Ethiopia & Uganda – A customer blog
Ethiopia, The Roof of Africa.
The high rise buildings of Addis Ababa poke up from the purple mists as the landing gear thuds into place (a welcome sound, I always think) after a perfect dawn of myriad colours.
The hotel collects us and we launch into the maelstrom of traffic which poses an immediate quandary, on which side of the road do they drive here?
They come at us from all sides, swerving at the last moment, masculinity measured by one’s skill at brinkmanship.
However, the driver sits on the left, so they drive on the right.
The city teems with life, beggars side by side with immaculately dressed businessmen, and brightly dressed, petite girls adding a riot of colour to the scene. Size 6 rules.
Written Ethiopian language is like bent paperclips, indecipherable. As I can’t understand the spoken word either, I am in a communication vacuum.
The country is famous for delectable coffee, a fact that we happily endorse while sampling the product in a coffee house. 40p for a top quality Americano? I like it here. I also like the cold, paperclip beer that follows, a cracking drop of grog.
The nearby cathedral is a work of art, an intricate, domed building, covered in detailed, mosaic pictures. Worshipers prostate themselves at particular points around the building, wood and stone worn by visits of the faithful rubbing their noses on hallowed ground.
Gardens surround, an area of peace and tranquillity amid the city bustle.
Cake. I can go no further without mentioning cake. Addis Ababa is knee deep in the stuff. Breakfast, great slabs of the it, the same for other meals. Ethiopians in a coffee shop order plates of delicious comestibles. Cup cakes, chocolate brownies, vanilla sponge and muffins. The girls are size 6 waifs and the blokes, beanpoles, potential marathon runners, and it’s not bloody fair!
Another lettuce leaf please.
Addis is at 7,500 feet of altitude, the thin air noticeable when moving about but on the credit side, the colours more vibrant, especially so on the stained glass windows in the tomb of Haile Sellassie. External walls are filled with windows of biblical scenes or depicting legends, pride of place going to St. George slaying the dragon.
Could do with him in the England team to rout the Welsh dragon.
I digress, back to the windows, each of which is a finely detailed work of art and would stand proud in any art gallery.
On the edge of the city is a small mountain, one with a road to the top to reach the Emperor’s palace, built 150 years ago. We chug comfortably up the gradient in the comfort of an air conditioned Jeep passing a frantitic market and trains of donkeys skipping downhill with bundles of wood on their backs. There’s a it of a view at the top, purple mountains thrusting upward in the north. Trees of infinite variety clad the slopes, flowering hibiscus adding colour to the scene.
A local wedding is taking place on the hotel lawn, the men immaculate in Tuxedos, the women magnificent in white, full length gowns adorned with colourful panels. The Champagne flows and the hotel approach road, is knee deep in Stretch Hummers, the bonnets of which are covered in flowers. I wouldn’t want to try to negotiate the Wollaston bends in those boys! The wedding progresses, accompanied by a superb string quartet. Ethiopia is a secular society and this a Christian ceremony, the proceedings familiar to us.
An enjoyable experience, both visually and audibly.
Egyptian Vultures soar above in strong thermals, the local dogs stretched out under the trees, invisible to the airborne predators.
The restaurant menus are ok, two languages, English and paperclip. I order lamb shank. It arrives floating on sweet porridge, odd. Tasty though. Leannah orders pizza (the Italian influence still strong). It’s the size of a dustbin lid. But here is the best bit, food for two, including paperclip beer, £10. The restaurant supplements it’s income by charging for parking, 2.5 pence per hour. NCP take note! A bloke in a light brown military uniform ensures that the parked cars are perfectly aligned and salutes as you pass unwanted coins through the window. He also stops the traffic to allow drivers to reverse onto the busy road. The Swansgate muli-story was never like this.
Because of the altitude, there are major differences between shade and sunlight. Striding along with the sun on your face at 35 degrees is grand but turning into a shady side street gives a 20 degree temperature drop. Pass me that fleece please. Many women carry a parasol for protection from the fierce sun, colourful umbrellas bobbing up and down on the sidewalk.
We say goodbye to Addis and travel the short distance to the airport departures and join our first queue. Shoes off, belt off, wallet in the tray please.
And this is just to get in.
Queue number two, check in, before joining queue number three, immigration.
We are freed to join queue number four. Belt off, shoes off, stuff in the tray please. Through the scanner.
