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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 10 (Addis Ababa)

Today I visited the "Red Terror" Martyrs' Memorial Museum in Addis Ababa, ‪‎Ethiopia‬, at the suggestion of my brother Christopher, and learned about a frightening and disturbing period in the country's history  the 1975-91 era of the Derg and Mengistu governments. While I was there I also tried to lend my efforts as a writer and editor to helping out in a small way. 

By 1974 there was much discontentment throughout Ethiopia against Emperor Haille Selassie and in September of that year the leaders of a military council known as the Derg took over the government and had him arrested. They had him transported to his confinement in a VW Beatle rather than one of the Rolls Royces he was more accustomed as a means of humbling him. A year later he died and is believed to have been murdered, despite Derg contentions that it was due to medical complications, and idea that is supported by his remains not being discovered until 1992, when they were found hidden under the floor of his old palace (now home to the Ethnographic Museum located on the grounds of Addis Ababa University). 

Derg leader Mengistu Haille Mariam, at left, and two of his compatriots, Aman Mikael Andom and Atnafu Abate, who he eventually had killed. When Mengistu was deposed in 1991 he fled to Zimbabwe, where he was granted asylum and lives to this day. Pictures of known victims of Ethiopia's Red Terror are displayed at the museum. Tens of thousands of people were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered by the Derg government. 

Remains of some Red Terror victims who have been identified are displayed at the museum, with photographs of them in life and the ropes they were strangled to death with. Remains of unidentified Mengistu regime victims found in mass graves are displayed at the "Red Terror" Martyrs' Memorial Museum​ in Addis Ababa. 

Exhibits at the "Red Terror" museum​ include artworks, like the one shown here, depicting the violent excesses of the Derg and Mengistu regimes. After going through the museum​ I met with its curators and then went back through it with them to correct misspellings and other minor errors on the exhibit placards. If I can be of help in getting out critical stories like the one they are telling at this museum then it is important to me that I do so! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 9 (Addis Ababa)

Woke up early to the sound of prayers being broadcast from the local churches, around 5 a.m. I would guess. Had breakfast with my brother and his kids and then walked with them over to the international school where I met and had coffee with several of the other parents and the school administrator. Came back and threw in a load of laundry and then did some work ahead of venturing out into Addis Ababa. 

Had lunch at the Lucy Gazebo & Restaurant with my brother Christopher and then visited the National Museum of Ethiopia in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today! Enjoyed viewing art and artifacts associated with the history of the country and, especially, seeing the remains of the famous "Lucy" pre-human hominid that were found in the Great Rift Valley.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 7 (Gonder/Bahir Dar)

Traveled by van from Gonder to Bahir Dar, on the shores of Lake Tana, and checked in the the Blue Nile Hotel. Sailed across lake to Zege Peninsula and visited monastery and church there; spotted two hippopatami on return trip. Drove to Blue Nile Falls in the afternoon (shown below). 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 6 (Lalibela/Gonder)

Woke up c. 4 a.m. but did not get up until 6, and coffee was still not available when I walked to the hotel dining room so I worked an hour or so. When I went back three groups were there, all western Europeans with demeanor somewhere between cool and rude; no one would acknowledge my greetings and avoiding eye contact and so I enjoyed my firfir and coffee alone. 

Finished packing out and my guide Daniel Shewalem picked me up at 9 and, as it was Saturday, took me to see the local agricultural market ahead of taking me to the airport for my flight to Gonder. 

Might as well have spent some more time at the market, as flight was delayed at least two hours! Met some other travelers, however  including two who had not managed to fly out the day before  and we enjoyed a coffee ceremony together and swapped stories while waiting for our plane to get in. 

