[We want to apologize in advance for the lack of photos in this post. We promise to make up for it in the next one. Unfortunately, travel days don't lend themselves to photo taking. We hope the Tazara Train video makes up for it! In the meantime, here are a couple food pictures (by special request, hi Megan!) taken with our phone. Somehow we always seem to clean our plates before whipping out the camera.]
More Airport Fun
So where did we leave off? Oh, that's right. Brian and the luggage fiasco! As a side note, Brian still to this day says he was "right" about the whole thing since in the end they did accept the picture. I don't know about you, but I call BOGUS. The rest of the airport experience was anything but easy. We rushed over to the line rapidly forming outside of the airport. It looked like a hybrid ticket counter and security gate except we noticed that everyone waiting was already holding what seemed to be boarding passes. We figured maybe they did self check-in somewhere else? When it was our turn the agent asked for our boarding pass. Errrrrr. Puzzled, we kindly asked, "Isn't that what we get here?" Apparently not. We inquired about which line was the correct one and she replied, "this line." Okay. We asked how to get our boarding pass and she said, "I need your boarding pass." Well, this wasn't getting us anywhere.
After several other agents were called and a couple frustrating minutes later, they ended up checking our names off a list and told us to continue... without a boarding pass. Brian and I just shrugged our shoulders and went through. Still not having stepped foot in the airport, we shuffled into the security line. We did what we normally do at security, shoes off, laptops in separate trays, liquids out, etc. Surprisingly, I got through without any issues which is a rare occasion for me when traveling within the US. Brian, however, was a different story. They took apart everything. Everything. Batteries? Nope! Safety pins? What a joke. First aid kit? What, you think we are stupid?
Brian kept handing me everything they said to throw away and had me put them in his other bag that made it through. I didn't feel comfortable with this task at all. He kept winking at me as if that was going to ease the blow of spending the night in a Rwandan jail. Well you know what? It worked! It worked until we finally got our boarding passes and then had to wait in another security line, but this time we both were stopped. They pulled out all my toiletries and made me squeeze bits of them out to show it was shampoo. Tack on me nervously showing them how I shampoo my hair and how to use a flat iron (yes, I brought a flat iron but it's a mini one so that's okay!) and I'm sure I was quite the site for all the locals. Brian got through with the batteries this time but the safety pins, tweezers, and scissors in the first aid kit were history. They made him take everything out of his camera bag, set up and take down the tripod, and show them what the GoPro was used for. At this point we were dripping sweat and panicking as the departure notices were flashing Final Call for our flight and we weren't even at the gate yet. This is all before we understood "Africa Time." We didn't leave for another couple of hours.
Arriving in Addis had its own tribulations. It was close to midnight and pouring rain outside. Brian turned on his phone hoping to see the always comforting Google Fi, "Welcome to Ethiopia," message but instead he read, "Sorry, Google Fi is not supported here." Not supported?! Isn't that the whole reason we got this phone? Hey Brendan! What's going on man?! Not that big a deal I guess. Milli (introduced below) said he was picking us up and surely he would be there with a sign or something. As we waited in line for immigration we noticed everyone else had custom papers with their passports, and of course, we didn't. Did we fall asleep while they passed them out? When did we become so bad at traveling? There was a woman behind us who didn't speak English, but it was evident she was wondering the same thing. The only problem was she must have broken her wrist or something because she had a cast that formed her arm into a permanent "Walk Like an Egyptian" dance move (hey Vijay, you know that one right?). It kept getting caught in my hair since she clearly thought someone was going to jump in front of her the way she stood so close to us. Thankfully, a generous local was able to explain that the customs papers were only for those seeking a working visa and we should be okay.
So it was finally our turn at the window, and the first question the agent asked was what hotel we were staying at. Usually, an easy answer. Usually, I know the answer. We put so much trust in Milli that we didn't even know where we were staying or what days were being spent where. The agent seriously thought we were crazy when we told her we didn't know and we couldn't even make one up since the phone didn't work. I almost blurted out "The Hilton in Addis Ababa?" hoping that hotel chain existed, but instead, she just shook her head at us and took us by the arms to the next window. One hundred USD later and we had a ninety day visa for Ethiopia. Phew!
