MW Mobile Blog

For friends, family and the random search engine visitor. This blog started as an experiment in mobile blogging from my Palm TREO 600, 700, Prē, HTC Evo, Samsung 5, Pixel 3, Pixel 6 Pro. Now it serves as a simple repository of favorite activities. Expect bad golf, good fishing, great sailing, eating, drinking, adventure travel, occasional politics and anything else I find interesting along the way including, but not limited to, any of the labels listed here...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Addis Ababa - Finis

One more ride with Alxe
Itinerary - Day 23: Full day in Addis Ababa - Departure 
Today, you will have a full day city tour of Addis Ababa which include: Merkato, the largest open air market, St. George Cathedral, Ba’ta Mariam and Pissa and Churchil Avenue for last minute shopping. In the evening, there will be Grand Holidays’ complimentary farewell dinner party with traditional special buffet and local drinks. There will also be cultural dance show of the different ethnic groups living in the country. There will not be any better way of ending a trip. At the end of the Farewell dinner, transfer to Addis Ababa airport for the flight back. End of tour!
Fond farewells & last drink with Yohanes, Alxe and Des
The itinerary for the day was irrelevant, as we've already done most of it.  We took the city tour on our first full day in Addis three weeks ago. We enjoyed the farewell dinner celebration last night. That just left last minute shopping. Sigrid did have a shopping list.

I should mention that I again reacted badly to the Ethiopian food at our farewell dinner last night. I don't believe there was any problem with the food (no one else had an issue).  It was purely psychosomatic. This was the first time I ate injera since getting poisoned at the Buska Lodge.  My system was just not taking any more chances with Ethiopian food, no matter how much I like it. Net net -  Sigrid went shopping with Alxe and Yohanes. I stayed in the room, watched Al-Jazeera to catch up on the world,  reorganized the bags for the flight, and worked on the blog.

Des, Yohanes, and Alxe joined us for a final toast in the Jupiter Hotel bar before heading to the airport. We've been living with these guys for the last three weeks and are going to miss them. This is probably a good time to give our hearty recommendation to Grand Holidays Ethiopia. Des worked extensively with Sigrid over a lot of months to put this itinerary together. We had complete confidence in Alxe as our driver. He kept us safe and comfortable over a lot of days, on a lot of terrible roads, navigating difficult traffic condition. And Yohanes is just a great guide that afforded us a unique opportunity to experience the culture of the country he loves. They are a terrific team.

Regarding the flights -  This was a five airport, 36+ hour routing:

ADD => KRT => FRA => SEA => SFO

The Khartoum stop was a bit of a surprise. Apparently Lufthansa has major fuel infrastructure in Khartoum. Every flight out of Addis stops there for refueling. A five airport day is never a good day. A 36 hour, 5 airport day is definitely a bad day. At least we were in business class, and that almost made it tolerable. Almost.

Dinner time on Lufthansa

We had two security / custom episodes of note.  Entering the Addis Ababa airport, all baggage is run through a security screen.  Right off the bat, my obsidian rock caught the attention of the security personnel.  At first the screener said it was not permitted to take the rock out of the country.  We spent some time explaining that this was just a rock we picked up off the side of the road as a souvenir. Finally they relented, putting the rock back in our bag. We thought that was the end of it. It wasn't.

A couple hours later, as we were boarding the flight, we were intercepted by Lufthansa personnel saying that security wanted to talk to us. What followed was a tour through the bowels of the airport to another security baggage screening machine where again they wanted to look at my rock and again said it was not permitted to remove it from the country.  I did not want to miss the flight, so was constrained in my ability to put up a spirited defense.  In the end, I am disappointed to report that they kept my rock.  I do not understand what makes Ethiopian security so possessive about rocks that litter the sides of their roads.  In retrospect, I suspect the rule is really not about rocks, but about removing ancient hominid artifacts and tools. Since obsidian was used extensively as tools by our ancestors, Ethiopian airport security apparently assumes that all obsidian is an artifact. It's not. My rock was just a rock. I am very bitter about the loss of my rock.

 From Frankfurt we chased the sun all the way home. We took off after dark, and the sun spent most of the time just above or below the horizon for most of the flight, only really getting dark as we flew over the arctic circle.

Approaching Seattle

We went through U.S. customs in Seattle. Why did we fly into Seattle instead of directly to SF? Because United is punitive when you use points for a big trip.  That is the only reason I can think of.  I checked off the box on the customs form admitting we did indeed spend some time on a farm or pasture. Cattle were everywhere in Ethiopia. The whole country is a pasture. Checking that box caused us to be diverted through agricultural screening in customs.  They dug out our hiking boots and cleaned them for us.  We were actually kind of  appreciative. I did not want to clean them.

