Today, I had the most stereotypical hostel breakfast ever, sitting around the table with a Belgian girl writing a thesis on tech startups in Addis, a French Canadian aid worker on vacation from Yemen, a German girl on holiday, and two American lawyers on a global trek. They were all quite nice to chat with over bread, peanut butter, hardboiled eggs and lots of coffee. There was also cornflakes and cold milk, though I was the only one terribly exited to see cereal—haven’t had much of that in my Peace Corps life. I sliced a banana on mine, it was delicious.
While the terribly nice manager of the guest house mentioned there was a good chance I could stay another night, eventually a rather harried German couple showed up for their reservation and I had to bail. All’s fair though, and I made a booking for my return through Addis. I hung out and made use of the internet before heading across the street to a decent hotel—a bit pricier than I planned, but for one night I could let it slide. I keep forgetting it’s ok to vacation like a western tourist occasionally!
At my posh new digs, the bellboy resented me carrying my own bags, perhaps because there was little to tip for, but he was nice enough to try and sell me an unregistered line for my phone and steered the conversation toward girls—I think he was about 30 seconds from offering to get me one before I hustled him from the room.
I was eager to get out and see more of Addis, so I quickly consulted Google maps, tried my best to memorize some landmarks, and I hit the streets. There’s something amazing about being in a new country—it’s such a privilege to have the means to move around the globe, and something I keep reminding myself not to take lightly. I couldn’t get enough of the weather: crisp and cool with strong winds. I love windy days. I have no idea if all that negative/positive ion stuff is pseudo-science mumbo jumbo or has a basis in fact, but I do know this: they make me happy, so I’m down.
People watching is an all-time favorite pastime of mine, and Addis Ababa gave me plenty to see. Even just how people look different is fascinating, Ethiopians coming from Semitic and Cushitic enthic groups, looking much more North African than the mainly Bantu people of Tanzania. Amharic is a Semitic language as well, so the conversations share more with Arabic than any language I’ve heard in a long time.
The sun is strong and bright at altitude, and Addis is 7,500 ft. up, built on a highland plateau. Women walk around with parasols in the sun. I love it—it’s so proper. Tall, thin policemen in bright blue uniforms step briskly down the street in pairs, on foot patrol beats around the city. It feels safe here. That said, there seems to be much more begging in the streets than in Tanzania, but it could be that I’m just inured to it in Dar es Salaam. It’s a troubling thought.
The area of the city I was in, Bole, is quite nice—I’m planning to explore other neighborhoods as I go, especially the Mercato area, Addis’ answer to Dar’s Kariakoo market. Bole has a ton of malls, which is a strange departure from Dar life. It’s more on par with Accra in that sense, the downtown feeling more developed overall.
Perhaps the best part of Addis so far is their café culture. Ethiopia is home to coffee plants—a great gift to the world—and coffee is naturally a big part of Ethiopian culture. There’s a traditional ceremony around drinking coffee and it’s a big part of socializing—there are tons of cafés in Addis. Whether it’s a few young girls scrolling through their smartphones or old men sitting in a row, reading newspapers, people are always getting some coffee. My kind of place.
While Ethiopia was never colonized, the Italians did make a go at it, and left behind some cultural artifacts, most importantly, the macchiato. Any half decent café will whip you up a macchiato in no time flat, and they cost anywhere from 7 to 12 birr. That’s the neighborhood of 50 cents. This is probably my favorite discovery so far and I pop in somewhere for a macchiato about 3 times a day—I’m well caffeinated. Kaldi’s, in Bole, which is basically Ethiopian Starbucks, also has killer lentil sambusas…
I walked all afternoon, eventually winding back to the hotel in the evening. The next day meant traveling to Bahir Dar and really starting the sightseeing part of my vacation, so I was excited to get upcountry. I drifted off on the lumpy mattress in my nice hotel, listening to the sounds coming in from my balcony: the band at the nightclub next door, traffic honking around the roundabout below, and the cool breath of the night breeze.