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!

41 – Grocery shopping in Mekele

Wed 6th Jan, Dallas Hotel, Mekele
Yes, that’s the most interesting thing that happened today. Grocery shopping. Walking around the Mekele streets, and soaking in the relaxed atmostphere was a real treat. Walked around the market (check out the pic of the salt bars from the nearby Danakil Depression, an inhospitable area up to 120m below sea level and averaging 50 degrees celsius!) and found a small supermarket selling cheap stuff. Stocked up on 5 packs of instant noodles, eggs, 3 packs of biscuits, orange flavoured bread, sugar mini doughnuts, dental floss, peanuts. All for less than SGD10.. That’s how cheap things are over here.
Also tried in vain to look for an electric kettle (these are SO useful) and an FM receiver (yesterday’s bus driver tuned to Ethiopian radio channel for a brief moment and it played English music (Boyz II Men) which made me realise how much i missed the radio).
Tomorrow it’s back to bus rides to small towns again. We head to Woldia, which lies south of Mekele and leads to the final destination, Lalibela’s rock churches.
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40 – From Aksum to Mekele, Crushed Underneath My Backpack

Tue 5th Jan, Dallas Hotel, Mekele
Traveling by bus can be tiring. Traveling by bus from one 2100m town to another 2100m high town over 6 hours with your 60 litre Osprey luggage on your lap restricting your movement can be very tiring. Thank goodness the road was paved.
Reached Mekele at 12pm (why oh why do Ethiopian long distance buses set off at 6am and earlier?) and found a hotel near the bus station. Mekele is a larger town in the northeastern Tigray region (the girls here are prettier!) with nothing much to see, but it is a pleasant place to wander about. Slower pace for me than Gonder’s castles, the Simien Mountains’ baboons and Aksum’s tombs and stelae. I can finally relax and type decent entries here too. The last few days deserved much lengthier accounts and i feel guilty about slipshod work. So attached below will be backdated photos from Kassala back in Sudan (day 33), and Aksum (day 39).
We could leave the day after to Lalibela and still catch Leddet festival on the 6th and 7th but after some thought decided against it. The Norwegian girl we met in Aksum is flying to Lalibela and needed to reserve hotel rooms at 3 times the normal price. We need 2 more days by bus and will arrive at the tail end of the festival, with possibly no vacancies or exorbitant prices. Hence the decision was to stay two nights in Mekele and chill. I think we must be the only tourists in Ethiopia trying to avoid the festival on the 6th in Lalibela.
The Dallas Hotel was near the bus station. Rooms with shared bathrooms are 30 birr but there’s no running water (no i don’t get it either) or power sockets. I stayed in a room with bathroom (60 birr) that comes with a power outlet. Dinner was tibs, strips of meat with berbere sauce together with what tastes like wasabe. It was pretty good, especially since i got bread instead of injeera. But i really miss Sudanese food. And chicken rice. =/
Ok. The following pics are of me back in Day 33 scampering atop Toteel Mountain, and hanging out with the Kassala street vendor. Oh and the barber that shaved it all off…
The next set are yesterday’s photos Day 39 with shots of Aksumite ruins, stelae and my bread/tomato/yoghurt/egg dish.
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