A Travellerspoint blog

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa: Washing Off the Dust of the Danakil

April 20, 2011

sunny 82 °F

Today we’re up early for our flight back to Addis and then a long journey down to Dar es Salam. This time when we arrived into Addis we knew exactly what to do…walk past the taxi stand and straight over to the minibuses. Mimi was working and Fitsum was out of town so what to do with the day? I know let’s go to Boston Day Spa and treat ourselves to some pampering! Whose idea do you think this was? The Spa was great and after a few treatments we walked out feeling almost normal. Well, almost because I think we’ll be scrubbing sand of our bodies for a long time to come! We negotiated a price and grabbed a cab over to our hotel. We dropped our stuff in the room and immediately grabbed a mini bus over to do some shopping in Mercato. We picked up a wooden rhino we’d seen last week, a few drums made from goat skin and some Ethiopian crosses. Now we are officially maxed out…with every bag stuffed and about to explode!

Mimi arrived at our hotel and after a quick shower we were off to dinner at the Sheraton. When Ruby was in Ethiopia last the two of them would meet Gordon and the flight crew over at the Sheraton for some drinks, pizza, and dancing. It was hard to say goodbye and as Mimi dropped us off at the airport we realized we’d definitely be coming back to see them! The Addis airport is insane and I don’t know if we could think of a more inefficient system than the one they use. There are lines for everything, everyone is impatient and cutting is ok as long as you’re louder than the person behind you! This is definitely not the place to be when you don’t feel well and are mentally and physically exhausted from a crazy weekend! Luckily the flight was pretty smooth and we both got a few hours sleep on our way to Kenya. When we arrived into Nairobi Doc was there to greet us…he’s the best! We drove back to his house telling him all about our crazy adventures and what was next to come. He’s so thoughtful, buying our bus tickets, picking us up at the airport at 1am and even having a cab waiting outside the house at 5:30am! Thank goodness for his help!


Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:02 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)

Ethiopia: Danakil Depression: Surreal Sulfur Salt Flats

April 19, 2011

sunny 130 °F

We’re driving through the sparkling white salt flats of Northern Ethiopia listening to Hindi music “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” being played on the phone of one of our 4 Ethiopian military armed guards. It is blindingly bright outside so we are all wearing sunglasses but at least the road is smooth at last! How surreal? This morning we woke up to an amazing sunrise over our crazy outdoor beds, ate breakfast and at 7am picked up the necessary government military Afar guards. We upgraded to one guard per tourist because we would be less than 30 km from the Eritrean border and in 2007 some British people were kidnapped and held for ransom (BTW they did make it out alive). We headed out on a short one hour drive from Hamed Ela to the Dallol Depression where we walked up over uneven surfaces and sharp jagged salt formations for about 20 minutes. Along the way we saw mineral formations of every color in weird shapes like mushrooms. Then, we descend into the Dallol crater where we see the multi-colored hot sulfur lakes with their bubbling springs. There are so many beautiful colors neon green, yellow, blue, brown, orange, etc. . . . They are actually known as hot brine springs. Of course, this area is also more than 116 meters (328 feet) below sea level and the lowest point on the African continent. It also happens to be one of the lowest points on earth not covered by water! The sulfur is stinky and we’re not sure if that’s what caused a rare nose bleed for Ruby but Ruby has to “sit it out” for a little bit. Later she comes down and joins everybody to watch the bubbling acid and walk over some of these crazy formations. Afterwards we visited some caves and ended up at a crazy lake with dead birds lying on its banks. They have been poisoned by drinking the water that feels “oily” since Tony thought it would be a good idea to stick his finger in the lake. . of course he forgot that he had a cut on that finger. I hope it doesn’t get infected or that he doesn’t turn into the swamp thing!

We think Ruby has some mild heat exhaustion and decides to take it easy from this point on. The army guards had ICY cold water that they shared with Ruby. She learned their secret for keeping it cool. They cover their water canteens in a material like woven hemp or twine and pour a small amount of water on it to get the material wet. Then, they place their canteens on the roof of the truck to cool in the wind with the miracle of evaporation. Amazing, also keeping a wet cloth like Tony’s “camel scarf” over your head will keep you really cool!
Afterwards we continued on to visit the salt mine workers who chip blocks of salt out of the ground and get paid 25 birr (approximately $1.50) per camel to haul blocks of salt up to the highlands. The Afar people make double. It is amazing to believe these guys WALK the camels the entire distance (80 km or more). EVERYONE leaves the Danakil come May 1 to November 1 because the temperatures soar to 146F and above. By this time we were ready to leave as well!

On the drive back to Hamed Ela we heard a dragging sound-- only to find that the strut on Hailu’s truck was now broken. We again hopped into the car with the Katia and Ben and headed back to Hamed Ela without Hailu or the guards. After 2 hours Hailu made it back and had temporarily fixed the strut. Hailu convinced us that everything would be fine if he drove slowly.

