Monday, September 29, 2014

First Impressions

Walking out of the airport and into the cool Addis Ababa night, we had our first glimpse of Ethiopian life. Because our flight ended up getting in so much later than we had planned, we were at the mercy of the night shift taxi drivers to get us safely to our guesthouse. From our experiences in Tanzania, we were more than a bit cautious about this, since we are very aware of the many taxi-related incidents faced by other volunteers.

We were first approached by a woman who was in charge of “airport taxis” and she told us it was going to be 350 birr total (about $17.50) to get into the city. Steve and I knew that it should only have cost about 150 birr ($7.50) or less, so we were prepared for the bargaining. Once we told her we couldn’t afford that price she told us about the “private taxis” that looked more like minivans or “dala dalas” that can be found in Tanzania. As we were walking towards the private taxis, we were then approached by a horde of airport taxi drivers. Behind them stood very old, Russian mob-like taxis waiting to be used. Honestly, they looked too used and we weren’t even sure if they would still run.

After some bargaining with the English-speaking taxi “pimp” we were led to one of these said airport taxis. Steve and I took one look at the yellow clown car, and that was the first time we spoke in Swahili to each other to confirm whether or not we made the right decision. We didn’t really have any other choice and for some reason, we both didn’t get any bad vibes about it, so why not add excitement to our adventure, right? We shoved our bags and bodies into the back seat and we were on our way to Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place, a recommended guesthouse by Ethiopia PCVs. After our driver got to the supposed location of MM Cozy Place (because it was kind of tucked away in an alley), he asked around to make sure we arrived at the right place. Steve and I were left in the ancient box of metal in the dark, both literally and figuratively, and we hoped for the best. Even still, we were very comfortable and did not at all fear for our lives. I am not sure if it was the atmosphere, the driver’s persona, or what, but our guts were incredibly spot on. When the driver came back, he led us straight to the gate of MM Cozy Place, waited for the guard to get us, and then accepted the taxi fare with a curt goodnight.

Enjoying some free wi-fi from our Cozy guesthouse in Addis Ababa

This was my first insight into some of the major differences I would come to notice between Tanzania and Ethiopia. Though I wanted to be very cautious traveling in an African country where I didn’t have the luxury of knowing the language or local prices for things, it was a relief to see that, even in a large capital city such as Addis, I didn’t have to be paranoid about crime towards foreigners as was often the case in Dar es Salaam. In fact I found Addis Ababa to be very safe. Granted we were patted down and had our bags checked in nearly every building we entered, but this was more of a precaution against the various security issues surrounding Ethiopia as a country than an indication of the local threat level.

Addis is a large city, though much smaller than the likes of which I've grown used to in Tanzania, i.e. Dar. Walking through the streets, I definitely noticed a lot of similarities in terms of the state of buildings, typical shops to be found and local transport options (small buses similar to dala dalas). Maybe the most striking difference, other than the language and food, was the fact that people weren't constantly calling us foreigners ("wazungu" in Swahili) or hassling us to buy things/get in a taxi, which was definitely a welcome relief to both of us.

(Left) Steve with the shaggy dog at our first local Ethiopian meal
(Right) The staple injera (fermented spongy bread) with lamb tibbs – it was delicious!

It was a slight step up from Tanzania in accommodation options (there was WiFi in pretty much every guesthouse/hotel we stayed at), infrastructure (at least in Addis) and food and drink. Oh my was everything we had to drink delicious! The JUICE was AH-MAZING! Imagine freshly blended juice that was so thick it probably should have been more like a smoothie but contained just ice and the fruit. And sometimes they would even put a drizzle of chocolate sauce on the inside of the glass before they poured in the perfectly blended juice! After our first tasty glass of juice, we ordered it wherever we ate if possible - especially Steve.

For those who don't already know, I like avocados. Quite a bit in fact. Tanzania has many avocados, which are available at an incredibly cheap price (when in-season, softball size = about 10-15 cents). During my time there, I would spend many a lazy afternoon lying around, surrounded by giant, fresh, often free avocados, daydreaming about new avocado concoctions that I would like to try. Avocado pudding, avocado gravy and deep fried guacamole nuggets were a few that I had the luxury of trying throughout my three years in Tanzania. But one that I did not get to put into practice was the mouth-watering avocado milkshake. I wondered if there existed such a thing anywhere in the world which could live up to my steep expectations. Ethiopia proved to me that in fact this dream of mine could become a reality. For little more than $1, I received a tall glass of a beautifully green, thick, creamy avocado smoothie, full of rich, natural flavor and with a consistency that would put any Burger King, Dairy Queen or other American fast food royalty to shame. This was the stuff dreams are made of. Well, my dreams anyways...

(Left) Orange juice that was more like a slushy and (right) avocado and strawberry juice with chocolate drizzle

Steve's dream came true with the avocado juice/smoothie and one of mine came true when I got to see so many old castles! After Addis, we were flying off to the land of castles in...Gondar.

1 comment:

  1. Those smoothies look yummy! I love Avocado too! :)