Richard Travel Journal, January 12th

My first stash of Ethiopiam Cash

OK. So now I’m losing track of what day it is. Day 6 from what I can recall. I made the mistake of changing the hour on my watch on the flight from Toronto to London before I had actually passed through the midnight date changeover, but I’ve been through that already. Let’s just say I’m suffering from Jet Lag. Like it’s 12 noon in Winnipeg, and nine at night here. Doesn’t really matter about the time. Hopefully I’ll get to sleep at a decent hour tonight.

Trouble is, there’s just so many interesting people to talk to here, like the English guy who’s climbed all the higher mountains in Ethiopia and is setting out to climb Mount Kenya, the South African guy who has driven through all the deserts of Africa, and has run out of “benzene” in the middle of nowhere more than once, and gave me great advice on getting a visa for the Sudan (more about that later) and the American with no name (for obvious reasons) riding his motorbike around the world with a now expired licence and registration. Cause this is a public blog, I can’t talk about his travels. So I have stayed up late chatting, and trying to get up early is not working too well, though I made the effort this morning cause I was thinking I would head out and go to the museum and visit the Yemeni and Sudanese Embassies. Of course during beakfast of porridge and coffee, I became embroiled in a conversation and it was a while before I got away.

Decided to walk, but the problem was, everyone who works here was trying to give me direction on how to catch a mini bus or taxi. They are parked everywhere and mostly painted blue and white. The one I took from the airport was yellow, but I digress. So, once again, using my Lonely Planet book as a map, I wrote the names of the streets to follow on my hand and started to walk. I founf a sketch pad for sale in a small stationery store, but every store here is small (so far). They’re very tiny. And there’s not much in them, but added up you have a better selection than your average Walmart. I settled for a smaller one designed for school kids and not very good paper, but its better than nothing. I also bought a 1.5 litre of Maaza mango juice, the exact same kind as I buy in Dino’s Grocery on Notre Dame in Winnipeg. I think it’s cheaper in Dino’s though. So my first task was visiting the National Museum.

The walk was great! Ethiopians are very friendly, and at first I was leery of engaging in conversation, having been inundated by the street sellers in Cairo. I was greeted by a number of school kids who wanted to practice their English as I walked down the street. Almost everyone here, I found, speaks English. It one point I thought I was lost and sat down in a small park near the University on King George I Street, and was debating who to ask, when a Jehovah’s Witness approached me with a copy of “The Watchtower” and I took the opportunity to ask her where the museum was, and she pointed across the street, and there it was! There are a lot of beggars on the street, suffering from eye infections, some leprosy, other disabilities as well as sheer poverty, and at first I didn’t give anyone anything until I noticed a few Ethiopians giving the beggars small denomination coins, and so I handed a few 1 Bihr notes away, but trying to buy stuff with larger bills, is hard because a lot of places didn’t have change. And that included the museum. The entrance fee was 10 Bihr, or about a dollar, and they didn’t have change for a hundred.

I had exactly ten 1 Bihr notes. So I went into the basement and saw the plaster cast of Lucy. I was surprise how small she was! 3 ½ feet tall. Barely over three metres! There were a few other skulls of various autralopithicae, some teeth and a primordial giraffe, hippo and the like, but I did learn one fascinating tidbit of information. Elephants replace there teeth back to front, as the front ones wear out, the back ones move forward until they’re all gone. And here’s the neat part. There’s a finite number. The exhibit didn’t say how many, but once they’re gone, old elephants start eating plants in the swamp because they’re softer, but eventually their gums give out and they starve todeath. So, it occurred to me that if an elephant dies in a swamp, it could be the reason not many skeletons have been found of elephants, cause it they died in the swamp, they would just lide beneath the surface, and their bones would disappear in the quagmire.

I sat for a bit in front of the museum and walked to the Yemeni Embassy, but it turned out to be Yemenia, the national airline, but it was closed. So I went across the street and found the Ethiopian version of Tim Horton’s. I ordered a coffee and a donut, that turned out to be called a “Bombolino” I hadordered a second round and had a nice chat with a lady who worked at the Main Post Office next door. So finally Yemenia opened and I found out I could get a visa at the airport when I landed in Yemen. Only problem was, the computer said my credit card was not verified. The guy at the desk didn’t seem to know what he was doing, and despite getting advice from two others and the telephone, the situation remained unrectified. SO he suggested I go to the Central Bank around the corner and get cash from them. That was fine: big place, but they don’t take Mastercard (only Visa), and they don’t accept bank debit cards. So I went back and told them I would be back in the morning. They suggested I try the Sheraton Hotel, but by this time I had aquired pretty good sunburn and was very tired. I stopped to buy sun block cream. 207 Bihr! Mucho expensivo, but I handed over the denero without mucho gusto. I got back to the hotel, very tired, and stopped in the restaurant for a coffee, and of course, got involved in another great and interesting conversation.

I came to the room for a nap, but I was fretting over the credit card not working, so walked to the Internet place around the corner , and I almost gave up, as the connection was so slow, my pages were timimg out. I certainly didn’t want to use that shop for banking, but the connection improved after about 15 minutes, and I wired myself $900.00 through Scotiabank to Western Union. However, to my horror, when I checked my Mastercard online, I found that whatever had happened at Yemenia had completely drained my account! I tried to contact Mastercard online, but you have to phone, so I think I’ll have to wait until morning for confirmation of what happened there. I have no idea how to phone over seas from here. It was a real bummer. I am hoping I can get it all straightened out in the morning.

The connection at the Internet place was too slow to email people, though I did check my hotmail, and answer Laurie and Diane’s emails. I came back to the hotel and shared a table over dinner with a nice German couple from Stuttgart who are working here on a two year contract and in the process of searching for a house to live in.

Things are a little unsettled because of this credit card thing, and without a TV in the room it’s not easy getting to sleep.