Ethiopia

Day 41,  21st July 2009

 

Gonder: 234 miles

 

A: We slept very well last night especially after our very broken sleep the night we spent at the Meroe pyramids. We paid up for our room then filled up Donkey with some juice. We had a few Sudaneese Pounds left over and as we were heading to the Ethiopian border we thought we'd take a look at the market to see what we could buy. For 5SP (1.50 English)  we got 5 pieces of freshly baked bread, 10 falafel and two bottles of apple juice. The prices here don't get inflated, everyone was paying exactly the same amount for things as us which is wonderful especially after our Egypt experience!!

 

Andrew just accidentally drove past Border Control to enter Ethiopia!! So we reversed back into Sudan for the formalities before we could cross....again!!

 

Q: Ethiopian customs and border control is a breeze. No mountain of paper or anything to pay so after less than an hour (including changing money) we were through Metema and onto the road towards Gonder. The whole atmosphere of the country instantly changes in comparison to Sudan. As it is the summer rain season, everywhere you look it is lush green and the farmers are preparing their land for the planting of their next crop. Such a contrast to 2 days ago where we were camping in possibly the driest place on earth.

 

Ethiopians have a very odd way of using the middle of the main road a pavement for themselves and all their cattle and sheep and goats. There were numerous occasions where we were forced to slow down as someone was walking (more often that not) with their entire herd of cattle in the middle of the road. Today we were also greeted by the kids waving and pointing shouting  "you you you you" or "farangi" which means foreigner. It was quite funny to sometimes hear a muffled voice from the doorway of a house yelling out at us as we zoomed on by. I've read that this name calling and shouting will continue all the way through Ethiopia so I am expecting the novelty to wear off soon. 

 

One thing we did notice today is a game some Ethiopian children play where they line the middle of road with boulders. I am sure that they get into big trouble if caught by their parents putting these obstacles into the road. I sawva few of the little terrors sheepishly running out after we had passed to move their chosen stone into a better position as they realised that they were not in the right place to cause a problem.

 

Driving through the Simien Mountains as we got closer to Gondor was the possibly the most beautiful part of our journey so far. The road is being repaired (more like being replaced) and is being used by the many trucks and diggers on the project so in the rain the really bad parts of the road were not too difficult to get through. Even so, the 180-odd km from the border to Gondor took us over 3 hours. Given the fantastic view … it was worth it.

 

A: We made our way to a hotel listed in the LP and soon discovered it was fully booked. A kind man who worked for the Gondor Tourism Council showed us to another place called Queen Taytu Hotel. It was clean so we registered at the front desk. As it got darker, we tried the lights but there seemed to be no electricity as our region of Ethiopia was out until tomorrow! We went for supper which turned out to be quite romantic as the entire room was lit by candlelight. We thought we'd brave the meat dish … lamb cutlets for Andrew and lamb goulash for me. Andrew took a bite of his cutlet and the only thing he could liken it to was a bready doughnut!! My Goulash was tasty but extremely chewy and boney. Think we'll go Veggie for the next few weeks until we can guarantee a good succulent chop!

 

Day 42,  22nd July 2009

 

Gonder: 0 miles, maybe a few by foot

 

Q: This morning was just dandy until I got told by Angel that the water to our room was still not working. The whole hotel had no water now for a couple of days - no water to flush not water to wash … but at least the electricity was on now. Poor reception guy got an earful and was told that he needed to sort it out. Blurry eyed I went for a stroll to see if the pension that we had tried to get into yesterday would have a room for us tonight. Thankfully it did have a room plus there was electricity and water today which was a huge bonus. Triumphant and very pleased I went back to tell Angel the good news.

 

Breakfast today was a coffee (which was just a tiny smidge) and hot milk plus what I think was supposed to be a ring doughnut for me and a cake called soft cake for Angel. Soft cake from Delicious Patisseries just off the main road in Gonder is very good. The internet cafe in Gonder is on a dial-up network, so uploading anything to our website was going to be a struggle so forgot about that and just checked our mails.

 

Gonder has quite an important place in Ethiopian history. It was here that a succession of Orthodox Ethiopian kings ruled the North East of Africa for a few hundred years - fighting off the Portuguese, the Ottomans and of course the English. We visited the palaces of these kings and a few of the monasteries and churches. They were all very beautiful and also very different to anything I would have expected.

 

We contacted the SOS Children's Villages in Addis to let them know that we should be arriving in Bahir Dar tomorrow (on Lake Tana) where we will hopefully visit the project in Bahir Dar the following day. I have been looking forward to this since we left home just over a month ago.

 

We have seen so much and travelled such a long way, but I think that the best is yet to come … 

 

A: Andrew and I have strolled around many historical sights since we set off and our Lonely Planet has been  our guide throughout. Today however we almost considered just walking around the castles and piecing things together about their history ourselves but instead we took a local guide who was fantastic and really knew his stuff.

 

While we're walking around from one site to the next all we here is 'hello, hello, hello', its mainly from tiny little children who come running toward you to get a high five or a little hand shake from the strange looking blonde freckly girl and the ginger bearded artist!! (just how a local described Andrew just today!!)

 

Just as we arrive back at the pension the rain came hurling down so we retreated to our room but left open the door so we could hear the thunder and see the crashes of lightening. The downpour is spectacular and within moments the ground is completely flooded.

 

Oh I have to mention ... Andrew is having the best time growing his beard, once it's established enough he takes great pride in shaving it off into some kind of strange goatee or mustache, it stays for all of two minutes before he realises he looks a little daft …! I'm sure you boys can relate to his behavior?

 

We met a guy called Ty earlier on today staying here at the pension, he's been working as a teacher here in Gonder for the past 3 months and seems to know this place very well now so he's going to show us a good place for supper then take us to a few local bars to experience the nightlife.

