Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Road to Bahir Dar

I left Addis in the middle of night because for some strange reason, Ethiopian buses are not allowed to drive at night so all start their journeys at 5:30am.  I had been unsuccessful in finding an alarm clock, so I was a little concerned about getting up for the bus.  The hotel said that the night watchman would come to my door at 4am as requested.  I found the fellow to confirm it, so he knew who I was and would remember.  In any case, I woke up around 2:30am, since I knew I was leaving early.

I had arranged with a taxi guy the night before for a 4:30am pickup, but he was late or didn't show so I grabbed another that was outside the hotel--who actually gave me a better price.  We sped threw the empty streets of Addis and down to Meskal Square, where the buses leave from.

Meskal Square was filled with pre-dawn commotion for all the departing buses.  My bus had not arrived yet, but came shortly thereafter.  The bus was full, and I had a 6'4" fellow sitting next to me.  We chatted a bit--his name was Degu, he was a chemical engineer on his way to Bahir Dar for some work with a paint factory there.  We chatted a bit, then I fell back asleep.

At 6:45am, I was awoken by Ethiopian smooth jazz elevator music blaring from the speaker above me.  In short: hell.  I haven't been subject to such torture since the Lhasa-to-Shanghai train, which would blare Kenny G on the loudspeakers at 7am to wake all the passengers.  I tried to get the bus to either turn it off or turn it down, but it was lost in translation.

But on the upside, it woke me to catch a beautiful perfect rainbow across the horizon--a sign that portends well for my journey.

Once I got over my annoyance at the music, the ride itself was beautiful.  We drove through mountain passes with clouds hanging in the distance and down a winding mountain road into the valley below.  We pushed on past fields with low-hanging clouds sitting just above.

But on the upside, it woke me to catch a beautiful perfect rainbow across the horizon--a sign that portends well for my journey.   Once I got over my annoyance at the music, the ride itself was beautiful.  We drove through mountain passes and down a winding mountain road into the valley below.

We crossed the wide, turbid Nile River, and into the pastoral life of northern Ethiopia. We drove through lush fields filled with cows, sheep and goats and shepherds watching their flocks.


We past onion-domed Ethiopian Orthodox churches with lattice crosses pointing towards the heavens. I love just staring at the window into passing life for hours.

The red clay of the rich soil offset by the green fields and blue skies above; huts of red clay mud with corrugated tin roofs, with Ethiopians in white shawls carry white umbrellas walking by villages.

 The only frustration for the trip was that I ended up stuck under the speaker for the bus, so I had the soundtrack to Ethiopian movies blaring above my head all the trip. But otherwise, it was a fine journey.

 I arrived to Bahir Dar after 11 hours of transit, and pushed past the touts to find a place to stay. Degu insisted on coming with me to help me find the hotel, but I finally explained that I didn't want to drag him around from hotel to hotel while I was looking and bade him farewell. I had been trying to find a hotel that sounded good in my guidebook called the Ghion Hotel. I had a few touts try to tell me it was closed, but I refused to fall for that trick...except it wasn't a trick and it was really closed.

I was getting a little frustrated as I was tired, and kept having touts bother me but finally I found another place that was decent enough called Deb Anbessa Hotel.  I bargained down the room from to 350 birr  ($17) with breakfast and a hot shower.  After settling in, I found my way down to the "Ethiopian Riviera" to watch the day's light fade along the shores.  I sipped tea under a tree of a little peninsula cafe and enjoyed the cool night.

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