I point to my hip but still get searched. Back through the scanner.
Sent back out again.
Hearing aids and wristwatch in the tray. Back through the scanner.
I’ve got a sodding replacement hip.
Searched again. Finding no Semtex, Kalashnikov’s or detonators they have a discussion and grudgingly allow me to pass.
Travelling is so rewarding, experiencing different cultures and the joyous interaction with officialdom and bureaucracy.
So much to look forward to though, the departure gate queue, the crocodile at the foot of the aircraft steps, the shuffling to your seat as plonkers stuff massive bags of luggage into overhead lockers.
Sit, smile and relax, the trolley dolly will be along shortly with a can of cold beer. Oh, those bubbles that slip icily down the throat.
We arrive at Entebbe without incident, strolling to the car park and see Amy and Edwin waving. It’s great to be back. Edwin had only just finished his monster cycle ride across Uganda, a tourism pilot and Amy fresh back from a wedding in Belfast.
4 tired people wend their way along the new dual carriageway to Kampala and White House Hill.
On the way I spot a bloke with eight, 6 metre lengths of 50×50 box section tied to his cycle which he pushes along the hard shoulder. Now I know that we are back in Uganda! Red dust swirls in the breeze, the countryside green with growth, bananas, maize and pineapples erupting from the red soil, tilled by hand. Carts laden with produce are pulled to the markets and agriculture thrives.
Amy’s new abode, on top of a hill, has two verandas overlooking the garden and the chicken coop sits in the shade of a laden banana tree, flowering shrubs surrounding. A pleasing breeze blows across the veranda and a Tusker pressed to my hand.
The bungalows atop this leafy hill are mostly occupied by diplomats but Amy’s next door neighbour is the Parliamentary Speaker, two truckloads of armed soldiers sitting outside in case she needs to pop down to Aldi for a packet of cheese and onion.
Oops, she’s posh, probably Waitrose.
A violent thunderstorm splits the night, torrential rain washing detritus and litter from the streets (and any unwary late night revellers). I’m deaf and hear sod all.
For six days I’ve not heard the word ‘Brexit’.
I need a local SIM card so amble down to the precinct with Edwin and Amy’s dog Gozi. The sun bakes but a breeze assists. The traffic is manic but crossing the road simple, just do it. Motorcycles and cars swerve either side of you. Not for the nervous.
I enter the MTN shop and approach the counter.
“Passport please,” her hand outstretched.
“How did you know I wasn’t Ugandan” I ask, astonished.
I get a wide smile. And a SIM card.
I now have to climb 500 feet back to the top of nob hill, bugger.
We climb to the Hotel Diplomate, occupying the summit and watch the sunset in glorious colour, Kampala spread below us, the other six hills thrusting into the black sky. The city becomes lit and spreads to the horizon, blotches of extra light around the hotels.
We are joined by two of Amy’s workmates, a Londoner and a New Yorker and sit drinking beer in the dark, warm evening, African music pulsating from the bar, the stars and new moon brilliant in the sky.
It’s Edwin’s birthday so he and Amy decamp to a noisy, boozey bar for some serious celebration. We take a cab to a highly rated Indian Restaurant, The Masala Chaat House. Superb food, a TV on the wall keeping us abreast of the culmination of the six week Indian election with exhortations to accept the result and leave firearms at home. And Teresa thinks that she has problems! A choice, face a gun or The 1922 Committee. I’d face the gun, the shooter might miss. The Senior Tories, never.
So much food left that Leannah asks the waiter to put it in foil containers. Whilst waiting for the cab, a street urchin appears so we pass him the bag of food. He scampers away to share it with his Dad, sitting in the gutter.
We learn later that encouraging begging is illegal and carries a six month jail term. A stay in a Kampala nick does not fill me with desire.
We set out for Jinja, the source of the Nile and the Friday afternoon Kampala traffic is dire. After 45 minutes of crawling Amy realises that her notebook computer is back at base and needed for the weekend as she has stuff to complete by Monday morning. Boda motorcycles don’t have traffic problems so Edwin leaps out, collars a Boda and vanishes as we continue inching forward. Eventually, on the city outskirts, we stop at a bar where Amy shares her mobile phone GPS position with Edwin who eventually arrives, complete with MacBook. What a man! It cost him though, £2 for the one hour journey. Perhaps he got mates rates?
