Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Bahir Dar Part II - Piracy on the High Seas of Lake Tana?

Friday, December 5th 2014 - I woke up after the previous night's misadventure feeling fairly apprehensive about seeing the shady tour operator Dugu. I took comfort in the fact that at least there'd be another guy on this tour and that it was all paid already and I had no money at all in my wallet. Today I was to go on a tour of some of the further monasteries on islands on Lake Tana, for which I'd paid $45 (in the form of 900 birr) -- I'd been told it was normally twice as much but I was splitting the cost with someone else who had already signed up.

   Dugu met me in front of the hotel and fortunately made no mention of how I'd bailed on him and his prostitute friend the night before. We took a bujuj to a nice hotel on the water, where I'd taken a boat last time (2012) with Woinshet and Rahel, two girls who had worked at the hotel I was staying at. It has a nice peaceful garden area out by the water, and when I'd been there with the girls they'd been setting up for a wedding, which Rahel had commented on as "it must be a very expensive wedding, this set up must cost at least $300."
   We took our time drinking coffee while waiting for the other tourist. Dugu ordered a coffee with milk but then didn't touch it because he'd realized he was fasting and apparently milk was off the list. Once or twice Dugu took phone calls, after one of which he finally declared the other tourist couldn't make it, and then he really surprised me by mentioning that that guy would get his money back. Him getting his money back over his no show seemed much nicer than I had expected from this tour operation, though I also immediately had a strong suspicion the other tourist never existed, and had already been thinking "I'll believe it when I see it."

   So after that we got on our way. I found enough money in my pocket to pay for coffee (which after all was probably not even a dollar for the two of us), and we climbed into a little boat that was moored up on the lake side there, operated by a kid that looked about 16 and never said anything. Dugu kept referring to this kid as "the captain" which I found pretty amusing. After we had been on the water for just a few minutes Dugu handed me the other tourist's receipt casually saying "here, hang on to this, we can stop by an ATM when we get back so you can pay us his share of the expedition cost"
   "WHAT!! NO WAY! YOU TURN THIS BOAT RIGHT AROUND AND GIVE ME BACK MY 900 BIRR!!" I exclaimed with adamant gesticulations, whilst immediately evaluating the possibilities of swimming to shore if they refused. The kid stopped the engine and Dugu negotiated with me.
   "Okay okay, well how about 400 birr ($20)." I was extremely unhappy, and maybe I should have haggled with him even more but I knew he'd be arguing with me the whole way back if I didn't go for it, so I agreed to that price.

   As we motored across the brown waters of Lake Tana a single fighter jet flew by high overhead. Dugu remarked that it was a Mig, which the Ethiopian airforce operates since they had formerly been in the Soviet sphere of influence. This led to general discussion of Dugu's experience as a foot soldier in the 1998 war with Eritrea, which from what I've read was kind of like a return to the trench warfare of WWI. He received unspecified injuries during this war. Also he mentioned that there was some fear of an Egyptian aerial attack, since Egypt is upset about current Ethiopian plans to build a dam on the Nile.
   "But Sudan is between Ethiopia and Egypt!" I pointed out.
   "Yeah but they don't have the military to do anything about it, and we have good trade relations with them," he explained. So apparently Egypt might fly right over Sudan to bomb Ethiopia.

   We arrived at the first island, and Dugu informed me "there's a 100 birr ($5) entrance fee to see the monastery, and same with the other island"
   "What?!! I thought what I paid already included that!"
   He shrugged. "No it didn't"
   "I don't have any money"
   "You can borrow from the captain and pay him back when we get to land"
   "No I'm not going to pay it I already paid for the tours!"
   "Okay we'll sit here in the boat."
   Grumbling, feeling very cheated, I agreed to borrow the money and went ashore. The island consisted of a steep thickly forested hill with the monastery church on top (shaped like a giant hut, round with a conical tin roof), and some other monastery buildings nearer the water. In a sort of crude shack that served as a museum exhibit there was a snake skin on the wall labelled "paython," which Dugu informed me was "an anaconda." I doubt it was either. Shortly later I asked him what kind of monkeys I could see swinging about up in the canopy of the forest and he confidently informed me they were a kind of ape. As apes don't have tails and these clearly did, I concluded Dugu was just going to make up an answer for any question I asked him and didn't bother asking him anything else.

   One of the sheds full of museum items had some interesting looking stuff. Several manorahs, and several old looking crowned helmets that I was told had belonged to emperors of Ethiopia. By now I'm sure you understand though why I take everything around here with a large grain of salt. Still looked interesting though. I asked if they did any beekeeping but was told the island was too small to support beehives. It was a pretty small island but I'm pretty sure a beehive or two would do just fine.

   Second island was more of the same, but also had some nuns who had a big impressive weaving set up. Both monastery islands were very nice and peaceful. I pondered what it would be like to live with the monks for even a week. Probably a lot of getting up early to pray and fasting and other uncomfortable things. On the island without nuns women aren't even allowed to visit, it's a strictly men-only island. They told a story about how a western tourist woman disguised herself as a man to see the island and then some calamity happened, allegedly.

