Border crossing and the Simien mountains

The day started early. 5:30am early. So early that we couldn’t get out of the hotel and had to wake up someone to open up for us. We then followed his instructions to Africa road and attempted to stop a shared minibus heading towards the bus station. With no luck, we jumped in an empty one, which then functions as a taxi. We arrived and paid him the fare and before we could breathe, we were jumped upon by various people trying to sell tickets for their bus. 

Twenty minutes later we were stood with a large crowd of people waiting for the bus to Gallabat, which is the village on the border with Ethiopia. Not that much later we were called onto a bus, which already had five or so people on it. It looked promising. However, soon we noticed the bus to our left was being engulfed by the crowds and looked absolutely chaotic. We sighed with the knowledge that that bus would be leaving far earlier and we had picked the wrong one.

With no obvious sign of our bus loading up, we decided to try the one to our right. We were waved on and shown to our seat. Ten minutes later, someone else checked our tickets and moved Benny to a different seat. This continued for half an hour. Various people would get on, check tickets and move people around. It was chaos. People were shouting and arguing and it quickly became clear that no one had a clue what was going on. Fast forward some more time and we were then told we were on the wrong bus and had to leave. It was an absolute farce. We were instead taken to the bus, which we thought, due to the crowds, would have been impossible to get on. But get on we did. Cue more people being shuffled about by various people who didn’t have a clue. At one point we were asked where our bags were. We told the man it was packed at the back and he decided that we could stay on the bus.   Unlike the chaotic bus, our new one was fairly calm, just very confusing. Even more confusing was after leaving the bus station we then stopped and swapped more passengers with the second bus. Anyway, eventually we departed and were making good progress until a tyre burst and we had to wait at the side of the road in the heat of the day, whilst they repaired it. Back on the road again, we pulled in some fourteen hours after we left our hostel. It was a long day. Fortunately, the people in Gallabat were great and guided us from security, to food, to a bed for the night – which consisted of sleeping in a barn! 

The next morning we were up early and after a brief stop for tea, we completed immigration in Sudan, and walked over the bridge towards Ethiopia. I don’t think I’ve crossed many borders like this one, because, due to neither issuing visas at the border, if Ethiopia rejected us, then we would have been stuck on that bridge. It was all alright though and we were soon allowed in. There I changed up my last remaining Sudanese currency, which gave me exactly enough Birr for the minibus to Gondar (75birr). A short walk up to the bus station, shirking many a tout on the way, we departed almost instantly and looked forwards to the short journey into town. 
The journey started great. I don’t know how borders are drawn up, but from the moment we crossed the border, we left behind the desert and instead found ourselves in a green landscape with beautiful rolling hills. It was a shock after the past two weeks. Also very different, and sounding a little like a sixteen year old boy here, but there were women everywhere. In Sudan, they are pretty much invisible, but at one point we stopped to pick up two female police officers!
Just as I was beginning to enjoy the journey, we stopped in a small town and changed minibuses. Our new minibus then promptly broke down. It looked like the engine had overheated. A bit of water later and we were back on the road again, until it ground to a halt once more. This time our drinking water was used, which was hugely successful in getting the bus to move another mile, before, you guessed it, we stopped for good in a tiny village. 
What happened next was something out of every advert you’ve ever seen about Africa. Dozens of children poured out of the huts and preceded to wave and giggle, whilst staring at the two white strangers on the bus. Then the adults came over and stared for precisely two hours. It was clear we were the talk of the town and it was lovely to be in a place, which had not been tainted by tourism. People walked back and forth from the village pump, carrying the water on their heads, as donkeys made their way along the road. After a while though, the lack of movement from our minibus started to get a tad annoying. Eventually, a mechanic arrived and within ten minutes we were underway once more and this time made it to Gondar. A three hour journey made in nine hours. Joy!    

As for Gondar, well it was nice. The castle, despite looking like it is in the countryside, is right in the centre of the town and is a very impressive sight to walk around. But the real reason to be in Gondar was to visit the Simien Mountains. I did it as a tour, which was a good decision as it took all of the hassle of organising it, but also it was a really good group, including two people who have been involved with working with refugees in Greece, one who works in South Sudan and a trainee mountain guide. As for the mountains themselves, well they were spectacular. The hiking was not great, as Ethiopia has built the overnight camps a little to close to each other, but the views were unbeatable as the following photos show:     

I spent New Years eve in the mountains, which was a real highlight mainly for the slingshot I purchased from some local children on the path. Bill, Colin and Indijo also bought one and we had far to much fun learning the techniques off different locals along the way, before firing them off the edge of cliffs with over two hundred metre drops.

After watching the sun go down on 2015, we walked back to our campsite, where we passed a huge family of baboons, who then gathered photogenically as two jackals sprinted across the plains, not far from our tents. It was a great way to see in the new year.   

Returning to Gondar, I then left for Aksom, where the joys of bus travel in Ethiopia did not let up.   


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