Nairobi to Addis: Day 6 – Express Ways, Adama

Day 6: Approaching Addis Ababa – Dec 27

IMG_20171227_123644We left Hawassa at 8:30AM – in a jovial mood – musing over yesterday’s adventure with the Rastafarians. We passed Shashamane and saw the same brokers huddled around the gate – waiting for tourists.

The road is busy with traffic in both directions. We passed the towns of Kuyera, Negenem, Bulbula – areas covered by flat landscapes dotted with acacia trees and beautiful views of Lakes Langano and Abiata Shala.

The soil looks white and livestock keepers are literally covered by it as they followed their livestock to grazing areas and water points. There are signposts to tourist lodges around the lakes.

There are several flower and grape farms along and people are standing outside the gates, possibly looking for work. The driver pointed to a Turkish factory on the left with several kilometres of fenced land.

“They make chocolates and other things,” he commented. A man is driving his cattle along the factory fence and I wondered if this was once his land before the company came to the area.

We stopped at Zuway Town for breakfast – Mila Senbera (injera and matumbo). The great Haile Gabreselassie has a resort here but we turned into a travel restaurant by the roadside. It was busy and waiters were fast and friendly. Word quickly went round that I am a foreigner – A waiter mused that I look like Mo Farah, the famous British athlete. The manager came over for a chat. I pointed out that the coffee is late.

“Do you want your coffee before with your meal?” he asked in English.

“Yes please,” I responded.

Coffee in Ethiopia is mostly served after meals. Well, I am just a foreigner, a traveler. Naloolo Ai!

The coffee was heavenly and I could still smell it as we drove out past a chain of donkey carts that are possibly going to the market. Vehicular drivers drove alongside the carts cautiously.

As we approached Meki Town, I saw a few burnt trucks along the way.

“They were burnt by Oromo protesters two years ago,” the driver said. The Oromo people that make close to 50 million of the 100 million Ethiopian national population have had years of run-ins with the government.

We drove past another broken truck with its driver’s palms on his face – in despair. He might have been on the road for days and now stranded with cattlemen walking past him like he did not exist.

Alem Tena Town is green with irrigation fields that draw water from River Awash – tomatoes, onions.  The river drains into a lake that I could see it is chocking under hyacinth – a deadly water weed.

A chain of buses passed heading us towards the opposite direction carrying people who will be attending St. Gabriel festival in Hawassa. It is an important festival for the Orthodox Church followers.

The driver made a quick cross prayer as we drove past a church. I remembered passengers from Moyale doing the same and got curious if it means something different. It basically says “God sent his own son to earth to put us from the left to the right. Thank you!”

“We do that short prayer while driving, asking God to keep us safe,” he explained.

High School pupils on the roadside in KokaTown

We reached Koka Town at 12:30AM. It is another town surrounded by irrigated farms. Hundreds of uniformed high schoolers were walking along the road from schools. Our vehicle lost power about a kilometre from Koka and we pulled over and found out that the battery terminals got loose after hitting a pothole.

The vehicle lost power after hitting a pothole.

We stopped on approach to Mojo Town, 65 KM from Addis, to buy fresh strawberries at the gate of a farm that produces them. The town is named after Mojo River, also transliterated as Modjo. It has all the signs of a well-planned town and a growing economy – new buildings going up, busy streets and a high population. It hosts a major station of the new Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway that connects the country to the Red Sea.

A toll station on the Express Way

From here we joined the Express Way – a six-lane highway that connects Mojo, Adama City and Addis Ababa. The Express Way started with a toll station – we paid 15 birrs to Adama, another beautiful city that we had planned to see.

Adama whose other name is Nazreth is the capital of Oromo region and just one those places you would love to live in. It sits between the base of the escarpment to the west and the Great Rift Valley to the east. It looks carefully planned – wide, clean streets, colourful buildings, hotels and office blocks.

The City of Adama is modern and beautiful!

