Brilliant Walkabout in the Wild West of Ethiopia.


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Africa » Ethiopia » Gambela Region
May 31st 2017
Published: May 31st 2017
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Good times, here I was alone leaving a tiny bus station in the far west of Ethiopia quite close to South Sudan. As we left Gambela town in the early morning light, the bus passed over the big Baro river. In three days, I had come to know it fondly. It truly is the lifeblood of this town and area. We sped through town on the other side of the river, still cool morning air. I dozed a bit, woke up after 30 minutes or so. In the not so far distance, I saw some fairly large mountains, vegetation started to change quickly to fairly lush trees. I was invigorated, we climbed higher, around some tight curves and up into the misty mountains.

We passed a few police roadblocks, they exist around this country. It seemed that as soon as the policemen realized I was in the vehicle, they waved us through quickly. I am sure my fellow passengers liked that part of me being with them. At each stop, there was an Orthodox monk dressed in bright robes, holding and even more brightly colored umbrella upside down. It was a quite a sight in the misty morning cold air, I learned he was asking for donations from passing motorists. Most all of the passengers with me gave something and actually handed me money to donate. The monk blessed each of them with his cross and me as well. We had a couple strong coffees at one stop and then rolled into the nondescript town of Gore.

My minibus driver motioned me to get off, I was dropped on a quiet street of a very quiet town with almost no one around. My fellow passengers on the minibus had told me a bus headed south (where I wanted to go) would pass through, they had no idea when. After sitting down on my pack for a few minutes, breathing the cool, clean highlands air, a guy came up to me. He didn't speak much English, my Ethiopian repertoire had grown a bit so we were able to have a very basic conversation. I gleaned that there may or may not be a bus later, funny. I took a deep breath and started walking down the dirt road to the south as it left town. There was quite a bit of day left, it was about 10AM. The sun was out, I was in far remote Ethiopia and hitchhiking.

I walked a half mile or so, took my pack off near a place where the road passed over a pretty river. Not 5 minutes later, two guys in a pickup truck picked me up. They spoke English well, were actually from the big city of Addis Ababa, had driven two days to get here. One of the guys was a civil engineer, he had won a contract to do some work on a water plant out this way and was coming in person (didn't seem very efficient) to a regional government town near where the project was to be to sort some necessary permits before the work started.

So, they smiled and told me to hop in. I had to duck down low in the back seat when we went by some police officials, there was some worry that the police might not like them taking me. We got past that and headed into increasingly dense vegetation on each side of the road. Indeed, we were headed into the most densely forested part of Ethiopia, a place that gets lots of rainfall, still has large tracts of primary growth rainforest where much of the rest of the country has been deforested. This seemed like an ideal ride, the guys were great, immediately sharing food that they had with me. They were headed for Masha town to get the permits and told me they would be driving all the way to Mizan Teferi before heading back to Bonga , Jimma and then Addis Ababa. This was exactly where I wanted to go. I kicked back, watched the miles click by, smiled.

Well. that didn't work out so well. I waited about an hour while they got their permits. They were successful at that. Unfortunately for me, while in the offices, someone told them about a shortcut left turn road just out of Masha that would cut about a day off of their return trip. In so many words, they said "love you but gotta take this shorter road". I couldn't blame them. The guys were nice enough to ask around this tiny town of Masha, get me to the bus station before they took off. The station was a small lot with overgrown grass, one bus with a driver who was asleep. Shit, now this was getting a bit challenging but fun at the same time.

The highlands are lush around here, have passed rivers, big trees, tea and coffee plantations. People are nice, not too pushy. I walked around the corner, sat with some guys at a little place, had two coffees with delicious local milk and doughnuts. The bus driver had somehow been notified of my presence, had woken up and come over to find me. I was excited, he said it was time to go. I thought "how cool that I am the first one on the bus, can pick my seat right in the front".

Well, here is what happens in a little town, now I know. You circle the town as long as you need to to fill up the bus. By the way, the bus is never really all the way full. So, we circled three times, taking about 1 1/2 hours, I'm not joking. At the point I was ready to just laugh out loud at my circumstances, we finally filled up enough and rolled out. The bus was going to Tepi, well on the way toward Mizan. I had hoped to make it to Mizan, we would see. The big old bus lumbered out of Masha, all of the seats taken. I imagined a relatively uneventful ride to Tepi, boy was I mistaken. The bus stopped again and again, and again, dropping people off in little hamlets but mostly taking more people on.

