Ethiopian roads are tricky. Especially the mobile speed bumps make it very difficult to stay on the road. With the mobile speed bumps I refer to all the cattle on the road. Apathetic they walk along on the tarmac roads. Strangely enough you don’t see them on dirt roads. It’s only when the road turns into asphalt again that these initiators of many traffic accidents pop up out of nowhere. Off course different animals demonstrate different behaviors once on tarmac.

Donkeys: As we already know they are very stubborn. That’s not that different in traffic. They’re very apathetic most of the time and will not move even if you start pushing them out of the way with your front tire. But sometimes they can surprise you and run across the road out of nowhere.

Camels: They are a bit deaf. If you accelerate a bit they will startle and run off with their funny waggle.

Goats: completely unpredictable but easy to scare with your honk. They will choose the most difficult and dangerous way to escape from a threatening situation, so be aware and expect the unexpected!

Cows: They just don’t give a fuck. Nothing or nobody will change its trajectory. Don’t even think about getting them to move. They decide when and how you will pass them. Bulls might even sometimes try to charge if you come to close.

Birds: Birds have no rights. They’re too small to really damage your vehicle. So drive on an remove possible stains from your vehicle in the next gas station.

I hear you ask:” are these animals not accompanied by humans?” In some cases: yes. But most of the time a small 10-year old child guides them. Or better they are guided by the animals. So don’t expect any professional herding. Instead rely on yourself and your instincts. Try to think like the animal you see on the horizon or in most cases that means, don’t think at all and be prepared for a potential impact.

Cows on the road, not the first nor the last time

We leave the Eco lodge and its cockroaches in Konso behind and drive towards Bale mountains. The landscapes and its inhabitant’s changes radically all the time in Ethiopia. We’re driving into Oromo land. The Oromia are the biggest ethnical group in Ethiopia (34 %) but they have been marginalised ever since they arrived in Ethiopia in the 16th century. It must be said that they made kind of a violent entry in Ethiopian history, plundering their way up north from Kenya on horseback, obliging even the old city of Harar to built its magnificent stone walls. Since a few months there have been violent manifestations because the Oromo feel they’re being suppressed. Their territory has been reduced due to the vast expansion of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Protests are oriented towards the government, because of their repression and foreign investors, because of the low wages and the bad working conditions they offer, especially in the horticulture.

grain and cactus plants, landscape in Oromia

We are entering Ethiopia’s highlands and it becomes a bit fresher, a welcome change after the merciless heat of Lake Turkana and the Omo valley in South Ethiopia. The sloping landscape is dotted with small farms; all of them are made up out of a few round huts with a fence of tall cactus plants, to keep the cattle in at night and the predators out. With exception of the cactus plants it resembles to me what France would have looked like during Celtic times, 2000 years ago.

I could write here a small chapter about the annoying Ethiopian kids that constantly beg for money. You can hear their mantra resonating through the hills and valleys of the country: “you you you, money money money”.

I think it’s fair to try but their success rate isn’t very high. Another approach might work better. They pop-up out of nowhere and their numbers grow exponential the longer you stay still in one place. Ethiopia has almost 100 million inhabitants, most of them under 20. Some projections state that in 2050, the land will have to sustain more than 250 million souls. Will this land, plagued by recurring famine, be big enough to sustain that many souls? Sometimes it appears to me that birth control might save some African countries from famine and civil wars in the future.

Looking for petrol in local shops, again…

We overestimated the presence of petrol stations in this part of the country. We end up in Adaba town with just a few spare litres to cross the Dinsho mountain pass to Robe, heart of the Bale mountains. A friendly guy, called Midasser, helps us to find petrol. We buy a few litres of premium, plastic bottled petrol at a local shop. Midasser is very strict for the shop owner, demanding the right price and quantity of petrol. He ends up in a big quarrel with the shop owner because she spills a few millilitres. We thank him for his dedication and give him a ride to the local mosque.

It’s Friday and he wants to go for prayers. His English is like most Ethiopians very rudimental. I figure out he’s a salesman of seeds, mostly barley. He’s 21 and doesn’t have a family yet. He seems a bit disappointed when we don’t give him a tip. We explain him we gave him a ride instead. After this his warm helpfulness cools down a bit and he hurries into the mosque, refusing a last picture with us. Since we arrived in Ethiopia it seems to me that all its inhabitants expect to get something from us. Whereas in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda people genuinely want to help you, in Ethiopia there always seems to be a hidden agenda, nothing is free. Personally I don’t mind to pay people if they deliver a small service, but it has to be clear from the start.

Dinsho mountain pass

According to the theory of my companion Willem, this national urge of panhandling and begging all started with the world aid events of the 80’s, when huge amounts of relief were given to this country. I’m eager to find out where the real roots of this cultural, nationwide behaviour lie. We ascend to the Dinsho mountain pass and it becomes gradually colder.

I’m shaking on my motorbike when I see a poor fellow standing next to the road. I decide to pick him up, doing him and me a favour (at least my back is a bit warmer now).My backwarmers’ name is Hamir. He’s a farmer and he left his cattle to join his family in Dinsho town. The cold apparently doesn’t really affect him. My hands have become icicles in my gloves but he’s waving enthusiastically with his bare hands to everybody we cross, most of them on horseback.

He’s clearly enjoying the cold motorbike ride. The landscape is beautiful. The sunset surrounds the mountaintops in a beautiful orange light. We end up in Robe, a small university town, just after sundown.

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