I wrote three posts about Ethiopia while I was there. Night of the Rat was about, well, the rat in my bathroom and other unpleasantries I encountered. Happy to Be Here was about the positive stuff, like meeting my colleagues and seeing our program first hand. Beasts of Burden was about the endless streams of people and animals that trudged along the roads carrying burdens no one should have to bear. The post before this one was Frankfurt to Axum, which described traveling on Ethiopia Airlines.
After traveling for nearly 18 hours, Maki and I were seated in her office in Shire. I was exhausted and felt that special griminess that only comes from air travel. It was Friday afternoon and I just wanted to go to my hotel, take a de-grodifying shower, and sleep.
“What are you doing this weekend?” Maki asked. I shrugged. How did I know? Everyone had told me there was nothing to do in Shire, and a few stabs at proving them wrong on Trip Advisor had proven them right.
“You should go to Lalibela,” Maki said. “You’ll have to get up really early tomorrow and drive back to Axum, then fly to Lalibela and come back the next day.”
Drive? Fly? Again? That was the last thing I wanted to do. But a co-worker I trusted had urged me to see Lalibela if I could.
“Can’t I hire a driver?” I whined.
Maki laughed flatly. “You can’t drive there. Let’s have the driver take us to the hotel now, before everyone comes back from the camps. The travel agent is in your hotel.”
The Gebar Hotel was the tallest building in Shire. To get to reception, you walk up a flight of stairs, then walk up another flights of stairs, and then another, and another. There was no elevator. Luckily a young man came along and hoiked my suitcase effortlessly up the countless stairs for me. I gave him one of the filthy, ragged 10 Birr notes I had wadded in my pocket, then groaned inwardly as I calculated that I had just tipped him 42 cents. He smiled anyway.
The lobby walls and floors were covered in faux-marble tiles. It was cavernous and dark. I wondered if they kept the lights off to conserve energy, to keep it cool, or both. We left my bag behind the desk and schlepped down the stairs to the travel agency. Maki did all the talking.
“The flight will be 1,817 Birr,” she repeated to me after the agent told her this.
“I don’t suppose they take credit cards, do they?” I asked weakly.
“No, of course not,” she said in her matter-of-fact fashion. “There’s a cash machine in the lobby but they often run out of money on the weekends so you might have to run around to others. You can take a mini bus to Shire and it’ll cost you 100 Birr, or you can hire a driver and pay 1,600. Then there’s the hotel—I can recommend a good one—that’ll be about 1,200. The guide will want 500 and it’s 1,200 to get in.”
I can usually do math in my head, but I was tired and doing the conversions plus adding it all up was beyond me. All I knew was, it sounded like a lot of money to get up really early and knock myself out all over again with road trips and flights. I was not committed. Then Maki took a phone call and I did the calculations on my phone. The two hour-long drives, flight, taxi to the hotel, the hotel itself, the Lalibela entrance fee, and personal guide would all cost me less than $200. Okay then.
I was finally in my hotel room. Here was the shower set up.
The combo electric-plumbing made me nervous, but not enough to skip a shower. I went up to the restaurant and drank a beer while I pondered the menu and napkin holder.
I enjoyed the view from the balcony. The little three-wheeled vehicles are called Jijigas.
I went back to my room, washed some underwear, watched a dust storm roll in, then crashed.