A Great East African Odyssey, Abbreviated

Saturday, February 20, 2010 | Addis Abeba, Ethiopia (map)

The trip from Lalibela to Ethiopia's capital took two days of driving rough roads through scenic countryside.
From Lalibela we drove a day to the town of Kombolcha, from where it took the better part of another full day to reach Addis Ababa. Our northern road trip was over, and it was time for Jacqueline and I to decide on our next move.

The plan, of course, was to continue south overland, to Kenya and beyond. But since our arrival in Ethiopia, Jacqueline's desire to travel had been rapidly waning, due to a perfect storm of factors.

First, Ethiopia had racked up quite a few strikes in her book: the fleas, the higher-than-expected costs, the unfamiliar and unvarying food, the shoddy hotels, and the long rides on rough roads.

In addition, its occasional resemblance to Morocco didn't sit well with her. The odd pestering tout was enough to remind us that we were foreign, that we couldn't just blend into the scenery. Perhaps my broader experience traveling in the developing world allowed me to focus on comparisons to
other, more positive places, but Jacqueline kept seeing the negatives of her Morocco experience all around us.

And finally, perhaps also due to our recent departure from Morocco, Jacqueline's spark for travel just wasn't there; a big part of her simply wanted to be home. This urge only grew stronger when, during one of many chats about what to do when we eventually return to the US, we decided we would move back to Washington, DC. At that moment, a tangible image of a new, more settled life started forming in her head, and despite all my cajoling and encouragement, I was powerless to make her embrace our surroundings.

I berated myself for bringing us to this point—for not researching Ethiopia more extensively before we decided to come, for not anticipating the obstacles we would find here, for not thinking more about what Jacqueline was able and willing to bear, and how very different her threshold might be from my own.

* * *

The grand transcontinental odyssey that had been brewing in my head since my time in Tanzania four years ago had already been whittled down before we departed (no Egypt or Sudan, and probably no South Africa). But now, as Jacqueline's desire to return home gradually overcame my arguments for staying the course, we reduced it further.

Like a carcass at the butcher shop, the trip saw one destination after another lopped off: Madagascar, then Mozambique, Malawi, even Tanzania. Next was Uganda and finally, after much debate, even Kenya. In the end, the only country left was the one I was sitting in—Ethiopia. We were going home.

I tried to console myself: the small morsel that was left behind—three weeks in Ethiopia—wasn't so bad. It's a legendary place I had always dreamed of visiting, and our northern loop has taken us to some of the country's most spectacular sites. Still, the feeling of leaving an unknown road unknown, and returning home unfulfilled, was a very new experience for me.

As I recognized before we started on this trip, sacrifices would be required of us both. I just never imagined that the trip itself might need to be sacrificed in the name of something greater.

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