The Train VI
At a police roadblock in the remote parts of Ethiopia, an argument ensues between the driver, touts, and the federal police of Ethiopia.
“All Passengers get out now!!” one police shouts in Amharic.
Of course, I guessed that’s what he said because everyone started getting out.Yes,I don’t understand Amharic. And in any case, for close to 5million other roadblocks we had passed earlier, we got off the bus but this one seemed to be special. Truly speaking, between the last roadblock and this roadblock no passengers had alighted, we had not stopped to pick up anything or anyone but for a weird reason it seemed these roadblock police don’t trust each other to keep checking at every point.
Once the bus was empty, the touts and the drivers started emptying the luggage and a fight broke out between them and the police. We couldn’t make out what was the problem because we had been herded away to about 100 meters in front of the bus. Once the show of might was done the touts put back our luggage, the driver got on and brought the bus where were standing in shock.
But how did I get myself here….
*Presses rewind on my memory tape* … 2 days earlier
In the dusty, noisy, and busy 9th street of Eastlieh. Am making my way to the Moyale bound buses that leave at 7pm. I get to the bus some cool 30mins before just to get my seat, buy some snacks, make a few phone calls and just get ready for the trip.
10 min to 7pm , the bus is still empty and am wondering where is everyone.
2 mins to 7pm, the driver jumps in switches on the radio and puts volume to like 115 and that my dear reader I think was the call. That 68-seater bus filled up so rapidly I was shocked. As the Africans we are, the bus never left till an hour later and during this period if buses could talk, they would tell you the story best. We were about 1001 humans in there. It was noisy and chaotic; everyone is trying to talk to everyone else. The touts on the ground shouting at the touts inside. Families conveniently booked seats separate from each other and insist on talking to them and please don’t forget the Imam on the radio. Add hawkers on every side selling whatever plus khat. This is not the first time am doing a long distance in a bus but this was something I never saw coming and you know Somali dialect with just the right about of pitch, their language would sound as if they are in constant quarrels ..now multiply that with all this people in a small bus and you can roughly tell my level of headache at that point but I just braced on and mentally got ready for this ride.
The bus hooted its way out of the busy Eastleigh streets and aligned on the Thika superhighway for the take off to Moyale the border point to Ethiopia. The travelers over time quieted and I guessed it’s because of the amount of khat that was going into the mouth. But still with this much needed silence I couldn’t sleep because the driver was really enjoying the smooth and well-marked A2 highway because the speeds and overtaking left me holding my mouth just in case someone needs to identify me with my dental formulae.
Day one Done!
The morning sun rays over the Eastern vast empty lands, met me wide awake one reason being that an hour before that we had stopped, and everyone alighted for morning prayers right on the road. We were about 60kms away from Moyale. For once I could see in real life the effects of drought. Cattle rotting on the roadside, villagers with donkeys carrying jerricans on water and my heart just went out.
*Sidenote* seriously apart from donating food stuff for these guys every year, is there anything that can be done to completely eradicate such levels of drought? How about the government sinks boreholes ever 10-20kms and make the water free for constant irrigation around. Who do they even elect to represent them in parliament? Jesus Christ!!
About an hour later, we are in the sun scooching town of Moyale. These buses terminate at this point, and you have to find your means into Ethiopia.
Money points or otherwise commonly known as border points you will be faced with various new challenges even if you have everything, they will find something to get money out of you.
Anyway Ksh 3150 less later, I got my stamps and had the right to stroll into the next confusion of the trip.
Look, there is one thing to know, that you are going to a land where you can’t communicate with anyone and there is another thing being there in flesh. You might beat your chest while in your land but you get there and your blood will freeze.
For starters you know too damn well network at some point will disappear and there other very vital things for the next part of the trip including booking a 3am bus, getting a place to sleep, getting a sim card and all these needs to be done in their currencies.
6 hours later, in a room that had a ceiling that was about to fall and a bed switch that would electrocute me if I touched it, I had everything and was ready to rest for the 3am trip further into Ethiopia.
Day Two Done!!
I barely slept because the noise in the neighborhood was just too much but at 3am I sneaked out and walked towards the bus pickup point. There are many options to pick from for this part of the journey and they are generally the same price. They use the famous Yutong buses. They have engines at the rare meaning the bus is rather silent. The buses are also comfortable, truly designed for long distances. Being 3am humans are naturally grumpy and don’t want to talk to anyone thus the bus was very silent compared to our Eastliegh bus that I could still hear echos in my head of the noise.
At 4.30am we set off and barely 30mins later the series of roadblocks started. We were all put down and the police did they thing.
This was the norm till the roadblock that started this blog.
*Presses Play on the Memory tape*
There you are all caught up now!
There roadblocks were in multitudes, I don’t understand their use since no one alighted or boarded the bus but we still stopped and the checks were done. I generally feel with or without international people on those buses the government simply don’t trust their citizens which I feel is rather sad.
But since my feelings are a non-issues and none asked for them anyway , we got to Ethiopia capital 13hrs later.
