Friday, September 04, 2015

The Road to Lalibela

I woke up around 5:30am, ready to get out of Woldiya and on to the last stop in Lalibela. The water in the hotel still was not running, so I grabbed my stuff and left. I walked down to the bus depot, and braved the chaos.

The first bus I tried to get on to Lalibela at 6:15am was full, so I was moved to a second bus that was practically full. A woman who spoke some Arabic was kind enough to help me navigate. First I was sitting in the back of the bus, and I sat in my seat for about 30 minutes. Then amid some confusion, apparently I was in someone's saved seat and so I was moved up next to an old woman in the front. And I sat. And I sat. And I sat some more. I bought some bananas for breakfast, and paid a kid to go buy me a bottle of water. A bit of confusion with the luggage, but eventually my bag made it on the roof. Around 7:30am, the bus driver came on the bus, and I hoped we would be leaving. We didn't depart for another 45 minutes.

But eventually we did leave Woldiya and head on to Lalibela. Along the way, we picked up more passengers for the already-full bus, and people were sitting in the aisles or standing.

The ride was supposed to be four hours, but it kept going and going. We switched from asphalt to gravel, and I had a bumpy chuckle that there was not really a real road to Ethiopia's most holy site and number one tourist destination.

We chugged along on the gravel road for an endless amount of time, until we reached a muddy pass. Afraid that we would get stuck in the mud, the bus driver stopped the bus and got out to survey the landscape. To make the bus lighter, all the men and boys got off the bus. I climbed out, and watched from around the muddy bend. Sure enough, the bus got stuck. I was having flashbacks to Peru.

We tried to push the bus back out of the mud, but there was not enough traction. I tried to find anyone who spoke enough English to suggest that all the women and children go to the back of the bus while we push, and also to put drier stones under the tires to help give traction—as what once helped me prior, but no one was listening to the faranji. I was wondering if I would be walking to Lalibela.

But we were able to clear out enough of the mud from the tires, and the driver was able to get out of the rut. He was able to flank the mud puddles and offroad the bus a bit and got back going. As I got back on the bus, I realized that in the aisle near me was an old, old woman. I tried to give her my seat. First she and her husband refused, but I was finally able to convince her and she took my spot while I sat in the middle of the aisle on a wooden and goat-skin stool.

Surprisingly, I couldn't have been more happy. I found myself chuckling at where I was—ever the only, sitting on the floor of the bus rumbling through the middle of Africa. Strangely, this seemed like the fulfillment of a dream.

Anyway, the bus stopped in about 30 minutes and dropped a number of the passengers off—letting me return to my seat. We chugged along until we reached Lalibela around 3pm in the afternoon. A ride that was supposed to be 4 hours took almost 7. But this was my last bus in Ethiopia, as I planned to fly back to Addis rather than take a 2 day bus. And I had reached the last stop on my journey through Ethiopia's historical circuit—so I was pleased.

I caught a bajaji and negotiated for a ride to the Hotel Asheton, which the guidebook mentioned as a decent, reasonable spot. I bargained down from 300 bir to 250 ($12.50) for the room with a hot shower.

I settled in with some lunch after a long day, and finished my Star Wars trilogy before passing out early.

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