Like a skanky dog with its hind leg windmilling around to scratch, while it whiplashes from side to side to bite at the little buggers, me and Nick have fleas. It’s horrible, disgusting and unrelentingly irritating, but there it is. We cannot sleep for scratching, for feeling things crawling on our skin, for searching our infested bedsheets for the tiny hoppers. All day we are jumping around, contorting ourselves in spasmodic dances to scratch our ankles, feet, back, arms etc. We’ve bought sprays that make our eyes stream and induce coughing fits almost as annoying as the fleas. But we haven’t solved the problem. Ethiopia, it seems is, is infested with every room we stay in worse than the last.
There is no point even bringing up the problem with the hotel staff, who seem to think it’s normal. Our home in Lalibela, for example, is still being built – a relatively flash affair with marble tiles and large glass doors. Being the only concrete building within 100 metre radius, and the only 3-storey building in the whole town, it’s a prominent sight in the vicinity. As with all such poorly constructed concrete and steel buildings from hotels to shopping centres, my main fear is that they will collapse while I’m in them. Nick is more concerned with the fact that we couldn’t lock our glass doors. He brings this up with the manager, who replies that yes, of course they don’t lock, it’s on purpose. Nick is momentarily flumoxed by this, but decides that miscommunication is at play. He struggles on, explaining that the keys in the doors don’t lock the doors, and that the doors are so badly fitted that there is a gap running down the side of the frame. “Yes, yes,” is the response. “It is on purpose, all the rooms are the same” – which I can confirm, having been up and down the hotel looking for ones that work – “it’s because it’s on the first floor.”
At this point, rather than walking away, realising the futility of continuing such a pointless conversation, Nick persists for a while, until it is admitted that, like everything else in the hotel, the doors are a shoddy construction badly fitted by a company in Addis. The manager stresses several times how various components arrived from Addis, but I am sorry to say that he never elicited from us the gasps of impressed wonder that he perhaps expected.
We’ve reached the city of Gondar now, also known as ‘Africa’s Camelot’ because of its complex of stone castles and turrets. From the top of one, we can see 60 kilometres away to Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. Gondar is Ethiopia’s third largest city, but it feels more like a sprawling town than a city, with broad streets, a university, horse-driven carts and the usual donkeys, goats and sheep ambling lazily around. During the country’s many changes of administrative capital, Gondar took a centuries-long turn. each king building himself a castle more impressive than the last, before being poisoned or otherwise murdered at the hands of his son or other conniving relatives in a saga that rivals the last days of Rome.
This is our base for exploring the Simien Mountains, home to a few of the last remaining Ethiopian wolves (Africa’s most endangered carnivore) and the gelada baboons. So that is where we’ll be for the next few days.