#6 Ethiopia, Feb. 13, 2011

Dear Everybody,

Awassa (or as they seem to spell it in town, Hawassa) was my next destination. It, too, had a lake, which had birds and hippos. It’s a really nice town and I had a slightly upscale hotel with a nice hot shower, so all was fine.

I did quite a bit of birding and then I hired a boat to take me across the lake to see a family of about eight hippos. They were snorting and snuffling in the lake, and the afternoon sun fully illuminated them as they put on a display, including one opening its huge mouth!



On the way back we swung around to see some birds, of which the Marabou Stork was the most dramatic! It looked to be as big as me—maybe not quite, but so colorful. I also saw a white pelican, cormorants, Egyptian geese, gray herons, and lots more. Then my boat driver stopped to buy some catfish from some fishermen, which flopped around in the boat all the way back. It was a terrific outing!

I had lunch at an Italian restaurant—pretty good ravioli and then a flan of fish from the lake with vegetables. Now I’ll be ready for some more injera tomorrow!

The next morning I walked to the bus station and boarded a minibus for Dila. There are 12 seats in a minibus, including the driver’s but they pack them to the gills. At times (the passengers get on and off) there were 21 people in the minibus! Quite interesting! We went through very densely populated areas, and several villages. After two hours we were in Dila, a kind of back of beyond place, but a pleasant small town.

I set about arranging to see some stelae, but apparently they are not used to tourists that don’t have their own car and driver, and it was very expensive to hire the car, driver, compulsory guide and pay the entrance ticket. So I gave it up and had lunch. I had shiro with injera, a beer and a macchiato—all very good!

The day before leaving Dila, I tried to arrange a tuk-tuk to take me to the bus station at 5:15 AM to get the bus to Yabelo, but the hotel proprietor didn’t speak much English. Another thing! My friend, David, told me that they use a 12-hour clock starting at 6:00 AM, our time, so 7:00, our time, would be 1:00 local time. Early on, I told him that I hadn’t encountered that, but lately, in the hinterlands, I have, which makes arranging a tuk-tuk even more challenging. I was quite surprised to find him waiting there at 5:15 AM sharp! We went to the bus station; I got a minibus and left for Yabelo at 5:30. Actually, it took three buses to get me there. I see they often do that—take me part way, then transfer me to another bus.

The whole Dila scene was one of those times when I wonder why I put myself through this. The town was difficult for tourists (I should say ‘tourist’ as I saw no others) with all the children screaming “YOU, YOU!” My hotel room was a little depressing, then the next morning on the bus I had miscalculated and only wore a short-sleeved tee. It was quite warm when we started, but we went over the mountains and the window next to me in the minibus wouldn’t close, so I was freezing. But this, too, passed and so when I got to Yabelo and a nice motel room and had breakfast, all the bad was forgotten.

On the bus I saw many villages, rural compounds, and wonderful scenery (again!) and the time went quickly, especially after



I transferred to the second bus and I was no longer cold.



I noticed many termite mounds, which are about 10 to 15 feet tall.  Really, one of them looked like a  obscene gesture!



There are more ‘colorful’ people, the further south I go.

I intended to stay in Yabelo only one night but the bus to Konso (contrary to what my LP guidebook said) didn’t go every day so I was forced to stay over an extra night—not all bad as it made for an R and R day. I photoed some more birds in the motel garden, and spent some time in beautiful downtown Yabelo—pretty dusty and rural!



I had ‘tibes’ for breakfast, which is bits of meat (pretty chewy) with injera, some spicy sauce and coffee.

Ethiopian idiosyncrasies:

*When they meet and greet, two men bump right shoulders; women usually air kiss—left, right, and left; when a man and woman meet, it’s usually the air kissing, but occasionally they bump shoulders, too.

*When anyone hands you anything (your hotel key, your bill, your change) they present it with the right hand and touch their left hand to the inside of their right elbow to show respect.

