(This post is mostly for people living in Addis who might also want to do this.)
We knew the train was running, but there’s not easy information available about how to take it, unless you know where to look (which we didn’t). So one day Wondwesen, MCC’s logistics officer and I, decided to try to figure out how it works.
We started here, at the railways management institute, just because Wonde knew where it was. But that’s not the right office. We were told to go to the old train station–the big yellow building behind the lion statue in Lagahar Square–but that was a dead end, too. Turns out you can buy tickets (or at least vouchers for tickets) at the ticket booth under the train track a little West of Meskel Square. You probably drive by it every day.
So now, visas. The weird thing about Djibouti is that to get a visa, you have to actually BUY your ticket and book your hotel room before hand–reservations aren’t enough. Fortunately, they rarely deny issuing a visa. That is, if you have all your documentation neatly together.
Bruce and I went back to the ticket booth the next day to get vouchers for the train, which goes West to East on odd number days and East to West on even numbered days. It doesn’t travel on the 31st of any month. One-way fare for Ferengis is 1006 ($38) and for Habesha 503. Residency doesn’t get you the discount, unfortunately.
The train should take about 6 hours to cover the 850 km between the capital cities, but because of the camels it’s now scheduled to take 12. So far the train has killed over 50 camels. I’ve heard that if you’re on a train that hits a camel, there’s a very long delay while the compensation is settled right there between the Afari nomads and the Chinese operators. There’s not enough time in a three-day weekend to take the train both ways, so we bought plane tickets going out on Friday, booked our hotel, and reserved the east-west train for the Monday holiday. We took all that documentation to the Djibouti Embassy on Tuesday and arrived at 11:35, five minutes after the office closed. Came back the next day, but didn’t have copies of our passport and yellow-fever cards, and they weren’t going to make copies there. Back to the office to make copies, and made it to the embassy before closing. Two hours later, visas!
The final step was to go to the terminal with ID and exchange the vouchers for real tickets. The terminal is in Lebu:
and it’s one of those huge fairy-tail castle looking things . . .
Derricks and a ship called Asossa (an Ethiopian town near the boarder with South Sudan) with Amharic lettering at the port in Djibouti.
Trucks, many with Ethiopian license plates, ready to head inland.