16th November/day 43 Ethiopian border to Tim and Kim’s, Gorgora, Lake Tana. Odometer 81552.
Mild at 24 degrees. Quick check and stomachs were still ok following the ‘veg’ experience from last night.
Customs opened at ‘one o’clock’ which in Ethiopia actually means 07.00. The experience was pretty painless and rather swift. The letter was asked for but none of the group encountered any problems, even with the fake copies!
We were all away by 08.30 after breaking camp. We were now in desperate need of a shower but still some 5 hours away from Tim and Kim’s.
As soon as we were on our way into Ethiopia we understood why no-one travels quickly in this country. There are people, donkeys and cattle everywhere, happily just walking in the middle of the road. Not too sure where everyone is walking to but they seem happy walking.
The terrain changed quickly too and was very much a welcome relief after the last five weeks of desert, we even had weather…clouds, temperature variations and mountains. Within a few kms we started to climb, weaving our way up with ever increasing views passing mud huts topped with straw thatch.
We felt we had at last arrived in the Africa we were so looking forward to and we were loving it.
In addition to the ear-popping climbs we also received a text from Pete and Steve who had already made it to Tim and Kim’s the previous day which read “beers good, heaven. There is a live goat here which won’t be if there are a few coming – let us know”. With us, and four bikers behind us a quick return text was sent. Finally meat we can trust!
We arrived at Tim and Kim’s approx 1pm. Toasted sandwich and beer by 1.10pm.
Found a great spot for camping under the trees overlooking the lake. Clean loos and showers. Wonderful. It was also a lot cooler, Rob even put his jeans on. (Rob edit – because my trousers were stolen for cleaning – The girls at the site worked their magic on our filthy clobber for an unbelievably reasonable 40birr / £1.50 ).
That night we tucked into goat curry, delicious. 🙂 And another good catch up with Pete and Steve, plus Willem from Holland who also arrived a few hours later. (Rob edit- Curry was parp-tastic to the extent that he was heard clearly across the campsite).
Overlander tip: Tim and Kim’s is listed on Tracks but if you follow your sat nav you will turn off the main tarmac road and drive for approx 60 kms (allow 1.5 hours) on track which is bumpy but you will be rewarded with great views. However, one of our fellow overlanders stayed on the road to the airport at Azezo and turned right to Gorgora which is further but an easier road, especially if you are on a bike.
Distance travelled 214 Kms.
17th November/day 44 – Tim and Kim’s, Lake Tana. Odometer 81552.
We woke up to fresh air, water lapping at the edge of the lake and the rumble of thunder in the hills (not Rob this time) and even had some rain, not much but it was very welcome after the excessive heat of Sudan. Sarah even had to put a second layer on.
We treated ourselves to scrambled egg on bread courtesy of the campsite but Sarah wished she opted for the fried eggs as these look much better. Rob was more than happy with his scrambled eggs n cheese n onions.
After breakfast we took a stroll down to the water’s edge and then back to Alfie to sit under the awning, overlooking the lake, reading, drinking tea and enjoying the view. It was a novelty to hear the wind blowing through the trees and the shadows moving across the hill-side. Sometimes life is tough.
Around mid-day, Dave & Donna, Brad & Amy rolled into camp.
BBQ goat for dinner, spare ribs were just amazing. There were 11 of us sitting down to dinner, 10 Brits and Willem, although Willem soon felt outnumbered and went to sit with Tim and Kim who are also Dutch. Later that evening two other Dutch arrived we we met on the Aswan ferry and four new Irish arrived. The beer was in great demand!
Distance travelled 0 Kms.
18th November/day 45: Tim and Kim’s, Lake Tana. Odometer 81552.
Another slow start to the day, and can’t really say much was achieved. Sarah tried to clean some of the layers of sand out of Alfie and Rob replaced the fuel filter. We are still worried about the starter motor and hope we will make it to Uganda where Alfie will undergo a full service.
Another goat arrived which we saw happily bleating around and fascinating Tim’s dogs only for an hour later to be seen being carried aloft a local’s shoulders, headless and skinned. (apologies to Nick and Lisa and any other veggies out there). But having discussed it briefly with Tim later that day, his analogy was that he viewed a goat like a mango, it was food and he had to feed people. Fair enough…
Goat curry for dinner. (Rob edit – not as parp-tastic 🙁 )
We eventually decided to head for the mountains the following day, although neither of us were great with heights but were assured the roads were ok.
Distance travelled 0 Kms.
19th November/day 46 – Tim and Kim’s – Debark – Gonder: Odometer – 81766.
An early start and the last of our fried eggs on bread. After Rob helped Tim to start his Toyota, Tim happily repaid the help by helping to get Alfie going. 40 mins later after all our goodbyes, we were on our way heading to Gonder to change money, fuel and stock up before heading up ‘them mountains’.
