Ethiopia Part 1

Entering Ethiopia there was a dramatic change, from the nothingness in Sudan to busy, busy in Ethiopia, along the road there are a lot of agricultural communities and the road itself is quite busy with cows, goats, asses and kids.

We also had to use our jerry can, it was filled up in Egypt and two or three times we have come close to needing the extra fuel, but in Ethiopia it became a necessity, and not because of the distance between filling stations but because of the distance between ATMs – we have no money until we get to the only ATM (as it turned out) in the city of Gondar (below).

Gondar

Ethiopia is also the first of the countries that we will visit that uses the Julian calendar and starts their time from six in the morning and not at midnight, (e.g. 7 am for us is 1am for them) so we have to watch the times we are given.

Gondar is one of the old capitals of Abyssinia so there are a number of historic royal ruins, to tour round. The main diet of Ethiopia is ‘Injera’ which a sort of very large pancake thing, that has the look, feel and elasticity of rubber underlay, with sort of meat or vegetable stew stuff on it. After we had one for lunch and decided that is was probably edible, later we also learnt that it is famous for making “earth shattering” bottom wind. We are now waiting to see if this story is fact or fiction.

We took a trip down to Lake Tana where the outfall is the start of the Blue Nile’s 1.450 kilometre journey to Khartoum where it meets up with the White Nile. 30k from the lake is the quite spectacular Blue Nile falls.

Blue Nile falls

Back at Gondar we headed to the Simien Mountain national park, we were not expecting much there as Helen has a problem with altitude sickness, and as it so happens most of the park was above her height limit the little bits that were low enough for her, I did not think it was worth paying the entrance fee for the both of us and the car and for camping plus the compulsory hire of an armed scout and a guide, plus tax.

Debark, where we were, has four very up market hotels (it is a slum town) and they were all out of our bracket. So we moved on to the next town where I read there some cheaper hotels. On our arrival we found the best of these to be slummy. Plan B drive the 130k. to Aksum, the start of this road was amazing as it winds it’s way though the Simien mountains, and as we went on it got better (ie more exciting) this is one of the roads that featured in the BBC series “The World’s Most Dangerous Roads” it was a fantastic drive. Helen who was suffering from a touch of acute mountain sickness from the altitude, and a touch of vertigo from the sheer drops off the side, and a slight headache from the jolting on the poor road surface, and a touch of nerves from my driving, was not the happiest navigator in the world.

road ahead

Once we got down the lower mountains we had no big drop offs, but Roads Ethiopia was at work, gone was the defined track, bulldozers and diggers were shifting earth and rocks all over the place, quite often it was difficult to tell the road from the surrounding countryside, sometimes with dirt and sand blowing about it was impossible to see anything anyway. But as night fell it was really tricky to follow a route, there were several times we had to back track in the dark to find where we lost the road. There were several times when the going was so bad I thought we were lost, but then we would see a marker or something to show that these rough bits were the right route.

After a long time of this wilderness we hit some tarmac and thought we were nearly there, so I gave it some welly for the final leg, my headlights are not the brightest in the world and currently they are covered in dust and dirt, so came as a bit of a shock as I am tearing down the road to see camel trains looming out of the dark, other cars I could see but all of the camel trains were unlit.

Eventually we came to a town with a hotel and beer, we stopped for the night, it was here we found out that our inadequate map was 125k.out, Aksum was not 130k but 255k. So we still have a way to go. But for what we did, what a drive. Boy what a fantastic drive.

They have put a new bypass at Aksum, and no sign post, so we overshot the town. Aksum was also an ancient capital of Ethiopia. It was a good job we did not try and get here in the dark god knows where we would have ended up.

This is the Tigray region the home of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Also the church has in it’s safe keeping the original Ark of the Covenant (???) a present from the aforementioned king.

We had a tour round some ancient tombs, palaces and the Q of S’s swimming pool. We walked to one of those monastery’s on the top of a huge rock on the top of a mountain, after we got through the gate there is a ticket office, so we paid the required eighty Birr each and then Helen was told women are not allowed in the monastery, and no refund. That’s Ethiopia.

Our next stop is Hawzen. First we had trouble finding the town, it is in the sticks down sixty k of unmarked gravel roads. Several places where we have asked the way to anywhere the locals either do not understand us or do not know, On our way there we came to a bridge with a few planks missing, luckily in front of us was a truck with a few skimpy boards on, we laid these out, he went first, shattering one of the original boards, I followed. And Helen, who was not even in the car, was having kittens. Around the area are a lot of mountains and we are told there are one hundred and eleven churches or monasteries hewn out of solid rock on the top of most of the peaks. Some of them it is climb up a sheer rock face, some you are hauled up by rope, or you climb up pulling on a plaited goatskin rope, we opted for one that is a long, pretty steep, stiff walk. We went to another easier one as well, they are quite amazing, but you have got to have religion bad to climb a rope every day with a hammer and chisel for the years it must take to carve out these great buildings.

On our way back to the main road, a load of pack mules came out of nowhere onto the track I did a bit of a swerve and fell down a secret hole, (it is not secret anymore I know where it is now) into four wheel drive and try to reverse out, unfortunately not enough wheels were actually touching the ground to be effective, luckily I have this great big hi lift jack and with a number of willing helpers who appeared as if by magic, we jacked the car up shifted half a ton of rock and got back on the road again.

road hole

Next stop the dodgy bridge, without the guy with the spare wood. We are now a bit clued up on this now, it is possible if you have a four wheel drive vehicle with a good ground clearance (Taa Daa) to go off the track down the bank across river and up the other side, who needs bridges.

Mekele here we come.

More photos are on http://picasaweb.google.com/mickhelen99

We have already done part 2 – update will be following shortly

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