Are We Ever Going To Get This Damn Camera Back?
03.01.2014 - 05.01.2014 25 °C
At the end of our Simiens Mountains trek on Day 4, we were picked up from Chenek camp by a van which was to take us off the mountain and back to civilization. As the dusty streets of Debark and then Gonder honed into view again, we realized we were back in the land of the civilized (well, almost).
We walked around the streets of Gonder in search of a hotel for the night, as we hadn’t pre-booked anywhere. We soon found a basic hotel whose owner promised hot water. This was a real necessity after not washing for another 4 days (after the 4 days of not showering in the Danakil) and being covered head-to-toe in dirt. Our feet started to look like the dirt may not actually come out.
As we unpacked our bags and Marina was about to take the plunge under some glorious luke-warm water, a sudden power cut kicked in. The entire room went pitch black and all the electricity went off, along with the water (which immediately shut off), in a scene that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Carry On film.
That night after an eventual ice-cold (strategic) shower of just the vitals, we arranged to meet our cook, Negga, for a much-needed cold beer and Ethiopian curry and injera pancake in "downtown" Gonder town.
First stop in the morning was the Ethiopian Airlines office in Gonder to reconfirm our lunchtime flight (a recommended action given the airline’s propensity to change their flight schedule on a whim). We had also passed on this advice to a Japanese couple we had met the previous day.
By chance, the same Japanese couple was already in Ethiopian Airlines office when we walked in. They didn’t look very happy after just learning their flight scheduled for the afternoon had, unbeknown to them, departed six hours early at 9:00am.
Fortunately, we didn’t have any issues. With our flight reconfirmed for that afternoon, we had a couple of hours to kill. We made the short walk to the nearby Gonder Castle and roamed around the gardens where the Emperor had lived back in the 17th century.
[Camera location: Some Chinese tourists were still in possession of our camera. They were due to arrive in Addis that afternoon where we were supposed to be reunited with our camera]
“I am sorry. This flight is full.” That was the response we were greeted with upon arriving at the check-in desk at Gonder Airport two hours before departure (and just after we had reconfirmed our place on the flight earlier that morning!) In booking this internal flight, we had the foresight to book the earlier of the 2 flights that day, just in case any issue arose. This was because in Addis, Marina had to immediately connect to her international flight back to New York on Egypt Air that same night. Unfortunately, the later afternoon flight (that our Japanese friends had been booked on before they stole our seats) had already spontaneously departed at 9am that morning.
We had just 14 hours before Marina’s flight to New York was departing from the other end of Ethiopia. And we were just informed that the final flight of the day was full. And to make matters worse, our confirmed seats had been just given away to the very same Japanese tourists that we had advised to re-confirm their tickets! So much for trying to be good samaritans and sharing the travel wisdom. Now we were sh!t out of luck.
We contemplated trying to find a driver to drive us all the way back to Addis Ababa, but quickly realised that we were never going to make it over land. The roads in Ethiopia are terrible (with large unpaved stretches) and drivers are not legally allowed to be on the road after dark.
The probability of our getting back to Addis Ababa overland in time to make the international flight was about on par with Coventry City winning the European Champions League in May.
We were forced to kick up a big stink with the Ethiopian Airlines staff who seemed less than concerned about our predicament. After much protestation, the check-in clerk suggested we try to drive to Bahir Dar and catch an early evening flight back to Addis, which would get us in to the city with just enough time to make the international connection.
Bahir Dar was, ironically, where we had started our Ethiopia adventure when we spent a night there on a layover early in the trip. But Bahir Dar was about four to five hours drive on public transport from our location. It was going to be a struggle to even make it for that flight.
It was around this time that the airport manager, who had been enjoying his day off at home, became aware of our predicament. The airline's shuttle driver took us back into the center of Gonder in an airport van where we were greeted by the airport manager, Tamla, a middle-aged Ethiopian with excellent English.
He ushered us into the back of his personal car and started driving. As we started to re-tell the story of the calamity at the airport, Tamla told us not to worry as he was going to personally drive us the 5 hours (10 hours return for him) to Bahir Dar in order to make sure we catch our flight. Our luck had changed!
The airport manager turned out to be most interesting guy we had met during our entire trip, recounting stories of Ethiopia, as well as times when he worked for Ethiopian Airways in Lagos, Nigeria and Hong Kong.
He blew us away with captivating stories the entire 5-hour journey to Bahir Dar, and he even helped translate and coordinate the final arrangements for collecting our camera in Addis.
He also stopped for coffee on the way in a tiny village where we were quite possibly the only foreigners to set foot in the village that year, and where the locals excitedly offered us live chickens for sale.
[Camera location: The Chinese tourists were due to land in Addis any time now. Our camera was within reach. We just needed to get back to Addis…]
Tamla, our driver, dropped us at a lovely lakeside restaurant in Bahir Dar, which had a lush, tropical feel to it under all the palm trees. We had just enough time to gobble down some food and a cold beer while watching the pelicans fly over the lake.
It was ironic that, after all, we did end up seeing Bahir Dar in the day light (and even having a meal there, unlike on our first night there).
[Camera location: The Chinese tourists had apparently missed their flight to Addis and were going the next day. We weren't getting our camera back, after all]
Another Ethiopian Airlines driver picked us up from the restaurant to transport us the short distance to the Bahir Dar airport.
Totally deflated and despondent after hearing the latest news about our camera, we jumped in the van bound for the small, domestic terminal. Suddenly the phone rang. It appeared to be news about the camera.
The Chinese tourists had apparently managed to get on a different flight. It turned out the tourists were currently in… wait for it… Bahir Dar! Just as this great news filtered through to us the phone, we lost reception and the line cut out. Great timing.
Our phone rang again but from a different phone number. This time it was from a guy who claimed to be a taxi driver and alleged that he was in possession of our camera. The news got better. Not only did he have our camera, but he was waiting to return it to us at the Bahir Dar airport. We couldn’t believe our ears.
Five minutes later our van pulled into the airport car park. We instantly saw the man holding our camera. Marina swung open the back doors of the van before the van even stopped moving, and in one fell swoop, flung herself through the back doors, landing in the somewhat bewildered taxi driver’s arms, planting a massive kiss on his cheek.
We flew back to Addis, camera in tow, and reflected on what we both agreed had been our most interesting trip to date.