Finally got home after dark. It was a great trip, but there's no place like home. 

Editors Note: I intend to pre-load and schedule automated blog posts with the daily itinerary for our Ethiopian adventure. For those interested, this may be an easy way to follow along. Since we will not have internet access for most of the trip, my hope is this will make it easier to add some pics and journal commentary if and when we run across an internet connection. If there are no pics or commentary, you'll just have to wait until we get back. We'll see how it goes. UPDATED

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tia, Melka Kontre, Tia Stele, Awash River, Butajira Road

Itinerary Day 22: Hawassa-Addis Ababa 
In the morning, drive back to Addis Ababa through Tia and Melka Kontre on the Butajira road. On this route you will visit places including, Melka Kuntre, and Tia Stele Field.   Melka Konture pre-historic site is situated on the south face of the Awash River Gorge opposite Melka Awash. It’s regarded to be one of the most important Stone Age sites in Ethiopia. This site is best known for the numerous Stone-Age artifacts that have been unearthed along the river including a variety of cleavers, hand-axes, and other tools made from basalt and other hard rocks. The site has also proved to be an important source of fossils of extinct mammals. En-route, here you will visit different tribal villages and typical housing styles of the Gurage and the Oromo. Our final stop on this tour is Tiya, where we can see the northernmost example of a peculiar type of engraved, standing stelae which stretch across parts of southern Ethiopia. These stelae are believed to have been erected between the 12th and 14th centuries and are almost certainly grave markers. Recent excavations at Tiya have revealed the remains of young people of both sexes, aged between 18 - 30 and buried in fetal positions. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stelea field at Tiya today comprises more than 45 stones of up to 2m.
Hawassa to Addis Ababba by way of Lake Ziway
This was the last real tour day of our Ethiopian adventure as we fly out of Addis the following evening.  We drove from Hawassa to Addis Ababa, and instead of winding down, packed a lot into this day. This post will not do it justice. There is just too much ground to cover. We'll focus on the highlights with a few comments and representative pics for each stop.

Rastafarian Village

Sometime in the 1930's, the Rastafarians decided that Emperor Haile Selassie was a god when a drought ended with his visit to Jamaica. Or something. In any case, they've determined that Ethiopia is Zion, many made the pilgrimage to Ethiopia and established the movement here. We decided a drive-by of the Rastafari Museum was adequate given everything else we wanted to do today.

Rift Valley Overlook

I shot this panorama of the rift valley and Lake Ziway from an outlook just off the road.  The rift valley is of volcanic origin. Large veins of black obsidian glass can be seen in the ridges, with chunks and shards of obsidian all over the ground. The glass fascinated me and I picked up a nice 2-3 pound obsidian rock to bring back as a souvenir. Alas it was not to be (see tomorrow's bitter post on Addis Ababa airport security).

 Picture of me holding an obsidian rock I hoped to bring home. 
For reasons that are unclear to me, Sigrid chose to not include the rock in the picture.

Lake Ziway

At the junction of a feeder creek in the middle of a marsh near the shore of Lake Ziway, fisherman bring in their catch each morning.  An extraordinary collection of birds converge for an easy feast as the fisherman clean the catch.  The fishermen attract locals interested in the fish, and the birds bring tourists for the spectacle:

Coffee Ceremony 

The last coffee ceremony of the trip. I'll miss them.  I'll miss the coffee.

Perhaps I will bring back some green coffee beans and import the ceremony to San Francisco.

Tia Stele Field

Not as dramatic or ancient as the stele field we visited in Axum, this UNESCO World Heritage site was still interesting for the quantity of stele found here, the mystery of the markings and the question of who is buried beneath these stones.  Many of the stele are engraved with an icon of the head rest / "pillow" used for sleeping by many in Ethiopia.  Scholars argue about the meaning of this glyph appearing on most of the stones. Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Perhaps it was simply the Ethiopian equivalent of "Rest In Peace".

Melka Kunture Archaeological Dig

The Melka Konture archeological site visit was brief, but one of the most interesting stops of the trip.  This is the site of some of the earliest finds of hominid remains showing tool use and permanent settlements. It was first made famous by the work of Richard Leakey in the early seventies. An enthusiastic and informative archaeology student (who's name I regretfully neglected to write down) guided us through the multiple structures displaying artifacts, educational panels, and the dig site itself.