After lunch we were ready to drive back to Makele when Hailu got into an argument with Fitsum the other driver and took off with us in the car saying that “they had the better car and would catch up with us later”. Geez, about 20 minutes later we see our “safety car” with the Frenchies take off and leave us in the dust! Tony and I both had a sinking feeling in our stomachs as we watched them race by but luckily we could see them stopped far in the distance waiting for us. When we got close to reaching them . . . they sped off again. The next time we caught up they stopped and waited. Ben and Katia got out of the car and told us that they wanted us to get in ASAP. Apparently, Fitsum and the cook Daniel wanted to leave us behind stating “they would relax and wait for us in the next town. . .60 km away drinking cold cokes” because they were upset with Hailu and didn’t want to wait for us! We can’t believe that they wanted to abandon us with Hailu in a truck with a broken radiator hose AND strut. .. thank god for Ben and Katia who wouldn’t let them do it! The rest of the drive back was going well until Fitsum (the other driver) got into an argument with some local Afar kids when we stopped for cokes. The Afar police wouldn’t let us pass until we explained the situation. Luckily we got out of there and on our way to Makele at long last! We arrived into town at sunset experiencing a range of emotions including relief, exhaustion and anger. The first thing we did was take long hot showers. We met up with our friends Ben and Katia for dinner to celebrate surviving this experience. We noticed that we had some serious temperature control dysfunction going on since we were all shivering and wearing sweaters in 80 degree weather.

Our advice: this is an absolutely AMAZING experience if you’re appropriately prepared: First, DO NOT use Noah Safaris no matter how good their pricing looks. Avoid anyone named Haddas Woldu, Ababa, or Hailu. Book an expensive tour with good air conditioning and physically check out the truck that you will be driving and that it is NEW. You want to be physically ready to hike 20 miles plus in hot weather. The best times to go (weather wise) are between December and January. We recommend good hiking boots, a headlamp, ask for the optional camel up the volcano if you might have trouble, carry high calorie snacks, lots of sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, electrolyte replacement solution, a scarf, an umbrella, and be sure they bring AT LEAST 4 Liters of water per person per day!!


Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:43 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (3)

Ethiopia: Danakil Depression: Volcanic Blisters

April 18, 2011

sunny 130 °F

Sleeping on the rim of the volcano was remarkably comfortable but we didn’t know that Ruby needed to set an alarm (she was the only one with a watch). We got up at 5am and loaded the camel. Boy, the camel was complaining about being woken up and all that weight! Then we started our hike down under the light of the moon. About halfway down the volcano we hear a loud grunt from the camel carrying our supplies followed by a loud “thump”—oops looks like our laptop bag DID ACTUALLY fall off a camel’s back while coming down a volcano. Thank goodness our laptop WASN’T in there!

The hike down seemed like a path of never-ending volcanic rock and after a couple of hours we could finally see the village which looked like an oasis in the distance! It was warming up as we continued to walk, Tony’s sneakers were melting in the heat and my Merrils had seen better days. . our blisters were killing at this point. We were happy to have a breakfast of porridge with sugar and boiled eggs in the shade. The cook accidentally gave us raw eggs instead of the boiled ones and it took Tony TWO tries to figure out that we didn’t have the boiled ones LOL!

Afterwards we started on our drive back to Hamed Ela over very rough terrain. How hard is it to travel to one of the most inhospitable place on earth? VERY HARD. We had to separate the guards and Hailu for the drive. Unfortunately we also had to drive back with Hailu because there wasn’t any other choice. We passed by the site of a roadside bomb from a couple of years ago and thought twice about what we were doing in this crazy land. It only proceeded to get worse from there because after a couple of hours of driving we hear our driver say “I have lost the way” in the middle of a sandstorm. There is really nothing much scarier than that (except for our experiences the day before). The wind had destroyed the “road” which had basically been two tire tracks and our driver was taking another “shortcut”. Tony and I immediately started looking at the mountains and our compass in case we needed to walk it!

Luckily we found two young Afar shepherds in the middle of this sandstorm. They hopped in the car in exchange for a few bottles of water. They led us back to a viable road but before long the truck had another breakdown. We had to stop for camel well water and Tony again decided to take a “camel bath”. Once we got the truck running we drove endlessly through the desert until we stopped for lunch under a palm in the middle of nowhere. We were so exhausted from the 20 miles of hiking that we barely noticed the heat or dust. Finally we headed back to town and before long Hailu’s truck broke down again. This time we left Hailu to fix the truck and quickly smushed into the other truck with our stuff. As we drove, the radio tower at Hamed Ela was like an oasis and we were all just praying to make it being in a single truck now.

