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On African soil - Ethiopia

I have arrived in Africa!

Having left the bike at the shipper's warehouse (and that's a whole other story!!!!) I was given a lift to Heathrow, where I sat for a few hours waiting for the Emirates flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, via Dubai.

I'd chosen Emirates over Ethiopian Airlines, having read MANY bad reports about Ethiopian and many good ones about Emirates, so was curious to see how Emirates rated. On the first leg to Dubai, I was very pleased to find that I had 3 seats to myself on the big A380, so I was able to stretch out and doze off occasionally. Food was, well, adequate, but I thought not of the same standard as Qantas, and bottles of water were non-existent.

We were off loaded in Dubai, a massive airport, where I set off on the long, long walk to Gate 134. Although airconditioned, the airport was still hot, and I was perspiring profusely by the time I shuffled forward in the queue to check in. The guy took my boarding pass and shoved it under the reader, intently scanning the computer screen attached. Nope, nothing. He tried again. Nope, nothing. Uh, oh, what's gone wrong here? I thought. Then he logged in to another computer and printed out another boarding pass.

He turned back to me, handing me the new boarding pass: "Margaret, you've been upgraded to Business Class". "Thank you" I said, stunned, as this unasked for upgrading has not happened to me before. Bewdy! Well, this should be good, I thought, as I followed the crowds, slowly shuffling down the stairs and eventually out of a door into the outside air. Smack! It hit me, as it was over 30C, and very humid. Onto a standing only bus, and off we went for what seemed liked miles, crisscrossing the runways and round and about, till eventually we arrived at one of the seemingly hundreds of planes loading straight off the tarmacs.

Well, Business Class was good, as is usual. I had a roomy window seat, and an American (I think) woman sitting beside me. The service and attendants were good, as was the food [breakfast of juice, tea, sliced fruits and yoghurt, followed by egg on toast (that's what they called it) with chicken sausage, steak and a tiny lamb chop with mushrooms and a tomato stuffed with baked beans], although I couldn't figure out if the seats were Skybeds or not, as I couldn't find any levers or buttons,and no-one else seemed to be reclined. Oh well, it was only about a 4 hour flight. Unfortunately, my Kindle had gone flat on the first leg, so I couldn't read my books, but had bought a junky woman's magazine (shock horror!!) in Dubai so amused myself with that. I'm not a fan of inflight entertainment, for some reason, so never watch movies or whatever, just the flight path.

Landing in Addis Ababa, the international/regional airport is quite small, for a capital city. About the size of Hobart airport. It's nothing too flash, believe me! I was back in the 3rd world, and I hadn't even exited the airport yet! I hadn't applied for a Visa in London, as I'd found out that Australians were allowed to get one on arrival. Saved a trip into London, anyway. Here an arrogant man rudely pushed in front of me, as he did again at the Immigration queue. Hurrrrummp! Not impressed! Paid out my US$20 for the visa then off to the Immigration counters. As I was Business Class, I figured out that I had to be in the Diplomats/crew queue, which was confirmed by an American guy in the queue. He'd gone to the big queue (Economy) first, finally reached the counter, and was redirected back over into the diplomats queue. Strange. Then off to the baggage carousel, just as my bag arrived. Bags had to be x-ray screened before exit, after a guy checked the baggage label against the one on my flight folder. Never had that checking done before.

Finally, I walked to the door where I was expecting someone to meet me to take me to the hotel. Nope, no-one for me. One of the security guys mumbled something about "finding out". While waiting, I scanned the crowd awaiting the arrivals, and spotted a guy way out the back with my name on a sheet of paper. So we wandered outside, onto the rocky path, down the hill to the car park, with the guy's helper who wheeled the trolley managing to let my laptop fall off the trolley onto the ground. Yahhhhh!

" Welcome to my car" he says. Oh dear! I was instantly wondering if the poor old bomb of a van would even manage to get out of the carpark. But it did, wobbling its way onto the dirt roads surrounding the airport. It soon became apparent that there are very few paved roads in Addis, just the few main access roads, with all others being rough, potholed dirt, with all roads being filled with ramshackle old cars going everywhere in all directions, although I did finally work out that one "should" drive on the right hand side, when not dodging cars, people, dogs etc.

