As many of you – or possibly only one or two – may have noticed, we have not been posting here as much as we did while overseas. The reason is pretty simple: we were in the midst of reunions with friends and family and getting organised to begin attending UVic tomorrow. Our years of travel and adventure abroad are over for now and we are moving on to a new stage. As a result, we will have less time for adventuring and writing and our trips will certainly be less exotic. So updates on this blog will be much less frequent and they will likely be centered on short trips around BC and the surrounding areas. For those of you who followed us through our adventures, thanks for all the feedback and comments. All the friends we made: hopefully we will see you over here sometime in the near future.

All the best to everyone.


Easing Back Into Canada: Toronto and Quebec City

Our way home was not all that direct. We were sort of easing our way back into Canada with a brief stop in the east. We landed in Toronto where our friend, Mica, met us to show us around a bit. Unfortunately, it was pouring for most of our five days in Toronto and Quebec, so our sightseeing and photos were a little bit limited, but as with all trips where you catch up with friends, we still had a blast.

Much of our time was spent in different cafes and we stopped at a pub called C’est What, which had a fantastic selection of beers and great atmosphere. Somewhere in the mix, the CN tower peeked it’s way out of the clouds long enough for a quick photo, but that was pretty well it for photos from Toronto. We wrapped the evening up with some great Thai food. The only other event of note in Toronto was when Tamara was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by someone peeing the garbage can beside her. Had to come all the way back to Canada for that fun hostel experience.

Trains in Canada are certainly a different ball game than anywhere else we have made use of them. Our Via Rail trip from Toronto to Quebec City was quick, comfortable, relatively timely, and cost as much as we would spend to travel around an entire Asian country!

Comfy, if a little more pricey.

Comfy, if a little more pricey.

We arrived late, but had pre-booked our hotel in the Old City. When we got out the door, the line-up for taxis was insane so we opted to slog it through the rain for the fifteen minutes to the Hotel Acadia. Our room, while small, was a pretty huge improvement from the accommodation we had become accustomed to in Asia.

We were meeting friends who had moved east shortly after we left for Korea and we spent the next three days alternately doing our own thing and spending time with them. Much of our exploring took place in Old City – including the area between the citadel walls and the river.

Given the amount of rain – paired with the fantastic food – we spent a good amount of time holed up in various cafes around the city. There are so many fantastic cafes – including one our friends took us to that roasts their own beans as well.

Crepes, such delicious creations.

Crepes, such delicious creations.

Once our time in Quebec was over we caught a train to Montreal and flights from there back to PG. It was a heck of a trip but boy… it’s great to be home!

Coming in to land in Vancouver. When the plane touched down we had officially been around the world!

Coming in to land in Vancouver. When the plane touched down we had officially been around the world!

Penguins, Wine, and Mountains: Cape Town and Around

Our final stop on the continent was in Cape Town. Caitlyn’s brother, Greg, is attending the university there and kindly agreed to let us crash at his house. Cape Town is sort of the go-to tourist place in South Africa – the place everyone says you ‘have to see’. And it is pretty cool. Cape Town itself is nice, but the surrounding area is spectacular.

Greg picked us up from the airport and took us to his house – shared with three roommates who were away for winter vacation – and then we popped out for lunch before heading out to hit up Cape Town’s major landmark: Table Mountain.

Trapping the city against the water, Table Mountain looks just like it sounds – a giant table. In one of the largest online polls ever it was named one of the seven new natural wonders of the world. There are two ways up, walking or taking the cable car. We were a bit pinched for time and so we headed up on the cable car for a little wander. Although the city was pretty well obscured by clouds, the view was still beautiful.

From Table Mountain we headed over to Camp and Clifton Beaches. Clifton is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It was pretty overcast and sprinkly when we were there but they are definitely a pretty set of beaches with super fine sand. Our final stop for day one was the harbour area for a wander and dinner.

The next day was even more jam packed. We started with breakfast in Kalk Bay at an awesome little restaurant overlooking the harbour.

Sunrise for breakfast

Sunrise for breakfast.

But from there, things got even more awesome. We went to Boulders Beach and hung out with African Penguins! We must have been there for over and hour – there were so many of them all doing different things, babies, mothers defending their nests against seagulls…. so much to see.

