Monday, January 24, 2011

Road to Gonder

Taxi picked me up around 4:45 at the guesthouse. Took me to Meskel Square where the Sky Buses are. Driver off-loaded my stuff, found the right bus for me & saw to it that my bag got loaded OK. Boys sold water and cookies. Hadn't eaten since around 4:00 p.m. yesterday- didn't know meal plan for today - bought two small packs of cookies (ghastly, btw).

It's about a 12-hour trip from Addis Ababa to Gonder.

Snippets along the way:

School children walking to school. In one town, students wore a blue shirt. In another, the girls wore a green top and green skirt while boys wore green shirts and green pants. Another town, maroon.

Saw children running alongside road; saw a couple of women running toward them. The women had anguished expressions on their faces. Then I saw the source - a man sitting up by the road, his face all bloody.

Cows - donkeys - goats - chickens - sheep dogs.

Wow! A modest version of the Grand Canyon! Beautiful.

Made a pit stop by the "Grand Canyon," which is actually the Nile Gorge.

All the men got off and then all we women saw were their backs. If you get my drift. All the women stayed on the bus. There was a wc on the bus, but it wasn't operational.

About the bus. SkyBus. Assigned seats. Bus leaves at designated time. Air conditioning. Tray tables and bottle holders. Seat belts. Hot tea or "milk" served along with a piece of cake for a continental breakfast. I was so happy I'd brought Nescafe instant coffee tubes + a one-cup container with lid. I asked the host for hot water and thus I enjoyed a not-bad-at-all cup of hot coffee!

After our breakfast, we each received a bottle of water and then a newspaper (in English). After the pit stop described above, the host started a movie. Produced by the Christian Relief and Development Association. In Amharic with English subtitles - very nice touch! A real tear-jerker about a stolen letter, the envelope lost, the contents from a dying sister to her brother.... man who took letter begins a quest for find this woman...

Ah, now we encounter a road blockage - a jack-knifed truck that we barely squeeze by.

After descending into the Nile Gorge and re-emerging on the other side, we presently came to a suspension bridge. We stopped and a soldier came on board to check IDs.

Another road blockage. Two trucks blocking road. A temporary impasse. The host got off the bus and attempted to guide us between the two trucks.

We seemed to be stuck, straddling a pile of rock debris. Men poured off a bus that was oncoming toward us, to investigate the situation, at the ready to offer consultation if asked.

Did I mention we were on the side of a mountain?

Eventually, all of the bus passengers disembarked. Enterprising locals appeared with papayas and mangoes for sale. I shared some of my Altoid wintergreen mints with the kiddos after asking an Ethiopian woman if she thought it'd be OK with their parents. [Note: Later in the trip, I wouldn't have done this, despite my innocent intentions of just sharing mints with others, which I was also consuming. It just sets up the next tourist for a begging experience.]

We stopped for lunch in some nondescript town; the host informed us we had 30 minutes to consume it. My primary interest was a bathroom. I followed two women from the bus across the street, thinking they might be honing in on the best bathroom in town. The cafe they choose didn't look promising, but I had set my course, and persevered.

I asked if I might join them. In very small English (and I was grateful for the tiny bit they had), they said this was a Muslim restaurant, and was I Muslim? I said no. The waitress asked if I spoke Arabic, and I said no. Then I added politely, "I can still eat here though, right? And where is the bathroom please?" The waitress pointed me to the back, where I walked out onto a porch then down cement steps, then into an enclosed backyard with a man, woman, child, and bleating goat. I swear that goat talked to me. Looked me in the eye and bleated at me. Anyway, I was shown the pit toilet and the woman very kindly gave me a teapot with water. Hopefully, I did with it what I was supposed to, which was to wash down the area around the cement hole after I'd finished my business. I emerged from the door-less, three-sided concrete stall, and all of us smiled at each other, and the goat wished me a good day while he escorted me to the stairs.

The two Muslim ladies generously shared their lunch with me. I was clearly at a loss as to what to order.

On we went.

The scenery reminded me of the old Flemish paintings. Beehive-shaped hay mounds. Farmers harvesting the hay by hand, crouched low to the ground using smallish scythes to cut it. Boys tapped cows with sticks to move them in uniform formation over hay spread on the ground - to do what, I don't know. Farmers using a rake to toss hay onto the mounds. Rocks placed at intervals to protect the mound from wind. Sometimes I saw children (and adults) tilling the earth between crop rows with centuries-old style hoes. [Note: I later learned this was not hay, but likely teff, the grain used to make injera.]

Women and girls, sometimes in groups and sometimes singly, carried loads of wood, grain or water on their backs. Barefoot usually. Donkeys carried bags - of what I don't know. But they seemed far lighter loads than those carried by women and girls.

As we passed the countryside, truly it was like observing oil paintings in motion. I could think this, but not without, in the same moment, recognizing the harshness of the farmers' lives. That they're not anonymous extras in a scenic movie.

We arrived in Gonder in good time. Within moments of stepping off the bus, a tuktuk driver approached me with a price, we agreed, the bus driver called out my name to retrieve my bag, the tuktuk driver grabbed it for me, and we chuck-chucked up the hill to my hotel.

It wasn't til later that I realized it was probably appropriate to tip the driver and host, but oh well, hopefully I will be forgiven.

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