No, I can't get you work in England...

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

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

This entry is mainly an account of the day taken to get to Harar. Click on the following link to read about our trip to Harar city and the Hyena man.


Day the Twelfth - in which we spend all day on a bus full of psycho-caterpillars for the sake of a single day in Harar and the reader checks us for fever. And I get the momentary urge to commit homicide.


Not the most ostentatious of starts.

We emerged from the Baro at 4.30 blinking like sleepy kittens, only to find a taxi waiting outside with someone already in it. The French woman. We had asked the 'come-to-me-for-anything' man at the Baro to arrange a taxi, but he had obviously gone to his friend Antoneh. Ok, no problem - we're all going to the bus station, we may as well share, right? Except Antoneh was not there. The French woman said she had been told to meet him, but he was late. I ground my teeth. After more waiting the woman resolved it - she stepped out of the cab and said we should go without her. Initially we objected but she reasoned that she couldn't leave without him and we shouldn't be late on account of them. We thanked her and left her on the curb. Antoneh better have turned up quickly with a good excuse - we had vouched for him and convinced the woman to take him as her guide. I hope he has not betrayed that trust.

As it turned out, giving us the taxi was both a good and pointless thing for her to do: good because the taxi was crap, and pointless because we couldn't have been late for our bus if we tried.
The taxi wasn't even half way to the station when the engine spluttered and died. We waited there for what seemed like forever before another taxi appeared. We swapped and drove toward the station once more. 200m down the road we pulled over and the driver hopped out and ran into the dark, leaving us in the cab on a deserted street. He returned with a jerry can and, after re-fuelling, started the taxi and took us at last to our destination.

Not that there was any need to rush. We were directed to the Harar bus after some of the same confusion as yesterday. I cannot understand how we are saying Harar wrong! When you buy a ticket, the bus number is written on it. The same number is on the side of the bus. However, today the bus had a different number on it. Initially we turned away and asked to be taken to the right bus, but the few passengers convinced us that it was the Harar bus. We got on - seats weren't a problem since there were only about 5 people. I don't know why the bus had a different number. Maybe the other one broke down and this one was replacing it. Whatever the reason, it soon became clear that it was a big problem. The bus was not filling up. People were arriving and, seeing the wrong number, walking away. Sometimes people would get on hesitantly, but as time went on many left. Our hearts sank. The bus would not go if there were not enough passengers. We waited 3 hours on that empty bus. Then, just as we were resigning ourselves to having to miss out Harar, someone came on and told us all to move to the Dire Dawa bus. Miraculously it hadn't left - we'd get to Harar yet!

At 7.30 we finally left Addis for the last time. Both roads (south and east) pass through the town of Nazret. When we return from Harar we will have to pass through Nazret to get to Addis, and then pass through Nazret again on a bus south. We may as well just come back from Harar as far as Nazret and continue south from there. It will save us 4 hours - 2 hours each way.

Part the way to Nazret I realised that in the uncertainty of the station I had neglected to answer the call of nature. Now I needed a pee real bad. We had got talking to the man next to us, so I asked if he could request a toilet stop. I had been hoping we'd stop in Nazret and I could run into a little shop and ask for the shinty-bit, but apparently stopping by the roadside is forbidden. We stopped some distance beyond Nazret. I wasn't the only one, and I struggled to find somewhere I couldn't be seen. It didn't help that we were in barren farmland, with no vegetation other than sparse cactus hedges. I ended up using a tiny hut to block the line of sight of the bus passengers, walking past the 5 surprised faces in the doorway.
Men have it so easy!

To add insult to, erm...embarrassment, I later found out that Stef had taken a photo of me trying to lose my entourage. The git.

Back on the bus I thanked our new friend. He asked our names and where we were going. He seemed alarmed that we were going all the way to Harar for only one day. When he asked why we didn't fly we had to explain that we wanted to see the country, not just hop from place to place. He said that he would be getting off at his village before us, but that we should only go as far as Alem Maya - a town where the road forks left to Dire Dawa and right to Harar. From there we get a minibus to Harar.

Unfortunately, this info seemed to come at a price. He asked us what jobs we had, what jobs our parents had, and quizzed us about the job situation in England. As grateful as we were for his help, there was no way we could help him with that. First off, we have no real idea how you get to work in England as a foreigner. We have no experience of that, being nationals and all. But I'm sure it's much more complicated than he is hoping. He wanted us to take his name and address, and give it to our parents for them to use to secure him a job. We tried to explain gently that this isn't quite how it works. He kept asking me questions - I was sat next to him while Stef at least had the window - which I just couldn't answer. I don't know the answers. I told him that I wished I could help, but that there was nothing I could do. The only way is the official way. He persisted and it became very awkward.