Overland tip: Tim and Kim’s – a great spot after the heat and sand of the desert. Beer and food readily available. Great hosts. 45 birr per night, beers 12 birr, breakfast approx 25 birr. Wouldn’t recommend driving the last stretch in the dark as quite a decline over boulders into the campsite.
The road from Gonder north to Debark soon becomes a gravel up-hill track, but the immediate land either side his gently sloping so you don’t really get a good impression of how high you are….until that small piece of track takes you over several temporary bridges which are only wide-enough for the wheels and the reality of how high we were hit and we both took a sharp in-take of breath.
3 hours later/early afternoon we arrived at Debark, looked around and realised that it didn’t have much going for it. We had already decided that we wouldn’t go trekking further into the mountains as this was around 4000m and the altitude was now at a point where Sarah was starting to puff a little and it wasn’t going to be much fun to go any further. We were also getting very nervous about Alfie not starting so we decided we probably shouldn’t go any further north to Axum.
On the way the to Gonder it rained and the mud tracks became treacherous leading to a traffic jam. Luckily there was a truck on hand to haul the many less capable vehicles up a muddy slope. Alfie trundled down and then up again with no problem. The Chinese road builders (bodgers) cheered!
Back in Gonder we managed to camp in Fogera Hotel (N12 37.000 E37 28.498) car park which turned out to be ideal as cold beer, food and staff were excellent.
Overlander tip – this hotel is ideal for a late stop and is listed in T4A. There are gates to the hotel which is also guarded so all very safe. However, only suitable for two, maybe three rooftop tents. The ground is gravel so not best for ground tents. 100 birr.
Today was our first experience of the begging and “give give give” Ethiopia we had been told about. Whenever we went through villages people would run to the road side with their hands out, but especially children. We also head constant cries of “you you you” in a very high pitched voice. Best tactic is to wave and smile back and if they get really irritating, shout “you you” back!
Travelled 291 kms.
Saturday 20th November/day 47 Gonder to Lalibela, Odometer 82057
“new pants please”
What a day. The drive to Debark had given us a new confidence about heights which turned out to be misplaced. Let’s just say the whole day was not fun. Sarah’s sight seemed to deteriorate very quickly and spent most of the switch-backs with the map in front her face, Rob was just very quiet apparently concentrating.
The last stretch up to Lalibela was the worst as we arrived on market day so as we chugged up hill, sometimes in first gear just to give you an idea of the steepness, Rob was faced with people, donkeys, cattle and Uncle Tom Cobbly coming downhill, going up hill, wandering aimlessly etc.. Sarah’s contribution was “stick to the hill side and make them walk on the edge, they are used to it!”.
We stopped at the Seven Olives Hotel, but wouldn’t recommend this as an overnight stop for overlanders or anyone in fact. There was another campsite listed but we needed to just stop driving for a while and find terra firma and a beer to recover our nerves.
Lalibela is at 2630m and is high (excuse pun) on the tourist trail. Known for its Rock hewn churches, there are 12 churches to visit of various sizes and shapes dug 40 foot down into the mountain side. From this spot the views looking out over the mountains are fantastic.
We saw a few of the dozen or so churches to get an idea of what they were like, but were soon churched-out and headed back up-hill (on foot) for dinner. Rob was more impressed with the engineering of the mountain road than the churches.
We met the two cyclists we passed earlier in the day at the hotel. Ken and Dan are cycling from London to Cape Town www.betterlifecycle.com.
A restless night followed as Sarah was less than happy about the prospect of the downward drive the next day.
Distance travelled 378 Kms.
Sunday 21st November/day 48 – Lalibela to Dese. Odometer 82435
Alfie started first time, clearly not the only one looking forward to getting down the mountain! For a first part of the decline Sarah appeared to suffer from her short sightedness affliction again as the map was stuck to her nose. Rob ignored any rules of the road and stuck to the cliff side as much as possible. Luckily, it was very early and Sunday so the roads were quiet (for Ethiopia).
Again we were shouted at by the children on the road side, although these were probably the poorest children we had seen so far and for the first time we had a pretty sizeable stick thrown at the back of Alfie which landed with a thud. We had been warned that the children may throw stones but so far we had avoided this experience. The advice is not to give the children anything. The expectation of hand-outs is a by-product of the vast overseas funding which has taken place and previous travellers which have given all sorts to the villages. All in all, we drove through many villages which had very healthy animals and crops. Many of the huts had new tin roofs and if you do see a sign on the side of the road it will often be about the charity/county/EU funding initiative so all in all we think Ethiopia is doing pretty well now compared to those dismal photos of the 80’s famine.
We would still recommend Lalibela and we are glad we did it as the scenery is stunning, but if you have any nervousness about narrow winding roads up mountains with 1000 metre drops we would perhaps suggest you to think again.
