The Restless Road

Organizing the chaos in the world.

What I learned from Africa January 28, 2014

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on my trip to Central/Eastern Africa (Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda) and Ethiopia, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned.

Here’s my top 10 list of the things that will always stay with me from Africa, indelibly etched in my memory:

  1. Don’t like coffee? Sorry, too bad. You will be required to consume at least 2 cups of coffee every day that you’re in Ethiopia at the request of your hosts, friendly strangers, and curious villagers (who invite you into their homes). You will learn to appreciate the intricate ritual of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, performed carefully and respectfully with fresh cut grass, incense and a jebena.Tedy's Coffee Ceremony Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
  2. Don’t like being pulled into cultural dances? Sorry, this is also too bad. You will always become part of the exhibit with increasing likelihood the less you want to participate. It’s a combination of the locals laughing with you and at you, and sharing (or trying to share) the culture and tradition that’s steeped in them since birth. Of course the outcome is an utter spectacle. Chandra becomes the exhibitMe in another exhibitToTot Restaurant in AddisAlcohol helps with the shame. (I became part of this performance too a few minutes later. The more you drink the better I dance. There is a theoretical video tape of me doing the Ethiopian shoulder dance and the phrase “white girls can’t dance” comes to mind. Hopefully my cousin does not let this video see the light of day, ever).
  3. Thinking of a leisurely mountain drive? Don’t let this happen to you.Always make sure that before rolling your vehicle over a cliff, you check to see whether there’s a hut conveniently placed on the other side of the cliff to brace your fall towards an otherwise certain death.Whew, that was lucky!
  4. Mosquito nets are like gravity. They’re not just a good idea, they’re the law of the land. Even though you can’t see the mosquitoes, they’re there, and you’ll discover this tomorrow. You just hope that the nets aren’t so soaked in mosquito repellent chemicals that you get sick, not from the mosquitoes, but from the mosquito prevention.Elegant Mosquito Net
  5. When in Rome, act like a Roman. This is especially true with cuisine. You will be offered many things that don’t look particularly appetizing. Never turn them down. If you do, you will miss out on eating strips of high-quality raw meat (kurt), lengalenga (actually quite good, similar to collard greens), ugali (Rwandan polenta), and Tej (Ethiopian honey wine, pictured here).Raw meat! Ethiopian Honey Wine
  6. People are very friendly. While it’s easy to be skeptical, question people’s motives, and  generally distrust people you meet (especially when you’re a single female traveling alone), it’s much more fun, and way more interesting, to take what people say at face value and see where the adventure leads. If you’re asked by two Ethiopian women on Christmas Day (Jan 7) to give them a ride in your rickshaw, oblige, and you will be rewarded. Celebrating Christmas in GondarYou will get countless invitations into people’s home to share basic meals and beverages, also getting a rare view into the daily lives of people who, on the surface, seem so different than us (but they aren’t).New friends in Addis My cousins and me in AddisYou will also meet lots of young adults and children who are both curious as well as hopeful that you might be able to help their situation. On our drive from Rehengeri to Gisenyi Local Boy from Gisenyi Hiking the Ruhengeri You may even encounter someone with a machete. In that case, run.Machete man in Burundi
  7. Never pass up a chance to drink the local beer. It will end up being the best part of your day. I particularly enjoyed Primus in Burundi, and Dashen and St. George in Ethiopia.Primus beer St. George Beer
  8. Remember that life is outside. There’s lots of old historical and religious stuff around you, including remnants of colonialism, which all get tiresome after a while. Sure, it’s pretty, and historic – some of the old castles and churches we visited were stunning. Fasilides' Bath in GondarBut you can easily get lost in all this “old stuff” and never interact with the people that really make these ancient places tick. Walking around with no particular motive is highly recommended, because you’ll never know what you’ll tumble in to, and who you’ll meet along the way.Rwandan Shephard Amgegakwaya The Gorilla Guard At Rehengeri, Rwanda Local Boy from Gisenyi Girls in the Lalibela Market Local boys in Lalibela Lalibela Weaver
  9. Did I mention the wildlife?Leslie with Chimp Leslie with Tree Snake Titan Gorillas Lion experienceBirds in Kasese Kazinga Channel Cruise Kazinga Channel Cruise
  10. Finally, never underestimate the value of a beautiful sunset to end a perfect day.Chandra at Sunset