The last half of the day was spent checking out Cape Point and then climbing Lion’s Head. Both were great little jaunts, although it would have been nice to spend a little more time exploring the park down around the Cape of Good Hope.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The following morning, we dropped Greg off at the airport and then headed out to Stellenbosch to see Reg, another of our friends from Korea. Stellenbosch is wine country and is less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town. It’s one of the oldest European settlements in the country and many of the buildings are in the traditional Cape Dutch style. We had a great stroll around the town with Reg and then Blake and Reg went to Rust En Verde for a wine tasting (Tamara was stuck doing homework). Wines in this area are fantastic – there is no shortage of choices – and these were no exception. By the time the tasting was finished there was only time for a quick bite before we had to head back to Cape Town.

Our final day in South Africa was pouring rain for the most part, but we decided to head over to Hout Bay – one of the smaller fishing towns strung out to the south of Cape Town. Sadly, we only got a short walk on the beach before we headed back to the house and caught an Uber downtown for dinner.

A friend of Blake’s from previous travels lives in Cape Town and we had arranged to have dinner with him on our last evening. He had picked out a Japanese restaurant downtown that had some excellent food. We even got to try ostrich, which, by the way, is fantastic!

Always great to catch up with old friends!

Always great to catch up with old friends!

Unfortunately, our flight required us to get up at 3:00 AM and so our farewell to Africa and all the friends we have there took place in the middle of the night in a slightly sleep-deprived haze. South Africa was a spectacular part of our trip and, with any luck, we will see some of our friends in Canada in the near future.

A Bird’s Eye View: Climbing with the McMinns

Following our game drives we headed back to Durban to have dinner with Caitlyn, Hendrik, Josh, and Elisti so that we could return Hendrik’s car, say thanks for all C&H had done, and get in a little bit of a last minute catch up. From there we headed to Josh and Elisti’s place for the weekend. They had moved to Durban last summer and had settled into their usual outdoorsy pursuits.

In keeping with that theme, our plan was for a Saturday climb out near Howick. However, before that we stopped by a market to collect the fixings for lunch. Perhaps it was just that we had not been anywhere near a non-Asia market in quite some time, but we don’t recall the farmers’ markets at home having such a wide variety of items available. We had breakfast, bought meat for dinner, cheese for lunch, crackers to supplement and even had a 9:00 AM beer tasting session before picking up a box of craft ales for the evening.

Once we got out to the game preserve where the climbs were located, it was a bit of a walk in and down to get to the climb points. Josh and Eliisti had kindly chosen easier routes so we actually had a hope of completing some of them. We had climbed with them before, but this time they taught us the basics of belaying as well. Climbing really is a great sport and it’s something we are thinking of getting into once we are settled on Vancouver Island. In the end, we both managed to climb two of the three that we attempted. We fell a bunch on each of them and had a lot of coaching from the ground, but we made it and the views from the top were amazing!

That evening Josh was ill so it fell to Blake to try to cook the wildebeast boerewors. Uncertain how to go about it, he made the distinctly non-Afrikaans mistake of unrolling the sausage before cooking it. Still worked out OK, but not exactly traditional Afrikaans style! Sunday was a bit of rest and recovery time from the pace of the previous week. Josh was not feeling well so Elisti took us around to a farmers’ market and a stroll along the north end of the Durban promenade before taking us to an awesome little restaurant called Freedom Cafe tucked away in a modified shipping container. By the time we got back to check on Josh we were just in time to throw together dinner, play a few games and enjoy the sunset before crashing in preparation for an early morning flight.

Not a bad view out over Durban.

Not a bad view out over Durban.

We had booked a shuttle service to the airport from one of the nearby hotels. Elisti dropped us off at 6:00 AM and we were off to Cape Town. It was a great weekend and with any luck we will be showing them around BC in the next couple of years.

Safari Time!: St. Lucia and Hluhluwe

That’s right, we got to go on game drives. And they were awesome! Although we were excited about the prospect of seeing animals we had only seen in movies, we were a little skeptical about the idea of simply driving around for much of the day. In the end it was excellent.

Hendrik and Caitlyn lent us their car and we made the journey north – on the wrong side of the road – without any complications. When we checked into our hotel in St. Lucia proper we were quickly warned that we needed to be careful wandering around town at night as the hippos come out of the nearby estuary to feed and are extremely dangerous. In the event that there was one in the hotel driveway we were to either go back to our room and wait or relax in the cafe across the road until it left. Apparently they kill about 3,000 people every year and get especially upset if a person gets between them and the water.

