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Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Amazing Race-Worthy Cab Experience in Addis Ababa

This is my final recap for my trip to Ethiopia over the Eid Break in October 2013. I know these recaps took awhile to post and they became quite lengthy. Thank you to those of you whose stuck with me!

I awoke on my last day in Ethiopia to the gentle sounds of children calling. I looked outside, and saw that there was a soccer game in full swing behind our hotel. The children were playing on flat dirt, and they had a full set-up with a referree, jerseys, and spectators. I watched them play for a few minutes, and the kids were good (side note: I attended a few FIFA Under-17 Soccer Matches in Dubai over the past month - these young kids were just as skilled!).

I met up with some of my new friends and we left to explore Addis, knowing that we had to be back at the hotel to catch the airport shuttle by 1:30 pm. After the complicated process of checking out and storing our luggage, we set off to find a cab. My friends had decided they wanted to find three things to take home from Addis: coffee, music, and honey. I agreed with this quest, and agreed to go on the hunt. "Coffee, music, honey" became our mantra of the day.

We had heard of an excellent coffee shop where you could buy coffee to take home with you, so we tried to get our cab driver to take us there. Seven of us piled in a taxi van, and it took off! We weren't exactly sure where we were going, and the guys driving weren't really sure where we wanted to go. Once we got out of the cab, we asked a few people if they knew where we could find "Tacomah", the coffee shop. We were met with blank looks. We eventually found a coffee shop where we could sit down and enjoy a coffee while we planned our next steps.

 Throughout this trip, stopping for a quick cofee was a common occurence. According to the coffee drinkers, Ethiopian coffee is absolutely delicious. It has a smooth and high-quality taste that beats out any other type of coffee. I quickly became addicted to the generic "Addis tea", which I would order in lieu of coffee. It tasted like a cinnamon-flavoured black tea to me - delicious with a bit of added sugar! This high-quality coffee was also incredibly cheap - we ordered 1 tea, 4 single coffees, and 2 double coffees at this shop, and it ended up costing approximately $3 USD.

After enjoying our coffee, our group split into two - one group wanted to go back to the Mercato market, while the rest of us decided to carry on in the hopes of finding the elusive "Tacomah" coffee shop.

Walking around Addis Ababa was the first time I felt like I was experiencing authentic Ethiopian cultuer. Yes, we were a target for beggars and salesmen. People were constantly coming up to us and trying to sell us something or ask for money. Children would walk closely beside us for blocks at a time, trying to engage us in a conversation so we would buy their products.  The mothers holding their babies were heart-breaking, but I have read enough on beggars and the cycle of poverty to know that handing over a few dollars here or there will not make a long-term difference. I also didn't want to become even more of a target because I was willing to give money, like my friend Rory, who kept getting swarmed by salesmen after he bought one map from one of them. I never once felt threatened in Addis - just slightly hasseled a few times. I had a strong grip on my purse at all times, yet I still felt safe enough to take my camera out and take a few pictures when we stopped walking.

We briefly stopped at the Taitu hotel, the place where we had eaten dinner and gone to the jazz club a few nights before. After asking several people along the way, we finally found the elusive Tacomah, only to realize that the shop is actually named "Tamoca!" No wonder no one knew what we were talking about! One gentlemen told us that Tamoca is the best coffee in all of Ethiopian (and therefore, the world!), and we believed him! We had another coffee (and tea!) here and bought coffee to take back with us.

A map of the coffee regions of Ethiopia on the wall of Tamoca! Coffee: acquired.

After this, we set out on our next quest: to find music. My friend Iulia wanted to buy some traditional Ethiopian music, similar to what we had heard on our first night. I agreed, thinking that it would be great to have an actual CD of traditional Ethiopian music. We finally found some music stores, but it turns out that no where sells traditional Ethiopian music. The stores kept trying to sell us Ethiopian "pop" music. I'm not exactly sure why this is. We finally made it to one music store where the gentleman was very nice and understood what we wanted. He told us that you can't buy traditional music on CD, because it would be so difficult to get everyone together to record it. I'm not how much truth there is to this. He let us listen to one of his CDs before we purchased it, which was very kind of him. It is sort of traditional music, but uses synthesized instruments, rather than actual traditional instruments. We decided that with our limited time, this music would be good enough and we bought it! Music: acquired!

A shot from the streets of Addis Ababa. We bought our CDs somewhere in this vicinity.

Our last and final goal of the day was to buy Ethiopian honey. We finally found a supermarket, but they only had 2 jars of reasonably priced honey left, and there were three of us who wanted it! I didn't buy it, but I was a little sad. We therefore decided to find one more grocery store, and I was able to find some! I had to wait in line for a very long time and got some strange looks from the people in the store - I was shopping at a legimiate grocery store, and I'm assuming they didn't get very many tourists in there! Honey: acquired.

When I finally came out of the store, it was nearing 1:00 pm, our goal time to leave this area and head back to the hotel. I realized that our group was having a problem - none of the cab drivers claimed to know our hotel. My friends had been asking the entire time I was in the grocery store. What happened next could have been straight off an episode of The Amazing Race.

We began to frantically walk around the streets, asking several cabs if they knew where the Addis Regency hotel was. We knew the name of the local roundabout, but still, no one knew. We asked people on the street. A few of the cab drivers tried to call people to get directions. We were watching the time, and slowly freaking out. What if we missed the arranged shuttle to the airport? How were we going to get there? I have never felt like a contestant on the Amazing Race so much in my life.

Eventually, we asked one driver to take us to the Taitu hotel. We had caught a cab back to our hotel from the jazz club a few nights earlier, so we figured that the cab drivers there would know the place. We slowly weaved through the packed traffic, still ever-conscious of the time.

Cab driver number one!

When we got to the Taitu Hotel, the girls jumped out, leaving our friend Rory to sort out our money with the cab. I ran to the nearest cab, and anxiously asked him if he knew where the Addis Regency hotel was. He nodded. "Are you sure?" I demanded. "Yes, yes" he reassured me, and we jumped in the cab. We barely negotiated a price, because we just wanted to get there. I'm still not exactly sure what happened, but Rory was still arguing with the other cab driver. I think the original driver had figured out where we wanted to go and wanted to take us back to the hotel, but we had already moved on. Rory eventually got in, and we sped off! We encouraged the driver to go "fast, fast!" and he certainly did. Our driver was weaved in and out of traffic and making his own lanes. He took us on a "shortcut", and we arrived back at our hotel with ten minutes to spare! We burst into the hotel lobby, keyed up and ready to grab our bags. The rest of our group was calmly sitting, eating lunch, and politely asked, "what happened to you guys?". We could only laugh, and tried to explain the situation. The irony of the whole situation is that we ended up waiting for the shuttle for over half an hour at the hotel. When in Addis!

The rest of the day was spent travelling back to Dubai. It was the first time I've been away from Dubai for longer than 2 days, and the first time flying back on an airplane. I was surprised to find myself really excited to be heading back home to Dubai. It really sunk in that Dubai is now my home, not just my "home away home". Although part of my heart will always be in Manitoba, my heart has also settled in Dubai (corny, I know!).

My trip to Ethiopia was eye-opening. I experienced a new culture in a new country while on a new continent. I saw gorgeous scenery. I saw the human's oldest ancestor. I saw poverty-stricken people. I watched live music and dance. I danced with an Ethiopian dancer on stage. I ate local food. I embraced the bus. I did not try the coffee. I peed on the side of the road over a dozen times, often in a group setting. But most of all, I grew as a person.

I hope you have enjoyed my photos and recaps - they will be close to my heart for a long time.

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