Travel constantly reminds me of the importance of a simple life filled with human interaction – friendship, hospitality, respect, and love. Most of the developing countries I’ve visited value these traits much more than we do here in the U.S. The irony ceases to be lost on me, considering how much “harder” these people supposedly have it than we do in the West. Leading a life of sheer existence, 100% engulfed in figuring out ways to subsist day to day – you’d think this kind of life would lead to a sort of anarchy in personal relationships. A breakdown of morality. A breakdown of human kindness. Selfishness over altruism. Harsh conditions in life, one would think, could easily strip us of our humanity, relegating us to a place no better than animals. Yes, the people I met in these war-torn, unequal, corrupt, violent, poor, uneducated countries displayed qualities – hospitality, humility, humanity, curiosity, and love – overflowing from a place unknown to me whence it came, but evident nonetheless of a silent courage, even a mournful hope, that flew in the face of reason and examined our very existence. That, without these qualities, these characteristics that make us human, we completely lose ourselves.

I left a lot of things in Africa. I left a flashlight and a watch with a local boy in a rural village in Ethiopia. I left American clothing, books, and gifts with my cousins in Addis Ababa. I left my mark as a travel blogger and photographer, assiduously documenting my journey along the way – from dining to hotel reviews (for example, at a wonderful new place I stayed at in Lalibela, the Panoramic View Hotel) – trading my skills for donations, in particular to a small women’s soccer club in Lalibela that needed uniforms and equipment. I even left my mark on a local tour guide, who I helped build out an English website to increase his business. I miss being in a place that lived so much in the moment, so much in today, that for the first time in two years (since I was living in India) I felt that I was truly living in the present moment. My cares, my worries, my troubles, and my stress melted away as I enjoyed the wonder the day to day. The miracle of the unnoticed, organized chaos of both environment and society that hung in a balance somewhere beyond good and evil, beyond judgement, beyond consciousness to the very core of existence. There are many things I left behind in Africa, yes, and many things I will miss. But I will not miss the fear and doubt that plagued my mind prior to my trip. Travel, above all, reminds me that everything will work out, because it always does. So just stop worrying and enjoy today.

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Day 13 – Lalibela to Addis Ababa – Back with family! January 16, 2014

I caught the 1200 flight back from Lalibela to Addis, getting to sleep in a little later this morning, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and then meet Kassa in the lobby for our final car ride at 1000. It was a semi-tearful goodbye after the long drive to the airport on a hotter than normal. I didn’t realize how said I was to leave until I started to leave! I became emotionally attached to this spiritual city in mind, body, and spirit, and formed a connection with the land and the people. I left my watch (physical watch as well as my metaphorical sense of time) behind, and also my heart.

Back in Addis, Mesele picked me up and we went to lunch at Dodi. We had pizza. Later Mercy (Mesele’s wife) laughed at us, saying that I had the rest of my life to eat pizza, and “now you should be eating injera.” Believe me, I’ve had plenty of injera on this trip!

Then I convinced Mesele to drop me off at the National Museum while he finished up his work day.

Ethiopian National Museum

The museum was underwhelming, mostly because I didn’t understand what I was looking at. The descriptions were extremely basic and there was very little “story” throughout the exhibits. The first floor was anthropology and human evolution, with the famous “Lucy” exhibit (of course the REAL Lucy was probably locked up in a vault somewhere, probably in Europe).Ethiopian National MuseumThe second floor I really enjoyed – it was modern art by Ethiopian artists (much of which was abstract) and, as such, required no explanation. The top floor was ethnography and was basically just a bunch of “old stuff” such as Ethiopian hunting equipment, pottery, and costumed. Mildly interesting without the back story.