Our guides promised us “ice cold cokes” as a reward for all this mess but unfortunately there is no such thing as “ice cold” out there! The shop had a refrigerator but unfortunately no place to plug it in, so it was more like a cooler. The cokes were warm. . . but at least they were cooler than room temp which was about 130F! Tony made a makeshift “shower” out of our bed frames and a tarp—it felt heavenly to rinse off all the sweat and dirt! Tony was finally able to get some of the camel smell off of him! Unfortunately, his camel-covered scarf still carried the distinctive smell for the rest of the trip! We quickly ate dinner and drank some hot vodka mixed with hot mango juice. That was a bad idea because Ruby passed out at about 8pm. That night there was no wind and we decided to lay on our beds under the stars which was pretty amazing.


Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:59 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)

Ethiopia: Danakil Depression: Nightmares and Dreamscapes

April 17, 2011


After a small breakfast outside our huts we loaded stuff in the trucks and started driving out of town. Not even a mile out of town the road ends and all you can see are tire tracks into the desert . . . and we thought the roads were bad yesterday! The farther from town we got the worse the roads got. For a few minutes we got so lost that when we finally found the road our driver, guide and guard started clapping.

It was so hot out that our thermostat maxed out at 120F or 50C and about an hour into our drive our truck overheated! Nothing a little duct tape and all our drinking water couldn’t fix though! Our driver Hailu was always trying to take shortcuts and ended up separating us from our “safety car”—you know the one that is supposed to be available if our truck breaks down in the middle of the desert so we’re not stranded alone in 120+ heat. Needless to say we were scared and cursing Katia and Ben for letting their driver Fitsum take off without us. Thankfully we eventually found the little village where we were going to eat lunch. We were thanking god that the truck did not break down while we were alone and immediately told Katia and Ben not to let their driver leave without us under ANY circumstances. They said that they weren’t able to see out of the back window because of all our supplies and thought their driver Fitsum was paying attention to that sort of thing. Regardless, they would be sure not to leave us in the future.

Right after lunch we took off to head to the Erta Ale volcano. Unfortunately, our driver Hailu drove the car straight into a sand dune! The truck was stuck; it required the help of two trucks, a rope and a shovel to get us out of there. Meanwhile, this is when Tony got so hot that he took his first “camel bath”, a bath of well water for the camels! After a few broken ropes and just about all the people in the village helping we finally got out of the sand dune. Hailu was so angry that he kicked our local Afar guide out of the car and exchanged him with a second Afar policeman. So now it’s Tony, Ruby, Hailu and two Afar guys with machine guns in the car. As soon as we started driving, Hailu was driving “like a jerk” and then proceeded to get into a heated argument with one of the armed Afar guards. We are just watching in terror because they’re arguing in another language! We see fists get raised and start really getting worried. All of a sudden Hailu turns to us and says “do you know what he just said to me? He says he wants to kill me!” Meanwhile, the truck has broken down again and our “safety car” has left us . . . ! We are all alone with these three crazy men . . . yikes, we wanted out of that car so bad. We were willing to brave the desert alone rather than be in a car with arguing men with guns! We watched in terror as they jumped out of the car to fight. . .so Tony jumped in the front seat and was ready to try and start driving if need be, meanwhile I started honking the horn and flashing the headlights in the hopes that this might catch someone’s attention. Sadly, no one came until about 20 minutes later when we saw another truck coming up behind us in the distance. Tony and I jumped out of the car and flagged the truck down and at just about the same moment our “safety truck” came back. At about the same time one of the two armed guards—Hussain was level headed enough and took away the gun from the other arguing guard.

After that we were traumatized and decided we didn’t want to drive with Hailu anymore. We threw all our stuff in the back and smushed into Fitsum’s car like sardines, which was now severely overweight. We decided to test the shocks . . . which failed! With all the weight the back the right suspension fell apart. We left Hailu and the guards behind and headed up to the Erta Ale volcano which means “smoking mountain” in Afar.

This was Ruby’s first camping trip EVER and in true Ruby form she decided to “go big”. We got to base camp and ate a light dinner while watching the sunset. Then, we loaded the camel’s back with supplies —lots of water and anything we’d need up on top. We contemplated whether to leave our laptop (our most precious commodity) at camp or take it up with us but then we thought about the conversation we would need to have with the Dell service center: “Uh yes, so those hoof marks and lava can be explained . . . we decided to take the laptop up to a volcano and it fell 9 feet off a camel’s back and into an active lava lake”. LOL!

In order to avoid the heat of the day we’d complete the 17km (10+mile) hike up to the rim of the Erta Ale volcano at night. Luckily for us we had a huge full moon to light the way. It was not exactly an easy hike: 95-110F heat at night, uphill over sharp, jagged volcanic rock. It wasn’t until about midway through the hike that we realized. .. Oh my god, we’re climbing up to an active volcano in the dark with three men (two armed) and none of which spoke English. Well, it was too late to turn back at that point! Ruby was dragging near the end and unfortunately our driver Fitsum was hypoglycemic from forgetting to eat all day. He was sick all the way up this “stair climber from hell”. Luckily, we had a doctor who was prepared with us! Every time we would ask, our guide would say “just 10 more minutes” in broken English.

