Especially when you’re 3 hours from the airport, and the flight out of Ethiopia is in 3 and a half hours time. It gets worse…
I tried to make sense of the situation: It wasn’t the cattle herding kids who were peering at me like meercats in plastic potato sacks that was odd. It wasn’t even the fact that trucks might blow by here in a cloud of dust once or twice a week, leaving me still stranded.
No, it was the tribe of Gelada Baboons munching away on grass and flea picking each other between curious glances over at me that settled me in to wait as long as the waiting would take. Hiking off the grid in the Simien Mountains in Northern Ethiopia will do that to you.
Across the windswept plains a crowd slowly gathered; mules carrying hikers supplies, overloaded and overbalanced, plodded along in front of their lazy owners. Children as young as four whipped goats to a roadside patch of grass, and a few lonely mountain men draped in blankets sat with zero conviction.
Me on the other hand, I was stressing out. My fresh faced teenage guide could only apologise the bus hadn’t arrived. And my scout, the guy with the wooden rifle who walked me through the park to ward off bandits, sat with a toothless grin. I pondered the altogether uncomfortable feeling he could just as easily be bought off with a six pack of beer and some chocolate, rather than defend me in this barren land.
I got sick of waiting and started to think through my options: steal a mule or start running. Neither was going to get me to the airport in time as the sun hid behind grey clouds, and the sweat from the hike up to this mountain pass was now chilling my bones.
On a small rise up the road some 500 metres, a handful of children ran excitedly down toward our group yelling something in Amharic. I only understood 3 words from catching the bus in Addis and Kasanchis, Sedis Kilo and Teardros was not among their high pitched squeals.
The adrenalin was enough for me to sit upright from my mild depression, praying for transport, and eyeing off the competition for seats. It was a truck, going in the opposite direction, full of mountain folks heading back from town with supplies.
It’s in moments like these, when travelling, that you wonder about the important things in life and what really matters. We need air to breathe, a roof over our head, and food for our body and soul.
That last sentence might sound really nice, but I’m writing it from the comfort of a business class seat back to Australia, and hippy new age euphemisms are a pain in the ass when reality has other ideas, especially when waiting by the side of the road in the Simien Mountains, with a truck going in the opposite direction.
None of this mattered. The child drawing circles with a stick in the dirt wearing torn shorts and two ragged cotton shirts (one to cover the holes of the other) didn’t care. The restful guides and scouts babbling away in their language, broken by laughter and pondered silence, were none the wiser. Up here, only the breeze over the mountain plain, and my monkey mind, made noise.
Seemingly out of nowhere a young village girl, all of 3 years old, with snot dripping down her upper lip and wearing a heshin ‘dress’ slung loosely over her tiny frame, walked toward me with a new-born goat. It’s coat was still wet and bloodied from the birth and it’s mother was bleating away a few steps behind her.
She offered for me to pat the goat. The hopeful look in her eye almost telepathically told me that she thought that getting her goat patted by a white man would be a great way to start goat life.
The world stops spinning in moments like that. The cloudy skies in your mind clear, and all that really matters is the moment you’re in. That happened for me, and I found a sublime sense of peace, even as my hand got slimed in goat birth-canal funk.
I could hear the rumble of stones, and a light dust cloud forming as the bus rose over the corner. I knew my goat girl moment was over, and that I would write about this experience, so I stood up and collected my things and made my way over to the turn-out patch of dirt.
I said ‘Gondar’, the local airport, to the driver. This was the only legible Amharic I needed in this situation. The driver then said “You pay”. Before I could protest that it was an all-inclusive tour he darted a cheeky grin I thought only I was capable of. He knew he was late, and he knew I’d be pissed.
An awkward pause, and a moment later, we both laughed as I punched him gently on the arm.
I could write and say it was a hell raising high speed 3 hour drive down the mountain, but it wasn’t. Pot holes kept the van at 20 kilometres an hour. And when we turned onto the paved road, there were enough villages and cattle meandering across the highway to make it a stop and start drive all the way.
We called the hotel to meet me at the airport with my suitcase. I remember seeing the security guard when I landed here, and the angle of his neck suggested sleep was his way of getting through the day, so I told the driver to pull off near the arrivals door. I snuck through a gift shop and made it to the check-in with two minutes to spare.
The flight was delayed, and I could feel my sigh deeply, I realised I could have spent more time sitting, waiting for a bus, and just letting the mountain move me still.