Nairobi to Addis: Day 2 – Yabelo!

Day 2: Moyale – Yabelo Dec 23, 2017

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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.

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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!

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.