Previous "Kenya 2"
We had heard stories about the locals of Ethiopia not being very nice and we'd only been in the country for five minutes and people were already throwing stones at the car.
Our guide Patrick came in useful at the Ethiopian border position (not strictly a post) because he was able to speak Amharic and communicate with the locals. Otherwise we would have had a bit of bother. After ten minutes of chat we were on our way. We heard later from Dennis and Aaron that they had to pay a bribe to get through (approx. $14) and that some Dutch people had paid $50 each!
There was no-one who could stamp our passports at this post so Patrick suggested a detour to Omorate where it was likely we could get the immigration stamp. He offered to show us the way (along the only road) and an hour later (11.30am) we were talking to a man who apparently said he could give us the stamp. However it was lunchtime and we'd have to come back at 1.30pm. These people have got nothing to do but sit around all day - they have all day to have their lunch - agh. Calm down, calm down this is Africa! I think it was a ploy anyway to get us into a hotel to be ripped off by the locals charging us high prices for a bit of fish. Meanwhile Patrick delivered a letter!
By 1.30pm we were back with the chap who informed us that he didn't have an immigration stamp so there was nothing he could do for us! We returned to the cars which were parked in the police carpark with a policeman sitting next to them only to discover that the stickers on the doors had been partially removed. Perhaps it too was the policeman's lunch hour and despite being in the vicinity was not prepared to do anything about this violation. Calm down, calm down this is Africa!
It was time to leave Patrick but it seemed that he had come with us under false pretences as he had a letter to deliver and was prepared to take us out of the way to do so. When he asked us for payment for his guiding duties he demanded the equivalent of three weeks wages. What a cheek. We gave him a few bob for the communication with the border people and told him he'd have got more if he hadn't been so greedy. He'd have to walk the 60 km back to Ileret or con someone else into giving him a lift.
By the time we were back on the road it was almost time to make camp. We had a map of the tracks through southern Ethiopia towards the Mursi area via Mago National Park and soon were off the corrugated roads and on to sandy tracks and through uninhabited bush where we found a very secluded campspot for the night.
Driving along the sandy roads was proving to be a hassle as the dust came in and filled up the cupboards. Everything was filthy and it was a chore at the end of each day cleaning the utensils before being able to use them.
Despite all the reports about Ethiopia the area towards Mago was surprisingly green. It is mountainous and high and following a track through where appeared to be nowhere was quite exciting. A number of farmers were to be seen moving their skinny cows from one place to another. I have never seen so many cows and the farmers all have guns to protect their herds.
By the end of the day we were at Mago NP where we had to stop at park HQ. Yet again there was no transit fee, just the full whack. We had to pay park entry (50 Birr per person) and camping (20 Birr per person) for 48 hours so decided we may as well stay in the park. We booked a scout called Haile to take us to see leopard - a bit of a problem as he'd never seen one! We didn't leave the camp until 5.30pm and you are not supposed to drive in the park after 6pm. Oh dear, we're in trouble! With no sight of a leopard we decided to return to camp via a roundabout route rather than the return route. It was quite fun crossing a river, driving up steep inclines and removing obstacles in the road. It was only when we returned to camp at 7pm that the chief asked us how we'd managed to go that way past the blockages he'd placed in the road!
Haile stayed with us all night despite our reluctance. He camped up next to us with his gun ready to fend off the lions we could hear in the distance. By 6am we were on the road towards the Mursi tribe who live around 30 km away from park HQ. Haile was to be our guide and translator. The Mursi are the people you see on the TV wearing lip-plates.
This adventure was to be a true African experience which I found to be fascinating but quite uncomfortable. Talk about going back centuries into black Africa. The Mursi are quite happy to see tourists but of course there is a fee to be paid to the chief, which is fair enough. We arrived at the village and were greeted by half naked people with ceremonially scarred or painted skin. Such mutilation seems so unnecessary to western cultures but it is desired out here. Head-dresses of metal tube arrangements were placed over bald heads and the lip plates were worn by the women only. Apparently the bigger the lip plate the bigger the dowry and some of them were huge. The lip without the plate just hangs down and flaps around the chin. Can't imagine that anyone kisses each other! Ugh. Immediately one woman thrust a plate into my hands for me to buy. The experience was so weird as communication was entirely by gestures and there is a limit to such a conversation. The two worlds could not have been more different. We visited their homes which were grass dome huts with no furniture, just a fire. By this time it was raining and they had scurried into their houses and just had their heads peeping out through the door. Visions of savage Africa came to mind and I half expected to see a white man boiling in a pot. Such an odd thought as these people were very welcoming.
The chief and anyone else who can afford it has a gun which costs 2000 Birr - the price of five cows. Having a gun is a huge status symbol.
We didn't stay long and returned to the camp for an afternoon of cleaning the cupboards and fending off the local expectant baboons. The mosquitoes and flying bugs in general were rife and we were glad to retire to the bug free tent.
