Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Gucci Travels:Or how to always look well dressed when travelling!

You ever have a favourite item of clothing that you never want to cast away or donate to a needy cause along your travels?
Looking back through our travel pics of many years gone,I note a common denominator amongst many images.It was Gucci! My designer t-shirt I'd bought so long ago but become so familiar with I had never stopped to think it was about time it was thrown in the rag bag, or relegated to dusting out my workshop. Even my dog has yet to seize upon it as her favourite shreddable tugging toy!
So let's go travelling with Gucci!
My Gucci top began it's travels in Saigon,Ho Chi Mihn City,Vietnam August 2002.
I bargained hard for what I thought was just another classy top,but didn't know it was  probably a knock off label. Never saw the brand until I had already bought it. But for $6 it has been the best wearing piece of clothing I have ever purchased. No pilling,fading or looking shabby. And each time I sort out clothes for our next trip, I always pull it out,place it in my bag and think this is probably the last time. But no. Still looks like new, too good to donate to some needy poor person in Africa or India. You're coming  for perhaps one more trip.

Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site,Namibia, Aug 2008.
Rock painting reception centre.


I've worn it to India twice.It resisted the mutton fat drips of Mongolian barbeques.Travelled Turkey and Eastern Europe.

Taken a taxi ride in Western Australia!
Hobnobbed with the best of them at the $1800 a night El Questro Homestead.

  Mitchell Falls Airport departure lounge

Yep at El Questro, one really does need to dress for the occasion and what better than to be seen wearing Gucci!

Amazing value. Wish I'd bought a boat load of them.
Not too bad for a cheap knock off. But then when I inspect the quality of the cotton fabric, and it's still new and fresh appearance I often wonder if in fact it really is a Gucci product. I do realize a lot of designer product is contract made in Vietnam, and often over runs sneakout the factory back door and are sold off at local markets. The quality of my supposed Gucci top is suspiciously too good not to be a Gucci. If it is, I will definitely buy Gucci again!
So as we packed our bags for Ethiopia and Scotland, I was thinking that this time it may be time to leave it behind in Ethiopia.Some local villager will need it more than I and they sure do.Ethiopia presents poverty up front, right in your face.But that needy local got a couple of other tops...just couldn't think to part with it.And what does an Ethiopian country farmer want with a Gucci top anyway?
So my Gucci top expanded it's travel map by coming to Scotland with me! Yes, a wet and windy day at Culloden Moor battlefield but I can assure you that under that wet weather gear, there's a Gucci top!
And no,I wouldn't take visiting Culloden battlefield lightly.In fact visiting that battlefield was a pilgrimage to discover my heritage and was rather an emotional event as it is for many of Scots descent that visit their ancestral homeland. There'll be a blog covering our heritage exploration soon.

So where will my Gucci top travel to next, I wonder?




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Monday, September 20, 2010

Orkney: In search of history.

