Monday, 23 July 2007

The trip to Addis

It was another two days of travelling before we were to hit the big smoke of Addis Ababa, requiring two more pre-dawn wake ups to catch buses. I don't mind waking up at 6, or even 5.30, but I do find 4.30 hard going - and it's even harder when the electric light, which worked the night before, doesn't work in the morning. Fluffing around, half asleep, in pitch dark looking for a torch is not the best way to start a long day, however, this is what happened the morning in Moyale. In our favour though, the road was a gem, beautiful smooth tarmac and not a speck of dust, for the 12 hour trip to Awassa, our overnight stop.
The Rift Valley is green and lush, intensively farmed, with frequent small road side stalls selling all manner of fruits and vegetables. Meat is available everywhere - beef or goat usually. Compared to the North Kenyan badlands and popular misconceptions of a famine-ravaged country, it's hard to believe our eyes. Our lunchtime stop hits home the reality of being farangi (we're no long mzungu) when the restaurant attempts to charge us 50 bir for soft drinks, bread and mince stew. We express outrage and incredulity, and say we will pay 30. Our waiter looks out for an argument, but the owner knows better and happily takes what's offered. This scene is to be replayed over and over, and is difficult to pre-empt in the countryside where menus are scarce.
We go for a walk and buy fruit for later, and then it's back on the bus for the last few hours. Awassa is written up as a lovely lakeside town, and although we don't see the lake which is a few km from the bus depot, the town does seem nice. So does the Paradise Hotel - quite a pricey place by local standards, but the only hotel near the bus that's not full. We like it. It's quiet, clean, our bathroom is tiled and roomy and has hot water, which we soon take advantage of, though today's travel has been nothing like as taxing as the Kenya legs. The Paradise also serves fantastic salads and vegetables for dinner - it feels like ages since we ate anything but meat and bread.
Our bus conductor had told us to be back at the bus at 11 (Ethiopia time), sadly this translated as 5am, and we waited in the queue outside the locked bus station gates with all the other similarly-informed travellers. When we got to our bus, I couldn't believe that it hadn't been cleaned. It was like a rainforest of discarded chat leaves, stalks, and corn cobs, together with all the usual plastic bags and bottles. I found a broom and swept it all out of the bus myself, to the bemusement of our fellow passengers. Some bloke piled it all up on a piece of plastic and took it away somewhere...
There was a breakfast stop after a couple of hours, and we headed to a clean looking cafe, keen for coffee to go with our biscuits and oranges. As it happened our arrival coincided with a power cut, so no espresso, but we were sold an avocado juice instead. It was interesting - would probably work better on a hot day than a cold morning. Shame about the coffee though - Ethiopians take it very seriously and even the simplest and most rural cafes have a fancy Italian machine and a dedicated barista.
The countryside continued green and bucolic, and astonishingly we saw one of the largest hot house structures we have ever seen. It went for hectares, and was just being completed. At the time we weren't sure what it was, but having since seen them north of Addis also, and read an article in the paper about Ethiopia's burgeoning flower export industry, think that this is what the investment is all about.
The traffic on the outskirts of Addis was shocking and it took about 90 minutes to get through it to the bus depot. We're finally here; it took us almost exactly six days to cover the distance from Nairobi, but it's a bit of overland travel not easily or usually undertaken, so we feel a sense of accomplishment - to be celebrated by a good Italian lunch at Orscopi's, round the corner from the pretty average Wutma Hotel.

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