I finished the entire museum in an hour, and also managed to attract a young man, who followed me around and tried to provide narration of what I was looking at throughout the entire museum. This narration consisted of reading out loud, in English, the phrase listed on each exhibit placard (as if I couldn’t read it for myself). After 30 minutes of politely indulging him, I told him I wanted to see the rest of the exhibits alone because part of the museum experience for me consisted of silent contemplation. I’m not sure he really understood, but eventually he got the point and told me he’d wait for me outside. I wasn’t sure what else to say, other than “Thanks.”

After seeing the inside of the museum, I spent another hour in the garden, taking pictures of the lovely flowers.

Flowers at the National Museum Flowers at the National Museum Flowers at the National Museum

Around 1830 Mesele picked me up and we went to meet Mercy at the Kale Guest House that the family owns and manages, and also where she works. They had just recently been built and were quite new and modern, even with a fitness center and ping pong table, which we played at for about an hour.

Then, considering it was a Friday night, we decided to go to dinner. Mesele and Mercy chose ToTot – which is an Ethiopian traditional restaurant (e.g. song and dance). The ambiance was very nice, consisting of 3 large huts merged into a larger walled room. By the time we got there at 2030 the place was pretty empty, with a few tables our tour groups and locals scattered about – and the show was already half-over.

After ordering beer and Beef Tibs (which was the best and spiciest I’ve had yet), I immediately became part of the exhibit again (they pulled me up on stage and made me do the shoulder dance – I refuse to post it here out of utter embarrassment, but thanks to Mesele the whole thing was captured on his iPhone’s video camera, and hopefully it NEVER sees the light of day).

ToTot Restaurant in AddisThe music and dancing was great but didn’t go on for nearly long enough, and it would have been a lot more fun if the place had been busier. Mercy and Mesele were surprised, noting that Saturday night must be the big night for the restaurant.

When we got back to the apartment I unpacked and repacked a little more, charged some electronics, chatted about my trip up North, and was fast asleep by midnight. This would be my final night in Ethiopia, and I wasn’t ready to go home.

 

 

Day 12 – The Magic of Lalibela January 15, 2014

I woke up around 730 and had breakfast – fried eggs, toast, and papaya juice – in time for my 0830 meeting with Kassa to begin our drive to the Monastery on the Mountain – Asheton Maryam Monastery. It was about an hour car ride crawling up a windy and steep mountain that began right around the Four Olives Hotel in the center of town. Along the way we saw a few interesting things.

  1. An Overturned Car that fell into a traditional hut, which stopped it from falling off the mountain and killing everyone inside.Whew, that was lucky!
  2. Groves of Eucalyptus trees that, according to Kassa, were taking over the entire mountain and was becoming a nuisance to farmers.Eucalyptus Trees in Lalibela
  3. A family that was cutting their barley by driving oxen pulling a threshing board onto it, after harvesting and drying. There was an old man, and his 3 children – 2 daughters and a son. The oldest daughter was doing the bulk of the work. Raising a wooden pitchfork to stir the barley and propel the oxen, she propelled herself endlessly into the tiring and under-appreciated manual labor that comes with being a farmer’s daughter in rural Ethiopia. The older boy mainly stood by and watched, occasionally stirring the grain. The younger daughter, too young to have enough strength to drive the oxen or stir the barley, stood by, fetching water as needed. The father occasionally got in the mix with his daughter (and occasionally son) to drive the oxen, but mostly gave instructions, as he was advanced in age and unable to sustain the manual labor over a long period of time. So, as usual, the work fell squarely on the shoulders of the one who was probably the least appreciated, most underfed, least wanted, and most abused – the oldest daughter.Driving the Oxen Farm Girl in Lalibela Farmer from Lalibela Farm Boy from Lalibela Farm Girl from Lalibela
  4. Big a** thorns. Watch out!Crazy Thorns
  5. Barley blessed with Holy Water (right bottom).Barley and Holy Water
  6. A door in the mountain before we began our hike.Door in the Mountain

