Africa – huge continent, huge differences

Visa headingSetting off on a trip to Malawi and stopping in Ethiopia for a few days on the way back, I am startled at the differences in how each country is able to deal with visitors. Ethiopia has a slick on-one visa application system. Malawi’s is cumbersome, both in terms of what I need to do in advance and in the four-queue system I’ll meet on arrival – check form, pay, get receipt, get visa. These were the people whose website said that Irish citizens didn’t need a visa but they explained to me that this was not updated and ‘all the other Irish people’ knew they needed a visa, so why didn’t I?

The modern hotel into which I’ve booked in Addis Ababa, in spite of urgent and kind invitations to friends’ homes, operates a shuttle service from the airport and responds to my email about that within a couple of hours. That is helpful as even locals don’t think it’s safe for me to travel by taxi on my own from the airport there.

This is not the place for an analysis of why these two countries are so different, just noting it with regret because Malawi, like Ethiopia, needs visitors and tourists and needs to make it easier all round.

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Getting around Addis by ‘bus’

This seems so much safer than taxis. There are ‘line buses’ or ‘line taxis’ which are blue mini-buses and they serve the main road lines in the city. They stop at regular places, not marked but you know where because that is were people are waiting. They come by all the time and a young man hangs out the door shouting the destination and route. You get on and find a seat. You then give the shouting boy one or two birr (almost no money, even here) and he gives you some worthless coins in change and all this happens en route. The shouting boys and other passengers are very kind and always remind me of my stop if I don’t notice it.

The bigger buses are much fuller as you don’t need a seat – just crush on. It costs the same. It is all very hectic at rush-hour and yesterday I was a bit mystified at people on the street offering money to those inside – I need to find out what that was about. Those offering the money had been unable to get on the bus as it was full. Odd.

All you need for these buses is loose change, ideally carried in a separate pocket. Way to go!

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Making babies cry

I know that I am scary but it is a challenge when babies cry at the sight of me! This happened on my trek in the mountains where I met local people and tons of children. The older ones want to chat and check how I feel by shaking hands but the babies cry at me.

If you fancy treking in this part of the world, i.e near Lalibela (great rock-hewn churches), I recommend TESFA. This is an eco community-based project and it just great – you meet local people who are providing various guiding, cooking and other services and you are not exploiting them because the arrangements are with the community who then provide the people.

Great experience but pretty hot and dusty! When I got back to the hotel in Lalibela I was delighted that there was water. No electricty today – they only have it ever second day but water is definitely more important, esp after 3 days walking. I then got taken out to a local bar. Everyone here can see in the dark but I was stumbling around with my torch.

Great stars when there is no light pollution!

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Getting around Addis fairly safely – a guide

Section 1 – crossing the road
The daily numbers of deaths on the roads of Addis are in double figures, I am told – this is no surprise – I only wonder anyone is left alive. In order to help you not to be one of those casualties here are some tips:
1 Don’t look – you’ll only scare yourself
2 Don’t rush – you’ll scare the drivers

To make it a BIT safer you could:
1 Cross at a zebra crossing – this really only slows down the trafic a bit, they do not stop, so don’t get cocky
2 Find an Ethiopian, preferably a group of large Ethiopians, and cross in their midst. This is my preferred method, much to the amusement of said people.

Section 2 – taking a taxi
1 Agree the price first (of course)
2 Don’t even look for seatbelts
3 Don’t look where he (I have yet to see a female taxi driver) is going
4 If the taxi breaks down, don’t worry, the driver has a number of screwdrivers in the car and will get out and repair it while you die of the heat

Section 3 – driving
If you are daft enough to even try it, I suggest the following rules:
1 Mostly you should drive on the right
2 You can drive on the left if it looks clearer or if you prefer it
3 The pesky new dual carriageways are a trial to the drivers – if you want to drive on the left-hand carriageway, it is best to use your hazard lights (if they work)
4 Crossing at a junction is best attempted after some fervent loud prayer

Good luck!

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