The three-year-old “Planet International Hotel” in Mekelle looked spectacular. Ten modern storeys of luxurious rooms, restaurants, bars, a gym and a swimming pool. After a couple of dusty days driving (more correctly, being driven) around the rock-hewn churches of Tigray a night in such a plush establishment beckoned comfortably. And it was lovely. Except…
Chris and I had a smaller room than James (our eldest son) and Dominic (our eldest daughter’s husband). This was perhaps predictable, as theirs was a twin and ours a “queen double”, on the eighth floor overlooking the pool. The room was quite warm when we entered, so I switched on the air conditioning, resulting in a roar from outside on the balcony that intermittently did a good imitation of an ocean liner sounding its horn on arrival in Southampton harbour. This lured me out on to the balcony, to discover it was mostly taken up by the raucous air-conditioning unit - no quiet relaxing with a drink on the balcony then. Eight storeys below, no-one was in the pool. This could perhaps be due to it being on the east side of the building. In a part of the world where the sun comes up due east at 6am, goes right overhead and sets due west at 6pm, the pool is in the shade of all 10 storeys for over half the day. And at 2000 metres above sea level, shade is cold - even in sunny Mekelle. So no relaxing by the pool then.
Re-entering the room and discovering that the air-conditioning unit didn’t actually cool any air despite all the racket, I decided to explore the en-suite. I flicked some switches on the wall just outside the door, and the lights (except the one over the sink which was broken) and extractor fan kicked in, presumably designed to suck air out of the bedroom through the huge slatted vent in the bathroom door and out of the bathroom window via the fan. Except it didn’t. The bare wiring protruding from the top of the fan was clearly connected in reverse, as the fan was pulling air into the bathroom from outside – more of an impellor than an extractor (I don’t think there’s such a word as “intractor”). So air inside the bathroom was being pushed out through the huge vent in the door into the bedroom. Not exactly sociable…
As the tour company had pre-paid for our evening meal in the Planet International Hotel (strap line: “A world on its own!” written on almost everything and hard to disagree with) we headed to the restaurant with James and Dom for a relaxing meal – in intense green LED light. Every table in the sizeable room was illuminated by an LED lantern set to bright green, including a row of identical green lanterns all along the bar. At one point I discovered a button on the bottom of the lamp that sent it cycling through all the colours of the rainbow. The waiter brought us four menus, which was quite a feat given how heavy they were. And they were less a menu, more a recipe book. Chris chose something from the fish menu that was “floor cooked”, and I chose the mini lamb koftas that were “cooked round ways” and served with “yogurt and special flat breads” which turned out to be a brown liquid and a pile of chips. (Menus here are often less a list of things you can choose from; more an approximate description of what might be available.)
A good night’s sleep followed, in what was undoubtedly, for all its quirks, the most pleasant hotel experience we have had in Ethiopia.
We returned to the restaurant the next day (fortunately the green lanterns had gone), where we entertained to lunch four SIM missionaries who work running a youth centre in Mekelle. We had had an encouraging and uplifting visit to the centre during the morning, in addition to browsing briefly through the sights and smells of a colourful and fun market which showed James and Dom what such places can be like in Ethiopia.
James and Dom’s eight-day visit had started the week before when they arrived early Thursday morning at Bole International Airport, successfully negotiating their way through customs with suitcases stuffed with breakfast cereals, pork products, Lindt chocolate, Anchor butter and British cheese (they also brought some of their own clothes). We introduced them to Bingham and its giant tortoises, to my clinic, SIM HQ, and the sights, sounds and smells of Addis. They attended our church, were entertained to lunch by Haile and his family (discovering the delights of ‘enjera’ for the first time) and met Lucy, the 3.18-million-year-old hominid skeleton of which Ethiopians are justifiably proud. Our trip to Tigray in the far north had been booked at the last minute as the security situation was improving and travel restrictions were at last being lifted. It was a fantastic couple of days exploring some astonishing rock-hewn churches amidst mesmerizingly beautiful mountainous scenery. Ethiopia has some sights that are unique in all the world, and we are truly grateful to have had the opportunity to live here and see them. And what a special privilege to be able to have enjoyed some of them with two of our own family. Thank you, James and Dom, for putting in the effort (all those vaccinations!) and for taking the time to come and see us.
Since we arrived here all our four children, two of their spouses, my sister and her husband and daughter have all visited us. We are so grateful to all of them; family visits are a great highlight!
Dom has written a thoughtful piece about his visit - you can read it here.
I have posted a gallery of pictures of James' and Dom's visit - click here. Click on the first thumbnail and you can play a slide show or step through the pictures.