We went as far as we could go by van, and then set off by foot to climb the rest of the mountain. It was a 30 minute climb and was at such a high elevation, it was hard to catch my breath. Kids from the farms below passed me on the way up to set up their coffee stalls and knick-knack stands for tourists on the way down, navigating the treacherous mountain path like it was their business (it was).

At the top, we climbed through a stairway enclosed in a cave – it was very Lord of the Rings/Shelob’s Lair. As we emerged on the other side, we became engulfed with another semi-monolithic/rock-hewn church, the Asheton Maryam Monastery, 4,000 meters up.

Shadows and Doorways

This monastery has several relics that had been exquisitely preserved from the 12th/13th century. A priest showed us a variety of scripture, crosses, and artifacts and Kassa described them one by one. Here are some of the highlights:

Priest at Asheton Maryam Holy Book at Asheton Maryam Priest at Asheton Maryam Priest at Asheton Maryam

Ceremonial Drums

 

After we saw the priest and the chanting room, we went around the corned to look at a 4 km tunnel dug underground connecting Asheton Maryma with another church that the priests often used. Amazing!

Then we relaxed outside and enjoyed the view, narrowly avoiding a huge wasp nest built up into the ground outside the church. Kassa said that there was another church a top the (even higher) mountain, but that it was very difficult to get to and not worth the climb.

from the Asheton Maryam Monastery View from the Asheton Maryam MonasteryWindind back down the mountain, I made it back to the Panoramic View Hotel by 1230 and Kassa and I enjoyed coffee on the patio.

Panoramic View Hotel view Panoramic View Hotel viewBy 1400 I was ready to go in to town and try to visit the Southern group of churches, check out the Art Gallery, and visit the bank. Unfortunately I lost my $50 ticket to get into the churches again, so I wasn’t able to see the remaining 5 churches towards the bottom of the hill in town (but Kassa said it was more of the same so I didn’t feel too badly about it).

Tedy was waiting to walk with me through town, and show me the short cuts through the local village paths. We visited the market along the way to the bottom of the hill, where the Art Gallery was located. It was underwhelming – mostly traditional crafts – but I did get some great pictures of a local weaver working a loom. He has such an interesting face.

Lalibela Weaver

On the way back up the mountain I stopped at the bank to get more cash to cover Kassa’s guide service. By the time I reached the hotel again with Tedy it was 1530 and we walked into his village for a coffee ceremony, which he invited me to. However, his Aunt, who was going to help prepare it, wasn’t yet back from church, so we agreed to meet again at 1700. In between I returned to the hotel and met with the owner, Amdemariam, to discuss some business. I proposed to take some high-res pics of the hotel for his website, and also help him with a redesign later – in return he agreed to donate $75 to the Lalibela Women’s Football (Soccer) Club, a local group of about 15 girls that gathered to play soccer and were in dire need of equipment and uniforms – Kassa had told me about them earlier in the day.

After I walked through the hotel with Amde and took pictures, I met Tedy again for coffee. He painstakingly prepared the coffee and I chatted with his friend.

Tedy's Friend

Tedy in his village Tedy's Coffee Ceremony

We chatted for a while and he also showed me inside his house, which was small but clean and had all the items necessary for a student (backpack, sitting area, pencils, etc.). He worked small jobs to pay for his rent, 400 birr/month ($20). I gave him some small US bills, my digital watch, and a flashlight for his hospitality.

