The adventure begins

Day 1

Well, I wanted an adventure and I’ve found one, or it’s found me. It
began at 3:45 this morning with the buzzing and ringing of my phone,
after 4 hours of sleep it was time to get up, the race was on.

By 4:30 Fikru and I were tearing through the blackness of early
morning in the back of a 1980’s Toyota Lada; a standard contract taxi.
My ears were filled with the pumping of western techno mixes; it was
fitting a fitting start.

Half way to Meskal Square our driver pulled over and got out to talk
to another driver. What was going on? He came back and said something
to Fikru in Amharic.

“No way!” Fikru responded, and the two continued to exchange tense
words in Amharic. Finally Fikru climbed out, he was obviously upset
about something. After walking around to the front of the car he saw
that the front tire was blown, we got out and into the other taxi.

“I though he was up to some mischief.” said Fikru, “I was ready to fight him.”

Well, it was good to know he was on edge.

By 6:25 the bus is finally moving, carrying us out and away from Addis
Ababa. Now, if anyone is planning on traveling to Ethiopia, which you
will find later in the post is simply a must, I would definitely
recommend Selam bus. After spending eight hours this past weekend on
regular public buses, I can really appreciate where my extra money is
going with Selam bus. It is comfortable, well, more comfortable than
other buses, they serve a snack, and they stop for at least two pit
stops. These are all very important things when you are going to be
spending two days on the bus. Another very favourable characteristic
of Selam bus is that their buses have of lots of power and are able to
maintain a reasonable speed when climbing through the mountains.

From 6:30 we traveled for 13 hours with two pit stops, and a half hour
lunch break, before we had the incident.

Now before we get to that, I must tell you Ethiopia is a stunningly
beautiful and fascinating country, both geographically and
historically. There were several hours at a time where I was unable to
tear my eyes from the window as the scenes rolling past before my eyes
continued to change and become continually more interesting and
majestic. During those 13 hours the lasting impression of the short
lived Italian occupation became evident to me on an increasing scale.

As we raced through the country hills began to form which gave way to
ridges and valleys which gave way to small mountains which soon gave
way to big mountains which subtly gave way to huge mountains. The
problem presented to the Italians upon their invasion was soon as
clear as day, Southern and central Ethiopia is protected by a towering
range of mountains, and with no roads, an unsurpassable range of
mountains. Our progress through these mountains was living proof of
the Italians solutions; build the impossible, build a road OVER the
mountains. Well that’s just ridiculous you may say; their going to
build a road over mountains 4,000 meters and 13,000 feet tall?
Ludicrous. Well, Ludicrous or not, they did it. And let me tell you
right now, this is one reason alone worth a $2,500 plane ticket. Up,
down, around, tacking up and down the mountain so to speak, winding
and winding, hanging on for dear life as inertia attempted to fling us
from our seats. Never in my life, have I seen such incredible views,
never have I seen anything this awesome and this incredibly huge and
majestically beautiful. I’m not even going attempt to describe it,
because my words and pictures are fruitless, the only thing that is
going to show you is that $2,500 plane ticket. Looking back, I could
see the winding road we had just come up, and were still climbing. Now
as we approached to the sky, we were enveloped in a thick fog
threatening to extinguish us. At points there was a maximum of 30 feet
visibility ahead of the bus. That was when we came upon another
display of Italian craftsmanship, a long dark and dismal tunnel. Now
we have it easy in Canada, our tunnels are paved and lighted, this one
had no lights and a dirt floor, oh and the fog had seeped inside
trapping out any flickering hope of light. It was a rather eerie
minute and a half has we passed through. At one point we passed
several rusted tanks on the side of the road, apparently further
evidence of the Italians.

Coming down the other side of one of many mountains, we descended upon
a valley overflowing with rusted metal; corrugated roofs. It was a
massive shanty town, or slum. The poverty is extreme, it is shocking,
but like other kinds of shock it does not register at first. It is
often not until you find children that should be in grade 1 or 2
walking town the aisle of the bus in rags trying to sell you tissue;
that is when it rips your heart out.

Somehow the mud huts and thatched roofs seem to fit in with the
country side naturally, it is the contrast of high rise buildings and
shanty towns that you find in Addis I find more shocking. However,
there appears to be different kinds of poverty; subsistence, clean,
and natural poverty, and filthy, miserable, and tragic poverty. We
drove through both, countless times.

When we stopped for our first pit stop I was dismayed to watch as the
bus’ collected garbage was flung out onto the ground. However, I
suppose I should not be too surprised, after all that is exactly what
they do with the garbage they collect from our apartments.

We continued through, fascinating scene after fascinating scene. From
lush forests of African trees, to desert like mountain sides, to green
and fertile mountain top fields; crops that would be utterly
impossible to harvest with a machine. The mountain top villages,
goats, cows, camels, children, domes of hay, and mud huts, all so
fascinating.

