Trip Diary - Africa

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Ethiopia

Having enjoyed Sudan and her people immensely we looked forward to entering the next country on our journey, Ethiopia. The border crossing went well although we had to wait a couple of hours for the customs office to open after long lunch. We passed the time on the veranda of a kiosk drinking cold cokes and chatting to the proprietor, from whom we learnt how to ask for bread, milk and water in the local lingo…..this is important information as we buy these products from vendors along the way. Seamus passed his time herding sheep around the kiosk and eventually scattering them all over the place….it was very funny.

The main road (gravel) ascended into the Highlands. Savannah scenery, grass and acacias, covered the slopes. We spent our first night in a quarry. Quarries have become one of our favourite spots to rough camp, as there is usually a heap of rock or sand to shelter behind and they are not used by passer-bys at all. We slept well that night and then drove onto Gonder, the next town. We met up with our friends there, whom we had last seen in Sudan. We joined them in a hotel that night, which could only be described as a ‘long- neglected Fawlty Towers.’ Ashleigh was so shocked she’s made us promise that we will not stay in another hotel again.

We visited the Palace Enclosure, which has several small castles built by Ethiopian aristocracy 400+years ago. Our planned route from Gonder to Axum was foiled due to a lack of diesel in the region, so we headed south, eventually finding filling stations that would sell a limited amount of fuel. With a full tank of diesel (eventually) we turned eastward down the Chinese road towards Lalibela. It was a 2 day journey so we camped up for the night in a riverbed. There wasn’t a spare metre of available space to stop along the road, it was completely inhabited. Even a brief loo stop, drew a fascinated crowd around us in no time. If we stopped in a village to buy cokes or food supplies, the local children would climb all over our car in a state of mindless hysteria whilst some of the older one’s would attempt to open the doors and climb in. This is known by travellers to the area as ‘faranje frenzy’ – foreigner frenzy

Arriving in Lalibela and being allowed to camp in the rear garden of the posh Roha hotel was a relief. We enjoyed the variety of birds there. The following day we headed to the rock hewn churches in the town. They were very interesting and in addition provided a pleasant break from the overly-attentive crowds of adults and children, who asked us strings of mindless questions. We did manage to see the famous Lalibela Cross and Axumite Cross.

In our desperation for space and nature we headed south passing through the scenic Ethiopian Highlands. Birdlife is prolific everywhere. Along all the slopes farmers worked, threshing their grain. First, oxen trampled it, then men and women, using a mesh tray on which they would place the crushed plants, shake them up and down separating the husk from the seed. The seed is sent to the mill and the farm animals eat what is left. This type of food production went on throughout the country. The Ethiopians work really hard, but they have a population of non-workers who generally live in each town or village, and these people would try the patience of Job!!! (Nowhere in my previous travels have I met such irritating people – GS)

That night we stayed in the backyard of a ‘hotel’ in the tiny village of Bati. The local school children were so delighted to see us that they greeted our car with a barrage of stones and shrieked hysterically. At this point I have to add that every adult I saw there was chewing a huge lump of ‘weed’, common in Ethiopia. Altitude and this stimulating weed is not a good combination!!!!

The highlight of our time in Ethiopia was the Guassa Plateau. We had to drive for a couple of hours off the main road and climb up to 3100metres before we reached it. There is nowhere official to stay so we camped up behind a hill and had the place to ourselves as there are so few people there. We were able to watch the endangered Ethiopian wolves for ages and at such close proximity…..how fortunate we were. (Ethiopian Wolves are the most endangered Canid, and it is likely they will become extinct in the near future)

In Addis Ababa, we camped at a dire hotel (Bel Air), the only place in town to pitch a tent and where rooms are hired out by the hour. We were expected to pay in advance as well. We spent 2 nights there. Addis is an attractive, hilly, leafy city and should our accommodation have been more appropriate, we may have stayed longer. We visited the National Museum and had the opportunity of setting eyes on ‘Lucy’ the 3.5 million year old female skeleton, found near the Danakil Depression. There were many other prehistoric skulls of hominoids and animals that captured our attention and interest.

With only 2 days remaining on our Ethiopian visas, we drove south out of the Highlands towards Kenya. We camped in the overgrown gardens of a run down hotel on the banks of Lake Awassa, the smallest of the Rift Valley Lakes. Here we were spoilt for bird life and the presence of Black and White Colobus monkeys as well as the Grivet monkeys.

Ethiopia is a picturesque country, with its rolling hills, lakes and volcanoes. However, I think it’s a country where a large portion of its population are so used to AID handouts, that they all have the ‘Give Me’ attitude. We found this an exhausting country to stay in.

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