Feeling good about the day, I returned to the hotel and settled into the garden for another beer and begin my task of blog writing and photo editing until sundown, when I moved inside for a dinner – Beef Tibs and Injera. At 2030 I met Kassa and Amde for a night on the town – we hopped around to 5 different places located throughout the city – both at the top of the hill and the bottom – for beers, whiskey, and Tej (in no particular order). Most of the places were local places that I NEVER would have found otherwise, and, other than the two Tejbets (including Torpedo one more time), there were no other Ferengi (foreigners) in them, all Habesha (Ethiopian). There was a mix of Ethiopian music, traditional and modern, and, surprisingly, reggae, which apparently is quite popular. What I did NOT hear was American Pop/R&B, which was prevalent in other African countries I visited. Clearly Ethiopia has a strong sense of cultural and musical identity.

After barhopping until midnight, I was dropped off at the hotel to settle in to a deep sleep and my last days in Ethiopia.

 

 

Day 11 – Gondar to Lalibela, Ethiopia January 12, 2014

This morning I had an 0830 flight to catch from Gondar to Lalibela. I scheduled the hotel shuttle to pick me up at 0700 the night before, and had an early buffet breakfast at the Taye Belay Hotel around 0630. As suspected the hotel shuttle was not there at 0700 (Ethiopian time, after all) – after a few calls to the driver and some urging on my park to the receptionist, the van eventually arrived at 0730. It didn’t matter anyways because the flight was delayed by 30 minutes. This seems to be the norm on Ethiopian Airlines domestic flights.

The flight arrived around 1000 in Lalibela, and the Panoramic View Hotel, where I’d be staying two nights, had a shuttle transfer and guide arranged for me at the airport. I had previously arranged this with the owner, Amdemariam, via email (he was very prompt, courteous, and informative in his emails). You can also read my TripAdvisor review of the hotel, here.

On the drive to the airport we made a few stops for me to take some pictures of the rolling hills and countryside as we climbed the (not insignificant) mountain to the small town of Lalibela. My guide, Kassa, explained that the town had grown from a few hundred residents several years ago to around 1,000 residents today living in the city center, supported mainly on tourism. The rest of the residents (~5,000) live in small villages dotting the countryside and survived on subsistence farming. Here is the countryside on the drive up from the airport (in the valley) to the town (in the mountain).

Drive from the airportI had also tried to arrange a Lalibela guide through my Gondar guide (Antoni) – this fellow Abebe. We were texting back and forth and he said he’d meet me at the hotel and we’d discuss a program. Mainly I wanted to get a second price point from what Amdemariam had also provided via email a few days prior. It ended up that Abebe wasn’t actually a guide, but a middleman, so the price with him was much higher – therefore it was a no brainer to continue to use the services provided through the hotel and Kassa.

The hotel was located a little ways outside of the town center (however, still quite walkable), perched on the edge of a cliff for a spectacular view. I reached the hotel at 1030 and they kindly gave me a room even though it was very early still. I collected my luggage and transferred them to the room, and then sat down with Amdemariam and Kassa to discuss the program for the next two days.

We negotiated the price and the items in the package and eventually settled on $170 for a morning and afternoon tour of the rock-hewn churches in town (the Northern and Southern groupings) (not including the outrageous $50 entry-fee imposed by the Orthodox Church), plus a morning outing the next day to either Yemrehanna Kristos or Asheton Maryam Monastery (I’d decide later), with entry fee for the second day program included in the price ($25). Both required about an hour drive to get to but were different in what they offered. I wanted to keep the afternoon on my second day free so that I could walk around town and do some shopping.

