3 – Crossing Ethiopia

3 – Crossing Ethiopia

It was 3:30am. Buses kept appearing out of the darkness, into the bus station. They dodged between the taxis dropping off passengers and the tradesmen with their trolleys, wheelchairs or chariots of goods. It was a complete kafuffle. People were shouting, honking, pushing. Our bus, a big green coach, finally arrived. Once all the baggage was put into the hold (note to future self: tip needed), everyone took to their seats. The bus was chock-a-block. It was filled with locals, bar us and another couple (from the Netherlands). We had 680 miles to drive so as soon as everyone was seated, the driver set off with haste. Well, we say driver, what we really mean is racing-driver. The road only had one lane in each direction, so we had to slalom between trucks, tuk-tuks and herds of animals – at speed! We were often stopped by goats, cows, camels or donkeys on their way to a nearby field with their shepherd. All shepherds were armed with a gun, hung around their chests – obviously they have priority on the roads! Aside from domestic animals, we also saw baboons, birds and gazelles (the deer type, not the rabbit type).

Can you see the goats in the background?
Hello Camel!

Our journey by bus was a great way of seeing a whole range of Ethiopian landscapes. After leaving the city, we drove through hundreds of rural villages. Everything was so green – sweetcorn and teff fields stretched for as far as the eye could see. The most impressive building in each village was always the place of worship (either a church or a mosque). They towered above all other buildings and were often brightly coloured and always well-kept.

Heather’s drawing of one of the green villages on the outskirts of Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is two thousand, three hundred and fifty-five metres above sea level. As the bus descended the mountains and steered East, the fewer there were trees and the more there were camels. The green rolling hills gave way to dry sandy desert. We stopped for lunch in a small village. Injeras were on the menu (the staple food in Ethiopia: a sort of savoury, sour crêpe made from teff). They’re the main part of our diet now. We shared a table with a family, taking it in turns to rip off bits of injera to dunk into the spicy sauce.

The landscape then changed from sandy desert to a sea of dark volcanic rocks. Trees were sparse. It felt like we were driving across Mars. Even in this desolate, hellish place, man is still present. People actually live here in tiny round shelters made from branches and food sacs, (occasionally UN World Food Program sacs). Their homes really do look like something out of a Star Wars episode. We asked ourselves how man could survive in such conditions and why. Seeing people living in this hostile environment baffled us.

Small round shelters seen scattered across the desert
A sea of volcanic rock for miles…

Fifteen hours is a long time to spend in a bus. Very long. To make the journey more bearable, two small TV screens played music videos, Ethiopian films and comedy clips non-stop. Sometimes they got us giggling – especially when one of the artists resembled Francky Vincent in style. (A cheesy French musician from the 90s, see this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVhajq7TFkY). However, after a while, the tinny noise started to grate on us. It was interrupted only when we stopped to pick up villagers who sold green oranges, dates or nuts aboard the bus.

As we got closer to Mekele, and the roads became greener and more mountainous again, a storm broke out. The end of our journey was in the pitch black, except when the whole sky was lit-up by lightning strikes.

Mountainous landscape near Mekele
The roads descending into Mekele (photo taken on another day- in the daytime)

The hotel that was recommended to us by Abeba was full. Our back-up was a hotel we had seen listed in the Lonely Planet. Unfortunately, not only was there no water or electricity, but the place was also dirty and smelt of toilets. We were exhausted from our journey so went to sleep early. The next morning, we left ASAP so we could escape the skanky hotel and explore the town.

The only bit of the skanky hotel that wasn’t skanky: the balcony!

We managed to find a much better place to sleep after that. (Simply by walking past a sign saying: “hotel with hot water, WiFi and electricity”). It was even cheaper than the skanky hotel! The hot shower did us the world of good. Once we knew where we’d be spending the night, next on the list was Ethiopia Travel Tours (ETT). We booked a three-day tour with them, leaving the next morning (Sunday 8th September). We didn’t yet realise how amazing the next few days would be.

8 Replies to “3 – Crossing Ethiopia”

  1. Love your drawing Heather – really beautiful – well done 🙂 Have you actually taken coloured pencils with you (as well as a solar panel!) 🙂

    1. Thanks 🙂 I did it on paint on my laptop in the bus.
      I have brought a mini water-colour set but I still need to find watercolour paper!

  2. Feel like I was in the bus with you can almost smell the skanky hotel.
    Roll on next chapter want to hear about the 3 day tour. Lxxx🤗😘

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