After a night of scratching I woke up with a very swollen knee which was painful to walk on. At park HQ we tried to pay but the chap refused the dollars which two days earlier he said were acceptable. Talk about being thick. We had insufficient Birr (no import of local currency allowed in Ethiopia) but he would only let us pay in Birr! We argued it through for hours but the chap could not see a way through despite there being many options. Eventually we paid dollars at what they said was an acceptable rate for them (turned out to be only slightly higher than bank rates) and then left. We also had to pay a scout fee for the entire duration because he had stayed with us and looked after us. That was only because he wouldn't buzz off!
The road to Jinka was very hilly and only suitable for 4x4 vehicles. It took around two hours to go 35 km and by the time we arrived it was camp set-up time. We hired a boy to take us around the town. What an efficient way of doing the shopping. His English was excellent and he translated for us at the market and shops. Most of the shops have no signs and without Lucas we would have struggled to find the goods we needed. The tourist office is familiar with people coming into Ethiopia via the Turkana route and gave us a pass to enable transit to Addis Ababa. There is nowhere in Jinka to get an immigration stamp. The Orit Hotel was very pleasant and despite camping in the car park we were not hassled at all. At Jinka we tried to buy diesel but the black market rates were ridiculously high at 4 Birr instead of the usual 2 Birr.
Tuesday 13th was Andrews birthday and we planned to drive towards Arba Minch and park in Nichisar National Park where there were hot springs and camp fire opportunities. The day didn't quite go as planned. The road was not good and it took almost all day to drive the 200 km to Arba Minch. It was good to be driving on the right again. En-route we met Stefan and Bettina from Germany who informed us the hot springs were a days drive into the park and not worth the trouble of getting there. At Arba Minch there was no diesel. Apparently it is all being sent up to the border to fuel the vehicles involved in the war with Eritrea. My theory is that it is all being bought by black market people who sell it all at a premium. We had to buy some for 2.75 Birr per litre which wasn't too bad but the chap spilled a load of it all over Andrews new trousers. Meanwhile the locals were swarming around us making demands for everything.
Camping that night at the Bekele Mola hotel was not very exciting. Facilities were practically non-existent but the views were good. The campsite was a field and it was chilly. We did have a campfire but by the time it got going it would have been too late to cook on it. Instead we had tough steak cooked on the stove. I made a birthday cake which turned out to be much better than last years. However we were all so full that we couldn't eat any of it. We met a British traveller called William who informed us that the Sudanese Embassy in Addis Ababa is now issuing visas. Hurray.
In the morning I discovered that the camp cat had licked half the icing off the cake, probably while the cake was out and we were sat around the fire. The journey to Addis Ababa was almost 500 km. We had to stop at Shashemene to drop off a chap who had a lift in Comet from Jinka. It wasn't a friendly town and the locals shouted abuse at us. We were able to buy some diesel though from a town slightly north which had just had a delivery - we dived in after seeing the Mobil truck. The road to Addis is in various states of construction. Apparently the Chinese are funding it. The occasional completed bit was excellent but the remainder just a gathering of pot holes. The animals have more road sense than humans and we were regularly braking hard to miss the strays of various sorts running into the road. The standard of driving here is terrible, with the exception of lorry drivers. It was surprising driving through central Ethiopia because the scenery was just like in England. There are fields and trees and it is green everywhere. Soon it started to rain and it was chilly. The road into Addis Ababa was lined with food stalls. There was fruit and vegetables galore - so much for a famine! The goats and sheep look very well fed too.
The Bel Air Hotel is the only place where you can camp in town and is the place visited by all tourists in their own vehicles or on tour trucks. What a place - just dreadful if you are camping but alright if you take a room. The loos are awful and the camping space is big enough for three cars but you have to watch where you stop because the overhanging power cables restrict where you can put your tent.
In the morning we were up early to get some paperwork done - primarily an immigration stamp in the passport. The Ethiopians are renowned for their thoroughness in such matters and we were to be treated to a day of it. It goes like this:
- Find the right place at the immigration office. We were told by many that Room 117 was the place.
- Queue outside Room 117 for 2 hours until you get to the front, make your request and get told you should be in Room 115.
- Queue for Room 115 and while doing so write on a blank piece of paper the details of yourselves, the cars and the route taken into Ethiopia.
- Enter Room 115 and present your stuff. They cannot process further without photocopies of your passport and visa.
- Return to Room 115 with photocopies but then they cannot proceed with your stamp because you don't have customs clearance for the car.
- Go to Customs at La Gare but it is lunch time and the operations manager isn't back until 1.30pm.
- Return to Customs after lunch to be told the manager probably won't be in this afternoon because he wasn't in this morning and no-one knew where he was. Told to go to Head Office instead.
