To Addis Abba
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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
Ethiopia is in the midst of a huge gas (petrol) shortage, and I find myself with a bit of a problem. None of the stations in Jinka have any, and I drove here expecting to find it, so the Jeep is running on fumes.
I won’t be leaving this town until I find gas.
Early in the morning I ask around and am directed to a station ten minutes out of town. When I arrive there are already at least fifty tuk-tuks and well over two hundred motorbikes clustering around the gas pumps. Everyone is shocked to see me line up in the Jeep, and they all confirm at least twenty times the Jeep runs on gas and not diesel – they have never before seen a big 4×4 that runs on gas.
A few of the guys speak some English, and they are happy to translate while everyone gathered around comes over to check me and the Jeep out. I can feel the tension in the air, and as much as I want to take photos, I think better of it.
After a couple of hours the owner of the station stands up to make a speech, and one guy translates snippets for me. The owner is trying to buy more gas, but is having a very hard time getting it – so supplies are limited. Today all motorbikes will be limited to two gallons each, while tuk-tuks can have three. There will be no filling of jerry cans or other containers allowed. This way everyone will get some, and we can all worth together to get through this. He even mentions he will sell at the official price (about $3/gal), rather than inflating it for his own profit
This all sounds very reasonable to me, and I can tell he is doing his best in a tough situation. Though apparently I’m the only one who thinks this. Over the next hour I watch as almost every single man waiting goes over to verbally abuse the owner – screaming in his face, waving arms and making it very, very clear what they think of his plan. Everyone is furious and bristling with anger and I’m shocked to see such a display.
I keep back and don’t take out my camera.
After almost four hours of waiting I’m surprised when everyone starts revving their engines and screaming as the attendant begins to pump gas – apparently it was in the underground tanks all along. I thought we were waiting for a delivery, but no, we were just waiting. Because Africa.
Now the madness begins as almost everyone cuts the line, yells, screams, fills jerry cans and does whatever else they can to not cooperate with each other, and to make the whole process a lot slower and more painful for everyone.
I’m forced to continually maneuver the Jeep to stop tuk-tuks cutting me off, though of course they still do and I get yelled at on multiple occasions simply for trying to hold my place in line. Eventually it’s my turn and the owner agrees I can have a full tank, which I’m extremely thankful for. I fill up and get out of there before I have to witness anymore abuse or stupidity.
It’s strange to see so many people behaving so badly. With a tiny bit of common sense the whole thing could have gone very smoothly and been painless for everyone involved. Never before in Africa have I seen people treat each other so badly, and it’s a little disconcerting to know Ethiopians have no problem treating each other this way.
I wonder how I’ll be treated?
Over the next couple of days I push hard to the capital of Addis Abba, making big distances on very bad roads. The extreme gas shortage means I’m forced to change my plans about exploring in the South of the country, so I just move on. In one town I’m forced to buy ten gallons of gas on the black market for double the official price, and another time I arrive at a station just as they receive a delivery and it’s no problem to get another full tank.
At all the stations that don’t have gas the attendants immediately say I can buy it on the black market – which is run by them. It’s obvious they fill up containers when the station has gas, then sell it for twice the price when the station runs out.
Addis is a big city with a modern center, and I setup camp right there, before running around town ticking off jobs. I apply for and am granted two crucial visas for onwards travel, and I’m happy to hang out with fellow Overlanders, including a couple I have not seen since Cameroon on the West Coast, well over a year ago.
Ethiopia and it’s people is very different than everything that has come before, and I’m excited to explore some of the stunning places in the North.