As we turned the corner, we saw a couple people with signs but none of them with anything resembling our names and no familiar faces. Everyone started bombarding us with "taxi?" and "hotel?" demands while prying our luggage out of our desperate hands. One of the porters hooked Brian, and when I turned around, he was following him to a separate desk at the airport! As I called out his name, a woman asked me if I needed help. I said that our friend was supposed to be picking us up, but we couldn't find him. She pulled out her phone and told me to call him, but of course, we didn't write down any of Milli's information since we weren't prepared for Google Fi to fail us (Just kidding! We love Google Fi, and can't wait to post about it later).
Finally, with Brian by my side, we decided I would just peek outside and look for Mili while he waited inside, dry from the rain mind you. Once I took a step out the door, I turned around to give Brian my bag, and a security guard whipped out his baton stopping me from going any further. "No," he kept saying. At this point, I wasn't sure if it was rain drops on my face or if I was actually crying. Brian saw the panic in my eyes and came outside with me. It was complete chaos out there. We just kept walking hoping to recognize Milli in the crowd when out of nowhere someone said, "are you Shiva?" "YES!!" I screamed excitedly, and he pointed over in a direction and said, "someone is looking for you." We scurried over and there he was! Milli!! I had never been happier to see someone I had never met before and quickly gave him a giant hug. Poor guy had been waiting for hours since our flight was delayed. We told him about everything that happened and he just chuckled in a, "oh yeah, that's Addis for you!" kind of way, handed us a SIM card (yes!!), and proceeded to tell us that driving in Addis is crazy and to just close our eyes. One of these days we will get the airport routine down to a science. Until then, we'll be adding on a couple extra hours to the schedule.
It turns out that we arrived on the day before a sixteen day fast so everyone was, "celebrating." I guess it's similar to Fat Tuesday in a way, but I never quite understood the whole thing. You could still eat and drink but were not allowed to consume animal products of any kind. We kept asking what it was for, but no one was able to give a straight answer. We also found out that Ethiopia follows a different calendar based on the Julian calendar which is eight years behind us! You know how some of our months have thirty days and others have thirty-one? In Ethiopia, the first twelve months have thirty days, and the thirteenth month essentially has all the extra days, but it's really just five or six days depending on if it's a leap year, which it was. Their New Year is coming up on September 1st, September 11th for us. Again, something else I really couldn't wrap my head around, but hey, I'll take eight years younger any day!
Back to Ethiopia
When it came to outlining which countries we were going to visit, I pretty much had full reign. Brian and I talked it over of course, but I got to lay out my hand and present my case before choosing which countries to explore together. We knew we would be going to Rwanda for the gorillas and Zambia for our safari, but the several weeks in between were up for grabs.
I had been dabbling with the idea of Ethiopia purely based on my affinity for the local cuisine and remembered seeing beautiful pictures a college friend of mine, Rachel, had recently posted. I reached out, and she had nothing but positive things to say. The best part was she put me in touch with the tour company she had used, Yofi Ethiopian Tours, and introduced me to the owner, Million Yohannes. I will always favor a recommendation from a friend over any other review sites.
Milli and I started our email relationship eight months before the trip even began! I knew we had roughly ten or so days to spend there, and I wanted to visit a couple places in northern Ethiopia: Gondar, Lalibela, Bahir Dar, and Axum. So, we started there. Milli suggested that if we could make it work, we really should visit southern Ethiopia as well, specifically the Omo Valley. I figured, why not, and narrowed down the itinerary to Gondar, Lalibela, and Bahir Dar in the north and then five days in Omo. Even after our trip was pretty much planned, Milli and I continued chatting here and there. His wife had just given birth to their beautiful daughter, Anaael; however, Milli became a father seven years earlier when he adopted a family of five orphaned brothers and sisters. We were so touched by his selflessness that we decided to bring a checked luggage (yes, the infamous orange luggage) with new and donated clothes, my old iPhone 6 Plus, and two additional phones for his family. We were even able get an old laptop for the kids to use for school! We can't say thank you enough for all the generous donations, especially from Brian's cousins, Amy and Shane Courtney for providing the laptop, and from the Whittakers for all the baby clothes. Everyone was so grateful! #BeKindToOneAntother!
Next up, the Omo Valley and lots of pictures. We promise :)