- Go to Head Office and see Mr Seleshi in Room 102. He needs photocopies of the passports, carnet and a letter on a blank piece of paper addressed to the 'Ethiopian Customs Authority' giving details of yourselves, the cars and the route taken into Ethiopia.
- Photocopy the documents over the road, prepare the letter and return to Room 102 where Mr Seleshi scribbles a few notes on the letter and sends us to Archives.
- At Archives we wait for around half an hour where they debate our case, enter something into a log and send us to the secretary in Room 103.
- At Room 103 you hand in the documents and wait...and wait...and wait. Eventually your clearance document arrives - six copies of it. Thank goodness they have computers and don't have to type them all.
- Return to Archives where they debate a bit more and eventually give you two copies of the letter - one for yourself, the other for customs at the point of exit from the country. (You have to specify the point of exit as Head Office also sends a letter to them. If you decide to exit elsewhere you have to repeat the process).
- Return to Room 115 at immigration to hand in your notes. They give the OK and send you to Room 117. At this point it's closing time and "can you come back tomorrow?".
By now we were ready for a beer and scoffed some local brew and food at the hotel. Andrew tried a local dish of 'doro wat' which is chicken in a fiery sauce. It is served with bread called 'injera' which is huge flat rubber stuff. It resembles a bath mat and comes folded up on a tray and is to be dipped into your 'wat' to take the nasty taste away.
The next day we were up early again to visit the British Embassy to get a letter of recommendation for the Sudanese Embassy. What efficiency - it was done in about half an hour and thankfully they put all three names on the one letter so we only had to pay the 490 Birr fee once. Wow - that's 45 quid for a note to say these people are alright to visit your country.
We arrived at the Sudanese Embassy at 11am where we said hello to Mohammed and sat down. After 20 minutes he told us he didn't have enough application forms for us and that we'd have to photocopy his sheet. As they didn't have a photocopier Andrew dashed out and returned within ten minutes to find Gordon and I leaving the building. Everything had to close as it was time for prayers at the mosque! We were to return at 2.30pm with the forms, the photos and the cash - $60 each.
At 2.30 the application was made quickly and we were told to return on Wednesday. The next job was to get some cash. We thought the immigration stamp was hard enough!!!
You are not allowed to import or export Ethiopian money so we had hoped to get some Birr and stock up on dollars from the banks in Addis for our onward journey. Fellow travellers had told us that Addis Ababa was the last place to get cash before going north.Well you can but it is not easy. Thankfully we'd got a load of dollars before we left Nairobi but were reluctant to dip into that supply without securing more.
- There are no ATM's in Ethiopia.
- There are strict controls over foreign currency so there are no forex bureaux.
- Banks do not recognise Visa or MasterCard so the chance of a cash advance on a credit card is zero.
- The only places that take credit cards are the Hilton, the Sheraton and Ethiopian Airlines and it is illegal for them to allow cash advances.
We have an Amex card so decided to visit the Amex office at the Hilton to buy some travellers cheques as we had done in Dar es Salaam. The plan was to later exchange (except in Sudan) them for cash. No chance - that's not allowed here either. However, we did meet Peter who manages the office who was very helpful and explained clearly to us the financial arrangements in this country. He also advised us of a few good restaurants.
The only way of getting money into this country (other than bringing in dollars) is by a Western Union Money Transfer which involves somebody at the UK end having to do the donkey work. The commission for such a transaction ranges from 5-15% but the downside is that you get the money in Birr, not in dollars or pounds. The top limit for reconversion into dollars in cash is $1200.
After that disappointment a visit to the patisserie at the Hilton was required. Oh heaven, the cake selection was the best in ages and the strawberry tarts were to die for. At 6 Birr (50p) I'm going back for more. That night we all went out for a lovely pizza at the Deli Roma as we were banished from the hotel because of a wedding function. It was just as well because there was no mains electricity, just a generator. Apparently there is a water shortage so the output at the hydro-electric dam has been reduced. Every one in three days there is a power cut!
On Saturday 17th we spent almost the whole day at the British Council where they serve up delicious food, have lovely cappuccinos, British newspapers galore and have very good internet facilities. We were kicked out at 8pm when all the workers were going home. We made a brief visit to The Sheraton Hotel for a look around. It is a magical place in the middle of town with beautiful views and twinkly lights. Their restaurants are expensive though so we took Peters advice and went to a restaurant called 'The Cottage' where we decided to dine and have a belated birthday dinner for Andrew. The fondue was very tasty which is more than can be said for the local Ethiopian wine.
Gordon decided to do a bit of independent sight-seeing for a few days while Andrew and I worked on the car. We were determined to find the source of where the dust was entering. Everything had to be taken out of the car including the cupboards. It was a mammoth task taking two days but we found a few areas where the dust sealing wasn't as good as it could have been. Hopefully the new sealing will have cured the problem.