 

Day 43,  23nd July 2009

 

Bahir Dar: 233 miles

 

Q: We had injera for the first time last night. For those who don't know what injera is, this my take on it - injera is like a pancake that tastes slightly sour (still not too sure how it is made but will find out soon). This pancake covers the tray you get your meal served on and comes with a pancake spicy filler of your choice - fish, meat (sometimes raw) and even chicken. Using the injera as a scoop, you pinch bite size pieces of the filler which your then put into your mouth. You are considered almost local if you perform this task with just one hand throughout the meal. All in all it is good and I am sure that I will enjoy it a few times while in Ethiopia, but it is not something that I would eat every meal as the tummy might struggle. I hope Angel does not eat it again as it was quite a restless night last night.

 

We got up pretty early this morning considering we must have had one of the latest nights out on our trip. Ty (who we met yesterday) has been in Gonder for a few days and he knew a couple of good places for us to go for a few drinks. The plan was to get to Bahir Dar around lunch time to try and fit in a half day boat trip to see a few monasteries that are on dotted around the islands of Lake Tana.

 

Bahir Dar is a major town on the South bank of Lake Tana which also is the place where the Blue Nile starts its journey through Ethiopia going into Sudan and ending up flowing into the Med at Alexandria in Egypt. We have followed the Nile for 4 weeks to get to this point. 

 

Our camp site is in the garden of the Ghion Hotel that sits on the bank of Lake Tana. Nice place … It has cold showers and the most unusual greek salad I have ever ordered - boiled cabbage with fried sliced potatoes and cold rice with tomato puree on the side. Was so good that I have saved some for lunch. 

 

A: A little after lunch we drove the 35km down a very bumpy road past several small settlements to the Blue Nile Falls. We parked up and were soon surrounded by little children selling shawls and  small hide water bottles. We had to follow a very uneven path over a 17th Century bridge, through a small village to the view point of the Falls.

 

The Falls were very pretty and the water was flowing with quite a force especially after this past month of heavy rain. The Blue Nile Falls translate from Arhamic as 'Water that Smokes'. This interpretation was probably very accurate until a huge Hydroelectric Plant was built just a short distance away which has turned the falls into something a little less impressive than in past  years. Even so, they were very beautiful and they still created the some smoke the locals still speak of.

 

The clouds were looming so we didn't venture too far on as it would be virtually impossible to scale our way back to the car in the event of a downpour! …....and it did, heavily and to make matters slightly more challenging than they already were, we were both wearing the not so practical flip flop!

 

We made it back in one piece!...It was going to be an early start for us tomorrow so after setting up the tent in record time we climbed into bed.  We are blessed with several luxuries on this trip, one of which is an external hard drive gifted to us by my lovely Bridesmaid-to-be, Helen and her boyfriend Alex full of films for us to enjoy, so we watched  Shallow Grave then snoozed like babies. Thanks Guys!!

 

Day 44,  24nd July 2009

 

Bahir Dar: 8 miles

 

Q: It was a big day today so we were up early to visit a few of the monasteries of Lake Tana and then made our way to the SOS Children's Villages project in Bahir Dar. Visiting the project in Ethiopia is something that we have been looking forward to since leaving the UK. Hopefully our experience today will help those who read this to support this wonderful charity. 

 

Our boat trip to the monasteries left at 8 so we quickly ordered a continental breakfast and had another very good Ethiopian coffee. Tentatively we got onto what seemed like a boat that was way past its sell by date with a few other travellers from Spain, France and the US. Our first stop was at an island monastery that was about an hour away in our rickety boat. The highlight of our monastery tour was when we arrived at the second island where there were thousands people celebrating St Mary.

 

A: Every monastery once a year has a celebration on their respective Saints Day. During this celebration thousands of people flood here to pray, sing and chant at these various places of worship and we were lucky enough to be here for one of these very special days.

 

Each and every church has their own individual copy of the ark of the covenant (the original is said to be in Axum, a Holy Site further North) and on these yearly occasions, the replica of ark is removed from the church and paraded on the priest's head underneath very intricately woven covers and colourful parasols. The Clergymen sang and danced to the beat of a drum and dotted around were Monks preaching to the crowds. One monk stood out from the immaculate majority, he was a rasta with dread locked hair and an exceptionally matted beard!! (I was told he was a famous monk within the Bahir Dar region)

 

The church itself was open to the public and hundreds sat cross legged on the floor praying and waiting to witness the Arcs return to its rightful place behind lock and key. Each church has hundreds of paintings all depicting scenes from the Old Testament which all lay on a large four sided  central pilar. This pilar is where the Arc is kept and only the Priests, Monks and Bishops are entitled to enter.

 

After enjoying the celebrations we set off in the boat to the mouth of the Blue Nile at the Southern most end of Lake Tana. Here we sat with the engine off in the hope of seeing Hippos!!  After just a few moments, two curious eyes poked out of the water and later gave us all a fright and popped up with a large splash just a few metres from the boat.

 

By 2 pm we were back at the hotel and preparing the items we were going to pass on to SOS Children's  Villages as we had arranged our first visit to the Village in Bahir Dar for the afternoon.

 

Bahir Dar SOS Children's Village visit.

 

Q: One of the guys at the hotel showed us the way to the SOS Children's Village which is a little way outside of town and on arrival we were greeted by Josef (7 years old) who had apparently been waiting for us at the gate for over an hour. He was very excited to see us arriving and eagerly helped the guard open the gates to let us in. Within minutes we were surrounded by bright eyed and very inquisitive children.

 

Yirga (project administrator in Bahir Dar) rescued us and took us on a tour of the village. SOS oversee 3 major projects in Bahir Dar - (i) family homes for orphaned children in the SOS village, (ii) a primary and secondary school which schools not only the children from the village but also children from the immediate area and (iii) a more recent project which provides support to families where there are children at risk through income support, skills training, housing, schooling and daycare facilities.

 

The work that SOS is doing for this community is incredible. The one thing that stuck me whilst spending time at the various project sites in Bahir Dar was that SOS provided a secure, stable and caring environment for these children which are possibly the most important elements to safeguard any child's development. The other things I noticed was that through the creation of a family house each child has a functioning household in which they will grow up - a mother, many aunties and all the brothers and sisters they could wish for who care for one another just as a normal family should. The interaction between the children and their family members is a wonderful thing to see especially when you consider what each child has been through before being brought into the village by the charity.