The payoff for all of this was BIG. After about three and a half hours of hiking and lots of break for Fitsum we made it to the outer rim of the volcano. We put down our daypacks and climbed down into the outer crater. The landscape was INSANE. It looked like we were on the moon with all the crazy volcanic rock formations. We had to walk across some sort of crazy black material that felt like thin ice that had already been cracked and was just minutes away from collapsing. Every time we would put our weight on it we would feel it give a little more. Needless to say we were treading lightly. At the end of 15 minutes we arrived to the active volcano. WOW!! We have never seen anything like it. We were standing at the edge of an active volcano with huge lava explosions going on 20-30 feet below us! Every now and again we would get hit with a super hot blast of sulfur gas when the wind changed directions or right after a lava explosion. We just stood mesmerized for an hour at least. .. it was like nothing any of us had ever seen before---especially this close! It was just the four of us plus 2 of our guides, no safety ropes, guard rails or otherwise. If any of us wanted we could walk right up to the edge—we would NOT recommend it though. We kept about a 5 foot distance from the edge ourselves since the edge was made only of newly hardened ash. This is a shield volcano with the longest-existing lava lake (present since 1906) and there are only five lava lakes in the world! Afterwards, we got to top off this spectacular evening by sleeping under the stars and huge moon on the rim of an active volcano. It was unforgettable!


Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:59 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (5)

Ethiopia: Danakil Depression: I Think We Just Hit a Donkey!

April 16, 2011

semi-overcast 110 °F

If you read our blog then you know how we like to “cut it close”. So in true Tony and Ruby style we took the first flight from Addis to Makale arriving at 8:30am. At the Makele airport we were picked up by Ababa from Noah Tours and taken to pick up the other couple we would be traveling with to the Danakil Depression. Everything had been running smooth and we had nothing but good things to say about Noah Tours until they stopped the car in the parking lot and told us it would be another $300 US for the trip. Of course we were upset and after some long phone conversations with Haddas Woldu we negotiated to pay an extra $100 each to get the show on the road. We were a total of four; the other couple are both French judges from Paris, named Katia and Benoist.

After a little confusion looking for flashlights in this small town we meet up with our two drivers, Hailu (driving our car) and Fitsum (driving the “Frenchies” car). Ababa told us that she would be putting us in the “GOOD CAR” because we paid a little more and that it would have A/C. It wasn’t until a few miles later that we discovered there was no A/C and the “GOOD CAR” had a BAD radiator hose. As we sat on the side of the road watching our driver Hailu put our drinking water into the car we started questioning our decision about taking this car into one of the most inhospitable places on the planet . . . but after an hour we were back up and running and told that this is no problem and it would be fixed at the next town.

As we turned our first corner we started our descent down a windy road with multiple switchbacks and immediately came across a massive camel caravan. . there must have been at least 300 camels in a row climbing up this hill to the Northern highlands with salt on their backs! The camels were interspersed with the occasional group of donkeys. .which consequently are too stupid to move out of the way . . . so our driver accidentally hit one! As we continued on the landscape changed so many times that we lost count as we drove, there were volcanic rocks, jagged mountains, green desert plants, and sandy areas. We grabbed a quick bite of injera and shiro and picked up our Afar Policemen (one for each car). It was a little uncomfortable being surrounded by guys with guns arguing around our truck but we picked up our guard and passed through the gate into the Afar zone. We rethought our decision again as we drove by a blown up military tank and didn’t see any more houses for a few hours.

After 6 hours of driving we finally arrived into a small town Hamed Ela just after dark. This little village of about 40 huts most made of sticks bound together by twine. It is also known as the “hottest place on earth” with an average daily temperature of 34.5C. There were no lights but the moon was so bright that you didn’t even need a flashlight. It was sandy and windy and we were so dusty from our drive that our hair looked grey. After a wet-wipe bath the crew came out with buckets of water to dump over our heads . . . this was extremely refreshing in the heat. We slept on remarkably comfortable homemade wicker beds with a thin foam mattress. This is the first time we’ve ever seen the moon so bright outside that we both woke up and watched it “set” on the horizon.


Posted by Tony.Ruby 12:43 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa: Taxing Deadlines

April 15, 2011

sunny 78 °F

It’s tax day in the states—thank goodness we’re about 12hrs ahead because Tony’s a major procrastinator and just did his over breakfast on the patio. Afterwards we had to check out the beautiful organic vegetable garden here at Taitu Hotel—they make our delicious salads with ingredients from the yard! Afterwards Tony and I were on a mad rush to get a million things accomplished before leaving to the Danakil early in the morning tomorrow—including picking up some gifts and pharmacy stuff that you can’t get in the middle of the desert. First we walked into the hustle and bustle of the Mercato where every vendor tries to call you into their shop to check out their wares. After some searching around we picked out some presents for Dr. Bansil and Maria as well as a drum for Jeffy. This did require some heavy negotiating but we think we walked out of there without getting raked over the coals. We also had to pick up some TaMocha Coffee for some of our coffee loving friends out there. Next was the pharmacy where for some odd reason they had jars filled with things like de-skinned snakes . . . creepy! Thank goodness for Mimi, Nini and Selam—those three are lifesavers when it comes to helping Ruby get the hard to find things she needs for the trip. . . like contact lens solution!

