Hungary to Germany
Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012
24/01/2012 First pics from Ethiopia
Ethiopia did not make it easy for us. But it is
worth every bit of effort that you put in there. At least of what we
have seen now we can say Ethiopia is beautiful.
When we came across the border in Moyale our usual
priorities kicked in again: money, food, petrol. We knew there are not
many ATM outside Addis Ababa so we had to exchange some US$ cash for
Ethiopian Birr at the bank in Moyale. Just to be able to survive till we
get to a bigger city and have a chance to withdraw money at an ATM. We
don't like using our US$ for everydays money because it is like an
emergency cash reserve for us which is hard to replenish once it is
However, the real challenge that met us a bit later
was petrol. Coming along the Marsabit - Moyale route we both saved
weight as much as we could and only had minimal petrol with us to reach
Moyale. And in Moyale, both Kenyan side and Ethiopian side of the
border, there are petrol stations. But no petrol. Sorry finished, try
next town. One hundret km away. Good luck. So we bought extremely
expensive petrol at the black market to reach the next town. A town
called 'Mega' and pretty big on the map. But same problem. Petrol
station yes. Petrol no. Try next town. One hundred km away. So again we
used the expensive services of the black market to just make it to the
next town, Yabello. Getting there, two petrol stations, no petrol.
Sorry, try next town, eighty five km away. But, in a major change of
luck, even the black market was sold out. Also, asking a Police man,
there would not be petrol in the next town or the one after. That's the
sort of problem we tryed to avoid by not going to Malawi. But now it
caught up with us in Ethiopia.
But when you are on holidays you are in good spirit
and problems don't exist. The big towns with their empty petrol
stations are not on our route anyway, we wanted to turn west into the
Omo Valley. So, lucky as we were we could buy some petrol from the local
Tuk Tuk taxi company, enough to take us the 100km to Konso, the first
place of any size in the Omo Valley region. And cool thing is, in Konso
there was petrol available at the petrol station. In strange twists and
turns first there wasn't, then some local people discussing the matter
and suddenly, 10min later petrol was flowing out of the pump with the
'Kerosene' label. To the normal pump price. And yes, it was petrol, not
kerosene. So we both filled up every corner of our tanks and the reserve
jerry cans and should now be fine to travel freely through the Omo
Valley and into Arba Minch, a big town where apparently petrol is
The Omo Valley is famous for it's colourful people.
There is so many little tribes, just occupying a village or two. And
being distinctively different from the tribe in the neighbouring
villages. And all living peacefully together. There is people decorating
themselves with feathers, others with layers of colourful necklaces
covering their entire neck. Others decorate their bodies with scars,
often thousand little dots forming lines and other patterns on the skin.
Some like rasta hair, others short hair, others have whole designs
woven and cut into their hair. Really beautiful people. It is the first
such big area we travel through where people don't usually wear western
But everyone also understands the value of tourism
and that spoiled the charm of the area. To visit one of the old
traditional villages you need to pay for your permit, a parking fee and
take a guide with you who of course costs money. To take photos of
people you don't usually just ask and snap but here ask and pay and
snap. Tourists even need to pay to visit the market. But even the area
outside these 'traditional' villages is still worth a visit and really
interesting to see. We didn't see any of the 'payable' villages.
And then we had another flat tyre day. For Martin's
back wheel. The perpetrator being a big fat rusty nail. In the peak of
mid day heat. But in Africa, even in the middle of nowhere you are not
alone and soon we had a few local hands helping us while many tourist
cars just went past. The tyre was quickly fixed. But 15min later flat
again. The patch just came loose. Probably too hot here. But again,
within minutes a whole heap of helping hands around. Tyre fixed. Air
pumped in. Flat again. Tube removed. Patch came loose again. Don't know
why, but I heard from others too that there is trouble patching tyres in
extreme outside temperatures. These bloody patches just wouldn't stay
on! Fortunately we carried a spare tube which finally solved the problem
and prevented it from becoming a heat stroke problem for us. There was
no shade whatsoever on that road.
The next day we spent entirely in the Omo Valley
and with it's colourful people. Already in the morning we were greeted
by a whole bunch of them. We spent our night bushcamping, just somewhere
far from anywhere. Yet there they were in the morning. Some topless,
others covered in goatskins and some in colourful woven blankets. Just
there watching our every move. Trying our every thing. And if they like
it asking if they could have it. Even my motorbike jacket was deemed so
useful that they asked to have it. But really good people too. You say
no and they give it all back to you without discussion.
The rest of the day we spent riding through
beautiful environments. In the Omo Valley you are almost alone on the
road. No other traffic. One one side there is always the mountains.
Green and lush and close. The other side is usually flat. And green too.
And in between it's just you and your motorbike. Zooming along a
perfectly graded dirtroad. A little white dustcloud following you. Warm
wind blowing in your face through the open visor. Every now and then you
see people walking along or just standing there, getting to new heights
of happines by just seeing you. Kids running after you. Others dancing
on the spot. Adults waiving their hands. Shouting something towards you.
Often also asking for money or food or water. There is just too many of
them. As soon as you stop a happy crowd will form around you. Trying
and testing everything they can get their hands on. Pushing the buttons
on your bike. Saving strange points into your GPS. Playing around with
straps and zippers of your luggage. All at the same time. You want to
check a lot before you start going again. Like me going many km with my
lights on high beam. Who pushed that button again?
There are many good reasons to stop. People are
certainly one reason to make every stop memorable. Food is another one.
There is this typical sour dough pancake called Enschela which is just
fantastic. Or freshly baked bread in the morning. And really really
aromatic tea. Lots of good stuff for someone like me who is always
Tomorrow we will leave the Omo Valley and make our
way further North towards Arba Minch. Where we hopefully find an ATM.
And also my little Suzuki will need some fresh oil. To stay happy for
many thousands of more km.
21/01/2012 South Ethiopia
Another good day has passed. We are currently discovering Ethiopia. And enjoying this country a lot.
After the Omo Valley we headed North to Arba Minch
and then towards Shashemene via the little mountain village of Dorse. It
is a really stunning landscape, particularly the mountains near Arba
Minch. We made it up to the highest point my little Suzuki has ever
been, just over the 3000m mark on the road. You can imagine the view
from up there over the flat landscape with the Rift Valley lakes, really
The roads we travelled on are mostly tarmac of
decent quality. Other than the countries we travelled through previously
there are no speed humps in Ethiopia. Which is something we both like
heaps. I still remember the little 'hills' that some towns in Kenya put
on the street to slow down traffic to less than walking speed.