Around 1100 Kassa and I set off to the Northern group churches before they closed from 1200-1400, and then the plan was to visit the Southern/Eastern grouping in the afternoon. We got to the entrance after a 20 minute walk from the hotel and I paied the $50 admission fee, which was good for 4 days across all 11 churches in town. Note: there are lots of ups and downs in this town so wear good walking shoes (mainly cobblestone streets) and be prepared to be winded even if you’re in good shape due to the high altitude. On our walk we mainly discussed the high entry price imposed by the church, and how this was hurting local tour guides since often tourists now opted to forego the guide service to offset the steep admission fee. Kassa explained that even though the members of the Ethiopian Tour Guide’s association opposed the fee hike (which just recently happened in 2013), the leadership rolled over and refused to fight the Church. We also discussed how the proceeds from the increase were not being visibly put to use by the Church, and the Church similarly refused to justify how the new funds would be used.

I also had the good fortune to run in to a woman from Morocco visiting Lalibela and we chatted for a while during the fee processing – we would later meet up for lunch.

Kassa brought me down to the first group of churches, which was a hike in itself. It was amazing to see elderly people hiking down to visit these churches with staffs and canes, braving the steep and dangerous terrain just for the chance to worship at these special churches and complete their pilgrimage.

King Lalibela, from the Zagwe Dynasty, built the churches in the 12th/13th century in the town previously known as Roha – only later was the name changed to honor the King, who’s name literally means “bees obey him.” It is rumored that when King Lalibela was born, he was surrounded by a swarm of bees (but not harmed), which is why his mother chose this name for him. The King arranged the churches and town to replicate/depict places in the Holy Land of Jurasalem as well as biblical stories – for example, there is a river that runs through town called the Yordannos (Jordan). After Muslims captured Jerusalem in the 12th century, King Lalibela was determined to make Lalibela (Roha) the Jerusalem of Ethiopia, and save Ethiopians the perilous and often deadly pilgrimage to the true Holy Land.

Most impressive is the architecture of the churches, since they were carved from living rock from the top town. Here are churches in town (from Wikipedia):

The Northern Group:

The Western Group:

  • Biete Giyorgis (Church of Saint George), said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church.

The Southern/Eastern Group:

We visited first 5 of the 6 Northern churches before lunch.

Biete Medhane Alem Biete Medhane Alem

Inside the Northern Churches in Lalibela

Lalibela Churches Chandra in LalibelaFrom 1200-1400 we walked through the market, which had a special Christmas market since Christmas Day in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the day before (Jan 7). As such we also got to observe and take pictures of many people worshiping .

Here are some interesting pictures from the market.

Boy in the Market Meskel in the Lalibela market Girls in the Lalibela Market

Kassa explained the history of each church and the artifacts and paintings as we walked inside each one (everything was symbolic and representative of the Bible and the Holy Land). Since it’s required to remove your shoes upon entry (God instructed Moses to remove his shoes while he stood on Mount Sinai because it was Holy Ground – remember, the Ethiopian Orthodox church takes the bible literally), I recommend wearing shoes that are both rugged (good soles) and easy to remove. My heavy-duty hiking boots were quite a pain taking on and off.

During my lunch, I ended up meeting the Moroccan woman, Salma, again at the Seven Olives Hotel and ordered the Fasting Platter (all vegetarian) which came on a heaping plates of injera and assortment of other breads. Salma is quite interesting – she has a PhD in physics and currently works in the UK at Accenture, a large consulting firm. She’s also traveling with a girlfriend (also a physics PhD) and we agreed to meet for dinner in the evening.

At 1400 I re-met Kassa and we discussed the afternoon program again. He had noticed that I was more interesting taking photographs than learning about the particulars of the churches and the artwork. I explained my photography and blogging projects, and, based on that, he revised our program for the afternoon. Instead of visiting the Southern group of churches, we decided to check out the one remaining church in the Northern group that we hadn’t already visited (St. George church – Biete Giyorgis), and then observe and take pictures of a mass that was began at 1500.

Here’s me at the St. George church, which was built in the shape of a cross (Meskel).

St. George Church in Lalibela

Then we went on to observe people during and after their worship.
IMG_2451 IMG_2458 IMG_2488 IMG_2489 IMG_2416

We finished up around 1600, and the plan was to go back to the Southern group on my own the following afternoon. As I walked back to the hotel, I met a few people from town.

