Back  Home  May 2001 July 2001 Maren & Kirk

June 2001 Daily Diary

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(Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda)   



We arrived in Asmara Eritrea early, at around 3:35 am.  There we had to go through customs and declare all of our electronic equipment.  We then had to wait around outside till 6:10 am for a bus to Asmara.  We met this Italian man, 61 years old who has been traveling for 14 years.  A nice guy,  but one of a kind.   We took the bus to Asmara,  around 7 KM away where we thought it would be easy to find a Hotel,  since there were so many in town.  But it took a while to find a room, while everyplace was fully booked.  We eventually found one for 6 dollars a night.  The first thing we did was to sleep for few hours.  In the afternoon we went looking for a way to Ethiopia.  To our disappointment,  we were told that all borders were now closed and it is impossible to cross at this time.  We asked quite a lot of different people and we were told all the same thing. We decided to go to UN Headquarters to find out more.  At the UN office we had to go up stairs to the what we think was the planning and logistical department of the UN.  There we were also told it was not safe and just about impossible to cross.  It made us a little unhappy since it would cost a lot of money to fly out of Eritrea.  We however were pleasantly surprised how friendly and helpful the UN troops were.  They were Danish (All Danish people seem to be always very nice)!  So we decided to go back into town to try and find the next cheapest way to Ethiopia.  To fly to Ethiopia would cost over 440 $ and we would have to fly via Yemen.  We then found out that a one way flight to Djibouti would cost 132 $.  We can only get a one way ticket if the Djibouti Embassy writes in our passport that we do not need a round trip ticket.  So hopefully they will do that on Tuesday when the are open again.  In the evening we found an internet room behind the Eritreo-German Recreation  Center where we could check our email and get some information on border crossings.  It was extremely slow,  but the service turned out to be free, which was ok.  For dinner we went to Milano,  they serve typical Eritean food and Italian food.  It also has a really nice typical Eritrean atmosphere.  The food came served on a huge platter consisting of a sort of doe like pancake with vegetable topping and hot chicken.  There was not to much chicken meat,  but tasted really good.   We had a great time there.  It cost 7.50 $ including 2 beers. It was well worth it.  Afterwards we went straight to bed.  Another thing,  we are really enjoying the atmosphere here in Asmara.  It is not at all like in Egypt where they are hassling you all the time and trying to trick you.  Here you can pretty much trust the prices (the prices are listed at hotels and restaurants) and the people are for the most part reserved, friendly, and helpful.  So it is really pleasant to be here.  It is a great change.  Asmara is also very clean and there is hardly any garbage anywhere,  which is also a huge difference in compared to the Middle East, where garbage is all over the place.   So we are pleasantly surprised and are really enjoying it. 


We got up at around 9:00 am and went out to breakfast.  We had 2 cappuccinos and 5 pastries of mixed variety for under a dollar.  We then decided we should go one more time to the UN,  to ask someone else if there would be a possibility to get over land to Ethiopia.  Again they were really friendly and we discussed it with a couple of soldiers and workers there, but they were pretty steadfast that it would not be a good idea to try,  and the chances would be very slim that we would be able to get to the Ethiopian border.  There were also a lot of mine fields and still skirmishes in the DMC zone.  So we decided that it would be the best thing to fly to Djibouti and take the safe route.   We would then have the possibility in the next few days to explore Eritrea a little.  Also there is supposedly a really nice scenic train ride from Djibouti to Ethiopia.  It will be expensive,  but it will be something different.  We then had a late lunch.  Kirk had a delicious cheeseburger,  Maren a Cheese sandwich,  French fries, 1 Machiato. 1 Cappuccino, and 2 cokes for 3 $.  It was a great deal.  Later we worked on our website.


After not sleeping at all because people all night were coming and going in and out of the hotel we got up to catch the bus to Massawa.  The people were making a huge amount of noise while the doors of the hotel were locked and they were banging on them to get in.  The bus ride costs 23 Nfa,  which is really cheap.  However,  we soon found out that here also they like to charge foreigners more.  They wanted to charge us then 50 Nfa extra for our bags on the top of the roof.  We of course declined and were steadfast that we were not going to pay.  We had a feeling that the locals were not paying an extra fee.  One of the small kids who was collecting money for the bus ticket and had tied our bags up onto the roof got a small tip.  He was sort on our side afterwards.  The bus trip was a 3 hour trip down a winding road to Massawa at sea level.  It was around 2000 meter difference.   The scenery along was beautiful,  however Maren missed most of it while she tried to sleep and was feeling ill.  Once we got to Massawa we had a small problem.  We did not have a map of the town,  and the bus station was also on the outskirts of Massawa.  So we did the wrong thing and took a taxi to a Hotel which the driver recommended.  But the hotel was also in our guide book.  We should have taken the local bus to town for 1 Nfa instead of 15 Nfa.  But you always learn afterwards.  It is just when one is tired and does not know the area well,  that one takes the easy way and jumps into a taxi.  This has not been a habit for us,  but it ticks me off afterwards.  In the afternoon we took a minibus to Gurgusum,  a beach around 8 km away from town.  It cost 10 Nfa together.  Kirk went swimming.  He thought he could cool off but the water was hotter than outside. Just that one understands the outside the weather screeching hot.  Maren did not go swimming because she did not feel comfortable in her bikini there.  It was just too hot to sit on the beach so we decided to take the next bus back.  This time it was a local bus, which only cost 4 Nfa together.  So we were nailed again.  Later on we took a nap before we went out to dinner for Macaroni and meat sauce.  It was very spicy,  but ok.  We had trouble sleeping later because a lot was going on the streets around our Hotel,  especially the roof top disco next door. 


