156K south of Bahar Dar

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Monday, September 4, 2006

The buses in Ethiopia aren't allowed to travel in the dark, therefore all the long distance buses leave at first light, 6am. They also ask you to arrive 1 hour early, 5am. And of course you have to wake up, finalise your packing and get to the bus station, 4:30am! It's the middle of the night!

I took a taxi to the station and arrived to find literally hundreds of people already there, and honestly a couple of hundred buses waiting to be filled for the 6AM departures. At least the station is organised, they have guys in official uniforms at the gates who point you in the direction of your bus, and as you walk along there is no shortage of other people to help you out.

I found my bus, approached it and walked straight into a big puddle that was completely obscured. My big rucksack had to go on the roof, but there wasn't anyone around to do this, so I had to stand, waiting at the back for someone to turn up, at 5:45, happy? not me. Eventually once the bag was placed on the roof I entered the bus, it was busy and there were no seats left. Another major disadvantage of traveling alone. In Ethiopia it's illegal for people to travel without seats in the aisle, therefore someone was in a seat without a ticket, the only way I could sort this out was to look lost, which worked. A passenger at the back asked me if I had a seat?, No I replied, he then pointed me in the direction of the only seat left.

Ethiopian buses all appear to be the same, they're only a little better than buses that you'd find in any city, with what are effectively benches. On the left hand side of the bus the benches fit three small people, on the right, two small people. I had the aisle seat which actually meant my left bum cheek had a seat, and my right bum cheek was in mid-air. This isn't natural and it was starting to hurt before the bus even moved, I had to get over my Britishness and get the guy to the left of me to squeeze up, brilliant, now my right bum cheek had half a seat.

Almost all the buses left at 6AM sharp. which actually just caused a huge traffic jam, taking us  half an hour to get out of the station. We finally got moving and out of the city, only to then be stopped at a police checkpoint for another half hour. You could say that I was having a bad journey! At least the local that'd helped me find my seat was a really nice guy who spoke excellent English so I was able to pass the time with him. The Ethiopian countryside is actually really pretty, amazingly green, but it helps of course that I'm visiting near the end of the rainy season. It completely goes against the image that most people have of Ethiopia, namely famine and drought.

It didn't take long before we hit our next problem, the bus stopped at the side of the road around 8:30am, and the bus staff got out and had a look at the engine, something was wrong. They managed to temporary fix the problem and limp to the next town, arriving at 9am,

So now I was in a tiny place called Desse, and no idea what would be happening next. So my friendly local took me off for a cup of tea, feeding me various kind of bread and cake, he picked up the tab afterwards and wouldn't have it any other way. It's amazing to find genuine people like this around the world.

It became apparent very quickly that we weren't going anywhere fast. Table tennis is a very popular game here. There were a big group of older teenagers playing the game at the side of the road, so I wandered over to watch for a while. As expected the couple that could speak English started to chat with me, it turned out that they were in "Job Club", as you can imagine job prospects in rural Ethiopia aren't great, therefore these guys just hang around all day playing Table Tennis, I have to say they were pretty good at it too, not overly surprising.

After four hours, loads of Ethiopian coffee, lunch and a big session of diary writing, the bus lept into life, and everyone got on, almost.

As we started to drive out of the town all the passengers started shouting at the driver that we were one person short. It happened to be the guy that was sharing my bench, so to be honest, I wasn't shouting too loudly! It was amazing, the driver just ignored the calls and drove on! It really wouldn't have taken any time at all to stop and wait for him...

We drove onto the next town, arriving about 45 minutes later. This is when our missing passenger caught up with us. He wasn't happy! He'd paid a taxi driver to chase the bus, what made it worse was that he'd told the driver that he was heading for lunch thinking that it would be enough to ensure that the driver would wait for him... how foolish!

The bus rides continues, and my patience comes to an end. I think it's because I've been travelling for so long, I really think I've had enough of this, especially when the buses are as crap as this. The big bonus was that we travelled through the Blue Nile gorge. It took about an hour to switch back and forth down the side of the gorge, all the time having the most amazing cliff top (brown pant) views, then over the bridge and up the other side.

It started getting dark and we were nowhere near Bahar Dar, so we'd need to be stopping somewhere for the evening. After a couple of hours driving I'd worked myself into a semi medative state, trying to project my conscious being onto a big comfortable bed in a 5 star hotel. We drew up at the side of the road in a small town, whereby the entire bus had a huge discussion in Ahmaric (Ethiopian). I was thinking how great it'd be to stop now and get off this bus for a while, however when the bus started again it drove right through past the end of our little town. My friendly neighbour explained that the discussions had led to us aiming for the next town, despite the failing light and the desire for most people to get off the fffun' bus.

I returned to my medative state, this involved holding onto the seat in front, and then leaning my head in the crook of my elbow. It's a very negative, beaten position. And completely accurate.

So, arriving in our next little town was just amazing!!! Freedom. Now, this is where the generosity of my new Ethiopian friends came to the fore. I was basically hussled by my new friends to the nearest hostel and given a room. "This costs 10 Birr" they told me, as they then headed into the night to find other accomodation.

It didn't bother me that there was no en-suite, or even a light in the room, it was a slice of heaven in my eyes. So, I was relaxing there when the "Owner" drops past. "Ahhhh, 200 Birr for this room" he says. I honestly thought that he was joking, so I laughed. He was deadly serious.
"No, it's only 10 Birr", he was wanting about 20 US Dollars for a 1 US Dollar room!
"No, 200 Birr".
"Huelet Meto!!!, no, Asir Birr", A techique that I like to use is to use local language in negotiations, and since It'd been such a long bus ride, I'd had plenty of time to learn some new vocab! I couldn't actually believe I was negotiating like this. Eventually we came to an agreement, I'd pay 15 Birr and stay. In order to get to this price I'd actually had to pick up my bag and threaten to leave, unbelievable.

So, with the accomodation sorted I headed out to dinner with my new friends. I hadn't learnt the word for "toilet" and so had to mime it. It caused a fair amount of embarrasement so I added it to my list of new words to learn! We had a night cap, which involved a couple of beers. When I went to pay the bill at the end I discovered that one of the crafty Ethiopians had already paid it, they really can be the most amazingly friendly people in the world.

draining bus ride, blue nile gorge.

driving after dark to crappy place.

10 birr room, guy wants 200 birr. meal, drinks ethiopian pays for it. Up early on bus and away!
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