5am starts each morning aren’t usually my idea of a fun long weekend, but this weekend I’ve been trying out the Ethiopian local bus services.
Mekelle – Abi Adi
Slightly overestimated how long it would take to walk down to Mekelle bus station, so arrived just before its 5:30am opening time. Managed to get the first bus (actually a line taxi) out to Abi Adi, so things were off to a good 6am start, although we didn’t really get out of the town until we’d stopped for bottles of water, pumping the tyres up, getting petrol, collecting a passenger from their house and picking up lengths of hose. About halfway we stopped and I had my breakfast bought for me by one of the other passengers.
Abi Adi – Adwa
Andy and I arrived at Abi Adi bus station just in time to spend 3 hours sat on the bus before setting off. Well, we thought we were leaving at about 6:30, but turned out just to be short tour around town to try and drum up some more customers, before returning to the bus station to sit and wait until the bus filled up. None of the buses here will set off until every seat is full – resulting in some long waits on stationary buses. Although, on the plus side, apparently Ethiopia is one of only 2 African countries outlawing standing up on buses.
After a few more tours of town we got underway at 9:30, passing the college where Andy lives. Four hours after leaving his house we were back to where we started.
Had our only puncture of the weekend on this route, it was one of the double back tyres and I’m fairly sure all that happened was the 2 tyres were swapped over. As we were in a town a small crowd gathered to watch, though more interested in the 2 ferenjis than having the tyre fixed!
Adwa – Axum
A much more respectable start time for this journey. Adwa and Axum are an hour apart, so there’s a regular bus service through the day and had my only lie of the weekend (until 8am!!). We still managed to spend more time sat on the bus at the station than the actual length of the journey.
Axum – Mekelle
Longest journey of the weekend – 8 hours on the back seat on untarmaced road isn’t great fun. Even with little sleep the previous night and bit of a hangover, you’d be lucky to get any more than a few minutes sleep before the bus hit another pothole or swerves/breaks to avoid goats/donkeys/people.
Arrived at the bus station shortly before it opened and the only station we’ve seen the police searching people. Axum is quite near the Eritrean border, so they’re more security-conscious here. We can’t have fitted their ‘terrorist profile’, as we got straight through with no search.
Relatively uneventful journey until Abi Adi, we had stopped for short breaks in a few small towns, when children attempt to sell an unusual selection of snacks. The items on offer were roasted barley (nothing too strange about that), lemons and eggs (raw). The lemons sellers didn’t appear to be doing great business, but I managed to refrain from suggesting they might have better results selling less acidic fruit.
The bus dropped Andy off outside his college, then our ’10 minute’ break in Abi Adi bus station lasted over an hour, presumably to give the priests plenty of time to collect donations. Only a few km outside Abi Adi we stopped again for another hour or so, whilst we attempted to help another which had come off the road. It had only just come of the road and apparently no-one was hurt, but was stuck in the sand/dirt and couldn’t reverse back out. The plan appeared to be to just pull the bus back onto the road using ropes tied to the roof rack. Although a couple of policemen were there, the bus-rescue was quite hap-hazard. After a few attempts at hauling the bus, our bus passengers gave up and we were back on our way back to Mekelle.
On passing the cement factory on the edge of town the conductor started to collect all the tickets back in. I was sat at the back and watched as every passenger handed their tickets back, so I did likewise, only for the conductor to then rip them all up, open the window next to me and throw the confetti out. Next time I’ll hang onto my ticket.
In-between the bus trips we managed to squeeze in a few meals and drinks out with other volunteers. In Axum we saw a few of the tourist sites, the church where the arc of the covenant is allegedly held and the stelae fields – but will save all that for another posting 😉