With that charming little warning in mind we got settled in and explored the immediate area before being picked up for our first game drive. The guide arrived in a safari vehicle meant for nine people, but we were the only ones who had signed up for that day so we got a private tour. It was a sunset tour up the eastern side of the St. Lucia estuary and turned out to be a fantastic introduction to game drives. We did a bunch of game-spotting and saw a lot of cool animals before the sun really settled down.

We stopped for sunset snacks and drinks before continuing on a night drive. This part of the drive was especially cool. After sundowners, the guide handed Blake a spotlight while he held a second one and headed further into the park. We spotted a few sets of eyes along the way, mostly bushbabies, but then there was a leopard on the road! The best part was that it never did run: just continued slowly along and allowed us to have a great look and get a few mediocre photos in the mix. Having crowned the night off with that sighting, we headed back down the road to look for chameleons, one of which our guide brought back to the truck for us to hold. They are pretty entertaining. Super lethargic and always looking to get to the highest point they can reach. Our final sighting was right back in town when we ran into some hippos wandering through the streets. Heed those warnings!

The following morning we were up and out to meet a different truck for a 5 AM start before driving an hour out to Hluhluwe (pronounced shushlooee) for our all day drive. There were two other people on this drive with us and we had some great sightings. For us, some of the most interesting were the giraffes and elephants, but we also saw wild dogs, which are apparently really rare and quite pretty. This tour included  a simple breakfast along with a great lunch braai with sausages and steaks grilled up by our guide.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our final event was a two hour boat cruise on the estuary looking for hippos and crocs. This took place our last morning in the area before our drive back to Durban and was pretty cool. For those who are interested, hippos are really ugly. We originally assumed that rhinos would be ugly and hippos would be comparatively cute. Quite the opposite. We found several different pods and even got to listen to them making a series of calls. We did see a few crocs as well, but they were a lot smaller than expected. Apparently they get bigger up river.

Once we got off the boat we had just enough time to grab a coffee and then head for Durban. We had decided to stop at one of the various farm stalls on the way out for a late lunch and we would highly recommend it. The food, at least at the one we stopped at, was decent and some of the homemade products are amazing!

A Few Thoughts

St. Lucia is an area that is definitely worth visiting and spending several days in. There are several different parks within striking distance and you can see all of the big five in the area – although we never did spot lions.

Game drives are quite reasonably priced, especially if you are working in a foreign currency. An all day drive was only 800 R. each (about 80 CAD) and included pickup and two meals.

It is possible to go on a self-guided drive staying on the main roads within the parks. However, there are roads/trails that seem to be restricted to vehicles driven by certified guides.

Don’t ever put an arm/camera lens outside of the vehicle if you are close to an animal. That is how people get bitten.

Beaches, Mountains, and Old Friends

Our route to South Africa was a slightly roundabout one involving more time sleeping in the Dubai airport, but eventually we arrived in Durban and were greeted by Hendrik and Caitlyn, last seen over a year previously in Korea! Although it was pretty late and we were exhausted after a long 24 hours of airplanes and airports we spent the remainder of the evening catching up and getting up to speed on what the plans were for our three weeks in South Africa. We had arrived with nothing but some vague notions of what we wanted to get up to and Caitlyn had a fantastic itinerary laid out for us. Our first full day in Durban was pretty chilled as we got our feet under us and got settled in. That evening we had our first braai – a culinary tradition we sincerely hope will be adopted by the rest of the world very soon. It’s closest cousin would be the North American BBQ, but done properly with briquettes or charcoal with various spices and marinades. Also, meat is the centerpiece of the meal and the portions are HUGE. We met a couple of Caitlyn and Hendrik’s friends that evening who had just had a little one and all-in-all it was a cozy evening. One thing you don’t realize until you have it again is that constantly travelling means you are often lacking proximity to a friend group with whom you have a shared history. Re-encountering that for the first time in months was fantastic. A couple of days, a stroll on the promenade, and a few more family dinners in which we were graciously included, and it was beach time.

We headed down to Caitlyn’s parents’ cottage in Southbroom – one of a cluster of smaller settlements strung out along the coast south of Durban. This was our decompress time after running around in Ethiopia as well as a chance to refresh our tans as much of our skin had not seen the sun since Agonda beach over a month previously. Southbroom is a quiet little area that has relatively limited crime and was a great place to relax. The Waffle House provided a great little diversion in the form of super decadent waffle-ice cream combos. There was beach time, fantastic food, and general laziness.