Now we got 99KM to Addis Ababa and we were cruising, excited, that this journey is finally coming to an end.

We started the approach to Addis Ababa, the city on the foot of Entoto Mountains– the home of the African Union, University of Addis Ababa and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Like all cities, the sky is disappointingly gray – a sign of pollution and I felt a little sad for its 3 Million inhabitants.

We drove into Tulu Dimtu tall station at 2:30P and paid 50 birrs, our cost for using the Express Way and started meandering on various roads towards Bole Area near the airport where I would be staying for the next four days.

1600KM! Welcome to Addis Ababa!

*John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist and nature enthusiast. He is currently the Board Chair of Friends of Maasai Mara.

Nairobi to Addis: Day 1 – Night Bus to Moyale

IMG_20171225_115857I knew 2017 wasn’t going to be a great year for me but I vowed to sink it with a bang – with something hard and positive. The Road trip to Addis Ababa on my bucket list came tops of what I should do. This is a solo road trip of 1,600 kilometres by public transport! It is part of my dream to travel from Cape Town to Cairo by road. I have already driven from Cape Town to Nairobi three years ago.

I took time to study the route – the available means of public transport in Kenya and Ethiopia from one town to another – the costs, places to sleep and security. I rekindled old contacts and found news ones from both sides of the border that turned out to be extremely helpful.

Day #1: Nairobi to Moyale – Friday, December 22, 2017                             

As most Kenyans prepared for Christmas holiday, I bought a Sh2000 bus ticket via M-Pesa to Moyale. I arrived at Eastleigh 10th Street at 7:00PM just enough time to check in and last minute shopping before departure at 8:00PM. Eastleigh is busy, chaotic, congested – fellow travellers, loaders and traders doing circles around the slow traffic, parked buses and hawkers. I found the Moyale Raha bus office and was allocated a seat. I found a shop to buy a few things – a mulika mwizi (long lasting battery) phone, power-bank and snacks for the trip. I returned to the bus, was shown to my seat but an elderly passenger was already seated. The bus attendant asked him to move to his seat – there was an argument.  I offered to take his seat wherever but the attendant would not agree.

“Brother, our people must learn to take seats as allocated, otherwise we will have these silly arguments every day,” he told me. The passenger yielded. The seat is not very comfy but has enough leg room. This is OK. I am not in the mood for comfort – I just want to move.

Fellow passengers piled in and the bus left at 8:35PM – not a terrible time. Cushitic music playing through the sound system put me in the right mood that I am actually travelling to the north. The journey to Moyale is estimated at 11 Hours.

Out first stop was at Sagana and passengers disembarked for a bathroom break (males) in the nearly bush and buy groceries.

The bus was carefully driven – good speed. The next stop was at Isiolo – 274km from Nairobi. There was a call out for a 30-minute bathroom break and dinner. We took off again, driving towards Archers Post onwards to Marsabit. Now we have armed policemen on board – the stretch between Isiolo and Moyale has occasional banditry. There were two other buses behind us.

I woke up on another pit stop at 5:45AM a few kilometres from Marsabit Town. My brothers and sisters of the Islamic faith piled out with prayer rugs. I got out too and found a quiet spot and prayed – thanked the Lord for journey mercies and safety.

We drove past a sleepy Marsabit as the sun ascended from the horizon – shedding orange light to beautiful hills – many of them with sharp peaks that seemed to have been carefully planted in the desert.

We reached Sololo town at 7:00AM and the road turned east respectfully avoiding the might of the majestic mountains that create the boundary between Kenya and Ethiopia. Then we started climbing up the hills after Turbi towards Moyale. This road is glorious – wonderfully made and I kept imagining the nightmare of driving on it before it was tarmacked a few years ago.

9:00AM: Good morning Moyale – 800km done. I am ready for Ethiopia!

*John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist and nature enthusiast. He is currently the Board Chair of Friends of Maasai Mara.