An Autumn chill has settled upon Scotland...despite our best efforts at finding more Pictish stone circles and offering up sacrifices and dancing naked...too cold for that
We'd encountered a harsh change in the weather when we arrived in Thurso with gales screaming in from the Arctic.But a break in the weather convinced us to take the chance and make the ferry crossing to the Orkneys.We'd really hoped to get right up to the Shetlands taking ferry and buses as far up to Unst,the most northerly inhabited island of the UK, but the weather was against that! Puffins and the fact that a friend from back home now owns a wee stone cottage on the north coast of Unst drew us there.The M V Hamnavoe car and passenger ferry operates regular crossings between  Thurso's nearby port of Scrabster, and Stromness on the main  Orkney island called  the Mainland,oddly enough.From there, we thought it would be a very interesting journey taking the island buses, and inter-island ferries right up the chains of islands to Unst.But not to be, the weather was against us.Our naked stone circle dancing did not deliver enough power or energy for Sol to battle through those Arctic gales and smooth our crossings.I think he gave up on us, and took an easier station over southern Scotland.So I guess we should go seek him out down there.But first we're now on the Mainland of the Orkney's so we'd best look around here.
Our crossing was not smooth by any means,in fact Kay made sure a sick bag was handy.But once within  sheltered Scapa Flow  the vessel settled reasonably smoothly and ploughed ahead making fast knots. This was Scapa Flow, the famous naval base for the British Navy in two World Wars. And it was here in 1918 that 72 ships of the German Navy sailed to during the Armistice negotiations.The Armistice was not the end of the First World War, it was a cessation of hostilities while negotiations were conducted to agree terms for Germany's surrender.During this time the German fleet remained at Scapa Flow but without flying their flags, awaiting word for final surrender.
The whole German fleet was scuttled! Imagine that! 72 ships sinking in one place! Incredible!
Very few now remain as almost all were raised and salvaged for scrap iron, but the few left provide opportunities for scuba diving enthusiasts today.
Kirkwall is a fascinating ancient city with superb examples of architecture in it's old buildings.Dominating Kirkwall is St Magnus Cathedral, commenced in 1137, built of red and yellow sandstone and completed finally 3 centuries later.We were blown away with it's beauty.One of the greatest cathedrals we've seen. Soaring columns flowing into a marvellous stone vaulted ceiling,beautiful with  an intricate geometric network of supporting stone beams. It's a marvel of human achievement for it's time.

We were disappointed with Skara Brae being closed because of the gale lashing it's exposed west coast position. A place I really wanted to explore. More and more is being discovered about ancient pre-Pictish civilisations in the northern islands. In 2008,a new excavation revealed 2 new remains of large structures, on the Ness of Brodgar. These Neolithic era building remains are thought to possibly be places of worship,perhaps the centre or the heart of ancient Orkney cultural worship and the other stone circles may have been on the periphery.
It seems to me the more we learn about the great cultures that flourished on these islands, the more we'll come to understand our present, in relation to current climate change scaremongering. Neolithic,Pictish and Viking cultures colonised these islands and flourished in a much milder and warmer climate perhaps with a climate 2 degrees warmer than our current period.
We visited one stone age souterrain,and as we struggled against the gale to enter it,it was hard to imagine any great culture being able to develop in such climate as ours today. It would have been bare survival in such conditions if the weather was the same then, as today..
Current discoveries now indicate for humans to develop such a civilisation, climate must have been much warmer, and more conducive for farming to allow the inhabitants to develop such cultures.
And the decline of these northern islands cultures coincides with global cooling of the 1200's onwards, as the world entered The Little Ice Age.
So today,concern over global warming seems unjustified. Perhaps we have more to worry about from global cooling!

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hey, this is a great trip!

