Knowing the national patois on car names is useful if you’re
travelling by public transport.
LADA. The old blue and white Russian Lada is Ethiopia’s contract
private taxi par excellence. In Addis Ababa they are also known as
Contrat, as the name suggests, you rent them by the hour or for a
particular journey. Unfortunately, they are expensive. A short trip
will set you back 25 to 30 birr, a long one 100 birr. Nights may
double that. However, you can see some Lada taxis doing certain
streets like minibuses. It’s obvious they’re doing this as people are
simply squeezing in without asking for prices. Such places are
Bole-Wolo Sefer to Gotara, Urael-Kazanchis corner with Atlas
Hotel-Chichina. The fare is usually just over a birr, you won’t be
cheated. You can stop him when you want.
GIDADA. At Bole International Airport and around major international
hotels you will see yellow cabs with a green line. In theory they are
restricted to airport shuttle services but they can be hired as a
normal blue and white contract taxi. The nicknames comes from
Ethiopia’s first post-Derg ceremonial president, Negasu Gidada, whose
functions included picking up high-profile guests from the airport.
MINIBAS. Also referred to as a taxi, the blue and white Toyota van
works rather like a rail system. They do fixed routes and you can stop
them whenever you want. The word for ‘stop’ is warach. The driver may
refuse, briefly, for traffic reasons, be it roundabouts or near
government offices or embassies, but will stop as soon as possible.
The fee is calculated by your distance. The woyala or money-kids are
honest. Short trips go for 70 cents, long ones up to 3 birr.
WEYEYET. Old bue and white pickups with a square human box on the
back, the name translates as conversation because passengers face
eachother. They work exactly as other minibuses but tend to hang
around Merkato area.
ANBESA BUS. The robust red and yellow buses work as buses do in other
cities. They are as cheap as the word gets, about 30 cents of a birr,
but not practical. Routes are confusing, numbers are rarely visible
and cannot be stopped at your command. They stop only ever so often
and they are slow, get stuck in never ending traffic jams and have a
healthy buffet of pickpockets. Bring an oxygen mask if you’re tempted.
HIGER BUS. These Chinese made green and white buses are smaller than
Anbesa buses, sitting about 30 people. Their routes, like in
minibuses, are shouted by the woyala but cannot be stopped as you
wish. However, they do stop every corner of a street, making them a
convenient alternative to minibuses. They cost about the same as a
minibus and, if not excesively full during rush-hour, have little risk
BAJAJ. The Indian, also blue and white, three wheeled tuk tuk has
taken over Ethiopia. Banned in Addis Ababa, they monopolize urban
transport elsewhere in the country. A ride costs about 1 birr,
anywhere in the town. Other people may hop in if your route is
convenient to them. At night, they work on a contract basis, in places
like Bahar Dar, Dire Dawa or Awasa, 10 to 15 birr is more than enough.
AL-QAIDA. The usually white Isuzu trucks, with their brand name
written in red and Arabic in the back, are notorious. The nickname
comes from their desire to kill and be killed on the road. If driving
in Ethiopia, always expect the worst when faced with one. To their
defence, they do offer a convenient, if exhausting, transport service
in remote parts of the country. The Lower Omo Valley can be partially
covered with them. Strange as it sounds, if you need to enquire about
them in bus stations in remote parts, you may ask Al-Qaida ale? (‘any
Al-Qaeda around?’). Fees are from 15 birr for a day long journey.
INTERURBAN MINIBUS. In journeys like Addis Ababa – Bahar Dar, or
Shashamane – Awassa or Addis Ababa – Harar, you can either travel by
regular bus or by Toyota mini-vans, the same model as the Addis Ababa
blue and white ones, usually in better condition. Known simply as
minibas, they hang around bus stations. Also, hotel receptionists can
help you organize one. This last option is useful as they will pick
you up at 4.00 am and drop you in your destination much earlier than a
bus would. They are only 30 to 40 birr more expensive than a bus, but
much quicker. Once again, I must discourage the Addis Ababa – Nazaret
trip. The newer models of mini-van, slightly bigger, are known as ABA
DULLAH in honor of Oromo’s regional and rather chubby president.
WUSHEMA. Most likely you won’t be riding these! And good luck if you
do! The tiny Hyundai Atoz city car, popular in uptown Addis Ababa, was
for a time the cheapest new car available. Somehow, it became
associated with the mistresses and pretty girlfriends of wealthy
businessmen, the name translates as ‘paid with my pussy’. When driven
by a man, the car is then referred to as Asmelash, ‘I got it back’!
WOYANE. The late 80’s Toyota Corrolla DX hatchback became a hit
sensation after the fall of the Derg and the arrival of free-market
economy. Woyane stands for the nickname of Meles Zenawi’s victorious
rebel movement, the bush-people.
TRENTA. A true Ethiopian icon. The 50’s FIAT Calabrese truck was given
by the post-Mussolini Italian government as war compensation to
Ethiopia. Sometimes compared to an old cigar smoking aristocrat, this
museum motor beast still trods along the rocky highland roads, but be
warned about it’s exhaust pipe: it’s located on the side of the truck,
smack at the height of the face, pourring out a powerful and dusty
black smoke to pedestrians. In remote parts, they also act as
GARI. In smaller towns, the horse cart acts as a taxi. Fares should be
no higher than five birr, and that’s for a long distance. In regional
capitals, like Bahar Dar, Shashamane, etc., they will take you through
side streets as they are banned from asphalt roads.