However, always advocates of finding fun activities, Caitlyn and Hendrik had two surprises for us. The first was a fantastic flight along the coast to the south into the Eastern Cape. Hendrik had to spend a night in one of the smaller town in the Eastern Cape for work and we got to go on the flight that went to pick him up. Such amazing scenery!

Second, they had arranged for us to visit the highest zipline in Africa. It’s located within the Eland Lake Game Reserve and so it was coupled with our first opportunity to see a bit of South Africa’s safari wildlife. The zipline itself is made up of 21 platforms and about 18 different ziplines, including one over a lake, through a tunnel, and a 600 metre line suspended 300 meters above a gorge! You get going 80-100 KM/hour on that one!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From there we had one night in Durban before heading west and slightly south to the Drakensberg, the mountains around Lesotho. Once again we were staying at a cabin, this one a time-share with other families. Because of the proximity to the Drakensberg Gardens resort, we had access to all the facilities of the resort as well as all the fantastic hiking the mountains could offer. We were joined by two other couples as well and had a pretty fantastic long weekend. The Drakensberg is definitely a place we would recommend people visit if they have the chance. There are several different areas where the mountains can be accessed and none of them are all that far from Durban.

A little lawn bowling to start things off well.

A little lawn bowling to start things off well.

While we were there, we did three hikes. First was a little loop from behind the cottage and into the resort. Since we had not done much in the way of exercise for the better part of four months it was nice to stretch our legs on a relatively flat walk. Across the valley we could see the mountains forming the border with Lesotho. Rhino Horn Peak was especially prevalent in the skyline.

Our second day was a trek through The Three Pools. Because it was winter and the dry season, the river was relatively low and the grasslands were pretty dry. However, there was enough water for two pools, upper and lower – and they were freezing! We were the only ones that managed to get in, but man were they cold.

Our final trek was up towards the Rhino Horn – also hikeable but a very long, hard day – to a place called Pillar Cave. It was just us and Hendrik as Caitlyn was a bit tired. On the way up we spotted a group of Eland that were super tame and stayed right by the trail as we went by.

We wrapped up our time with a little mini-golf at the Gardens before heading back to Durban to reset for our next day trip.

Onward to St. Lucia and three days of game drives.

A Long Overdue Encounter: A Visit to Abote

Our real reason for visiting Ethiopia was a person rather than a place. For the past seven years Tamara has sponsored a child through World Vision and we came to Ethiopia to meet her through the World Vision visiting program. Originally, we were supposed to visit her village when we first arrived, but security concerns had led to the visit being rescheduled for the end of our time in Ethiopia. After applying through the program and setting up the dates, World Vision takes care of pretty much everything else. We were required to bring a certain amount of money to pay for our hotel and food while we were travelling, but that was it. They picked us up from our hotel in the morning and we started the two hour drive north from Addis to the Abote Area Development Program (ADP) offices. Our first stop was to drop our gear at the nearby hotel where we would spend the night. From there we headed to the ADP office for a briefing. The drive was a great chance to take in a bit more of the scenery as well.

ADP staff had prepared a detailed presentation explaining the efforts in the Abote ADP, what problems they are meant to address, and how effective they have been. It was an interesting presentation and gave us a better understanding of where the money goes. While we technically sponsor the child, only a portion of the money goes directly to supporting her. Most of it is allocated to community projects to raise the overall standard of living – considered indirect support for the children. These projects are things like building schools, developing early literacy programs, clean water initiatives, sanitation training, and training in farming techniques. The plan is to withdraw from the ADP in the next five years, so much of their efforts are focused on ensuring that the initiatives can be sustained by the locals or the government after World Vision’s departure.

After the briefing we were finally off to see the child that was the centre of all of it. For added fun we were late. To reach her family compound we had to drive quite a ways down increasingly narrow back roads until we hit a point that was basically a field. From there we had to walk about twenty minutes to reach her family compound. Because we were a bit late the entire family was waiting for us in the yard of the compound. Tamara and her sponsor child immediately recognized each other and hugged. Tears ensued.

While the original plan had been to transport us and the family to a hotel for lunch, the time constraints made this impractical. Instead, we were ushered into the family’s home and seated on the mud benches covered in goat hide that circled the main room in the mud house. The family spoke little to no English (we had translators along), but were incredibly hospitable serving us pepsi, then coffee, and finally lunch. Unfortunately, Blake was unable to partake because he was still reeling from the illness he had picked up in Harar.