Day three done!!
Now this next part needs your attention because it’s a tricky one and you can end up spending unnecessary money.
The Train to Djibouti is split in two. The first one leaves Addis to the break point called DireDawa and the other one takes over the next day to Djibouti. This means to avoid a lot of hotel fees you need to plan your trip from Kenya well so that at least you arrive a day preceded a train travel day. That way you just wake up early and go to the train station, pay and get on.
The Train to DireDawa does the trip on every odd days of the month and the one that goes to Djibouti from DireDawa does on even days of the month. The trip back takes the inverse.
With that, I had planned my days well and the execution started the following day for me.
The train has so much in common with the Kenya SRG train that goes to Mombasa and just as said in that series please avoid if you can the 3rd class because you will have no spine by the time you arrive. Bear in mind unlike the Kenya SGR that does 4hours …the Ethiopia one does 12 hours.
It has a first class and a second that are not very common due to the price so the 3rd class is well packed, and I was there smiling sheepishly at everyone since I could not converse with anyone and at the same time didn’t want to look like a new kid.
The other classes contain banker beds that will allow you to be horizontally reclined from time to time when you want to rest.
At about 7pm, we pulled up at DireDawa station, time to figure out where is the town, where to sleep and how to even get there. Luckily, I had bought a sim card and google translate came in handy where I would type on my phone and make someone to read. Definitely that comes with being identified as a new person so you will be subjected to high rates in everything, thus plan your finances well.
2 hours later, that seems like a century I was in a cozy silent room eager to catch up with a lot of sleep that by now was heavy in my eyes.
Just as I was unpacking to take a shower, electricity gone!!
Day four done!!
At 6am the following morning was on the road chasing bajaj (3 wheeler motorcycles) to take me to the train station for the last part of the trip.
Even with my effort to wake up early, the tickets to Djibouti couldn’t be sold till 9am.
Exit from Ethiopia stamp acquired!!
The Train rolled off the station at about 10am and I could not contain the excitement. Sadly I could not share it with anyone so I took my notebook that I never used before to write this story.
At about 5pm we are in the humid and hot land of Djibouti.
This time since I crossed boarder, I didn’t have internet and it’s even worse because the station has even fewer people so in a very short time, I was to be left alone with the police who I couldn’t tell I don’t know where am going because I had confidently told them a few mins earlier that I had book a non-existing hotel to get an entry stamp.
With my bag on my back I decided to walk into Djibouti city center …. I mean what’s the worst that can happen right?
One thing I really loved about this small country, they have really worked on security because I walked till night fall only to find the open beach where people had pitched tents. I dropped my bag, sat on the warm sand, pulled out my hoodie and dozed off.
Day Five faded off!
#Train Schedule and Fare
This is the train schedule observing the break halfway at DireDawa cc of seat61.com
Addis Ababa (Lebu) to Djibouti (Nagad) or vice versa.
Hard seat $45. Hard sleeper $60 upper, $75 middle, $90 lower. Soft sleeper $104 upper berth, $119 lower berth.
Addis Ababa (Lebu) to Diré Dawa or vice versa.
Hard seat $28. Hard sleeper $37 upper, $46 middle, $55 lower. Soft sleeper $64 upper berth, $73 lower berth.
Djibouti (Nagad) to Diré Dawa or vice versa.
Hard seat $18. Hard sleeper $23 upper, $29 middle, $35 lower. Soft sleeper $41 upper berth, $46 lower berth.
Prices in USD. These are prices for foreigners, higher than the fares for locals.
There is nothing that will prepare you for such a trip, you will only get ideas of what to do but be sure for such trips to lands which you can converse with anyone your experience will be totally different, but you need be prepared mentally/emotionally/physically and financially.
These are the following things you might need for this kind of trip. Visa to Djibouti. The Embassy is located in Runda, Ruaka Drive No 608 and charge about $30. You need to get at least an offline map app. You might also need some internet vpn since some applications don’t openly work in Ethiopia. You can carry a power bank. Be very conversant with the exchange rates. Put your travel money on a Visa powered account so that you can withdraw at the point of need. Above all have an adventure spirit.
This trip is exciting done with friends, I personally enjoy my thoughts and they can keep me company for a very long time.Not everyone is your friend in a foreign country, thus if you need to make plans early please do, book that hotel, contact someone who can hold your hand and show you around in case you need to.
Regardless of how you do it, plan to enjoy the trip. Personally, I truly enjoyed, made so many contacts that I can share with someone who wants to do this trip and I was able to learn one important word in Amharic and no its not a greeting but what a toilet is :). Get in touch with me if you would like to take this trip i share with you all the unofficial contacts i made that can hold your hand around. Reach me on email@example.com
There is so much that still lingers in my mind about Africa but since that is not something I will ever change, no need to waste your time ranting about it but yes as Africans we got to step up elect leaders not politicians …liberate ourselves from mental slavery if we must see any change in Africa. That not withstanding lets have a great year ahead.