I may be a little odd. You see, I really rather enjoy spending upwards of twelve hours at a time going nowhere fast in cramped, hot and often unhygienic conditions on third world public transport systems. Sometimes I even wonder if I don’t actually prefer it to reaching the destination itself. Despite knowing that I will be visiting awe-inspiring wonders of both human and natural making on my longitudinal schlep across the African continent, the reality is that my primary source of enjoyment was always going to come from the travelling itself.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the mere thought of spending more than a couple of idle hours on a plane, train or automobile would fill me with a dread that often bordered on anguish and despair. My great Australasian trip of 2000-2001 was filled with never-ending journeys, veritable beasts of double digit hourage that I struggled to endure despite the spectacular scenery that unfurled itself before me. I particularly remember a thirty-seven hour bus journey in Western Australia that left me so horrifically scarred for a number of days that I briefly considered… Never. Travelling. Again. How the thought makes me chuckle today.

Looking back, I can actually recall the exact moment I made my peace with, and embraced wholeheartedly a universe that is totally unavoidable when one is infected with incurable wanderlust. The grandiose Trans-Siberian adventure of 2007 went a long way towards curing me of my transportation neurosis, as it proved once and for all that onward motion and personal enjoyment were not mutually exclusive. It wasn’t until the Balkan escapade of summer 2008, however, and a seemingly innocuous Albanian minivan journey from Tirana to the Ottoman town of Berat that I finally conquered my fears and learned to master the art of travel.

I was feeling the habitual tedium and annoyance at another frustratingly arduous plod over unsealed roads in rural backwaters when I happened to look out of the window and actually register what I was seeing: idyllic mountain countryside in stunning summer weather, there simply waiting for me to appreciate. At that very moment, a song played on my iPod that made the moment perfect. I felt a weight lift off my shoulders and enjoyed the following two hours as I had never done before. This was my travel epiphany. For a person as impatient as I am, and with nervous energy as potent as my attention span is short, I had finally located my inner sanctum of peace and serenity. I have not looked back since and and can now only ever look forward to the next interminable journey witnessing breathtaking scenery with unbridled delight.

And nowhere has this masochistic love of long-distance commuting and infinite rolling landscape been better requited than here, in Ethiopia. Despite my original excitement for the country having been tempered by an unexpectedly lengthy stay in the capital, it only takes two hours of mountainous country roads and the jaw-droppingly winding descent into the Blue Nile Gorge to rekindle the bonfire of expectation: this is the big country of endless skies and wide open spaces that I have been waiting for on this entire trip.

Bahir Dar to Gashena

The Blue Nile Gorge

With each successive journey superseding the previous, I realise that I am running out of Thesaurus-sourced superlatives to describe what I am witnessing: if the Grand Canyon were a country, this would be it. The landscape is so scandalously dramatic that all other countries should throw in the towel, immediately, and it is all I can do stop myself from blaspheming, swearing and even drooling at the window as we wind up, around and down bucolic mountain villages with children in traditional Amhara dress waving us by. Never before have I looked forward to leaving a place as soon as I have arrived, only to be able to keep on feeding my senses with a panoramic drama mini-series on a seemingly continuous loop.

The clear and definite reality of the situation, whatever day or location it happens to fall on, is that I can commit these snapshots of aesthetic perfection to my physical memory only, rather than digital. It is a relief, and perhaps the explanation for my pure, unadulterated enjoyment of these prolonged labours of love, that all I can do is immerse myself in the moment, for hours on end. I had been concerned about the time spent travelling between each Ethiopian point of interest, but I needn’t have worried: this is a land that is made to be travelled overland, not despite but because of the vast distances. A land made for me.

Lalibela to Woldia

Sugar cane: the messiest travel snack in town…

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