After making our way back to the vehicles we headed over to a hotel so that everyone could have bit more to eat (nobody had wanted to eat too much as the family was not supposed to have provided food for us). Blake tried to order toast and/or plain bread but the hotel (restaurants are commonly called hotels in Ethiopia) did not have any. Ever solicitous, the World Vision staff took us back to their compound where there was bread available. But not plain bread. This was bread made from fermented flour – the same as injera. At this point they had gone to so much trouble to find it that it seemed rude to turn it down. Enter another two days of soul-crushing illness for Blake.

Our agenda for the remainder of the afternoon was centered on showing us a bunch of the other projects that are underway in the ADP. We visited an early literacy project that is housed in one of the villager’s homes and run by community volunteers. This reading camp was designed both to help kids under five get a head start and to provide some relief for mothers. Most of the materials for the program are made by the students and they pulled out a matching game to show us the kinds of things they do. Of course, Tamara was in on it straight away.

Literacy program practice. Sign her up!

Literacy program practice. Sign her up!

Our last stop of the day was at a school that World Vision had contributed to. We were taken into a classroom and introduced to one of the teachers. We were there during the final bell releasing the students and then a very odd thing happened. As a huge group, they followed us as we walked towards the vehicles, but they did so in a big horseshoe with us in the middle. Whenever we stopped and tried to engage with them they would step back and hide behind each other – even the older students. Finally, the World Vision staff with us asked them what was going on: they wanted photos with us. So the result was this shot – and that’s the closest we were able to get to them despite their obvious curiosity.

These were some curious, if timid, students.

These were some curious, if timid, students.

That was the end of our time in Abote. While we would have liked to explore the town our hotel was located in, Blake was pretty nauseous by the time we got there so it was an evening around the hotel. Good thing, too, as there were some massive thunderstorms that night that knocked out power for an hour or two. Our visit to Abote was certainly interesting. It was amazing to see Tamara’s sponsor child and we wish we could have spent more time with her. However, it was enlightening to see how World Vision operates as an organisation  If it weren’t for Blake being so ill, it would have been a perfect way to finish our time in Ethiopia.

Old Cities and Elephants: A Journey to Eastern Ethiopia

Schedule changes due to election-related security concerns shortened the time we had available to explore Ethiopia so we opted to head east to Harar. We chose this because the old city of Harar has several different sights and activities that don’t require constantly changing location. We decided to take the bus there and fly back from nearby Dire Dawa.

Selambus buses depart at 5:00 AM from Mekele square in Addis Ababa making for an awfully early start, but the ride itself was actually pretty amazing. Early on we crossed through the Great Rift Valley which was pretty spectacular, and we were constantly passing through little villages and by various animals. We spotted several troops of baboons and a plethora of different birds, including flamingos. There were three stops, one of which was at a restaurant for a late lunch. The others were just short roadside stops for bathroom breaks.

The nice thing about an early departure was that it got us to Harar at a decent hour. We had booked a guesthouse in a traditional Harari house within the old walled city ahead of time, and they had sent a local to meet us and guide us to it. Good thing too, as it was down a maze of streets and alleyways.

The house itself is beautiful and basically everything in the main living space has purpose and/or meaning. There are five levels of seating within the living space. The highest one, which is beside the door, was reserved for when the king visited the house. The door was made large enough that he could ride his horse inside, rack his spear beside his seat, and step directly from his horse to his platform without touching the ground. Surprisingly, the lowest platform was reserved for those who had a physical handicap, making it easier for them to seat themselves unaided. Second highest and situated at the back of the room was the platform reserved for the home owner and head of household. Family members and friends would have been spread between the remaining two based on their standing within the company present.The house itself was built of limestone to keep it cool and was surrounded by a walled courtyard.  Above the door there was a rack with a carpet on it. This indicated that a marriageable aged daughter still resided in the house. When she marries, the carpet will go with her to her husband’s home.

By the time all of this was explained to us and we had been shown to our room – the upstairs, inside room – it was getting close to dinner. We headed out of the old city and up the main street in search of food, wifi, and an internet cafe. We found all three but sadly, none of them were all that good. By the time we finished sending one email at the internet cafe it was dark and a huge thunderstorm had closed in on us. May/June is the beginning of the rainy season in Ethiopia and we were treated to a pretty solid display as we scurried off back to our guesthouse.

