I woke up at 0500 and quickly got ready. I was at the gates of the college by 0550 and the guard helped me flag down the bus at 06:05. I boarded and my convertible bag/backpack was fairly empty so I unzipped the "day pack" which is like a mini-backpack connected to the main one and kept that with me and then the rest of the pack in its bag form (shoulder-straps zipped away) fit in the overhead storage which saved it being outside which was good. It was 33 birr all the way to Bahir Dar (less than £2!) By the time we actually left Gilgel Beles it was 06:36! (I could've laid in and just walked a little further to get it!) The journey was slow and bumpy but I got to see the sunrise, and the mountains of the ridge we have to climb about 15km away from Gilgel Beles were really impressive at that time in the morning. The climb takes us from Manjura (the next small town on from Gilgel Beles) at 1400m to Chagni at 1700m. Some of the peaks in the ridge exceed 2000m.
At Chagni (a big town 35km from Gilgel Beles) we had a 20 minute breakfast stop, but other than a quick use of the Shintabet I stayed on the bus until 08:10 when it left. The air pressure in Chagni (following on from my entry last week) was 835mb (about 65mb less than Gilgel Beles as it is that much higher.) The drive to Kosober was very long. The highest point about 7km from Kosober is 2635m and the bus was climbing at around 14km/h near the end. This was the highest point of my journey and the pressure was 743mb (less than three quarters of the pressure at sea level!) I was also cramped into a small seat next to someone and couldn't stretch my legs – it was less leg room than a plane! My backside was killing me.
At 10:05 I was really glad to get to Kosober and when we departed at 10:20 I looked forward to being on the asphalt road to Bahir Dar – some of the bumps on the other road had literally lifted us out of our seats. It was smoother, but the bus kept stopping to drop off and pick up people. The cry "waredge" which you cry out to stop was heard a lot. At one town the bus stopped for about 30mins while the driver had lunch! At these various stops a number of sellers get on the bus and walked the aisle selling a variety of wares including bananas, oranges, gum, soft and some kind of cereal like wheat-toasted (you get it by the cup-full.) Also a blind beggar got on at one point – luckily he couldn't see I was white so I didn't get any hassle (cruel comment maybe, but I'm writing this after getting back from the "ferengi nightmare that is Bahir Dar!") Then we had a priest on, blessing people (for a fee of course – religion is for everyone – as long as you have money (see monastery visits later…))
We eventually pulled in to the Bahir Dar bus station at 13:45. My 200km (125 mile) trip had taken nearly 8hours. I was exhausted. I converted by bag to a backpack in the bus and set off quickly and directly out of the station to avoid hassle. About 10 metres from the entrance I ran into the Ethiopian whose house I had been to last time – all I needed. He's nice enough though and doesn't ask for money. First on my list was to get a few photos printed in the while-you-wait colour lab. These included photos of my nephew and niece at Christmas that dad had emailed me. Then to the restaurant with a terrace I had been to with the VSO guy I met last time in Bahir Dar. I had fish and veg. I told my Ethiopian friend I needed some time on my own and he did leave without a problem before I ate. Next it was about 500m to the Post Office to follow up a request delivered to my post office to visit the large packets counter here (only 8 hours away to collect your post – see previous entry.) I was fairly overwhelmed to find I had 10 parcels of various sizes. Now I had only lightly packed my backpack, but even after loosening the straps and expanding it, I only managed to fit seven of them in and it was getting a bit heavy. With full backpack and carrying three brown-paper packages tied up with sellotape, I walked the 1km journey to the Ghion hotel where I met another VSO (Caroline) from the Netherlands with her boyfriend who had been on a short Christmas break and were visiting Bahir Dar for a couple of days. We had a drink and arranged to meet for dinner. Next, yet another VSO (actually based in Bahir Dar – who I was going to stay with,) made contact and I walked the 500m from the hotel to her apartment (government owned for education workers.) Erzabet lives alone, but has a big lounge with a three-piece suit, kitchen (with small hot water boiler, fridge etc) clean bathroom with flushing toilet and hot shower! And three bedrooms!
A friend of hers, another VSO, was staying in one room, and I got the other. She gave me keys to the apartment so I could come and go, and then she took the two of us to a supermarket about 1km away. Wow – lots of ferengi tinned food, sweets, biscuits etc – I stocked up with 400 birrs-worth in two bags and then dumped it all in the apartment. Then it was a quick hot shower – luxury, and back out to the Ghion to meet up for dinner. I had a cheese omelette (a change as I haven't been able to get eggs for a while, and I haven't had cheese since Addis.) I walked back to the apartment, had a quick chat then had a fairly early night.
The night noises were different here – I think there was a pub or something next door. The noise from this was punctuated by cow moos, cockerels and what sounded like dogs fighting. There was a call to prayer at around 5am, but it was the Muslims and theirs only went on for a couple of minutes (Orthodox Christians take note!)