The road up the mountains to Dorse and back down on
the other side was not tarmac. But seriously one of the most scenic
routes we've been riding for a long time. The road itself was really
rocky, lots of loose stuff that makes you go sideways. But going slowly
has the advantage that we could really enjoy the scenery. Other than in
the Omo Valley people up here are not constantly shouting 'You you
you!!!' or 'Give me one Birr'. No, up there they are greeting friendly
when you go past. And that's it. Also, because it is so high and quite
cold there, people wear blankets and hats made of wool. And these are so
colourful, most with a striped pattern of all colours of the rainbow.
With red and orange dominating. This follows through to their huts. Up
there they are made of a mixture of straw and mud. And doors and window
frames are painted in all colours.
Similar to the changing scenery we also noticed
some stark differences in the people. And the way they interact with us.
In the Omo Valley, a very touristy area with lots of 4WD vehicles full
of visitors, local people often ask for money. When you are riding or
when you are stopping. Children often shout it straight into our face
'YOU YOU YOU!' - the constant soundtrack of the Omo Valley. It sounds
pretty rude when you first encounter it. But when you see the mostly
smiling faces of the kids or when you take your time to stop and make
some fun with them, they are really cool. And obviously do not mean to
be rude. Stopping, pointing at them with your finger and shouting back
'you you you!!!' usually leads to a lot of laughter on both sides.
That's the cool thing of having time. You can wait and go past the
initial 'you you you' or the compulsary asking for money. Once you are
past that and they finished their 'routine' you meet some genuinely
Whenever we stop somewhere people literally start
running towards us, kids and adults. And in no time we are surrounded by
a huge crowd. A crowd that often stops the traffic on the road. Out of
that crowd there are always a few people who speak English and who lead
the conversation. If you ever feared public speaking, come to Ethiopia
and you will find your perfect training ground. How to entertain a whole
village? Just stand there and unpack your water bottle. That is
seriously the most interesting thing they must have witnessed all week.
You want to walk around your motorbike? Well, you can't. There is no
room to walk. And the coolest part of your motorbike? Beyond doubt it's
the mirrors. They are the big favorites for the girls in the crowd.
Every time you keep going again you need to adjust the mirrors. And
check your switches and buttons. Fortunately my little Suzuki has not
too many buttons. So all I need to do is to switch off the high beam and
the indicators. It can get a bit stressful but if you take it with
humor you get over it. Just part of life here.
We also find if you are friendly to them they are
friendly to you. Many people make a huge effort on the road to greet us
when riding past. They run towards us waiving both hands. Some kids are
dancing. Adults jumping up and down with thumps up. And we always greet
back. Waiving hands or with thumps up or something similar. And this
seems to give them a feeling of success because we can see them laughing
and shaking each others hands and high-fiving each other in the rear
mirror. Or they just jump up and down in joy as soon as we waive back.
Often Martin rides some 100m ahead and kids start running towards him
but are to slow. Standing on the road and disappointedly looking after
Martin they change their expression completely when they realise that
there is another one. And when I start greeting them they smile and
laugh as if they've seen Santa Claus. No one has so far thrown any stone
at us. As it seems such a common experience for many other travellers
in Ethiopia. But maybe we are just lucky and will get into the stone
throwing areas later.
Last night we camped very safely. Looking for a
school to camp (they usually make great camping spots and can be found
in every village) we were shown behind the school and camped in front of
the Ethiopian Federal Police building. And these police guys made good
company. They all spoke really good English, they let us camp there for
free, they let us charge our electronics on their power plugs. And we
sat and talked into the evening together with them and a teacher from
Tonight we camp at Lake Shalla, a beautiful lake in
the Abiata Shalla Lakes NP. As far as we can tell we are the only
tourists in the NP. The guard at the front got really excited when he
saw us and even left his office to come down the street for 200m (where
we stopped to decide what to do) to greet us and tell us about the NP.
In all his excitement he was happy to only charge us the NP entrance fee
and not the fee for our bikes or for camping as it was written on the
big signboard at the entrance. And also the compulsary guide to
accompany us was not so compulsary any more if only we stay. And so we
stayed. The NP features two lakes and a lot of barren dusty landscape
full of Acacia trees. It gives you a bit of an outworldly feeling. You
ride along the sandy tracks, through creeks of volcanic hot water. There
is a lot of dust in the air. There is an Ostrich next to you, looking
down on you. And there is these two volcanic lakes showing different
colours. The one we camp on is a mix of reddish brown and orange water
Other than in National Parks in Australia here
there are people living. With their livestock. So it is not unusual to
see cows and donkeys. Or huts and schools. Consequently there is not
much 'wildlife' around, mostly birds. The spectacular ones like
Ostriches. Or the big ones like Flamingoes and Pelicans. Or heaps and
heaps of little ones, diving into the lake. Whole flocks of them. And
the only people here are some local families. Covered in blankets and
sheets, black faces watching us out of dusty layers of woven clothes.
And white teeth smiling. People here in the NP don't talk much. They
communicate in gestures. For example when pitching my tent two kids,
maybe 8 and 10 years old silently helped me getting the pegs in, passed
me some rocks to use as hammer. No words, just smiles. When parking my
little Suzuki on the sandy terrain, before I could say or do anything
they already brought a big flat rock to put underneath the sidestand.
And as quickly as they came they disappeared again. So here we are, just
Martin and me and our bikes on the shores of Lake Shalla. The setting
sun paints the dusty sky in many shades of red and orange. Everything is
shown in an awesome light. A few Pelicans paddle noislessly along.
My little Suzuki has had quite a hard time again.
To make her happy I treated her with some fresh golden oil in Arba
Minch. But the terrain is quite demanding. After the 500km shock busting
rough road in Kenya to Moyale here in Ethiopia it is the condition of
the tarmac road. Our problem, I think, is that people are to poor to
have cars or motorbikes. There is no traffic on the road. Only a few
buses and trucks. And some big diesel 4WD with tourists inside.
Consequently, if there is no traffic, the road is used for other
purposes. I have never seen so many cows, donkeys, sheep or goats on the
road before. No one seems to care and they hardly make room for you. We
sometimes have to fight our way through a big herd of cows with big
threatening horns. And worst of all, these guys keep dropping stuff.
Which you unexpectedly keep hitting. So to no surprise the underside of
both our brave bikes are literally covered in shit. It brakes my heart
to see my little Suzuki in so much shit but what can you do?
