your trip to Ethiopia.

Harar was nutso, yet I think it was Harar and the journey east in which we felt most immersed into the culture and sustained mega doses of culture shock. It was amazing and after my sting of shock, I look back now and am so glad we experienced the ancient city. It wouldn't have been complete without the sensations and color of Harar. We stayed inside the old walls in a traditional Harari (Adari) house of which I have pictures of in my Ethiopia books at home. I remember our last morning there the prayers started at 4 a.m. and went on for four more hours. Oh, and yes, I fed hyenas!

Lalibela was miraculous. Eleven rock-hewn churches built in the 12th century by who knows who, not to mention the even older Yemrehanna Kristos cave church. A wonder historical place indeed, heavily Christian. Amhara country. Unofficial 8th wonder of the world, no doubt needs to be official. You won't believe your eyes. Surrounded by the Lasta Mountains, I didn't know Lalibela would be so beautiful. Did you know Bill and Chelsea Clinton were just there? Our guide had the pleasure of leading them around. Old mom had a hell of a time walking the rocky paved churches, but what a trooper. (I was fine in flip flops.) If you are desiring a quick jaunt up north during your time in Ethiopia, you can fly early from Addis and get to Lalibela in the morning. This is enough time to see all the churches in one day. We very smartly flew out at 4:30 late afternoon the next day which left us enough time to get to and tour Yemrehanna Kristos (a must see). But remember to bring plenty of spare birr on your hike to the cave. Blind beggars line the way and it would be a sin to deny them money.

Addis Ababa, well, still crazy and hectic, but entertainment abounds. Don't miss Entoto mountain and visit the woman's former wood carrier's weaving shop at the base of the hill for a lovely hand woven scarf or basket. Of course there is the Mercado, largest open-air African Market (not really for the weak like me, but you must at least drive through). Also, stop by a city book store if you can. I found a few good children's books in English with Ethiopian characters and a child's Amharic music CD. Not a lot, but inexpensive.

The Hilton is fun with a nice large compound, swanky people, good food, and a pool. But staying there behind the compound walls you would never know you are actually in Ethiopia and I felt uncomfortable leaving on foot outside the gate (I mean, where am I?). I recommend whole heartily the Damu Hotel near the airport. There is a great cozy quality about the place and surrounded by bars and restaurants including one of each within the hotel. The bell boy even remembered me (and I him) from our last visit 2 years ago! Incidentally, after scratching my head about it, it finally dawned on me that our airport shuttler was the same man Jerry and I hired on our first day in Addis two years ago. He was thrilled to remember us and I him.

Did I tell you we visited the hospital where my sons were born? I am going to leave it at that, but I will say that it is nice to know that the birth date on my sons' adoption paperwork is indeed accurate. Now I know birth weights and times of baby #1-3.

Didn't I say something about not writing so much? Gads, I can't go on. Watch the video.