By now, all of you know about our friend, Barry the V from Cape Town. We met in Santiago, then promptly invited us to Cape Town. Mike and I went on several safaris in 2012, and ended up in Cape Town to visit Barry the V, and Mrs. V at their home.
The trip started out, of all places, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Why? Two reasons: one is that Ethiopian Airlines joined United/Star Alliance. We could fly to Africa with our United miles, in first class, for FREE! And second, our friend in Seattle is originally from Addis. He insisted it would be a great place to visit, and start our African journey. Ethiopian Airlines offered a free stopover, either in Rome or Addis.
Having only been to Tangiers, Morocco before, Africa offered the safari experience that many of us dream about. Add to that, the opportunity to meet up again with Barry the V in Cape Town, after the safaris. But first, the story about Addis.
Culture shock does not adequately describe our cab ride from the Addis airport to the “downtown” business area. In many ways, the conditions reminded me of third world countries in SE Asia. The lack of sanitation perhaps stood out most.
To make matters worse, my bag did not arrive, having ended up in NYC or Rome. Perhaps to ease my anxiety, we pulled up to the palatial oasis, a gated Addis Hilton complex. They certainly made us feel like VIPs, quickly checked in, and ready for several days of exploring in Addis and surrounding areas.
I forgot to mention that Mike and I tried some Ethiopian food in Berkeley before this trip. In particular, the injera, the fermented bread, made me nauseous, even before the trip started. It was even more sickening, as it seemed to dominate the Hilton’s restaurant areas.
Would you believe I set up a tour guide for the relatively modest fee of a pair of used shoes? But before that, things tumbled downhill. Our first meal at the Hilton was the highly popular and plentiful buffet, of both African delicacies, and typical International fare. By the next morning, I was SICK!
But my medication, or at least the most necessary ones, were in my lost bag. So, I suffered through the next day on little more than some OTC drugs, a few items in my toiletry bag, and some Gatorade (or the African equivalent). I was able to get down to the internet room a few times, trying to track my luggage, and send my regular emails. That is, in between visits to the toilet facilities down the hall.
Worse yet, when United/Ethiopian told me my luggage had arrived at the Addis airport, I had to claim it in person. Mike offered, but they insisted that I had to be there. That meant a 40 minute cab ride each way to and from the airport. And I was sicker than a dog! I must tell you that I had to keep the window down the entire way.
As I slowly recovered, I began eating the basics, toast, rice, tea, some fruit, as I recall. Once I felt well enough to head down to the hotel’s famous buffet, I ran into a distinguished looking man at the soup counter. In his best English, he told me to avoid the soup, all the soups. As I thanked him, I realized that was the culprit in this saga.
And what did I see of Addis? I took a long walk around the outer walls of the hotel complex, and proceeded to get sick over and over. Why? Open sewage drains, festering wounds on children, unknown smells of food being cooked and sold.
Fortunately, I felt better each day, but never well enough to explore the area. Mike did his usual exploring on foot. But my guide kept bugging me for the shoes! I discovered that nobody could enter the hotel grounds, since the African Union Summit was meeting at our hotel. In the spirit of good faith, I left the shoes with the concierge, so that he could gather them after the big summit.
This rather bland and circuitous story takes a really odd turn. We boarded our Ethiopian Airlines flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. We taxi out to the runway, already late for our departure. Suddenly, we head back to the gate. Why? We were forced back to pick up the Prime Minister of Swaziland!
So, the distinguished looking man enters, and I realize he is the man who told me not to have the soup!!! But with no seats left in First Class, he heads to coach! Imagine a leader of a Western country sitting in coach? Never. I almost felt like giving him my seat.
Next stops: Johannesburg, then on to Tanzania!
PS: The wannabee guide ultimately received the shoes, but complained they were not Nikes! WTH!