The other tough thing is dust. If there is no
demand on the road there is no maintenance either. So often there are
long sections of road with the tarmac missing. Washed away or just
broken away. And in there it's deep fine dust. And due to the constant
stampede of cows the dust keeps forming long brown clouds, carried along
the road. Even worsened by the occasional bus or truck. This dust
penetrates everything. My camera, packed in it's case, wrapped in a
waterproof bag and being inside my backpack still had dust on it. I
don't even dare to look at my little Suzuki's air filter.
However, she is running really fine. The petrol you
get here seems to be awesome. She is much quiter, seems to have more
power and also consumes less fuel than usual. But petrol is still hard
to come by. There is just no demand for it. We went past many service
stations and all their pumps just had diesel written on it. And it's
true, all vehicles we meet use diesel. We never heard of anyone having
such a petrol problem in Ethiopia. So we hope it only affects the area
qe are currently in. But here in Ethiopia, more than in any other
country before, I am really really glad to have my 30l long range tank.
It seems like escaping the Congo does not end our
security concerns. Just two days ago apparently six tourists got shot
and killed in North Eastern Ethiopia. Many others got seriously injured,
some kidnapped. We actually planned to visit that same spot in a few
weeks time. It is an active volcano with a constantly boiling lava lake,
something I have never seen before. Let's hope the situation is getting
back in control quickly up there.
Martin riding alongside the mountains in the Omo Valley
Making our way through a bunch of cattle
Mirinda and Coca Cola in Armaric alphabet
The combination of the atmosphere saturated with dust and the setting sun presents the environment in some unreal light show.
The rocky mountain road near Arba Minch
from beautiful Ethiopia. We are still travelling in the Southwest of the
country. And will reach the town of Nekempte tomorrow. And the capital
Addis Ababa soon after.
If you would ask
me right now what the first thing in my mind is when thinking about
Ethiopia I would say it's dust. Dust seems to be a defining element for
this country. It is omnipresent. Huge clouds of it are everywhere. It
looks amazing when we ride up the hills and see this huge dustcloud down
in the valley below. A brownish orange cloud which is set alight from
the top by the sun. The sun never sets at the horizon, it always
disappears way above it in the layer of dense dust. And for us, dust is
everywhere. While typing this I am sitting at a beautiful camping spot
next to a coffee plantation, probably 200m away from the main (dirt)
road. Everytime a vehicle comes past, 3 minutes later a dustcloud
penetrates the tent. It's just incredible.
And you should
have seen my airfilter lately. My little Suzuki's airfilter is a foam
element, soaked in some motoroil. I put an extra filter layer around it,
like a sock completely covering the foam filter. That way it is easier
to keep clean. And this sock had literally an almost one mm thick cake
of dust, sticking together with soaked up motoroil, around it. I would
bend it and whole pieces would brake up and fall down. All that must
have happened since Nairobi where I last cleaned it. Maybe 10 days ago.
Most of the distance travelled since then was in Ethiopia.
get me wrong. I am not complaining. Because Ethiopia is really
beautiful. Riding through Ethiopia is like watching a movie in which
identical scenes keep being repeated in various awesome combinations.
These scenes that go past you would be: a road filled with donkeys. Or a
road filled with cows. Or a road filles with donkeys and cows. Just
standing on the road. Doing their donkey thing. Or cow thing. While we
are fighting our way through, often only centimetres to spare. But these
beasts do not move. Another typical scene would be smiling people in
tattered clothes running towards the road frantically waiving both arms
at us and shouting something in Amharic language. Another one a
colourful ancient Isuzu bus standing on the road side and people loading
or unloading numerous big rice bags full of things. Or another one a
typical small town with the road completely clogged with blue 'Bajaj'
Tuk Tuks and donkeys and cows and people. All going on both sides of the
road and in all directions. Or some are not moving at all, just
standing there, enjoying the scenery.
Or the most
typical picture, of course, one of these ancient colourful Isuzu buses
driving in front uf us. And we see nothing. Our whole world then is just
a brown and orange haze of impenetrable dust. Until we finally can
catch up and overtake.
This is Africa at
it's best and I love it. Again, seeing the same little Suzuki I used
for commuting just over six months ago surrounded by donkeys on a dusty
road in Southern Ethiopia is something unreal. And the same little
Suzuki will commute with me again to our office in North Sydney in some
seven months from now. That will be just as unreal. No more donkeys
pretty densely populated, particularly along the roads. So it is often
impossible to find a good bush camping spot. Most of the time we retreat
to camping in school compounds instead. This is really easy here. There
is a security guard all night. So there is someone to ask for
permission. Which is usually granted. And schools here feature a big
grassy common area, perfect for camping. And the kids seem to love us as
their early morning surprise when they get to school.
However, last night was different. Let me just tell you a story about the ups and downs and how quickly things can change.
In the afternoon
we arrived at a town called Jima. Jima is famous (at least locally) as
the town where coffee was 'discovered' and started it's success story
around the world all the way to Starbucks centuries later. So we had a
coffee in Jima in recognition of the importance of this place for the
world. The other thing Jima is famous for is the old royal palace of the
ruler Abar Jifah some 10km out of town on a hill. So we decided to
visit that one too. Which proved a bit more difficult because nothing
here is signposted and this palace is also not found on any map. So it
took a while to find it. When we came close we met another group of
tourists. And they recommended us to ask the security guard at the
palace to camp there, it would be a 'really beautyful camping spot'.
Perfect! We knew that by now the palace would be closed for the day but
having the prospect of 'palace camping' we rode up there anyway. And
found it. And the security guard. As soon as we stopped the bikes
outside he started running and was never seen again that evening. No
security guard, no access, no camping. So we asked people there, forming
the typical crowd around us, for other places to camp. And achieved
nothing. There was one unfriendly fellow in a suit who barked at us that
we should go back to town and stay in a hotel. So we went back just a
few metres and noticed a school on our left. Perfect! People around us
assured us, it was no problem to camp at that school. Perfect again! All
we needed to make sure was to ask the security guard of that school. We
would find him in the nearby school administration compound. One guy
out of that crowd really stood out in excellent English and stayed with
us as our friendly translator.
Arriving at the
administration compound we met the security guard. It was the unfriendly
guy with the suit. And now also with a big gun hanging lazily over his
shoulder. Not perfect! He barked at us again why we rich tourists don't
stay in a hotel in town. And we need to call the headmaster of the
school and ask for permission. He also barked the headmasters phone
number at us. So we left the administration compound. And called the
headmaster. Our translator doing his best to talk to him. But mobile
phone networks in Ethiopia are not the same as in Australia. Even he
could not understand the headmaster in this broken phone connection. It
was now starting to get dark. And Martin and me, we gave up on that
school. We rather try to find some other place before it was completely
dark. We just did not seem to get anywhere by trying it any longer here.
