Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ethiopia: Road to the Bale Mountains

Got up this morning at 4:00. Groan. Ready for the taxi's arrival at 5:15. The night-time clerk at Ankober Guest House had arranged for it -- too high a price, but because past taxi drivers to bus stations had found the correct bus and managed my luggage, I was fairly OK with it.

However, the taxi driver just stopped in front of the bus station and waited while I took my luggage out of his back seat. Good thing his hand wasn't in the door when I slammed it shut.

Credit: Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCVs
Hoo, what a puzzle! Many, many buses! In the dark! I was looking for bus 2007 going to Dodola. "Dodola?" "Dodola?" "Dodola?" Glad I had my flashlight, so I could shine it on the bus numbers. Several times, a person would ask me where I was going, look at my ticket and attempt to help. One gentleman figured out that I should be asking for the bus to Adaba. (I later pulled out my guide book map and saw that Dodola
was en route to Adaba.)

Then another man told me that I needed to go wait in the cafeteria as my bus wasn't at the station yet. This required me to get past a guard, who really wasn't eager for me to get into the main terminal, but I persevered and found an office with two officials in it. From there, I believe 5 or 6 employees had my back in re: getting on the right bus. This was good news -- I knew I'd be OK. Unfortunately, I learned that my bus was "late." Well, actually, I learned that it normally wouldn't be at the station until 6:45.

Photo credit: Jacob Eliosoff

Uh, oh. This presented a bathroom problem. Given that it was only 5:30 or 5:45 at present, that was a long wait to just hold things before the bus even got underway. I knew the toilet situation would be bad ..... and it was worse. Plus, it was co-ed. But, you know, one of the employees took me there and solicitously identified the best stall of the lot.

Soon I was back in my little corner where I'd been instructed to stay. Eventually, a man came to me and said in typical perfunctory Ethiopian fashion, "Come!" I followed (as I so often do here) him to another corridor and another office, where he took my ticket and transacted some business mysterious to me. When he emerged, he had a pink ticket for me, with a new bus number. I saw immediately there was no seat number, which I knew would present a problem. The man led me (quack, quack as I followed behind) to a bus parking space, and told me the bus would come here. He asked the destination of another man who was already there. When that man said he was going to Adaba, my "handler" pretty much left me in his charge.

I kept an eye peeled for my new bus 8122, as I knew it might be a dog-eat-dog affair getting a good seat on the bus. Plus I had already seen clumps of people following "their" buses as the drivers sought out a parking berth. So I was alert and ready to move!

Aha! I did see 8122 roll in. I alerted my babysitter to this fact and then followed a couple of men who were also to be on the bus, as they were proactive in getting to 8122's slot (which differed, of course, from the one where we'd been waiting).

Someone hefted my bag up into the bus and then, seeing that other passengers were looking for seat  assignments, I headed for seat number 3, which had been my assignment on my original bus. Of course, someone else was already there -- not that they'd taken mine, but that my old ticket simply had no validity in the current bus reality. So some confusion reigned for a bit as I took one seat, another claimed it as his own, etc. But it worked out OK. Then I saw two other faranji board the bus, and they, too, experienced some seat confusion. The other bus passengers had a little fun at our expense, which was fine -- it was all good-natured.

I shared the last of my Altoids with my neighbors and one woman shared a little bread with me, and we were happy campers.

I will say, though, it was an uncomfortable ride. This seemed to be the case for just about everyone -- not  enough legroom, mainly. And though I was next to a window, it had been fixed so that it was impossible to open. Fortunately, the heat wasn't too bad, and only a couple of people vomited discreetly.

I slept for a fair bit of time.

We stopped for lunch in some small town. The toilet was something better not even discussed.

I bought an egg sandwich and sat with the other faranji, Tim and Caroline -- very nice young German couple who spoke English fluently. It turned out that they had also bought tickets yesterday for bus 2007 and their seats had been 1 and 2! And they'd been at the station since before 5:30, just like me. We had a laugh over that.

