“But how will I get back to Makele?” asked Aregawi.
I had met the kid while I was walking back from the offices of ETT, after being dropped off from the 4-day Danakil Depression tour. He claimed to be a local guide and offered to take me into the Siemens mountains for a trek.
“You can see rock churches,” he had gushed. “Very beautiful. Very famous mountain in Ethiopia.”
I explained my ways and, if he wanted, in exchange for the trek I’d promote him through an article about the experience.
“This is how I survive,” I stressed. “And I travel only by lifts.” And explained what that meant.
He nodded and said he understood everything that I said. I repeated my story four times from various angles to make sure he completely understood. People have this need to satisfy you by saying they understand instead of simply saving my time and admitting when they don’t. It’s as though their ashamed of not being able to comprehend what I say the first time round.
“Are you sure you understand?” I stopped walking and stared into his eyes, hoping some Jedi force will make him admit what I could sense. “I’m not using money.”
“I understand,” he grinned.
I wrote his number down and agreed to call him that evening to arrange a time to head off in the morning.
Makele is Ethiopia’s second largest city. And it’s huge. Although its population is half a million, it seemed bigger than Nairobi. I had a gut feeling that I’d be doing more hiking than hitching in this ancient land. Back at Hannah’s, she cooked up a lovely pasta dish and invited some friends over. We talked movies and I listened as they talked work and Hannah’s trip to Addis as her parents were arriving for a visit. I called up Aregawi.
“Meet me at eight in front of the Milano Hotel,” I instructed. My gut said this trek was not going to happen.
In the morning I thanked Hannah for her hospitality and we parted ways. Yohannes escorted me to the Milano Hotel and waited with me until Aregawi showed up, grinning.
“Where’s your pack?” I asked, seeing he was empty handed.
“We pass by my house,” he said. “It’s on the way.”
I farewelled Yohannes and walked down the road with Aregawi.
“So we take the bus from –”
“No bus,” I stopped him. “I told you yesterday, remember? I don’t use money and I travel by lifts. Remember? We agreed we’d travel by lifts.”
“But they won’t stop for me. They will only take you,” he complained.
Jesus, this kid. “I hitched with my friend from Addis and we got a lift no problem. You think if I get a ride and the driver won’t let you on I’ll just leave you on the road?”
For fuck’s sake.
He insisted on taking a bus so we agreed to meet in the next town, Wukro. I hiked down the road, shaking my head.
This trek ain’t gonna happen.
The highway went uphill as it would after a downhill and I managed to get a ride to the industrial area. From there I hiked a ways up, about 3 Ks, before I set up shop outside the engine manufacturing plant next to the army base. About an hour passed before Abrami stopped for me and took me to Wukro. He dropped me outside a small coffee shop. I entered, greeting the locals and asked if I could use a phone to call Aregawi.
And that’s when he asked how he was supposed to return to Makale.
“But I explained to you four times yesterday, mate,” I did my best to remain calm and patient. “I told you I don’t use money. I told you my exchange. I told you how I travel. You agreed to come and then this morning you didn’t trust me and now you expect me to be responsible for your return to Makele? I’m heading north, I don’t backtrack.”
He continued to repeat his ‘How will I get home’ spiel until I just hung up on him. I was short on patience and after a local invited me to coffee and some njera with salad, I chatted with Endrias who worked in Wukro but lived in Adigrat.
“Call me after six, I’ll help you in Adigrat,” he said, writing down his number.
Thanking him and with renewed spirits, I hit the road, hiking out of Wukro I found a shaded area and got a ride on a red dump truck. The driver introduced himself as Sisi and the woman as Esther. I was sat in the middle and could see Esther staring at my face from my peripheral. Every time I turned to her she shifted her gaze to the window. Neither could speak English and in the next town Esther dropped off. So far I had not been asked for money by drivers so I had stopped explaining that payment of cash would not be given for a ride.
So when we hit Adigrat and Sisi asked for money I realised I should still keep to that practice. I managed to explain how I wasn’t into money and tapped on my chest, that helping should come from the heart and not for financial gain.
He nodded, didn’t seem to pleased as I grabbed my packs and hiked off to find a phone to call Endrias.
He picked me up from the internet café I was hanging around at and invited me for tea. He couldn’t help me with a space to sleep and directed me to where the hotels were on the main street. It had become dark and three hotels refused my barter. One because the manager wasn’t there, the other had a language barrier, a third was fully booked.
And then I came across the Canaan International Hotel.