So we went down the hill towards the town again. And down the hill it
went from there. When we reached the school administration compound the
unfriendly suit guy jumped out of the shadow of a tree. And demanded us
to stop, his gun pointed directly at Martin. So we stopped. But not fast
enough. So angrily, with the gun still pointed at Martin he lectured us
that 'Stop means Stop'. He also called Police and we would have to wait
for them to arrive. This even shocked our friendly translator. Who
bravely stayed with us to calm us down.
Some 15min later
the local Police chief arrived. No uniform. But accompanied by another
guy with a big gun. Also no uniform. But our translator assured us it
was indeed the local Police chief. Who probably had to leave his Sunday
behind to attend our matter. Not a happy man. Also, whenever our
friendly translator tried to talk to the Police guys he was promptly
pushed aside by the unfriendly suit guy who instead talked to the them,
looking extraordinarily important. Soon the Police demanded to see our
letter of introduction from our government. We of course did not have
one. Because we did not need one. Big problem! Having a passport with a
valid visa did not seem to count for him, our important looking Police
chief did not even spare a look at our visa. He instead called the
Federal Police to come here and take over the matter. Until their
arrival we need to wait there. It was now very very dark. But our
friendly translator stayed with us all the time, assuring us that
everything was 'no problem'. Everything that happened only happened the
way it did due to the 'uneducated village people'. Which, to us, was
even more reason to concern. Because it were these 'uneducated village
people' who had the guns here. However, the real village people stayed
around to, reassuring us, being really really friendly. But powerless.
another car arrived. That's a lot of action for this place on a Sunday
night! It was a marked Police car, full with uniformed people. The
unfriendly suit guy jumping straight to them. But this new Police rather
talking to the crowd around us. Completely ignoring us. After 5 minutes
of this I lost patience and went to them too. The new Policeman now
asking me, in perfect English, what was going on. So I told him. That we
just asked if we could camp at the school. And starting with that
question everything else started to happen automatically. Culminating in
his arrival. Which made him laugh. He was obviously not of the
'uneducated village' type. Also the unfriendly suit guy had by now
disappeared. He was probably not taken serious enough to honour this
scene with his ongoing presence. So our Federal Police friend quickly
let us know that everything is fine, we are free to go. But we cannot
camp at this school. At which time, instantly, the people of the village
invited us to camp on their little grassy public village green. Or even
to stay in one of their houses. Police had no arguments against that
and went off.
So we stayed one
late night camping on the village green. Had friendly company till late.
Sharing stories. It ended up being a really cool night. This is Africa!
24/01/2012 Pics from Southern Ethiopia
Little Suzuki and donkey cart
A crowd curiously watching us whenever we stop.
The United States of Africa
Creek near Lake Shalla
Sunset over Lake Shalla
24/01/2012 More pics
We have fantastic connection speed here in Nekempte. So let's show some more pictures:
Little Suzuki with an Ostrich
Yes, this is actually the road!
Salty beach near Lake Abiata
Flamingoes in Lake Abiata
View across a valley near Nekempte
26/01/2012 Addis Ababa
Just a short one today. After a long dusty ride since Nekempte we are now in Addis Ababa. The big lively capital of Ethiopia.
To get here from Nekempte our map showed us a big fat red line,
representing a sealed major road. Reality presented us with a 200km
construction site. Featuring some of the worst sections of road we have
done so far in Ethiopia. Rough, rocky and unbelievably dusty. Often the
surface was covered in deep layers of superfine dust. The bikes just
dived in and somehow floated across. With big clouds behind them. But
when a bus just flies through this with some 80km/h the resulting dust
clouds are just spectacular. There are no words for it. It's huge. It's
like the perfect dust storm. For many hundred metres you see nothing.
You ride blindly through an impenetrable curtain of orangeness.
However rough the road was though, our bikes did an excellent job
through it. Here in Addis I just got the airfilter out again. Just two
days after I cleaned it it was again completely covered in a thick
brownish layer of hardened dust. It's good to have some hot water here.
Apart from that the bikes are still happy.
Also, after half a year of daily use, the Pacsafe meshes around my side
panniers start showing some signs of fatigue. Little bits of steel wire
start to brake and then stick out as sharp little needles. One such worn
area already ripped a few minor holes into the canvas of the panniers.
So I decided to take the Pacsafes off. They are a real pain anyway if
you need to quickly access stuff inside your panniers. After all these
months in Africa I believe we can trust people enough and even without
Pacsafe protection nothing will be stolen from the panniers. We shall
Addis Ababa is a surprisingly nice city for it's size. I guess again it
is the fact that most people cannot afford a private car which keeps the
traffic flowing nicely and the air relatively clean. The mix of old
russian cars and east german trucks in perfect condition and also the
many communist style concrete buildings can make you think you are some
years back somewhere in eastern Europe. If it wasn't for the Ethiopian
locals. Even in the city they are more than friendly, often just
shouting a 'Welcome' towards us or simply wishing us a 'Good journey'.
We plan to stay here for a couple of days. Undusting ourselves. And
deciding which countries to go to next. Depending on paperwork. Eritrea
currently is really hard to travel through. Of what we heard you are
very restricted, need hard to get travel permits for every little area
outside the capital. And an exit permit if you want to leave the
country. Which takes some time to get. And then our preferred exit
point, the border to Sudan, is mostly closed. So we consider visiting
Djibouti and instead of continuing to Eritrea we would come back to
Ethiopia. Issue here is that we need a new Ethiopia visa. For our
current visa we had so send our passports to our home countries to get
it. It's expensive and we don't want to do that again. So if we are
lucky, Ethiopia Immigration might change our single entry visa to a
multiple entry visa and we will go to Djibouti. If they don't then our
next country will be Sudan. We shall see.
Not to forget, today is our national holiday back in Australia. So to
everyone who follows us from back home, have a Happy Australia Day!!!
Long distance public transport in Ethiopia - these Isuzu buses are the workhorse of it
In Nekempte town centre
Typical scene for rural Ethiopia.
Dust is everywhere.
Private transport is mostly done using
these donkey carts or horse carts. Private vehicles are very rare in
Ethiopia. Often the streets in towns are clogged with these donkey
driven carts instead.
One of the kids of a family where we camped next door to.
Dog watching the cattle
Similar to the Masai in Tanzania big herds of cattle are often only controlled by one or two kids.