I bet there were 75 people on the bus, we were crammed like sardines. My legs and back hurt like hell, I was crammed into the corner of the bus with my big backpack on the floor in front of me, trying to carve out some personal space. Thankfully, Ethiopians don't smell bad. The older woman next to me was a little pissy (we all were) and kept crowding into my space. It was a territorial war, I pushed back. Finally, in a desperate attempt to ease the pain, I pulled myself up and sat on top of my bus seat. The people behind me looked at me like I was odd, I really didn't care. All I have had to eat today was some almonds I had in my bag, 4 cups of coffee, 2 biscuits and some apples I had. I had absolutely no ability to get food out of my big bag. I was snarly, hot, sweaty, tired back and loving every minute of it. The roads were brutal, bumpy.

Sitting on top of the bus seat, my head and neck were twisted, it was a small price to pay for some mobility of my legs and back. I can feel the pain again as I write this. Besides the mean lady next to me (who once tried to get me to get on another bus by telling me this one wasn't going to our destination), most of the passengers were great, laughing when I dealt with the lady and giving me a thumbs up. They told me they virtually never see foreigners on the bus in this remote part of the country. They seemed to have respect for my Herculean bus effort. Not much English was spoken around here. We made slow, slow progress. We were still one hour from Tepi, it was getting dark. It seemed I would be in Tepi for the night, my little guide book mentioned it was a pretty tough place to find a room. 13 hours on the bus today, getting "hard" for the rest of my trip. These are the days travel comes alive for me.

In a daze at about 8PM, I stumbled off the bus into the little town of Tepi, thankful that the air was cool to greet me. I was in the land of lush trees, coffee and tea plantations all around. One of my fellow bus passengers lived here, walked me kindly over to an area where he thought I could find a decent room. I did indeed, quickly find a great room for about $7, threw down my bags, took an amazing cold shower. I was famished and felt a small burst of energy. The room guy at the hotel, Mohammed, proudly walked out in the little town with me, promising to show me some great food. I had asked him the find me kitfo and a beer.

We turned around a little corner by the bus station, went down an alley and in a side door of what looked like someone's house, made of mud and some wood. Inside, I was greeted immediately by a few men dining, the owner spoke some English and was very welcoming. I told him where I had come from and a bit about my day. He cracked a big smile, amazed at how far I had come. He told me to relax and he would do the rest. In a matter of minutes, he had an ice cold beer in front of me, which my religiously flexible Muslim friend happily shared with me. The owner brought me a massive plate of enjera, kitfo (delicious spiced ground beef), tibs (lamb), gomen (collards) and shiro (beans). It was as if I had walked into an oasis. I played with the owner's kids, gave them a couple rubber bouncy ballsI travel with.

I had another beer and then was joined by another of Mohammed's buddies, I told him I was craving dessert. He found me a great little place for cookies, I bought a soccer ball and some liquor as well. We strolled back down toward the hotel. What an amazing little find this town was. The guide book said not to expect much. It actually felt like a place I could spend a couple days but I was committed this time to stay on the move. I was back to my room at a decent hour, packed up for the early bus. Next to my room, there was the loudest DJ in town, spinning music and local dancing going on. I resisted the urge as I was pretty spent and fell into a deep sleep, sleeping right through the music, which was still going when I woke at 4AM.

There were mosquitoes buzzing in my room last night, it was somewhat cool out so only a few. I always bring my own net and smartly used it in the night. I bashed my head in my bathroom last night but managed to clean it up well, my medical kit is decent. I was up early at 4:30AM to catch what I hoped was a better bus to Mizan Teferi. The gates outside the station were packed by locals at that time, there were more buses than I imagined would be here (about 15), this seemed to be a regional transportation hub. The gates opened, I rushed toward my bus with a horde of people, managed to grab a good seat. The bus filled up quickly, this was a very good thing I had learned. The bus didn't leave until 6AM but I didn't care.

The ride over to Mizan was easy, about an hour and a half. The roads were much better. The guy sitting next to me was a journalist from Addis Ababa here to do a story on farming in the area. He told me in no uncertain terms that he had to be careful when reporting. The national government is very involved in agriculture, pushing the country to show it as attractive to foreign companies. He hinted to me that anything he writes that was contrary to those goals could be dangerous to him. The overriding feeling I got from people I met during this trip was that the government, military and police were powerful. If you kept your nose clean, you wouldn't get in trouble but that people who went looking for it could find it quickly. He also hinted that there were lots of payoffs and corruption, that's just the way it worked.