 

SOS Bahir Dar in Ethiopia need two things right now - (i) funds to extent their school classroom facilities to include a library and computer room and (ii) all the computers to fill this new classroom …. so please pop a few pounds/ dollars/ rands into our justgiving site so we can help achieve this (details on the charity page).

 

Unfortunately we met so many people in such a short space of time that it is difficult to remember everyone's name to say thanks, but we would to like thank them all the same for taking the time to show us around and make us feel so welcome. 

 

A special thanks to the future president of Ethiopia - Josef, who spent most of the afternoon showing us around the village.

 

A: Yirga, the project manager, you could tell was an exceptionally kind and caring individual and had a wonderful rapport with all the children in the Village. He had organised for us to visit one of the families and on our arrival we were introduced to five of the children all whom were immaculately dressed and waiting on the front porch for us to arrive. Firstly we were introduced to two very shy sisters ( 5 and 7) who came to the Village over three years ago from Gonder, then a tiny little boy who also came from Gonder after sadly losing both parents and two beautiful teenaged sisters who kindly prepared a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony for us in their home.

 

Here we discussed the needs of the village as well as the schooling and care that is given to each of the children. Andrew mentioned  about the interaction between all the family members already but the bond is quite remarkable and it was so endearing to see them hold each others hands and lean on one another while they devoured some home made cake that was being passed around. We were then taken to see the headmaster of the school and shown around the area while he explained the need to expand their classrooms and library to accommodate the children.

 

A little later that afternoon we were taken a few miles away to the other side of Bahir Dar to another project that has been set up by SOS. Here we met several young children who are given free daycare so their parents are able to both work and earn enough money to support their families. They also offer basic skill workshops for the mothers, here they learn how to make candles and soap to sell at the local markets.

 

The families that are taken in by SOS are incredibly vulnerable and unable to make sufficient money to support their family. Another way theses families are assisted is by being giving a small patch of irrigated land for them to grow fruit and vegetables all of which they keep for themselves to feed their family a healthy diet. Just while we were there a lady came by and dug up some potatoes to take home for supper.

 

The work that is being done here is quite remarkable and unlike other charities where possible 30% of donations actually makes it to where its most needed, all of the donations to SOS are benefited by these projects fully. The staff have no fancy suits or big offices, drive flash cars (unlike UNICEF!) or spend valuable money on advertising, this all being the very reason why we have chosen to support this wonderful Charity.

 

Day 45,  25nd July 2009

 

Lalibela: 208 miles

 

Q: The rain starts in the late afternoon and goes on into the night, but it has been nothing like what we went through last night. It also got very cold that I had to zip closed all the windows in the tent for the first time since we have left the UK. I am so glad that we brought our duvet as it was very warm in our rooftop tent with the thunder banging all around us.

 

Before leaving Bahir Dar this morning, I got the compressor out to pump up the tires as they were looking a little squishy. I know … you can do that at the petrol station but every time I ask the attendant to pump the back tires to 45 they look at me as though I am crazy as everyone else only asks to pump their tires to 35 … a full tank plus 25ltrs of water makes us a lot heavier than the regular 4x4 so we need the extra air. Also, I think that air for tires should be free and I find we end up paying each time we have them checked. 

 

The dirt road from Bahir Dar to Labilela is called the China Road as it was built in the 70s by the Chinese. Since then not many improvements have been made … so, as you can imagine it is not the best road in all of Africa. It took us from 7am to about 2:30pm to cover the skeleton rattling 189kms. It was a long day on a very bumpy road but it was incredibly beautiful as we drove through many rural villages which look over deep valleys.

 

A: The state of the road was indeed trying and tiring and apart from avoiding pot holes and stupid animals who for some reason gravitated towards us, the people were also a huge obstacle  to overcome. For some strange reason the farmers here in the more rural parts feel it absolutely necessary to walk their entire herd of cattle along the centre of the road. I wouldn't mind but when a vehicle does come along they look at you like you just crawled out of a piece of cheese! You are literally on them before they even consider moving their herd aside.

 

The people also tend to toy with the traffic and don't move until the last minute to get out of the way of the car even after tooting 10 or more times to warn them of our approach. This leads me onto what could have been a potentially terrible situation. As I drove down a long stretch of wide road, I spotted a boy some 250m ahead of us walking straight down the middle of the road away from us. There was nobody else around apart from him, I tooted several times but he didn't acknowledge us so we thought he was just playing the same game everyone else seems to. When we were almost 50 ft behind him I kept well to the right of the road and just then he decided to sprint to the right, hitting us on the side of the car as we were traveling at 40mph! We came to a grinding halt and jumped out of the car to check if he was hurt. He was up on his feet by the time we got to him with just a small graze to the side of his leg. We sat him down and patched him up with our more than sufficient first aid kit. We were soon surrounded by some of the villagers who in broken English explained that the boy was in fact deaf. He didn't hear us coming, so we asked them to explain to him to keep to the side of the road where he would avoid the dangers of vehicles. It gave us a huge fright and last 2 hours to Lalibela were in complete stunned silence.

 

Q: It was close, but I think he is going to be just dandy. The scuff on his leg was thankfully no more serious than a carpet burn. As we were about to pull off on our way he cheekily came up to the window and with a grin on his face asked for money. No way … that was not an experience worth paying for.

 

Lalibela is a town much smaller than I had expected. It is set high on a mountainside where it is believed that after returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, King Lalibela (reined in the 11-hundreds) was told by God to build churches in his glory. Ethiopians believe that Lalibela is the second Jerusalem.

 

After a looking at a few hotels in town we found a quiet one that was reasonably priced - The Heaven Hotel. The sun was out so we hung out our washing that was still wet from Gonder and was beginning to smell.  This trip has taught me a few things about my Angel. I always knew that she was fixated on clean pants …  which is a good thing, but nothing prepared me for the number that were secretly packed into her bag. Half of her 90 litre duffel bag must be allocated to pants. I recon that there are at least 3 clean pairs for each day for about 2 weeks before any washing is needed. Heaven Hotel's courtyard became Angel's pants parade. 