After not sleeping well again we walked around Massawa a little and took some pictures.   The city is actually really beautiful,  but it has suffered tremendously from the war with Ethiopia. You could feel the past Italian influence on the city. We then had breakfast, an egg sandwich.  Afterwards we took a local bus to the bus station.  There was a long line of people and luggage waiting also to catch the bus to Asmara.  So put our bags at the end of the line and waited for 1 hour for the next bus.  However, since there was so many people ahead of us in line,  we did not get a seat on this bus,  so we thought.  After thinking we would have to wait for another hour, the bus driver called to us that he wanted to take us along.  It was kind of fishy since there were still other people in front of us waiting for the same bus.  We were hoping it was because we were the only tourists,  but we soon realized that this was not the case.  The money collector collected all the money from all the other passengers,  and not from us.  We then knew we were going to get a special deal.  The bus driver then came in and asked us to pay 50 Nfa.  We quickly rejected this price and said the right price is 23 Nfa.  He then went down to forty which we also rejected,  Kirk then offered him 30 since we would of waited around for another 2 hours at least if he had not taken us in his bus.  He thought he was going to make a great deal by taking us on his bus,  but he only made a little more.  On the way back we had .5 hour break,  where we met the boy we had given a tip to the other day.  He immediately came us to us and shook or hands.  I offered to buy him a coke be he refused.   We are still happy the way most people handle themselves here.  There is only a little hassle with the buses and taxis.  This time Maren was able to enjoy the scenery.  When we got off the bus,  they gave us our bags and wanted a 10 Nfa tip.  This time we just took our bags and walked away.  We had already paid for the bags we said.  Later on we got a room at the same hotel we stayed before.  Afterwards we went out for dinner,  again macaroni,  but this time not as spicy.  


After a breakfast of donuts and Cappuccino we went to the Djibouti Embassy to get our Visas.  The people were extremely friendly.  The only negative point is that it would cost us 40 $ each.  But that is how it is here.  We were told we could pick up the Visas at 3:00 pm.  During this time we went to an Internet Cafe' to see if they had a fast connection.  It was very slow so we only checked emails for 1/2 hour for 50 cents.  Later on we picked up our Visas at the Djibouti Embassy.  We asked the lady there if she would call the travel agent to explain to them that we do not need a round trip ticket.  She was really helpful.  So we then went to Eritrean Airlines to pay for our ticket. They then said we would have to buy a round trip ticket.  We explained to the manager that the Djibouti Embassy had said it would be no problem for us to have a one way ticket. She said that she the embassy had called,  but rules were rules. She was a really unfriendly you know what!  We could not believe it.  So we went back to the embassy.  It was already closed,  but they still let us in (very unusual for Embassies).  We explained the situation to her and she called down her boss.  A really nice guy,  who immediately said in an American accent "what do they think,  you want to stay in Djibouti forever at 41 degrees.  They probably just want to make money off of you."  He said exactly what we were thinking.  He then called his travel agency and told them to issue us a one way ticket. So we walked to the other side of town relieved that we would now get our one way ticket. When we got to the travel agent, she said she called Eritrean Airlines, and they said it would not be possible. After that we were a little exhausted and fuming. So we decided to go tomorrow to the Djibouti Embassy and ask them to write us a letter, giving the Travel Agent the right to issue a one way ticket. We then went to the movies for 33 cents each.  The film was "A Perfect Day" with Kevin Costner.  Tonight we tried out our water filter for the first time.  It worked really well.  We are a little mad with ourselves that we did not use it earlier. It would have saved us a lot of money along the way. 


Kirk did not sleep well again.  For the last 4 nights he has had trouble getting any sleep.  Maren got up early and bought some rolls, cheese and tomato paste for breakfast and filtered some more water .  The breakfast tasted really good, especially since she got lucky and was able to find fresh bread.  Later we went again to the Djibouti Embassy to explain our situation,  wanting only a one way ticket to  Djibouti.  They were again extremely friendly and called around and finally found a travel agent that would issue us a one way ticket.  The travel agent was called Adulis Shipping Marine Cargo, across from the Sunshine Hotel.  It for some reason cost 145 US$ each, we asked them why and they said that there is Djibouti tax added to all tickets.  Who knows,  but we were in no great position to argue,  since they were issuing a one way ticket.   Afterwards we were relieved and celebrated with a Cappuccino.    We then went back to the Hotel room to rest a little.  In the afternoon it rained for about an hour. It is the beginning of the rainy season. That is why Asmara is so very green. You find palm trees in the city and lots of bush trees with colorful bushes that are blossoming. We did not have to do much, so we decided to take some passport photos, they were very cheap and we need them for future visas. We already used about 10 photos each. Every embassy wanted at least two photos, some even more. For dinner we went out to a snack bar, which seemed to be quite a popular place, since it was always crowded. We had some sandwiches and then went back to our hotel to get to bed early. As you know by now, Kirk needs some sleep!  



Today we got up and got some breakfast next door consisting of donuts, pastries, cappuccino, macchiato, and Fanta.  We then took a bus to the Airport where we had to wait outside since we were early.  We had to pay a departure tax of 15 US$ each.  So you pay to come in and pay to leave.  Love it!  We the flight was on a Russian Aircraft (Tajik Air Tu-154). We were a little nervous. But it landed safely a 1.5 hours later in Djibouti.  There we went through customs with no problem.  We found a taxi to take us to our Hotel for 6 US$.  He wanted 10 US$ in the beginning but finally accepted less.  Afterwards we exchanged money and walked to the train station to get information on the train to Ethiopia that was leaving the next morning.  Thanks god or whoever that Maren speaks a little bit of French. We found out that the ticket office opens at midnight and that tourist have to buy first class tickets.  They cost 22 US$ each.  One has to there before 4:00 am or you will not get a ticket.  The train ride supposedly takes over 12 hours to Dire Dawa Ethiopia,  but according to what we have read,  it is a beautiful scenic train ride.  Later on we walked around town and of course took some pictures. We then bought some baguettes, cheese, mayo and cookies for the train ride tomorrow.  At our hotel we had tea with milk and lots of sugar.  As we were looking onto the street this guy got whacked by a passing car right in front of us.  His shoe went flying,  but he just got up,  picked up his shoe and walked away, while other people started arguing about what had happened.  We then rinsed ourselves off and worked on the website a little.  We have to get up at 2:00 am to go buy tickets for the train.  Djibouti is a small country and city,  which does not have that much to offer.  However the people seem to be very friendly and do not overly bother you.  We have not been here a long time so we probably should not build to much of an opinion.  When you think of Africa, it feels much more like Africa here than it did in Asmara.  We feel we are getting closer to what most people have in mind when thinking about Africa.  We would have liked to have stayed another day to see a little more, but we have decided that staying here until Sunday when the next train leaves is not just worth it.  There is not much to do here and it is so hot and humid we would spend more than half our time in our A/C hotel room. It is also seemly expensive here.  