All three of us had the same destination, Bale Trekking, in Dodola.

They had stayed at the Taitu (in the Piazza area, as is the Ankober) and we talked about the crime issues plus my learning about that special tourism niche for some women who visit Ethiopia. Tim said, "Oh yeah," as it was already known to him, and Caroline added, "But we thought it was mostly in Kenya and Tanzania. That's where we saw it mostly. Women come to Africa. Men go to Asia." Then she said, thoughtfully, "But we saw a lot of couples checking into the Taitu Hotel - young men with older women." 

Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, I'm done with this subject (well, except for my backlog journal entry about the pirate Tilahun in Gonder), but it just goes to show how clueless I'd been. This information really should be in the guide books. Seriously.

OK, back on the bus!

I enjoyed the scenery. As we entered the Bale Mountain region, some sections were exactly like the photo from National Geographic that drew me to the Bale Mountains -- so cool to see it for real!

Photo credit: National Geographic

There's also something special, no matter where in the world you are, about riding in a bus with local music playing loudly on the bus speaker, as a soundtrack to the conversations of fellow passengers and the visual feast unfolding outside.

I especially enjoyed a song by Betty Tezera:

I saw single and double lines of young people, all dressed in their school's royal blue, walking up a  bridal-gown white, sandstone ravine.

The contrast in color was beautiful -- a living ribbon.

The woman in seat 3 (who'd shared bread with me, and I Altoids with her) turned to me after lunch and said, "I love you." This happens sometimes. Sometimes it is just genuinely friendly, like this was, and I respond in kind. Other times, it is a prelude to a request for money.

The scenery passed by, and I enjoyed it between dozing. It was a long trip.

Photo credit: Carole Rich
We arrived in Dodola about 3:00 p.m. A bunch of us got off. Tim, Caroline, and I proceeded immediately to the Bale Trek place, where Tim and Caroline decided to start today on their 5-day trek and I decided to leave tomorrow for my 3-day trek.

My main objective for the rest of the day was to enjoy a relaxing evening with a cold Ambo.

Hussein, the Bale Trek guy, got me to Bale Mountain Lodge, which surpassed my low expectations. I opted for the cold-shower room for 50 birr (about $3). My room opened onto a roofed porch with chairs. It
looked out to a private, shaded area. There is a pleasant cafe area, too, which I escaped to as soon as I dumped my stuff in the room and went to the bathroom. There, I had two coffees, not having had any yet
today because of the bus ride.

Hussein. Photo credit: Carole Rich
As arranged, Hussein came by with the guide who'll help me buy food for the trek and accompany me on same. We'll use a pack horse to carry my gear.

My plan is to walk the 6+ miles to the 1st camp tomorrow (Friday) night, spend the night there, then walk toward the second camp Saturday through some forest land as far as I want, then return to the 1st camp for the second night. On Sunday, I'll return to Dodola.

After that, I'll decide if I want to go to Sof Omar Cave.

Had a so-so dinner--a very plain spaghetti with tomato sauce. Bread was pretty good, though.

Retired to my room for a cold shower with nice water pressure. Captured the water that would have otherwise gone down the drain into the bucket that one uses to fill the toilet tank when you want to flush.

Did my usual hand-washing of underwear and hung it on the line I stretched out between two nails in the bathroom doorway.

1 comment:

Geoff Reed said...

So that's the magic photo - very awesome image. From what I seeing, the camera issue has yet to be resolved, so how are you taking these snaps? An image that I saw once had a similar effect on me. It was Edward Curtis's 1904 photo taken in Canyon de Chelly.

I've since been there a number of times. One of the best was when my daughter and I were on one of usual summer excursions, we rode on horseback into the canyon with an Indian guide. She was about 6 at the time. I have a very nice shot of the guide but I can't see how to post it here in the comments. I will email it.