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The Bus to Bahir Dar

by - September 21 2010

It isn't often that a ten hour bus journey turns out to be one of the highlights of a trip, however Ethiopia is no normal country and this was no normal bus journey. The bus went through remote Ethiopian villages, giving me my first fly-by view of real rural Ethiopian life.

We crossed over the phenomenal Blue-Nile rift valley, at which the table of the high central plateau suddenly drops in a shear cliff face to reveal another world far far below us - it felt weird to discover we were driving above the clouds. We saw spectacular waterfalls that reminded me of the mythical place in the movie "Up". Our bus was even mobbed by a tribe of Baboons.

The person sitting next to me noticed the section in my guidebook about gay travellers and informed me that Ethiopia does not have any homosexuals. We then got into a long discussion about why Africa is poor. One of the most interesting points that came up is that, until a few hundred years ago, Europe was largely the same as Africa is now, and so arguably the question isn't so much why is Africa poor as how did Europe suddenly stop being poor, and can Africa replicate that. Indeed it is interesting to look at rural life in Ethiopia as being a time capsule for what the whole world was like until not so long ago.

One thing that is apparently changing a lot right now is that the Chinese are building a lot of new infrastructure. They are building new roads, and laying a new Internet cable under the red sea. Ethiopia seems to be filled with Chinese businessmen who are clearly up to something. People seem pleased about what the Chinese are doing, but worried that this is part of a larger colonial scheme.