KMS travelled 23,156
With Marianne recovering in bed at Paradise Lodge, with little to do the second day I teamed up with a retired Swedish diplomat, Carl Jungen, who was in Arba Minch in an unofficial capacity trying to achieve the release of two Swedish journalists who have been in an Ethiopian jail there for a year or so after illegally crossing the Somali/Ethiopian border. We decided to go in Tin Can to the nearby Nechisar NP which surrounds Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo – which reputedly have the biggest crocs in Africa! Little did I realize that the afternoon expedition was going to involve nearly 5 hours of rugged 4W Driving to cover some 50 kms with low range 4WD in constant use through mud, large stones and some very steep gradients!
We didn’t see much game other than some Zebra, warthog and several hippos in the lake, but it was an interesting trip through thick forest and rocky hills. But it tested poor Tin Can sorely again! Sadly, the last lion in the Nechisar NP was apparently shot 3 years ago by locals after eating cattle and there did not seem to be much other game to see despite all the assurances of local guides looking for a Birr or two to guide us? Plenty of cattle grazing on the Nechisar plain though –something that seems all to common in so called National Parks throughout sub Saharan Africa? !
Marianne fit again, we headed north through the sizeable town of Shasheme and on towards Addis Ababa through interesting countryside. We broke the 550km trip at a lovely campsite at Karkaro Beach Cottages and Top Camp GPS N 07*35”862’ E 38*41”659’ right on the shores of soda Lake Langano (in which you can swim as the soda ash content kills bilharzia – and crocs)! A quiet night on our own with a nice campfire with wood supplied by the friendly guard and some very tame little weaver birds and finches eating out of one’s hand the next morning.
Addis didn’t do much for us- mud everywhere from the recent heavy rains and diesel smoke pollution like you wouldn’t believe from the trucks and buses gridlocked on the streets. Still we caught up at the rather weird Wim’s Holland House GPS N 09*00”614’ E 38* 45”320’with Christer and Mia and Fabio and Anne and the iconic (and slightly deaf) Dutch proprietor Wim (who has just got married again at 64 to an Ethiopian lady, Rachel!), and who kindly let us a room in his own house as it was raining steadily.
Wim’s Holland House has unfortunately lost it’s adjoining camping yard to a property developer and is not quite the same as Jungle Junction in Nairobi as far as heaps of overlanders and facilities is concerned, but has a nice bar and good food. A bit of a disappointment really, still we were surprised to meet a pair of Romanians, Martin and Carmelia driving a Hyundai Terracan from Durban to Roumania and who greeted us like long lost friends! They had apparently been following our blog for weeks and wondering when they would catch up with us?!
Car troubles occupied both Christer (who was trying to get injectors and an injector pump serviced by a local Land Rover specialist in order to try and give him better power in the 3,000+m Ethiopian Highlands) and Fabio whose Toyota had sheared off rear wheel studs (modified for his wider wheels) and needed new front shockers, steering tie rod ends as well as new fridge batteries as they were no longer holding their charge. Not easy things to locate in Addis –and Fabio seemed to be starting to suffer from the “collywobbles” Marianne had earlier? Having seen enough of Addis, the pollution and the rain, after stocking up at the quite good nearby Bambi Supermarket- which has many (pricey) imported Western goods- after two days, we left them in Addis trying to source mechanics and spares and headed north again towards Debra Marcos and Bahir Dar in Amhara Province with the promise to wait for them to catch up at the Ghion Hotel in Bahir Dar on the shores of Lake Tana,550 km further on.
The road north wound through some very green and pretty countryside with rich topsoil and ploughed fields (with nary a tractor in sight – all plowing doine by bullocks!) Some parts of the road were heavily populated with very interesting looking people. (It seems like all of Ethiopia lives on the road- and “pit stops” have to be made in hurry as within 3 minutes no matter how deserted the roadside looks, some kids will come running up with calls of “Birr, Birr” !) Unfortunately is was not unknown for some of them to throw stones at Tin Can as we were driving off when they inevitably got nothing – and the rear door now has chips in it to add to the baboon scratches received earlier! We are a bit worried about our rear window glass in Ethiopia – as kids and youths seem all too ready to toss a stone? We also wonder how they learned the ubiquitous “You, You -Birr, Birr” or “Gimme something”? Surely not many “Farange” tourists regularly toss out Birr, food or anything else in these situations? An expat we spoke with surmised it was the UNAid agencies who years ago during the Ethiopian famine freely and indiscriminately handed out “goodies” and who caused the annoying trait to develop? Who knows, but whilst the adults in Ethiopia can be charming (although many of the guys on the roadside carry scary looking weaponry from old vintage WW11 Italian carbines and British 303’s to more modern but still ancient Kalashnikov AK47’s)!,the kids are some of the most painful and “hyped up” we have suffered? And there are unbelievable numbers of them – and more arriving every day with a 4% growth rate!