"Jim, I'm having the greatest holiday of all! " Kay says.!
And it is  nice..no..it was  more than that, it has been wonderful.,fantastic and so interesting. To a New Zealander of Scottish descent,Scotland is just so welcoming.It feels like a country that we have come home to, being so familiar. Everywhere we travel we come across towns and places with names we're so familiar with- Aviemore,Glenorchy,Glendale,Glenmore etc. We drive on the left, and we speak the same language....well in a fashion. Get that Scot to talk slowly and we can understand that heavy brogue,...as long as they don't start on with the Gaelic!
 We're not spending too much time pre-planning what we're going to do or where we're going. Just a rough idea that we'll travel around Scotland clockwise starting from Glasgow. So after being absolutely frightened off by the masses of tourists debussing at Gretna Green and clogging up the toilets and somewhat tacky souvenir shops there, we hightailed it way out west to Stranraer  then drove up the coast and found a quaint B&B at very picturesque Ballantrae. Placed on the coast where the southerlies blow straight off the Irish Sea it's very exposed, but the weather held ,even though dark and foreboding. Our old friend Sol did his best to cover us with his light, but he was only just managing to stay with us. Stranraer and Ballantrae were once important herring fishery ports and a little a of that industry must still remain as we were enveloped in that gorgeous aroma of smoked herring as we drove along. Mouth-watering!
From Ballantrae we plotted a course into our Tomtom navigator for Luss on Loch Lomond. Tomtom is now called Sally as Sally knows everything and let's you know it! In fact she knows more than me, so I can't argue with that! And I didn't argue with her when I asked her to take us to Alexandria, where our SYHA hostel is, ...and she promptly took us into the Dumbarton  hospital and dropped us right at the entry to the morgue! Not quite the right Alexandria...
Anyway Sally then took us up to Luss where we fell in love with the place and decided to have a night there. Luss is the seat of the Clan Colquhoun and where Saint Kessog brought Christianity to the area. Little stone cottages, bedecked with brilliant flowers,tumbling down to the edge of Loch Lomond. Beautiful and quiet. While we waited for the tourist fug to clear we took a long but rewarding drive around the Loch, up to Tarbert then down the west side of Loch Long then down to Dumbarton Castle on the Clyde.http://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumbarton_Castle
We laid siege to the castle, rescued William Wallace from it's keep,and placed him on the Scottish throne only to see him once more betrayed and off to London.....such were the dreams conjured up touring those battlements.
Back in Luss we wandered down to the water's side again. Sol was low in the sky,sending a weird light under the dense cloud cover and across the loch, and we hurried back to our B&B to get our camera. I couldn't miss the opportunity for photography in such unusual light conditions. I'm getting more and more interested in low light or silhouette photography and it was just too good a chance to not experiment!
From Luss we headed up the A82 which would carry us through the area of Glencoe and on to Fort William. Glencoe is a long valley or glen,framed on both sides with 1400 metre high towering mountains, breathtaking in it's beauty. Now a jumping off point for many walking trails,mountain climbing and skiing in the winter season. Also famous for the massacre that occurred there in 1692 , when Government soldiers , led by 12 Campbells,who had a long time feud with the Glencoe MacDonalds,carried out a surprise attack upon their MacDonald hosts. resulting in the killing of 38 men, women and children, and unknown deaths among those that fled the slaughter and died of exposure on those high gale and snow lashed mountains surrounding the glen.
In no rush to go anywhere, we visited a museum in Glencoe Village, then the Visitors Centre, learning more about the history of the area. Then wandered one of the many hiking trails in the area,enjoying the lush vegetation,in dramatic scenery  and noting the removal of introduced pines and reforestation with the true Scots Pine. Apparently less than 1% remains of Caledonia's original Scot's forest cover. Reforestation plans are important to arrest the decline of endangered native animal specie such as pine marten, deer, and our own Clan motif, the Highland Cat. We hiked to the top of An Tor where a rocky outcrop stands sentinel to the valley, thought to have been the site for pagan sun worshipping rites in pre-Christian times. So the urge was strong to drop our clothes,and  prance around naked imploring Sol to continue honouring us with his presence! We'll need all the help we can get in this country! I think it has worked. Sol shone through, fighting off the dark clouds and throwing his bright light wherever we went.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fw: The Most Perfect Day!

The Most Perfect Day! :The Lakes District UK.