The ride into Mizan Teferi was just lovely. The bus didn't get overly crowded, I think the morning bus and the fact that there were other buses going in the same direction helped. It actually felt like I was in a limo after the day before. The sun rose over the jungle trees in the distance, it was a super nice morning. We just rolled into Mizan Teferi, a bigger town than I had imagined. The bus station was chaotic but good people helped me to the right place. I dropped my bags at the station master's office. I wanted to hop on a bus going south but it appeared that would be hard to accomplish. It was the day before Ethiopia Christmas and nobody seemed quite sure of the bus schedule.

The station master didn't speak English that well, the impression I got was that we would just have to wait and see. I am preparing for the possibility of staying in Mizan tonight, disappointing as I have a lot of time for travel today and really wanted to make more progress than just the short ride in from Tepi. A buddy of the station master walked me over to an internet place, figured I could settle in and do that for a few hours. Right after I started, they lost power as is common. It was really good because a bus had materialized, I think it had come in from Bonga to the north and was filling up quickly. I actually got one of the last seats on the bus, always a little nervous when the driver just takes my backpack and puts it on the roof. He seemed great, I trusted him. I had 2 samosa like things from the street, probably shouldn't have but I was starving. Two strong coffees later, we rolled out of the station.

I've seen poverty in this country but not to the extreme I have seen in some parts of the world. Perhaps I'll see more when I spend a little time in the capitol Addis later in the trip. I have chosen places off the beaten track, places that don't see hardly any tourists. There are some people who ask for money or point to their shoes and ask to trade with me. I wished I could, my shoes were really my only trekking ones for this trip. As back home, I am much more apt to share food and a smile. The few characters that looked a touch shady, eye contact and a strong voice were effective. I immediately made friends with police whenever I saw them, this is always a good thing as I have found that they act as your ally rather than adversary. I got a big bunch of bananas for the ride, delicious little ones right off the tree this morning.

The guide book says independent travel is tough in these parts, suggests hiring drivers to those who want to get into remote locations. I have to say that I am relishing in the fact that I am doing pretty well so far, albeit taking more time than I might have imagined. All the little things that happen to make trips take more time are some of the best experiences. I'm nudging my way along on this journey, nudging but not pushing. Keeping a good sense of humor is so key, people can tell when you are irritated or impatient, it is never a good thing.
The bus I was on was headed south to a small town called Dima. We are still at the station, I guess we aren't quite full, it is 1:30P. When is the bus full? No one, least of all me, can tell.

A few observations: Ethiopians smile with their eyes first, they are very smart and curious. Their eyes search for yours, often at a considerable distance. All you have to do is lift your eyebrows and smile just a bit, a "you noticed me" connection is made and they break out in huge grins. They are incredibly physically affectionate, clasping hands, arms and shoulders when they meet, sometimes giving each other big hugs and draping their heads on each others shoulders when they do it. Quite a few of them speak a little English, not much more.

Most of the people in this area were Orthodox Christians, with a Muslim minority. I had been warned by the Amharic people about the people in Gambela being not trustworthy, I found them delightful. As we finally rolled out of station and headed south, people warned me about the "untrustworthy" and "backwards" Surma tribal people. I couldn't wait to meet them 😊. We pulled out of Mizan and started the long descent from the mountains headed toward the low plains. The road was being worked on by Chinese engineers but was still in pretty bad shape.

Halfway to Dima, we just stopped for a break. The local kids ran around me, pointing and saying "you, you, you". I gave it back to them, tickling them. They said "faranje" (foreigner). I said "Habesha" (Ethiopian) and splashed water on them from a little faucet They squealed with joy, ran from me as I pretended to chase them. Two cups of coffee with some bus mates, big plate of enjera, shiro and gomen. All of it for 60 cents, nice. We hopped back on, came down from the high hills, lots of little country huts and agricultural burning in the background. We were now into rolling hills, the vegetation was more sparse. Distant mountains to the west were about to have the sun set over them.