Saturday, 29th December 2007
The previous day I had arranged to go with Caroline and boyfriend on a boat trip on Lake Tana so I got ready quickly, said goodbye to the other VSO staying with Erzebet who was leaving today to return to her placement and walked to the Ghion. They have their own boats on a jetty right next to the hotel. The three of us and a couple of Germans were in the boat. First we went about 5km to a small island where we climbed up and (after paying the 30 birr entrance fee) had a look at the monastery which had a flat cone-shaped roof with an overhang, on top of a cube central area. The sides of the cube were painted with bible story pictures. We reckoned this was the tourist monastery and they actually use another one a bit further away!!! It was ok, but relative to other things, for 30 birr it was a bit steep. As Caroline said later, she is a Christian, why does she have to pay to visit what is effectively a Christian church.
Next, it was a short trip to the next island which was larger. Unfortunately woman are not allowed (something to do with stopping the monks getting frisky I think!) so Caroline had to remain on the boat. This one had a small museum with crowns, crosses on sticks, legends about a guy killing a large python on the island, bibles in Fidel (Amharic script) hand-written on goat skin pages and some other stuff. Then we went to another similar-to-the-first-one cone-shaped monastery. (Of course all this cost another 30 birr each but I guess we got a museum as well this time.) It had more bible story pictures painted on it.
Another 6km on we stopped at a peninsular and visited yet another monastery.This one was interesting as it had a mobile telephone mast right next to it. It also had loads of children trying to sell us model boats made of papyrus reeds and further up, huge stalls with jewellery and crosses and stuff. Oh and the monastery was cone shaped, had bible pictures on the walls and cost us 30 birr each to get in.
Overall it was a pretty good morning. It was nice getting out on the lake in a boat and visiting the islands, but it is very touristy and you wonder if all you are seeing are buildings put up and painted for tourists rather than any particularly historical or important sites. I'd much rather be kayaking in Irish loughs to little islands with real remains on them, like I did in 2005 & 6.
We had lunch together when we got back (after having an argument with the boat pilot about the cost we had been quoted and the money he was asking for now), I had a rather nice omelette-coated fish, then I went back to Erzabets and got my shopping list ready, checking off what I had already bought.
Then it was my late Christmas. I sat for almost an hour unwrapping and sorting out all the packages and parcels that I had picked up the day before. It was great!
Next I walked to the supermarket and got the rest of the things I needed. I also wanted a couple of household items, but wasn't up to the mental challenge of visiting the market and bargaining etc so I returned to the apartment.
I took a long while carefully packing food supplies and presents into my back-pack – it was like a 3D jigsaw. Then I had a long, relaxing, hot shower. Refreshed, I made an omelette and Erzabet shared some cheese, tomatoes and bread she had.
Then she interviewed me about my experiences in Ethiopia for her English students to listen to. She worked for the BBC World service in the past so she keeps up her recording, like I keep up my photography. We ate some mini-Christmas-cake slices mum had sent and some chocolate penguins and snowmen a friend had sent me, then Erzabet turned in and after doing a bit more sorting – photos etc, I went to bed and read.
Sunday, 30 December 2007
After having a good breakfast including the cheese which was great as there is no cheese in much of Ethiopia, I crammed the last things into my backpack, and with a carrier-bag for the last few things set off for the bus station. This was the bit I was dreading after last time. I estimate the backpack probably weighed around 25kg and it was hard-going walking and not tipping backwards! Someone followed me to the station but I pretended to be French. He spoke a few words, but I spoke a lot more so he bought it and anytime he spoke in English I just gave him "je ne comprend pas!" Then I was"rescued" by my Ethiopian friend (he must spend his life by the bus station) and headed straight for a mini-bus. It took a long time leaving but once it did at around 1015, we were full and basically headed straight for Kosober – much quicker than a bus. It was much quieter at Kosober on a Sunday and an Ethiopian carried my bag to a bus to Chagni. I gave him three birr, which he seemed happy with and sat on the bus for a while waiting for it to go. At one point I saw what looked like a mini-tornado. It formed a dust funnel and sucked up paper, but it only lasted a matter of seconds before reforming a bit further on. After about a minute it was gone. It was probably a dust devil. In the bus, I was at the front on a flat padded area over the gearbox and I was squashed next to a policeman (with his large gun) without a backrest or anything to hang on to. Not good on a bumpy road. As it was mostly downhill all the way, time wasn't too bad, but it was very uncomfortable. As we arrived in Chagni, another bus was just heading out to Mambuk (Gilgel Beles is on the way) so a guy from the bus got my bag off the roof and legged it down the street, me in tow to catch the bus. I had a proper seat this time and apart from the road being even worse than the one to Chagni, it wasn't too bad.
Before I got home, I had one last challenge – getting off the bus. As we pulled up, around 50 people surged forward to the door and I couldn't get off. They were all trying to get to Mambuk and get a seat. A small space was eventually created for me to step down, but with all those people pushing to get on the bus, it took ages getting through them – holding my 25kg bag (I had re-converted it at Kosober) in one hand not being able to pull it through the crowd! When I did get through, whilst being watched by another crowd, I attached my day pack to the bag, converted it to a backpack again and walked almost a kilometre along dirt roads and paths back to my house.
And I have to go through it all again if I want more food when I run out…
Extra info - Babies
In Ethiopia, most babies are carried around much of the time (in the home as well) in big sheet-wraps on their mother's (or servants) backs. It looks quite cute and you hardly ever hear crying babies here so it must work –maybe it's because they're always with someone and feel the warmth, also they are always tucked up tight and maybe they feel secure.