I don’t know what it is about bus stations and markets, but they are always located in the craziest and busiest part of any place in any country; from Leeds city centre in the UK to Gondar in Ethiopia the market is always at the bus station.
I try to avoid going into the bus station in Gondar as it is like entering a lion’s den! if you just wonder around the outskirts of the bus station often a bus will come by shouting your destination and you will shout ‘Yes please!’ the driver will do an emergency stop (not sure of the need myself) and you’ll hop on if you think it is shiny enough and not crashy looking! If you have to take the plunge and go to the bus station you should definitely take a big breath and puff your chest out a bit, eye up the corner you’re aiming for and don’t stop until you get there (unless you have to move for a stray donkey).
As soon as you set foot in the bus station in Gondar (or anywhere I’ve been in Ethiopia) being white you can’t be inconspicuous, so you get shouted at constantly “You, you, you” and “You, where are you go?” (Not a typo this is how everyone asks where you’re going). Everyone would like you to go on their minibus, but I am very put off when they start grabbing you. I have had to say on numerous occasions “please don’t touch me” and once a man shouted “Ok no touching, everyone no touching!” Whilst doing a wide sweeping motion with his arms to give me some space. I laughed my head off at that point it was so funny! No one wants to hurt you as they value your money too much.
Buses do not leave many bus stations in Ethiopia (maybe Addis Ababa) at any fixed time, despite what most guidebooks say. My best advice is to turn up early morning between 6-8am and choose your minibus. Look at the vehicle, check the tyres even, meet the driver ask him if he has a drivers licence. Don’t get on an empty minibus if you can help it, as you have will have to wait until it is full before it goes. Often you get a number of false starts and think ‘great I’m off’ only to do several laps of the block to try and round up a few more people and then come back. It can often take an hour or so to set off even if the bus is almost full (it is Africa still). Negotiate your fare in advance and they’ll collect it on the road. Never travel at night or in heavy rain, it is bad enough during the day in good weather but there are so many accidents and the roads are not lit. Take water, but don’t drink too much as may not be able to go to the loo at any point! Try and keep a happy medium of hydration somehow!!
Everyone who travels in Africa will have an entertaining bus ride; it’s all part of the ‘experience’. I was taking the bus from Gondar to Bahir Dar, a town south of Gondar on the south shore of Lake Tana. After an hour of watching the mayhem of the goings on at the bus station we did set off. I wanted to film the chaos of the bus station but a fight broke out and around 50 men were involved, it was fairly tame and stopped when the victim was dragged off to recover, but it put me right off photography at that point.
We made a number of interesting stops on the way and the driver seemed to know everyone from Gondar to Bahir Dar. We stopped at a village for him to say hello to his gran, another village to pick up some road snacks and some fields full of greens. Now in I thought I was rather streetwise but turns out I’m not. I told my friend we stopped to buy several sacks of tea leaves and she said “Gev that’s not tea………..it’s chat”. Well there you have it, fields full of drugs popularly chewed in Ethiopia. I did wonder if you could still make tea with it though. My other thought was ‘wow what fertile lands they have in this region’.
Dodging no end of streams of; donkey’s, cows, goats and sellers of garlic, we did make it to Bahir Dar in one piece all safe and sound. I really didn’t even mind that my driver kept his hand almost constantly on the horn; I thought he was pretty good.
The return journey left a little to be desired; I had a rubbish seat squashed next to a rather annoying character. Unfortunately we saw a bus that had driven off the road to a steep drop and our driver was playing minibus tag. This was until he got annoyed at being cut up so stopped, picked up and rock and drove on and threw it at another minibus bus!! Absolutely mental!! I definitely needed a Dashen beer after that!