The road was the most desolate road I had ever attempted to hitchhike. Aside from a few huts, which sparsely dotted the hillsides, there was nothing but untamed fields, dried out riverbeds and the dirt road ahead. I was in the Wild West of East Africa, better known as the Ethiopian Highlands.
After two hours of walking, and without the passing of a single car or minibus, I was beginning to worry. The sun was bearing down, my back was drenched in sweat, and I had just gulped the last of my two-liter water bottle. I hadn’t prepared for a 100 kilometer walk and for the first time, I began to seriously fear for my survival.
However, the prospects of dehydration quickly became the least of my worries. Around one kilometer away, four rugged highland farmers, each with Ak-47’s flung over their shoulders, were advancing towards me.
Fear instantly struck my heart, moved into my gut, and then manifested it’s self in one of the most audible events of flatulence I had ever experienced. Without even so much as a giggle, I gathered my wits, and ran as quick as I could around the bend and out of sight.
Ethiopians had warned me countless times. They had told me stories of backpackers being murdered merely for the clothes on their backs. I had always naively discounted such scenarios as highly improbable. However, it was now a very frightening and very flatulence inducing reality.
Exhausted under the weight of my 20kg backpack, I galloped down the hillside like an injured gazelle. With no trees or boulders by which to conceal myself, I had no choice but to try and outrun them. Although I could not be sure of their intentions, I just had a bad feeling, and I wasn’t about to stick around to confirm it.
And then, as if some higher power had witnessed my plight or perhaps heard the wind I had broken, the rumble of a distant but fast approaching vehicle became audible. Suddenly, a mini bus came screeching around the bend. I quickly positioned myself in the middle of the road, put my hands together, and begged the driver with all my mental strength to stop.
And stop he did. However, to my western mind, the mini bus appeared to be completely full. There were probably around 20 people crammed into a bus that would normally only accommodate 8. Fortunately, this was Ethiopia and in Ethiopia there is no limit on how many people can squeeze into a vehicle. And so, after brief contemplation, the driver told me to get in and I gratefully did.
At first I found myself crowd surfing, laying horizontal above men, women, infants, and a goat. But after rounding a sharp bend, I became lodged up against the door. Thankfully, I now I had a small breeze from an inch wide crack in the window. Despite this, the minibus remained a sauna that reeked of dung, goat, and raw meat. In agony, I recalled the words of a wise Indian who once told me, while similarly cramped on a train, that “pain is only temporary.” And for the next three hours, bumping up and down dirt roads, this became my mantra.
Despite being the most uncomfortable bus ride ever, I was glad to suffer through it. I was merely happy to be alive. And I would have suffered on that bus for many more hours if it meant avoiding those armed farmers. All in all it was a great adventure and one that I don’t regret. Though hitchhiking in Ethiopia is dangerous, there is no better way to meet the people and experience land.