Grasmere, The Lakes District ,England.
Birthdays can be memorable, or  they can be just any old  day registering another year gone by, too much a reminder of getting older, and therefore hurried through and fast forgotten.But sometimes events coincide,and so friends may gather,in a special place and a birthday turns into that perfect day!
We'd decided to hire a car to get around Scotland, and coincidentally our drive up from Solihull coincided with friends hiring an apartment in Grasmere, in the middle of the Lakes District, so we were invited to join them, a particularly auspicious happening  as it was my birthday. We had offered in return to bring the glorious sunshine up with us from Solihull, where we'd spent 6 days with our daughter.Sol obliged and shifted his rump up here with us, fighting off some of the northern gloom and mizzle which still seemed to prevail around late afternoon.
We're very impressed with the Lakes District.Who wouldn't be? Picturesque lakes, set in deep valleys,rolling hills,ancient stone cottages, drystone walls,small flocks of black faced sheep dressed in their best black, grey, brown or white jumpers,and late blooming wildflowers bordering the many tracks one can choose to wander.And 1,000's are choosing to wander! It's a walker's paradise with well formed tracks taking you on easy walks at low level around the lakes, or more demanding up to the heights where the most beautiful views are on offer.
We shared a first floor  apartment right in the heart of Grasmere village. It comprised a large kitchen/dining/ lounge area, with a short rolling hallway leading to 4 double bedrooms, each with their own en-suite. Yes, a rolling hallway! The building is so old,the floor levels a drunken sailor would love!  It's a 5 minute walk for a morning paper, or to stock up with good red wine, a trip we made often, given the camaraderie we enjoyed.Internet cafe just across the road.
Today we set off for an anti-clockwise wander around Lake Grasmere.Once off the narrow village roads, we were on to well formed walking tracks close to the shore of the lake that ran past the bottom fields of many quaint but beautiful stone 2 story country houses.Marvellous photo opportunities abound with views over  the wildflowers, looking through overhanging trees right across to the opposite lakeshore.Our walk often followed old dry stone walls,over hills covered in bracken, or by the lake shore itself. It was a wonderful day with the sun tagging along, keeping his promise to keep up with us.
Lunch was a very hearty goulash soup at the Badger's Bar, Rydal Mount just near the famous poet William Wordsworth's house, around halfway along our walk, just prior to walking the Coffin Way back to Grasmere.An old walkway used by coffin bearers to take the departed to their burial plots .And  yes we also rested on the specially built stone coffin rests along the walkway!
After such a long walk and such exertion everything to follow was completely justified! Bakewell tart for afternoon tea. Then cheese, olives and pickled garlic for Happy Hour wine and nibbles. Followed by the HAGGIS!  Our friend had caught this tasty wee beastie in Taunton and hogtied it, and carried it up kicking and howling to Grasmere, just to be skinned and carefully cooked to perfection, drowned in whisky, and served up for we 7 to consume. Now we haven't finished the banquet yet.....Graeme's homemade beef and cranberry stew with jacket potatoes and vegetables was delightfully delicious. Then it was Sally's plum crumble with ice-cream and custard,washed down with Champagne. Somewhere an empty wine bottle count was done.....6! 
It has been a perfect day.A wonderful birthday to remember.
And it will be even better if I keep all that lot down!

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Fw: Ethiopia 6 "I shine your shoes, Mr?"

 
 Ethiopia 5 "I shine your shoes, Mr?"

The mud was falling off my shoes, the new shoes I had carefully made especially for the mud of Ethiopia's wet season. The kid must have only been around 7 years old but got stuck in and cleaned them up and shifted all that muck, bringing them back to almost new. 10 birr,a bit less than a dollar NZ.
I had been wondering as I tramped through the mud,and balanced precariously on that collapsing bridge, whether my shoes would be capable of restoration? I wasn't worried about falling off, or the bridge finally giving way.JUST ABOUT MY SHOES!.
Driving down to Bahir Dar from Gondor,we'd driven through a village where the road was lined with trucks for kilometres, and knew this portended a road block ahead. Sure enough a few more kms further on we struck the traffic jam at a river crossing. We got out and went down to suss out the action around  the crossing as the bridge was  extensively damaged by the swollen river,and the alternative ford was running too high for anything but 4WDs. Trucks, buses and cars weren't getting across that! We were going nowhere fast! No alternative route, and a long ride back to any decent hotel!
Flood waters had gouged out one side of the concrete sidewall supports creating a huge hole behind it and most of the approach road to the bridge had collapsed into it..Now trucks were tipping rocks on the end of the bridge  that rested on that seriously weakened support. All that extra weight added to that bridge could have  caused a collapse,and with hundreds of people standing on it in danger. It was amazing to see all the trucks and front end loaders working away with crowds, awaiting to cross, up within inches of the working machinery.No safety barriers,no safety wardens keeping the crowds back.And  then the loader ferried groups across in the bucket!
So we were stuck! What to do? Finally our tour leader came back with a plan. He had waded across and located a bus similar to our 23 seater Toyota Coaster that couldn't cross from the other side, and he  had hired it so we could complete our journey..All its passengers had waded over to catch a bus on our side.There was now a massive movement of people crossing over and swapping buses. Somehow they were now getting over.
"There's a narrow path across the bridge now" we were told. "So we will have to carry our bags over".
All the group grabbed our daypacks and headed for the bridge.Two armed soldiers shepherded alternate groups one way at a time,across a very narrow path across the only remaining side wall. Less than a metre wide.One slip and over you go into the muddy torrent! We hurried across in the mud to our new bus. Then all we guys went back to get the rest of the large bags.I made 3 trips back over that narrow pathway, never tarrying too long ,as at any minute that bridge could have gone.All the boulders and shingle they were trucking onto the bridge, was being bulldozed in to fill the hole behind the concrete wall,to be flattened so vehicles could then drive over. The danger being that all that weight could push the wall out, it being so seriously weakened.
5 times I crossed over that narrow slippery path in the dark Scary stuff! And I was more worried about my shoes than my life!
But being the expert shoemaker I am,those shoes carried me across safely, never slipping! I'd chosen to make them with a very good grippy sole.And while making them,chanted ancient incantations and sung songs of our forefathers to protect the traveller who wears them in far off Ethiopia. I was perfectly safe!
And so that little shoeshine boy got a big tip for putting the polish back upon them.They deserved the best!
 