After all this running around we took time to have an afternoon tea break with Mimi and Fitsum. We were sitting there with these drinks in front of us and started laughing-- I had ordered a macchiato to share (Tony’s fave) and Tony had ordered a ginger tea to share (since that’s Ruby’s favorite). It must be love! We all grabbed a quick dinner at the restaurant and all went to meet up with Dr. Sophie and other WWO employees for some more traditional Ethiopian music and dancing at a French venue. Very cool! It was great to catch up with everybody before leaving! Our night was interrupted by a call from Haddas (our tour company) telling us that the other couple wanted to speak to us before leaving on the trip. We were a little worried but when we spoke to Katia (and Ben) they had nothing to say so we told them we’d see them in the morning in Makele!


Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:28 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa: Decision Time—FOODIE ALERT

April 14, 2011

sunny 78 °F

The world is conspiring against us. . at least that’s what it felt like today when we were trying to coordinate our trip to the Danakil Depression. The toughest issues were: finding travel partners to offset the ridiculous costs and booking our flights to Makele in Northern Ethiopia and back. At 10pm we did get good news from Haddas Woldu who works at Noah Tours: 2 people will be joining us and taking the cost of the trip down from $1400 pp to $600 USD pp for an all inclusive 4 day trip which we think is pretty reasonable considering the other CRAZY price quotes we got. . . $2500-3500 pp. As we're trying to book our tickets, the flights to Northern Ethiopia were all booking up because of the upcoming Easter holiday but we lucked out and were able to reserve a flight for 7am Saturday the 16th . . . cutting it really close. . the tour company will pick us up directly from the airport to head out to the Danakil. To celebrate we had a delicious dinner at Sangam with Mimi and Fitsum for Indian food which is basically an institution in Addis. Fitsum has always wanted to go to the Danakil Depression so we did our best to convince him to take time off and join us on this adventure but alas he’s a workaholic businessman and couldn’t take off this time :(


Posted by Tony.Ruby 07:46 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Ethiopia: Addis: Lucy Was Easier to Find Than Gashu!

April 13, 2011

sunny 82 °F

Last time Ruby was in Ethiopia she hardly did any of the tourist stuff so we’re both really looking forward to exploring more of Ethiopia together. Normally when Tony’s walking outside alone guys come up to try to sell him things or talk to him but when Ruby’s there we rarely get any of that. . it must the “ferenji” factor. We started with a trip to the National Museum where Lucy—and some of the other oldest fossils of man are located. By the way, Lucy was tiny; you’ll see in the pics, she’s about 3 feet tall as an adult. It’s a bit surprising to us that such amazing artifacts are housed in such a humble building. We wanted to meet up with Ruby’s old friend Gashu and just barely missed him. . . he had stopped by the hotel minutes before we arrived. We ate some lunch and met up with Selam’s family and Mimi for some macchiato in the afternoon. The hospitality once again does not fail to surprise us as Selam’s sister offered to drive us to Limetree all the way across town so we could catch up on the blog. Downstairs from Limetree is the Boston Day Spa and Tony and I went in for a visit. By the way, there are lots of places with “Boston” in the name in Addis, if anyone knows why. . let us know :) At the spa Tony was able to get a super professional haircut complete with scalp massage—he is spoiled! Just for that, Ruby decided to get her hair washed and styled and was super happy with the results . . . total cost for both of us: $12 USD including a generous tip.

We planned to go meet up with Ruby’s friend Gashu at a place called Hat Trick, a sports bar on Bole. We decided to walk when while walking through a dark alley we realized it was a little farther than we thought. . so we hopped in a taxi instead! Addis is one of the safest cities in Africa but we’re not ones for taking chances. We met up with Gashu for drinks and dinner at Hat-Trick which was a blast. Gashu always knows the best spots and has connections so of course the owner of the bar, Sammy, spent half the night chatting with us (he’s from Washington DC) and buying us shots! We felt lucky to catch up with Gashu right as he was leaving for Dubai. Of course, he’s the best and helped us coordinate our flights and gave suggestions on the Danakil trip as well.




Posted by Tony.Ruby 07:22 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa: FOODIE Alert with a Show!

