Africa, Russia, Mongolia and China
Traveling by Bus Has its Own Challenges
Walking up a hill a mile in Lalibela with my full backpack and book-bag strapped to my front at 5 a.m. to catch a bus should have been enough of an omen to go back to bed. But a good traveler never lets those little things stop him from moving on to the next location.
So, in the darkness of morning, I climb onto the bus to start my two-day journey back to the capital city of Addis Ababa.
Once again, weaving though farmland and over mountain passes we inch closer to our first destination, Dessie, where we were to spend the night.
Around 1 p.m., in the middle of nowhere, I am nudged by one of the two South African passengers who are also heading back to Addis Ababa.
Bus problems, again. The transmission is shot.
The bus conductor proceeds to give everyone about half our money back and leaves us standing there, alone, on a country road in the middle of nowhere as they kick the bus.
I say to my two traveling companions, we need to separate ourselves from the group if we want to have any hope of hitching a ride with a passing vehicle. We strap on our bags and walk about 1/2 mile from the bus and wait under the shade of a roadside tree. A couple of kids come by herding cows, “pen, pen, give me pen,” they say. Not in any mood to deal with this ever-present situation, I say “yelum,” (I have no more) and wave them off.
An hour passes as three trucks go by, none of them stop because we can see where they are heading, a rock quarry to pick up more stones. Eventually a white flat bed truck approaches and I jump out and start waving my arm like a wild man, they stop and ask where we are heading. A Chinese construction worker in the passenger seat apologizes for not speaking much English, but tells us to jump aboard.
Feeling a little guilty as the truck zooms pass all the other bus passengers still standing on the road, we head down the road toward the nearest town to find a new bus to Dessie.
We arrive in the next town about 20 minutes later, and just as we are dropped off, a bus comes by with three seats left for Dessie. For the next four hours we bounce over a horrible road until we finally arrive at our destination.
The next morning we arrive at the bus station at 4:45 a.m. to find a new bus heading for Addis Ababa. In the darkness the guard at the gate tells us, “get in, get in, get in,” as he instructs us to get into the bus compound. It's an unfair perk of being a foreigner, as all the locals are left waiting at the locked gate.
After finding one of the three buses heading for Addis Ababa, I climb up a ladder on the back of the bus to secure my large backpack on the roof. I reserve my seat on the bus by setting my book-bag where I will eventually sit.
Now, what to do as we waited for the next hour and half? I chatted a little with the bus driver and conductor, as much as possible with their limited English and my poor Amharic.
Then about 6:30 a.m., a horn is sounded and whole sea of people come dashing into the bus station moving like multiple currents in a white water river to find a seat on a bus. Follow the lead of the bus driver, I start yelling “Addis, Addis, Addis,” while pointing my arm in the direction of our bus. The bus driver loves this, as he roars with laughter and races over to tell the other drivers about his new employee.
Making friends with the bus drivers is a smart plan, because then, through out the rest of the day, they give an extra eye and care. For sure they are less likely to accidentally leave you at one of the rest stops.
Later in the day our bus pulls into Addis Ababa, and my exploration of the ancient sites of Ethiopia comes to an end.