Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ethiopia 2017 - Day 9. Mek’ele to Kombolcha

All good things come to and end, so today I started the two day return trip to Addis. My goal is to reach Kombolcha today, which will put me a tad over 50% of the way. The first part of my trip was through the arid landscape of northern Ethiopia, which very much reminds me northern Mexico (except for the camels).

When I reached Alamata it hit me that this time I would not have Frehiwot to keep me company on the way to Woldiya. I was just thinking about this when a policewoman gave me the signal to stop. This happens from time to time, but I as soon as the officer realizes I am a ferengi he or she normally waves me through. This time, however, the young woman inquired about where I was going, and after some unintelligent words she mentioned Dessie. Yes, I nodded, I was planning on passing through Dessie. So she turned to a man who was waiting in the shade and he promptly took the passenger seat. OK, so I was going to have someone to talk with after all.

My passenger, whose name I cannot remember, also happen to speak functional English, and he told me he was a police supervisor in charge of road safety. He was not in uniform because he was going down to Dessie to visit his family. Maybe not as chatty as Frehiwot, but from time to time he would tell me the name of the little towns we were passing through, and did let me know that this town was known for their production of tej (a fermented honey wine), or that town happen to be where the peace treaty was signed between the Ethiopian and the Italians (the fascist Italians tried to “colonize” Ethiopia but failed miserably.

But the main trait of my new friend was that he was high-tuned to road safety and was a little old lady when it came to passing a truck, crossing a town, or swerving around animals. Mind you, I am driving at no more than 60 km per hour, drop my speed to 30 kph when crossing a town, and stopping for cattle crossing the road. Still, the poor man was in high alert throughout the whole trip, gasping and gripping the dashboard at the slightest dangerous maneuver I had to make. I thought about explaining to him that this was nothing compared to driving the “carretera libre” in Mexico or the “Route Nationale” in France, but I gave it up as a futile effort. Of course he also had sharp words for the clueless pedestrians who meander through the middle of the road, the evil large trucks barreling down the middle of a town, or the unnerving mini-buses and tug-tugs who like to stop in the middle of the road to take passengers.

When we got to Woldiya, he suggested that I might want to stop for lunch, and he directed me to a suitable restaurant. I was not really planning to have lunch, but Ethiopians take their main meal at noon, so I thought he might be hungry. Not at all. He is Muslim and thus fasts on Saturdays (Ramadan just finished yesterday Friday so he was on his 31st day of fasting); clearly he had figured I needed to rest for the sake of road safety, and was happy to spend half an hour walking through the town while I had my lunch. So I had a very good spaghetti and meat sauce, under the shade of a cool mango tree; needless to say I drank mineral water instead of a beer, or he would have worried himself to tears.

Incidentally, Ethiopia has the best sparkling mineral water, Ambo Wuha.

Back in the car for the 100 km remaining to Dessie I started getting worried about the amount of gasoline I had left. Once again, the few gasoline stations I saw had run out of gasoline. Oh boy, I thought, taking a deep breath. A second yawn caused my companion to go into a frenzy, and he suggested we should stop for coffee. Again, it was I who was having the coffee, but he paid for it. Coffee in Ethiopia is normally drunk very strong and in tiny cups, which might be where Italians learnt to drink coffee.

Once in Dessie I said goodbye to my new friend, and again drew a blank in my search for gasoline. When I got to Kombolcha I was literally running on fumes, but I was tired and not feeling like wasting what little fuel I had searching the town. To my good fortune I spotted the Sunny Side Hotel right at the entrance to the town, and after a good dinner I slept the sleep of the innocent.

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