April 12, 2011

sunny 80 °F

After a little waiting outside the hotel (we’re on Ethiopia time) Ruby was picked up, in an antique AHOPE ambulance going to the WWO clinic. It’s nothing like the small operation she worked at five years ago. The new building is huge with labs and all the equipment needed to treat the kids and their families. She visited Dr. Sophie and Mimi and also got to help Dr. S with some of the kids in the clinic. Afterwards she hopped into the bus to check out the Center for Community Development to pick up Dr. Abby. Meanwhile Tony spent most of the afternoon battling with the internet connection and trying his best to update the blog. He looked into how to get to the Danakil Depression without going over budget! Mimi picked us up later and we met up with Fitsum over at their house for a pre-dinner drink. Their house is amazing with beautiful furniture and amazing artwork in every room! They had a beach wedding a year ago in Mombasa, Kenya and Ruby fell in love with the pics of Mimi riding in on a camel in her wedding dress . . . another one to add to the list of wedding ideas! We had a blast at Yoda Abyssinia on Bole Road, a traditional Ethiopian restaurant with dancing and music. Ruby was missing Makeda and Gordon since this is something they all enjoyed the last time they were here in Addis. Tony got to experience his first “handwashing” at the table prior to sharing a communal meal. The food was beautiful and delicious, we had lamb tibs, shiro (chickpea stew), doro wat (chicken stew), and all sorts of veggie dishes all served on the traditional injera bread topped off with a bottle of wine. The music was great and the traditional Ethiopian dancers all wore bright costumes and were amazingly talented. Some of the women spun their heads around so fast that we thought they might fall off, and the men were doing something similar to the “running man” at warp speed! We’ll try to upload some video for you guys to see :)


Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:30 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (1)

Ethiopia:A-hope this Minibus is Going in the Right Direction

April 11, 2011

sunny 83 °F

We woke up early for tea on the beautiful hotel patio. Ruby planned to visit the “little” AHOPE orphanage around 2 pm today so we’re going to get caught up on errands in the morning. As you know from our backdated blog most places in Africa have little to no internet. Taitu Hotel has been pretty good until this morning when the internet stopped working! Kelly, one of the hotel guests recommended Limetree, a small coffee shop, close to the airport that has reliable internet. The taxies in Addis are pretty expensive so we decided to try our luck with the local minibuses. Ruby told Tony that most people in Ethiopia speak perfect English but that’s because she never had to take a local minibus before. After a little confusion and talking to just about every bus driver on the street we found the correct van. Unfortunately when we arrived at Limetree their internet was out too! :( After a quick lunch we started on our way back. This time we knew exactly where we were going and it was a lot easier. Ruby says a lot has changed in this city in the last five years but today we got to see our first city animal, a donkey! We arrived at a bus stop called Mexico and our driver (being the nice guy that he is) offered to give us a ride down the road to AHOPE for only 80 birr (about $6US). This sounded good at the time because we didn’t want to be late. . . so we took him up on his offer. It turns out we could have gotten there for 5 birr (30 cents total) if we had just switched to another minibus 5 feet away from the one we were on.

AHOPE is an organization dedicated to the care of HIV positive orphans; Ruby spent 2 months working with AHOPE and the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO) the last time she was here. We met with Sidisse who is the director of AHOPE and got the most recent updates—including that there is now funding for the kids to go to school and because of increased survival rates (thanks to retroviral drugs) plans are being made for their futures. This is important since some of the orphans are now in their late teens and have survived long enough to start to think about things like job training and independent housing. We sat in on a lecture given by Dr. Abby and Dr. Ruby was asked a lot of questions. Afterwards we had some fun spending time with the kids; Ruby sang “This is the Day” and hung out with the babies while Tony made paper airplanes. Afterwards we went to Arcoboleno where Ruby would eat with her friends Makeda and Gashu all the time when she was here five years ago. We had a yummy pasta and red wine. The minibuses stopped on the road just outside of AHOPE so we walked out, flagged one down and took it to the Mexico stop. This time it only cost us 5 birr. Funny thing about the Mexico stop, it really is like Mexico! There are people walking everywhere, a crazy intersection with 8 roads leading into a roundabout and mass confusion. We arrived back to the hotel exhausted! We decided to order a small dinner in the room and watch a movie: The Wicker Man. The movie was 1:45 min long and after watching 1:33 min it stopped working! :( What the heck? Why can’t we come up with a better technology than CDs? We were both so frustrated that we put The Wicker Man into the wicker basket!


Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:12 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa: Please Addis to Your Danakil Tour!

April 10, 2011

sunny 78 °F

We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived into Addis around 6am—the visas were only $20 pp instead of the $70 pp that they cost from the consulate in the US!? :) We grabbed our bags and Ruby noticed that the exchange rate for USD is almost double what it was the last time she was here 5 years ago. We grabbed our bags and once again the taxi guys saw Tony (the ferenji) coming from a mile away. They wanted to charge us 250birr (about $ 15 US) to take us to the Taitu Hotel. Ruby has been to Ethiopia before and knew that this was totally overpriced. After a little walking around and negotiating we noticed that small blue minibuses kept driving by the far end of the parking lot. We walked over and talked to one of the drivers and after a little bargaining got a ride direct to the hotel for only 100 birr ($8 US). When driving in, Ruby hardly recognized Addis—the roads are paved, there are tall buildings and tons of construction. . and where did all the goats go?? Ruby’s friend Mimi had let the hotel know that we would be arriving around 7am so our room was ready to go. If you’re ever in Addis on a budget we definitely recommend Taitu Hotel! It cost us around $25 or less a night, the beds are super comfortable with clean bathrooms and hot water! Plus, Selam and Nini are two of the hotel managers and they totally go out of their way to make sure you are happy as a guest. We took a well- deserved nap and then showered around noon.