On Tuesday I spent a very chilly day working on the laptop while Andrew went off to the Selam Technical College to get a little welding done on the car. He said he would only be a few hours but ended up taking the whole day. Good job I had made a flask of tea. Andrew met up with Olaf and Ato Mola who run the College and over a coffee they discussed what needed doing. Later in the automotive shop Andrew gave the work instructions and while the work was being done he chatted to the students about car mechanics etc. We gave them our spare prop shaft and flange as instructional aids. Desta Shiferaw (Automotive Mechanics Instructor) asked if anyone we know has spare car manuals and posters they could send them to him. If you do, here is the address (Selam Technical and Vocational centre, Po Box 8075). A big thanks to Olaf, Mr Mola, Desta and the team for a job well done and an enjoyable day out for Andrew.
That night we returned to the Deli Roma but there was no electricity. The special 'power-out' menu consisted of things that could be cooked over charcoal and served with 'catch-up' (ketchup).
It is now winter here and the rains have started. It is very chilly in Addis Ababa as it is high - the third highest capital city in the world. When it rains it absolutely pours but doesn't last long. Such downpours are sufficient to wash away bad roads.
By Friday we collected our Sudanese visas - what a result! We can drive home, but the route is uncertain. The same afternoon we applied for a Libyan visa but the process looked very long winded and uncertain. The staff (the two Abduls) at the Libyan Embassy were great but all transactions are via Tripoli - we just had to wait.
Meanwhile the rain continued and we hoped that the road to Sudan would not become impassable for a few more weeks. There was good news on the Axum situation in the north as Ethiopia and Eritrea have just signed a peace agreement so a visit to Axum looks likely. News started to come through about South African carnets. We were told that SA carnets were no longer valid in Egypt. As three of our friends around the campsite have such carnets there was considerable disappointment about the potential route north.
On Friday 23rd we had a real crisis. The folding up washing up bowl disappeared. I searched everywhere but could only think that it fell out when one of the local boys opened one of the car doors arlier that day. The following morning we returned to the place where I saw the children and amazingly after a few questions the bowl was returned to us. The people of Ethiopia (with the exception of a few) have been lovely. They are generally a genuine nation.
By Wednesday there was still no news on the Libya visa but the Embassy agreed to pass on all information to Khartoum. Gordon left Addis to see a few of the sights up north while we continued doing chores in town. We made a plan to meet up in Gonder on the 7th - the day before our visas run out.
Andrews wallet disappeared and all he could think of was that a person he gave a lift to had stolen it. The next day he retraced his footsteps and after a few questions people were running around seeing what they could do. The wallet turned up pretty quickly - minus cash and the MasterCard. They said it fell out of the car but why would someone steal the credit card if that was the case, particularly as it is practically impossible to use a credit card around here. They said they would try to get the card back by the following day but they didn't manage it. Now we were glad that the use of credit cards in this country is severely limited. It was an absolute nuisance having to cancel the card particularly as James at home had gone to so much trouble to get new ones out to us in a diplomatic bag recently. The upside though is that there are very few outlets where we are able to use the card up north so its absence is not too much of a drastic loss. We still have two independent visa cards as backup. So much for the locals being a genuine nation!
In a matter of a few days the campsite became alive with new arrivals to join us and Derek. Justin and Andrea turned up and are heading north to Britain. Shai and Lihin arrived from Isreal, Paul and Yvonne from Holland and Tim and Clare who are travelling from the UK to Perth. We had been following Tim and Clares progress on their website and it was a delight to meet up with them. They are travelling south so will now be able to benefit from our website. Dennis and Aaron who we met in Nairobi turned up too, but were staying elsewhere. By now there were four cars trying to go north to Britain - and none of us yet knew how to get there!
Andrew, Clare and I took a trip in a matatu (very brave) to the Mercato - a huge market. What a treat it turned out to be. There wasn't a great deal of time to have a look around but we managed to bargain with the basket seller for some nice pieces. The market was great and even Andrew enjoyed it! The market fills 1km square of land and is divided into areas - coffee, shoes, fruit, spices, clothing etc. There were oil sellers decanting vegetable oil out of barrels using a hand pump, sewing machines lined the street in the sewing area and everywhere people were shouting at us to buy their goods. Our guide, Bereta was excellent so we took him out for juice (avocado) and cake. He bought Andrew a scarf as he had just had a pay rise. He worked for one of the NGO's and it was a delight to see someone so happy with his work. Another chap also followed us around and got in our way. By the end of the evening we offered him 2 Birr as a tip which we thought was quite fair. He gave us the middle finger then walked off in apparent disgust at the measly sum.
The weather continued to get worse, the power cuts every third day became a real nuisance and the telephone and internet lines went down for a while. As the week drew to an end we finally finished the website update, stocked up on tuck and managed to get sufficient cash into the country to last us throughout the rest of the trip - thanks to James for organising it all by Western Union Money Transfer. On Friday night the gang were out again - back at the Deli Roma where we made plans for a big car convoy over the muddy border into Sudan next week. Top tip - If you want anchovies on your pizza (essential) then order them before you arrive - speak to Mimi or Johnny.