Making the best of the situation with Daniel, Adriana, and Suman at the airport in Lalibela!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 5 (Lalibela)

Today my guide Daniel Shewalem and I made a 15-mile roundtrip pilgrimage to a monastery hidden within a mountaintop above the Ethiopian holy city of Lalibela. We started with a strenuous ascent to the ridge east of the city and then proceeded through highland forests of eucalyptus, agricultural fields, and little farming hamlets. We presented ourselves to the guardian monk and were honored to have him show us the relics kept within the place. Then, before descending, we repaired to a nearby workshed and enjoyed cups of freshly brewed sorghum beer! On the way down we further fortified ourselves at a mountainside coffee hut.

Back in Lalibela we had lunch at 7 OIives.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 4 (Axum/Lalibela)

Packed out of Sabean International Hotel in Axum and was taken by my driver to airport at 9 for flight to Lalibela. Got there ahead of the crowds going out on same and other flights because security conducted the most thorough search of my possessions I have ever experienced. My Bulgarian friends Kras and Jivko showed up about half an hour later, we went through security together, and then we chatted while waiting for our flight, which came in about an hour late. 

My friends did not have a place to stay in Lalibela and so I suggested they try the Mountainview Hotel, where I was staying, and they took the hotel shuttle there and were able to get a room. I met with my local guide, Daniel Shewalem, and our driver took us to the hotel so that I could check in. 

We then spent the afternoon visiting the first seven of the 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. Then, in the evening, Kras, Jivko, and I sat out on the upper terrace of the hotel, drank the local St. George beer, and watched the sun set over the Amharic highlands of Ethiopia. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 3 (Addis Ababa/Axum)

Flew from Addis Ababa to the ancient city of Axum. Checked into Sabean International Hotel and then headed out with my guide, Sisay, to explore sites around the city, including the Stelae Fields (shown below), location of numerous royal graves and monuments; a pool associated with the Queen of Sheba; a three-language proclamation stone declaring the victories of King Eksana; the local antiquities museum; the ruins of an Axumite palace and the tombs beneath it; the church complex containing, among other things, the Temple of the Ark of the Covenant; and the subterranean tomb of King Balthazar, one of the three Magi who visited Jesus at the time of his birth. 

* St. George lager, a very decent Ethiopian brew, is the thing to drink here. In provincial Axum a bottle cost just 15 birr (75 cents), and in Addis Ababa and some other locations the price is a steeper 30-60 birr ($1-3). 

* Have smelled marijuana twice since getting to Axum, first while approaching the tomb of Balthazar and now the stuff that is giving me the contact high while writing this in my hotel room. Know it is illegal here but have read a few sources that say it is readily available and it would appear enforcement is lax in Axum. 

More detail to come but as of this writing I am getting ready to head out for my flight to Lalibela! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 2 (Addis Ababa)

Woke up within an hour or so of falling asleep and could not pass out again, something that was not helped by prolific street noise: vehicles on the main road a block away, a man talking on a cell phone who sounded like he was right outside my window, barking dogs (which might have either been pets or part of feral packs), hooting owls, a few sirens, and, most intrusively, prayers broadcast over a speaker from a nearby Ethiopian Orthodox church. On top of all that was pounding of the pulse in my ears, possibly caused by jet lag, the altitude, my malaria medication, or none, some, or all of those. 

Eventually just got up and my brother and I headed out for the U.S. Embassy about 10 a.m. Traffic was uncharacteristically good according to him and I had the opportunity to get a look at several other parts of the city. At the embassy we had a 1-hour block of Amharic language instruction, enjoyed my first Ethiopian meal at the cafeteria, and did shopping for Thanksgiving dinner (which I will be missing). We then drove back via a different route so that I could see even more of the city. 

After dinner (my brother grilled hamburgers and bratwurst on their patio), I made final preparations for my six-day excursion to the northern half of the country, took a shower, and turned in  hopefully to sleep better than I did last night! 

Above left, people struggling to fix broken down cars are a common sight on the streets of Addis Ababa. Above right, the capitol is undergoing a period of great growth and construction, albeit amidst fears that the bubble might burst in the next year or so and leave many projects unfinished. 

