Panos Georgiou kept us company throughout a unique journey. Now, his pictures and words paint a picture of our last days in Ethiopia.
“Loud birds, like a well-tuned clock, wake us early. Dawn breaks outside and the village begins to come alive. Wrapped in colorful blankets, the villagers talk amongst themselves as they wait for the first rays of the sun to warm them. We walk to the village and prepare to return to Anasora coffee station. I can smell the coffee that Stelios is grinding and can’t wait for my turn. After two rounds of enjoyment we begin our adventure again.
The music on the radio is loud and we completely wake up. Ethiopians adore Bob Marley – just as he loved Ethiopia and spent much of his short life in the neighboring town of Shashemene – and it’s clear to me why, since I cannot imagine anything more suitable for the route between the dense tropical vegetation and the scattered huts that we pass along the way. Arriving at the station again, I see the same magical scenery this time however filled with noise as most of the women in the village dressed in colorful clothing are choosing the coffee beans one by one.
I admire them, watch them tease one another. Who knows what they’re talking about but they’re in high spirits. Our team separates to explore every corner of the station for hours. So many memorable images. The hillside full of people and coffee under the warm afternoon sun looked so beautiful. The fleeting idea of enjoying a frozen espresso in this warm and humid environment passed through my mind. Scattered around haphazardly with no-one telling anyone anything we find ourselves in the neighboring village among dozens of children who were probably returning from school at that time. The uphill climb to the square was steep so I was very fortunate when a guy on a bike offered me a lift.
A little further up I saw Panos playing table tennis at an outdoor table made by the kids.
Savvas and Stelios were somewhere around while I saw Konstantinos and Sam in the square. At that moment we all realized that we were experiencing something unique. As we prepared to move on to our next destination, it took us a while to leave as everybody had gathered in the square to see our strange group.
After we said good-bye to everyone, we set off for our long journey to the Yirgachefe area. After driving along endless dirt roads we cross the beautiful Κochere mountains, which provide us with a view of the plateaus and thick forests. Coffee trees to the left and right of the road point us in the right direction. The light falls very fast on the high slopes and the sun hides behind the mountains. As we drive around the bends in the road making our way almost vertically down the mountains, the last rays blind and warm us. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but this country is colorful, the clothes are colorful, the food, nature, as well as our emotions in the end.
And the greeting that we receive from a huge crowd at our next stop is just as colorful. Coffee! Coffee, sorted, washed and dried, sacks everywhere! The aroma is released when the beans are roasted, but something magical is happening here and I already imagine the aromas of pineapple perhaps, chocolate and velvety rich floral aromas. It is worth mentioning that the coffee here is organic either by choice or because people are not familiar with the use of chemicals.
After walking around and taking photographs, it was time for lunch. Local products cooked in front of us in nature, fill our minds and stomachs. Full, we have to leave as the return journey is expected to be long, difficult and dusty. The sun finally disappears for good and we follow the upwards serpentine road that leads us back to Awassa later than expected.
The bumpy road and rocking of the 4×4 made us lethargic, and gradually lulled us to sleep; I felt my eyes closed sometimes. At one point I jumped in the way it takes you a few seconds to figure out where you are and what time it is. Turning abruptly I saw the others, except the driver fortunately, sleeping deeply in truly awkward positions in the vehicle’s cramped space, after all we had brought so many things with us: Suitcases, cameras, coffee samples, hands and feet are everywhere.
We finally arrived in Awassa. Even though our final destination is far away, we welcome the stop. Our insistence on filling up on the culture of the country as much as we could means we go to local bar that although very popular on hot days, saw just us and a few other groups of locals. Defying fatigue we dance and laugh wholeheartedly. The bar owner, who is also a taxi driver, takes us back to our hotel for free. A series of funny incidents like broken keys, wrong rooms and a lot of mosquito spray brings the day to a close.
We agree to meet at 7am but have to wait for our driver who probably needed a little more sleep, having driven for so many hours the day before. The road is already filled with pilgrims from the nearby church and rowdy tropical birds. Again the monkeys try to show, in every way possible, who the real bosses of the city really are as they swing from branch-to-branch, jump from roof or car roof and some of them, the bravest, walk along the road.
