Ethiopia - Addis and on to Nairobi
Arrived in Addis in early afternoon and checked into the Sheraton. We have two nights and a full day to decompress from our driving and to get ready for our Kenya safaris. Couldn't wait to get to our rooms and a long hot shower and on to a good lunch. The Sheraton is a fabulous spot and a real lens into Ethiopia. Wandering the huge marble lobby and public rooms, all busy and filled with people coming and going or sitting and talking in little groups it feels as if there are layers that we can see and many more layers that we can sense but can't see. The people sitting around or moving through represent many countries and nationalities, all are very well and expensively dressed, whether informal or formal and there are lots of bespoke suits and white shirts in the crowd. Feels like being in a Graham Greene novel but not knowing the plot. There are quiet but gruffly intense Israelis, suited Brits who look as if they are on their way to a board meeting, wealthy Ethiopians with or without families, trim Germans, knots of noisy Chinese and quiet and steely Americans. Indians, Icelanders, geo-thermal experts, French, Africans from a variety of nations, all meeting and discussing and negotiating and chatting and finalizing and the background noise that you hear is the sound of money whooshing in and out of the country.
Ethiopia's annual average annual income is $250US and their 20 year plan is to transform themselves from a Third World country to a Developing country, notice, not a Developed but a Developing country. They are clearly wary of unrealistic expectations but even to reach this modest goal there needs to be a massive infrastructural transformation and all the world's players know it. Addis is the economic heart of the country and the Sheraton is the epicentre of the deal-making.
The hotel property is very large, built on the side of a hill and is surrounded by an encircling wall and filled with formal gardens. Slightly downhill but within the walls is a very large swimming pool area with lawns and decks for lounging under beach umbrellas and a large pool-side bar and restaurant and patio. Loungers are filled with what I imagine to be ex-pats who use the pool and lounge area as a place to get away from Addis and relax for a couple of hours.
Fascinating place but suffers from an endemic Ethiopian problem, food is the result of good intentions rather than skill but wine helped so a very relaxing couple of days.
Up at 6:00 on our last day for an early breakfast and a ride to the airport for our 10:30 flight. Our driver was to have picked us up at 8:00 giving us 2 hours to deal with airport formalities. We were just leaving for breakfast at 7:00 when our driver called to say that he was in the lobby waiting and was ready to leave. He had a copy of our tickets and insisted that check-in time was 3 hours prior to flight time and was almost in tears when I told him that heaven and earth would not get us in his car until 8 as we had not yet had breakfast.
We decided to meet him at 7:45 since he was so distressed and in truth the ticket did say check-in was 3 hours before flights. When we got to the airport we could see why; if you want to see an example of chaos twice confounded appear at the Addis airport on a Saturday morning. Madness; very long lines snaking from the very few occupied counters including our counter for Economy passengers. The Ethiopian Air Business and Gold member line had no customers and 2 agents while the line for the Economy counter was almost out the door and 1 agent. I chose the Business line and was very pleasantly taken care of and we swept through in about 5 minutes. Am I ashamed? Not even slightly.
Once through immigration the fun really began. The hall into security was a very large glass-walled box with 2 doors at one end, on the other side of which were the scanners and x-ray machines. The hall was jammed and the crowd, thankfully not aggressive since it was no place for claustrophobics, slowly edged its way forward with the intent of squeezing through one of the two doors, their pace being dictated by the amount of time it took security to process the lucky individuals who had made it through. It took us over an hour to edge our way from the back of the crowd to the doors and we were at the departure gate about 20 minutes before our flight boarded. Had we stayed in the Economy line we would not have made our flight.
Staying at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi, very pleasant but slightly jarring as its decor is themed Ethiopian and many of the rooms are named after places where we have spent the last couple of weeks; déja vu all over again.
Met David Lloyd, www.davidlloyd.net, whose wildlife photography we love, and who is leading our photographic safari as well as meeting the other 4 members of our party. They are 4 guys in their mid-30's to mid-40's, 2 of whom are uncle and nephew, and all from Chennai in India. All are connected through friends and family; two are photographers and the uncle and nephew who are not photographers are very close, have not had much time together recently and are using the trip as an opportunity to spend some time together.
They are all friendly, charming, gracious and funny. Additionally they are all as smart as whips, have travelled extensively around the world for business and pleasure, have gone to US or international universities and are 3'rd or 4'th generation family business owners and partners. In other words worldly and sophisticated but still very down-to-earth. It's going to be a fun week.