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It was a minor miracle, when travel weary after a hard 5 days crossing Sudan, we rolled into a small hostel in the mountain town of Gondar to found that Ali had managed to meet us there. So vague and unconfirmed were our plans, I had had my doubts, but on his own adventure via Addis, Ali had checked into our trip for a couple of weeks, and thankfully bought Christmas with him, in the shape of a stocking, and Cadbury’s Celebrations. They never tasted so sweet!
We saw in Christmas day, in a traditional Ethiopian nightclub, where the locals show off their trademark shoulder dancing, which often includes a dance off between two same sex parties, with everyone winning in the end (see video for example)
Dancing has been a theme of our trip around Ethiopia. As we’ve moved through the different provinces, each has produced a new dance from the local children, which they use to impress you enough to give them a dollar or two (special mention to the group of kids near Arba Minch doing headstands whilst completely naked). Unfortunately, this sort of behaviour keeps the kids out of school, so its important not to reward their endeavours.
After a tour of Gondar’s hilltop castle, we hit the road with the aim of spending Christmas at Tim and Kim’s place on Lake Turkana. There a warm welcome, many of our friends from the road, and an amazing Christmas dinner awaited us. Tim’s goat BBQ was tastier than you could ever imagine!
The video I wish I could put here is of one of the dogs at Tim and Kim’s running straight at Ali’s legs and sending him flying, but you’ll have to use your imagination for that one!
It was from there that we headed north into the Simien Mountains for 2 days of trekking. For me this was one of the bits of the trip I’d looked forward to the most when planning at home.
Most of Ethiopia is at altitude, but instead of the mountains rising up from the plains, the plains are at the top, where everyone lives, and the height is made stark by plunging gulleys and valleys which drop for thousands of meters and make for some incredible scenery.
They did not disappoint. I will never forget turning the first corner into the park and feeling goosebumps as the valley dropped away in front of us and the craggy rocks created a stunning backdrop to our drive. Truly epic.
Ali getting involved in time for some trekking
At the 4,000m altitude the car started producing some weird white smoke because it wasn’t getting oxygen, it was also very cold!
Nice views
Baboons all over the place!
The other highlight of our northern circuit was a visit to Lalibela, Ethiopia’s answer to Jerusalem  where a former emperor carved 11 churches into solid rock. (Ethiopia is big on religious sights, also claiming to house the original ark of the covenant)
Ethiopia has its own brand of orthodox Christianity, and its own calendar to fit. On the 6th Jan 2013, it was celebrating Christmas 2005, and when we visited on New Years Eve, the pilgrims were flocking to the site pre-Christmas having walked for days or even weeks to get there (and they smelt like it!)
Churches carved into the rock
One of the real highlights of the trip to Lalibela though was the road. An off road gravel track along a mountainside very hairy to drive, but with incredible views both sides. This driving does tend to make the car very dirty though, so we stopped to get the car washed in the river in Bahrir Dar. Those guys have some real skills with a bucket!
Reversing into the river ready for our car wash
From there, it was on to Addis, where Ali would say goodbye, and we would descend into the admin vortex that seems to take over whenever we reach a big capital city. The car got a full service, and some extra insurance, and now we’re off to start our trip on the wild route through western Ethiopia and into Kenya. We did however managed to spare the time in Addis to visit Bob Geldof’s favourite Italian restaurant, called Castelli’s. The fresh pasta is highly recommended!