What will this be for a memory of a life time.  The train ride from Djibouti to Dire Dawa Ethiopia.  This day we could probably write about 10 pages on but we will try to keep it short.  At 2:00 am in the morning we had to get up and take a taxi to the train station. The hotel manager woke us up and took us downstairs where he had already organized a taxi for us.  The taxi driver first wanted over 11 US$,  Maren was able to bargain the price down to around 5.5 US$.  You just have to imagine that the streets are totally dark and you can not see far out of the taxi. We arrived at the train station where there are masses of people crowded around the gate to the opening of the train station. Some are trying to get in others are sleeping or eating on the grounds around the gate.  The taxi driver of course did not have change.  Maren intelligently then grabbed our money back which we have given him, until he found change for us.  We then went to the gate and pushed ourselves through to the front with our big backpacks till we got the attention of the main caretaker of the entrance of the train station.  Somehow he had a system of who he was allowing in and who he was throwing out.  It was quite chaotic.  There was a mad rush to get in,  where people we pushing and shoving and trying to get all there belongings inside the train station.  He explained to Maren in French that all the tickets were sold out,  but he had folding chairs on the train if we wanted them.  Of course we said yes,  not wanting to be any longer on the grounds outside the station,  and having no Taxi to take us back to our hotel.   The guy then brought us in,  where we paid for the ticket.  He then showed us where we would be seated.  We were lucky to get seats in the so called "1st class" wagon.   It was totally dark and one could not see much.  We first just sat there for a moment,  trying to take in where we actually just were.  First Class is not our first class,  not our second class and not our third class ticket,   but as we will explain later,  it is the only way to travel if you are going to take this train ride.  Maren, had the guts to go back outside to buy a few sodas and water for our trip while I watched the bags.  What we realized later was that we did not have enough water with us for the entire trip.  So buy a lot of water beforehand.  We were there over 3 hours early so we just had to wait until the train left.  A nice guy "Hansen" started speaking to Kirk.  He sort of explained a little bit of the trip, and later on looked a little out after us.  He was Ethiopian and worked in Djibouti.  A lot of Ethiopians that work in Djibouti go home at this time of year, while it gets so hot in Djibouti.  That is when all the people started loading  into the train with all their worldly possessions, chairs,  bags full of pots and pans, clothing,  huge supplies of food, electric fans, garbage cans, and suitcases, ,just to name a few.   They stacked them above and below, or just hung them from the ceiling above.  It was a crazy site.  You have to realize that we are the only travelers on board.  Outside people were all sitting around,  sellers are selling baguettes, soda, chai and other things we were not to sure of,  along with people going to the bathroom right outside the train.  It was a mad house.  Maren went to the bathroom on the train,  it was pitch dark and she could not see anything,  that turned out to be ok, it was absolutely filthy and stunk the whole trip.  At around 6:10 the train started moving with still people jumping in.  The sun was coming up so we were able to see outside.  We went through what must have been the slums of Djibouti where people were sleeping out by the tracks with garbage surrounding them.  It was a sad sight.  Right outside of town the train suddenly came to a halt.  People started jumping out of the train and started running away.  Policemen  and Soldiers ran after them, chasing them down.  Some got away, but police brought a lot back. They were trying to catch people who did not pay.  At the same time, the station manager or clerk who got us the tickets came through the train. He seemed to know exactly who had paid and who not.  He quickly started picking out people and taking them off the train.  It was amazing that he knew who had paid and who not.  Outside was a jail bus waiting to pack the people in.  There was actually a middle age Arab couple with a friend who also did not have a ticket.  They started having a huge argument with the police outside. They did not want to go into the police jail bus.  We do not know what happened to them.  All we know is that they offered to buy the tickets, but it did not work.  It was an adrenaline filled moment.  After the train started moving we relieved,  but realized it was going to be a really long train ride.  Along the way we stopped at certain villages,  where we kept on picking up passengers.  They were loading the train with all types of goods, flower, spaghetti, cooking oil and other goods.  They just all sat around us on the floor or hanging on half way outside the train.  Sometimes armed soldiers or security guards would come through checking out the situation.  Some passengers they would ask go with them and then the passengers would come back. They had to bribe them to stay on the train.  It was a quick transaction.  Along each stop,  one women would sell her goods to villagers along the way.  The villagers along the way would also try to sell things every time the train stopped.  They sold mostly drinks consisting of tea and water and donut like dough bread, along with goat meat.  It was quite interesting. Outside you could see the villagers as they lived.  We saw one person skinning a freshly killed goat.  You could really see how poor these people were.  It was hard to see sometimes how people still have to live today.  We were now in Africa.  On the train,  people were all around us, sleeping on the filthy floors.  Our impression was that the people were enjoying the ride.  A girl named Fiffy then spoke to us. Saying we had to make sure that we watched out for our stuff when the train stopped.  She was really nice and caring. She was an 18 years old Ethiopian living in Djibouti.  What Maren understood was that she had a French father,  who left the family and went back to France.  However it was not so clear to Maren exactly what the actual circumstances were.  She always asked us during the train ride if we were ok.  She was a real sweetheart. She even bought us two sodas later on in the trip.  The landscape in Djibouti was mostly barren and uninhabited.  Once in a while we would see a small village or a Shepard with his goats.  The houses were mostly made of piled up  stones and thatched roofs.  Like a thousand years ago.  Sometimes the landscape was sandy, sometimes like mars, with endless rock fields all over the place.  On the Ethiopian side you would come across kilometers of ant mounds purging up from the ground.  It was quite marvelous and spectacular.  At the Ethiopian border we were told that one person should watch the stuff and that one person should go fill out the immigration papers.  There we a lot of forms to fill out. One for passport information, another for our foreign currency, another for our camera.  Kirk went to fill out the forms.   Of course one got different stamps for different papers from different government officials. For the passports stamps he had to find an immigration officer in the second class wagon.  Along the way,  some people tried to grab into his pockets.  One time Kirk just smacked a guy who dipped his hand into Kirk's front shirt pocket.  One thing what the immigration officers saw was the Eritrean Visa in our passports.  This seemed not to make them happy, since they had just finished a war with them last year.  They asked how we liked it there,  we just said ok.  We did not want to say that we really enjoyed ourselves.  After the train started moving again we realized that suddenly the whole train was chewing on something.  They were all chewing "chat",  a green leave that supposedly wakes you up like caffeine,  but also gets you a little high.  They offered us some, but we politely declined.  By the end of the train ride,  people had wads of this stuff in their mouth like a ball in their cheeks.  The sort of looked like a trumpet player blowing on an instrument.  Their gums and teeth were all green.  The Ethiopian landscape was similar to the Djibouti side. We also saw herds of camel roaming the desert which was really cool.  The women on the train were constantly breast feeding their babies.  They seemed to breast feed them the whole way.  At the Ethiopian border the coca cola man had come on board with cases of Pepsi Cola, 7up and Miranda.   He was a hit.  He was constantly selling.  In Africa, the people just love the fizz drinks.  These drinks have taken over.  On the Ethiopian side Pepsi seems much more common,  while in Eritrea and in Djibouti Coke rules.  The whole train ride Kirk did not really sleep,  he was nervous watching the bags, especially where the laptop was in.  Every time we stopped the local kids jumped onto the train.  They seemed always interested in our bags.  Maren was able to sleep for short sections of the trip, but did not get much rest in.   In the evening the train got pitch dark,  since it did not have any lights inside.  We arrived 14 hours later in Dire Dawa.  We had met a man called Wendwessen,  we had given him a seat next to us on the train at the Ethiopian border. He worked for the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia in Dire Dawa.  He spoke pretty good English.  He had read Kirk's week old paper on the train which Kirk had given him afterwards.  We had asked him where the Continental Hotel was in town. He said he would show us which made us happy since we did not have a map of the town.  He also said the hotel was ok.  We were especially happy when we got off the train.  After going through a sort of customs,  you walked out of the train station and there were hundreds of people being kept back from guards with whack sticks.  He quickly brought us through the crowds to the hotel.  There he spoke with the people and made sure we were happy with the room.  He then said if we want we could come by the bank tomorrow to meet him.  Later on we noticed that the room had no water.  We then told the staff and they offered us another room.  But that room had no window or covering in the bathroom,  so we declined.  They then said they would fix the water in the other room for us. We then had a drink and they fixed the water problem.  Well, they got the water for the shower working,  not for the sink. But it is was still ok for us.  We were exhausted and fell right to sleep.


