Break-down in the Blue Nile Gorge

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
Trip End Aug 18, 2005

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Friday, June 10, 2005

Day the Third - in which we start moving [albeit in the wrong general direction] only to stop soon thereafter, and Ethiopia becomes a nation of telly addicts.


26 people were killed on 8th June in Addis.

We did get a taxi, at 4.30am. I'm glad I brought my fleece. It's not warm here when the sun isn't shining.

The bus was already packed when we got there, but since we had already bought tickets we got seats reasonably easily. We did have to push past about 40 people and tread on a few more. Welcome to Africa.
Our bags got hauled up onto the roof, for a small fee. They put all kinds up there, from bundles of live chickens tied together to bleating goats trying to keep their balance with the lurching.

As I have learnt to expect from last year, there was zero leg and elbow room. I can cope with the sideways squish but cos my legs are quite long, my knees do suffer on long trips. The bus has 3 seats on the left side and 2 seats on the right of the aisle.
Apparently Ethiopians are not allowed to stand in the aisle during the journey - a remarkable blessing. We had 3 seats on the left, near the back, Stef by the window with the camera, and me in the middle, trying to explain to people that the space to my right was taken. Antoneh was outside, spewing his guts up. He says he has malaria. We're tempted to tell him to go home and we'll go on alone. I mean, he can't do a good job if he's sick, and he's not going to get any better unless he rests.

We waited until 7am for the bus to finally get going. The driver started revving the engine at 6am. The buses in the station are parked in a staggered formation like middle distance runners on the starting line. This meant that the diesel fumes from the neighbouring bus poured in through the open door at the back of our bus.

The drive out of Addis was lovely, winding up the eucalyptus-clad hills looking across the misty valleys. It's very fertile around the highlands. I don't understand how Ethiopians can go starving - the roadside stalls are full of plump vegetables. Antoneh told us that it was a lack of distribution.

The driver stopped in a little village for lunch. We piled out with everyone else and sat down in a local restaurant thing. Antoneh went to the toilet and came back to find we had ordered injera and wat. He was rather surprised. It's interesting stuff, injera. It is made from an endemic grain called tef. It's like a big pancake, resembling a large dirty grey dishcloth. It has the consistency of a damp crumpet, and tastes sour. Sounds yummy eh? The wat is meat pieces in a spicy sauce. It's usually goat, and that must be what we got, since we had to chew each piece for about 6 minutes. The spicy sauce complements the sour injera well though and we decided it was tasty. And bonus - it's so large that 1 is enough for 2 people.
We finished just in time - someone from the bus ran in to tell us the bus was leaving. It was already about 20 m down the road, so we ran and got on grinning at the waiting locals. Hehehe.

We drove on through flatter land, covered in little farms. Men and children with sticks lazily herded cattle in the increasingly hot sun.

It wasn't as hot as Asia and I wasn't sticky or anything, but it was still uncomfortable between 2 hot bodies. Antoneh moved to the other side where there were 2 free seats. He didn't look healthy and there was a mad rush for a spare plastic bag as nobody could get the window open. Ummm nice bright green sick. Poor guy.

The window thing! Jesus! Ethiopians do not like windows being open. Even if it's boiling hot, people are dying. Even if everyone is being graphically travel-sick. You open a window, and someone shuts it straight away. Of course, in the bus stations, when the air is laden with noxious fumes, then the doors and windows are all open. Or when the bus is driving behind another vehicle and dust is coming in, no one shuts the windows then. Mad, I tell you.
The only thing you can do is open the window and then wedge your finger in the gap. Of course, it hurts like hell when they try to shut it, but I'd rather not asphyxiate, thank you.
We decided if we come back to Ethiopia, we will bring some greasy spray stuff, so that their hands just slip on the pane. Mwahahahaha.

All was forgotten when the earth suddenly opened up to reveal the Blue Nile Gorge. It's the same size as the Grand Canyon. The road wound its way down the side, offering stunning panoramas.