Thirteen hours however is a very long time to spend on a bus, no
matter what kind of bus it is. Anyway, about and hour after it had
gotten dark we were still plummeting, through the darkness, holding on
as we were flung to and fro. Suddenly a herd of bull materialized in
the weak beam emitted by the headlights, the road was completely
blocked by passing bull. The driver hit the breaks, but it was too
late, there was simply too much momentum. The bus fish tailed and
leaned precariously, sliding like a zamboni across the ice. Right
before we crashed through the line of beastly animals, I could swear I
saw a boy standing dead center the bus, and then he disappeared from
sight below the windshield. There was a crash and a thump, swerving
the bus slowed, and then the driver gunned it and sped off into the
night. I was ready to rush out to the aid of the boy, when the
sickening realization hit me, we weren’t stopping. From what I
understand, if you hit someone in Ethiopia, you are at fault
regardless of what happened, no questions asked. It’s a completely
ridiculous law which essentially making hit and run a law, while some
kid is left to bleed to death alone in the darkness after being
creamed full on by a 40 passenger bus.

We continued to the next town where we stopped and the driver informed
a police officer. After some discussion a police officer, more like a
soldier, boarded the bus with his assault rifle slung over his
shoulder and began addressing everyone in Amharic. These are the
moments when I really wish I spoke Amharic. What the hell is going on?

We were forced to get off the bus and find accommodation for the
night, while the police officers took the bus to the scene of the
incident; apparently they were lacking their own transportation, a
rather crippling factor as I see it. Anyway, we headed off to find a
hotel. Fikru seemed very concerned about my safety as feu-reunji, so
we had another bed moved into a room so we could stay together. It
wasn’t long before some guy came to advise us to move to a more
comfortable hotel with a shower etc, essentially because my skin is
white. I’m getting rather weary of people expecting I need special
treatment because I’m white. Yes, the room was in a building made from
mud and straw with peeling paint and no bathroom, but it’s Africa.
Although, I must admit, the whole squatting over a whole in the center
of a concrete slab that is overflowing with feces gets old pretty
quick.

Oh FYI, you’ve probably heard about the Nigerian terrorist who tried
to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to the States, Jasmin was on that
flight! Thank God he failed.

Day 2

I’ve been putting the pieces of the puzzle together over the past few
hours, the puzzle of what’s going on. This is what the canvas of my
painted puzzle looks like so far. The reason the driver didn’t stop is
that the villagers would have probably killed him if he did. So he ran
for his own safety, and for the safety of the passengers. The kid
survived and is being transferred to another hospital for X-rays. This
must be a relief for the driver as if the kid had died he would be
spending the next 15 years behind bars, no questions asked. As it is,
he has been placed under arrest while the police collect evidence. The
elders of the village will meet to decide his fate, likely he will
have to compensate the kid, come to take him to appointments etc. This
is a big responsibility since it seems like were in the middle of
no-where, 13 hours from Addis.

Right now we are waiting for a driver from Mekele to arrive to take us
the rest of the way. While we are waiting some girls from the bus have
been conducting a traditional coffee ceremony outside their room and
inviting those around. They gave me a cup. I’m sorry, but sugar and
coffee just don’t go together, it’s like pouring Listerine in our hot
chocolate, only worse. Te-kur bunna ya leu se kwar, the longest phrase
I’ve learned: ‘black coffee with no sugar’.

There are 3 people sitting around and providing advice for our trip
right now while I scribe in my notebook. They have finally switched to
broken English for my benefit, and I gather they are advising against
taking the Axum – Gondor route, the one I was most looking forward to.
There are supposed to be terrifying cliffs and mountains that the bus
drives through, again built by the Italians. However apparently there
are tribes along the way that can cause trouble, and possibly Eritrean
soldiers? We’ll have to see how that turns out.

Finally by 12:00 we were able to set off with a new driver. As we
again began to climb through the mountains these words went through my
mind: unreal, and out of this world. However those soon became
redundant as we continued to climb higher and higher, apparently
determined to reach to the sky. The pinnacle was the sheer drop that
engulfed the side of the road we were on, and by shear drop I don’t
mean a few hundred feet, I mean thousands of feet. I have never been
that high on land in my life, I have never looked down at a view like
that from that high, ever, except from a plane window. It was truly,
unreal. And we kept going up, and up, and up, and then down like a
roller coaster, then up again winding back and forth. The scenery was
absolutely, out of this world, and well worth every penny of that
plane ticket. I am completely and entirely incapable of describing the
grand scale of it all, the hugeness of the mountains, the height, and
the people living there, the valleys thousands of feet down, just
absolutely unbelievable. I wish I could portray it, but like I said
words and pictures are incapable, you need to buy that ticket. I have
never in my life seen anything so incredible, so grand, and so
captivating.

As we progressed the material used for houses slowly changed from mud
and straw, to stone. After a while I felt like I had just passed into
the medieval ages as the country side was scattered with square and
round stone houses with walls and what seemed like palisades.
Everywhere we went, the scenery was intricately woven with life, close
up and distant. It was like examining an extremely detailed model,
except it was not a model at all, it was real life, real size.

Around 5:00 pm we arrived in Mekele at last. We found some simple
rooms, costing about $2 each. Mekele is a very nice city, it is very
clean which is nice after some of the other towns we passed through. I
am writing this now in an internet café, hitting ctrl S every few
minutes in case the power goes out on me. I apologize for any
grammatical errors. Only the first two days, still not even at any of
our planned destinations, and it has already been the experience of a
lifetime.