13 – The Last Leg of Ethiopia

13 – The Last Leg of Ethiopia

To spice things up a bit (and because we really wanted to avoid a few days of back-to-back buses), we took a private car to Addis-Ababa. Mule had managed to find us, ten minutes before departure, five Ethiopians returning to Addis who were willing to share their 4X4 with us. We quickly noticed that our fellow passengers were wealthy because: 1 – They had a car, 2 – They smoked, 3 – They all had smartphones with American music on.

They were not, however, chatty. In fact, they barely uttered a word to us. The highlight of the day and a half of driving was when we had to dodge a troop of baboons on a mountain road. They were clearly bad-mannered (the baboons), as they took up all the space on the road. It is as if they thought they were at home there!

Baboons on the road!

The twenty-seventh of September is a national holiday in Ethiopia. Christians celebrate the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena in the fourth century. In the morning we weaved through parades of singing and dancing children. In the afternoon we passed villagers, armed with a chicken or a goat, walking to their respective celebrations. In the evening we crossed towns where everyone, dressed in white, gathered around a gigantic bonfire. The next day we drove past piles and piles of animal skins drying. Even if we were a little disappointed to be missing the celebrations in Lalibela, it was still special to see the festive atmosphere along the road.

Upon arrival in Addis Ababa we managed to find a cheaper, more central hotel than last time (near La Gare). We have clearly progressed as tourists in Ethiopia! 😂 Strolling near our hotel, we spotted a colourful bar in which old, well-dressed gentlemen were drinking beers around a large sandy square space. We were intrigued, so ventured closer to peer in. We had been spotted. “Bonjour!” they said. Yes, that’s right, they were speaking to us in the language of Molière! Not, “Allo”, “Faranji” or “YOU”, as we were used to hearing. The bar was called “Le Club des cheminots” (The Railworkers Club). It dates from when the Railway Station was constructed by the French. The trains used to go from Djibouti (a French colony) to Addis Ababa. The French have since left, the trains have stopped, and the bar has moved, but the people keep coming. Thanks to grants from the Alliance Française, a lot of the gentlemen even speak fluent French.  And the square space covered with sand? You have not guessed yet? A pétanque court of course! We played a few rounds with the gentlemen and we can tell you that they took it very seriously! They debated the scores and kept a measuring tape close at hand. It felt like we were in a little village in Provence. What a charming surprise to stumble upon a little corner of France in Addis Ababa! It was lovely to spend time with people who were so passionate about keeping the French language and culture alive.

Le Club des Cheminots

Upon arriving at the hotel that evening, we smelt a funky smell. We were about to switch the light off when, on the ceiling (a piece of fabric hanging above our heads), we saw mice scurrying about. We could even see their little paws on the fabric. 🐭🐁 We didn’t want to steal the mice’s bedroom, so we changed rooms and had a squeaky-clean night. Phew.

We had one more day to kill in Addis before our bus travelling South. We used the time to go visit the National Museum of Ethiopia. On the upper floors are remnants of different Ethiopian Civilisations; mainly bits of clay pots and stones. Fascinating if one is passionate about clay pots and stones, a bit dull otherwise. The main attraction of the museum is in the prehistoric section in the basement. There you can find remains of extinct animals, information on archaeology, and most importantly: Lucy. We have all heard of Lucy, but who is she really?  Well, she is (bits of) a human skeleton from 3.2 million years ago. She is not the oldest: human remains as old as 7 million years have since been found. She belongs to the Australopithecus species – a different branch of human to us, one that no longer exists. To be frank, visiting Lucy was a bit like visiting the Mona Lisa for the first time. When faced before her, one wonders why she is so famous. Though visiting Lucy may have been an anti-climax, she does fit into a whole series of interesting explanations of the evolution of species and archaeological discoveries in Africa. Notably, she serves as evidence that bipedalism evolved well before the large human brain. 👍

There she is! There’s Lucy!

On the bus towards the South of Ethiopia, the mountains disappeared, and the countryside became flatter and drier. We were now in the bush. Along the roadside were enormous termite mounds, reaching as high as the electricity poles. Some of them looked like God’s finger in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”. We also passed hundreds of flower farms. Do you ever think where your flowers come from?