I had fantasized about getting to Kibish or Omorate this night, it was going to be Dima. I started to see acacia trees, I was in the area that opens after 100 miles into Kenya. I saw some tribal people in the distance. On my bus were many Amharic people going home to Dima for Ethiopian Christmas, they were excited. Some had come all the way from Jimma and even Addis Ababa, traveling 2-3 days to see their families. I sensed that a number of my fellow passengers were students away at school. I just got a lukewarm Pepsi that sprayed on me and my fellow passengers when I opened it, funny. It tasted so good. I saw many people carrying firewood, papayas, bananas. There were lots of baboons as we came down the mountains, gorgeous sunset with fires burning in the foreground.

The people on my bus were incredibly helpful, no foreigners in sight for the last three days now. Dima was the end of the road for this bus, we rolled into this town that was larger than I imagined, very pleasant with a jungely river at one end called the Akabu. Two of my fellow passengers talked me out of going to the place I had in mind, said they knew of a newer built motel closer to the river for half the price of the one blocks away. It sounded good. I trusted them, a little scary walking to the edge of town as they sun faded and evening started to get dark. Around a curve, they smiled big and pointed, they waved goodbye and walked home. The owner of the Akabu Hotel greeted me, put me in the best room in the house, clean simple and the best damn $4 I've ever spent. There were perfectly good showers just down the hall.

Yesterday 13 hours on the bus, today 9 more. I plopped down again, I'm tired from the long bus trips, happy though. I had another great shower and then had a simple meal with my innkeeper and his buddies of beans, enjera and veggies, seems to be vegetarian "fasting" before Christmas. I'm pretty stocked up for my trip farther into the bush, just needed a few more supplies. After dinner, talked one of the young men who works at this place into going into the Dima village with me. I actually had a great time in the town, it was very vibrant with last minute Ethiopian Christmas shopping.

Who would have thought, but I really really loved this little town in the middle of nowhere. I got a knife, mirror, cookies. We were joined at one point by the buddy of the guy helping me, I bought both of them a beer. I got back to my room, packed my bags to head out tomorrow. Something made me a little sad that I was leaving this place so soon. It was so friendly, there was a stunning swimmable river on the outskirts of town, there were Surma tribal people walking about, instantly recognizable by their dark skin, big piercings in their lips and ears. I collapsed again in a heap, slept sound this time a full 8 hours, I needed it.

Up the next morning, Ethiopian Christmas day. I packed up and headed out to the street, had heard that rides would be very tough to come by today, headed south to the very sparsely populated areas toward Kibish and very much Surma tribal land. I had also heard that the police had a camp on the other side of the river and often didn't allow foreigners past that camp. I figured Christmas day would be a good day to try to break past these defenses, if I could somehow find a ride. I sat on a little corner with my bags, reading in my book about the fascinating history of Ethiopia, pretty amazing that they were never really colonized or fell to the mighty advance of Islam. It was a combination of fighting spirit, lack of many desirable resources, often rugged terrain and dumb luck. They believe divine intervention helped too.

It was pretty quiet as many people were probably home with their families. A few young boys came up and sat next to me, then a couple of drunk guys who clearly had been out all night drinking to bring in Christmas. No sign of a driver or even any cars, it is 8AM. I grabbed a tasty milk coffee, found a huge $2 breakfast of enjera, eggs, beans, bread. I don't know why but I have been really thinking about Somaliland today. I had let go of the idea of going there a few weeks ago but somehow the lure and the thought of it is coming back. The thought of dipping my feet in the sea and a culture that only a few travelers have seen is very very interesting. I probably should let the idea go. I am sure a very long way from there and only have about 2 weeks of my trip left.

The people next to me were pretty casual and noncommittal about whether there would be a ride today. I stuck out my thumb and started asking a few passing vehicles if they were headed my way. None were. I was sitting with a nice group of guys, One guy was very drunk and I had to do drunk guy management, an art in itself. His message to me "don't talk to the other people, they are wasting your time, I speak some English, it is Christmas, we should go drink more beers all day together". After he told me he had already had 6 beers, I thought that was a pretty bad idea 😊. Just as his "drink with me" advances started getting a little too forceful, a truck came along going my direction. I had no idea when we were leaving or where we were going exactly, I hopped in the front of the cab and hid from the drunk guy.

After sitting there for about 2 hours, the driver came back and was ready to go, even though it seemed he had had a couple beers himself. It was 11AM, he told me to duck down when we got to the other side of the river so the police didn't see me entering into tribal lands. We crossed the river, passed the police outpost without seeing anyone, stopped another mile of so near a little settlement. I had somehow selfishly assumed that my driver was just a merchant who would give me a ride down to where I was going, the village of Kibish I hoped.
We rounded a bend and about 40 Surma tribal people jumped in the back of the truck, all standing.