By Saturday we were ready to leave but the morning turned out to be harrowing. Andrea received some terrible news which upset us all, and Lihin was sick. One thing with travelling is that you meet people for such a short period of time but in that time you build strong relationships. What affects one person has quite a knock-on effect. Andrea and Justin went to book a flight back to the UK and Andrew and I went off to do some final emails before heading north. Derek received good news about SA carnets - apparently Egypt are now honouring them which is a great relief to the gang. At the net cafe we bumped into Dennis and Aaron and ended up spending the rest of the day with them.
Back at the mercato we all had a fantastic time. It has such atmosphere. This time we had two guides -Dereje and Getachew, who were arranged from outside the Tano Supermarket.We would definitely recommend these chaps. Our friend (not) from our last visit also arrived on the scene and followed us around like last time. We tried to ignore him but he wouldn't go away. Even the locals call him 'ye keet kussel' (pain in the arse)! Coffee apparently originated in Ethiopia so I bought some of the best Harar beans for my mum and dad. They aren't roasted yet though so that should be a laugh back home! We passed basket stalls, men bending old bits of metal into something new. There were coffee grinding containers (just hollowed out bits of wood) where you bash the beans with a metal bar such as a car steering rod. Dennis managed to find an old mortar shell to do the job. There were incense stalls where the smell was more overpowering than the coffee. The spice stalls were incredible and the crafts type shops just like Aladdins cave.
The market on the whole is so run down that you wouldn't dare go to it if it was in the UK. Here though, it is fascinating and I would have hated to have missed it. Sadly it was time to leave but we returned to where Dennis was staying to fix his car before going out to 'The Cottage' for a splendid three course meal with beers and coffee for under £8 each.
On Sunday we were off, heading north towards Lalibela and their famous churches cut out of rock. We knew it was going to be a long drive and indeed it was...and on Ethiopias tyre chewing roads.
The road winded and twisted up and down mountains, passing villages, horses and carts, locals in the road, dead dogs, skinny cows, laden donkeys, laden women and afro hairstyles. People here are not strictly black but look more like very dark Arabs. The locals wore blankets similar to those of the Masai only they were green and turquoise. The scenery was spectacular and much more green than anticipated.
Within four hours the temperature had risen to 35°C and it was wonderful. At many locations along the road disused military tanks could be found - perhaps they couldn't cope with the inclines! Andrew couldn't help himself - had to go for a play!
We had been looking out for somewhere to bush camp but there was nowhere. There were people everywhere just walking around or beating their donkeys. Eventually we saw a track leading off the main road and decided to investigate. After 10 km we reached the village of Majere and decided to stay at the local hotel. In fact it was getting late and it was our only option. Within seconds we were bombarded with children demanding money - and we hadn't even got out of the car or through the gates. The car was surrounded by a sea of people and even the policeman in the back of the car couldn't do anything about it. The hotel owner opened the gates and we hoped peace would follow the closing of them. How wrong we were. The locals just pushed their heads under the gates hoping to get a glimpse of us. They were shouting and making demands. Within the hotel compound we were greeted by thirty people and watched by people from the open door and from overhanging balconies. The girl gave the room price of 7 Birr, but the man shouted 'no it's not, it's 30'. We weren't falling for that old trick so we said that 7 was fine and the local policeman gave the man a hard stare!
Rather than having the locals stare at us from outside the hotel we decided to go out to them in the hope that it would satisfy their curiosity. Soon we were being taken on a tour of the village followed by 200 people! Initially it was alright but then the children started to touch us then run off. The first ten or so times was funny but then it became irritating. Older people then came out to demand money. At the local bar we bought tea for ourselves and one of the chaps guiding us. By this time the whole village was out and they were fighting trying to get close to us. It was so intesnse and the demands just overpowering. If this is what it is like to be famous then I never want to become famous. By this time the local policeman had arrived and started beating the locals off us with his whip and stick. He asked us to go back to the hotel because it was all getting out of hand. The locals then decided to throw stones at us.
At the hotel I tried to make dinner but with an audience demanding food I decided to close the car doors and prepare dinner on the inside. Then the incessant 'tap tap' on the windows and the 'you you' from the children followed. I was glad to get to bed that night. For the first time in this country I had become really angry with the locals and understood why fellow travellers had been in a hurry to leave the country.
A very poor nights sleep followed due to the mass of mosquitos in the hotel room. However the sounds of the hyenas were exciting.
By 7am we left in a dash to get out of the place. I'm afraid to say but I lost my rag with one of the local children who kept touching me and running off. I ran after her and gave her a smack - much to the amusement of everyone at the hotel. I'm not sure whether the enjoyment though was at the scene or at me getting angry.
