Probably every traveler who has been outside their own country more than once has discovered that counting the countries they have visited is another way we humans have found to rank ourselves amongst our peers. Travel is not really a competitive sport but people will always have a necessity to compare themselves to others, no matter what the endeavor.
Eventually, most travelers will come across websites with a list of recognized countries and what they have determined actually constitutes an official visit to a country. Like rules to any game we have created, we must set requirements to actually keep score. Some sites suggest that you must spend at least one night or must spend money or must at least leave the airport, cruise ship terminal or transit facility to get credit. Some sites make an effort to give credence to the farthest regions of the world, or just attempt to balloon the possible total, by adding territories into the count. Perhaps they suppose people who are lucky or intrepid enough to visit Bora Bora, which is officially still France, want to get some extra credit over their friends who visited Paris on a pensioner bus tour of Europe.
While nothing may feel better when telling stories in some far off corner of the globe than to fit in your latest country count, it is not really considered polite to directly brag about how many pins you have put in your world map. I guess it’s similar to bragging about how much money you make. However, like people who wear designer shoes, make upscale fashion choices or drive an expensive car to subtly remind you how much money they have, travelers usually find obscure ways of displaying our country count without being overly blatant. Our Instagram or Facebook pages no doubt feature pictures of ourselves standing in front of several of the obvious iconic representations of places we have traveled. Surely we are hoping to cause a little jealousy amongst our fellow competitors, without outright bragging.
So that I don’t come across as hypocritical or a wiser-than-thou smug, we have our country count clearly posted on this blogs “about” page. We even have a handy map posted that shows graphically how much of the earth we’ve traversed. Because we wanted to get credit for countries we had visited prior to starting this blog, we even conveniently color-coded the map for your easy use. We are not better than those we write about.
Like any competitive game, fudging or cheating eventually comes into play. When we had just started this journey we were sitting in a tiny cafe in a tree-lined park in Guanajuato, Mexico. A couple set down next to us and we started up a conversation. They asked how long we had been in town. Although we had only been there for three weeks, we claimed 4. They were duly impressed, so I guess it worked. I don’t know why we did it. It just sounded better somehow. As we have continued to travel we have formed a better bond with the truth, but still find ourselves tempted to color our travel history with exaggerations occasionally.
In truth, ranking ourselves as travelers by country count is really counterproductive to the real goal of travel. One’s age, financial state, fitness and current life commitments probably have a more to do with our country count than the pugnacity, lion-heartedness or daring with which we pursue our travel dreams. If you really want to rank yourself as a traveler think more in terms of movement. That’s actually what travel is all about. If you are in any stage of the journey, whether it is dreaming, planning, actively traveling or just reflecting back on where you have been then you can consider yourself a successful traveler. The beauty of travel is all about stimulating your imagination. It’s probably beneficial to focus on how many places you haven’t been if you really want to be considered for elite status.
All that being said, the purpose of this blog is, in the simplest terms, to brag about visiting our latest country, Ethiopia. We stopped here on an overnight layover from one country to another. To be honest we thought it sounded cool to say we had been here and wanted it included in our list of places we have been. Also, it puts us over the milestone of 50 countries since we left on this trip. Like when you turned 20, nothing really changed, but it still felt good to not be a teenager anymore. Passing this milestone just separates us into a little more elite grouping.
What did we see? Not much. How much can you see in 16 hours?
Our first flight on Ethiopian Air was not as scary as it sounded to our western ears. The plane was new and even though it arrived 45 minutes late, the flight was pretty good. Our welcome to Ethiopia was not quite so enjoyable. Anyone who has a long layover in Addis Ababa qualifies for a transit visa, free hotel room and transfer to the hotel. Sounds great in practice but the lines for this perk were unbelievably long. We booked our own hotel and were only interested in the transit visa. We found out that was not possible. If you don’t take the free hotel and transfer, you don’t get the transit visa.
The airline ran out of hotels in town and the lines basically ceased to move. It took us several lines and a few hours to find someone who could authorize us to just obtain the transit visa. We estimated we would be in the hotel by 11 PM but didn’t arrive until 2 in the morning. Not a good start to our short stay.
We cut our sleeping time short so we could get the most out of our 7 hours of exposure to the Ethiopian culture. We grabbed a cab and attempted to make an express tour of the city on our own. First stop was the National Museum. A little rough around the edges the museum still did a good job of explaining the history of the country and explained some of Ethiopia’s contributions to the world.
Known human history begins in Ethiopia and thus the country has the elite status of having the oldest human ancestors remains ever found. Nicknamed “Lucy” by the archeologists who discovered the remains, this tiny set of bones is located in the museum. An interesting exhibit that made the price of admission worthwhile.
We also made a brief visit to the Trinity Church, an ornate structure whose claim to fame is the tomb of Haile Selassie’s tomb. We found that many of his family members, as well as other leaders of the countries, are buried in the adjoining courtyard.
We returned to our hotel for a break before our transfer back to the airport. We retreated to the shady veranda to watch the adjacent busy boulevard and all the interesting passersby. Ethiopia is the home of coffee and we couldn’t let the opportunity go without sampling our favorite drink in its homeland.
The coffee was strong and delicious and the entertainment on the street filled the rest of our afternoon visit to Ethiopia. We struck up a conversation with a couple of guys from Holland and after a few minutes of swapping travel stories we mentioned that this was our 50th country visited since the beginning of our trip. They quickly countered with their total of 110 countries visited. Very impressive indeed. A good reminder that even when you think you have accomplished something remarkable by passing a milestone, there are plenty of others who have surely bested anything you have done.
We enjoyed our brief visit to Ethiopia and regret we didn’t have longer to visit. Our journey continues. As everyone who travels knows, it is not where you have been, but rather where you are going.