Mercato in the rain
Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
84Trip End Aug 18, 2005
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We got up at 7.30, gave some washing to the lady at the hotel, and headed out to find juice, breakfast and the bank. We wandered along looking into the side stalls - I need a new t-shirt or two, as well as sandals. My current t-shirts are my PT one (which is wearing thin) and my Moz whale shark one (which is huge and therefore exposes too much shoulder).
I found some sandals - they will probably only last this trip but they'll do. Then we walked up toward the Mercato and the Autobus Terra. On the way we passed a bare foot boy sat on the kerb with his head in his hands. I don't need my old sandals, so patted his arm and handed them over. My feet are small so I figured only a child would fit them. If he doesn't use them I'm sure someone else will. Throwing them in the bin would be a waste, as well as pointless since they'd just get fished out by someone.
We walked through the Mercato to get to the Autobus Terra. We're going to Harar tomorrow and buying tickets in advance is a good idea for the busy Addis station. We had been told that to get to Harar we would need to get a bus to Dire Dawa and then another one on from there. Apparently this is not the case. We went round the back and were directed to one of the ticket offices. The man there told us we can get a direct bus to Harar.
This relatively easy conversation took longer than expected because of a strange problem with the word 'Harar'. We had the same problem with both the ticket dude and the man outside who directed us. We haven't had difficulty being understood when pronouncing other place names, and Harar is a pretty simple word. Nonetheless, we would say "Harar" and receive nothing but blank expressions. We would repeat it in slightly different tones and eventually someone would say, "Ahhhh! You mean Harar?" and pronounce it in exactly the same way as we had. It's most bemusing.
Next thing to sort was what we are doing after Harar. We walked more leisurely back through the Mercato. The Mercato is apparently the largest open marketplace in Africa, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people in 7,100 business entities. It was busy but friendly, and we never had the slightest problem with all the crime we had been warned of. Finding a t-shirt that's plain, slightly loose and not a hideous colour is actually very difficult. Eventually I found one - an adidas fake which says 'aoidos' on the chest (it was the smallest logo I could find). It's red with white and black piping on the shoulders. It's the best we could find. At least it fits...
We also looked for tea and coffee. We found the tea, but not the coffee. Since Stef already has a coffee pot, and will get some green coffee beans when we find them, we also went in search of some incense (the resins that are burnt at a coffee ceremony - notably Frankincense and Myrrh). We found a lady selling all kinds of resins and saps - but it took us about 10 minutes to get her to believe that we really wanted to buy it. To start with she just looked completely nonplussed, and then she started laughing. Her chattering brought a small crowd and none of them could figure it out - faranjis trying to buy incense?! She pointed to her mouth and I gestured to her that we knew it wasn't for eating. I said "buna" and mimed smoke and wafted it to my nose, sniffing it. She nodded and smiled. The gathering laughed and we laughed with them. Reluctantly the lady made up a mixture of different sized grains and we went on our way.
On the way out we passed a butchers yard and Stef took a picture of the friendly butcher.
We needed to speak to someone about getting to Bale National Park, but felt we hadn't explored the Mercato properly, so it was decided we'd go to the Baro, and then return to the market later. At the Baro, we spoke to the lady at reception and she arranged for a guy to come meet us. We talked with him about our options after Harar.
What we want to do is this:
Go south as far as Shashemene, then turn east and head to Dinsho by the park and stay the night in Goba. Then head south, taking the road through the park to Dola Mena. From there we'd keep going south to Negele, finally meeting up with the main road at about Mega. Then to Moyale, where we'd get dropped off and head into Kenya.
The guy was very nice and understood what we wanted, but would only take us as far as Goba. Then we had to come back to Shashemene and head south from there. Doing that makes it a side trip - adding time to what it will take to get to Moyale instead of being part of the trip to get there. Although Goba is by the park, it's the long stretch of road after Goba that we want to travel since it goes through the park. It's meant to be a good way to see the endemic Simien wolf.
But it's not going to happen. The guy said the road south of the park is dangerous due to 'terrorists'. It's the first I've heard of it, but who are we to argue? Maybe it really is dangerous, or maybe there is another reason he doesn't want to take us. Either way, we decided that there was no point paying the relatively large sum for a 4WD trip that isn't going where we want. We thanked him, but declined his alternative offer.
Back to square one. Out came the Bradt guide as we talked about another route south. We don't want to stay in Shashemene, since it's meant to be one of the worst towns in Ethiopia for travellers. All the stone-throwing stories seem to originate here, and even Philip Briggs warns you off it. Instead we'll head beyond, to Awassa - one of the Rift Valley Lakes. Then we'll go to Arba Minch, on the escarpment. There is a national park there which is accessible. And from there we should be able to get to Moyale. We plan to do this all by local transport, hitching where necessary.
Anyway, that decided, we headed back to the Mercato by minibus. I found another t-shirt, plain blue one, and we also bought some fruit and bread. Clouds were gathering ominously as we walked through the antiques section of the market. Gold crosses like the ones at Lalibela, masks, bracelets and all manner of trinkets were for sale. We stepped into one shop and ended up staying there for about an hour - the heavens had opened. We had no intention of even considering most of the things - we are aware that not all antiques are obtained fairly, and also taking them home with you requires a permit. However, as we were there, we had a look around. Stef ended up getting a colourful necklace to put on his wall at home, and we both got a milk pot. They stunk of stale goats milk, but we figured it would remind us of the smell of the shepherd boys' cloaks on the buses.
The rain eased off so we headed back to the main road. The heavy rain had turned the Mercato into thousands of islands in a sea of mud. Every shop front dripped water down our necks and soon our sandals were squelching with muddy water. We struggled along, walking stiff-legged, like storks, trying not to splash the back of our trousers. We've only done laundry this morning and I don't know when we'll next get the chance - there'll be no time to dry trousers for a while.
We made it to a minibus, and back to the Baro where we collected our damp laundry (the rain caught it before they had got it in) and packed. We were in a different - smaller - room than last time, not a problem except when we unloaded stuff from our bags for a rearrange. I used my PT t-shirt to wrap my stinky milk pot. I put it in a plastic re-seal bag first, but I reckon the smell will get through that, as well as my t-shirt and 2 plastic bags. It's got a long way to go before we get it home... I donated my Mozambique dive t-shirt to Stef to cushion his Ethiopian coffee pot. This has also got a long way to go - bets are on for how long it lasts intact.
Another problem with our room is that we have bedbug bites today that were not there yesterday. No biggie, but they do itch something terrible. Also, the ones on our waists get rubbed by our trousers which just aggravates them.
Then we showered and headed over to the Wutuma for dinner. We were joined by Antoneh, briefly, and a French woman. She is thinking if going north tomorrow and, after he left, she asked us about Antoneh and whether she should go with him. We told her the truth - that he was a competent guide and a nice guy. We said that we had had some difficulty with him because of our differing methods, but we felt, as a solo traveller, she ought to have a good time with him. She isn't so restrained by time or money, so I see no reason why she'd have the same problem with Antoneh as we did. Later, on the way back to the Baro, Antoneh left his group of friends and walked with us to ask us what we had told her. We reassured him that we hadn't given him a bad reputation, since we didn't feel he had done us wrong, only that we had had our differences. We told him that the French woman seemed sure about going north with him, and he grinned and thanked us. I'm glad that chapter has ended on a good note for everyone.
Now - on our own - we go east.