The road out of town was really exciting. With the early morning light and a slight mist in the air we slowly followed the masses of people and their donkeys on their way to work in the fields. Punda had to weave slowly through the herds of cows all moving forwards at their dilly dally pace and all rather reluctant to move. It was like being involved in a film at slow motion.
The road north continued in its spectacular manner, particularly around the Dese region where there were sharp hairpin bends and the remains of lorries could be seen down mountainsides.
There are two routes to Lalibela and we decided to go to Kobbo and take the mountain road. Once we had found the right road to take the ascent was as sharp as the rocks. In these high mountains the farmers cultivate every scrap of land on terraced fields. Cows were seen ploughing even the steepest of fields. With the recent rains the shoots of various crops were starting to show and in some areas wheat was well established.
We stopped off for a few minutes to visit a brightly coloured Mariam church on the top of a hill.
The supposedly 78 km journey turned out to be nearer to 120 km and took five hours to complete. By the time we reached Lalibela we had been driving for twelve hours along awful roads and were shattered. Both of us were grumpy and had headaches. Immediately the guides pounced on us - the last thing we wanted. However, one had a note from Gordon with a recommendation so we went to the Ashenten Hotel and made quick arrangements for a tour of the churches in the morning. Immediately after getting the tent out I had a lie down for half an hour before dinner. No shower followed as the man forgot to put the water heater on despite being reminded twice to do so!
At 5am the following morning the alarm clock went off. Andrew got up at 5 to go to church!!
It is necessary to get up so early because that is when the locals do and you get more out of a church visit if the locals are there praying.
Lalibela is famous for its collection of churches dating back 900 years. They are cut out of the rock and their roofs are level with the ground. The churches are located in the middle of town surrounded by stick and mud houses or by homes cut out of the rock where the nuns live.
Mario was our guide and he was late so someone else showed us the way to where we paid our 100 Birr each to visit all eleven churches. (Video cameras are an extra 150 to 1000 Birr). The first church was St Georges which is probably the most widely photographed - probably as it is the only one without scaffolding around it. In the shape of a cross it is a fascinating example of craftsmanship.
You go down a series of steps to reach the ground then enter the tiny church through old doors. Inside a few people were praying and the priest got his two bronze crosses out for us to see (you can even kiss them if you are that way inclined). We just took a photo and paid an extra fee for the privilege. Pictures of George and the dragon were pinned up alongside hanging bits of old cloth. The floor was covered with mats of various designs and the general air was that of yesteryear.
The entire tour took four hours and the format was much the same in all of the places: reach a church, take your shoes off (carry them in because someone will swipe them), look inside and marvel at the craftsmanship, see the crosses, look around the exterior, fight off the beggars and fight off more beggars. The church where King Lalibela is buried is off limits to women because he was poisoned by a woman.
The whole village was out praying, all decked out in their dirty robes and head-dresses. Many churches burned incense which filled the air with a lovely smell and atmospheric smoke. The praying was a combination of readings and chantings to drum beats. Very few people sat, most leaned against walls with their heads down and eyes closed. It was a fantastic sight but it made me think of lunatic asylums rather than churches. People kissed floors, walls, doorways. Others were cleansed by having the crosses wiped over their bodies. It was all a bit bizarre but amazing to see.
By 10am it was all over and as people went home so did the priests. Any later than 10am and you would be locked out!
Mario gave us a few options of other places to visit. There were other churches around the area or a few monasteries, one of which was made of marble. They were all a long walk, a drive or a horse ride away. At this point though we felt we had seen enough churches - a few more wouldn't make any difference so we decided to head off towards Bahir Dar. We paid the hotel and tried to pay Mario but our offering of 50 Birr wasn't enough for him. We had earlier agreed 50 but he thought we meant each! We were not paying 100 Birr for four hours work, particularly as local rates are that amount per week. He wasn't even an official guide. He feigned insult and walked off so we left him to it knowing that he would soon be back. He did return and asked us to accompany him to the police station. We called his bluff and asked him to take us there, at which point he said 50 would do.
The road south out of Lalibela was much better than the road in from the east. Not only was it faster but the tyres took less of a beating. Both of us were tired after our early start but we had to continue. Other travellers reported that Bahir Dar was lovely. On the way there were a few people ready to throw stones but we stared them out and smiled as we went past. One man had a big stick and waved it in front of the car as if to smash the windscreen. It was a good job I wasn't driving as I would have tried to run him over!
Eventually Lake Tana appeared on the horizon and Bahir Dar revealed itself as a very pretty town with its roads lined with trees. Here we found tarmac too. The Ghion Hotel was recommended and its expensive 44 Birr camping fee per night was worth it for the view. We parked up on a bit of land with stunning views over the lake. It was just a shame that the storm hit fifteen minutes later and we weren't able to see the lake any longer. Thankfully we could zip up the waterproof cover on the tent and knew that we would have a cosy home to return to after dinnner.
