Arriving in Addis Ababa

Just in case you all didn’t realize that traveling to exotic locales is not all fun with this story, I’ll give you another fun glimpse into some of the things I get to do on a semi-regular basis.  While in Cairo… literally wanting to get the f-outta there as quickly as possible, I went online (skyscanner.com… my favorite website for flights) and bought a ticket to Addis Ababa (Bole International Airport… the airport code is, funny enough, ADD) departing the following day.  It was on an Egypt Air flight, leaving at 10:30 PM the next evening.  I like evening flights… the red-eye across the US never really bothered me as I can sleep on flights with relative ease.  The problem here was that the flight from Cairo to Addis Ababa only takes about three and a half hours, so I would be arriving in a very unfamiliar place (my first stop in sub-Saharan Africa) at 2 AM in the morning, with no place to stay (even the fun of tracking a hotel down in Cairo at 4 AM still has not persuaded me to book anything much in advance… I just prefer to take the chance that everything will work out somehow… it generally does… just depends on your individual definition of what constitutes something as having “worked out”).  So I came up with the glorious plan to just sleep in the airport until morning… that way I could figure out transport in the daylight, and the hotels I would be looking at would at least be open.  Planning done and done.  One somewhat saving grace for me here… I did buy the guidebook for Ethiopia in Cairo the same night I booked the plane ticket… the first time I’ve bought a guidebook for any place on my trip, so I, at least, had names and descriptions of hotels in Addis Ababa (I know I mentioned using a guidebook on the Camino de Santiago, but, technically, it was my lovely camino companion that purchased the guidebook… so that does not count as me buying a guidebook).

After spending the day preparing to leave Cairo (buying and sending post cards, packing, reading the guidebook for Ethiopia, etc.  PS… if you would like a postcard from an exotic locale and I don’t as yet have your physical mailing address… e-mail me and I will send you one), the first part of the journey began… the taxi ride from my hotel to the airport.  Driving in Cairo is similar to driving in most any developing country megalopolis… too many cars all vying for not enough road space, no real traffic rules (other than to just get wherever you’re going without crashing into something/someone), constant honking, constantly maneuvering around vehicles stalled in the middle of the road or on the shoulder (which is generally used as a traffic lane), etc.  The only real difference I noticed in Egypt, as compared to the limited amount of other developing world megalopolises I’ve been to, was the general lack of motorcycle and scooter traffic.  There’s some, but by no means is it on the level of China, or Manila… the reasons for which I found interesting to ponder (the weather… really cheap subsidized gas… most Egyptians not wanting to risk the traffic on one… I don’t know).  To top it off… all that fun became even more so once I found out that the driver my hotel arranged was a 17 year-old kid with a 1992 Toyota Celica that… to be generous… had seen better days.  At least it had a pretty, actually really, good sound system (of course it did… what’s the first thing a 17 year-old male is going to upgrade).  Turned out to be quite a nice ride, and the kid was a very good driver… aggressive and quick, but not in an outta control way… nice way to spend an hour.

I got dropped off at the international terminal of the Cairo airport where I proceeded to check in, clear immigration and get some good food in preparation for spending the night in the Addis Ababa terminal.  Nothing to really note about the place or the flight, other than the writing and many of the announcements in Arabic, everything was pretty much just the same as in any airport and commercial fight experience anywhere else… you know… the plane took off and landed safely in Cairo a couple of hours later.  Upon landing in Addis Ababa I did the usual things… namely, walk for a couple of minutes to stand in line at immigration.  I already had a visa, which I had gotten in Cairo, so I got my entry stamp, changed some money, and walked over to the baggage claim area to get my bag, which was already on the conveyer belt.

Now… to find a place to sleep.  First things first, a short description… the terminal at the Addis Ababa airport has all the facilities of a modern airport… it’s not like there was a dirt runway, or huts/corrugated metal buildings for the terminal (all of which I’ve seen… in the Philippines though).  But that being said… the terminal, or at least the arrival hall and baggage claim areas, looked a little worn around the edges… like pretty much every American airport that still has terminals from the 60s/70s.  Not bad, but not exactly excellent (and it was a nice surprise that when I walked out of the baggage claim area the next morning, the portion of the terminal where one arrives for a departure was sparkling and looked brand new).  Second, after spending a couple of months in Spain and Egypt, Addis Ababa was cold.  In fact I was freezing.  The baggage claim area had several open doors letting in the night air (remember, it’s 3 AM more or less) and several of those large metal warehouse/roll-up doors, that were closed, but not exactly insulating.  Now, frankly, I should have expected this, because I did read that Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world (the altitude is somewhere between 7,200 and 8,500 feet depending upon where you are in the city)… so a city that high, even near the equator, is not ever really going to be exactly what you’d call hot and steamy… but sometimes these things escape your attention (details) until one actually experiences the reality of the place.  So, I dig around in my bag and put on every piece of warm clothing I had available (I was really not prepared to travel to cold climates because who thinks Africa is going to be cold)… long-sleeved waffle-type shirt, another long-sleeved shirt over that, my (thin) jacket and a scarf I’d acquired in Egypt (I was already wearing jeans).  I know my blood was a bit thin from being in hot climates for so long… but I could see my breath inside, so I’m not exaggerating too much to say it was cold.  So, all bundled up (as best as I could be anyhow), I searched for an appropriate bench to sleep on.  Luckily, the baggage area had plenty of benches… unluckily, most of them were already full of people sleeping.  And not only were these people sleeping, it looked like they had been sleeping in the baggage claim area for quite sometime… they found cardboard to sleep on (even on while on the benches… note that btw, cardboard is quite insulating, which is why bums use it to sleep on… not that I know how any of these folks actually found useable cardboard pieces lying around in the baggage claim area of the Addis Ababa airport) and most were either covered with thick blankets or sleeping bags.  I found one useable bench and lay down and tried to go to sleep… note that I carry ear plugs and an eye mask on me for just such an occasion (okay, actually I sleep with them all the time and have for years)… but the bench I’ve selected is near an open door and the draft is killing me.  I last about five minutes before I have to get up and find a new bench.  Again, all the prime spots seem to have been taken, but after a bit of wandering a find a row of unclaimed benches directly near the baggage claim exit doors into the main part of the terminal.  I find one in the corner (to be as far away from the doors as possible so I could possibly sleep through whatever early morning arrivals come through) and settle in… I put my feet on top of my duffel bag just in case someone might want to try and take it while I snooze… luckily, all of the airport benches look like they were taken out of one of those Ford 15-person passenger vans, so they’re decently comfortable and, most importantly, none of them have any sort of armrests… so I can actually lay lay down fully stretched out.  Earplugs in and eye mask on, I manage to fall asleep until morning (I managed to sleep until about 7:30 AM amazingly enough).  I wake up to the airport in full swing, my bag still there under my feet, with no real cramps, aches or pains… not a bad way to spend the night actually.  It’s still freezing, but I grab my bag, hit the loo, walk out into the street, find a cab and direct myself to what sounds like the best hotel for me in the guidebook.  I actually do remember smiling as the cab passed the welcome to Addis Ababa sign on the way into town.

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