Farmer proudly showing off his cows
Again, whenever we stop a big crowd forms instantly around us. Martin
once counted more than a hundret people. They might be hard to see but
our motorbikes are in the centre of all this.
Look down at the camera!
01/02/2012 Still in Ethiopia
Hi again from Ethiopia. Since the last update we have left Addis Ababa
and are now back in counry Ethiopia. Heading North towards Gondar.
We spent three nights in Addis Ababa, enjoying city life and trying to
organise things. Enjoying city life is easy. There is loads of good food
available in Addis. Not just the typical Ingera (something like a
sourdough pancake). In Addis there is also pizza, pasta, salads... There
is fresh stuff like youghurt. And fruit. Bananas, mangoes, pawpaws,
even cherries. And they sell fantastic fresh fruit juices. So yeah, we
really enjoyed city life in Addis.
Organising things is not that easy though. I don't even know where to
start here. But seemingly easy things are being made so so incredibly
complicated. It's unbelievable.
I thought it might be a good idea to have some more cash US$ for when we
go to Sudan. What I had in mind was an easy transaction - withdrawing
Ethiopian currency from the ATM, take it to the bank and exchange it for
Well, I soon learned that there is a procedure to follow. Some banks
simply do not hand out hard currency to non citizens. Full stop.
However, the 'Commercial Bank Of Ethiopia', which I understand is
government owned opened up a chance if I would go to their head office.
There, at the foreign exchange counter I was friendly told that I can
only receive dollars if I have a visa and a flight ticket to a country
which uses dollars. Well, I had a visa to Sudan but obviously no flight
ticket. So motorbike riders will never get Dollars? The poor guy at the
counter never had to deal with such an unusual case. So I was promptly
sent behind the counters to talk to the supervisor. Within the office
section of the bank. I could just walk in. The administration section of
the head office of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, a huge room with
many desks and people working hard on them. No one seemed to have a
problem with me walking around there aimlessly trying to find some
'Abraham'. No security, no questions, nothing. Once I found Abraham he
listened carefully to my story, asked to see my passport and as so
often, said 'no problem but I have to ask my boss'. Of course the boss
was not around right then. Might be back in one hour. Maybe. So one hour
and I was back too. Walking straight into the bank's back rooms as if
it was the normal thing to do. No one seemed to be unhappy with me
walking around there. And now the big boss was there too. So I could
file an 'application to exchange Ethiopian Birr to US$'. It looked like a
form for a visa application. Complete with passport number, visa
number, full address, purpose of journey etc. And a field for 'ticket
number'. Which I left blank. Big boss filled in that I was travelling by
motorbike. The completed application had now to be handed in to be
approved, signed and stamped by someone important somewhere else. Which
took a while. But it was approved! So happily I received my copy of the
stamped form. To take it with me out to the counter. To be able to
exchange my money. And soon I was the proud owner of some fresh US$
notes and a declaration to explain the origin of my foreign currency.
Which I am supposed to keep till I leave Ethiopia. Just as a matter of
comparison: changing Dollars to Birr takes 5 minutes. Changing Birr to
Dollars 3 hours.
Patience is certainly a commodity of great use in Africa. Sometimes we
can't help it but there is not enough patience in us for the procedures
here. Just one more example: we wanted to visit Djibouti. Sounds easy.
Visa for Djibouti is also easy to get, no problem. However, since
Eritrea is closed for overland travellers from Djibouti we would need to
come back to Ethiopia. If you remember, to get our Ethiopia visa we
needed to send our passports to our home countries so that the local
Ethiopian Embassy could stamp a visa in it. Which is expensive and a lot
of trouble. Entering Djibouti would void our current single entry visa
for Ethiopia and we would then need to send the passports to our home
country again to receive a new visa to return to Ethiopia. We did not
like that idea. Alternatively, since we were already in Addis Ababa, we
could (maybe) change our single entry visa into a multiple entry visa.
Not sure if that was possible, opinions about that vary a lot. But we
could ask at Immigration. So we thought. Go there, ask them, change visa
- all good. Maybe one hour? So we went there. Immigration in Addis
Ababa is a compound of multiple huge buildings. And there's a million
people in there. Once we made it through the metal detector at the main
gate we could read a huge signboard telling you where to go for which
purpose. We narrowed our choices down to an office for 'foreigner
reception', a 'visa office' and a 'general information'. The 'visa
office' sounds good, right? Arriving there we found a queue all along
the aisle and back. Lots of patient people. We waited for 15 minutes,
there was no movement whatsoever. We tried to jump the queue just to ask
if this visa change is possible. Or if this would be the right office
for our inquiry. But we got pushed out of the room again without reply.
Befor we wait here forever for nothing, let's ask at the 'foreigner
reception'! Over there, in a queue of probably a hundred people there
were no more than five foreigners. Instead Ethiopians extended their ID
card or did all sorts of other domestic stuff. Why was it called
'Foreigner Reception' again? The queue was just huge. Should we really
wait here for hours just to find out if or if not our visas can be
changed? No thanks. So we started our walk across the compound to the
'General Information'. Which was a big hall in a separate building near
the main entrance. In there again, a hundred people formed a big
impenetrable crowd around the information desk. There was one (!) lady,
all by herself, working on that desk. Well, that was one busy job. She
however did not seem to be too stressed. We could see it would take
hours before we would get anywhere near that desk. Just to ask for
information? By now both, Martin and me, were beyond the limits of our
patience. I admire people who can sit there in a chaos like this, sit
there with patience beaming from their face. Sitting there watching a
non-moving queue for hours. But for us, there and then, we just couldn't
do it. We just couldn't. I though we are patient people. I guess we're
not. We would have waited if we knew they would change our visa. But
what a gamble! Waiting many hours just to ask and then waiting many more
hours to get it done?
So, consequently, we will not be able to visit Djibouti. But at least we keep our wits together. And keep enjoying Ethiopia.
I am mow sitting in my tent, hidden behind a Eucalypt plantation some
500km north west of Addis Ababa. Close to a little dirt road just west
of Lake Tana. There is clear sky with millions of stars above us. Martin
is writing his diary in his tent while I am typing this report. It's
cold, really cold here at night. Our elevation is close to 2500m and we
have winter. From the distance the wind carries the howling of dogs and
the voices of people across to us. From a village somewhere north of
here. The half moon is illuminating the landscape outside the tent to a
degree that contours of our surroundings remain visible. Mostly Eucalypt
trees, stockpiles of straw and lots of rocks. Some cold black shadows
of mountains in the distance.