The Ghion is one of the best hotels in town and its three course set menu with coffee set us back 17 Birr each. At these prices it is not worth making your own meals.
After a very toasty and peaceful night the storm was still in full swing in the morning. It was just as well we had planned a day of doing very little. By the afternoon the sun was out and it was time to catch up on washing and doing a few jobs on the car. Some of the locals appeared for a gawp so I set up a chair and outstared them. It was interesting to see how uncomfortable they became and they soon buzzed off.
We had hoped to go to the cinema in town but that night there was a play on - in Amharic. By 6pm the next storm arrived and continued until 11am in the morning. With this much rain the road to Sudan will be interesting! Had a bit of a lazy day, but did manage a stroll into town to buy some cakes. That evening Justin arrived so we all had dinner together.
The following morning was the day of our rendezvous with Gordon in Gonder. As the sun was out we did a few chores before starting the 200 km journey north. We had planned a big night out with our leftover cash as this would be the last opportunity for beers in a while. On reaching Gonder we were handed a note from Gordon saying that he, Dennis and Aaron had already left and were driving towards the border. Not amused would be an understatement so we had to hot foot it towards them.
We hadn't gone far west when the road conditions deteriorated quite quickly. It was a graded road but the mud was thick in areas. Some of the villages we passed through were amazing, just like out of fairytales with their twisting roads, stick houses with smoke coming out of the top and small dark mysterious doors. After a couple of hours it started to go dark and we had only managed 88 of the 200 km journey so we decided to bush camp and get up early to catch up with the others.
The plan to get up early worked well, despite the groans at 5am. However trying to get out of our campsite proved to be more difficult. It had rained in the night and the grass was wet and the mud thick. Given rocks, thorny trees and ditches our route was restricted to one narrow exit point which the car thoroughly refused to go up. We had to get the winch out to get out of the campsite! What hope was there on the track into Sudan!
By 6am we were on the road and by 7.15am at the immigration office (37 km before the actual border). During our wait for the man to get out of bed the other chaps turned up. Apparently they had camped about 5 minutes drive behind us and we drove right by them. The official business was done quite quickly so we made our way to the border at Matema.
Here we had to register with the police again and were able to change our Birr into Sudanese Dinar at a rate of 30:1 which is not too bad.
By lunchtime we were out of Ethiopia and away from the incessent begging and 'you you' shouts. We were ready to move on!
Fellow travellers had reported the country as being beautiful and they were right. They also said that the locals were the worst in Africa and they were probably right. However, at an individual level these people are very nice, it is just collectively that they can be frustrating. Ethiopia is the biggest begging nation in Africa so far and you only have to pick up a newspaper to read the demands made upon the international community. Pages were dedicated to the aid work so far, pages to the demands for more aid work but there was no mention of what Ethiopia is doing for itself! I have never seen so many beggars, never seen so many people with distorted bodies crawling along roads between cars begging for cash. There were women on every corner with three or more children all asking for money. It was absolutely pitiful. We only gave money if someone did something for us, such as watch the car. Even then their demands were for five or six times the amount. To say it is a waring country would be right but its offers of the cultural and scenic kind were very special and we were pleased to have been able to visit this country.
|Termite mound - mmm no matron no..stop it||Haile - our guide at Mago Nat. Park||Hammer Tribe||Hammer Woman||Karo Tribe|
|Local hut||Mursi hair styles||Mursi homes||Showing the Mursi how the camera works||The Mursi get the Dulux out|
|Our guide Lucas at Jinka||Local dish at Bel Air Hotel||Bath mat 'injera'||Paul and Yvonne going South (check 'links' for their web site)||Dennis (doing the monkey impression) & Aaron (check 'links' for 'edventure' satellite liked web site)|
|Justin and Andrea going north||Tim, Clare and Cairo heading off to Uganda to build and School (check 'links' for their web site)||Our long suffering chum Derek. (This man has been waiting for 50 years to get to Cairo !)||Getachew & Bereta helping us get some goodies at the Mercato||Whatever Dennis is doing with his hand seems to work for Aaron in Deli Roma|
|Dennis prefers the spices||Bought some coffee beans - green - for roasting later||Basket sellers, etc. in the back streets||You can't help having a laugh with the kids||Aaron and Jacs hanging around the incense stall - man|
|Getachew and Dereje - excellent Mercato guides. Find them outside the Tana supermarket||('Ye Keet Kussel' - Amharic for 'Pain in the Arse') - Avoid this bloke like the plague.||This old lady was carrying this load up a very steep hill||Mariam Church on the Kobbo - Lalibela road||Mariam priest in the doorway|
|Plenty of beggars outside the churches in Lalibela||St Georges church - carved out of the rock - very impressive||More beggars||The inner sanctum of the tomb of King Lalibela (Honey Eater) - off limits for women as he was poisened by one.||Chanting from the Christian Orthadox bible|
|This is a very old old testament - 900 years. The pages are made from goat skin||Jacs by a very old box. It is older than the 900 year old church||Priests bring out the crosses and explain the symbolism. Note the picture of St. George & the dragon behind||The winding maze of levels, passageways, tunnels and stairs are astounding||I think it's this way ?|
|Monks, nuns and beggars.||Inside one of the churches - people praying||Monks chanting and shaking their brass 'kerching sound' makers||The secret passage between churches. Watch out for the bats||The end of the passage. Now blocked up following the theft of King Lalibelas processional cross from that church.|
|Sharing our break with some feathered friends||Dennis and Aaron get searched . Bend over sir !|
There are many pastry shops where you can buy many types of cake. The Hilton Hotel is excellent for strawberry tarts.