Views along the way…

The first leg of our journey, to Awassa, was in a comfortable coach. Awassa is a lakeside town where rich Ethiopians spend their weekends.

Night one was spent here in Awassa

Day two of our journey South was spent in minibuses. We had to change twice (at Dilla and Hule Bora). We then arrived at Yabelo, one hundred and thirty-two miles from the border. We arrived there around five in the afternoon and found that the hotels were rather disappointing. Seeing as we only had forty-eight hours before our visas expired, we decided we would try our luck at getting the last bus of the day to the border (Moyale). It was risky because the buses usually stop when it gets dark (around half past six) and the bus station was on the other side of town to the hotels.

Changing buses at Dilla – “MUZI, MUZI, MUZI?!”

Once we got to the bus station, we saw that there were no more buses. There was, however, a group of people who were waiting for a private bus to Moyale. One of the guys, Desta, said we could join them! It was a miracle!

Alas, it was too good to be true, as is so often the case in Ethiopia. After waiting for a while, Desta explained that in fact, the private car was not coming. With a huge smile on his face, and lots of gumption (enough for the three of us), Desta suggested we go back to the main road (where the hotels were) to try to flag down a truck going to Moyale. We thought to ourselves we had nothing to lose, if all else failed we could go back to the hotels. Desta regularly crosses the border to collect electronics in Kenya to sell in Ethiopia. He was used to hitching lifts with trucks. We followed him and within two minutes he had found a truck (transporting maize) that was willing to take us to Moyale for the same price as a bus ticket. Great! We were going to get to the border today. It was a miracle!

Desta and our maize truck

Alas, it was too good to be true. The drivers had seen menacing rainclouds on the horizon so stopped the truck to put a tarpaulin over their bags of maize. They then told us that we had lost too much time so would no longer reach the checkpoint at the entrance to Moyale before it would shut. Desta said he wanted to leave the truck before the checkpoint to stay in a “hotel”. The idea of staying at a dodgy bedbug ridden hotel did not enthral us. Desta said the checkpoint would be manned by lots of policeman and soldiers so would be super safe. We decided we would pitch our tent there. We preferred the security of our own tent and the authorities to a dodgy small-town hotel (and having to get the bus the next day).

Night had fallen by the time we arrived at the checkpoint, the only barrier stopping us from getting to Moyale. No policemen or soldiers were to be seen. We clambered down from the truck, ready to go hunt down the authorities. (We were not going to pitch our tent there without them!) Suddenly, an armed police officer appeared from out of the dark. He saw we were tourists so asked the truck driver what we were doing there. The officer then told us that the checkpoint was a dangerous place and we should stay underneath the watch tower near his colleagues. He kindly laid out a straw mat for us to lie on. All around us we spotted dozens of soldiers hidden in pits in the ground. We spent the night on the mat, under the stars, feeling very safe!

At ten to six the next morning, the checkpoint opened. The police officer kindly put us on an empty truck at the front of the queue so we would not have to wait hours for our original truck’s maize bags to be checked. After a much-needed hearty breakfast, we walked the last few metres separating us from Kenya. Our first month of travelling was over, as was our fabulous Ethiopian adventure! Our heads were filled with unforgettable memories and we were ready for the next part of our journey: Kenya!

Ethiopia to Kenya road!

3 Replies to “13 – The Last Leg of Ethiopia”

  1. I listened to an article recently that explained that the reason Mona Lisa has such an enigmatic expression is because she lacks eyebrows! Evidently Lucy lacks a lit more than that but has nevertheless held our interest for decades. Must have been quite surreal to be in the presence if such well known remains. How bizarre that she was probably just an (or a group of) ordinary ‘person’/’people’ in her time.
    What an awesome time you have had in Ethiopia. I wonder if you will hanker to go back there, in time, to visit sites you did not see this time and to revisit old favourites. I winder which bits if this amazing adventure will stick in your memories in years to come?
    May your adventures continue. Xxx

  2. I prefer the bit about the Club des cheminots, than the bit about the last leg near the checkpoint!

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