1 – The Beginning

1 – The Beginning

We spent five months preparing this trip. Five months of deciding the route, reading Lonely Planets, analysing our budget and making sure we had all our equipment (you really can find anything and everything nowadays). Our bags were ready just on time. They were a little heavier than we had anticipated, but hey, a solar panel is definitely too cool to be left behind in Paris!

Ready to go, squished into the lift at Arnaud’s parents’ house

Our flight left Paris at 10:15pm on Monday 2nd September. We spent the day chilled, relaxing running around everywhere, trying to finish our last-minute jobs. We still had to buy 14 boxes of antimalarial pills (editor’s note: this should be enough for seven months for the two of us), queue at the Post Office to send the last of our admin, create a website and take photos of our bags.

When everything was finally ready, we headed off for Gare du Nord to take the RER B. In the train we emptied the pill boxes into our bags to take up less room. The people around us seemed flabbergasted at the quantity of pills we had. I think the lady next to us used the occasion to lecture her son on the dangers of drug addiction.

We boarded the plane; the flight went smoothly. Well… for Heather who can sleep anywhere. Arnaud pulled an involuntary all-nighter. A passenger next to us was worried by the fuel smell when the engine started and another complained that the airhostesses of Ethiopian Airlines don’t speak French -_-

We landed in Addis Ababa at 6:30am on Tuesday morning. We walked to our accommodation, a hostel called “Mr Martin’s Cozy place”. Locals in the road pointed out the right door. Inside, we were greeted by a white, dreadlocked lady in her forties and a group of German tourists. We knew straight away we were in the right place! A note in the hallway warned us of frequent water and power cuts. Fear not, we have a solar panel.

After checking-in we went to explore the city centre. We strolled through a beautiful park. It’s forbidden to take photos there. Next, we visited a monument dating from the country’s communist period. The statues glorify the people, army and Cuban revolution. They’re all up there in concrete and steel.

Tiglachin / Derg Monument
 “Down with imperialism”
Amharic: ትግላችን, “our struggle”

We then stopped at a well-known coffee shop in town – it was much needed! Coffee holds an important place in Ethiopian culture, and rightly so, it was delicious. Starbucks clearly doesn’t have a future here.

Kaldi’s coffee…yumm

We had to deal with more practical matters too, so we went to hunt down a local SIM card with internet. In the Ethiocom shop the clients sat waiting on a rectangular bench, they all shifted along a place when a new person got called up to the counter. It was funny, it felt like we were all playing a game of musical chairs! We discovered that though mobile internet is affordable (£2.80 for 1GB), home WiFi is super expensive – with prices going up to £160 monthly. Ethiopia seems to have skipped the ADSL cable stage and gone straight to iPhones.

We tested the local cuisine (Picnic Tibs & Quanta Firfir) for lunch. It was rather yummy and spicy. After that we visited “La Gare” (yep, it’s French).  The building was built by the French to link Addis Ababa to Djibouti during the colonial era. It’s quite pretty and very yellow.

Picnic Tibs & Quanta Firfir
La gare / Legehar

In the street we noticed lots of tradesmen selling little yellow hair-clip flowers made from felt. We asked passers-by their significance. It turns out people wear them during Ethiopian New Year. Ethiopia follows its own calendar and the 12th of September marks the beginning of their 2012! The reason being there are contrasting views on when Jesus was born. Wikipedia will explain it to you better than us.

We bought two flowers, one for each of us but the passer-bys assured us that the flowers are only for girls! A big crowd seemed to be gathering at the top of a square nearby (Meskal Square, for urban geography enthusiasts). We decided to join them. We had to go through two security checks; one by the army, the other by the local police. It took a good twenty minutes. We had to switch on all our electronic items and drink some of our water to prove it really was water – two times. Once in the “festival”, we walked through a sort of Christmas market selling household goods (cleaning products, pens, clothes, electronic appliances etc).

The salesmen swarmed in on the visitors in the aisles. We managed to escape to a spot in a clearing beside a stage. We ordered a couple of beers and waited for the concert to commence. There was a great atmosphere. A little observation: most of the music was local pop/techno music, we heard very little western music. Second observation: the second round of beers was cheaper than the first. Either it was a gesture of goodwill or we paid “white tourist” prices for the first round. We clearly need to improve our negotiation skills!

2012 here we come! Notice the yellow flower in the lady’s hair, an “adey abeba”

After all that we were due for some sleep. We disappeared to our hotel to charge our batteries after a very eventful first day.

Anecdote: We forgot our laptop charger in the countryside before returning to Paris on Monday. We therefore bought an emergency charger at FNAC on the way to the airport. To do so, we parked for 5 minutes in a delivery parking. When we came out of the shop, we saw our car being towed away…with all our luggage inside! Luckily, we convinced the tow truck driver to give us our car back and let us go. Phew, we were so close to not being able to leave for our trip. Update: the charger wasn’t even the right one. We tried another FNAC at airport’s duty-free, but alas, no success. After all that we found the right charger in the first IT shop we walked into in Addis Ababa!

9 Replies to “1 – The Beginning”

  1. Fabulous to read your first entry – thank you! I can almost taste the coffee!
    Off to read about the Ethiopian calendar now 🙂
    God Bless the amenable tow truck driver!

  2. Breathtaking account of your adventure’s commencement. I gasped when your car was being towed away. Enjoy your Ethiopian coffee and beer. Looking forward to the next episode.

  3. Nous sommes ravis d’avoir de vos nouvelles et de pouvoir lire au fur et à mesure vos aventures . Arnaud : il faut que tu prennes aussi des photos d’Heather …..

  4. Wow, what an exciting start to your adventure. My breakfast reading of your blog has certainly put a smile on my face. Safe onward travelling x

  5. Sounds like an exciting start to your world your!! Good to know there is a way to travel back in time! Happy New Year you crazy kids!!

  6. I can’t believe you nearly lost all your luggage before you’d even started!! So glad you made it and it sounds like you’re having a fantastic time! xx

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