Distraction arrived in the form of Awash National Park. We had descended into the Rift Valley and it had become much hotter and drier.

We passed a lake, driving through the middle of it on a strip of land.

It was quite pretty in all the volcanic land. We had been tempted to get the Djibouti train - it goes from Addis to Dire Dawa and then to Djibouti - but decided against it because of tales of delays and, more worryingly, occasional bombings. We didn't realise the railway ran not 10 meters away from the road.

We couldn't help but think that it wouldn't matter that we weren't on the train if a bomb went off now.
In the park, our over-friendly job-seeker stopped pestering us and, along with other members of the bus, took great delight at searching for animals and pointing them out. We spotted a Beisa Oryx under a tree - there is photo evidence though it is little more than a dot.

Once out of the park boundaries, we passed a number of police roadblocks (rope suspended across the road from two metal oil drums). Some took longer than others; some merely twitched the rope to let us pass. The road undulated slightly, causing the bus to bounce gently and rhythmically. I joked to Stef, saying "Sensation" [Ethiopian condom brand with televised adverts] with a wiggle of my eyebrows and, to our surprise, the guy sat in front (who was much nicer than job-seeker) cottoned on and laughed too.

As we left the Rift Valley the vegetation became much greener again, and the land less flat.

We stopped for lunch, sitting in a hot but shady patio area in front of a restaurant. The usual routine was made more interesting by job-seeker (JS) who wouldn't let us eat injera. He insisted on sitting with us and chatting (but not about England - by this stage we had written his address down to shut him up). When we made our order of injera, JS stopped us and spoke in Amharic to the waiter. We confirmed with the waiter that we did want Kai Wat but JS was having none of it. At this rate we wouldn't get to eat before the bus left! I think the waiter thought JS was our guide, so had decided to take his word for it. Eventually, our injera turned up, although only after I went up to the bar area and spoke to someone else. I'm sure JS thought he was being helpful. Mental, I tell you...

We got to Job Seeker's home town in the late afternoon, and then our stop - Alem Maya - shortly afterward.

By this time the entire floor of the bus was covered in twigs and leaves - the remains of tchat, a narcotic plant. Also know as qat and khat, it contains cathinone, a natural amphetamine which produces a high after prolonged chewing. It is similar to Kenya's miraa. It originates from Ethiopia, and Harar is allegedly Tchat Central. This is probably due to Islam becoming the prominent religion as you head east toward Somalia; Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol. Many of the men on the bus had been ruminating like docile cows for the entire journey, only moving to occasionally pop another leaf in their mouth. There are conflicting reports as to the effects of tchat: some say it increases clarity and alertness, others say it impairs concentration. Some suggest it causes aggressiveness, whilst others claim the opposite. From what we have seen, I'd say it makes the chewer chill out. Whether they are capable of a deep and meaningful conversation, I don't know. It's probably the most sensible way to get through a long bus journey like this.

Stef did try and get a video of one of these 'psycho caterpillars' (kudos goes to Philip Briggs of Bradt for that analogy), chewing away a couple of seats in front. The corners of his mouth had collected a thick crust of light green paste. But we didn't want him to know we were filming, and we felt our fellow passengers wouldn't understand.

But I digress. We got off at Alem Maya where we were set upon by 2 boys. They wanted to help with the bags on the roof, since no-one else had offered. We said no ("ay") and explained that Stef's bag was very heavy, but they had scrambled up onto the roof. Stef's bag was indeed too heavy so they set about rolling it along the roof, intending to just push it off the end. Fortunately, we saw the impending disaster and Stef shot half way up the ladder just in time to catch it as it dropped. He had only just swung it onto his shoulder when my bag followed. It's just as well he's a tree surgeon! I'm prepared for our bags to receive some rough treatment, but if Stef's bag gets dropped from that height, there is a risk his water filter or tent poles will break.