Local boys in Lalibela

At the hotel I showered and changed, and received a call from Salma, who invited me to dinner at Ben Abeba. I headed over there around 1800, and met a young boy, Tedy, who showed me the way to the restaurant since I got a little lost.

Tedy and his Aunt in LalibelaWhen I got to the restaurant, I was astounded by its magnificent architecture. It was a cross between Star Wars and quaint countryside. It was iconic to say the least, and also could have been something out of the Jetsons. I caught a glimpse of a fantastic sunset as well. You can check out my full review of the restaurant, Ben Abeba, here, on TripAdvisor.

Ben Abeba Sunset from Ben Abeba Sunset from Ben Abeba Sunset from Ben Abeba Sunset from Ben Abeba

I met Salma and her friend, Connie.

Salma and ConnieI ordered a beer and we shared a large platter of vegetables and Beef Tibs.

St. George BeerFood at Ben Abeba

Here’s a picture of me during the sunset:IMG_2541

I left around 2000 and met Tedy at the entrance of Ben Abeba. He asked me if I wanted to see a local Tejbet (Torpedo) and said OK. It was pretty amazing on the inside, and a strolling musician roamed the floor singing and telling jokes, and goading people to do the traditional shoulder dance (luckily I avoided doing it this time).

We left around 2100 and I headed back to the hotel. Tedy invited me for a coffee ceremony that he would prepare the following day in his village.

Next up in the morning will be a visit to the monastery of Ashetan Maryam – Kassa had suggested I would like this better than Yimrehane Kristos since I enjoy more landscape and countryside, and pictures of day to day life rather than churches and old stuff. So far he had not led me astray.

 

Preparing for Africa December 26, 2013

It’s the night before my trip and I am psyched, but also a little anxious. I notoriously over-packed, but in my defense, one whole bag is dedicated to photography equipment (on the right) and of course I have to bring my laptop also for blogging and post-processing.

I’ll be taking my Canon Rebel T3i and tripod (and several lenses) on this trip and I’m going to be experimenting with different techniques. I’ve spent the past week over Christmas break finally learning about my camera and the science behind photography. This will be my first real chance to put my studying into action. Here’s are a few of my favorite shots from the past week:

Cherry Poppin' Daddies

Wine on wine

Berries in Westlake

Shrubs in Westlake

Winter in California

As usual, I feel like I didn’t have enough time to plan out the details for this trip, knowing full-well that half the fun lies in the spontaneity of what unfolds and what can be discovered in the spur of the moment. when left to chance (read=awesomeness).

That said, I did do a little homework on other travel blogs to pool some recommendations of others in the know for things to do in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia. Especially because this trip I am not on my own – I’ll be traveling to the first three countries with my grandfather (an intrepid world traveler) and my aunt , who also got bit by the travel bug – which means things needs to be a little more fleshed out and organizing than I normally am used to.

I am mostly set for Ethiopia because I will be staying with family for a few days and already have my flights mapped out for Lalibela and Gonder – and I’m sure my cousins can provide some great recommendations and help once I get there. But, for the other countries, it seems that I have no direct friends that currently live there (which is actually surprising considering the breadth of my Thunderbird School of Global Management MBA network) – nor do I have many friends of friends that have ever even visited….so, blogging research it is! TGFTB (Thank God For Travel Blogs)

Here’s what I’ve collected in my perusals, in order of the countries/cities we’re visiting (much of this is a note to myself to go back and re-read these upon arrival).

Burundi

  • Bujumbura and Lake Tanganyika: 28 Dec – 30, Morgan in Africa Blog– Great tips on dining and shopping in particular.

Rwanda

Uganda

Ethiopia

Feel free to pass along any advice, contact information of friends’family, or travel blogs about any of these places. There a surprising dearth of information on the web.