 

After a little stroll around our side of the town, we stopped to grab some dinner at the Roha Bar and Restaurant who make the best ShukShukka (spelling ??) ever. ShukShukka is potatoes (diced and fried) with cabbage, tomato paste and a fried egg. So good and possibly one of the best meals we have had in Ethiopia. Some of the guys in the restaurant were watching Chiefs play Manchester City in Johannesburg so I sat and watched the game while Angel tapped away on the computer. Chiefs won … !

 

Day 46,  26th July 2009

 

Lalibela: 0 miles

 

Q: We got up early thinking that our guide to the churches in Lalibela was going to meet us at the hotel at 8am. We were trying to negotiate the price of our guide down the night before with the hotel manager which must have led to a misunderstanding … we must have been bidding way to low so at 830 we realised that there was no guide coming to meet us. It was actually a real blessing as when we arrived at the entrance we found the best Lalibela guide you could ever want - Tilahun (tilahun_abe@yahoo.com). He is one of 10 decons (below the priest) in Lalibela who are also guides so he knows everything about the place. If you ever go … you must ask for him.

 

Having come from Petra just over a month ago I thought that our visit to Lalibela was going to be less impressive as what we had seen in Jordan, but once you walk around the site and enter the churches you begin to think otherwise. Not only are the structures as impressive in their size, they also have far more detail on the inside. Another incredible thing about this place is that almost all of the churches continue to be used as places of worship just as they have been since they were created in the 11 hundreds. It is hard to believe that all 10 churches were all built within 24 years but that is how the legend goes …

 

A: The Churches were also believed to be built with the help of Angels!! There are a few interesting myths surrounding Lalibela but those aside, I have to agree with Andrew, Lalibela is just as, if not more beautiful than Petra. The detail within each church is incredible and the individual style of each Church is very different.. The most impressive Church was Saint George, this was built after St George visited Lalibela and discovered that there wasn't a Church dedicated to him. He expressed his disappointment to King Lalibela who promised to build St George the best Church of all....and that it is, it's the largest of them all and stand completely alone, its excavated deep within the hill and is surrounded by an immense trench.

 

There are ten churches in total six of which we saw in the morning and then the remaining four in the afternoon after a lovely lunch at a hotel set high above the Village.

 

While we were walking through the Village we were approaches by a young disabled boy Getanewe who had the most beautiful smile. His English was broken but he tried his very best to explain to us that he needed a pen for his studies. We had none to give him at that time so we asked him to meet with us a little later. When we turned up we found him waiting patiently for us and he once again greeted us with that lovely smile. We gave him a few pens and a writing pad which he was delighted with.

 

We couldn't resist going back to Roha for supper and the very sweet owner kindly prepared some fresh vegetable soup for me which was just amazing. Andrew ordered his new favorite Shukshukka and devoured it withing seconds. As we strolled home we bumped into our lovely friend Getanewe who called us over and out of his pocket pulled a pretty necklace which he place around my neck and another for Andrew. So incredibly kind and from someone who has so little, just amazing.

 

Day 47,  27th July 2009

 

Debre Birham: 273 miles

 

Q: I am really glad that we made the effort to go through to Lalibela. It was worth it. We left the hotel early as the drive to Addis is a long and horrible road which usually takes 2 days to complete. It was a pretty drive out of Lalibela again through the mountains and villages and we did not stop for long the entire day (other than for a quick pee … which needs to be really fast otherwise you get surrounded by kids no matter how hard you try avoid them by looking for a quite place to pull over). 

 

A: We arrived pretty late into Debre Birham and there was one hotel that had been frequented by other overlanders so we firstly headed there - Arura Hotel or something like that. Nobody spoke a single word of English but we managed to see a room which was grotty and damp so we had a very quick look at another place which was great but hugely overpriced so we went back to the original!

 

Debre Birham is set high in the mountains so it was terribly cold and wet and we hadn't eaten all day so I wasn't in the best of moods! Andrew went to find out if they had food while I took a luke warm shower. It turned out they had just two things available on the extensive menu they presented to us. We climbed into bed and soon discovered what we thought were just cold sheets were in fact damp so Andrew went to get the sleeping bags from the car and and instantly life once again became sweeeeet!

 

Day 48,  28th July 2009

 

Addis Ababa: 85 miles

 

Q: There was no hanging around this morning. We left the coldest and wettest hotel in Ethiopia as soon as we were awake and made for the more expensive hotel down the road for breakfast before starting towards Addis. Three boiled eggs and some bread with another delicious Ethiopian mochiato got us going for the day.

 

Arriving into the centre of Addis was a lot easier than I had expected. The city is congested but nothing like any of the other capital cities we have passed through. It was easy to find the Hilton Hotel which apparently has the fastest internet connection in the city. We have not been able update the site for almost 10 days as all the internet cafes that we have found in Northern Ethiopia have very poor connections. Uploading text and photos has proven to be impossible.

 

My tummy has not been feeling too fantastic for the past couple of days so sitting in the luxury of the Addis Hilton using the internet made it very tempting to quickly book in for the night. 300 USD a night is a little steep plus I think that we would rather spend the money staying a few extra nights in a game reserve in Kenya. I've felt iffy for a few days now and have tried to avoid any local food so hopefully it will clear up soon. My condition must be a common thing as some restaurants actually cater for upset tummies with items like boiled rice (with butter on request) on the menu.

 

I think Angel is jealous of my condition …

 

A:  Indeed I am.....

 

Although the city itself doesn't seem as busy as the likes of Damascus and Cairo, it doesn't stop it from being equally as polluted. I had to wrap a scarf around my face (for which I got some pretty strange looks) for the entire journey from Debre Birham to Addis. The fumes from sitting behind a truck or public bus are just disgusting and every vehicle seems to throw out thick black smoke from their exhausts!! Donkey is guilty too...

