I finally left Addis on Sunday morning. Erik and I had visited the bus station the day before, purchased our tickets and even managed a stop and the euphemistically named tea shack. We were told to get to the bus station by 5am in order to ensure a seat. We went to the Addis Ababa Restaurant (site of my first meal in Ethiopia) to celebrate what had been nearly 2 weeks of planning to organize a trip to Danakil. Tej, doro wat, and tibes rounded out our meal and we returned to the hotel full and happy. Instead of packing up my belongings which after 2 weeks had become indiscernibly strewn across my room I worked on my computer as it was having a good spell (it had been temperamental for the last several weeks since I had received an Arabic virus from friends in Cairo). Falling asleep at 3 with bags still unpacked I woke an hour later and hastily began piling my belongings into my bag. Only slightly tardy we left for the bus station and arrived to the bewildering sounds and smells of early departure at the Addis Ababa bus station.

After boarding the bus, Erik managed to squeeze into a seat on the back row. I, however, was left standing in the aisle and repeatedly told that there was a seat for me. After 20 minutes and another dozen seatless souls filled the aisle I began exaggerated faranji antics including but not limited to moaning, waving my arms, frowning and smiling in quick succession, and talking rapidly in English. Ultimately, I was offered a bench seat between two Ethiopians. On my left sat a man whose eyes told a story of years being mistreated. In his hands he carried his prayerbook and would frequently fall into prayerful reverie. To my right sat a less interesting chap whose defining characteristic over the next two days was to fall asleep on me.

Although used to moderately uncomfortable Latin American buses filled with screaming children, intoxicated men, noisy expectoration, and heat I was less well prepared for the sugar cane. A popular snack, sugar cane, is typical bought in 8-10 inch sticks. Over a period of anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours of chewing the sugarcane is reduced to a fibrous mass and deposited on the floor.

Also, as it turns out Ethiopians have a deadly fear or moving air. This translates to oven-like conditions and the bus interior turning into a large trash can/compost heap (the other option of course being to litter the roadside). With nearly 2/3rds of the bus’ population chewing sugar cane this amounted to a lot of spitting and half-masticated sticky cellulose.

We arrived a little past the halfway point in the town of Hayk. Walking to the lake a kilometer outside of town we were treated to a beautiful sight of a large lake ringed by mountains and maintaining the idyllic alpine environment characteristic of a European mountain refuge.

On the second day we arrived at Mekelle earlier than expected and began the arduous task of finding a hotel room, finding our elusive comrade (arranged through email), and finalizing details with the tour agency for a departure early the next morning.

After several debacles where we were asked to pay 2-3 times the going rate for a room we sunk exhausted into the seats of a nearby juice shop. Pantomiming frantically we conveyed our desperate need for juice. Mango? No. Guava? No. Aninis (pineapple)? NOOOO! Avocado? Yes! Yes! Yes! And thus I had my first encounter with avocado juice. Delectable beyond all imagining it forms a synergy between savory and sweet and has a thickness and fullness that intimates faultless nutritiousness. Never will I forget the first time that a taste so pure, so soft, and so green has passed my lips. Ambrosial.

Re-energized we set off towards a final hotel. Bargaining them down slightly we accept our rooms and fled to the showers to wash off the elaborate caking of mud and grime that only repeated bouts of sweat can cause.

Next we left in search of Mark. Mark was our email contact who had expressed interest in joining us to Danakil. We hadn’t received a return email from him in 5 days and with departure planned for the next morning we were a little nervous. Stopping off at the tour agency we heard news that a Spanish couple with their own vehicle was interested in going to Danakil. Overjoyed we went off in search of them. It turned out that we had seen them multiple times in Addis and I had spoken to them briefly there. They had traveled from Spain in a self-customized Land Rover and had spent the last 5 months traveling through Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia (www.perafrica.blogspot.com). They were soon to begin a 5 month volunteer placement with a spanish NGO in Wukro, a town about 40 km north of Mekelle. Afterwards they would head south and then return to Spain via the West coast of Africa.