The day I returned from South America after more than two and a half years traveling, I hung my backpack, or rather I just threw it away given its poor conditions, knowing full well that the next time I’d wear a new one it would be for Africa.
It was already quite clear to me that after challenging a part of the world rather simple to travel, starting from Asia, with some technical difficulties in Burma, concluding with Central America, listed in order of difficulty and not time, the biggest challenge which perhaps I feared, but just because of this even more coveted, was the African continent.
I would postpone then and again, the brooding which I know well, a preamble to something that I’m planning and that will lead sooner or later to take the step, was already a seed ready to sprout.
There are places that need to call out to you louder than others. Going to the Caribbean is always a pleasure, travelling in countries with well-organized transport is easy, and if you wish, you can make it into an adventure, but generally it really flows without any major surprises.
Then there are other countries that instead require some preparation, mental and physical, often also a vocation because the trip will be tiring, a trial and, necessarily, you will need to adopt different strategies.
Ethiopia, I do not speak of Africa in general because I would simplify trivially a very complex reality, is one of those countries that forces you to rethink the way we travel same as the personal approach to an unknown land.
No more hostels, not more dormitories always full, clean bathrooms, breakfast included, wifi practically everywhere, not more intelligible languages ( such as Spanish ), to this I add that usually we do not have any notion of their culture and habits. Information is lacking and leaving for this country independently could be literally a leap into the dark.
In Ethiopia you have to be ready to turn and revise the way you approach a reality that, at first, upsets you, unsettles you, tries you and lands you in real life made of poverty and misery, of scorched earth, of green areas but with a barren feel, chaotic minibuses, earth which slips up your nose and only a scarf, covering your mouth and nose, allows you to walk those dusty hundred meters.
A scarf becomes a survival tool, more than a smartphone or a computer, without which we now seem no longer able to survive more than 24 hours, or a simple map, and already here you realize you are in a “other” world.
Until now I’ve never felt the need to get continuous assistance from the locals, happy to have them on my side if I found them but ready to go on alone for miles on ends by buses, tuc tuc, trucks and chicken buses .
Again I was forced to get off the pedestal and look for stands on which to hold on to, faces that might become familiar, whom I could trust.
Before leaving I was scared but I had not questioned the fact that I would have made it. I was positive I could be able to get into the play at once, but upon my arrival I find myself instead in a situation of confusion and bewilderment and my certainties crumble.
Addis Ababa at 2900 meters greets me happily, seeing my reluctance to travel through countries particularly stifling, with warm but not oppressive days, and what I expected as a great capital unfolds in front of me like a huge colorful village with little or nothing of a big city, if not the sheer size.
The standards of rooms, but mostly of the bathrooms, are much lower than those to which I was accustomed.
It is clear immediately that if adaptive capacity is a primary factor for backpackers, here it becomes prime even against your will and then you need / want to stay within a certain daily budget.
I find myself forced to adapt to questionable bathrooms, dirty and badly dressed children with flies in their faces who getting close to you and holding out their little hands say “faranji , faranji” or “you , you”, to eat using your hands, take a minibus on the go hoping to get it right, get to the bus station at 4.30 in the morning when it’s still dark and wait at least 2 hours before we start because this is how it works here, lose hope to meeting other travelers, as it is like a fortune wheel, lower your self-defenses and quickly figure out how to behave and how to get along with a reality light years away from that in which I have lived until now.
But this is Africa and this is what makes this trip so important to me. Reviewing and revisiting what has been done in the past.
Of course it was necessary to have achieved this awareness to face such an intense journey, hard but fascinating and rewarding, as the one through this beautiful country, otherwise after 7 days I would have returned home.
Here I feel protected and safe, I remind that Ethiopia is considered the safest country in Africa, yet still I have the feeling of being an outsider and I often find myself in difficulty, completely lost in the management of something that for years I have given for granted, simply and unfailing. The easiest things, such as taking a bus, find a laundry, a restaurant or coffee for breakfast, become an adventure in itself.
A trip to Ethiopia is not for beginners. It is not for the squeamish. It is not for the fainthearted.
A trip to Ethiopia is for people ready to trust and be guided by their instincts, for those who want to enter the open wound of the world and feel it burn, for those who want to get involved and lower the defenses in the face of something as diverse as it can be, for those who have time, who want to recover the authenticity of a life made of little things but still filled with hope, for those who are not afraid of difference but is ready to welcome it without judging.