There are travel growing experiences and then there are 2 day journeys on Ethiopian buses. I am currently in the town of Dessie half way between Lalibela and Addis Ababa. (by the way, a truck just passed as I was writing this and a huge tire exploded and I jumped about 3 feet out of my seat. At least I know my reaction time is good. That was scary) I left Lalibela early because the sore throat got worse and I just didn’t enjoy my time there. I feel somewhat guilty for only seeing 2 rock-hewn churches. It is like visiting Rome and missing out on the Vatican City. The hassles from guides were overwhelming and down-right annoying. I decided to start the 2 day bus trip that I wasn’t looking forward to, a day early. I went back to my hotel and took a couple sudafeds and passed out for the rest of the day and into the night. The other thing is that I am running extremely low on money and another night in Lalibela would have meant no food for a couple of days. I didn’t budget my time in Ethiopia correctly and since there were no banks in Lalibela and no way to change money any other way outside of Addis, it was imperative that I get back. It feels very strange only having about $10 usd at my availability right now. After this internet use I am heading back to the hotel room to kick off my shoes and watch some BBC.
At 530a this morning I boarded the bus for Addis Ababa. It is such a long and dangerous trip that they don’t drive at night and stop in the town I’m currently in. I can not believe I am coming to you from only half way through. Today was quite possibly the most uncomfortable, painful but inspiring day of the trip so far. Most of the tourists in Ethiopia tend to use domestic flight to get around so on the bus it is rare to see another group of travelers. My bus had 2 Czech guys that I had seen previously in Ethiopia. I was told that if I tip the organizer 20 birr ($1.50) that he would get me a seat upfront that was better. NO seat on this bus is comfortable. They said my luggage was too big and I would have to pay for them to load it in the top. I declined and they were so kind to shove my huge bag in front of me where my leg room would go. Then came the people. 1, 2… then 3… then 4 all jammed into a space the size of a school bus seat. The doors shut, it was dark out, it was warm and I had a cold. Pleasant will not exist for the next 10 hours.
Ok, well maybe I am being slightly over dramatic. There a few parts of the trip that were enjoyable and that usually consisted of lunch or bathroom breaks. Luckily I was sitting in a row of mostly teenage girls so the odor of old African men stayed in the back of the bus. Then there was my friend Geshemew. He looked to be about 19 years old and he sat next to me the entire trip. He was very friendly but at a certain point I wanted to just be ignored. It is difficult to be ignored when you are a foreigner in Africa.
About 2 hours into the ride I decided I would pass my time with my ipod. Phil had given me an audio book of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and I was excited to get into it. Not quite. The ipod was like a strange and fantastic object to these kids on the bus. I tried explaining to Gesh that I was only listening to an audio book but he didn’t quite understand so he asked to listen. After a minute or 2 of confused look on his face I switched it to Elton John. He had never heard of him but I thought Rocket Man was fitting for my situation at the moment. He didn’t seem to be into it so I changed it to Bob Marley and Michael Jackson and he finally smiled.
The scenery in this part of Ethiopia was more like how I imagined it. The fog was low and the grass was green. The mountains were much more dramatic and the traditional huts along the hills accent everything. We stopped in a small town for a break and almost every Ethiopian onboard purchased some oranges from the stalls Once we got on the bus everyone was sharing and enjoying them. At first I wasn’t sure about it because I know how messy an orange can get but I saw them digging and peeling and spitting the rinds on the ground so I said why not. One of the girl’s offered me an orange and I demolished it! I was pretty hungry from not eating all that well the day before so it lifted my spirits a bit.
A few hours outside of Dessie the bus stopped and loads of passengers went to the windows to buy sugar cane from kids on the street. Much like the orange I wasn’t sure if I wanted to embarass myself by getting into sugar cane but again, I was offered it and I tried. It is like a thick stick that you use your molars to shred it off and chew on it. When all the sweetness is gone you just spit it on the floor. I can’t imagine how messy the floor was at the end of the bus ride with all the orange peels and sugar cane. I am not sure if there is a medicinal value to sugar cane but soon after I ate it I was feeling better again.
I’m not sure if this bus ride today will make future uncomfortable situations easier to deal with or make me fear them even more. Only time will tell. or right now I just have to keep focused on the comfort of arriving in Addis Ababa tomorrow evening. A night at the Hilton is looking good right about now.