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Re: What's so great about Ethiopia?

What's so great about Ethiopia?

We've just spent 3 weeks travelling Ethiopia,2 weeks of that on a Gap Adventures DEN Northern Explorer tour. To get a sense of other people's perspectives on Ethiopia,towards the end of the tour I asked my co-travellers to write down a few of their impressions and what they thought were the highlights.These are their comments.
Helene-
"Why are you going to THAT place?" was the most common question I heard before my journey. This place has so much to offer: amazing historical sites, an old deeply religious culture. And last but not least, the people are welcoming and friendly!
Regine-
1. Xenophilic - in no other place would a shepherd abandon his animals and run over stony soils, only to smile and enthusiastically wave at you, (yes, I mean you,you,you,you,YOU!)
2.It wasn't my idea to come to Ethiopia.Staying at home or going somewhere else would have saved me a couple of nasty mosquito, bed bug and flea bites. But I would also have missed out on World Heritage sites,beautiful scenery and lots of tasty (spicy!) food which were definitely worth the insect bites!
Spiros-
The resilience of the Ethiopians is astounding. They live their lives with a smile and a positive outlook. Most Westerners would not be capable of living their lives. The day to day tasks that must be achieved is a testament to them and a country rebuilding itself.
Angela-
The thing that amazed me and delighted me about Ethiopia is the religious tolerance,being Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Muslim.Even to the point where leaders of both religions have helped the other with building their churches and mosques.
Oliver-
1.The sunset in Lallibella with a bottle of beer, on the cliff.
2.The visit to Sambati market.
3.The coffee shop in Woldiya.
Kay-
1. The walk to the Blue Nile Falls.
2. Habesha 2000 Cultural restaurant.
3.The rock church and village at Abraha Atsebeha.
4. The warm friendly smiling people.
5.The clean,green, rubbish free countryside. 
Renee-
One observation I had was how unique Ethiopia is in its history, culture, geography and people. Even though I have travelled in a dozen African countries, I have never been anywhere like Ethiopia because the specific culture of Ethiopia is to be found only there. I did find that Ethiopia is a difficult country in which to travel.There is far less tourist infrastructure than in some other countries in Africa.This makes a trip to Ethiopia to be much more "off the beaten path",more adventurous,more of a personal challenge,and one is far less likely to stumble upon hordes of other tourists.
And for myself-
1.Rocks! Everywhere, piles all along the roads for a sometime or never to happen  road upgrade. Rocks thrown in a heap for houses, walls, fences,some complete , but mostly still to be finished or already tumbling down.Rocks where the footpath once was. Rocks marking where a bus is being repaired in the middle of the road.Everywhere man is busily mining the rocks from the hillsides, and placing them where we have to wander around or trip over them!
2.Music!. Infectious beat,trance inducing repetiton,unique vocals meandering to and away from and counterpointing the music,with a huge range of traditional, tribal,religious, or contemporary pop to explore.
3.Best of all ,driving along the Highway Of Life! The long drive days on congested roads ,that could never be sped through, which meant the opportunity to kick back and relax and watch out the window.There you observe the life of the country folk.The early morning starts would find us driving down a crowded highway, through families with their herds of cattle or camels,flocks of sheep and goats,or produce laden donkeys all heading for the market. And later in the day we'd see another migration as those  rural farmers would return from market to their homes,meaning many would round trip 20 to 30 kms or more,all on foot.Massive amounts of firewood, and water moving on the backs of barefoot, rag clad women, all too eager to offer a smile in return for yours.Children, some as young as 4 or 5 tending the flocks of sheep and goats, older boys minding the cattle grazing the narrow grassy strips between road and cropland. Life vibrates along these highways!