The next day we opted to pay for a guided tour of the walled city. Harar is a maze and while we enjoy exploring those kinds of areas alone, the lack of English signs etc. meant that we would not understand most of what we saw. Unfortunately, before we could start our tour we had to change accommodation. We had only booked one night – our policy since a couple of bad experiences in Vietnam – and the rest of the nights were booked up. We spent the morning searching for a decent place, close to the old city, that had wifi  so that Tamara would have an easier time with her courses. Unfortunately, the only place that we found that fit all of this was the Ras Hotel, which was a lot more expensive than most of the other accommodation. Either way we just happy to get settled in and on with exploring.

Harar is a historic trade centre and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also considered by some to be the fourth holy city of Islam with over 80 mosques inside the old city itself. It has well over 300 alleys and a plethora of markets divided based on the items being sold. Until the late 1800s, it was a kingdom in its own right and it retains a strong sense of independence today. We visited the city just before Ramadan. This is significant because at the start of Ramadan, most Muslim families will paint the outer walls of their compounds white. At the end of Ramadan they will paint them in a variety of bright colours, giving the city the colourful appearance we were able to enjoy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We took a couple of hours to eat dinner and explore part of the city on our own before meeting our guide just before sundown to go see the hyena man. Historically, the villagers fed the hyenas during droughts and the tradition has now become something of a tourist draw, where you can watch the hyena man call them in, feed them, play with them, or even feed them yourself. We are usually against any sort of wild animal feeding, but we convinced ourselves that this was a longstanding tradition so we should check it out. Only Tamara was able to feed the hyenas, but it was actually pretty cool to see.

The following morning, we headed to the Babille Elephant Sanctuary with four other travelers we met on the bus to Harar. They had managed to organise a van and guide for much less than the prices we had been quoted. Travelling in a group – especially a group you don’t know well – can be a little tricky, and they were all about getting the best deal and the hell with prior agreements and respect for locals. Not exactly how we prefer to travel, but overall it was a good day. After getting to the sanctuary, picking up the two mandatory armed scouts, slogging the van through several mudholes, and pausing for an African traffic jam, we dismounted in the area where the elephants were last seen and headed into the bush.

Finding the elephants was quite a challenge and required the two scouts, help from a local man and kids, and a lot of walking. It was nice to get up and moving though. In the end, we located the elephants after we heard shots from farmers scaring them away. Our scouts would not take us at all close to them because these elephants apparently get very aggressive after they have been scared by gunfire so we only ever really saw elephant butts at a great distance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had originally planned to stop by a village market on our way back, but we spent too much time in the sanctuary, so we only paused in the Valley of Marvels to check out some balanced rocks before heading back to Harar.

Our final full day in Harar was pretty laid back. It rained on and off so a lot of it was enjoyed from inside cafes. We did wander through some of the old city, exploring the parts that were not on the tour and doing a little shopping, but for the most part it was quiet going.

We had planned to take a minibus from Harar to Dire Dawa – the regional transport centre – to spend a day exploring cave art in the area and then fly back to Addis Ababa after two nights in Dire. As it turned out, Blake was on his way to being very ill the last morning in Harar, so we hired a private car to take us to Dire Dawa for 600 Birr. We also reserved a slightly nicer hotel than we would usually have because it’s horrible to be sick when facilities are not up to snuff. Blake spent most of a day and night with a brutal fever and was still far from recovered by the time we headed back to Addis, so our trip to the east ended with a bit of a whimper instead of a bang and we will have to wait to see cave art.


The only domestic air carrier is Ethiopia airlines. It used to be that it was much cheaper to purchase tickets once you were in country rather than online. Now this appears to only be the case if you are either an Ethiopian resident, or if you flew into the country on Ethiopian airlines. We are not sure how much the discount would be, but for those planning a lot of domestic flights it would likely be worth it to find out and decide if you want to ensure that you come into the country on Ethiopian Airlines to gain the discounts.

It’s worth noting that large signs proclaiming free wifi on restaurants or guesthouses only means that they sometimes might have a weak wifi signal if you stand on the table with your head cocked at 43.2 degrees facing northeast. If wifi is important to you, ask if it’s working before settling on a place.

During the dry season and early wet season many hotels will not have constant access to water. It may only be available in the evening or morning. Again, ask before choosing a place and, if that is the case, try filling some buckets while the water is on so you will be able to flush toilets or have a sponge bath if necessary.

Hyena feeding – or even just watching the feeding – costs over 100 Birr per person.

