15th June 2006 No I haven’t got the date wrong, the Ethiopians use a different calendar and system of months which means that they have 12 ½ months. Also their day starts at dawn, 6am. Makes sense really, so 7am is 1 o’clock in their time. (Don’t know about their 24-hour clock). Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the world that have never been subjugated, except for Italy’s five-year attempt in the 40’s, and that don’t count so they’re fiercely independent.
Left Moyale and travelled north about 5k’s before being stopped at a road block which consisted of a thin rope slung across the road and a young fellow in civvies approaching. I had previously made a point of being very wary of people not in a uniform (now I’m wary of them both). I asked for ID, which was produced and showed that he was indeed a customs agent. No hard feelings, shook hands and proceeded.
We have had good relations with the roadblock police. I say hello to them, shake their hand and generally converse with them and the end result is often a salute (proper British one) from them. I like that kind of treatment and it certainly gives us tourists a happy impression of their country. Do you think this could happen in Aussie? I guess we need to have a roadblock first.
The Chinese are also busy here with road building and we travelled on roads varying from superhighways to dirt to pothole filled tar which would have been better off as dirt. (puncture No.7, in fairness to Cooper Tyres caused by a screw). I changed the wheel while Judy painted the audience’s fingernails. One funny sight along this long length of potholed ribbon was that every now and then there would be a fellow at the side of the road filling a pothole with dirt as a car approaches and asking for money for this service. If I gave them a cent for each pothole I would be broke. Arriving at Dilla, a frontier feel of a town, where we booked a good room at the local Hilton (the Hotel Delight). Showered up and went in search of sustenance. The main road is full of milling people with dimly lit alleyways, restaurants and other “premises”. Real atmosphere reminiscent of Sideshow Alley at the Easter Show. The People are real friendly and we ended up at a foodery where we devoured some delicious local tucker for the grand total of AUD$14.00 including two beers and a 10% tip.
ATM’s work here also.
17th June 2006 (24th February 2014) We have had trouble with the RMS with regard to reregistering our vehicle and may have to get a second inspection done. To our surprise in Awassa we found, straight away, a modern Toyota dealer and authorised inspection station, which took us over their high tech pits (second time in Africa). Unfortunately, in Ethiopia they only check headlights and brakes. Now I have the best brakes and headlights in Africa. The war must go on.
Now in a high-end hotel room, Ethiopia style, on the lake and had a pizza (Italian legacy) in the restaurant across the road. Ethiopia is a surprise. Some beautiful landscape, friendly people and quite advanced in some ways, for instance the hotels look modern but don’t look too closely at the workmanship of the building. Internet is excellent here when the power is on (lots of blackouts). Cheap diesel, food and accommodation. No camping areas so far.
18th June 2006 (25th February 2014) Boring car stuff today and rewarded ourselves by staying at the lakeside resort Lewi with aperitifs by the lake followed by a fantastic dinner listening to American country and western. Just had another power blackout but would you believe that the power point here in our room is an Aussie one (Aussie power plugs are common to Argentina, China, Fiji, NZ, PNG, Tonga and Uruguay. Interesting isn’t it! ) so whilst I am able to plug my Aussie power points directly into the socket, I don’t have power.
19th June 2006 Baboon breakfast. That is, we had breakfast with the baboons (and other monkeys) at the Lewi Resort. They were literally under foot as we ate, however there were guards there to keep the monkeys away, unfortunately the guards were also feeding them, and allowing the patrons to do the same. So we have the scene of the poor old monkey looking from food offered, to stick in the hand of the guard (talk about a mixed message) trying to work out a way of getting the food. The monkeys won. Then the “boss” came along, Head Baboon. All acknowledged his karma.
20th June 2006 Good tar road all the way from Awassa to Addis Ababa but encountered huge traffic similar to Dar on entering Addis, eventually making it to Wim’s Holland House. This is a little piece of Holland in the middle of Ethiopia which is frequented by the expatriot Dutch population and is also an overlander’s meeting hub. It has a Dutch restaurant and Hof Brauhaus “mit kleiner beerture.” I think we will stay here.