We climbed to 3,100m before,190km north of Addis, crossing the 15kms of switchback road plunging 1,200m into the Blue Nile Gorge across the new Japanese built bridge and up back to 2,600m again! Impressive scenery, but slow work to arrive at Debra Marcos at about 5.00pm -where we stayed in a large, clean double room at the fairly new FM International Hotel in the centre of town for the relatively high price (for Ethiopia) of ETB460 ($30)- but still, as is the norm in Ethiopia, the hot water still did not work properly nor the toilet flush! The meals and service was good and Tin Can was securely guarded in the hotel courtyard.
On the following morning we completed the next 250km through green and fertile country to Bahir Dar and the Ghion Hotel GPS N 11*35”825E 37*23”146’, where we camped in the grounds for ETB100($6) and they allowed us the use of one of their rooms for a hot shower. Nothing flash, but more pleasant than Addis and right on the shores of Lake Tana with its islands and Coptic Christian monasteries inviting a look together with a trip with a local mini bus and guide for ETB500 ($35) to the nearby Blue Nile Falls while we waited for the others to catch up. ( The falls are not blue, they are brown from all the good Ethiopian topsoil flowing down the river in huge quantities to a grateful Egypt. Too many trees have been cut down across the country and together with poor practices, soil erosion is a major problem the Ethiopian government is trying to combat).
After a fairly relaxing 4 days in Bahir Dar (despite the near constant on again/off again rain which became tiresome – never knew Ethiopia could be so wet?), we received news that the others were not going to catch up on time as vehicle repairs had still not been completed in Addis. Christer and Mia were having to apply for visa extensions as their Ethiopian visa expired in three days. Bored with Bahir Dar, we decided to move on to the large regional centre of Gondar and a day or two at the World Heritage sites of the Coptic Christian church, its relics and the Castle of the Emperor from the 16th century. Gondar struck us a quite a pleasant town with old, well laid out cobbled streets – and certainly the historical sites are worth a visit. We stayed one night at the brand new 5 storey Nigat Hotel with avery nice room where everything worked, but some distance out of town and with questionable security GPS N 12*36″761′ E 37* 27″018″ ETB 400 ($25) and the next night at the better Fasil Lodge GPS N*12*36″567′ E37*28″278′… with a lovely view and next to the World Heritage site for ETB700 ($40). Both were quite good. Camping is not a viable option in Gondar.
We still hope to have the Swedes and Germans catch up before crossing into Sudan. All of us will be looking forward to descending from the Ethiopian plateau and the daily “wet season” clouds and rain and confined hotel carpark camping areas to the warmer climes and open desert “wild camping” Sudan promises?
The earlier conjecture of whether we together with Fabio and Anne shipped vehicles from Port Sudan to Mersin in Turkey has been settled after weeks of deliberation. Port Sudan/Turkey is out. Too expensive after shipping costs coupled with necessary airflight tickets Port Sudan/Khartoum/Cairo/Istanbul worked out at about USD$4,000/ vehicle/couple. Also the ship would take 30 -40 days to get to Turkey and we would all be faced with the need and expense of backpacking around Turkey for a month without vehicles and equipment.
So the decision has been made- we go via Lake Nasser Wadi Halfa/ Aswan and Egypt. Fortunately we have met up with an Oasis Overland Tour group who have booked a private barge on 8th August for Lake Nasser and who offer some small prospect of us joining their barge if there is space? Despite potential Egyptian “hassles”, the Western Desert and Pyramids seem inviting? After Cairo we have two apparent options: a recently commenced RoRo ferry from Port Said to Mersin in Turkey or potentially driving through Libya, Tunisia and a ferry to Italy? The Libyan route is said to be opening up again with reasonable safety now that the good Colonel Gaddafi is history (and the West and Westerners are loved and cherished for having helped get rid of him) -and some recent overlanders coming south seem to have got Libyan visas and managed to travel that way without trouble? We will visit the Libyan Embassy in Khartoum or Cairo to see what they say and we will see? Won’t do it alone…..
More photos in the gallery at:https://picasaweb.google.com/110392977689469430264/Ethiopia
(Taking decent photos of people is very difficult and embarrassing as either they want “Birr” if you so much as point a camera or get annoyed. So apologies there are not more “people” photos we would love to have. Every day is an overload of sights of intriguing looking people) .