*When they shake hands, they offer a very limp handshake; they must think the firm American handshake is weird!

One morning at the motel where I was staying, which was at a junction five km out of the town of Yabelo, an Ethiopian guide (shepherding a private group) spoke to me, asking whom I was with. I told him I was alone, but he asked me four more times where my guide was, or what other tourists I was with. When he finally understood that I was alone and that I had taken buses from Addis Ababa, he commented that this was very ‘special’ and that I am an unusual person! I suspect that this motel (slightly upscale) only attracts groups and not ‘true backpackers,’ which made him unused to solo travelers.

One unusual thing about Ethiopia compared to ALL of the developing countries that I have visited is their bus situation. Typically in all these countries, there are buses going everywhere every minute! In India, Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Ghana etc., this was the case. But in Ethiopia, they favor these early starts—typically 5:30 AM and if you miss the early buses, it is unlikely that you’ll get one later in the day. I’m not sure if it means that they are too poor to do much traveling, or why it’s that way. It makes for some difficulties.

I thought I was going to be stuck in Yabelo forever! The first morning after breakfast, I took a tuk-tuk into town to the bus station to see what information I could glean about a bus to Konso for the same day, or the next day. I got lots of conflicting information but it didn’t seem like a bus was going that day. They assured me, though, that it would go at 6:00 AM the next day (which is what my LP Guidebook said). The next morning when I tried to leave the motel at 5:00 AM, I couldn’t get any transport. I had engaged a tuk-tuk but I could see by his responses that I wouldn’t be able to count on him! A young man finally managed to get a private minibus to take me to the bus station for 50 birr ($3).




Then when I got there (in pandemonium, in the dark) I had tea in a little shed with a dirt floor. And nobody could identify a bus going to Konso. Some said: it would go tomorrow; it would go at 2:00 (probably Ethiopian time); there might be one later this morning coming from Moyale that might go on to Konso; that the Konso bus didn’t depart from the bus station, but OVER THERE! I went over there, to wait for a couple of hours. In the meantime everybody in town asked me where I was going and I told everyone, “KONSO!”

After waiting for two hours, a young man yelled, “YOU!—KONSO!” and made the signal to come with him. Sure enough there was a big truck that was going and would take me! Yay! I climbed in the cab and off we went. I discovered that this truck was in the business of hauling people and their stuff (lots of stuff), which I think is illegal. But I was glad to get the ride, even at an inflated price!

The road was bad gravel, but the scenery, as always, was interesting.







We stopped at many tiny villages where the people dress differently than those in town. The people that rode with us climbed up into the big back-end of the truck along with many sacks, plastic jerry cans, parcels, and other miscellaneous stuff.






I suspect it would be hard for them to get all this along on a bus. I saw several herds of camels, much livestock, children asking for money, and I even saw a little gazelle-like creature which I think was a dik dik.








I arrived Konso at 11:00 and got settled in a hotel room with a private bathroom, but no water except in a bucket. Actually that works OK as it’s quite hot here now so a bucket shower with room temperature water is fine. I spent some time in the afternoon arranging a trip out into the villages. I knew it would be expensive, but it was way more than I planned for. I hope I have enough cash as they don’t take credit cards and there are no ATMs out here. Tomorrow I’m going in a private car (!) with a guide (!) for two days to see some villages and markets.


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2 Responses to #6 Ethiopia, Feb. 13, 2011

  1. Selam says:

    while i appreciate & like your blog, as usual it is from the perspective of someone who tries to define a “country” in a days glance. you compared the bus schedule of Ethiopia with india and other countries. If you took the Arbaminch rout to go to Konso you would have known there are buses or airplane any time you needed to go. you have just make “they are too poor to travel” comment 🙂

  2. carolkiecker says:

    Sorry if you were offended, but I did encounter difficulties all along the way with no buses available after about 6 or 7 AM and difficult to find transportation from the hostel to the bus station that early in the dark.

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