Ethiopia is a vast country, and any visitor wanting to visit several parts of the country needs to decide how to go around. As is often the case, the decision depends on the factors time, money, and purpose of visit. It is possible to visit Ethiopia in an efficient way, flying to all major highlights; it is also possible to opt for convenience and rent a car-with-driver. But to really experience the country, to get into touch with the people, the bus is a great alternative. It allows to enjoy the countryside, taste the atmosphere on the bus, share the ups and downs that are inevitably going to occur during the ride. It often starts with the fact that many people don't seem to know when the bus leaves, or, even worse, when people give different times (disregarding the eternal Ethiopian vs. international time debate: Ethiopian time is 6 hours behind international time, but you often don't know for sure which time is being used).
The first challenge facing a prospective bus traveller, is finding the right place to buy the ticket, and finding out about the departure times. In Dire Dawa, for instance, it took us hours to accomplish just this. When we finally found the office for the bus towards Djibouti, the guy at the desk only spoke Somali, and lacked the imagination to understand such a simple question (pointing at a watch) for asking the departure time. When we came back to actually take the bus, it was delayed, and even later, we took a further delay of several hours before we left. After hours of driving in darkness, we stopped for several hours so we could sleep a little on the bus. On this ride, which was one of our first, we already saw how the Ethiopians were creative in finding solutions for the official ban on standing passengers on buses: people would be crammed in all ways inside the bus, as long as they did not have to actually stand.
Another memorable bus trip was the one from Weldiya to Lalibela. When the gates opened early in the morning - most buses are supposed to leave at 6 - we rushed to ours and were able to take seats in front. After an attempt to grossly overcharge us, which was so obvious that the ticketman easily asked us the normal rate, a long ride took us through extremely beautiful landscapes. At one point, a large stone hit the windows of the bus, after which the driver swiftly stopped, and two guys went after the boy who had thrown the stone to teach him a lesson. In the end, a passenger with a local chord instrument started to play and sing. A fellow passenger translated, and he appeared to be singing about our busride, commenting on the passengers and the driver. It was so hilarious he had the whole bus laughing. It is experiences like these, or some dates offered by a mother with her child, chicken being tied to the roof, Ethiopians sharing their view on life, that make any busride very colourful and lively. It is also these experiences that you miss out on when chosing any other way of travelling.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Ethiopian buses (Ethiopia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Ethiopian buses. Read more about this site.