I found your book entertaining to read but It would seem that we visited a different country to the Ethiopia you write about. Have travelled a fair bit but Ethiopia is the one country I was happy to leave. We travelled independantly using public transport in both the South (more preferable) and the North. We were worn down by the begging, cheating and lieing which appear to be endemic the like of which we have never experienced in some 40 odd years of travelling. Additionally being mobbed by groups of up to about 20 youngsters selling cigarettes, tissues, etc. who refused to move away even when local people berated them can become alarming. It would seem that they were operated by Faginesque characters. Being spat on was unpleasant but I took it as local recompense for previous European colonialism.
I could drone on about beggars and their games and tactics but one comment would be that no one appeared to be short of food. A comment from a teacher we met seemed to sum things up when he commented that the Government did very well from begging so why not everyone else!
Virtually every bill we were given was significantly inflated, 4 times was the record for sending the bill back before we got one that was somewhere near the costs shown on the menu – which as you pointed out – were several times more than the menu written in Amharic.
Bus stations were typically hazardous and many times we had to wrestle our bags back from people who had picked them up or, made off with them and demanded money for their return. This typically occurred when police or security chose not to stop them entering bus stations or interfere when they were present.
As to the environment poaching and tree felling go on non stop. We did tell some park rangers of people felling trees but by the time they, their kalashnikovs and we got back to the area they had left with the firewood. Though the rangers did confiscate a machete. The rangers have a thankless and impossible task. Given the current rate of deforestation I doubt little will be left in perhaps 10 years.
Buses from Gonder to Lalibela. We were fortunate we bought tickets easily for the Woldia bus (number 1181) and got to Gashena in 6 hours to catch the Lalibela bus. Others we met were not so lucky and were sold tickets to Gashena but their buses terminated earlier leaving them to buy tickets on connecting buses. However at Gashena there is a scam run where local people ‘tell’ the ticket seller to charge vastly inflated prices to westerners, they then collect the additional cost from the ticket seller. We argued and the ticket seller accepted our offer. We then discovered the scam whilst talking to fellow passengers (who would say nothing whilst in Gashena). In Lalibela I complained to the Police who forced the ticket collecter to return the additional ‘charge’. The fare is 20 birr per person. Initially the ticket seller wanted 100 per person, my wife would only pay 100, the ticket seller then gave 60 birr to the gang. The police were not happy with returning our money but they were supported by fellow passengers.
It would seem that as the centre of UN activity and other charities people can acquire goods, services and cash easily (and we saw corruptly) and so people use this approach with visiting white people to get more.
I realise that our views will not be popular but I feel that you need to make the abrasive, tiring and threatening nature of travelling independantly in Ethiopia. For those travelling in groups in 4×4 convoys they are kept away from local people and local conditions and presumably have a much smoother time of it.
Will not be going back to Ethiopia and will not actively encourage others to visit the country.
GeoffB from Shrewsbury