My Ethiopian driver let me know that he thought they were a little crazy, turns out he took groups of them south whenever he went there. They didn't pay a lot but the way he packed them in, he made some money. I thought they looked fun. I hopped up in the back, suddenly was in the middle of a group of very scary looking tribal people. I bumped shoulders with the elder, they all came around me, touching my head, embracing me with big hugs. I rode back there for a couple hours. They were just delightful, they touched my face, seemed to just want to see how I was constructed. I got the sense they hadn't seen many travelers. I resisted the urge to take photos of them, it just didn't seem right and they were very shy.

To my dismay, I learned that this truck wasn't going to Kibish, only as far as a tiny remote settlement called Koka. I learned that it would be exceedingly difficult to make it to Kibish and even if I got there, almost impossible to get a ride back during this holiday season. I had to make some quick decisions. I was going to be dropped in the middle of nowhere, far from the village of Kibish (where I had hoped to get my bearings). I had made a decent connection with the tribal people but had no one to help me at all with the language and no direct invitation to their village.

I was hoping I could talk some of them into walking the last 7km to Kibish with me. When we touched down in the little settlement of Koka, they waved goodbye to me and quickly scattered into the bush. I made a really really difficult decision to get back on the truck and go back to Dima. So, that's my sign, that's as far as I am going. I have spent time with some Surma people, seen them in town, and will see them perhaps swimming in the river back in Dima. I could try again tomorrow to get farther to Kibish but at this moment I knew that I wouldn't. Suddenly, the crazy idea of Somaliland flashed into my brain again. Why was this happening? I hopped back in the truck and rode back to Dima, guards with machine guns were on the back of the truck both directions with me.

It is amazing how fast plans can change but I felt very clear that I made the right decision. If I had committed to going back or going in, the time in Kibish, transportation issues and just sheer distance would have eaten up most of the rest of my trip. As it was, I was a long way from anywhere. We took the bumpy 3 hour ride back, rolled across the river back into my sweet little town of Dima, the motel owner gave me my $4 room exactly as I left it. I gathered up the things I had brought for the tribal people, took it on the other side of the river to the Surma camp on the outskirts of Dima.

I did run into a policeman, he forcefully stopped me as he thought I was just coming to take photos of the tribe. I convinced him I just had things for the tribe, asked if I could go see them. he told me he would take the bag of things to them, I didn't trust that he would give them the things without skimming the good things. I asked him repeatedly to see a tribal elder, one finally came out, the policeman relented. I gave my big bag of food, supplies, batteries, fishhooks and other things to the elder, he smiled huge and gave me a hug. I felt a weight lifted, I wanted to make sure there got to them and now they had. I walked back to the river, had a cool soak in the flowing water, jungle and big rocks all around. There were little fish nipping at my feet. I lathered up with a soap bar I had brought and it felt great.

I walked back up into town, ready for my next adventure. As it was Christmas evening, everyone was out again in town. It seemed they had been with their families earlier in the day and were now ready to celebrate. All kinds of people were calling me over to their little table in town to join them for eat and drink. I walked up and a nice guy beckoned me over, the owner of a local pub/butcher shop. He and his friends turned out to be originally from the north of Ethiopia, where I had been in the Tigray region. They loved that I had traveled in their part of the country, insisted I sit down for a couple beers with them and delicious meat they cooked on a little grill at the table. It was served with berbere spicy chili sauce and enjera, tasty.

I finally pulled myself away, had another beer at a little place in town, shot some pool with some local guys. I LOVE the west and far southwest of Ethiopia. Everyone is so friendly, I felt like it was my own little secret. Of all the foreigners in the world, I'm the only one here. It's weird, maybe my misadventure and changing plans for tribal land were a blessing is disguise today. I'm just having the best time interacting with normal Ethiopians who don't seem tourist focused. I now feel like I have found a few truly special little towns. I felt energized, with still plenty of time in my trip to do a variety of things.

