January 17, 2014
Red Chilli Rest Camp
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
On Tuesday, we ended our day with a little shopping trip in one of Lalibella’s tiny stores. There’s no big shopping arcade in this town. In fact, the town has a very basic infrastructure — I doubt we saw more than 25 modern buildings (built to professional building standards) in the whole community. On the other hand, thanks to UNESCO, there is 24-hour power and a modern water supply, so that puts Lalibella ahead of many other Ethiopian communities.
A taxi returned us to our hotel, and I had to lie down. I took a shower and crawled under the covers of my bed. I had the chills — I think I had some sunstroke. It had been a long, long day on our feet — from 9 until 6 — outdoors all the while, in a high altitude on a sunny day. I’d been wearing long pants and a hat, but still, my face was hot, my arms were hot, my head was hot. And then all of them were suddenly cold. Not good.
We went back to the Mad Scotswoman’s restaurant — Ben Abeba — for dinner, and on the way over there, I felt two or three raindrops on my head. So far, that’s the only precipitation I’ve felt in Africa. We had a good meal, and then cake and cookies for dessert — so far, the only true dessert I’ve had in Africa. And then we returned home. I was beat.
The next morning, Wednesday, we had to leave for the airport at 9 a.m. While eating breakfast, I took my malaria medicine for the first time — the higher elevations of Ethiopia are malaria-free, so I only needed to start taking the oral medication two days before entering a malarial zone. And then we got back into the waiting minibus to take us down the curvy mountain road to the Lalibella airport.
If the trip up the mountain was exciting, the trip back was — well, it was awful. This time, I was stuffed into the back of a 13-passenger van that was holding 15. I still felt flu-ish because of the heat. The malaria medicine was making me feel nauseous. The trip was just interminable. And once we got to the airport, we had to stand in line out in the sun — just to get into the terminal. When we went through security, the my suitcase kept setting off alarms — it turns out that my flashlight and my water filter were both problematic.
Our flight back to Addis Ababa retraced the route we took two days before — we stopped first in Gondar and then continued on to the Addis airport. Once there, we had about eight hours to wait.
Now, there are many places where I would welcome an eight-hour layover. In Philly or Chicago or dozens of other cities, that’s plenty of time to head into town for a good dinner and a little site-seeing. But we didn’t know where to go in Addis, and we were unsure about traffic and getting back to the airport in time, and nothing in my Ethiopia guidebook jumped out at me and said, “Visit here during your layover!”
So we elected to stay in the airport, and basically that was a good thing. I was able to check my mail, repack my suitcase, upload a photo or two to Facebook. We had some dinner — typically for airport food, it was both expensive and dreadful. We rested on the comfortable chaises longues that we found distributed throughout the terminal. We looked at the scores of U.N. Peacekeepers from several countries who were waiting for their onward flight to some war-torn land. We found the separate men’s and women’s prayer rooms that were overcrowded at Muslim prayer times.
And finally, it was time for our flight to Uganda.