Day 1,433: Same Same, But Different

Mon 03.12.12:

Yet another early start and by 6am we were hurling north towards Addis Ababa on a brand spanking new commuter bus, travelling along Ethiopia’s impressively smooth asphalt roads. The last time I did this run I was crammed into a minibus with Matt the Lonely Planet guy while he continued his quest to find the only bottle of Diet Coke in Ethiopia (it’s Ethiopia Matt, who do you think is going to be on a diet?), this time was somewhat more comfortable. With nothing left to read, the guy next to me speaking no English and the crappy battery on my laptop only lasting an hour or so, I spent most of the day playing a game of shutty-window with the guy behind me (every time I opened the window, he’d shut it) and observing the beautiful Ethiopian countryside.

Miles away from the images ingrained in the collective subconscious of Starvin’ Marvins living in dust tents, flies all over their malnourished faces, modern Ethiopia is, despite having way too many child workers (the highest number in the world, fact-fans!), coming on in leaps and bounds, with infrastructure, irrigation, sanitation, schools and hospitals popping up all over the country and some of the best roads outside South Africa in Sub-Saharan Africa. The people are epic friendly and aside from the odd pick-pocket, crime is mercifully low. But the countryside: WOW. Most of Ethiopia is up in the mountains, unspoilt hills of rolling green, trees and the occasional terraced farm – it reminds me of Colombia, especially as the bus winds through the narrow mountain roads.

Addis itself is one of the highest capital cities in the world, sitting at an elevation of 2,300 metres above sea level. Like Quito in Ecuador it belies its position slap bang in the middle of the tropics with cool fresh nights and what can only be only described as a permanent state of springtime.

But we wouldn’t be getting to Addis today. As I said yesterday, buses don’t run at night here, and by dusk we had only got as far as the magnificently-named town of Awasa! (bang optional), which sits on the lake of the same name, just a couple of hundred kilometres south of the capital in a north-south belt I’m going to call Ethiopia’s Lake District (maybe people call it that already, I dunno, they should). I had paid for the bus to take me right through to Addis, so I’d be getting it again at 6am the next day. But a guy on the bus whose name was Azmara (his nickname was ‘Isit?’) told me there would be a faster way to get there – a minibus would be leaving at 4am and would get us into Addis for 9am tomorrow morning. As I needed to get an Egyptian visa as well as the aforementioned Sudanese visa (for reasons I will go into tomorrow), this sounded like a good plan – in my experience, most embassies only accept visa applications in the morning.

Isit? said he’d meet me in the morning, bringing the minibus to my hotel. Sweeeeeeet.

After that I found a place to spend the night, ate some spicy roast lamb for din-dins and, after getting online for a couple of hours to deal with some more Qs an’ As (hey! I can get paid for this! Who knew?!!), I dived into bed to get a few hours shut-eye.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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