Rock Hewn Churches and Scams: Our Time in Addis

Full disclosure. We are home in Canada now – which means we can finally finish sorting and uploading photos. So in the next little while we will detail the rest of our adventures in Africa. So without further ado …

Our arrival in Addis Ababa was somewhat shaky. When we are going to be landing in a strange city after dark we usually prefer to have a reservation for our first night. It gives us a destination and takes away some of the uncertainty. Email reservations are not really a thing in Ethiopia – at least not for places in our price range – so we had been trying to call a few places since India without success. This meant that we picked out the hotel we felt was most likely to have a vacancy and figured we would just have to show up and hope for the best. Second, we discovered that it is very difficult to procure Ethiopian Birr outside of the country when you don’t have time to get it specifically ordered in for you. As a result, we arrived with no local currency to discover that the ATMs at the airport were all out of order. Not a great start to our time in Ethiopia.

Eventually we discovered that it is possible to pay the airport taxis in USD so we jumped into one of those and had him take us to the Stay Easy hotel and he even agreed to stop at ATMs along the way so we could try and get some of the local currency. Sadly, this was also a failure. We discovered later that Tamara’s card simply does not work in Ethiopia and had to rely on Blake’s. Finally we dragged ourselves into the hotel, had a bite at the restaurant, and crashed.

Our first full day in Ethiopia began with a meeting with our World Vision contact, Mr. Ebrie, who informed us that our visit with Tamara’s sponsor child could not take place on the Monday (we arrived Friday night) as scheduled because there was election on the Sunday making the security situation a bit of a question mark. Thus our visit was shifted to June second at the end of our time in Ethiopia. He also advised us not to travel anywhere until the Tuesday after the election in case there were to be any unrest following the results. Overall, the amount of time that we could be out of Addis was seriously reduced.

In an effort to make the most of it we headed out to the Red Martyrs Museum near Mekele square. This is a museum in honour of the victims of the Derg which held sway in Ethiopia for years and was very successful at killing off its own citizens. The museum was pretty interesting and in some ways reminded us of the killing fields in Cambodia due mostly to the fact that this museum also has the bones of the many of the victims on display. Although explanations were sparse, it was quite a powerful display and something that we would suggest people may want to explore. We followed this up with lunch at a nearby restaurant. This was our first encounter with Ethiopian food and coffee outside of our hotel and it was actually pretty delicious.

From there our day took a strange turn. Before going into the museum we had brushed off several different people who were trying to appoint themselves as our guides or sell us miscellaneous things. When we headed out intending to catch a taxi to the Piazza area of town we re-encountered one of these guys who immediately re-attached himself to us. In hindsight we should have simply told him to bugger off, politeness be damned. But we didn’t. Our very positive experiences in India with people wanting to help us just to help us lowered our guard and we really were trying to be polite with people rather than assume the worst right off.

Plus, they were really pretty friendly.

Plus, they were really pretty friendly.

On the plus side, they did show us how to navigate the minibus system that serves as public transit around Addis. On the down side they contrived to attach themselves to us for lunch (which we of course paid for) and then include themselves in the taxi ride that we were trying to use to get away from them and have themselves dropped off en route. Of course we had jumped into the cab and then they spoke to the driver and the next thing we know they are climbing in on either side of Blake to ride along. While they have him sandwiched between them they ask for money – allegedly to purchase a specific textbook for school. Blake didn’t really feel like he was in a very secure position to be refusing that particular request, and so compromised by giving them half the money they asked for (about 10 CAD) so that they would get out and we could continue with our day. The worst thing about it was that we could see what was happening but were at a complete loss as to how to get out of it politely. FYI there is no polite way to do it. Sometimes you just have to be rude.

Of course, then the taxi driver dropped us on completely the wrong side of town by saying, yes the hotel is just through the other side of that construction – you can walk through but I can’t drive through. Needless to say that by the time we dragged ourselves back to the hotel we were done with Addis for the day and had little desire to explore in the city again the next day either.

So we booked a guided trip to Washa Mikael church for the following day. Washa Mikael is a rock-hewn church along the same basic lines as those further north at Lalibela although in much worse shape and much smaller. We knew that with the change in itinerary we would not have time to visit any other rock-hewn churches so we figured we would take the opportunity of seeing this one while also escaping the city for the day. Perched on the hill to the northeast of Addis, it is about a 30 minute drive and a 45 minute walk through eucalyptus forest to get to the church. The walk up was really gorgeous and as we arrived at the church entrance, a little boy named Abay (Able from the bible) came straight up to us and grabbed Tamara’s hand. So sweet!

