"He wears a box all day long and is lucky to make fifty cents."
"We quickly realized we'd run the checkpoint and wondered if you can go to jail for that."
"We rode for hours with no idea what was going on outside."
"I'm not sure why we weren't tipped off by the fact that the guy was named Fish."
"The U.S. embassy in the Sudan capital of Khartoum had closed out of fears of terrorism."
The wiew from our Canadian wheat truck.
Canadian Wheat Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Wednesday November 12, 2003
What time do you leave Lalibela if you're headed for Bahir Dar? Right. The same time you leave every town in Ethiopia to go to any other town in Ethiopia. We got up at five to be at the bus station by six in the morning.
Bahir Dar is really more of a ten hour trip from Lalibela, but there's no direct bus. You have to change halfway and, of course, when you arrive at the junction town you've missed the six a.m. bus.
"A nice Indian couple having an early lunch." We took the bus two hours to the first junction town and hopped off. To call this a town may be a bit much. It was a couple of shops and a guesthouse / restaurant around a muddy courtyard. We settled into the shack in the muddy courtyard that passes for a restaurant to wait for the bus going our way. We met a nice Indian couple having an early lunch on their way to see Lalibela. The husband's spending four years as a professor at an Ethiopian university.
While waiting another bus came by going the wrong way. The local kids did what they do whenever a bus passes. They swarmed around it, wearing cardboard boxes slung around their necks with twine and containg candies, tissues and whatever else they think traveling Ethiopians will want. From inside the bus I'd always viewed these kids as a bit of an annoyance. Loud and excitable, they were another bothersome part of travel in Africa.
"He wanted to practice his English." But from our vantage point at the "restaurant," we saw what happens when the bus leaves. One kid maybe fourteen years old sauntered away, having made maybe one sale, and walked up to us. He wasn't trying to sell us tissue or lolipops. He wanted to practice his English. "I want to speak English the way you speak English," he said.
While reciting page and verse from his battered textbooks we got an idea of life as a "box boy." He buys his goods at the local market, puts them in his box, and makes
Matt relaxes in our Canadian wheat truck.
between half a birr and one birr on each item. Five to ten cents. If he sells five things to each bus he's lucky. And there are no more than five buses that pass per day. He wears a box all day long and is lucky to make fifty cents. I wanted to cry. [I need to re-enter a part here about this kid's notion about "coats" and "jackets"]
The bus was gonna be a problem. Not only would it most certainly be hermetically sealed and vomit-ridden, it didn't even go very far before stopping for the night. And it would be at least three hours before it arrived for us to get on.
"We negotiated our way into the wheat truck." Then a cargo truck arrived. We'd been told you can sometimes hitch a ride in the back of these things, even though it's illegal in Ethiopia. We negotiated our way into the wheat truck. After he finished his lunch of njera we crawled in the back and the driver took us about a hundred feet.
The "checkpoint" on the way out of town was really just a cop looking for a bribe. The driver stuck his head in the back and said the cop wanted something like fifty birr. We said hell no.
Kids completely freak as two whities ride by in a truck
That we'd get out before we paid more than we were already paying the driver. We got our money back and got out of the truck, pissed off, to wait for the bus.
"We ran down the road ahead of the truck." As we were walking back to the "restaurant" one of the kids who'd helped arrange the truck came running and yelling that we had to make for the truck again. Without really understanding what was going on we ran down the road ahead of the truck, led by two kids and struggling under our packs. We ran maybe two or three hundred yards, then waited a few seconds for the truck to pull up, were essentially thrown with our packs into the truck, and tore out of the town. We quickly realized we'd run the checkpoint and wondered if you can go to jail for that.
we were sitting on top of, of all things, a few tons of Canadian wheat... or so it said on the huge sacks. It was an interesting way to cross a good chunch of Ethiopia and far, far better than riding in the barf bus. The truck even carried us much farther than the bus would have, going all the way to a junction town just a couple of hours from Bahir Dar.
When it started raining the driver completely sealed the tarp covering the cargo so we couldn't see out. We rode for hours with no idea what was going on outside. Around sunset the driver stopped and opened the tarp. He wanted to show us something. The landscape had changed from mountains to rolling fields with the exception of a huge monolith soaring up out of the plains to the side of the road. The driver said, "Blah blah blah... Ethiopian history... Blah blah blah... we go." He really said the "Blah blah blah."
When we arrived after dark he even got out to point us toward a hotel then turned the truck around to retrace the mile or so he'd drive out of his way to drop us in town. Nice guy.
"Two of the most beautiful people we'd seen our entire trip." A mercifully short bus ride took us into Bahir Dar. Along the way we saw two of the most beautiful people we'd seen our entire trip... and they were villagers from some tiny place along the route. A brother and sister who alternately sat and stood toward the front of the bus. They looked enough alike that they simply had to be related.
Matt and I had agreed that the Ethiopians, while quite annnoying, tended to be signifigantly more attractive than any people we'd seen up to that point. Still, it's not often that you see amazingly attractive people in the hinterlands, but these two were the stunning exception. I seriously think a couple of headshots sent the right agent would've had them on the next plane to New York. But, as happens so often, they got off the bus in what seemed the middle of nowhere and began carrying their belongings down a dirt path leading to the horizon with no town or houses in sight.
Bahir Dar lies beside a lake whose name I can't remember, but it's the one that's the source of the Blue Nile. Dotted along the lake just off Bahir Dar are islands upon which are monasteries that are hundreds of years old... most dating from the 1400's. A guy named "Fish" told us he'd arrange for us a boat tour of the islands that would be way cheaper than the offical boats run by the government.
"We'd have to walk over a mile back into town." I'm not sure why we weren't tipped off by the fact that the guy was named "Fish," but while the boat tour was fine, he'd wind up stranding us after the tour and we'd have to walk over a mile back into town. Not such a big deal except that we'd dragged a British couple into the deal with us. Justin
A monk looks out the door of his monastery.
and Becky were overlanding in their Land Rover from Cairo to Cape Town. It was Becky's birthday.
The monasteries were interesting but not mind-blowing. There were vivid murals of biblical stories, many of them well-preserved originals. One monastery didn't allow women to enter the island. Becky and Justin waited on the boat while Matt and I went up the hill. Looking back I suppose this wasn't too nice of us to leave them sitting around but we didn't think at the time.
"The birthday cake miracle." I was quite sick as we had a nice dinner to celebrate Becky's birthday. Justin even worked the miracle of having a reasonably good birthday cake cooked up. The two had just come south through Sudan and we had plenty of questions about what was facing us as we headed north. Becky broke the worrying news that just a few days ago the U.S. embassy in the Sudan capital of Khartoum had closed out of fears of terrorism. But they said they'd had no real problems, only having to deal with the outrageous heat and huge distances. Sudan is the biggest country in Africa.
We were camping beside the lake at a reasonably nice hotel. That night I would sneak into the empty hotel room where we'd been allowed to use the shower. I was feeling so bad I couldn't bear spending the night in the tent.
We started preparing ourselves for one more grueling bus ride to Gonder, only a day from the Sudanese border.