Since Addis Ababa we mainly travelled on tarmac roads. In Addis I
installed the cheap Vee Rubber knobbly rear tyre. I wonder for how long
it will last. But right now I am very happy with it. The old Pirelli
Scorpion was completely bold after the 18000 exciting km it carried the
bike around. All the way from Perth to Addis Ababa.
We travelled through the Blue Nile Gorge, a big canyon carved by the
Blue Nile, overshadowed by two big bridges. The Blue Nile will now be
our companion for many km, we will meet it again and again. Until it
flows together with the White Nile in Karthoum, forming the Nile river.
Which will stay our companion for many thousand more km through Sudan
and Egypt. As for now, it was the first meeting with any of the Niles.
And we met an already impressive river.
The same Blue Nile Gorge was the scene of a horrific accident less than a
week ago. An overland bus overshot one of the many bents down towards
the gorge. And rolled down the steep embankment. Until a tree stopped it
in it's path many meters below the road where it caught fire. 42 people
died here. Less than a week ago. The burnt out wreckage was still
there. As was the gap in the concrete barrier. Not far from the wreck in
a clearing next to the road we found dozens of used rubber gloves and
wrappings for emergency medication on the ground. A very sobering sight.
The landscape here appears much dryer than down in Etiopia's south.
Everything now shines with a golden touch, a reflection from the
neverending fields of cut straw. During the day it gets very hot. It was
probably that heat which has molten the tarmac. The road is filled with
deep ruts, molten into the bitumen. Often there are subsidences, the
tarmac not broken but continuing smoothly into a hole. Or forming wave
patterns. In many sections the white centre line forms a snakeline,
weirdly offsetting to the left and to the right.
People here look among fhe poorest people we have met anywhere on this
journey. Clothes are dirty and ripped. Most walk barefeet, dusty black
feet on the hot rocky ground. People are very thin, skin and bones
really. They are of a different kind up here in Amhara region. Still
greeting us friendly along the roadside, they no longer crowd us or our
bikes when we stop. Nor did they come to our tents tonight or last
night. Just watching us from the distance for a while and then
continueing their things.
Similar to other areas in Ethiopia people stick closely together. We
often see men holding hands. Or walking along with their hands on each
others shoulder. There's always groups of people. Groups of men, groups
of women. And groups lf kids. Who greet us the loudest.
For us, the petrol problem has re-occured since leaving Addis Ababa. In
average only one out of ten petrol stations has any petrol for sale. At
the moment we survive thanks to my big long range tank and Martin's two
10 litre jerry cans. But we don't know what the situation further North
will be like, even further away from the capital. We heard even on the
Sudan side of the border there will be no petrol for some hundred km. A
southbound overlander told us that the closest petrol stations to either
side of the border who sell petrol are still some 750km away from each
other. We might have a real problem there and might need to fill some
Coke bottles to take with us.
Snapshot from Addis Ababa
St George's church in Addis Ababa
My freshly installed cheap VeeRubber tyre. How long might it last for? I
will get a proper rear tyre in around two weeks. The VeeRubber should
hopefully make it that long.
Our first glimpse at the Blue Nile
The road West of Lake Tana is pretty rocky.
We camped here in the backyard of a local Police station for one night.
The Police building is made of timber, mud and dried cow droppings.
Helped with some corrugated iron sheets.
05/02/2012 On the road to Axum - Part 1
05/02/2012 On the road to Axum - Part 2
Another 'Hello' from Ethiopia. I am sitting here by myself just
outside my tent halfway between Gondar and Axum in Ethiopia's North. The
moon reached it's three quaters full stage and is brightly illuminating
the landscape around me. Down South the grey walls of the mighty Simian
Mountains are visible as a dark shade in the moonlight. Somewhere up
there, looking down, is Martin.
Two day ago we left Gondar, one of the old capitals of an ancient
Ethiopian empire. Back then, in the 15th century, it was emperor
Fasilada who transformed Gondor into a beautiful wealthy city, an envy
of it's time. With mighty castles, beautiful churches, and big baths.
Most of it is still visible today, some in ruins, others still in use.
For it's contribution to the history of Ethopia Gondar even achieved
Unesco World Heritage listing. We spent three days there, exploring all
the treasures and enjoying city life once more.
Unfortunately Martin's motorbike is in some trouble. Has been for some
time but it is now escalating. The old typical problem with Africa Twin
bikes struck him when his petrol pump stopped working. Well, that
happened some weeks back. Back then he was still able to get 300km out
of a tank by force of gravity alone, without petrol pump. For some
reason the range decreased dramatically over time though and is now only
less then 200km, sometimes the bike already stops after just over
100km. There is still a lot more petrol in the tank but gravity alone is
not enough make it flow to the carburator. Combined with the problems
in sourcing petrol in Ethiopia this is not good. For our next stage in
this trip, the 'historic circuit' from Gondar to the Simian Mountains,
Axum and Lalibela, our route leads us through very remote areas with
reputedly bad roads and an uncertain fuel situation. So Martin better
left his bike in Gondar for the time being and is travelling by bus.
Whereas I don't like buses (I mean old dirty slow overcrowded Isuzus
without aircon for days on end) and keep travelling with my little
Suzuki. Along the way we will catch up every now and then until we
complete our circuit back in Gondar. Currently there is a parcel
somewhere on it's way to us from Germany. Containing the new fuel pump,
some fuel hose and other spare parts for the Honda. And a new front tyre
for Martin and a new rear tyre for me. Until the parcel's arrival I
will travel on my cheap Thai made Vee Rubber tyre. Which, I must admit,
is surprisingly good. Particularly for the gravel and dust roads around
here. My little Suzuki is handling that stuff perfectly thanks to the
new tyre. It's a big improvement from my worn out to boldness old
Pirelli tyre. You don't read too many positive opionions in the HUBB
concerning Vee Rubber tyres. But I really can't complain.
So today was my second day riding alone. I met Martin yesterday in
Debark and started from there towards Axum this morning. I was also able
to source three water bottles full of dirty petrol in Debark. The only
petrol available after engaging the whole town to find some for me.
Leaving it for one night made most of the flakes settle and the water
content accumulate at the bottom so that I had some four litres of clean
good petrol to use this morning. It should take me beyond Axum and I
hope somewhere along the way there would be more petrol to buy. I really
hope. Petrol is currently my headache number one.