 

Brandt travel guide has so far been more accurate than the Lonely Planet (Lying Planet!) and although I'd have described last night's experience in the Akalu Hotel a little differently than the book had the hotel we have come to today in Addis (Itegue Taitu Hotel) is just as its write up says. A period building with lots of character, high ceilings, beautiful wooden floors and retro furniture. It also has a distinctive smell, reminiscent of my late grandmothers home in Manchester. It puts a smile on my face whenever I walk into the room.

 

Earlier in the day while we were at the Hilton trying to update the blog, we got a message through from Hannah and Joel who had also reached Addis at the same time as us. They'd booked into a grotty hotel and asked where we were staying so they could move first thing in the morning. They've had a difficult journey since we left them in Khartoum so it was a wonderful surprise to see them as Hannah was almost ready to pack it all in and fly back to the UK, thankfully she didn't and they are both continuing on the Cape Town .

 

We had a few beers on our balcony and talked about our funny travel stories. I must admit, unmistakeably they have had a far tougher time than us and poor Hannah has been poked and prodded when at a stand still, they've had stones thrown at them and whips cracked on their toes by children.......we've had similar but at least were protected by Donkey. It's not a regular occurrence and most of the time you are greeted with a smile and wave but the odd town can bring cheeky kids trying to entertain themselves by frightening the 'Firanjis” (foreigners) .

 

Andrew and I hadn't eaten all day so after Hannah and Joel left we ventured in to the very busy and noisy neighborhood.. We realised we chose our hotel wisely when we discovered that every other hotel in the vicinity turned into a nightclub after about 7pm. After strolling in the rain for half an hour we figured nobody ate after 9pm so we went back to our hotel restaurant and had a delicious supper of spag bol, mixed salad, fresh fluffy bread and two Coke Cola....

 

Q: Before heading out for dinner someone came and knocked on our door and introduced himself to us as Yufti. The SOS charity logo on the side of Donk had caught Yufti's eye as he was going back to his room at the hotel. After asking reception which room the people driving the landy were staying, he came to knock on our door. Only after he introduced himself to us we realised why he had come to find us. For 16 years Yufti stayed at the SOS Children's Village in Addis.

 

Having only met children who are currently being cared for at the village in Bahir Dar, it was was wonderful to meet someone who had passed through the SOS family and youth homes. Yufti is now a university student in Addis studying business management and was staying at the same hotel as us as he was working during his summer break organising music festivals. Yufti offered to organise a visit to the Addis SOS Village to see where he grew up. We jumped at the opportunity as we had not prearranged to see another SOS Village until we reach Rwanda.  We agreed to meet at 2 to go visit the village.

 

Day 49,  29th July 2009

 

Addis Ababa: 8 miles

 

Q: The bed in this hotel must be the most comfortable one that I have slept on since leaving home. Today we managed to get some admin done again … first I wanted to take a look underneath the car to check that the suspension and shocks were ready for the Moyale – Isolo road when we cross from Ethiopia to Kenya. On the whole journey to Cape Town, this is going to be the toughest 2 days travelling given that the road is notorious for being really bad. In Aswan, we heard that a group of 7 motorbikes from South Africa had between them broken 5 shocks and the support vehicle had also broken one on this road. I'm not too keen on having to replace a shock on this stretch of road as there are supposed to be bandits hanging about ... although no one we have met so far has ever had any issues getting through ok.

 

It was easy to find a Landrover garage that let us lift Donk up high so that we could take a look underneath. All good. The rear antirollbars needed some tightening and the exhaust was coming loose, but other than that nothing to worry about … We also changed the airfitler and the fuel filter and checked the oil in the diff … none of which had been looked at since leaving London. The airfilter was full of sand which sort of explains the loss in power we had been experiencing recently. The guys at the workshop were brilliant and did not want any money for letting us use their workshop for a good half hour ... I gave them something to go and get a beer or two after work. I think everyone was pretty happy with that deal.  

 

We met Yifti at 2 and quickly gobbled up another really good meal at the hotel before heading off to the SOS Village in Addis.

 

Addis Ababa SOS Children's Village visit.

   

Q: The Addis SOS Village was established in 1981 … so it is a good few years older than the one that we saw in Bahir Dar. It looks a little tired, but we were told that they were starting a complete refurb of the site within the next few months where all the family houses and village grounds are going to be rebuilt on the current site. The funding for this had already been raised.

 

We were shown around the village by Yufti, the Addis project administrator and the social worker. The Addis project does not have a school attached as the one in Bahir Dar does but the children do have a library with computer facilities (they require more as 150 kids share 3 computers) where they can do their homework. I was taken once again by the way in which the children interact with thier mothers and the other helpers on the project. It is a wonderful to know that these children who have lost everything continue to be loved and cared for in a way that you would expect from their parents.

 

A: The staff at the Village were once again really welcoming and took us on a grand tour of the area where we met one of the lovely families. The mother kindly gave us some tea and freshly made cake which we both devoured.  Just while we were talking about the needs and forthcoming projects for the Village, my phone rang and it wasn't a call I was about to miss. After being out of contact for the past 10days or so ( little or no communication in the Northern parts!), everyone was understandably beginning to get a little anxious about our whereabouts and my poor father finally managed to contact his girl.......! We had a good catch up and I told him about our plan to leave Addis and head for the Omo Valley in the morning. Sorry once again to if we had anyone a little worried.......

 

After tea, our tour continued to the small library section and onto some classrooms for children who require extra study due to learning difficulties. It was then time to visit the house where Yufti grew up, here we met the tiny children who were now being taken care of there. Five children came out varying in age from 9 yrs down to 3 yrs and all of them, without prompting shook our hand. One little boy in particular stood out, he was about 7 years old and had the most beautiful smile. He was brought to the Village from just North of the Kenyan border and had been there for a little over 4 years. He came and shook my hand and sat next to me, the beaming smile didn't leave his face once, he was just gorgeous.

 

Yufti spent over 13 years at the Village in Addis and left when he was 16 to go to the SOS Boys Youth Home so it was a great surprise to everyone to see him back at the Village.