21st June 2006 (28th February 2014) We have met a very nice Dutch couple, Peter and Leonie who are motorcycling from Holland to Cape Town and onward. They have been most helpful with information for our trip north. In speaking with Peter he warned us to be careful of pickpockets on our excursion to the city, even describing their methods of distraction. Our aim was to see “Lucy” our 3.18 million year old relative now residing at The National Museum of Ethiopia and just to have a general look around. We decided to walk the distance, some six kilometres away but had only gotten as far as the bus terminal when Judy was jostled by a hawker selling magazines whilst another fellow came close beside. That was when I saw a hand in her pocket and it wasn’t Judy’s. I pushed them off and asked them politely to move away, or words to that effect, which they did. A little further down the road I reported this incident to two police, on the beat, who were extremely concerned not.
We walked the length of Churchill Avenue (One of many main streets in this city of five million), had an Ethoipian lunch, which was a selection of dips and spicy meats on a type of fermented pancake, (This pancake was a little hard for us at first but now we are getting used to it and it works well in conjunction with a spicy meat sauce.) and then looked at some shops. Saw “Lucy”, some other ancestors and Haile Sellassie’s throne. Addis Ababa is a city in transition with many new buildings going up and a huge rail system going in (Trams I think), however this also means that huge tracts of local road infrastructure is completely dug up with unbelievable rocky thoroughfares (Worse that anything the Northern Territory can throw at you) or completely impassable roads making travel through this town a nightmare, Dar es Salaam was the same.
26th June 2006 (5th March 2014) Spent the last few days sorting a new pink slip (We had a huge problem with the RMS with regard to the inspection certificate done in Cape Town, detailed in “Travel notes”). Wim was a huge help in getting the local authorities to do a safety inspection, they were reluctant, he even came with us and argued our case and let me say he didn’t mince words.
So we left Addis this morning and drove through some beautiful highland country reminiscent of Rwanda. As we drove we listened to the radio playing some indigenous music as well as country and western, blues and Renee Geyer singing “It’s a man’s world” as we drive past the many gum trees here (What the?) The road north of Addis has been very good tar and we have finished the days journey at the town of Hyke about 300 k’s north of Addis at a camp site on Lake Lago Haic complete with restaurant and Bob Marley DJ music. Two meals, three beers, one coke and camping = AUD$18.00 This may be a remote part of the world but the locals are again snappy dressers with the younger ones being particularly trendy, some with interesting accessories. Must be globalisation.
The Ethiopians in general are a most friendly bunch and eager to help you even if you don’t need the help. Sometimes they will ask for money but will readily accept a refusal. (Mean aren’t I), sometimes I soften.
27th June 2006 (6th March 2014) Breathtaking, and at 2500 metres it literally is. The scenery between Hyke and Lalibela is unbelievable with impossibly deep valleys (eat your heart out Grand Canyon), green and gold patchwork farms. The turnoff to Lalibela takes you the last 60K’s over dirt road which is reasonable in parts the rest being very rocky, twisting and steep but over all I would call it a passable (pun intended) road but a sheer pleasure (pun intended) to drive through. We are now in Lalibela at 3pm and working out our day for tomorrow visiting the eleven eleventh century churches here. Staying at the Seven Olives Hotel and have booked a room (US$24/night) mainly to use the shower and toilet but preferring to sleep in our car in the car park.
28th June 2006 (7th March 2014) These Christian churches have been carved out of rock from the top down (some 50 metres) and not just any rock but the basalt/volcanic variety. The astonishing thing is that all eleven churches were built over a period of only 24 years. The churches are still operational and we saw several ceremonies, chanting and even a baptism after which we had holy water splashed in our faces, good for the soul and refreshing. Entry was US$50 each, guide $30, shoe boy $3 (He minded our shoes when we entered the churches and $6 for a taxi back. We had been warned that the churches were full of fleas so before going we applied plenty of insecticide but did not see one of the beasts.