   Anyway we returned to the shore, and Dugu took me in the bujuj to an ATM in town, and informed me if I had a tip for the previous day's tour guide I should give it to him and he'd get it to him. I had actually liked the previous tour guide (Jime) a lot and would have tipped him at the time but I thought I was going to see him on this day, and I'd ended up back with Dugu the previous day before I knew it so it would have been awkward to top him. By now I as you can imagine had a thorough distrust for Dugu but I gave him 30 birr for Jime and later emailed Jime (who had given me an email address) telling him I hoped the 30 birr got to him, so if some went missing he'll know. Also paid Dugu the 600 additional birr ($30) I now owed him, and took out a little more, since I'd be in Ethiopia for just one more day.
   As we proceeded on to my hotel I contemplated how much to tip Dugu. By now I pretty much loathed and despised him but not tipping a tour guide in Africa is a huge huge slap in their face and I knew he'd flip out if I didn't. So as we pulled up to my hotel I tried to give him 50 birr ($2.50, more than a day's pay for an educated middle class Ethiopian), at which point he informed me I actually owed him 150 birr as a "guide fee."
   Now, I am known for almost never losing my temper and exploding at people, but at this point I just threw up my arms and exclaimed "YOU CAN'T JUST MAKE UP CHARGES!!!!" And stormed off into my hotel without giving him anything.
   I had to leave for the airport in about an hour so I fumed in my room for about half an hour and then packed my stuff and went down to the lobby. I was afraid he'd be there waiting but he wasn't so I remarked to the lobby staff about the awful adventure I had with him as I paid ... and then as I sat there waiting he came in, and started insisting that I had to pay him.
   "What did the 1300 birr I paid you already pay for??" I demanded "it apparently didn't pay for admission to the islands, and it didn't go to the boy who drove the boat, so what did I pay for??" He kind of shrugged and insisted that it was a standard fee I'd have to pay. After this didn't work he tried a different tack and said "well you should give me a tip"
   To which I said "I am thoroughly dissatisfied with you I think you have been extremely dishonest with me and I have zero desire to give you a tip."
   Finally I looked at the hotel staff, who was kind of staring at us agog, and said "can you have security escort this man out he is really bothering me!" at which point Dugu decided to save himself the embarrassment and leave, telling me as he left that he was going to call the police on me.
   After that I was able to board the hotel shuttle without further molestation (it loaded in the hotel courtyard), and as we pulled out of the hotel there was Dugu still standing by the side of the road, shooting daggers at me with his eyes. I'm really glad all this happened just as I was leaving town or else I'd be seriously afraid he'd have me jumped as I went about town or something.

Back in Addis
   Waiting in line at the boarding gate I thought this tallish blonde girl behind me sounded like she might have a specifically Californian accent so I asked her where she was from. She surprised me with "Sweden," so I responded with
   "Åh jag trodde att du lät American"
   "Oh, I've been living in the United States" she said, still in English. "Are you Swedish?"
   "Nej jag är amerikan"
   "Do you study languages?" she asked, still confused.
   "Nej, jag är en biodlare" I said smiling innocently, no I'm a beekeeper.
   Anyway we went a few more rounds before I admitted I'd been an exchange student in Sweden. It turns out she was there with some UN women's programme. This was the third time during this trip to Africa that I was able to use my Swedish, which I found very amusing.

   Back in Addis I was once again staying at the Dessie Hotel. I had as usual called ahead to arrange pick up at the airport, and this time when I started trying to explain to the lobby girl who I was and how to spell my name she interrupted me with "yes yes I know you." And at the airport the young man who I think is the assistant manager didn't even bother holding up a sign with my name on it. I was still looking for the sign but then he said "hey, Kris! over here!"

   That evening Rahel (the gorgeous girl you may recall from the previous few times I was in Addis) and I went to an Indian restaurant. I have been raving about this restaurant ever since then. Want some good Indian food? I know the BEST restaurant, you just need to go to Addis Ababa...
   Unfortunately I don't think Rahel was as stoked on it as I was, as she appeared to be kind of poking at her food and didn't eat terribly much. I've noticed repeatedly that when you try to expose people to food they've never encountered before they're often very skeptical and have trouble eating very much of it. I suppose I'm the same way, with Ethiopian injera based foods I probably eat a lot less than I would of other things because its just not hte kind of hearty soul food (in my palate's expectation) that I can shovel into my mouth.
   This lovely evening of delicious food with the gorgeous and delightful Rahel to some degree made up for the terrible beginning of the day.

   The End! ...until the next entry.

And here's a picture of one of the monks on the island monasteries, from my 2012 visit.

   I have just one more day in Addis to write about, followed by a day in Nairobi, and then this trip is finally over! Since I leave for Europe on Monday I'm really going to try to get those last two days posted before I begin a new trip!!

Tags: bahir dar, east africa 2014, ethiopia, ethiopia 2014, getting scammed, rahel s, shenanigans, travel, travelogues
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