The locals seemed hugely proud of their natural wonder and tried to move so we could see when the view was out the other side. It's great how much Ethiopian pride there is. It's something to do with the fact that they have never been colonised. There was a stint with the Italians, but they were soon sent packing.

At the bottom is the Blue Nile, one of the 2 rivers that feed the Nile. There is a bridge across it, which as we approached we were told not to photograph. We shared a grin, as Stef had already taken some from further up the valley.

Halfway up the other side, the bus stopped. We waited for a while and then got out to stand in the breeze. We appeared to be in a little village. And everyone was staring. It was really strange. The kids in particular found us fascinating. We got waves and returned them until the novelty wore off. We got off the road and stood in the shade, trying to escape the stares. We watched bee-eater birds and enjoyed the view of the valley. There was a small stream down the hillside and women and little girls were carrying huge water pots on their backs. They carried them barefoot up the footpaths into the hills. Some of the girls were very young; it's incredible how strong they are.

Some young men offered us sugar cane. They laughed at me, as I didn't have the jaw/tooth strength to pull the outside strips off.
Amusing incident of the day occurred when one of the donkeys "parked" outside the grain building got randy. It tried to mount another donkey as it was having a sack of grain tied to its back. The woman tying the sack lost her rag and threw a huge rock at the over-excited animal, and then got a small girl to hit it with a stick for all she was worth. All this to a soundtrack of braying. It was very funny and Stefan even managed to get some of it on film.

The bus still wasn't working. They tried starting it by rolling it backwards down the hill and jolting it into life. I had visions off it rolling off the road and plummeting down the canyon. It didn't work and eventually the bags were taken down and everyone started hitching. Every vehicle that came along (not very often, mind) was pounced on by all the locals. There was no way 3 of us plus our bags would get on the small vehicles. After 3 hours, a truck with an empty back pulled up. We hauled ourselves up the side and braced as it trundled off. It was quite pleasant with the wind in your hair. It drizzled a bit but fortunately we missed the worst of the rain. The truck dropped us in a town called Dejen.

We walked into town, getting strange looks. Everyone was out on the street, walking. Got a bit of a surprise when a baboon materialised out of the crowd and walked past us. No one else blinked an eye-lid. They only think faranjis (foreigners) are odd, obviously.

We stopped in a small local place, which had cleaned the floor with kerosene. Apart from melting anything we put down, it also smelt horrible. We passed on an early dinner and decided to push on to Debre Markos instead of staying the night. We also took the opportunity to use the toilet, since the rule of thumb is to go when you can. You never know when you'll next get the chance. Bad decision. The toilet was revolting.

We went to the bus station but the bus was full. We managed to get a lift with an Ethiopian in a 4WD. He was friendly and insisted on playing Bob Marley and some other national artists: Teddy Afro and a woman who now lives in the US. It was dark when we got to Debre Markos. There was a huge army presence - a bit un-nerving. Antoneh found us an ok hotel, and after a cold shower in the dark we felt much better. We had dinner while everyone else in the packed room watched the TV. There is a lot on about the election and press freedom. Antoneh translated for us in whispers.
Occasionally some adverts would come up and one in particular made me laugh. It was for a condom brand, called Sensation, and involved a lady attempting to encourage Ethiopians to use condoms by making them seem sexy and glamorous. I shouldn't laugh - at least they are trying. AIDS is having a devastating effect in Africa, so the more people who use condoms the better. But it was funny. It got even funnier when I discovered Stef was laughing because he couldn't figure out why they were trying to sell mint sweets by being seductive. God knows where he got mint sweets from - the gist of the ad was pretty clear even though condoms were never pictured. Mint sweets called Sensation? Maybe he saw it as an 'and all because the lady loves Milk Tray' style ad? Or maybe he is just *that* innocent? Either way, he was hugely embarrassed when I finally finished laughing long enough to explain it properly.

It's been a long day - 12 hours taken to cover 200km. Eventually tiredness got the better of us and we excused ourselves, leaving Antoneh and the rest of Ethiopia glued to the news.
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