I went back to my room, met a very smart guy named George from Juba, South Sudan. His English was excellent, he explained much about South Sudan to me, how missionaries came there years ago, brought Christianity and a sense of empowerment to tribal regions, who were being threatened by the invading armies of Khartoum. He was here in this area to check on the status of a refugee camp, seemed to be working in some governmental role. He said that the Chinese have been a good business partner to South Sudan. I learned so much about his country over a beer, fascinating. He says that the Chinese have remained loyal, and that the US is loyal to whoever lets them have control over the oil. I was feeling inside that the Chinese do the same thing but let that argument go. Okay, back to Mizan Teferi tomorrow. Time to sleep. I had a bit more veggies and enjera and headed to bed, up early in the morning.

Up early, had the last of my energy bars. Once again, I walked out to the main drag of Dima ungodly early, bag packed and ready to go, hoping for a private ride that would get me back to Mizan Teferi in reasonable time. It was 6AM, moon going down, still darkish. The sun was just starting to rise above the hills to the east. There was certainly again a lot of drinking last night, they seem to like their drink in this country. Early morning hours and seeing a small town wake up is always so interesting. A few late night revelers just stumbled by and a runner out for his morning training. It was funny to juxtapose the two.

Interesting, the only shops open are the butchers, I really, really need a coffee. One bakery just opened, I got a yummy 10 cent roll of bread that would have been excellent with once again, a coffee. One shop keeper just turned on some early morning music, competing with the cacophony of roosters crowing and donkeys braying. There is a little fire burning in front of a shop down the street, I must go investigate as it might mean coffee. Sunlight is flooding the village now. I can write better. people are starting to mill about, awake from their post Christmas holiday slumber. People are giggling at me, perched on a little stool on a corner of town writing in my journal with my big pack on the ground.

So, this is real Ethiopia, the people of Dima have been great. A little cafe opened, got some enjera, ful (tasty pureed beans with spices and jalapenos). They also had coffee, thankfully. It was strong, very strong and good. At breaky, I met a man who was walking over to the bus station. He said I could get one this morning, I went with him, hopped on. Let's just say I got on the bus at 8, it left at 10. The bus was long and slow, climbing the long hills back up to the plateau. This made 4 days of intense bus rides in a row, all on pretty tough roads. I felt battle hardened, it took almost all day to get back to Mizan Teferi, we rolled in around 4PM. After being in Dima and Koka, this truly felt like the big city. Unless I could connect to a quick minibus, I was just going to stay here.

Finally, we pulled into the bus station, the one I had left just days ago but it seemed so long ago. I stumbled past the hawkers and touts at the station, impervious to their advances. I went back to the internet place, which was working this time. I got a room for $25 in the nicest hotel in town. It was called Hotel Salayish and was very, very nice. Tile floors, hot shower, spotless room. soft sheets, nice mattress, views over town, lovely dining room with people nicely dressed in the courtyard. It was heaven and Mizan Teferi was pleasantly cool. I settled in, loving this place. I tossed down my things, counted my money. I realized that I had way more money than I had planned at this time of the trip, things had just been dirt cheap. That created options, maybe even options for things that I didn't think were possible on my month budget.

After a hot shower, I stepped out to the internet place again. Did I really just do what I think I did? It is the 8th. I bought a roundtrip ticket to Hargeisa, Somaliland for Jan 13th, 5 days from now. I can't tell anyone back home because no one understands that Somaliland is different from Somalia. I only discovered that on some obscure traveler's blog about 6 months ago. I had been waffling about going, excited, a little scared, thinking I might not have the time or money. Now, I had done it, committed to it. I guess in theory I could change my ticket but I have taken a big step.

I have 4 days to get back to Addis Ababa, sadly I may have to forget about Lalibela this trip. I will probably work my way through coffee country, Bonga, Jimma and back to Addis. Somaliland awaits: the sea, a mysterious culture, prehistoric cave paintings, apparently very welcoming, excited to say the least. I walked back to my room, feeling elated at what I had just done, sad that I couldn't share my enthusiasm with anyone back home until I was there.
I had a big plate of spiced lamb and veggies and two ice cold beers on the classy patio, $3. For now, ideas, plans, excitement and frankly just a touch of fear was swirling in my head. I went back to my room, untempted by the sound of music and dancing at a pub down below. I sunk into my soft sheets and nodded quickly off to sleep about 10PM.