We arrive at The Kipling Lodge, a luxury resort on the banks of the Nile. Well spaced, thatched cottages on the banks of the river, spacious and welcoming. And chilled Belgian beer. I like it here. The manageress is a French girl in her twenties and in possession of large amounts of chic. Show me a French wench that isn’t.
In the past, I have said unkind things about Jinja but luxury accommodation turns that on it’s head. Also, the food is sensational.
We assemble for breakfast on a first floor balcony, overlooking the swimming pool and the manicured lawns that slope down to the Nile on which dug-out canoes ferry loads up and down the river. The Lodge brochure claims “The Jungle Next Door”, entirely accurate. Dense trees and impenetrable undergrowth border the grounds in a wall of green, punctuated with flowering shrubs, pink, purple and red blooms providing targets for hummingbirds.
Brekker appears beginning with a plate of fresh fruit, dominated by mangoes, avocado and pineapples. Freshly squeezed juice accompanies. ‘Five a Day’ in one hit.
I order eggs on toast, the latter being 40mm thick. That’s a mile and a quarter in Imperial measurement. I can probably tolerate another day here.
We go upstream to The Haven to meet Dan and Rhoda, he from New York, she from Mombasa in Kenya. Dan has a 1200cc trail bike, what a beast! Lunch is taken on a patio with an overlook of the Nile rapids where rafts of punters hurtle down the maelstrom. And get a free shower. “Pass the soap, would you?”
In view of the outlook, I order pan fried Nile Perch, yum. Good decision. The mango ice cream was pukka, too.
“Take a walk down to the jetty, Clive?”
Sod off, that means that I’ll have to walk back up.
Back to base, downstream.
There’s a bit of a theme here, loads of Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycles lying about in various states of disrepair. A popular bike in the UK in the sixties, the entire production plant for the 500cc bikes was sold to India where they are still made. Two of my paragliding/climbing mates were on a Himalayan climbing expedition and, when it was over, they decided to tour India and bought a couple of the Bullet bikes for that purpose. They liked the bikes so much, instead of selling them, they rode back to England on them passing through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Eastern Europe. What a trip and why no book? Come on Bob, get to it.
Eventually, we have to leave Kipling Lodge which I found ruddy ‘ard.
The journey back to Kampala is broken by a stop at a multitude of street side stalls selling barbecued meat. And one that sold beer, attended by a remarkable Tina Turner lookalike. Uncanny. Nearby, a bike on a stand is being pedalled furiously as the drive chain is connected to a grinding wheel for knife and scissor sharpening. We had a bloke like that visit Boundary Avenue in the 50’s. He was crap, too. I used the back step to produce a razor sharp finish on my sheath knife for visits to the woods for cutting spears and bows and arrows. Essential equipment for boys.
A Bavarian Restaurant provides the evenings entertainment where we are joined by two of Amy’s chums, Aggi, a workmate from Algeria and his Italian lass, Christina who works for a human rights organisation.
We visit a local hostelry for lunch, always an adventure. The sign outside offered beer and chips so into the gloom we went and requested two Tuskers and a portion of chips. The beer arrived, 50p each and a quid asked for the fries, the bloke slipping away to the Italian restaurant across the road.
In the meantime, what I can only describe as a ‘Professional Lady’ appeared to assess me as a potential client. She was also as pissed as a cricket, staggering around noisily with a bottle of Club beer.
The fries arrived in a foil container, covered in spaghetti, two for the price of one. We scoffed the delicious chips, necked the grog and fled. Lunch for two for two quid, entertainment free. Good value, Kampala.
We visit Amy at work and join her and others for a Fenix lunch, her software team a good natured and friendly bunch of Ugandans with a scattering of other nationalities. Peaceful gardens surround substantial, colonial style buildings, a nice place to work.
Off home tomorrow but first a game of Sjoulen, a Dutch board game that we have played before with Lianne, Ad, Wilma and Jose in Breda, Holland. Looking forward to that.
It has been a great four weeks, a month of contrasts. Torrential rain, baking sun, cities and national parks, jungles and deserts, rivers and flat, dry plains.
But now I am thinking of my vegetable plots, are the parsnips up, will my car start, the last episode of “Line of Duty” on catch-up TV, Saracens v Exeter, Shetland visit just four weeks away.