Above left, one of the bigger Muslim mosques in Ethiopian Orthodox Addis Ababa. Above right and below, sprawling, dusty, and chaotic though it is, an astute visitor will pick up that Addis Ababa was clearly planned as a visually impressive monumental city, with many traffic circles designed to showcase monuments of various sorts. 

Last thing for today is going through my kit and repacking about half of it for the excursion up north that I am jumping out on tomorrow! 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ethiopian Adventure Day 1 (Addis Ababa)

Low key first day here in Ethiopia! Landed in the capital city of Addis Ababa about 12:55 a.m. and very quickly cleared immigration and then customs (the procedure for the latter consisting of running my suitcase through a machine on a belt and not being sure if any of the other people in the vicinity were officials or all just other passengers). My brother Chris was waiting for me in the terminal and we had a quick, 15-minute drive to his house through streets that he said were only so empty because it was late on a Sunday night and that during the day it would have taken an hour. 

After giving me a brief orientation my brother went to bed. As I was not at all tired at that point, however, I washed and then stayed up reading Cutting for Stone, a 2008 novel about a surgeon in Ethiopia, and finally turned in about 5 a.m. 

Got up late and spent early afternoon unpacking, reading source material related to my trip, and chatting with my brother. Then, later in the afternoon, visited and had a tour of the international school my niece Madeleine and nephew Conrad attend. All four of us then took a short walk and stopped for coffee (buna), something I had been looking forward to doing, it seeming especially appropriate to enjoy this favorite beverage in the country where it was first discovered. In the course of all this my seven-year-old niece regaled me with useful tips for my stay in Ethiopia (e.g., "Always carry your own toilet paper," "Always cut the first 2 inches/5 centimeters off the end of a banana" to avoid some horrible parasite that lives in them, "Always carry bug spray" when visiting historic sites because of fleas in the carpeting). 

In the evening we had dinner with my sister-in-law Laura and she and my brother briefed me on things I needed to expect on my upcoming excursions to sites in the northern half of the country (all useful but none more so than the things Madeleine had already told me). Then, after everyone else went to bed, I did some more background reading, worked on the outline for a story about my trip I am doing for the New Braunfels Herald Zeitung, and started doing research into Ethiopian folklore for an article for Gygax magazine. 


Above left, people of means in Addis Ababa tend to live in walled and gated compounds — and the decorative variety among gates is interesting to note. Because people do not want pictures of their houses posted for security concerns, however, I photographed an unfinished one as an example. Above right, Aba Guben, a cafe on South Africa Street favored by my brother and his family. Left, many of the signs in Addis Ababa are dual-language, with script in both English and the local Amharic. Below, a view from the "Old Airport" neighborhood of Addis Ababa of the Entoto Mountains, which run along the northern edge of the capitol. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Excursion Into Egypt

In October 2006, my wife Diane and I made a port of call in Alexandria, Egypt, while on a 12-day cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel from Athens, Greece, to Istanbul, Turkey. Ours was the first cruise since the terrorist attacks in September 2001 that was allowed to make overnight excursions to Cairo. Everyone participating got on their assigned buses and then all 13 of them pulled out the port and drove bumper-to-bumper at about 70 miles an hour with police cars leading and following and a plainclothes policeman with a submachinegun on board each. 

Below, the relatively unimpressive modern lighthouse of the port is a reminder that Alexandria was once home to the Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  

Here the vast size of the Great Pyramids, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that still exists, is evident by a view of them from the outskirts of the city.

Above left, Diane stands in front of the 19th-century Mosque of Muhammad Ali in Cairo, respectfully attired to enter it. Above right top, an interior view of the main area within the mosque. Above right bottom, a detail of the nearby sprawling 12th-century Citadel of Cairo, constructed by the famed Muslim general Saladin. 