Obsidian tools found at Gombore II

Gombore II

 After fielding our enthusiastic questions about the Gombore II dig site (more than you ever want to know in the PDF linked here), he decided to show us what he called the "new dig". 

New Dig

A Homo Erectus skull was found at this dig just 3 days before. His excitement about that find was infectious. We'll be looking for a paper in Nature regarding that find and will link here if and when we see it.

Back to Addis Ababa and the Farewell Dinner

We have a farewell dinner scheduled for tomorrow night, courtesy of our tour operator Grand Holidays Ethiopia. During the drive we realized that timing is not going to work given that we are flying out that night.  Yohanes scrambles and reschedules the event for tonight.

Alxe, the Land Cruiser, and the Jupiter Hotel in Addis
 We check back into the Jupiter Hotel, bringing the trip full circle.  For some reason the Jupiter looks a lot more upscale at the end of the trip than it did at the beginning. We are happy to be back and after a short rest reconvene for dinner.  We are delighted to meet Yohane's girlfriend Tigist. Sigrid wears the scarf made by her father.  

The dinner was a at night club that featured popular entertainers and musicians performing high energy versions of traditional Ethiopian music and dance.  There seemed to be more locals that tourists.  Ethiopian food was served buffet style and washed down with Ethiopian beer. It was a long day, but a great day, and a great finish to the trip.

Editors Note: I intend to pre-load and schedule automated blog posts with the daily itinerary for our Ethiopian adventure. For those interested, this may be an easy way to follow along. Since we will not have internet access for most of the trip, my hope is this will make it easier to add some pics and journal commentary if and when we run across an internet connection. If there are no pics or commentary, you'll just have to wait until we get back. We'll see how it goes.UPDATED

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lake Hawassa - Haile Resort

Sunset at Lake Hawassa
Itinerary Day 21: Arbaminch-Chencha-Hawassa 
After breakfast, we will start driving north to Awassa en-route visiting different villages and some of the most beautiful Rift Valley Lakes. After a short drive from Arbaminch, we will make detour to the mountain village of Chencha, the home of the Dorze people. The Dorze people, renowned cotton weavers whose tall beehive shaped and bamboo woven dwellings are among the most distinctive structures to be seen anywhere in Africa. As we finish our Cehncha Village visit, we will continue our drive to Awassa en-route visiting Welyta at Sodo and Alaba at Tenbaro. After check in to Haile Resort, located on the shore of Lake Hawassa, you can relax along the shore of the beautiful Rift Valley lake or take a relaxing walk, or relax in the swimming pool.
Leaving Arba Minch and starting on the road home.
At breakfast we meet a couple of American pilots working for a a private charter company. One used to fly fighters off of carriers.  Sounds like they are keeping pretty busy moving executives and dignitaries around Africa and the Middle East. It's a pretty clear indicator that there is a lot of money and economic activity flowing in and around Arba Minch. 

Arba Minch to Hawassa
 We check out of the Paradise Lodge and begin the drive North.  This is the beginning of the end. Two days to drive back to Addis Ababa and then the flight home.  Tonight we'll be staying at the Haile Resort  on the shore of Lake Hawassa. This luxury resort is a destination in and of itself, so we want to get there for lunch and leave time to enjoy the resort.

We already visited the Dorze a couple days earlier, so they were off the itinerary for today. The only stop enroute was at a Muslim village known for the decorative painting of their thatched roof homes.

Neither Sigrid or I can remember the name of the village or the people who live here.  Perhaps indicative that the trip is winding down and we are ready to go home.

Haile Resort:

Named for the famed long distance runner and Ethiopian hero Haile Gebrselassie, the Haile Resort lives up to its billing as a luxury resort.

 Several restaurants, good food, spa, swimming pool, beautiful facilities, and a room with a view.

Brick oven Neapolitan style pizza and a cold beer hit the spot for lunch.

 Yohanes and Alxe found more fishing line in Arba Minch, so we give it another shot at Lake Hawassa.

I again set up Yohanes with a hand line, and start throwing  flies around. There are fish here - the kingfisher and cormorants are finding them - but no luck. My trophy in Bishigara will be the only catch this trip.

Nice sunset, and with WiFi in the bar and cold beer on tap, I make a small dent in getting the blog updated.  

Editors Note: I intend to pre-load and schedule automated blog posts with the daily itinerary for our Ethiopian adventure. For those interested, this may be an easy way to follow along. Since we will not have internet access for most of the trip, my hope is this will make it easier to add some pics and journal commentary if and when we run across an internet connection. If there are no pics or commentary, you'll just have to wait until we get back. We'll see how it goes.