Lake Tana Ferry - Ethiopia
My subconscious slowly registers an annoying sound disrupting my dream. I try to ignore it but without success. That’s when I recognize the sound as the alarm of my cheap cell phone. Unable to open my eyes or lift my face off the pillow, I somehow manage to flop my right hand onto the nightstand and start patting around to locate the offending instrument, almost knocking the lamp over. I eventually manage to find the phone and hit several buttons at random on the dial pad. It works.
I slowly open the eye that’s not buried in the pillow and notice that it’s still dark outside. Then I remembered that I only allowed an hour to get to the ferry. Wide awake now, I scramble out of bed. For the briefest of moments I considered skipping my usual morning shower, but then remembered that this would be my last shower for the next two days.
It’s forty minutes later and still dark when I start the motorbike. The sound of the enjin cuts through the early morning silence and I cringe, wondering how many of the other hotel guests now hate me. I feel bad, but with my luggage loaded, the bike is just too heavy and bulky to push down the path to the parking lot. I almost expect to see lights being turned on and people yelling obscenities at me, like they do in the movies, but it doesn’t happen and I quickly ride off without warming up the enjin as I usually do.
The ferry crowds have already arrived by the time I got to the pier. It was a sea of black faces. I suspected that most of them spent the night there, sleeping wherever they could find a spot. Fortunately I stick out like a sore thumb and the ‘loadmaster’ immediately noticed me as I pulled up behind the crowd of pedestrians. Having purchased the ticket for myself and the motorbike yesterday, he was expecting me. I also recognized him as the guy who showed me around. He gestured for me to follow him, and in typical African fashion, he started yelling at the crowd of people and bullying a path open towards the ferry. He was a big guy and although I could hear a few grumbles, nobody challenged his authority. It flashed through my mind that I was starting on the wrong foot with a group of people that I have to share cramped quarters with for the next two days, but there was nothing I could do except nod greetings and mumble an excuse to everybody that made eye contact.
When we finally reached the ramp of the ferry, it was a shock. When I inspected the ferry yesterday, there was an open cargo deck that could hold at least six cars, and I had quietly planned to tuck my motorbike into the front corner to get it out of harm’s way. Today, the cargo deck was loaded sky high with what seems like a million large bags of maize, and loaded on top of that about twenty papyrus canoes. The only possible area to park my motorbike was occupied by a donkey. The ferry was now also so low in the water that the ramp was no longer level. It was declining at an alarming angle. The ‘loadmaster’ didn’t seem to consider any of this as a problem and beckoned me to ride onto the ferry and park right alongside the donkey. I suspiciously looked at the wet metal surface of the ramp. Knowing that braking while on the ramp would certainly put the bike into a slide, I wouldn’t be able to use my brakes until I reached the donkey’s small area, and there I would only have about three meters to bring the bike to a complete stop. I couldn’t help but think how entertaining it would be for the people who just got bullied out of the way if I had to crash. With a sigh I launched the motorbike onto the ramp, charged down towards the donkey and managed to stop right against the mountain of maize bags. I was very happy with my early-morning riding skills and pleased that the bike, donkey and I were still intact. I smiled at the donkey and glanced over my shoulder to take in the appreciative looks of the crowd. There were none. Nobody even noticed. Cynically I thought that nobody would have missed it had I crashed though. I removed my helmet, patted the donkey’s head while warning him to be careful around my motorbike and made my way up to the already crowded passenger deck. It didn’t escape my attention that I was the only faranji on board.
Although the ferry was overcrowded, the donkey and my motorbike had to be moved onto the docks for loading and unloading cargo on three separate occasions, and that the bedbugs at the ‘best’ hotel at the overnight stop in Konzola got the better of me, it was an amazing two days on Lake Tana.
Last edited by Newbie; 6 Apr 2011 at 19:41.
Reason: Font Size