Today we woke up late.  We had an omelet breakfast.  We then went the bank to exchange money.  It was already closed, but they allowed us in anyway.  They then checked us for weapons and things.  They said Kirk would have to give up his camera at the door.  Kirk politely refused and said he would wait outside.  Maren the exchanged 60 US$.  Wendwessen, then came out,  and said he was looking for us the whole day.  We asked him where the bus station was,  he said he would come to our hotel in 15 minutes and take us there.  He later took us to the bus station and helped us get a ticket Addis Ababa.  We decided to take the government bus since it took two days and we would not arrive in Addis Ababa at night.  It is probably the smarter thing to do, since it is not supposed to be the safest place on earth.  Later on we invited him for a drink.  He then bought us a typical Ethiopian meal.  Similar to what we had at the Milano Restaurant in Asmara Eritrea.  He was really nice and friendly. We offered to pay for the meal, but he refused.  Later on he told us that he received financial aid from a family in Duesseldorf Germany for his education.  He still had contact with them and they send letters back and forth.  He asked us to contact them when we are back and tell them what we have seen here.  Later on we took a long nap.  At night we had dinner with Wendwessen and had coffee at a local outside restaurant.  There they had CNN which was a nice change.  We also saw an Aids awareness parade go by in town.


Taking the bus in Ethiopia is also an experience in it's own which you will have trouble getting used to. First of all, all busses leave at around 6:00 am. We were lucky that we bought the tickets a day in advance, because there were none available in the morning. Of course we had to pay extra for our luggage, that seems to be normal in Africa. A mass of people were standing in front of the bus pushing and shoving to get into the bus first. We were lucky that they let us in first,  because we felt that we were going to get trampled.  It must have been while we were the only tourists on this bus. The bus drove from the highlands down through the Rift Valley. The highlands scenery was just beautiful, green mountainous landscape with small villages from time to time. The Rift Valley was a very dry and hot area, there were not many trees and was more desert like. On the way to Addis it began to rain. The rainy season has just started. We arrived in Addis early in the evening. A nice lady from our bus accompanied us to our hotel. She said Addis is not safe for tourists at night. We were very happy that we did not have to find the hotel on our own. In the hotel, which was really nice and clean, we met three British guys. They had been in Ethiopia for already two weeks, so they could give us some good information and tips about the country. 


After breakfast in our hotel, we went with the English guys, Al and Mark, to the bus station to buy our tickets to Bahar Dar (in the north of Ethiopia). We shared a taxi, so it was not too expensive for all of us. In the afternoon we visited the National Museum of Ethiopia. The highlight is "Lucy", a 3.5 million old skeleton found in the 1970`s, at the time the oldest human skeleton found. It was raining the whole day and Kirk did not feel well. He started getting ill again. In the evening we met Al, Garry and Mark for dinner and went to a Pizza place, which had good Pizza for Africa. 