En-route to Dese whilst dodging the now normal street clobber, we were charged by a rather angry African long horned bull. After a loud clang and much giggling from inside, the cow was dizzy and in a ditch and Alfie made a break for it.
After what seemed like only a few hours Team Alfie were in the midst of a holiday celebration (see pics) and were surrounded by thousands of chanting chaps waving sticks and things in our general direction. In reality we drove right through the middle of half a dozen such celebrations getting braver with each encounter. Great to be in the midst of a real African tradition.
We stopped at Desse for the night and booked into the Qualiber Hotel. Rob opted for ‘roast lamp’ and Sarah took the safer option of spaghetti bolognese. We were charged 250 birr for the room which was the more than double the local rate, clearly a ferengi special. We tried to say that this was a lot, but then there was a sudden breakdown in understanding.
The hotel was hosting a wedding so it was good to see and hear how the Ethiopians celebrate.
Distance travelled – 306 kms.
Mon 22 November / day 49 Desse to Addis Ababa – Odometer 82741 km.
07.00 start and 12 DegC Pretty damned chilly by our standards. As we promised the hotel staff Alfie wouldn’t (and didn’t) start. Luckily Rob had parked him on a slope and easily managed to bump start him.
A very long days drive followed up and down about a bazillion more mountain passes. (OK it looked lumpy on the map, but this was just crazy). After climbing from 2470m up to 4305m back to 3250m for “Mussolini’s tunnel” we jumped loads of places in the queue waiting for the 11:30 opening with only 20mins wait. Here we met Sergio an Italian businessman that had passed us a day or so earlier as we crawled around the mountains. He was very interested in overlanding and spent the wait chatting. We suspect there will be a trip from Italy heading south in the next year or so 🙂
Addis eventually appeared and the fun began that was the search for Wim’s Holland House. A reputed overlanding stop of much mirth and facilities. ie cracking staff, beer and food.
Distance travelled 440 Kms.
Tuesday 23 November/day 50 Wim’s Holland House. Odometer 83181.
Finally Rob had had enough of the ropey starting procedure when there were witnesses and decided to fit the new starter motor that was purchased back in Lyon. Luckily for us there is a cracking local Landrover garage that agreed to fit said motor for 478 birr (£18) and only took and hour or so. With clean hands and more importantly clean clothes, Team Alfie retired to the bar for food and beer.
After the lunacy of Libya and the “precision driving” of Cairo, Team Alfie are now feeling proficient at driving in an African style. Rob has become a master of undertaking Sarah’s last minute calls for a U-turn – frequently crossing four lanes in each direction.
Distance travelled 0 kms.
Wed 24 November / day 51 Wim’s Holland House. Odometer 83181.
Quick visit to the Kenyan Embassy to drop passports which we then need to pick up tomorrow and back to camp for pink and blue tasks (tinkering on Aflie for Rob and more washing for Sarah) but just has Sarah had finished the epic clothes wash, the heavens opened and a huge downpour followed.
Sarah ignored the washing and dived into the French camper van for cover! Rob soon followed.
We ventured back into Addis for a wander. Despite what all the guide books say we find Addis quite safe as long as everyone is sensible about where their wallets, mobiles etc. are stashed around the body. One of the downsides is the level of pollution from the vehicles and you can easily get choked very quickly trying to cross the roads. The traffic lights don’t appear to work therefore traffic police are found on some of the junctions but generally it’s chaos trying to cross the road.
The German couple we met at Wim’s then offered to take us out to dinner in return for Rob helping Tom out with his laptop and getting T4A to work on his GPS. We headed back into Addis to a restaurant packed by locals and, feeling particularly brave, decided to order a local dish of Injera and meat (think it was beef). The Injera wasn’t half as bad as we had been led to believe and I don’t think it tasted like the soggy bathmat people had previously described (although bath mats don’t appear high on our normal weekly Waitrose shop).
Distance travelled 0 Kms.
Thursday 25th November/day 52 Wim’s Holland House. Odometer 83181.
During the night we received a heavy quota of rain so there was a very slow start to the day eating bread which was baked by the Germans doused by volumes of Lizzie Bowden’s home made strawberry jam.
Another admin day as we ventured back into the centre of Addis dodging the beggars, shoe-shine boys and fumes to sort out the COMESA card (car insurance). All in all the process was very smooth and we had al the necessary documents within a couple of hours. With another failed attempt to find a decent internet we headed back to Wim’s for an afternoon of reading and relaxing.
We were discovering that the only reliable place to find a working and trusted ATM and internet is the Sheraton Hotel. We had visited the hotel the day before to use the ATM but thought that the internet would be readily available elsewhere, unfortunately not.