We enjoyed a sunny, relaxing lunch on the hotel patio. Ruby was so excited to order her fave: lamb tibs with injera (sourdough like bread) for lunch at the hotel. Afterwards we visited some tour agencies to decide what to do—Ruby has her heart set on visiting the Danakil Depression which is the lowest point in Africa so we’re working on making that happen. We were hoping to go back to Nairobi a little early to spend more time with Dr. Bansil and Maria and the fam but we’re not going to be able to change our flight back to Nairobi. Unfortunately, Ethiopian airlines charges $50 pp for each change! Despite procrastinating until the last minute—Ruby’s taxes were filed electronically today from Africa :) Ruby’s friend Mimi and her husband Fitsum who owns Taitu hotel came by and we spent a lot of time catching up over coffee before heading out to a delicious Italian dinner at BlueTops for Italian. Don’t miss the tiramisu for dessert :)


Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:42 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Kenya: Nairobi: Ruby and the Elephant Foot!--FOODIE ALERT

April 9, 2011

sunny 82 °F

Dr. Bansil had to go into work for a few hours so we got up and started our day with the important stuff like doing the budget, filing taxes and paying bills online. You know . . . all the things people do when they’re not on vacation for 7 months! :) Doc and Maria arrived to the house around 1pm and we checked out the newspaper. . they were just featured giving advice on how to obtain safe and effective skincare treatments! After a few photos on his elephant foot stool (yes it’s real) we drove over to the local mall for a little window shopping and some lunch. The mall was just as nice as anything in the US and just as expensive. Maria is such a sweetheart and wanted to pick us up some fresh passion fruits for our trip tonight. We stopped for drinks at one of Maria’s favorite spots that had an interesting red pepper martini drink and Ruby’s favorite lychee martinis! :) Pani puris were mentioned and doc took us over to Haandi Uddpi Restaurant to get exactly those. Who knew mall food could be so good? Even at the mall restaurant Doc knew the owner who even came out to meet us and see if there was anything we needed! We had the most delicious masala dosa (South Indian thin wafer like bread with spicy potatoes) and pani puris and left happy as clams. We made our way back to Doc’s house for a little rest before the big night of BINGO. Maria was already there with her whole family. We chatted with Maria’s daughter Priscilla about her starting work as a lawyer on Monday. Unfortunately we didn’t hit the big jackpot but maybe next time! At a little past midnight Doc dropped us off at the Nairobi airport and we were on our way to Ethiopia for a painfully early flight (3:30am). We can’t thank Dr. Bansil enough and hope that someday we can return the amazing hospitality he’s shown us!


Posted by Tony.Ruby 14:29 Archived in Kenya Comments (2)

Kenya: Nairobi: Bead Factory Bingo!--FOODIE ALERT

April 8, 2011

sunny 80 °F

Ruby got up early to head over to Kenyatta hospital for a chance to visit the main dermatology clinic. There are actually only about 20 dermatologists in the entire country of Kenya so she felt lucky to meet several of them during this visit. She was met by Dr. Makuri who happens to be one of the top guys—he was super nice and was happy to show Ruby some of the interesting cases. EVERY patient that walked in the door was different and she even got to take some pictures (we'll spare showing you those!). She was shocked to find out this government hospital does not provide cryotherapy treatment which is very common in dermatology and that patients have to go to a private physician and pay cash if they’d like to be treated.

Later in the afternoon, Maria’s driver Anthony picked us up and took us directly to the Kazuri bead factory. We can't escape wildlife because there were some adorable vervet monkeys hanging outside. Maria’s husband Piety is the CEO and it was great to get a personal tour-- we found out that the clay is collected from the base of Mt. Kenya and then dried to form hand-painted beads in the shop. We actually watched the workers individually hand-shaping and painting the beads. The company employs over 340 women (mainly single mothers), and disadvantaged members of Kenyan society. The beaded jewelry and ceramic pottery were gorgeous in every color of the rainbow. Needless to say, Ruby loves buying things—especially if it’s authentic and for a good cause. Tony had to drag Ruby out of there before she spent our entire daily budget!