 

Back at the Hotel in town we arranged to meet with Yufti, Hannah and Joel at 7pm to go to a restaurant that had been recommended to us by the guys we met on our trip around the Lake Tana monestaries – Habatash 2000 a place where they have traditional dancing,music and food! The place was buzzing when we arrived and there was a good mixture of both locals and westerners (firanjies!). Yufti kindly translated the menu for us and ordered us a variety of Ethiopian food which I have to be honest isn't my favorite.....I had maybe 3 mouthfuls and I was done. The Injera is a little like a bouncy greyish looking large pancake which has a very bitter after taste, the injera comes on a large silver tray  hanging over the edges with the bowls of meet and veg in the middle which then gets tipped out onto the injera pancake and shared by everyone. Joel made me laugh, when he first ordered it himself, he thought he got a bowl of meat on a dirty tablecloth........he then realised that you actually eat the tablecloth...!!  

 

The entertainment was more than impressive, and the dancing was just wild, I will never forget Yufti hopping up on the stage to dance alongside the professionals. His moves were spot on and the crowd cheered each time he did it. We have a few vid clips to prove it … the taxi ride on the way home was a unique experience with a mini version of Puff Daddy careering through the empty street of Addis with 5 people crammed into his blue and black fiat.

 

Day 50,  30th July 2009

 

Arba Minch: 339 miles

 

Q: It was only around 9 that we actually managed to get out of the hotel and onto the road towards the Omo region which is far South. It would have been good to have made it all the way to a town called Konso but after passing through the rasta capital of the planet – Shasheme, the road turned into what seemed like driving over a grave yard. The tarmac was potholled every 2 or 3 meters which made it impossible to miss any of the grave like ditches which caused massive clanking noises from Donk's suspension. It looks like someone is trying to build a replacement road alongside the old one but we spent much of the afternoon lopsided as we had to saddle the road with the non-existent pavement. It was no fun and really dusty. This had to have been the worst road that we have ever driven on … I cannot believe that the notorious roads in Northern Kenya could possible be as poor as this one.

 

We should find out in a couple of days ...

 

A: The road was hellish and at times you drive along side a perfectly flat road they are in the process of building with no way of getting on to it, most frustrating!  We finally arrived in Arba Minch at 7ish and made our way to Paradise Lodge which was set high above the village. We were shown to an area just a stones throw from the restaurant and as soon as the tent was set up, it was time for a well deserved beer and some much needed food. Fish soup and salad for me and fish salad and some fries for Andrew, deeeeelicious. Another beer and we were both ready for bed.

 

Day 51,  31th July 2009

 

Jinka: 165 miles

 

Q: Today made me laugh a lot. About 10kms outside of Arba Minch there were kids lining the roadside performing the 'highland' dance (highland is the bottle that our drinking water comes which fetches 1Brr each in the market) ... headstands, full Russian dips and kicks ... you name it. It was very entertaining ...

 

Jinka Lodge Hotel is the best place in town to stay if you don't have a tent and do carry a large amount of $$ … but fortunately for us you can camp on the grounds and use the restaurant bathrooms for less than the official campsite just down the road (50Brr = 2.5 Pounds). The guys who worked at the hotel are magic. Many of them are local from the Ari tribe that live in the immediate area. We have met some wonderful people on our journey but these guys have to be close to the top of the list for just being friendly and really kind.

 

We set up camp and Angel whipped up a scrumptious dinner - beef kebab with salad all the way from the supermarket back in Addis. It is good to listen to the bugs and frogs sitting around a fire chatting to Ben and Talli. The manager of the hotel also joined us and we sat chatting with him for ages about the aggressive tendencies of the Mursi tribe that we are hoping to go and visit tomorrow in the Mago National Reserve. This is the tribe where the women put the plate into their bottom lip to make themselves more attractive … should be an interesting day.

 

Everyone has told us that the Mursi are a hectic bunch of people to meet. When you visit them in their village as they expect payment for every picture you take and they tend to be pretty aggressive as they seem to spend much of their day drinking large amounts of some potent home brew. For these reasons you must have a guide (who can speak Mursi) and an armed scout/ guard when you go to their village to manage the picture taking process and to hold back the squabbling tribesmen as they vie for your interest in them to take a picture. Its not just the tourists they get excited with, the area is now under constant federal army control and monitoring as the different tribes have little skirmishes where someone usually ends up in a box.

 

Guns seem to be a necessary accessory when herding cattle around here and the weapon of choice usually being a trusty AK47. I suppose that if I were to spend my days pushing my family's wealth around in a shopping trolly I would also consider protecting my trolly.

 

A: Andrew got carried away typing and left me nothing to write today!!

 

Day 52, 1st August 2009

 

Jinka: 63 miles

 

Q: I slept really well last night and woke up fresh and ready to meet the Mursi. It was also the market day today in Jinka which means that many of the tribes from the surrounding area come to town to sell their goods which makes for a very colorful spectacle. But first the Mursi.

 

It takes about 2 hours to get to the Mursi village which is in the Mago National Reserve and it is best not go there alone so we found a guide who was able to speak Mursi and were told that we could pick up an armed scout closer to their village. Our guide was a young guy who knew the Mursi well and seemed to be very chilled listening to Bob Marley in the back as we drove along the dusty road towards the unexpected … he was pretty sure that we would have good time.

 

One of the guys at the hotel explained that it would be best that we go see the Mursi first thing in the morning as going after lunch could end up being awkward as the Mursi are known to be heavy drinkers. Angry drunk Mursi armed with AK's does not sound like a heavenly combination so we decided to try and catch them just before mid day when they should almost be finished nursing their hangovers from the previous day's consumption and hopefully would be getting excited about hitting the bottle again after lunch …

 

Just before arriving at the village in hopped our armed scout. He seemed pretty relaxed about going to visit the Mursi, so I relaxed a little. Perhaps today was just an ordinary day for him …

 

A: It took a further 20 mins or so to reach the actual village and just before we did we came across three men, all completely naked, and walking in the middle of the dirt track taming a distressed cow which had just given birth to the sweetest little calf which was being carried by another naked man!! What a welcome to the Mursi Tribe!! As we pulled up to the village you could see the Mursi women 'preparing' themselves for our visit. By 'preparing' I mean inserting their lip plate and adorning their beaded jewelry and head dresses.

