Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blue Nile Falls & 1950s Bus Breakdowns

We headed out on a bus that easily must have been from the 1950s, beginning the most hilarious bus ride ever. This thing was decked out on in the front with fake flowers and curtain trimmings, but otherwise was gutted. It needed to be push started by about 10 guys to get going. As the bus left the lot some of the push starters laughed, caught my eye, and gave me a thumbs up, probably because I was the only non-Ethiopian on the bus. After only a few minutes, the road turned into a rural dirt road the rest of the way, full of massive bumps and ruts. The whole bus was rattling, earplugs would have come in handy here. Even some of the Ethiopians thought it was kind of funny. This bus must have been one of the first buses ever in Ethiopia.

Stylish interior:

That's a bus on its last legs:

The pavement ceases:



Halfway through, there was a smell of petrol inside, the driver pulled up the cover on top of the shifter gear box to begin the investigation, and everyone piled out on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere with only a few horses and donkeys in sight. A seemingly regular occurrence, less than 10 minutes later, we piled back in and the bus rumbled onwards.

After getting the Blue Nile village and being harassed per usual by people wanting to give a tour, Netsanet & I walk off with 4 other Ethiopian tourists on the path to the falls. A few of these tour people were persistent as hell, and basically just followed us as we walked, so I relented. They guided us for about 30 minutes to the falls, which was mostly through grassy/swampy/marshy area and not really on any trail, stepping on small rocks half of the time to avoid the water. The hike to the falls included a quick traverse across the Nile in a dingy. The falls were incredibly beautiful, the scenery in general was a lush green and very mountainous. Luckily it is the rainy season here, which makes the falls much more impressive. On the way back, of course, even though we didn’t want them to guide us, they did, and I tipped them a whopping $2, which was actually too much by Ethiopian standards (the Ethiopians tipped even less). However, they are used to foreigners giving at least 5 or 6 dollars, so the guide made sure to complain, ask for more money, and tried to make me feel guilty. I didn’t buy his pitch.

A shot from the dingy:

Nester is laughing cause he can't swim!

The falls:


The real fun began on the way back. Basically, we missed the last bus back to Bahir Dar at 530 by about 10 or 15 minutes and were thus stranded in this podunk town. We were walking along the main dirt road of the town trying to decide how to get home, when it began to rain. Then one of the four other Ethiopians (three girls and one guy) began to talk to me. She was a really beautiful girl from Addis Ababa and so she offered to share her umbrella with me and was being really friendly and talkative. When all of us went under the shelter of some tin can roadside shop to try to find out a solution on getting a ride home, she offered to sit at a table. Not being able to take a hint, I declined and instead proceeded to talk to 5 or 6 10-15 year old Ethiopian kids! Netsanet and his wife made fun of me a lot for this after. Actually anyways, it was quite entertaining talking to these kids cause they had pretty good English, and I was making some jokes, letting them wear my hat, and stuff like that, so they were also having fun. They liked to make Obama jokes. And then we practiced our Spanish/Chinese/Japanese/French/Swedish as the next hour passed while the others tried all possible ways to avoid having to be stranded for the night.

Beginning to rain on the towns main road:

New friends:

After failing to get a hitch with some Spanish tourists who had a rental vehicle, our last option was to pay a driver for a ride in the bus owned by the park. But not for cheap of course, since they were going out of their way to do this for us. The offer price was 250 apiece for Netsanet & I, which is around 15 dollars each. Consider that on the way there, we paid 13 birr each, less than a dollar! Netsanet had a friend in the town that he was thinking of calling, but I didn’t really feel like staying there (it was thunderstorming, the houses were made of sticks with tin roofs and dirt floors, and I was already a bit cold/wet). So I took their outrageous offer up. The 4 Ethiopians got the usual Ethiopian price of half or less of tourist price.

After driving about 10 minutes in this rickety bus, and with the sun setting, the driver passed a tuk-tuk that was broken down and so it stopped. There were 3 italian tourists inside. So we offered them to get in the bus and have a ride home. That began a huge 20 minute ordeal, though. There was a dad, a mom, and a son. And the mom was a real honest to god bargainer and screamer. The driver of the tuk-tuk was demanding 250 birr from the tourists, and they really only owed somewhere between 150 & 200 (like a measley 2 euro difference for these Italians). But the mom would not relent and pay 250, and a shouting match broke out. I think the dad was embarrassed for his wife. She was screaming and refusing to pay (which is good, he wanted to rip them off, but she was going nuts). Then, the 4 ethiopians in the bus were also going to charge the Italians 100 birr each to get on the bus, which was fair since we all paid a lot more than that in the first place to even get the bus. But the Italians argued like hell on that one too. Which is ridiculous, because basically they were stranded and doing them a favor by stopping in the first place. In reality, the truth is that the tuk-tuk driver could have been faking the break-down of his vehicle to rob the Italians. Sometimes a driver of these tuk-tuks will fake a breakdown, ask the passengers to get out to help push start the vehicle, then zoom off with all their possessions inside leaving them stranded. The Ethiopians knew that and wanted the Italians to get in the bus so they wouldn’t get robbed. But the tuk-tuk driver also jumped into the bus and wouldn’t get off until he got his money. One of the Ethiopian girls started screaming at him after awhile, and finally he got only 150 birr (which was about right), and actually she spit on him as he jumped out of the bus!

After all this, it had now become completely dark, the rain had stopped, but there was lightning to be seen in all directions and it seemed like a huge storm was coming. So the driver turned the interior lights off and it was time to head home on this bumpy, lightless road. But, 20 minutes later, we heard the screech of a cow, and then the bus abruptly stopped and engine shut off. The bus hit a cow! Two guys jumped out the door to analyze the situation. They looked underneath the bus, then the bus started up again, re-reversed over the cow to free it or something like that, then the driver quickly put it back in forward and the guys hopped in as the bus sped off, leaving the owner of the cow running and waving his walking stick at the bus. Cows are expensive and cost a lot of money, so I guess the driver sped off. But the owner can probably sue the driver if he finds him, and get a lot of money out of him, since the government is a big supporter of farmers.

An awesome adventure.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds truly ridiculous! I am very sad for that poor cow though, also for his owner. Good to know about tuk tuk drivers faking breakdowns...I am going to southeast Asia this December and may be riding in some!


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