Addis Ababa has many international restaurants if you want to have something other than Ethiopian food.
Little shops sell a vast selection of western type goods at reasonable prices.
The best supermarket is Fantu about 3km down Bole Road. The Novis chain is good but very expensive.
Local food is doro (chicken) served in a sauce called wat. The flat bread served with it is known as injera and must be tasted to be believed.
|Omorate||back route, junction on left to Karo||N 04 46 664 E 036 09 184|
|Karo||Left fork to Mago||N 05 15 036 E 036 14 416|
|Mago Park||Camp site no. 5 (The best one)||N 05 40 144 E 036 24 937|
|Jinka||Orit Hotel||N 05 47 183 E 036 33 979|
|Arba Minch||Bekele Mola Hotel|
|Addis Ababa||Bel Air Hotel (Cheap and cheerful - perhaps just cheap)||N 09 01 857 E 038 46 487|
|British Embassy||N 09 01 839 E038 47 179|
|British Council (internet,papers, tv and good food)||N 09 02 125 E 038 45 315|
|Sudanese Embassy||N 09 00 368 E 038 44 702|
|Immigration Office||N 09 01 320 E 038 45 085|
|Selam Technical Vocational College (Welding, Work etc)||N 09 02 676 E038 50 112|
|UltimateMotors (BMW, Land Rover)||N 08 59.182 E 038 44 986|
|Michael Cotts (Mazda, Land Rover)||N 09 00 920 E 038 44 671|
|Deli Roma (Pizza)||N 09 00 397 E 038 45 994|
|Cottage Restaurant (Good food/fondue)||N 09 01 001 E 038 45 335|
|Hilton (Forex, Cakes, Amex Office - Peter)||N 09 01 132 E 038 45 857|
|Sheraton (just for a look when it's dark outside)||N 09 01 271 E 038 45 590|
|Kobbo||Crossroads for scenic but long route to Lalibela||N 12 14 382 E 039 36 520|
|Lalibela||Ashenten Hotel||N 12 02 058 E 039 02 939|
|Bahir Dar||Ghion Hotel||N 11 35 889 E 037 23 166|
|Gondar||Teralba Hotel||N 12 36 631 E 037 28 272|
|Metema||Bush camping options|
Other travellers told us that the Ethiopian people were pretty awful. With the exception of the very occasional stone throwing and verbal abuse we have found this not to be so, except where you get a very large group of people. It is very difficult to avoid the beggars who are numerous and incessant.
Drive on the right.
Car insurance is covered on the yellow card policy.
Make sure you stock up on money (dollars cash) before entering Ethiopia as foreign currency is practically impossible to get hold of here. Travellers cheques are good and can be exchanged at a very good rate.
Fuel is very cheap (16.5p per litre) but its availability is uncertain in the south.
Amharic Words and Phrases Dehena Wal/Way/walu Good day m/f/pl Dehena hun/hugnee/hunu Goodbye m/f/pl Dehena to reply Tenaystillign to greet and reply Thankyou Ahmasegnaalo Thanks Misgana Gunzub Money Anter / Anchi you m/f Yelim Asnalow Sorry nothing togive Forengi Foreigner Habashar Ethiopian Fassa Fart Ye keet kussel (the arse pain) Pain in the arse. The kussel 'k' is a click sound Anter, anter habashar 'you, you Ethiopian' used as a reply to 'you you Forengi' Boy / Girl lidj / lidjagered tinish, tinish or bekessita small, small or slowly Chigareelem No problem Suke shop
Counting And 1 Asra-and 11 Hulet 2 Haya 20 Sost 3 Selasa 30 Arat 4 Arba 40 Ammist 5 Amsa 50 Siddist 6 Silsa 60 Sebat 7 Seba 70 Simmint 8 Semanya 80 Zetegn 9 Zetena 90 Assir 10 Meto 100 Shee 1000 Meelyon 1000000 Asra-and 11 Andegna First Asra-hulet 12 Huletegna Second Arba-ammist 45 Arba-siddist 46 And huletegna 1/2 (half) Hulet-meto 200 sost sebategna 3/7 (three sevenths) Ammist-meto 5000 Netib-sebat 0.7 And-netib-ammist 1.5