 

Noting could have prepared me for this … especially the sight of the women sans-lip plate! They look as though they have a permanent glum look on their faces and the saggy lip without the plate looks like a giant shriveled caterpillar just hanging from one side of their mouth to the other. All of this mutilation is to make the women more attractive and the larger the plate the more heads of cattle they bring in marriage. The ultimate achievement is to be able to pull your lip over the top of your head like an eye-mask elastic!!!

 

We were shown around the Village closely followed by our scout who on several occasions smacked away children who had gone to the lengths of giving me a sharp pinch to get my attention. The Mursi Tribe are without doubt very unique and as a  result charge a considerable fee for every photo you take of them so it all felt a little awkward when we had to choose individuals to photograph. Our guide was a real superstar though and while we were being tugged and poked for 'photo, photo, photo' he took our small camera and got the most wonderful shots of the tribe which were far better as they were completely natural shots of them   going about their day to day lives.

 

On the way back to Jinka through the Mago Reserve, a young man jumped out of the bush, mashetti in one hand and an AK47 in the other, he absolutely terrified me . The scout and guide were obviously accustomed to this and hung out of the window and shouted at him, this took him by surprise and he backed away with a smile on his face. Apparently some tourists enter the camp without a scout and our guys were well hidden in the back of Donkey so this chap thought he'd try his luck at scaring us into stopping so he could ask for money.

 

Back at Jinka we headed to the market still with our lovely guide and after a quick stop for a coke we were given the grand tour through the vegetable section selling mainly onions garlic and ginger, the grain and pulses area , fruit and finally the pottery market. We bought some flat leaf cabbage, garlic, and the most amazing passion fruit, 12 for 20p! At the pottery section we bought a large injera plate which we thought would look lovely on the wall in our living room for 30 birr (1.50 pounds) we couldn't resist. The plate was pretty heavy and the method of carrying things here is on your head so Andrew placed it proudly on his pip and walked back through the market to the car. All the local women thought he was particularly funny and pointed and giggled as they walked past. Crazy firanji!!!

 

At our camp spot at Jinka Resort I made a start cooking up a storm using all our lovely veg we bought at the market, sauteed cabbage with garlic pine nuts and fried rice while Andrew fired up the BBQ for the chicken we bought in Addis a few days earlier.

 

After supper, the lovely Manager once again came and joined us so we invited him to have a beer with us and some fresh papaya and passion fruit I'd prepared for dessert.......a total hit, he'd never tried passion fruit before and completely loved it. Andrew threw a few pieces of wood on the fire he'd collected with the manager the night before, took a few photos all together at the his request  and we chatted until 10 ish by which time we were both shattered from the days excitement!!

 

Day 53, 2nd August 2009

 

Turmi: 116 miles

 

Q: Today we headed South for Turmi which is one of the main towns where the Hamar people of the Omo Valley live. Tomorrow is market day in Turmi which is apparently one of the best markets in the Omo. Going to the Omo was not really part of our plan through Ethiopia as during the rainy season (which is supposed to be now), makes it really difficult to get to which would have added many days to our journey which we just don't have. The rains are late this year (as in the North) so the roads within the Omo Valley are pretty good so we decided that spending a few days here would be worth it.

 

Everyone that we have met who have been to the Omo region have said that Turmi is one of the highlights of this region – especially if you get to see an bull jumping ceremony. The bull jumping ceremony involves a man running over the backs of ten or so bulls (completely exposing himself to the elements and all curious onlookers) to prove that he is ready to marry. If he fails to achieve this impressive feat, his family beat him until he manages to complete it successfully.

 

As we arrived into Turmi one of the locals stopped us to ask where we were going. We told them that we were making for the campsite that was a few kms outside of town where hopefully we would stay the night. He told us that today there was an bull jumping ceremony at one of the villages close by and that he could help us organise a guide if we would like to go. No way were we going to miss this so we told him that we would come back to pick up a guide once we had found a place to sleep.

 

Again, you really cannot be prepared for what you would be confronted with when arriving at a village in the Omo. I had heard that some of the bull jumping ceremonies were now being staged for us farangis and so I was a little skeptical as to weather this would be the real thing. I was still unsure of its authenticity as we were asked to pay up 150brr each but by the end of the day there was nothing staged about this ceremony. There was hours of dancing and singing, coffee ceremonies, blessing, lashings, gushing blood and of course one naked boy flying through the sky as he hopped over ten very anxious bulls.  

 

I am pretty relieved that I am not expected to do the same before January next year. Methinks that there would be a severe beating on my bull jumping day …

 

A: I had been told many great things about the Hamer people and unlike the Mursi, the Hamer are very friendly and kind. We pulled up with our guide to an area some 26km outside of the village of Turmi where there were several Toyota Land Cruisers parked up. We made our way on foot to an area where everyone was gathered watching the events slowly unwind.

 

The Hamer women were all singing and jumping in unison, I felt like it was the calm before the storm and then our guide explained that all the women were the family (cousins, sisters, aunts, mothers and even grandmothers) of the bull jumper and that a little later in the day we would see the boys who have previously achieved the jump whip the female members of his family with sticks...!

 

I didn't quite believe it until we were summoned to the dry river bed some 500m away where the women began to sing even louder, dancing even more wildly and there was a frenzied look in their eye which I had never seen before. Suddenly a vehicle pulled up with a mass of sticks on the roof, the women ran over punching and pulling one another to get as many sticks as they could. Then it began....

 

The three young men who just recently proved themselves by jumping bulls were given the task of whipping the women. You'd imagine that each man goes around chasing them...wrong, the women fight to be whipped by these men and boys, the three of them were just hounded for over an hour by women fighting to have the next lashing!! When each woman finally convinces the man to whip her with one of her stick, she then stands   before him with one arm raised jumping up and down looking at him with eyes wide so he can whip her. The sound is quite astonishing and none of the women so much as flinched when they were hit. They have been known to taunt the men to get a harder whipping!! After almost an hour of watching this my blood pressure had plummeted and I was feeling particularly nauseous not only at the sound of the whipping of the stick but the sight of the ever increasing cuts on their backs. The more scars you bare the stronger and braver you are.