At 5:45 am the taxi was already waiting for us to take us to the bus station. The bus was supposed to leave at 7:00 am, but after some trouble and having to change buses, we left at 9:30 am. We got the worst seats in the bus, almost in the back right in front of the back entrance to the bus. We had to concentrate for the next ten hours to stay in our seats. The roads are mostly not paved outside Addis, so we were shaking, and flying into the air for most of the bus ride. Just before dark we stopped in a town called Debre Markos. A friendly Ethiopian man helped us with the hotel room and showed us a place to have dinner. After some good spaghettis we went to bed early. The bus driver wants to leave tomorrow morning at 5:00 am.  Brothels are all over the place here.  Most budget and mid range hotels are also used as brothels.  What we have understood from people is that it is sort of an excepted occupation here. In Addis Ababa the street from our hotel was just full of these places as were the hotels in the small towns we passed through on the way up.


We were on the road at 5:30 am. Just another six hours on the bus. Of course everybody had the same seats as the day before. We arrived in Bahar Dar around 2:00 pm and the kids (touts) were awaiting us already, especially us. They all wanted to bring us to their hotel, show us around and be our guide. We tried to insist that no one is getting anything from us, but the whole group still followed us while we were looking for a hotel. When we were entering one, one of the kids got there before us and told us he is  working in this hotel and it is the hotel of his parents. First the hotel was too expensive for us, so he showed us around. In the end we stayed at "his parents" hotel. The kid got provision from the manager and we have not seen him again. In the afternoon we tried to find out information about boat tours to the monasteries on Lake Tana. So we went to the Ghion Hotel where they organize such trips. This hotel was located directly at Lake Tana, with beautiful grounds. We had a couple of beers and relaxed in the gardens. At the reception we asked for the price for a double room and after we said that is too expensive, they cut the price in half, which was then affordable for us. So we decided to change hotels. It turned out to be a little problem, as we had paid for two nights in advance. The manager was more than unfriendly and would not even talk to us. Kirk even got into a small shouting match with one employee.  In the end we paid one full night extra and got out of there. It was about 6.50 US$ down the drain.  We used our mosquito net for the first time.  It worked great and kept the mosquitoes at a distance.



Today we went to see the Blue Nile Falls. We had to take a local bus to Tis Abey, which is about 30 kilometers from Bahar Dar.  We were in shock out first how poor the people seemed in this village.  It was really dirty and smelled bad.  In the tourist office we bought the entrance tickets and got a map of the area.  The tourist office was really nice and explained the route to us in detail.  Kids were following us, wanting to show us the way. But we told them we knew the way and did not need help. After getting out of the town, the way to the Falls was beautiful. We went through a little village where children tried to sell soft drinks and souvenirs. When we got over the ridge the falls were staring at us. Even though they were not full of water, because it is the end of the dry season, they were never less impressive.  The had a brownish color due to all the mud in the river. We walked around for about two hours and took a little boat across the Blue Nile River. One "guide" had followed us the whole way,  even though Kirk had explained to him numerous times that we did not want a guide and would not pay him anything.  He kept saying he understood.  But in the end he asked us for money anyway which we did not pay. While we were waiting for the bus, people from the village were watching us and trying to talk to us. Kirk had to play ping pong with some locals as half the village watched.  The first game he won and the second game he was saved when the bus came.  We had to wait for a hour in the bus,  as they did not leave until it was full. Tis Abey was not a town where we wanted to spend a night. Back in Bahar Dar we had dinner in our hotel restaurant with view to the Lake Tana. 


We both did not feel well this morning. We do not know if it is the food or something else. First, we bought our bus tickets back to Addis for the next day. Then we went back to the hotel to ask if they offer a tour to Monasteries today. We knew from other people that they just paid 50 Birr each, but the hotel told us a price of 75 Birr.  SO we decided to play poker and tell them we would not go on the tour.  At the last minute when they saw that the boat would not be filled they cut the price to 50 Birr.   They asked us not to talk about the price in front of the other people since they were paying almost three times more than what we were paying. The tour took about three hours. We first took the boat to a 13th century monastery, which was on a peninsula not an island. The Monastery was made out of wood and full of colorful paintings inside. It was very interesting. We had a guide who explained some of the paintings. Later on we went to the entrance of the Blue Nile River. There was not much to see except some birds.  Later on we bought some bananas for the bus trip the next day for some vitamins.


We were back on the bus early for our two day bus ride back to Addis Ababa. This time we got better seats , but we still did not look forward to the next two days.  Not much happened on the bus ride, we had a short coffee break around noon and arrived in Dejen at 5:00 pm for our overnight stop. We walked around town after sitting for hours.  The people from the village were just starring at us as if they have never seen any tourists before. When we stopped they stopped, when we sat down they sat down too. It was really funny. We think they thought it was funny too, because they were always laughing. In the hotel we had two soft drinks and fried eggs and had to pay a fortune. We worked on our website and went to bed early to be fit for the second part of our exiting bus ride. 


Kirk did not sleep again last night. We cannot remember when we last slept well.  The mosquitoes were bugging him last night.  We were in the bus again at 5:00 am. But luckily we reached Addis Ababa early in the day. After taking a taxi to our hotel, the same one as last time, we checked our emails, had something to eat, and worked on our website.  We have to get up early again tomorrow for the bus to Awasa. 