29th June 2006 (8th March 2014) Along the road people ask for money, some will work for it by doing a bit of a dance or filling in a pothole as you pass but as we approached Mek’ele there was a complete chorus line of young dancers in the distance doing the Ethiopian shoulder dance, spreading right across the road, in perfect synchronous movement. Ethiopia the Musical.
30th June 2006 (9thMarch 2014) Arrived in Axum the home of the Ark of the Covenant and yes we will see it tomorrow morning at 4.30am when it will be paraded through the streets. It will be however just a replica of the real Ark as nobody can set eyes upon it, not even the head of the Ethiopian church so my chances are slim. The Ark has one principle monk who has guarded and lived with it for the past fifty years since he was twenty five.
Today we saw the palace of the Queen Sheba (Shaba) and tombs of other kings, Kaleb and his son Gebremeskel from ancient history as well as their huge obelisk like monuments called stele (which is the plural for stela) the biggest being 500 tons and was hauled many miles by elephants and thousands of workers, a huge stone tablet inscribed in three different languages (2 metres high and looks like new concrete though it is granite) and Queen Sheba’s swimming pool which is 30 metres deep. So quite a bit of history in this very pleasant town of 60,000 Axumites.
In the afternoon we strolled through town and partook of the famous Ethiopian coffee making ceremony. This consists of a young and beautiful Ethiopian woman roasting the coffee beans in front of your eyes and percolating them somehow via many complex decanting movements and manipulation of coals under the coffee pot. The incense burning is not your usual stick burning but shavings placed on coals, similar to those used in Orthodox Church rituals.
This coffee is fantastic.
Now sitting on the pavement (a la Paris) of the Hotel Africa watching the passing parade and having a quiet one.
1st July 2006 (10th March 2014) Awoke at 4.30am and met our guide Effram with whom we went to the St Mary of Zion church, in the town centre, where the ceremony and procession began. It was done in orthodox fashion with chanting, incense and priests in colourful regalia. We saw The Ark, or rather the replica thereof. Effram took the edge off a little by informing us that it is one of 50,000 Arks in Ethiopia and that each church has one. There are 50,000 churches in Ethiopia. They believe that it is a direct link to God.
After the procession we headed north toward Gondar (also spelt Gondor). Still dark we saw the interesting sight of a roadwork gang already at work, wearing not only fluoro vests but also fluoro turbans. Not too far after this we encountered one of the worst stretches of road so far, 135 kilometres of narrow, rough, winding and steep dirt, still being built by the Chinese. This road would go up one kilometre and then go down one kilometre and so on, one ascent was two kilometres (altitude 3000 metres, way above Kosciusko). At one point we came to what seemed like the end of the road (this is a major road) with a hill of road base in front of us. A little puff of dust to my left heralded the approach of a bulldozer, which pushed the hill of road base out of our way with two or three sweeps, and we merrily proceeded on. (Just like Lesotho). Starting this morning the GPS told us that the 340 kilometre journey would take eleven hours to complete and I thought that it had made yet another miscalculation. It took ten hours. Stopped for the overnight stay at the Fogera Hotel at Gondar,we will sleep in our car in the car park and go sight seeing tomorrow.
2nd July 2006 (11th March 2014) Visited some astonishing castles and churches (World heritage sites) of medieval emperors here in Gondar, known as the African Camelot, before motoring south 50k to Tim and Kim’s camping on the shores of Lake Tana, the source of the blue Nile, for a couple of days of R&R after our busy schedule of late. Tim and Kim are a Dutch couple and have lived here for seven years developing their site into a very pleasant place to camp or stay in one of their mud and thatch rondavals, a real breath of fresh air after some of the places we have stayed at in Ethiopia. In speaking with Tim he tells me that they have a staff of fifteen and that they earn fifty birr per day, roughly AUD$3.00.
So long and Abyssinia.