 

One thing we have noticed in Southern Omo is the women are the ones who do all the work...literally! They carry obscene amounts of wood and water on their backs while their respective partners sit and watch, giving the odd poke to their ox if its heading in the wrong direction. The women are also incredibly strong and next to a Hammer man stand almost twice as wide with broad muscular backs any western man would be envious of!!

 

The finale of the days events is the Bull Jumping itself. Ten bulls are lined up and with the whole crowd cheering for him, the young man runs completely starkers and leaps onto the backs of the bulls and has to reach the end without falling. This process is repeated at least 4 times before the family of his wife-to-be are completely satisfied of his competency. I'm happy to say he completed the jumps with great finesse.

 

Completely exhausted from the culture overload we headed back to Turmi to have some supper and set up camp. By 8pm I could barely string a small sentence together so we headed straight to bed.....what a completely amazing day....

 

Day 54, 3rd August 2009

 

Yavello: 196 miles

 

Q: Before going to bed last night I called Mom and Dad on their 40th wedding anniversary … phew. This means that your first born (ou boet) is almost 40 now too … wow. Mom, I'm looking forward to your up and coming 50th anniversary so keep dragging Dad out for his walk up the mountain.       

 

The Spanish tourists that were staying in our campsite were up far to early this morning … 5am. They kept us up all night and then woke us up really early. Uncool … especially as we were both exhausted after all the excitement of the bull jumping ceremony.

 

Yesterday at the bull jumping ceremony we met two intrepid English girls (Helen and Helenie) from Bristol who were backpacking through Ethiopia. They needed a lift to Konso which was on our way out of the Omo Valley as we head towards the Kenyan border through Yavello. It was actually a good thing that the Spanish woke us up early as it gave us the time to empty the whole truck and repack to make some space in the back for the girls to sit (and little less shambolic than before).

 

A: Yes, there was one particular Spanish fellow who insisted on telling all his companions at the top of his voice that there were two people camping on the roof of that Land Rover........I very nearly hung my head out of the tent to give him a piece of my mind. It turned out well though, although we were up early, we managed to get lots of things done and most of all made more than enough room for the girls to be comfy for the journey to Konso.

 

At just before 11am we went into Turmi to check out the market. All the Hamer people were there selling everything from grains to traditional jewelery. I bought a small bracelet and Andrew  bought a lovely traditional water carrier and some carved wooden spoons to hang on the wall. Once everyone had finished bartering, we all clambered into the car and set off on the bumpy road to Konso.

 

We dropped the girls off in the centre of the town and after a quick fuel stop headed onto Yavello which took a little under two hours to reach. The Yavello Hotel seemed like the best option so I jumped out to see if the had any room available. A miserable looking woman showed me to their last room which seemed OK so I said we'd take it. I explained that we needed to change money and after she offered an appalling rate I told her we would look in town, we had no luck so parked up at our Hotel and made our way to reception. As we entered the misery-guts of a lady began shouting at me saying that I'd reserved a room with her and asked why we had gone to enquire at other hotels!!! I was completely shocked and told her that I'd gone to look to exchange money not check out other hotels. Andrew stood confused by her tone and soon calmed the situation because I was ready to tell her where to shove her room and the sun seldom shines there!! What happened to 'the customer is always right'?!

 

Once we'd settled in and I'd settled down, we went for a drink and some food in the restaurant and joked about her diva style attitude. The bed we soon discovered was the worst we'd slept in so far, even worse than the prison an Wadi Halfa....it was supposedly a spring matress but whenever I moved Andrew would have to hang on for dear life or risk ending up in a heap on the floor and likewise for me so we lay as still as possible so not to loose our other halves throughout the night.

 

Day 55, 4th August 2009

 

Moyale, 139 miles

 

Q: The bed was shockingly uncomfortable and the toilet smelled really bad so we got up early hoping to get out of Yavello as soon as possible to get to Moyale early to change money, do a spot check of Donkey and fill up with some cheap fuel to be ready for the infamous Moyale – Isiolo road. I'm not too worried about the road as we have met a few people that have passed it easily over the past few days all of whom have said that it is not as bad as they had expected.

 

Last night we met a Spanish couple who covered the 500km stretch from Isodo in Kenya all the way to Moyale in Ethiopia in just one day which is the first I have heard anyone do this. They did looked slightly terrified as they described the number of times they thought that they were surely never going to survive the day as their driver raced across the congregated and potholled road.

 

A. We arrived into Moyale at 17:30 and headed for the Koket Borena Hotel, the best of the hotel offerings in Moyale! The manager here was rather sweet and wanted to help us as much as he possibly could. He also took a shine to me and insisted on wrapping his arms around my waist at every opportunity and persistently held  my hand.....he was doing it out of friendliness so I didn't mind too much!

 

We were informed that we could complete the immigration process today to save us time tomorrow so we went and got everything done which was all pretty straight forward we've had plenty of practice now. We did have a particularly annoying little chap following us around the whole time trying to convince us to change our remaining Birr into Shillings with him. There's a black market here for money changing and generally speaking its a fraction better than the going bank rate. This man however was offering us an appalling rate, but unbeknown to him we'd checked in the local newspaper at the Kenyan border post for the days rates and he was way out on his offer!...

 

Back at the hotel we met up with a lovely couple called Jane and Sherief, it turns out we were at the same Bull Jumping Ceremony two days ago. We sat and had a few drinks with them and waited for Hannah and Joel to turn up who set off from almost 500km away early this morning. The Ethiopian mobile has been utterly useless and the ten attempts to send messages to them to find out their location were failed so we used the sat phone which also didn't work so we just waited and hoped they would show up. At roughly 10 pm they finally arrived, completely shattered and in need of some food and drink. We all sat and discussed the journey ahead of us tomorrow and how long it might take, one thing we did know was that the road would be completely unrelenting...Donkey would probably have little or no problem tackling the road but the poor Honda 125 (Harri) might struggle to remain in one piece from the deep potholes and corrugations!!

 

Bed time...