50 – Back to “Pit-stop” Dessie

Fri 15th  Jan, Some Amharic-named Hotel, Dessie

I remembered why i really hated the journey from Dessie to Addis. This time round, going the other direction, i experienced the horrible roads again. The early morning bus terminal crowd and us not having tickets meant we paid 130 birr each for tickets. Which is the same amount from Lalibela to Dessie to Addis! Since there was no other choice (remember the tickets were “sold out” yesterday), we had to go along with the extortionate price.

Reached Dessie after like 12 hours, the bus driver was pretty reckless, rounding the narrow corners and overtaking needlessly. We got a place near the bus station, 70 birr for a double bedroom. Had a quick dinner, I have already wandered around the town and there isn’t anything of interest. Tomorrow we head towards Samera, in the Afar region, close to the Djibouti border to the east.

46 – Helloooo everyone, yeah i feel fine! (That and i am high on qat)

Mon 11th Jan, Itegue Taitu Hotel, Addis Ababa
It was another long journey. At 5am, a few hundred people were freezing in the cold (phooooo, see the cold air i can blow out of my mouth!) waiting for the bus station gates to open. If there was a stampede i wasn’t sure i’d survive.
By this second day, i had made contact with the passengers still in the bus, heading to Addis. I’m the asian faranji in the back corner of the bus, who’s not from China as the thought. The Ethiopians have their own mannerisms (like those Egyptians who have their hisses, and the Sudanese who have their tsktsks).. The Ethiopians exaggerate to show they are surprised, like sucking in your breath with your eyes and mouth open, making only a mild almost silent sound. I’ve seen this many times now.
Along the way, i was offered qat by the bus conductor, who had a whole bagload. I took a few stalks and started munching, providing a spectacle for the rest of the passengers in the rear. They were amused this faranji was munching his qat. The way to chew the qat is to take in some leaves, put it at the rear of the teeth and coat it with saliva, chewing and sucking on the bitter leaves. Now, as i mentioned some posts back, qat (or chat) is a mildly intoxicating stimulant. Its banned in neighbouring Eritrea, and is exported to Djibouti and Somalia. I began munching on my leaves. When the bus conductor started going on about how “I feel free! Free!” then i realised maybe it’s not such a good idea. The other passengers told me through hand actions, pointing at the head and then at the stomach to not eat anymore. I stopped at 2 stalks, and i think i went to sleep.
On reaching Addis, i got off and made my way to the Piazza area, where i hope the hotels were concentrated. The LP maps had hotels sprawed all over the place and i wasn’t sure where the best place to base myself was. I had decided on Piazza simply because it was within walking distance. However this entails passing through the Merkata, Addis’ large market, the largest in Ethiopia. Plenty of pickpockets, confidence men and the like abound in the area. I would explore the market later, but not now with my large backpack. Arming myself with a samosa (its the same like ours, but without curry and with beans as filling) from a street vendor, i tried to look as though i knew where i was going. Taking bites out of my samosa, i nonchanlantly asked for directions here and there. It was 5pm and i better find a place to stay before dark.
Reached the Piazza area, which i realised is near the city centre. All the better, a centralised location to base myself. Trailed by a guy who won’t leave me alone (i just want to be your friend, i want to improve my english..), i asked around 3 hotels before settling on the 1st, the other two were full. Singles with bathrooms went up to 200birr in the Taitu hotel’s newer main building. I picked a skanky room with common toilet (i got my own shower though, but no hot water) in the older rear building for 94 birr. Rooms in Addis were (relatively) expensive, i could get better rooms back in the northern region. But this place is comfortable enough, with my prerequisite, a power point, so i am happy. And for the first time in two weeks, i have showered and am clean. Don’t get me wrong, i do shower and stuff over the last couple weeks, it’s just that as soon as i step out of my room, i get covered in dust again.
Tomorrow will be visa hunting day again. I hope it will not be like in khartoum, where i spent days waiting for my visa application, only for it not to be approved. In the meantime, i will spend the rest of the night in the loo. I realise what the lady in the bus meant when she pointed at the qat i ate and then at her stomach. I didn’t know it was a laxative too!

45 – Pit stop, Dessie

Sun 10th Jan, Royal Pension, Dessie
I woke up at 4am in the morning and made the challenging 20 minute walk across town in the dark towards the bus station. There was some big hoohah at the station, delaying set-off by an hour more (normally its only 1 hr delay, this time its 2 hrs). Apparently there were too many people wanting to take the two buses out of Lalibela bound for Addis. Priority was to be given to those going to Addis, or maybe Dessie, or Woldia. For those going to nearer destinations, such as Gashena, the buses are unwilling to take them. (for the record, the route goes like this: Lalibela –> Gashena –> Woldia –> Dessie (overnight here) –> Addis Ababa).
What this means is that going to Bahir Dar, via Gashena (and changing buses here) may not be such a good idea after all. One option is to pay the Addis fare (130 birr, 2 days) and alighting at Gashena. I decided then to bypass Bahir Dar. There were a lot of shouting, pushing outside the bus, before the bus sped off.
The bus ride itself was long, uneventful and painfully slow (oh look, that’s the hundredth minivan/bus/4wd that just overtook us!) Staple snacks eaten by the locals were kolo (barley), sugar cane (the whole stalk cut into 30cm long bars) and a lemon (they smell them!)
Arrived at Dessie, your typical bigger town with its usual hassles. (i take down your bag from the top of the bus? 10 birr! Or. Hey mister, give me money, i am hungry!). The main drag is a slope and going up and down for dinner and to find a room was tiring. Got a place at the Royal Pension (50 birr), a simple room with less than stellar common showers (i’ll pass, i’m cleaner than the toilet, it needs to shower more than i do). The bloke tried to charge me 80 birr, but took my offer of 50 birr after i walked off. Tomorrow morning we continue on to Addis.