Again it was get up early time.  The bus for Awasa,  like every other bus in Ethiopia leaves at around 6:00 am.  At least that is when one has to be at the bus station.  In Addis Ababa it is a total mad house.  For Awasa one is able to buy the ticket on the same day unlike other routes where you have to buy the ticket the day before.  The bus got going at around 7:30 am which made us happy.  We could not stand the exhaust fumes from old buses and we were slowly feeling ill.  We got out of Addis Ababa's city limits at about 9:00 am.  This time we were able to put our luggage on the bus, which saved us from having to pay for the luggage again.  We also got front seats which was good for the bumps,  but the motor was right next to us and really stunk.  The roads were also almost completely paved so this time sitting in the back would have been not to bad.  The scenery along the way was very beautiful like the north,  but much dryer.  After arriving in Awasa we found a hotel and then went sightseeing along the shores of the lake.  Afterwards we had dinner at Pinne Restaurant on the main road in town.  When we ask for the bill the waiter first just told us a price which of course was wrong.  Kirk said he should give us the a bill.  When he came back with the bill it was less than what he said,  but still to high because they put a wrong dish on the bill.  Finally the manager came and corrected the situation.  We did not leave a tip.  Later we checked out information on buses to Moyale, on the border with Kenya.  We think we have to leave early again tomorrow.   Three people we asked told us there is a direct bus there and two people said there is no direct bus connection.  We will see tomorrow! 


Well the bus did not leave at 6:00 am at the Shell Station. It came and left at 9:30 am while the bus came from up north.  So we did not have to get up so early.  We were lucky to get on since we were just waiting by the main road hoping this bus would come by and would stop for us.  We got the last 2 seats available.  The bus ride again went through areas with beautiful scenery and vegetation.  For lunch we bought bananas and a pineapple for dinner.  We were happy when the bus stopped at 7:00 pm for the overnight stay because the bus stank horribly after 9.5 hours of not opening any windows.  We can not understand the Ethiopians with this notion that if you open the windows you will get sick.  They rather die of carbon dioxide poisoning.  For the hotel we had to pay double than what the locals pay since we are foreigners.  It seems to be like this all over Ethiopia.  A local who was on the bus with us and helped us find the hotel,  tried to argue with the hotel clerk,  but it did not help much. For dinner we had our pineapple.    Maren gave all our bananas away to a small girl after she saw a couple of cockroaches crawling between them.  She panicked a little,  but she is slowly getting used to the bugs all over the place and in our food once in a while.  


We woke up again to no lights in the morning at 4:30 am.  After a 4.5 hour bus ride,  we arrived in  Moyale,  the border town with Kenya.  We first checked out how to cross the border and how to get a truck to Nanyuki Kenya.  The next trucks are supposedly leaving tomorrow morning at 8:30 am.  We went to the immigration office today to get our exit stamps.  We also had to clear customs where they searched our bags a little and asked us a few tricky questions.  We were a little nervous about our laptop and digital camera.  But the custom agent did not notice them.  Later on we bought some bread and avocados for lunch after we found no restaurant with anything else but injera.  Before we had to spend the rest of our Ethiopian money,  which turned out a difficult thing to do, since there is absolutely nothing here worthwhile buying except cookies and toilette paper.  Everyone here wants to exchange money with you at just horrible rates, so watch out!  You can bargain with them and get a better rate for dollars.  They will take you to a shop for the exchange so the police won't see the transaction.  In the late afternoon we tried our best to spend the rest of our Ethiopian money.  We got rid of it,  but it was very difficult.



Maren is one tough cookie.  The explanation will come later.  We got up early as usual to cross the border from Ethiopia to Kenya and then to catch the truck convoy south to Isiolo.  We had no problem getting over the border to Kenya.  We had to wait around a while on the Kenyan side because the immigration boss was not awake yet.  We had to pay 50 US$ each for our Visa. That was quite expensive.  We then went to the truck convoy where we bought a place on a cattle truck for 12 dollars each.  They originally wanted 15 dollars.  The local price turned out to be 600 KSh which is about 7.70 US$.   The trucks travel in a convoy because it is much safer.  There are bandits, they attack lone trucks on this route.  We had no real seat on the truck, we were up top on the pipe cage of a cattle transporter.  The cattle below us were heading to Nairobi to be slaughtered.  We had to buy some rope to tie down our bags up  top so they would not fall onto the cows below and into their waste.  At first Maren just looked at me a little bit in shock.  We were going to be up top here for the 2 days traveling on unpaved roads,  through some of the remotest parts of East Africa.  This was going to be painful.  We thought the truck driver would take it slow on the unpaved roads, but when we started he blasted down the hill.  We had to hold on for dear life.  The Kenyans on board with us,  seemed to take everything really easy and just relax on top.  We just closed our eyes and held on.  Below the cattle started moving around and sticking their horns in one another trying to position themselves.  When a cow would sit or lay down a guy working on the truck would go down between the cows and twist the the cow's tail to make him stand up.  He became covered with cow excrement.  Another guy would be always climbing on the cage making sure everything was tied on securely.  These guys were tough.  The road was bumpy, unpaved,  and really dusty.  It was basically just a dirt path that these trucks drive on.   Once in a while a soldier jumped on board for a certain length of time as protection.  The Kenyan Military seems to use rifles made in Belgium called G3s.  The convoy stopped a lot for unknown and known reasons.  During this time Maren just put on her hood of her Columbia Jacket and ducked her head.  The sand was continually blowing in our faces.  It was just a hard ride with no real place to sit.  One was constantly banging up against the metal cage and could not find a way to sit halfway comfortably on the truck.  Along the way one saw traditional tribes,  as painted and often with huge wholes in their ears.  This was cool because they were not doing it for tourist purposes.  Not too many travelers pass through here.  The scenery was also beautiful and much different to that of Ethiopia.  Along the way the truck blew a tire which cost us 2 hours.  So we arrived in Marsabit at 6:15 pm.  There we looked for a hotel.  One guy was always trying to recommend us a hotel.  We went to eventually to one place he said was 100 KSh. It was a hole in the wall and filthy.  He then had the nerve to say it would cost 200 KSh  while 2 beds were in there.  That is when Kirk got mad and told him off.  For a while we lost him.  But later on we saw him hanging out at the hotel we finally found.  These guys are just a pain in the rear once in a while.  At the hotel we had some tropical Fanta and some chips.  Afterwards we took a shower and fell right asleep.  We had to get up in the morning for the second stage of our favorite truck ride.  One has to be really proud of Maren that she endured such a painful and hard ride.  It was not easy and we were both sore all over.  


