December 28, 2011
Our Airbus 340 looks almost full, and I wonder: why are we all going to Addis Ababa? We’re a motley crew. On the bus out to the jam-packed tarmac in Frankfurt, we traveled next to two young American couples and their four children, all under 6, all impossibly wholesome and American looking. Missionaries, was my guess. (Maybe Mormon? We didn’t have a chance to ask.) The pudgy gray-haired couple in the two seats in front of us are Swedes, and I count lots of obvious Germans and Africans, including many who look like they were sent by Central Casting to play Ethiopians. Other languages also float through the cabin. Are there coffee-traders among us? Arms dealers? Aid workers? Hydroelectrical engineers? How many are tourists, like us?
I recently read that something like 50 million people a year vacation in Africa, a drop in Las Vegas’s jumbo bucket, to be sure, but more than many Americans might guess. (This year, Steve and I would be double-counted, having started off the new year in Senegal and on track to finish it and start the next in Ethiopia.) In the months and weeks before our departure, countless people asked me, incredulous, why we were going.
I have many answers, but one that I don’t often express is that we’re going to have fun. We think it will be fascinating to step into the pages of the National Geographic (of our childhood) and visit some of the Stone Age tribes who inhabit the southern Omo Valley. We think the Guidebook Highlight experience of being in Lalibela’s submerged stone churches on the Ethiopian Christmas will be great fun (and I’m hoping our hotel room there will be halfway decent too.) We think trekking in the central highlands for four days among the breathtaking vistas and gelada baboons will be outdoorsy fun. And if I make it to feeding time for the hyenas of Harar, that will make me happy.
Of course pitfalls exist. The journey here (in coach, at least) is a brutal marathon for those of us who can’t sleep on planes (and even for those like Steve who can, a bit). I expect some abysmal roads and some barely tolerable hotels and unforeseen mishaps. So I suppose the big question of this trip is: will the fun parts outweigh the grubby, irritating, annoying ones? But that’s the question haunting all travel, isn’t it?