42 – Town Hopping During Christmas 2002

Thu 7th Jan, “Hotel”, Woldia
At the time of writing, I am in the small town of Woldia, along the Mekele-Addis Road, at the junction towards Lalibela. The room is 20 birr, cheapest i’ve seen so far.
Today is Christmas 2002, or Leddet in Ethiopia, based on their calendar. The plan was to travel from Mekele to Woldia. However, the said public holiday made things difficult. First, let me explain the way the public transport system works. Buses leave before dawn, often when the bus station opens at 5 or 5.30am. There is normally only 1 maybe 2 buses daily to one destination. Then you have the minivans, which are more comfortable than the buses. These cost slightly more, depending on whether you rent the entire minivan (contract minivans) or get a seat in a van bound for your destination (shared minivans). The latter is much cheaper and will leave only when full.
So as the tale begins on this particular public holiday, you have two tourists waking up late, making their way to the bus station at 10am, only to realise that there are no minibuses to Woldia. This was mainly due to lack of demand, since the minivans wait till they are full, yet no one travels on a public holiday. In the end, the two tourists met an Australian volunteer worker who was going halfway down to Maychew (pronounced Mai-Cho). This was a good option (35 birr) though we got charged 40 birr. The van charged a variable rate and since “it was a public holiday” plus there is demand (6 faranjis in the bus in total), all the passengers were charged 40 birr. Those who were unwilling to fork out the extra 5 birr simply got off, like one local who had waited for an hour for the van to fill.
It was a scenic paved road through the mountains this time, and the journey took 2.5 hours. Reached Maychew and stopped for cheap lunch (13 birr) at a local hotel. Again there were no more buses anywhere, so it seemed that the two stranded tourists would have to spend a night in Maychew. But after some persistent hanging around at the bus station (“yeah maybe there will be a bus, or maybe there won’t”), the two stranded tourists picked up a minivan bound for Alamata, another small town south of Maychew (16 birr, 1+ hr). This journey wound up and down over a couple of mountains before reaching Alamata.
From Alamata, it happened that at the moment of entering the bus station, there was a minivan leaving to Woldia (20 birr, 1.5 hr). This ride was interesting since it was on flat ground, along which there were numerous villages. The passenger turnover was very high, and not much consideration was given to maximum capacities of minivans. Luckily the two tourists sat up front with the driver, so they had a comfortable journey throughout.
So there the tale ends. There they were, despite there being no buses, on a public holiday, at their intended destination. Morale of the story. Wake up earlier at 4am so that you can catch the bus!

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