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fw: Ethiopia 4 The ambulance is returning.....

 
 Ethiopia 4 The ambulance is returning.....

 
There's been a war going on using bacterialogical weapons.and I just lost! In preparation for this trip,knowing the very basic conditions we'd experience, we took Dukerol as a preventative against traveller's diarea. Dukerol is a vaccine against a wide range of bacterial illnesses in the Cholera family, and will help you avoid a lot of nasties.But not effective against everything.It's a 2 shot course, and at $50 a shot you really do want it to work! Supposed to adjust your intestinal microbial flora so they can fight off invasion from Cholera and similar bacteria.
So yesterday( I started this blog 12 days ago but have only finished it today) was a massive defeat for my guts and the price of defeat was a day in bed.We're at 2,500 metres and the altitude coupled with feeling ill is sapping. But we managed to get out in the morning.We visited the Red Terror Martyrs Museum.This opened in May 2010 as a monument to the millions that died in Ethiopia of murder,or starvation during the time of the Socialist DERG rule after the overthrow of Emporer Haile Selassie.In many ways there are parellels with the Cambodia Pol Pot era. A popular revolutionary movement, and it's ideals being hijacked by 1 man and his cohorts with an extreme ideology and a will to eliminate any opposition.
We walked into the reception area and asked at the desk if we need to pay.The staff cheerfully indicated we can make a donation if we wished.Quite a cheerful exchange as we explained we'd like to visit just to learn more about Ethiopia's recent history.
We entered through the door on the left,expecting just some historical portrayal of that period.I took two steps through the door and stopped.I don't have the words to describe how I felt.Something was getting at me.I hadn't even looked at any of the many photo displays, but felt a huge sense of grief, and loss. The only way of describing how I felt was as if some tragedy had taken a loved one or close friend.
I said to Kay "There's something strange about this place."
"In what way?"
"There's something weird I can feel here."
We moved on, viewing the sometimes graphic and very moving images from Ethiopia's DERG era of Socialist rule from the deposition of Haile Selassie in 1979 to the revolution against the DERG in 1991. I have viewed many war displays,watched and read countless films and books on human conflict, and have remained dispassionate to such portrayals of woundings and deaths.But as we moved further through the museum,I felt even stronger feelings as if I was attending a funeral of someone very close to me.That's the only way I can describe it. I somehow felt as if those feelings were coming at me, rather than from within. I have felt this sensing of other worldliness or spirits reaching out before, at Tuol Sleng, S21 Museum in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. And I was beginning to think that I could only be walking closer towards  death and earthbound spirits. But why here? It was just a museum with photo displays afterall. In such a situation I would normally blank out my mind and try and sense or feel what, if any other influences were around me. But with a queasy stomach and slight nausea there was no way I could truly meditate into sensing that "other world".
I moved on, barely looking.
At the very end of the displays, when those feelings were strongest,I came across a display of coffins, each open and holding the remains of clothing items once worn by some of the slaughtered. I stopped to read a sign beside a doorway  and this said that the families and relatives wanted the remains of the victims to remain in the Martyrs Museum.Through the doorway were about 10 coffins, flag shrouded, laying on the floor.These contained the exhumed remains of victims of the DERG regime.
I stood in the doorway,and found myself saying a silent prayer for them. Slowly that depressing and tortured feeling lifted, and a calm peace settled upon me.
 