Maria's driver Anthony then took us to an art gallery called Matbronze. This gallery is famous for their bronze sculptures, they were incredible! We will definitely be coming back when we have a house (and more money) since both of us fell in love with two HUGE crowned cranes that definitely were NOT in our budget nor would they fit in our bags! Anthony then drove us to Dr. Bansil’s house and on the way showed us Nairobi National Park just a few kilometers away. We didn’t know that he (or the city) was just one kilometer from the Big 5! Maria and Piety came over and after a few drinks we drove to a restaurant called Nargis for some delicious chicken. Eating with Doc (Dr. Bansil) is something truly special! As soon as we walk in the door the owner Yosuf stops what he’s doing and comes over to meet all of us. The service was amazing and even the cooks in the kitchen came out to ask how we would like our food. Tony didn’t want to be like a typical “white guy” so he told them that medium spice would be ok. This may not have been the best idea because their version of medium was more like burning hot! They even have a hot sauce that they made custom for our table called Kill Me Now! Tony must have had a few gallons of water but survived the spicy dinner! Doc then took us out to a casino for a night of BINGO. I wish we had photos because it was so much fun but the casino had a no photo policy! :( Unfortunately we didn’t win the big jackpot but had an amazing night anyway!


Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:58 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Kenya: Nairobi's Only Punjabi Dermatologist--FOODIE ALERT

April 7, 2011

sunny 80 °F

We got up early today and quickly realized that Ruby didn’t really bring any “work” clothes with her on this trip. She was planning on visiting her friend Pooja’s dad who’s a Punjabi dermatologist here in Nairobi. We spent almost a half hour agonizing on what to wear until she found something that looked semi-professional. We quickly caught a cab to Nairobi Hospital and while Tony sat at the coffee shop she went up to meet Dr. Bansil. He has a super nice office which reminded Ruby a lot of the BSI in Palo Alto (he just finished renovating). We made plans to meet for dinner after work since his patients are not the type to like observers. Dr. Bansil helped Ruby set up a day of shadowing at Kenyatta hospital for tomorrow. Tony plans on spending most of the day updating the blog. . . if we can find some decent internet! After checking into the Wildebeest Lodge we organized our clothes and finally got a chance to update some days on the blog. Time went by so fast that before we knew it we had to meet back up with Dr. Bansil for dinner. We arrived at his office just as they were finishing up the day. He invited us to his assistant Maria’s house for some pre-dinner drinks. Maria and her husband Piety have a gorgeous house with tons of collectibles and they are Goan (from the Indian state of Goa) so we had plenty to chat about. Tony got to drink his Amarula with ice and Ruby happily accepted the red Italian wine that Maria offered. and we had a blast chatting about our time in Goa. Afterwards Dr. Bansil treated us to a delicious long dinner at an Indian Food restaurant called Haandi. Kenyan Indian food is delicious but much spicier than the Indian food we’re used to. The fish tikka, panner tikka, aloo gobi, and coriander naan went great with the bottle of red we enjoyed over dinner :)


Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:21 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Tanzania: Arusha: Will This Dirt Road Take Us to Kenya?

April 6, 2011

sunny 82 °F

We got up and watched Discovery channel for a few hours and now want to take Ruby’s family and friends in India on a field trip go see tigers in Rajasthan. We should really stop watching travel shows! We then took care of a few odds and ends including getting a bus ticket to Kenya. We ran an errand on India Street (Arusha's jewelry row). It’s really hard to find Wi-Fi here in Arusha and when you do the power usually shuts off (the power goes out every day)! After running around for a few hours we arrived at the bus station/gravel parking lot of an old hotel. The bus is small and looks more like a battered old school bus that’s been repainted. All our bags got tied to the roof with a tarp over them and at 2pm we were off. We were sad to leave Tanzania with its full-color, multisensory experiences but it is time for our next adventure.

The road we took north was half-part dirt 4x4 trail and half race track. We felt like our old bus was going to rattle apart on the bumpy roads and even tried stuffing toilet paper in the windows to help hold the thing together. When the bus was on the smooth roads it was no easier to relax! Our driver had to be the fastest car on the road passing everything and not bothering to slow for small things like speed bumps or kids crossing! If you come to Tanzania and see an old school bus with bags on the roof honking and kicking up dust you better get out of the way! We arrived at the border and it was pretty uneventful. Just a few small portable buildings and I don’t even think they had a sign saying welcome to Kenya. By the way our single entry visa cost $25 p/p. We stopped to talk to someone about exchanging money and almost got left at the border!? As we walked out we saw our bus drive away and had to run to catch it! The buses in Tanzania don’t bother with things like head counts or asking if everyone is back on. When they say “we’re going to stop for 10 min” you better be back on in 9 because the bus is going to start moving!

On the bus ride we met two British kids who have been in Tanzania going to an international school for the last three years. They really were enjoying it and said it was a worthwhile experience--in the future we may have to consider sending our kids to school in India to live with Ruby’s family for a year or two. We arrived into Nairobi around 8:30pm, and started looking for a hotel in the area. Unfortunately Dr. Bansil couldn’t meet up tonight so we walked over to a hotel one our friend recommended. It was nice but a little out of our price range so we walked around and decided on Hotel Embassy just around the corner, ate and called it a night.


Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:12 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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