Nairobi to Addis: Day 2 – Yabelo!

Day 2: Moyale – Yabelo Dec 23, 2017

John Kisimir

I alighted from the bus in Moyale, called my contact who advised that I should make haste and cross to the Ethiopian side because they have power cuts at 10:00AM and that means they will not be doing any immigration work until the afternoon.

Breakfast: Liver and ugali at ZamZam restaurant – Yes, let me make it heavy. As I washed hands at the back of the restaurant, a young Maasai warrior emerged from one of the rooms. I could tell he is Tanzanian by the colour of his shukas and beads. What on earth is one of my own doing 1000KM from home? A little chitchat – he sells honey and its good business. Whatever works for you man – as long as it feeds your kids.

I made my way down to the border post, past yelping money changers, boda boda taxis and did my paperwork – it is a beautiful building with a large parking area for travellers and transit tracks. I could see across the bridge in Ethiopia that they have put up the same facility. Africa is moving forward and traveling is much easier!

My contact/fixer arrived as I walked out of the Kenya immigration and we crossed the bridge towards Ethiopia on his motorcycle. I found a group of Kenyan Christians on a mission to Djibouti lining up at Room 2. The officials were chatty and friendly – a word of Swahili and Amharic here and there between them and the excited young missionaries. My turn came and the passport was quickly stamped and told: “Good luck with Djibouti, sir!”

That was easy! The backpacker just passed for a missionary. I rarely cross African border posts with little drama. As I walked through the gate, the guard blurted “Wapi chai?” I smiled and walked past him and jumped on the motorcycle – I need to change money and find a bus to Yabelo – 200KM away for my first night in Ethiopia. There is no direct bus to Addis Ababa from Moyale but you can take buses that stop at cities like Yabelo, Hagera Maryam, Hawassa or Shashemene. It all depends if you want to tour these towns.

My contact quickly briefed me that there is tension and insecurity on the Ethiopian side of Moyale. There has been fighting between Somali and Oromo people and dozens have been killed. The government claims that the conflict is overuse of resources like water and grazing areas etc.

Moyale on the Ethiopian side is literally divided into two – one side occupied by each group.

As we rode towards the bus station, Gede showed me the station on the Somali side that is empty – for fear of attacks. Somalis were staying indoors or have left town. It is strange that everything looks normal – shops are open and the streets are busy with people on their daily chores.

Transport to Yabelo is by minivans and I found passengers already seated and luggage being tied to the carrier.  The fare is 60 Birr (Sh180) but was quickly hiked to 80 once the attendant learnt that I am a foreigner.

There was also an extra fee of 100 birr (Sh300) for my rucksack – purportedly for the customs and police officials at different checkpoints along the way. We haggled over this, as I insisted that I will deal with the police myself if they have a problem with my luggage.

“He is not a foreigner,” said one of the passengers. “He is pretending not to know our language.”

Am I causing unnecessary drama? I look a little Cushitic and you could not pick me from a crowd in Ethiopia as long as I keep my mouth shut. My contact negotiated the fee down to 50birr (shs150). He took the phone numbers of the driver and another passenger so that he can check on me while on the way.

11:20 AM: Okay, let us go!

The road to Yabelo is smooth – easy drive. There are a number of police checkpoints but they did not bother with us except the conductor passing on bribes to them.

The driver could speak some English. A mother offered his 8-year old son as a translator. I sat next to a young couple who are definitely in love – hands wrapped around one another. I mused if they know that love could at some point fade away and that it will hurt. I turned my attention to the window to enjoy the landscapes of Southern Ethiopia!

As we approached Yabelo at 2:45 PM, the driver asked: “Do you need a bedroom?” I had to quickly remember that he meant hotel accommodation.

“I will stay at Yabelo Motel. It should be on the road before the town,” I responded.

Yummy: Sheekla Tibs and Injera.

I alighted and bid them goodbye and crossed the street to the motel. I could feel the passengers’ eyes on me – still wondering why I am not one of them.

Yabelo is a small town of about 15,000 people. It is predominantly occupied by Oromo people and hosts several aid agencies. My contact here is an old friend.

I had Shekla Tibs and Injera for dinner and downed it with local beer. Shekla Tibs is some kind of sizzling nyama choma placed on a little clay pot cum jiko.

My contact here had some good news. I can get a ride on one of their vehicles going to Addis Ababa on Dec 25 (Christmas Day). This means spending an extra day in Yabelo. Perfect!

Goodnight – 1,000Km Done!