Got to the bus station after a good sleep at about 5:30AM. Of course the bus left about 7:15AM. I did, however get a reserved seat, It was a smaller and I think "first" class bus, didn't fill up too full. There was a really really nice university student next to me, goes to school in Jimma, had come back to Mizan Teferi for Christmas. The road we were on was hard packed but not paved. To me it felt like paradise, I was told that after we hit Bonga the road was paved. I had chosen a bus that was a straight through to the sizable town of Jimma. There was a bit of a scuffle between two guys on my bus about a seat. Human nature, I guess.

It is always a fun time when you are riding on a bus and you stumble off with your bus mates for a bite to eat, a coffee or even a pee break. We stopped in Bonga, which is the area that coffee was first discovered in the world, the legend of Kaldi the goat herder. I wandered over to a little local place, a nice man bought me breakfast and some coffee, they put a tasty herb in their coffee and chew on it while drinking. It has medicinal qualities and tastes fresh, minty.

After Bonga, the bus flew along a nicely paved road. I was thinking I would stay in Jimma but for once our progress made me consider other options. At the bus station, I transitioned right over to a minibus headed direct to Addis Ababa. I would get there late but I would get there. The way my brain was working, maybe I had time to catch a quick few days in Lalibela before the Somaliland trip. Wow, things were opening up.

Craziness, after way too many stops, we rolled into dicey bus station in North Addis Ababa about 8:30 PM. My sweet older woman fellow passenger was a little worried about me in the big city and insisted in coming in a cab with me over to the area I hoped to find a room, near the airport, area called Bole. This was a city of 3 million that I didn't know. I appreciated her concern and offered to pay her cab fare wherever she was going after she dropped me off. It was hard to find the place I wanted to stay, I called ahead on her cel and they had a room for me. Finally found Biruk B & B down a little lane in nice neighborhood close to a few of the embassies. I was welcomed with open arms into a lovely room, about $30/night.

This was a very good deal for the big city and a great location for restaurants and airport access. Washed up, had a tasty meal, a bit more refined food. I chatted with a Danish legume researcher and his wife, who were here to research the viability of a project. I used wifi in my room far too late, got about 4 hours sleep before an early wakeup, brisk walk with my bag out to the main road and quick cab ride over to Bole airport.

The flight schedule seemed to be pretty busy with lots of people traveling for the holidays. I was very lucky, waited around for a couple hours on standby and then at the last minute was granted a standby ticket to Bahir Dar and then into Lalibela. My dream, was coming true, I would get to go there and Somaliland. I was ecstatic. I ran back to the ticket counter to buy my ticket, there was a line of about 10 people and only one attendant. I was beyond frustrated. I had been granted a ticket, the plane was leaving very soon and I was late.

I finally got to the front of the line, no one would let me jump as they were all trying to make quick flights too. I got the ticket, sprinted through customs, through security, everything was taking longer than it should. I ran down the corridor, got to the gate just as they had closed it. I asked, "can you open it, call the captain, to delay for just a minute? I could see the plane taxiing away, I didn't understand why they had sold me this ticket and not held the plane. I felt deflated, frustrated as I watched the plane take off, I slumped down in a chair.

After a little self pity party, I went back to the counter, asked them what they could do for me. There were no other flights to Lalibela. I asked about Somaliland, There was one leaving in a couple hours and they agreed to waive my change fee based on what had just happened. No way, I was excited again. I was going to Somaliland in two hours, amazing! I was almost shaking, how everything had worked out. I met a really famous Ethiopian soccer player in the airport who had played on the world cup team. Met a super nice British guy who just arrived to Ethiopia and like me 2 1/2 weeks earlier, was hopping a domestic flight to the north. We had coffee and a nice chat, I was excited for him and could feel what he was feeling. So, that was it. I was at the gate, getting on the flight for sure this time. It was Saturday night, I would be walking the streets of Somaliland later tonight. Intense and amazing developments.








































































































































































































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16th July 2018

Man you must have buttocks of steel, with all them hours on buses. I'm keen myself to get to Gambela and the west one day or pretty much anywhere in Ethiopia. I like what you said about Tepi; it's always good to have a good time in a place where the 'guide' book says to expect nothing special. Good practical information in your blog.
16th July 2018

Good man!
Yeah, it's cool a great wild place out there, hardly a touristy. Gambela is a good place to hang, enjoy river life and Sudanese culture for a few days, really hot there though. It's interesting how lush it gets when you clear tepi and head on the long road to Mizan Teferi. Hitchhiking and walking are totally feasible. I feel like I just scratched the surface in this area. Enjoy!

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