The road North of Debark today was stunning. I can honestly say it was
the most scenic road I ever took my little Suzuki on. Just past Debark
the road descends down from the mountains. Offering views into a huge
valley of the Simian Mountain range. The world here shows all shades of
brown, it is incredibly dry and apart from some scattered green Acacia
trees you see only golden brown grass on dark brown soil. For the rest
of the day the road continued along the edge of the mighty Simians,
meandering down into the valley and up again along a cliff into of the
mountains. You don't know where to look first. The Simian Mountains are
basically a plateau at an elevation of around 3500 - 4500m. From the
outside they appear as a huge wall of steep grey rock. When they road
traverses a valley it's elevation is only around 1500m. At the edge of
the Simians it looks like some little mountains did brake away. There is
tall pinacles and big dome shaped mountains rising high from the valley
floor. And there is one little gravel road winding it's way through
this. And one little Suzuki with it's lone rider disappearing in the
shear vastness of the landscape. Going up into a fresh cold breeze and
going down again into a dry and hot oven. There's eagles and vultures
circling above, monkeys playing on the road. There is waterfalls right
next to the road. Where I could clean the dust off my visor. I really
loved riding this road, absolutely loved it. Every metre of it. Even if
it was slow going. It's rocky, dusty and very steep. Steep in inclines
and steep in corners. But slowly and steadily my little Suzuki and me,
we travelled along, climbed up, rolled down and held our breath with
every new vista around the corner. Neverending smiles inside my dusty
Part of the road are still construction site. And in these we travelled
litterally within the construction area. Around the working bulldozers.
In between the trucks. And beside the excavators digging up dirt into
the tray of a waiting truck. Some parts of this are truly hair rasing.
E.g. if a bulldozer is halfway through bulldozing an area he will simply
revers out and make room for you to pass. But you need to pass beyond
his halfway-through mark and then climb a wall of rock to continue along
soft dirt till, some fifty metres on, the road resumes. This is a
particularly cool adventures when the soft ground has been soaked in
water to avoid dust. But my little Suzuki made it through all this,
slowly but steadily as usual. I am very happy to have an off-road
capable bike like her in these circumstances. It's an awesome bike.
Dust remains our companion in Ethiopia. It is everywhere. It stopped
accumulating on the bike because there is no room for more dust.
Fortunately along this route there is not much traffic so the dense dust
clouds from buses and trucks are not too numerous. For the many 180
degree corners though I kept catching my own dust clouds. And when these
clouds hit you they do it properly. I just cleaned my airfilter sock
again this evening, fully covered in thick brown dirt. And this is only
half way to Axum. And the map shows the dust road continuing many more
km beyond Axum.
For the beauty of the road today I made only 100km. Took me all day.
Because I took a million pictures. It's hard not to. And again, when I
stopped I met friendly people and time just flew by. At one stop a group
of people sitting on the ground waived to me and pointed into their big
metal cups. So I curiously turned around to see what they had in there.
Well, they called it
But I would not call it so. It was a mustard coloured liquid which
profusely smelled like vinegar. And tasted like vinegar mixed with
alcohol. And they drank it out of half litre cups. In order to not ride
after drinking and not to upset my poor empty stomach with stuff like
this I better stayed away from it and had a Pepsi instead. But I must
have been sitting there for over an hour, they played Etbiopian music
for me from their little chinese mobile phones speakers, one guy even
danced, we shared some tomatoes with chilli and tried to communicate
without speaking each others language. A nice and welcome break during
the mid day heat.
For camping I found a pretty good spot as well. I turned into a small
road signposted as a Farmers Cooperative. It turned a bit bumpy and
crossed a small river but after a while I found a building with some
people working in the green corn fields around it. They agreed to me
camping there for one night. It is really cool because here is a river
to wash the dust off myself. There is a view towards the big rock walls
of the Simian Mountains. And there is good company. It is almost
embarassing how friendly these people are. Most went home after
finishing their field work for the day. But some stayed. And they insist
on sleeping here, in the field, with me. So I will sleep in my tent and
three others promised to return after dinner to sleep in the open on
the dirt around my tent. Even though they have a home with a bed, a wife
and children. Just to keep me company. My repeated assurances that it
was not necessary did not help. So I will see if they really return.
Turning them back would be rude and not polite, so what can I do? I
still feel bad though.
Another day, another town. I am now in Shire (say 'Sheere'), a town
that was previously known as Inda Silase. It is quite big and offers a
lot of comfort for dusty travellers like me. First of all, and most
importantly, the service station sells petrol! I took no chances and
immediately filled up the tank of my little Suzuki until it overflowed.
Also, there is a tar road! And this will continue almost all the way to
Lalibela, 750km south of here. My map still shows the dusty gravel road
continuing some 200km further. Which now means no more dust! To
celebrate these two happy events I booked into a cheap hotel (AU$ 2.80)
overlooking my new favourite OilLibya petrol station (to make sure it
was not just a dream). And also let the hotel wash all my clothes. Which
returned probably a kg lighter for having all their dust removed. Happy
05/02/2012 On the road to Axum - pics
From where I camped last night it was only a 85km ride along a much
better quality dirt road. The construction along this section was much
more advanced. So I found a perfectly smooth and nicely graded and
compacted gravel surface, ready to have the tarmac put on it.
Last night, by the way, the three guys came back as promised. And slept
next to my tent. Unbelievable. And people here get up so early! Just
before sunset, some 6:30am they already showed signs of anxiety why I
was still sleeping. So I had no chance but getting up too. But still, it
was nice. One of my new friends there gave me a long tour around the
irrigation area. It is quite a smart system, built by UN people three
years back. Basically some water is diverted out of a river along a half
meter wide concrete channel. Which ends up back in the river maybe 2km
further. In it's side wall the concrete channel has some openings every
few hundred metres which can be opened and closed. If they are open,
some water will flow out and into little dug out channels in the soil.
Where it feeds a whole network of small channels within the corn or
tomato or onion fields. Where exactly the water goes is controlled by
people blocking these little dirt channels with little mounds of soil.
Simple but very effective. At the end of the tour I was even given a big
paw paw to take with me and eat later!
Now, that I am here in Shire I will probably stay for a day or two and
then continue to Axum, another ancient World Heritage listed former
capital of a powerful Ethiopian empire. I am travelling the 'Historic
Circuit' after all, so bring on the ruins!
Gondar, Royal Enclosure
This little Suzuki did an awesome job up and down the rough serpentine road north of Debark
It easily one of the most scenic routes you can ride your motorcycle along!
The scale of the landscape is such that you feel really small.
Everything is drenched in shades of brown. Partly by the light
reflecting from the dry vegetation, partly by the layer of dust covering
Rock domes at the edge of the Simian Mountains and small rivers down in the valleys provide a spectacular sight.