We were directed to a minibus headed for Harar. The kids followed, joined by more until we had a small crowd. They demanded money, and we refused, since the 'help' they had given us was more of a hindrance. They got more insistent, so we just ignored them and carried on walking. They then started pinching me and getting quite aggressive. This was honestly the first open aggression we have experienced, and the very reason we had avoided Shashemene. "Dollar, dollar!" they demanded, to which I replied with "lemin?" (why?). Then we resorted to "hid!" which means "go!" and is generally reserved for animals. I made Stef get in front of me as we got to the minibus, so that I could keep an eye on his bag and pockets. I never keep anything in my pockets so that I am free to look out for Stef. The boys were so worked up and desperate that I feared they would try anything. The adults around the minibus encouraged us to ignore them, but never did anything to drive them away. Still, it was good to know we weren't seen as selfish westerners by not acquiescing to the boys' demands.
We squeezed into the back seat of the minibus, sitting with two women. Our bags were up front, and we were assured by the passengers that they were safe from the boys. The boys appeared at the open window by my side and started yelling through it. I turned away toward Stef, only to see him raising a warning finger and wearing an expression that I have never seen before. It was deadly serious, and the boys stepped back for a second. Stef slammed the window shut, and just in time - a glob of spit landed on the pane. Stef explained that as I had turned away, one boy had gone to spit at my head. I guess Stef had looked menacing enough to make him pause. They ran around to the other window, but we were quicker. The ladies next to us just watched, but they thought it was funny when we both gave in to the urge to taunt. Now we were out of range, we pulled stupid grins and waved at the boys. Yeah, so not exactly the most sensible thing to do, only enraging them further, but at that point we didn't much care. Little shits.

That ordeal over (give us border guards any day!) we could relax and enjoy the coolness of the evening. It was a while until we got to Harar - well after dark - but we figured it'd be ok to walk. A guy walked with us, trying to lure us into the government hotel, but we were aiming for LemLem guesthouse. It was recommended by the guide book, but as always, things change. It was Muslim owned, so we said we were married. It had been a long day - 16 hours - and we hadn't eaten. The owner led us to a room that initially looked fine. Upon further inspection, we discovered the water was not running. This in itself is not a problem, but the drains and pipes had dried up so much that the place stank of stuck sewage. We asked if there was any water and we were told no. None at all. We were covered in dust and I really felt like a shower, even a bucket one would have been a relief. Considering what we were paying (we had stupidly paid up front) we decided it wasn't worth it for 2 nights. So we picked up the bags and explained to the owner. First he said that he would turn the water on. But we had been told there was no water... We were firm, and asked for our money. He said that it was not possible, since it was a Muslim rule that once we had stepped into the room, it was not good anymore. This may be true, I don't know. But I have been to Muslim Indonesia, and it wasn't a problem there. I said as much. He backed down and gave us half the amount back. Too tired to argue, we left.

The Tewodoros Hotel was next on our list. We gave in and took a taxi. It already had another person in the passenger seat, but the driver urged us in anyway. He then drove off very very slowly, arguing with the passenger. Lord knows what was going on - the passenger was holding out some money to the driver, but the driver wouldn't take it. Eventually I leant forward and said, "I'll have it if you don't want it" and reached for the money. This probably confused them completely, but it worked. Galvanised into action, the driver took it and booted the passenger out.

We were greeted at the Tewodoros by Nebel, the owner. He was friendly and helpful - the opposite of the LemLem dude. He led us to a decent room with a reasonable rate, and asked us if we wanted food. We meekly asked if it was not too much trouble, and he said it was no problem. He left us to shower. Ok, so the water pressure wasn't that great (good water pressure is one of those holy grails), but it was heaven.

Then downstairs to eat and (bliss) drink some coke and beer. I don't usually like Coke, but it's the only cold solution to low blood sugar. Ahhhh! What a day.

Nebel sat with us for a while, asking about our plans for Harar. When we explained that we would stay only one day he looked at us as if we had three heads. He said he could take us on a tour of the city, an offer we politely declined. It is nice to explore by ourselves. He also said he could arrange a trip to the Hyena Man. Now that is something we don't want to miss! Nebel said he would sort it for tomorrow night, and we agreed a price. He will arrange a taxi, since the headlights help illuminate the scene better.

As we bade Nebel goodnight and headed up the stairs he said we would be able to see some hyenas from our window. Nice! We thanked him, and forced ourselves to stay vertical long enough to take a look. Indeed, once our eyes had adjusted to the dark, we could make out dark bulky shapes on the patch of open ground below. Tiredness momentarily forgotten, we went back to the top of the staircase, where an open balcony afforded a better view. There was a large ditch around the near side of the open area, and the hyenas kept dragging stuff (rubbish?) out of it and crunching the contents loudly. Every now and again we heard a yip of hyena excitement.

We went back to our room and lay down quickly before we fell down. Needless to say, we slept like the dead.
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