Above left, a view from the Citadel across the smoggy sprawl of Cairo toward the Great Pyramids in the suburb of Giza. Above right, a whirling dervish, a type of mystic that achieves ecstasy through a spinning dance, who we had the opportunity to see during a Nile dinner cruise. The real highlight of that night, however, was being seated with and meeting Richard and Laura Allan, with whom we have been close friends ever since! 

Above is the massive Sphinx of Memphis. Our Egyptian guide, Hanan, spoke pretty good English but sometimes got key words confused, as when she described this statue to us: "It is ver-ry heavy ... It weighs 90 pounds!" (Its actual weight is, of course, approximately 90 tons.) 

Above left, Diane demonstrates how to "walk like an Egyptian"! (Note that we did not actually see any Egyptians walking like this during our trip.) Above center, Diane and I at the Step Pyramids of Saqqara, which predate the Great Pyramids of Giza. Above right, Diane and some of our traveling companions in one of the temples at Saqqara; in the background with the sign is our local guide Hanan. 

Above the Great Sphinx and one of the Great Pyramids at Giza! Below, what would a visit to Egypt be without a camel ride? I took one at the same location 20 years earlier, when I visited Cairo while stationed with the U.S. Army in what was at that time known as West Germany. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Two Days In Athens

While working on an article for d-Infinity Online magazine ("Monsters Among Us"), I tracked down the pictures I had taken during the trip my wife Diane and I took to the Mediterranean in 2006. Our first stop ahead of boarding a cruise ship for 12 nights was Athens, where we spent a couple of days, September 26-27, exploring the historic heart of the city. 

One thing that struck me about this trip was how relatively few photos I took, and I probably take anywhere from five to even 10 times as many a day when I travel these days. (I also shot them at a much smaller size than would be the norm for me now, which limits what they can be used for and their viability for print). It is easier, after all, to delete or ignore them later, but it is truly said that one never knows if they will pass the same way again and once you have left a place you might never have a chance to take pictures of it again. 

A highlight for us was a visit to the Acropolis of Athens, site of the Parthenon and other temple structures, which Diane had never before visited and which I had not been to since 1981. 

  Above are three views of the Parthenon, dedicated to goddess Athena Patheneos, patroness and namesake of the city. From the left are a view of the main entryway, Diane in front of renovations that were ongoing while we were there, and one from the base of the rocky hill.  Above are a closeup of the main entrance during a rare and fortuitous break in the crowds and a very touristy one of me in the foreground taken from the ruins of the nearby Roman-era temple.  While the Parthenon and the Acropolis are so associated with each other that people often mistakenly use those terms synonymously, another impressive religious structure on the site is the Erecthyon, above. Its most characteristic feature is a ceremonial porch that has a roof supported by six Caryatid columns, pillars carved in the forms of robed women.   Many of the artifacts excavated on the Acropolis are on display at a small museum there, which bears visiting by anyone wanting a deeper understanding of the site. Shown here is lord Hermes, god of communication among other things. Above left is a view of the Parthenon from the rooftop bar of our hotel. One site I have seen from a distance and wanted to visit every time I have visited Athens but, for a variety of reasons, been unable to is this beautiful 5th century B.C. temple of Hephaestus, god of craftsmen. This is a view of it from the mount of the Acropolis.  Good views of many other interesting things can be viewed from the centrally-located Acropolis. Above left are the ruins of the massive and beautiful Roman-era temple that we explored while in the city. Above right are the remains of the theatre-temple of Dionysus, god of wine, drama, and madness.  A sense for the titanic size of the Roman temple can be seen here, with Diane standing in front of it. Some the inhabitants of the temple ruins sleeping in front of an overturned column capital are a further indicator of the site's monumental scale.  We also spent some time walking around the Syntagma Square area of Athens and visited Greece's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, above left. Above right is one of the Evzone ceremonial soldiers who stands guard in the area.  On the afternoon of our second day in Athens we took a cab to the port of Piraeus and boarded the Norwegian Jewel. A few hours after this picture was taken we sailed westward, to the Peloppenese and Olympia!