The alarm clock went off at 5:00 am.  We were not looking forward to getting up.  It took us a while to get out of bed and our stuff packed.  We were thinking of the painful 7 hours we would still have to go through.  It was a wet moist morning and a little cold. A great way to start.  Maren got a seat on a sack against the railing.  Kirk again got no real seat at first.  For the first hour he was just hanging there until one guy offered a place next to him.  It was a little better, but Kirk was facing directly towards the front with the wind and dirt going directly in his face.  The first part of the trip was really cold, later on the sun came out and it became warmer.  Again the scenery was beautiful,  but the ride was just as hard.  We finally got to Isiolo 7 hours later. At the entrance of town,  we had to get our Passports checked from about 3 different custom agents.  They seem to do things just to do them.  In Isiolo we got a Nissan Minivan to Nanyuki.  It was luxury compared to the truck. There we looked around for hotels, finally settling on the Joskaki Hotel,  which was recommend by Wes and Masami we had met in Dahab.  We were able to bargain the price down from 500 KSh to 350 KSh.  Later on we had dinner,  beef stew with rice. Not bad but did not taste like much.  We then went right to bed,  hoping to get a good night sleep and not having to get up at 4:00 am or 5:00 am in the morning.  


After breakfast we went searching for the best deal for our climb up Mt. Kenya.  We had a few names from people we have met which we decided to checkout first.  The first guide which me met was a sympathetic guy,  but he quoted a price of 40 US$ a day + tip.  That was a little expensive for us and we wanted to try and find something cheaper.  We also liked the second guide we met, even though he was a little quiet.  He originally quoted a  price we had heard from a person we had met in Ethiopia,  10.000 KSh + 1500 KSh in tips for each member of the party (4500 KSh).  This was still a little bit too much for us,  so we told him we would think about it.  After calculating it through again,  he came back with a price of 8000 each and we agreed on a tip of around 1000 KSh each. (1 guide/2 porters).  This price included park entrance fees,  hut fees, transport to the park gate,  food and cooking,  and one guide and two porters.  The total price including tips will come out to 19.000 KSh or 247 US$.  Since our guide books quoted prices around 200 $US per person,  we were happy on our deal.  We hope it works out well.  The person (Kristine) who recommended this guide was very happy with him.  We later on went shopping with him for our food.  He was able to buy a lot of food for a little amount of money.  We will eat a lot in the next few days.  We are very excited about the trip.  Later on we bought Malaria pills.  They were 90 % cheaper than in Germany.  So we bought 8 months worth.  Later on we looked for an internet cafe'.  We found some but they were to expensive,  23 US$ an hour.



After breakfast we were picked up by Kamande, our guide for the next four days. At 08:30 we left Nanyuki and drove to the Sirimon Park Gate to start our trip up the mountain. This first day we walked 9 km to Old Moses Camp ( at a height of about 3500 m) where we spent the night. The hike was pretty easy, slightly uphill. First we got a bed in the hut, but later on we decided to use our tent and camp at the beautiful situated campsite. After lunch Kamande took us on an hour acclimatization walk and told us the names of all the bushes we saw on the mountain. Back in the camp we were served tea and laid in the sun overlooking the valley. The clouds which were blocking our view of the mountain moved away in the evening and we were able to see Batian, the highest peak of Mt. Kenya. Kamande is really great cook and served a lot of food. We could not finish our dinner because it was just too much.   Kirk was a little suspicious of how Kamande could possibly take us on this trip  for such a cheap price.  The whole day he was calculating the trip and it just did not add up.  The total cost of the trip was with out paying the porters was more than we were paying him.  Kirk decided that we should confront him about this.  First we just asked him if it would be cheaper to pitch our tent since the price listed at the park gate and at the hut said it was cheaper than staying in the hut.  He said it was not.  Kirk did not except this answer and dug deeper.  He finally admitted that he paid the hut keeper under the table where ever he could.  He just did not get a receipt.  He said this was the only way he could afford to give us this trip cheaper.  Kirk later on was very straight forward with him and told him that we thought he was dishonest with us,  and we did not appreciate it.  It sort of understood what we had meant,  though we think he thought he was doing us a favor in doing the trip so cheaply.  We were slowly finding out how the guides were able to cut costs, and be competitive. If one paid regular prices it would of been much more expensive.  This whole deal made us a little uneasy,  since we did not feel comfortable with the payments under the table.  We went to bed very early and were happy to use our tent again. During the night it got really cold, so we had to put on some extra clothes o keep us warm.


We got up before sunrise, packed our tent and had a huge breakfast before we left for our second day of hiking. Today we hiked 14 km to Shipton`s Camp (4236 m). It took us around six hours to get there, including several pauses and a short lunch break. The scenery was beautiful but not spectacular and the hike was an easy walk uphill. When we arrived at the camp it just started to rain and hail heavily, so we were lucky to be in the hut at the right time. Kamande served us tea and popcorn and took us afterwards again for an acclimatization walk around. He also explained the route we were going to take to Point Lenana on the next day. The weather got better towards the evening and we were able to see the peaks. We decided not camp because it was too cold and we had to get up at 03:00 am the next morning. We were both so very tired, so we straight went to bed after dinner. We almost did not sleep the whole night, but this is not unusual at this altitude.   