The Red Terror Martyrs Museum opened in May this year. We had seen no literature about it prior to our visit. We had spotted it's new modern building as we taxied down Bolle Road and noted it to visit if we found time. So we knew nothing of any of it's contents.
And in Mekele, capital of Tigray province we visited there, the huge museum to the liberation from the DERG. Many of the photos at the Red Terror Martyrs Museum were copies of the Mekele Museum. But as I walked through that museum,I felt nothing. It was just a museum with the expected war relics and photos.
The difference, for me anyway, is that the Red Terror Martyrs Museum is also a mausoleum.
 
Perhaps there are spirits there? Perhaps those are the souls of those victims who died  so violently after torture and humiliation? Are they reaching out?
 
As I write this,the Ras hotel staff are crying. One after the other,grief breaks out. I look out our window at staff grouped in the car park, many crying , and wringing their hands, or comforting each other. There's been another staff death Kay was told by the desk boy.
 "Another?"
"Yes the second  today!"
I had seen an ambulance leave the hotel car park 4 hours ago taking the first away.And now it is returning......
We never did find out the cause of the hotel deaths.
 
 
 
 

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fw: Ethiopia 2

 
Ethiopia 2

Merkato market was a real adventure. Penetrating in so deeply in the maze of narrow streets would probably have been unwise on our own. Several areas our guide described as unsafe. And a couple of times we were stopped by uniformed security  type guards, and a few bir changed hands and he would provide tail end charlie backup for us. We were told by our guide that the people we passed were talking about how Kay had no sense showing her jewellery off like that. In many countries, a woman would wear her wealth upon her. Not here,that invites robbery. Anything is for sale here,either openly, or hidden. Drugs of a wide choice. Even weapons. We were taken in to the kat market(pronounced chat) but it didn't feel right and our guide took us out quickly. Once again we had to pick our way over the very uneven rock cobbles and avoid sudden holes into the sewers. I suppose the best way to describe some of the very narrow back streets is like climbing up a rocky stream bed. One couldn't look at everything that was going on around us, unless you stopped still,and then you had to jump out of the way of the donkeys or traffic. Bedlam. So enjoyable though.
Poverty here drives crime. What we see on the streets of Addis Ababa are many cripples, beggars and poor people sleeping on the streets, a few centimeters away from the chaotic traffic. Even India seems better than this! I reckon you can tell how poor a city is by the number of shoeshine boys around. Well here there are 1,000,s everywhere.
Last night our guide took us to Habesha 2000, a restaurant serving great Ethiopian food and with a cultural performance. This consisted of a 4 man Mira Group,  playing traditional string instruments, backed with drums. 2 of them were playing an instrument looking like a cross between a guitar and a washing board. We were entranced by the singing and dancing that followed when 3 men and 2 women joined them and let rip. The performance was astounding and got wilder and faster as the night went on. Towards the end a male and female were trying to outdo each other dancing. The style seemed like a spasmodic fit consisting of head rolling, shoulder jerking, and body tremours all to ever faster backing music. The chiropractors in the audience would have been aghast! Our waittress reckoned the way the women were throwing their heads around on their shoulders would make her sick!
What a fantastic night! In fact we were thinking of heading back for dinner in a few nights time.2 hours passed by so quick.
Our food was served local style. No plates, no cutlery. Just dive in with your fingers. We ordered a vegetarian platter the menu listed as 'fasting' food.' Out came a man with a bowl,disinfectant soap, a water jug and towels, so you can wash your hands. Then the food was brought out. A dish around 60cms wide ,covered with a circular grey sponge foam njeera bread. 10 bowls of various vegetable concoctions were spooned onto the njeera. And then you tear off a piece, wrap it around any of the servings, and enjoy!
The Ras Hotel is looking better again this morning.The mess around the front is a renovation of the front facade, not a bombsite as we thought when we rolled up first time, in the driving rain. It's character grows more comfy, like a pair of hand me down undies, that once washed and worn you can become attached to! We have found the hot water! Around 1am it's quite warm.But the Muezzin down the block keeps howling at 4am in the local mosque telling all the faithfull to get up and grab the hot water before all the lazy Christians can! It was the start of Ramadan, so all the mosques in the area were howling their adhan (prayers) from 4 until 7am! As long as they don't lock up the up the room fridge as they did in Dubai when we were there in 2006! We don't have a room fridge here anyway. Haven't anything apart from two beds with chipboard because the springs have gone.Kay keeps wrecking hers as the board slides off the side rail.
Internet access is lousy.So we'll be out of touch for a while when we head up country around the Northern Historical Circuit.I guess we'll miss the Ras Hotel then for sure!
Best thing about Ethiopia......is the coffee! Superb!
 

