After six days on the road from Nairobi, 1600KM of mostly superb roads, I finally arrived in Addis Ababa on December 26, 2017.
I did not want to celebrate. I did not even want to see the streets. I craved for a good shower, a drink and sleep – just to absorb this high feeling. That feeling was good!
My plan here is simple: Eat, Walk, Read and Sleep. I am not worried about not seeing some museum, some historical place etc. I don’t even have a map.
Addis Ababa, bar the country’s politics, is an embodiment of what is called Africa Rising. Every other building is either new, some road being dug or a new business opening up. The hum of the hammer and chisel is at every street corner. Like a snake, the old city is shedding off old skin. The economy is growing – you can literally smell optimism everywhere.
I am staying at MT Guest House, at the environs of Shalla Park in Bole area. Bole is an upmarket part of Addis – manicured lawns, embassy residences, hotels, and restaurants. You might confuse this place with some parts of London, New York or Los Angeles.
I have four days to bury my 2017 demons here, but, first things first; I purchased a return air ticket to Nairobi. I must get back in time for the New Year to be with my family. I took a taxi to Kenya Airways offices at the Hilton Hotel and bought the ticket – just a small hitch that they do not accept the euros that I had. You can only buy or change foreign currency in a bank – there was one in the building.
I left the Hilton Hotel, crossed the street and took a stroll past the UN Complex (a massive building) towards Meskel Square.
Addis is generally a well-planned city with great spaces for public utilities. Traffic moves and when there is congestion, drivers hoot but still respectful.
I was impressed by how much the government has invested in public transportation. I loved the picturesque views of the light train at Meskel Square. The light train launched in 2015, the first in Sub-Saharan Africa transports 200,000 commuters daily – keeping people on the move, reducing congesting on the roads. Other African cities should emulate to solve their nightmares of public transport.
Ethiopians are hospital people – sometimes I found it unbelievable – the length the go to make me comfortable especially when they realized I am a foreigner.
Addis Ababa has some character and I hope that the current pace of development does not wipe it out. By character I mean its mixed habitat – you can find thriving businesses amidst residential areas and residences in busy business environments. You will find big and small businesses thriving side by side, poor people living among the rich in their plastic shacks. But the arrival of places like Edna Mall and others that gobble space and only invite those with big money, Addis will follow the rest of the world to become an increasingly unequal community.
But if you are one person who is not bothered by inequality and you have money in your wallet, Addis is paradise. You can eat, shop and party. Bole area has a high concentration of night spots that encourage wicked parties. There are enough bars and lounges here to make half of the area’s workforce call in sick the next day.
Food: Where do I start – you will be spoilt for choices. There are restaurants everywhere and they make excellent food. My favourite is Opal Restaurant on Namibia Street.
I bought myself a good pair of shoes. What’s a man without a good shoe!
I have officially done 6,800KM from Cape Town (South Africa) to Addis Ababa by road in two different trips. As I packed for the airport, convinced that this was a worthy trip, I checked the distance from Addis Ababa to Cairo by road. It is about 5000kms. That will be my next challenge!
See you in Nairobi!
*John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist and nature enthusiast. He is currently the Board Chair of Friends of Maasai Mara.