The evidence of poverty was everywhere, particularly in the enormous numbers of homeless people hunkered down or laying asleep under dirty coverings against the fences on the sides of the roads, in gateways, against buildings, beside derelict cars, clutching their meagre possessions. Other bundles of possessions were arrayed on the ground along the fences, presumably the "homes" to which some would return. Ladies, in particular, were hunkered down close to the road with a small square of cloth spread on the ground, on which were a few vegetables spread out for sale to the passing hordes. In one place, I saw a veritable mountain of jumbled Croc-type shoes in all the colours of the rainbow, arrayed for the buying public.

The overall air was of poverty and ramshackle buildings, old cars, mangy dogs, people in dirty raggedy clothes. It was depressing, but this is the third world, reminiscent of many places through which I'd travelled in central and south America. But it was probably worse than most I'd seen in the Americas.

We bumped and rocked our way along till we eventually arrived at the Mimosa Hotel, which I'd booked over the internet days previously. Here, it was confirmed that they were full up, and I was to be taken to another guest house close by, so off we went again in the van, along the most amazingly bad dirt road for two blocks until we arrived at the Mimenula Guest House. I was a bit suspicious of the outside view, but once inside it was vastly different.

I was greeted in English by the lady owner/manager, and shown to my room in a section out the rear by a lovely young lass who took pride in showing me all around the enormous tiled floor bedroom and ensuite. Very nice! It was verified this morning by the lady of the house that this room is actually the bedroom of the owners/managers, as my suspicions had been aroused by the personal photos, stereo, big TV, womens beauty products etc in the room. I felt a bit bad about this, until she waved it off, explaining that they often move into the other bedrooms in their house (which is out the back of the actual guesthouse) when the guesthouse is full.

After some much needed painkillers and a snooze in the afternoon, I wandered back into the main reception area and asked about the whereabouts of an ATM, as I'd not gotten any local money at the airport, and only had US dollars on me. And so after strict instructions to 'hold tightly onto my bag', another young lass, Mahe, was appointed to take me (walking) into the city. Down endless dirt lanes until we reached a "main" tarmacked road with a fair amount of traffic. After about half an hour we reached Edna Mall, on Bole Road, which I think is the central city shopping area. Totally NOT what one would expect a capital city to be like! I had to step off the "footpath" (such as it was) to let a flock of dirty, daggy sheep, hustled along by the attendant shepherd, have right of way. Yes, this was at the main roundabout of the capital city Addis Ababa!! Footpaths are invariably cracked and broken, unlevel concrete or non-existent. People wander all over the road and it is generally chaos! Sounds like good fun when I go walking by myself in the coming days.

The signs of poverty were still evident here in the city, with the usual clamouring of ragged beggars pleading with outstretched hands for money from the "white foreigner". They seem always to be attracted to caucasians, as apparently we have "wealth". Well, yes, we are much better off than they, but where would we be if we gave to every beggar who beseeched money of us? No, it is better, overall, to learn to harden up and ignore their pleadings, however difficult that may be. Also, there are the hustlers, mainly male, trying to flog off the usual stuff, like SIM cards, etc. thrusting things in your face at every turn

Mahe is an interesting lass with a smattering of English, but enough to hold a conversation. She is 25, and is studying to become a hotel manager. She has lessons in the city of a morning then works at the guesthouse- owned by relatives - in the afternoons and evenings. She told me that the government is "making a new history" for Addis, by instigating major construction and infrastructure works, which is evident by all the partially constructed high rise buildings going up. I'm pretty sure that there must not be a building regulation code in use here, judging by the higgledy-piggledy buildings. Workplace health and safety is virtually non-existent, judging by the ramshackle scaffolding clawing its way up the sides of buildings, made of tree boughs tied together!

Above: Scaffolding, anyone? It's for sale. Below: Views from my bathroom window, showing the road condition.

And yet, down the back lanes, I saw some lovely big, BIG homes, of several levels, partially hidden behind 8, 10, 12 foot high walls and gates topped with razor wire. As in any third world country, there are always the rich and the poor, with an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots. Here in Addis, they appear to live side by side, in shanty shacks and in mansions.

After breakfast this morning - no toast, as there was no electricity due to power cuts, a fairly common occurrence - the manager of the Mimosa Hotel and a helper came to collect me and we walked back along the terribly rutted lane to the hotel. I was taken up to my room, but it had not yet been cleaned, so I settled down in the restaurant/lounge area and started typing. The internet was "down" (again, a common occurrence, apparently) so couldn't check email or anything else, unfortunately, so decided to write my first impressions of Addis Ababa for the website - and hopefully catch up some of the missing UK ride reports.

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