The Sheraton is fantastic, an oasis of luxury but like many of these hotels you could be anywhere in the world and not need to venture out for days and therefore miss the life outside. However, saying that we did make use of the extra clean ablutions! Hand towels and hand cream, bliss.
We also tried to find some postcards as we are conscious that we haven’t sent any, but Addis Ababa doesn’t appear to have any, so will try again in Kenya. We will send them, we promise!
Distance travelled 0 kms.
Friday 26th November/day 53 – Wim’s – Arba Minch. Odometer 83196.
An early start south as we started to head for the Kenya border. Our initial plans were to travel to Kenya via the Omo Valley (SW Ethiopia), however, as we had several days of bad weather we decided against this route. If there had been heavy rain in the Omo valley, the roads and river crossings would be near impossible to navigate and most likely we would get stuck quite easily. Therefore, we decided to travel via Arba Minch and not the main road south to Moyale (border).
Alfie started with fresh energy with the new starter motor and we were away by 7ish. An hour and half later, having negotiated Addis roads and sorted Sally out we eventually found the correct road out of town.
The next hour was pretty ok as we trundled along a new tarmac road to Welkite, only to turn left onto track and for which we stayed on for almost the rest of the day until we reached Arba Minch. The road was quiet and we passed through a number of villages, all still packed with people. Still pretty up and down as well.
We decided to go for the hotel/camping site of the less grotty variety which was listed in the Bradt guide as ‘upmarket’. We were not disappointed when we drove up to the gates of ‘The Paradise Lodge’ (N06 00.516 E37 33.276). A hotel perched on a cliff overlooking two lakes…Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo. It was unbelievably inexpensive for overland camping (rooftents or ground). All the staff were very friendly and helpful. We were escorted around the hotel complex to make sure we were happy with everything before we set up camp. We soon realised how scruffy we must have looked once we had seen the bar and restaurant area.
We were allowed to use the spa to shower in which was lovely and decided that we had better put our better togs on for dinner. We had dinner on the balcony/veranda overlooking the two lakes.
Distance travelled 553 kms.
Road works are taking place all along the road from Wilkite to Abra Minch so we expect this will be tarmac within one year of so. If you opt to travel to Jima we understand the road is all tarmac.
Paradise Lodge: N 06 00.516 E 37 33.276.
Camping 120 birr – very reasonable. Food – very good prices for location.
Option for boat tours from the hotel but we didn’t go for this.
Saturday 27th November/day 54 – Paradise Lodge to Moyale: Odometer 83749.
Soon after leaving Arba Minch we saw our first monkeys scampering across the road. They had pinched some sweetcorn from the field and were disturbed by us trundling past. We drove for a lot of the journey through the Rift Valley, passing through villages adorned with tribal looking people which was great to see. Also, saw lots of camels again.
The road from Arba Minch to Konso was pretty good tarmac with just a few lumps and bumps but from Konso to Yvello it was again track all the way. We fuelled at Yvello as this fuel would be cheaper in Ethiopia than Kenya and we needed a full tank to tackle the next two days.
The road from Yvello to Moyale soon changed from dusty dirt track up and down to hills, climbing to a plateau where the track turned to rusty red gravel with people still appearing from no-where and still we were continuously asked for money, and shouted at. The roads at times were completely covered with cattle and donkeys and children. I wish I had got some video recording of the demands.
We made it to Moyale (border) at 16:20 and after accidentally driving into Kenya were promptly (but politely) advised to do an about turn and directed to passport control where we only had to wait about half and hour for the passports to be stamped. Here we met a guy that we would meet on several occasions in the coming days. Picture a black Brian Blessed in a hunting jacket and you’ll not be far off. What a character. What a voice.
We headed over to the other side of the road only to find the Customs office was closed. The normal African confusion then set in. One guy was adamant that we wouldn’t now get through until Monday which didn’t fill us with much fun, followed by another fellow telling us to come back at 8am Sunday morning. We took his advice as it was a lot more hopeful and headed off to the find a hotel.
We stayed in a rattan hut that night and despite being promised water after 7pm, 8pm, 9pm..nothing ever dripped out of our shower!
Man Utd vs Blackburn was on TV and we soon realised that it was Saturday afternoon at home and the premiership was in full swing. The locals were going mad as Man U scored another goal. As neither of us are really into footie, we went to the next room, loosely ribbed as the restaurant and ordered the safest thing on the menu, omelette and a meat dish plus chips, but we were told that ‘chips were over for the night’ – it was about 7.30pm! We avoided the other choices on the menu such as ‘Yellow stew and Key Fresh’.
We soon found out how close the hotel was to yet another Mosque which fired up at something like 4am (and was still in full swing as we checked out). Not a good night’s sleep, no water or electricity so we refused to pay the full amount, left some cash and drove off.
Distance travelled 427 kms.