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Fw: Ethiopia 3

 
 
Subject: Ethiopia 3

I've been asked to be more descriptive about our Ethiopia travels and provide more detailed info, as a few online friends are very interested in travelling here.
So here's a few comparative prices.
Generally all restaurant prices will be plus service fee 10% and sales tax 15% so add approx 25% to anything on the menu.If we see a service fee in the bill, we rarely tip unless we've had great service.
Exchange rate is around 13.48-13.52 Bir to the US dollar.Banks give the best exchange rate.But hardly worth going out of your way to get to one.Our hotel was giving 13.5 and the bank 13.6.
A cup of coffee,-ask for Macchiato or Coffee with milk, 6.5 Bir to 7.95 Bir plus tips and tax , but still less than 1$ US!
Beer 8.95 Bir plus.Imagine getting loaded on less than 10$US! Wonderful!
We priced supermarket wine- cheapest imported Italian 137,5 Bir no taxes.
But next to it a 750ml bottle of Scotch for 285Bir. I kind of liked that!
 
Meals 35-50 Bir per dish.You may find half portions at around 16 Bir an adequate midday snack.
Today 2 coffees,2 croissants,1 yummy cake all cost 33Bir plus we left a small tip
Dinner last night,Ethiopian style total for 2 including 1 beer was 120Bir.
Just over  8 US dollars!
And shoeshines 1 Bir!
Taxis are negotiable.From the Ras to halfway down Bolle Road around 5 KMs cost 60 Bir.Around $4.50.
But sightseeing by taxi, which is the way to go as everything is so spread out,and with the driver acting as a guide cost us 100Bir an hour.Public buses provide services to a few areas, but the bulk of the population move around in the masses of mini buses, or transit vans.Much like the South African method, where you hop aboard one that the driver yells out is going to such and such place,wait until it's full and away you go,dropping off and picking up as they go.It's rumoured that a few tourists who thought they'd fathomed the system out , disappeared from this world.......
Kay and I in Pretoria last year,, had quite an interesting experience taking one out to the outer suburbs but managed to get back to civilisation safely.The driver was really great and looked after us.Quite a memory.
Internet here is very slow as Dialup is still the norm.It's enough to do emails, but when you want to go to any websites, you'll wait for 3-5 minutes, if you do manage to get to it! And same time lag if you need to get to other pages on that site.
Our hotel is $45US a night for 2 persons in the room.Would have been much cheaper if we had booked direct rather than through our tour company,but Ras never answered our emails!
Sheraton $400 per person per night is looking pretty good, every time we think about a shower under our trickle irrigation system! We slept in until 7am and the water was much colder than other mornings.
Today is another grey dull day with rain looking likely.But we'll head out to do the Red Terror Martyrs' Museum, a memorial to the 68 government officials murdered by the socialist victors in the overthrow of the Haile Selassie government.The DERG as it was called were then rebelled against and the present government and peace has been maintained since 1991.And I guess therein lie a lot of Ethiopia's current woes.Trying to rebuild a country after years of conflict.
We have met our sponsored child Hanna Tesafaye, and all the family and staff that run the operation.But that's a story best kept until we can upload some photographs and do it justice.
 
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