Washa Mikael itself was pretty awesome – keeping in mind we did not go to Lalibela or Tigray – and we are really happy that we made the trip. Depending on what sources you believe, the church is 700-1500 years old. Because it is still attached to the mother rock on one side it is considered semi-monolithic. Much of the main chamber has collapsed – most of it due to shelling during the Italian occupation – and there are only a few of the prayer chambers remaining. Still, it was really neat to be able to climb around and check it out.

That evening – election evening – we got dropped at the edge of town and searched for a restaurant we had read about with a view of the city. We never found it, but did find a great alternative. Then we decided to walk back to our hotel, as it was not that far on the Lonely Planet map. Of course we should have known better. We have had issues with these maps not showing all the turnoffs etc. before and we ended up quite lost after dark in unlit sections of the city on election night. Not an ideal scenario, especially because there were very few taxis due to the election, and especially since we were warned against being out at all on election night. Eventually, a very sweet taxi driver taking his wife out on a date picked us up and brought us back to the hotel, but that was the last straw for the Lonely Planet maps as far as we are concerned.

Tamara did get to see goats, which always puts a smile on her face.

Tamara did get to see goats, which always puts a smile on her face.

The following morning we spent walking up towards the palace; however some major rain showers chased us inside the National Museum to have a look at Lucy and the rest of the displays. The bottom floor dealing with pre-history was really well done, but the top two floors were badly lit and labelled. Still, it was well worth the visit to see the pre-history displays.

That was pretty well it for us in Addis Ababa. We passed through the city a couple more times en route to other locations, but the only other event of any note was a thirty minute  visit to the Merkato on our last day in Ethiopia. Allegedly, the Merkato is the largest open-air market in the horn of Africa and we were looking forward to a maze of stalls and cool produce. Instead we found well established, wide streets and orderly shops full of Chinese imports. A bit disappointing, but perhaps we missed something.


Canadians get Visa on Arrival at Bole Airport. It costs 50 USD and you have to go to a separate window before heading into the immigration lines. There was also an American girl who was able to get a VOA in the same way.

The airport taxis are really expensive even with set fares. If at all possible, try to arrange a pickup through your accommodation.

If possible arrive with Birr already. If not, come with a few USD. You can pay the taxis in USD as well as Birr.

We were never able to get Tamara’s RBC card to work in any Ethiopian ATM. Only Blake’s CIBC card was effective. If possible, it is advisable to travel with cards from two different banks just in case you run into this as well.

Entrance fee for Washa Mikael was 100B/person and another 150B/camera.

The Biggests Day: Dubai Layover

Taking the cheapest flights you can find often means a lot of inconvenience. Cramped seats, low baggage allowances, no food, obscene departure times, indirect flights and long layovers. But every now and then it really works out in your favour. We took FlyDubai from India to Ethiopia and our itinerary included a ten hour layover in Dubai. As an added bonus it was during the day. Unfortunately, it was also a Friday – Muslim holy day – so the souqs along the river would have been closed while we were there. Usually these older parts of town with atmospheric alleys and busy markets are where we would head, but instead we were forced out of character and headed for the Dubai mall (the biggest mall in the world) and the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building).

It was actually pretty cool. When we arrived, most of the stuff at the mall was closed, but we were able to get tickets to go to the observation deck on the 124th floor of the Burj around 9:00. Apparently, later in the day these are liable to be completely sold out. There is also the option to go higher but that would have cost us a few hundred dollars more and we figured it wasn’t worth it. 124 floors is plenty high enough for great views! We did not spend much time up there. Haze meant that we could not see the artificial palm island, but we were able to see a group of artificial islands called ‘the world’ and the Burj Al Arab hotel.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After wandering around the outside before the heat really took over we headed in to explore some of the mall. We aren’t big shoppers but there were some pretty cool things inside. On the ice rink junior teams wearing jets and flames jerseys were playing. There is a three story artificial waterfall that is pretty interesting. Blake was able to replace the rain jacket that went MIA in Thailand for a very reasonable price and Tamara got to ride on her first real roller coaster, even though it was a pretty little one.

So overall, not bad for only having six hours away from the airport. For those wondering if it’s worth it to leave the airport on those layovers – do it!