Addis Ababa to Hargeisa: Approximately 850 km
I arrived in Hargeisa yesterday evening after departing from Addis the previous day with a stop for the night at Dire Dawa. Unlike on the trip to Addis, I did not travel with my friend Joachim since he had left for Nairobi a few days before.
I was at Autobus Terra, the main country bus station in Addis Ababa on Friday at 5.30 am for the start of my journey. By then, it was already getting light in Addis and the early birds, mostly traders, were already out to catch the legendary worm. I could tell since the Merkato area where Autobus Terra is located was already abuzz with activity. Merkato in Ethiopia is reputed to be the biggest open-air market in Africa.
Bus attendants securing luggage on the buses in readiness for departure
As we drove through the city, I could see many old guards reluctantly withdrawing themselves from their narrow tin coops after a successful night of duty. In the poorer parts of town, men were squatting outside their tiny shacks taking their daily ‘passport shower’ from a jug of cold water. ‘Passport shower’ is a term coined from the practice of splashing cold water on the face in the morning, often to avoid taking a bath especially during the cold season. Soon, we left a groggy Addis Ababa behind with its early morning cloud of wood smoke from thousands of kitchens actively churning out breakfast for the inhabitants of the city.
It was obvious that the bus to Dire Dawa was in very good condition; meaning that the 510 km journey was going to be comfortable. I was not disappointed; especially since the gentleman on the window nearest to where I sat would occasionally crack open his window for some fresh air, albeit strong resistance from fellow passengers. The protests were occasioned by a phobia for draught in Ethiopian buses.
The first day saw us through the towns of Debre Zeit and Nazareth, before finally arriving at Dire Dawa after a picturesque 9 hours of travel. The bus took us through lush agricultural land in the Eastern part of Ethiopia. It was obviously ploughing time judging from the numerous cattle teams etching straight lines on the ground using traditional wooden ploughs.
Some sections of the road meander through mountainous landscapes that make you catch your breath almost throughout – either in terror as the bus negotiates the blind corners, or in awe at the magnificent views.
Roadside water body
Delicately balanced rock
An impending storm at dusk
We arrived in Dire Dawa in the early evening. I was happy to take some rest after a hefty meal of Enjara and tibs. While in Ethiopia, you definitely have to have a taste of enjara. Enjara; a huge sour tasting, spongy, pan cake that is made from a grain known as tef is the inevitable dish for an complete Ethiopian meal. Tibs (fried mutton) is a common accompaniment to enjara. Enjara is one of those foods with the ‘either you like it or you don’t’ tastes. I like it.
I was up early the following morning and headed for the bus terminus to catch the next bus. This day’s 350 km trip would take me through the towns of Harar, Jijiga, Wajaale and finally to Hargeisa. Wajaale is the border town between Ethiopia and Somaliland. The smooth asphalt road from Addis Ababa ends in Harar and its place taken by a rough road that takes you for about 200 km to the border. This is where the rocky hills and dry plains that the bus snakes through until reaching Hargeisa start.
Where the second day fell short in beauty and comfort, it made up in drama inside a bus that was rather crowded and old compared to the one I had taken the previous day. I had strategically placed myself at the back seat next to the window so that I could take some photos on the way. I soon realized that the passengers who sat on that seat take the brunt of the bumpy ride – no wonder everyone was reluctant to sit there!
A stubborn bull reluctant to move from the road. Notice the passengers riding on the roof
Crossing an old bridge
At one point, the bus hit a bump, and threw all the passengers into the air. I remember a cloud of dust raining all over my face after I hit my head on the plastic ceiling, cracking it. Of all the passengers on the back seat, I was the lucky one. You see, the plastic ceiling had already suffered the same fate before and as a result, it was reinforced with a steel bar; save for the corner above my head. That means that the others hit the top of their head on the welded metal bar. Everyone in the bus complained loudly in a bid to be heard above the loud, stringy Amharic music playing shrilly over the faulty speakers. As most of us massaged our smarting scalps, the driver continued driving at the same speed. I guess he had seen it all before and guessed correctly that no one was injured.
The crack on the plastic ceiling made by my head after the bus hit the hole.
Having rained recently, some sections of the road were quite muddy. In such areas, our driver’s experience was useful in keeping us going. Apparently, he was in a hurry to make the trip to Wajaale and back to Jijiga before the threatening rain poured. As a result, he was promptly forgiven for the head-bumping incident.
Some vehicles get stuck while others keep going
Our bus finally arrived at the border town of Wajaale in the afternoon. After a smooth pass through immigrations, I was in Hargeisa two hours later.
Arrival in a very muddy bus
Though you might be seated in an office today, I am sure that you are at some point along your own journey. Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.