We had an early rise to catch the train to Dire Dawa. The new Chinese built train station is located in the middle of nowhere if you are a tourist, but in the middle of a big Chinese industrial estate which is perfect if you are Chinese and built the railway. We had a slight altercation when I told the taxi driver we were going the wrong way and he seemed to suggest that the GPS was wrong. Given so many things navigate via GPS these days I was certain the driver was wrong and after we ended up in a rubbish dump he turned around and admitted his mistake.
Then we had to pass a rigorous bag check which failed to find my pocket knife but did claim Claire’s knife from a camping cutlery set she travels with. To rub salt into the wound there was no way to check in the bag or item and collect at the destination. The final nail in the coffin was a guy was able to board with a hacksaw.
The train is lucky to travel at 40 km/h at the moment, which meant a 10 hr trip. It used to travel much faster but it hit far too many animals like goats, cows and camels. Of course in Africa you then have to pay compensation to the farmer or they will block the tracks. We stopped numerous times for animals including a camel just grazing beside the tracks.
The first half of the journey was relatively peaceful, with the Ethiopian countryside rolling by at about 40 km/h. There was one stop at about 10am. There are going to be 20+ stops on the line but only 4 are in use and very few seem to be near anything. Claire pulled apart her cheese for lunch, whereas for some reason I got mine sliced, which was good when we had no knives, not that I knew that in advance.
It was the afternoon when the party really started. A drug fuelled khat party. Khat is a mild stimulant and the locals chew the leaves, then they lose all ability to control how loud they are. So out came the music which seemed to consist of two Ethiopian songs that got repeated quite a lot. Accompanying the music was a guy with his drums and best loud singing voice he could muster in his Khat induced state.
Central to this was the drug dealing Grandma who had a lot of Khat and a fair bit of money also as she counted it towards the end of the journey. She wasn’t musically inclined but got a lot of phone calls and spoke loud enough that you could hear her from the other end of the carriage. Which was handy for them because they conducted many conversations over the length of the carriage. Fortunately they mellowed in the last hour and for the record Khat is legal and mostly consumed by muslims, who obviously can’t drink alcohol.
Outside the train station was the usual gang of tuk-tuk drivers and touts. Claire picked the one that was not harassing us. We then jumped in a tuk-tuk to get to our hotel, but it broke down. He managed to fix it and it didn’t sound great so he stopped again made some adjustments under the hood and we were off again albeit slower than the other tuk-tuks. What an eventful day we had!