Writers: Robert Luoma, Jody Bennett
We left Traverse City for Amsterdam via Detroit. At Schipol airport we wandered around the huge shopping area at the airport and had a light meal before going to our hotel. We had no energy to do anything but adjust to the new time zone. We retired early and left for Africa at 10:00 AM the next day.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
We arrived in Addis Ababa at about 11:00 PM. Marc met us at the airport and took us to his house, our Addis hotel.
On our first morning we got a tour of Addis Ababa, which is the capital of Ethiopia. The first surprise we got about Addis was that unlike the Africa we expected, because of all of the “B” movies we had seen over the years, it was about 8,000 feet above sea level. We did not see any sand dunes or desert. The weather was moderate, high forties to eighties F. It was a big city in most senses of the word. There were many new and modern tall buildings. There were also many more one-story buildings of the sole proprietors. Corrugated metal is used for much of the inexpensive construction due to the scarcity and expense of wood. Concrete is in short supply and is reserved for those with connections.
After staying with Marc and Laurel for three days, we, like fish, had begun to smell, so we got on another plane and headed for a safari in Tanzania.
Safari in Tanzania
After about two hours on a plane, we landed at Kilimanjaro Airport. This area was about 7 degrees south of the equator, so the temperature was quite a bit warmer than Addis. We were met at the airport by our guide, Gurdeet. He was going to transport us to our lodgings for that night.
After about an hour in the Toyota Land Cruiser, we arrived at the Serena Hotel in The Ngorongoro Conservation Area. As an aside: on the highway to that area, we noticed a large number of people walking in both directions. This was in areas on the road long distances from any little towns. Most people were carrying large bundles or cans. Because of the lack of local water supplies, the cans contained water. This was the total water supply for most of the houses we saw along the road. The bundles were either wood or some thing to take to the local markets. There were many bicycles, but most of them were not being ridden. They were loaded with the water cans or other items and the people pushed them along the road.
Early the next morning, we rose early, repacked, and met Gurdeet to begin our tour of the Ngorongoro Crater. It took a short while to get down to the level in the crater where we would begin to see the animals. The goal of most safaris is to see the Big Five of the animals: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. Even tho this was not the peak season for safaris, the roads along the bottom of the crater were filled with safari vehicles. The vehicles were all four-wheel drive. It only took a short time and distance into the crater to learn the wisdom to this. There had been an unseasonal rain only a few days before and left the roads in bad condition. We immediately began seeing wild animals. We have all seen the nature programs on TV. As well photographed as they are and as expertly planned and executed as they are, they cannot match seeing the animals up close and personal. Jody and I saw each of the Big Five that first day except a leopard.
We saw large numbers of lions, usually only in groups of four or five. We saw large groups of zebras; we saw huge herds of wildebeests, buffalo, elephants, elands, hippos (mostly in water holes or lakes), and many lesser antelopes. We saw a cheetah shortly after it had made a kill, while it was feeding a short distance from the road. Within minutes, a hundred or so buzzards were circling above the cheetah, waiting for leftovers. We saw some hyenas, but not as many as we thought we would see. After eight hours or so in the crater, we called it a day and we headed to the hotel for that night.
The hotel that night was also a Serena Hotel. It was as good and in a couple ways better than the hotel the first night. For one thing it was right on the edge of the crater; for another thing, it had a pool. Dinner was a gourmet buffet at least equal to the first night.
The next morning we left with Gurdeet to go to Lake Manyara, another area where the wildlife was plentiful. It was here that we saw the leopard. Gurdeet said that the leopard was only out because it was the mating season. We didn’t see the female, but after a lot of noise and movement in the under brush, the leopard acted like a true male. He climbed a tree and went out on limb. He hung three legs down along the limb and relaxed. All he needed was a cigarette to complete the picture.
It was in this area that we saw the only giraffe of the trip. It was too wooded to see very far and the giraffe’s coloring did make it hard to see. It was here that we confounded an elephant in the middle of the road. Gurdeet said that it was too close for comfort and backed up out of its way. It then sauntered past us. It was close enough to touch, but we didn’t.