Kamande woke us up at 02:30 am. This was going to be a long day today. We wanted to be at Pt. Lenana by sunrise, which is a three hour walk (5 km) straight uphill from where we had slept. On the way up we took breaks every few minutes because it was a really a tough hike.  The air was also very thin and we were breathing really hard.  Maren did really well for her first time being at this altitude. Kamande was a good guide who set a real slow pace.  We were very happy that we had chosen him as our guide. Before sunrise we made it to the top and were very happy that we had succeeded. While we were waiting for the sunrise,  we were freezing and could hardly hold our cameras to take pictures. But all the efforts were worth it, the views were just amazing. The only bad thing was, we could not see Mt. Killimanjaro because it was too cloudy. So Kirk did not see him again. Bad luck. The way back was easier.. We first walked to Minto`s Hut which is 7 km from Pt. Lenana for breakfast. There we met our porters who had taken a short cut there with our backpacks. They did not have to climb to the top. The next part of the day was a 10 km walk to Ricky`s Hut, where we had lunch. The scenery was beautiful on the Chogoria route. We walked on top of the ridge along the deepest gorge of Mt. Kenya and passed several lakes. They have fish but one is not allowed to catch them. One is also not allowed to swim  in the lakes.  Anyway it would be just too cold. The last part of this long day was a 7 km hike to Bandas. There we stayed the night in a comfortable hut with our own bathroom and fireplace. This was actually very romantic. When we arrived at Bandas we asked Kamande if it is possible to camp. We thought it could save us some money, because this lodge was very expensive. But this turned out to be a problem. We had a big discussion with Kamande because he thought we were trying to take money away from him.  He got a little angry with us, telling us he did not make any money on us and we got a great deal. We tried t explain him that he started the thing with the camping on the night before we left and we were also just try to save some money.  We were not trying to take his money away.  Eventually I think he understood.  In the end we stayed in the lodge.  We think it was easier for him this way.  He had better facilities to cook at the lodge than at the campsite.  Also we think he had already made a deal with the groundskeeper.   Since he did not make very much money on this trip, Kirk made a website for him.  He was very exited about it and now knew he made a great deal with us.  Kirk explained the site to him and that if possible we would load it up in Nairobi.  We also said we would open an email account for him so he could receive emails.  After explaining everything to him we went to bed. We were awfully tired from the long day.


We had the opportunity to get a lift the whole way from Bandas to Chogoria Village, but we wanted to walk for a few kilometers through Bamboo Forest. So we started early in the morning (6:45 am) for a 15 km walk.  Along the way we were supposed to be picked up by a 4WD after 2 hours.  It was raining a little bit and the whole way was muddy and slippery. Though it was downhill almost the whole way, it was quite tough since we had tight muscles from the day before. At the 15 km point the 4WD picked us up and took us the rest on the way to to Chogoria.  After arriving in Chogoria Village, Kamande invited us for tea while we were waiting for our matatu to Nairobi. At 01:00 pm we packed into the matatu and left for Nairobi. We arrived at around 04:00 pm. We went straight to the Iqbal Hotel, which is recommended by all guide books. We both did not feel comfortable to walk through the streets with all our luggage looking for hotels. In the  evening we worked on our website, we had to update the last few days which is a lot of work.



All we did today was to write some emails in the morning and tried to upload our website and send the emails.  That turned out to be very difficult.  The web connections here were really slow and we could not update our site,  even though we spend hours and a lot of money trying.  We also got our Uganda Visas.  We were able to save 10 dollars each with our student cards.  We also went out for lunch and had some terrible burgers.  The internet cafe threw us out at 7:45 pm while they were closing.  We had to walk back to our hotel in the dark.  The one thing I did not want to do in Nairobi.  But as you can see we made it back alive.  Tomorrow we are taking a bus to Kampala Uganda.  We have decided not to do a safari here rather we will wait until we are in Namibia and visit the Etosha National Park.  We would love to go Gorilla tracking in Uganda,  but do not think we can afford it.  


Today we woke up again early. This time to catch the bus to Kampala Uganda.  The bus was luxury compared to the buses in Ethiopia. So the trip was very comfortable for us.  The scenery along the way was beautiful and very green.  We did not see many animals though.  The border crossing went easy with the Uganda side just stamping our passports without even looking at the pictures to see if they belonged to us.  We arrived after dark in Kampala so we took a taxi to the Backpackers Hostel which is around 3 km out of town. The Taxi driver started with 8000 USh but went down to 4000 USh when we started talking to other taxi drivers.  At the backpackers hostel we decided to camp.  Hopefully we can use our tent more often.  The place is really nice and well kept.  We checked our emails at the hostel which was a little expensive,  but we only used it for 10 minutes.  We then went to bed exhausted.  


The first thing we did is take a mini bus to Kampala to see about Gorilla Trekking.  It is a quite an expensive undertaking.  We first checked out some tour agencies to see what they had to offer.  We heard from John (Manager from the Backpackers Hostel) that they might have some permits available.  We were at first a little down on how much this was going to cost us to see a few Gorillas.   We decided to check out the Uganda Wildlife Authority to see if they had any permits left.  They did on the 5th of July for 250 US$ per person.  The going rate for non Residents.  We have one problem, our dollar supply is dwindling fast.  So we were not sure exactly what we should do.  After unsuccessfully looking all over Kampala for a way to get Uganda Schillings or getting US Dollars we decided anyway that we would not be in Uganda again for a long time and that we should go for it.  Who knows in the future if the Gorillas will even be there.   So right before the Wildlife Authority closed we went there and bought the permits for Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi National Park.  We will also have to pay transportation,  park fees, and accommodation.  The tour operators were offering us  125 US$ each to take us back and forth.  We hope we can do it for 60 US$.  We will also camp there which is around 4 US$ each per night.  So the Gorilla trekking will cost us less than the 300 US$ we had set as are limit.  We hope that it will be worth  the money.  More than the money,  it is not having enough dollars in cash for the rest of our Africa Tour.  We might just have to suck it up and go to the Barclay's Bank and get some dollars at a terrible exchange rate.    We should have got some American Express Travelers Checks in Nairobi.  Travelers Checks though get a horrible exchange rate too.  Later on we bought some food and Maren cooked a great Spaghetti dinner with fresh tomatoes and onions.   We then took a walk and got some more fuel for our cooker.  Otherwise we are going to take it easy the rest of the evening.

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