We take one last look at the lake and one last attempt to see the hippopotamuses that live next to the houses. What lazy creatures they are, still sleeping. Beautiful colors from dark blue to white, the horizon invisible, since the humidity acts as an adhesive between sky and water, erasing the line that separates them. We’re now driving on the main road back to Addis, where we had a little detour before we went to explore the local coffee culture.
So by chance we got to know the owner of yesterday’s hotel better and the conversation spontaneously turns to the country’s huge tradition in yet another activity, asides from coffee. Athletics, in particular long distance runners. So our new friend has a close friend, the long-distance legend Haile Gebrselassie. Hearing that we were fans, as most of us are amateur runners, whatever else would we be, he arranged for us to meet him at his office in Addis to talk about life and running.
Arriving in Addis we headed to the skyscraper that houses Haile’s office, who was joyfully waiting for us, probably more for his friend, but again the joy was the same as that we had felt throughout our meeting. After letting us in on a few secrets and many life lessons, we said goodbye to Haile and set off for a walk around the city’s cafes. I forgot to mention, Haile jokingly told me at some point that if we race together now, you’ll probably win, but I don’t know if the rest of the group will confirm that. I will remember it every time I look at the book he gave us with photos of his mythical journey. Crossing the city we reached the foot of a hill and an old neighborhood was still almost untouched by time where the legendary Tomoka café – like a scene out of a film – continues to serve its patrons in the same way it has done so for so many years.
It was probably the first cafe in the area, which transformed the efforts of the local farmers into a delicious blend that they can enjoy prepared with methods that respect the raw material and quality of the coffee.
Busy young customers and less busy seniors make up the clientele along with some families, who in turn take part in the rite. After Panos, Stelios, Konstantinos and Savvas carefully examined every detail and every type of coffee production, we left with energized with the aroma of coffee all around us. A carefree and beautiful day passed quickly and it was time to meet the local community of farmers and coffee producers.
An important moment, as it is the only opportunity for us to personally thank and shake hands with the people who produce this unique product that gives our lives such joy. They produce it with love and the respect it deserves, as the reality is that these coffee producers focus not on quantity but only on quality. All of these small-scale producers make sure we get the most enjoyment tasting their coffee.
Our trip has gone by so fast and it is already in our last night in Addis. Of course, it couldn’t be less eventful than the previous nights. There is not much I can easily describe about the nightlife of Addis, besides the immense love that everyone here has for music. The musicians identify with the audience, since the only thing that differentiates them is their ability to sing about pain, love and happiness. The fact that they are on stage or their different lifestyles plays no role whatsoever.
The time to say goodbye had arrived, after a brief visit – surprise to Nairobi, Kenya. Naturally, Addis had a few last tricks up its sleeve and we stayed a few more hours as we missed our flight trying to visit one last coffee exports station to see how they decide by checking every bean that will eventually be poured into a sack and begin its long journey to every corner of the world.
With little time to rearrange at the airport, we catch a flight to Nairobi. The short duration of our visit in Kenya means that we have to rush over the next few days and make up for time, as we try to get to know Nairobi and the nearby countryside, as well as the local unique coffee production.
After trying to continue writing this four weeks later, I discover that Ethiopia is so deeply embedded inside me that I just cannot continue to write about Kenya. I’m not done with Africa yet and believe that one day I’ll be back here in Kenya to get to know her better and to finally know what the word almost a whole tribe in Mchana province was saying to me when I passed by them. Anyway, while I was trying to say the hard word everyone was laughing conspiratorially. Who knows?
Early on Saturday morning, a few days later, we arrive with a brief delay at Istanbul Airport. We’re certain that we’ve missed our connecting flight to Athens, and disembark the plane somewhat lost. At the gate, an airport employee is waiting for us and out of breath, anxiously tells us that if we run very fast, we will make the flight. Running with all our might, having the power of Africa within us, the blessings of Haile and probably the energy from the infinite coffee we have enjoyed all these days, we make a final sprint and a grand adventure comes to an end. I don’t want to try to find the perfect epilogue because it doesn’t exist.
We were a great group of people who loves coffee and adventure and so I told you some of the experiences I had during those few days. Life has certain turning points where a man changes and finds a new straight path to walk upon safely and purposefully.
Thank you Mother Africa. ”