The next morning we left to go to Arusha where our last Serena Hotel was. It was mostly the same as our first two. Because its location, it had mosquito netting around the bed. Gurdeet left us there. We again spent a pleasant night with good food and comfortable beds. The next morning Jody took a nature walk with one of the hotel staff. She saw cormorants and monitor lizards, walked through swarms of bugs, stood atop termite mounds as big as an acre, was bitten by a fire ant, and got drenched in a short but intense rain. She said she was glad she’d done the walk, but I’m not sure about that. She looked pretty good when she set out. Her return appearance was somewhat bedraggled.
Then it was time to leave for the airport. Because of clouds and fog, we did not get to see Mt. Kilimanjaro until we were in the plane and above all of the clouds. Very impressive!
Back to Addis and on to Lalibela, Ethiopia
We arrived back in Addis later that evening. Our visit didn’t last very long this time. We were back at the airport the next day, together with Marc and Laurel, to fly to Lalibela, about an hour’s flight north of Addis. We were looking for the "eighth wonder of the world." These were the rock-hewn churches in and around Lalibela. The churches were built in the 12th or 13th centuries into the side of the mountain. Remember that these builders were working with hammer and cold chisel. Marc has been to the pyramids at Giza and says that he thinks the churches are more impressive.
We stayed in a brand-new hotel, Tukul Village. It was almost new. It was designed to look like traditional tukul buildings, which are circular stone with thatched, pointed roofs.
There was a restaurant on the grounds so we didn’t have to go far for our meals, although we did on several occasions. We wanted to sample the different cuisine that was available in the area. The most unusual sampling we had was a visit to a tej house (a bar in most countries). We tried the tej, a drink made with honey. The drinks were served in flasks and came in three strengths, non-alcoholic juice, wine, and one not for designated drivers. Our driver was with us so we walked in like we knew what we were doing. Our waiter was very helpful. He apologized that because it was still the Lenten fasting season there were no people dancing, singing, or partying. Evidently a tej house is quite a noisy and wild place usually. The smell of incense was so strong that one had almost had to sit down.
We arose fairly early the next morning, had breakfast, and set out with our driver to see the churches. One church we visited was cut out of the ground. When you came up to the church, you came upon the roof of the church. We walked down into a trench that went around the church. We visited several rooms in the church. We continued our tour of the churches. We had to walk around several churches on walkways that would have given OSHA people coronaries. Some of the walkways were two feet wide and overlooked 30 or 40-foot drops with no guard rails or other protection. To enter the churches, we had to take off our shoes. To assure that no one walked off with the shoes, we had a “shoe tender,” probably a local, enterprising teen who saw an opportunity to make same money. He must have done a good job because we all had the same shoes when we finished. Here’s another one for you ladies, one of churches did not allow females into the church. Several churches had priests that stood and displayed large processional crosses. It is too much for even a lawyer to do justice to with words. Some of our pictures show the inside of the churches, but even they can’t depict how awesome the churches were.
After a good night’s rest, we again met our driver to go to a church that was about an hour drive away. The road to the church was cut out of the side of the mountain and was narrow and twisty. We oftentimes did not want to look out of the window of the van. When we arrived at the parking area for the church, we faced another walk, most of it up hill over bad walkways. Lalibela was at 8,000 or 9,000 feet in elevation. Marc and Laurel were acclimated to Addis which was almost that high, but Jody and I were flat-landers so the walk to the church was a little too much. Jody and I stopped and sat about half way to the church. Marc and Laurel went to the church and said it was worth the walk.
We also visited an open-air market in Lalibela. There were hundreds of people there. Most of them were squeezed into a small space with the goods they had to sell. We couldn’t figure out how the venders knew where to set up. The only venders under shelter were the venders selling clothes. The smell of the local spices and the livestock reminded us of Mackinac Island. If you want a truly different experience, we recommend Lalibela.
After three days in Lalibela we once again returned to Addis for the final three days of our visit. We toured two museums. In one, we saw Lucy, the oldest known human skeleton. The second museum was in what was one of Haili Selassie’s palaces. He gave it to the city and the city converted it into the university. We had dinner at a fine Italian restaurant. Ethiopians have no love for the Italians after the occupation during WWII, but the Italian restaurants are all over Addis. We toured the city on different errands. We also got used to being grandparents, even if by proxy.
Then it was the “fish and visitors” thing again … time to leave. Marc took us to the airport and we started our journey back to Traverse City and our cats via Amsterdam.
We agree that the trip was worth the time, effort, and expense. We saw our new grand- daughter, daughter-in-law, and Africa. I could go on for many pages about Africa and our impressions of it. That will be another paper.