The UN sponsored irrigation project where I could camp for one night.
Just imagine the sense of freedom you have when you ride your favourite
motorbike along the edge of the world. The wind at this elevation is
cold which gives you goose bumps, yet the sun burns your skin. The same
cold wind carries the dust and the smell of dry grass to you. Every bit
of you is covered in dry dust. You hear your bike's engine as you slowly
move along the dusty road while this sound combines with the sound of
crickets and some donkeys and cows in the distance. Every now and then
you meet people, covered in dusty blankets for warmth walking along the
road, raising their hand and bowing their head to greet you. You have
this for days. The only bike rider in an endless landscape. You're
happy. You feel free!
Old remnants of war on the road side. I guess these parts of a tank have
been resting here since the Eritrea - Ethiopia war in the nineties
The road meandering up and down. What you can't see is the rocky surface
of the road or the sometimes 100mm deep dust layer hiding the sharp
The first six months of this trip are now completed. Which means we
are beyond the half way mark. I thought it's time for a little half way
08/02/2012 Axum, Ethiopia
Countries travelled: 11
Km since leaving Sydney: 24000
Flat tyres: 1 (near Mpika, Zambia)
number of times of having the bike dropped: stopped counting long time ago
Number of oil changes: 4 (Perth, Kasane, Mwanza and Arba Minch)
Bike parts replaced: chain, sprockets, tyres, brake pads and spark plugs in Perth before leaving Australia at 5000km
left mirror and speedo light bulb after it arrived damaged in South Africa after the flight at 5000km
fuel hose in Nairobi (started to rip open alongs it's seam) at 19800km
rear tyre in Addis Ababa at 23000km
Highest Elevation: 3500m (Dorse, Ethiopia)
Lowest elevation: sea level (Indian Ocean beaches in Western Australia, Mocambique and Tanzania)
Number of serious river crossings: 1 (Luangwa River, Zambia)
Visited capital cities: 8 (Pretoria, Mbabane, Maputo, Lusaka, Dar Es Salaam, Kigali, Nairobi and Addis Ababa)
Countries having their National holidays during our visit: 5 (Swaziland, Mocambique, Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia)
Photos taken: 1430
And some personal stats:
Most favorite country: Zambia
Most favourite city: Mwanza, Tanzania
Most impressive natural sight: Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Most impressive man made sight: Gikongoro Genocide Memorial, Rwanda
Most scenic road: between Debark and Maitsebri, Ethiopia
Favourite local food: chips mayai, Tanzania (omelette of chips, eggs and veggies)
Least favourite local food: some local fruit similar to custard apple, never remembered the name, giving me the worst diarreah on this trip, Ethiopia
Top three things I miss from home: 1. friends and
2. clean toilets
3. clean drinkable tap water
Thanks again everyone for following our adventure for this long! Your interest keeps us going even further!
My last day in Shire (or Inda Silase, still unsure about that town's
real name) turned out to be a pretty cool day. In a surprising turn of
events I run into two fellow Aussies who were also stuck there for a
day, waiting for their bus South. Lea and Andrew from Melbourne
principally travel by bicycle, however, the road between Gondar and Axum
is steep and rough enough for them to decide to catch a bus instead.
All three of us having nothing really to do in Shire we spent a great
day together having juice and coffee and dinner. The first Aussies on
this trip since Zambia! It's been nice hearing the homely accent again.
Continuing the 60km to Axum I had to remind myself how awesome
everything around me actually is. It's weird, after all those months in
Africa you get so used to things. Really cool things. Like the line of
people in traditional dress you're passing along the road. Or how you
switch down to first gear to negotiate your way through a group of
donkeys and cows on the road. How you park your bike next to a Camel at
the petrol station. Or how you overtake an ancient colourful Isuzu bus
with local music blasting from a speaker outside. Or how you compete for
road space with the blue Bajaj Tuktuks in towns. Pretty cool feeling to
be right in there with my little Suzuki.
The road to Axum has taken me finally to my destination, I am now
comfortably camping at a nice hotel in the old royal city. And Axum is
awesome. Not at first sight. To be honest, I passed through without even
noticing I was there. 15km later I asked someone and promptly had to
turn back. Back in the 1st century AD Axum was the centre of the
universe for northern Africa, the mighty capital of a huge empire
ranging from Egypt to the Middle East and covering much of modern day
Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and bits of the Arabian peninsula.
Apparently a flourishing rich city full of palaces and grandeur.
Today it is a small town, almost forgotten by the world. Although for
orthodox Ethiopians Axum still is the centre of their world. Or better
the 'Mariamtsion', a huge church which is said to house the Arc of the
Covenant. For non-historians like me: the Arc of the Covenant is the box
which contains the original stones which Moses received on Sinai
Mountain inscribed with the ten commandments. Not surprisingly there is a
constant pilgrimage going to this church, people from all over Ethiopia
come here to visit and to buy their 'icons' for home. These 'icons' are
really cool little things. Cheap ones are made of timber, expensive
ones of brass or even silver and gold. They are small, like a matchbox
or a packet of tissues. Some are shaped like a cross, some like a book
and some like the legendary 'Arc of the Covenant'. What they have in
common is, that they are all handmade in a monastery near Axum (so I was
told). And all have one or two little 'doors' behind which colourful
scenes of the orthodox belief are painted. Hand painted. Each one is
unique. They sell for between AU$ 5 and 25. Like a little antique shrine
to take home with you.
Whatever the legend says, no one actually knows if the Arc of the
Covenant really is in Axum. The church does not let anyone near that
shrine. Apparently if you come to close you go up in flames.
However, the whole pilgrimage story pushes the grand history of Axum
in a far corner where it is easily forgotten. There are fields of
obelisks, there are tombs to rival the ones of the Valley of the Kings
in Egypt. Old palaces in ruins. But no one there. In most of the sites I
was one of only a handful of visitors or completely by myself. Which
makes the whole thing really awesome. Axum is Indiana Jones Central.
My personal favorite is the tomb of King Kaleb, some 2km outside the
city. It's actually two tombs, maybe even more. No one bothered to check
yet. On arrival I showed my ticket to the guard, an old man who spoke
next to no English. Since I was the only visitor he accompanied me to
show me the highlights. Tombs underground are pretty dark so he brought a
candle as well. To explore an ancient tomb by candlelight is pretty
special. I brought my torch but left it in my pack, candlelight has so
much more flair. Like in the Indiana Jones movies my grand-dad-guard
walked in front, the candlelight flickering. He held it close to a wall
when there was something to see, an hieroglyphic inscription or a little
cross. Only visible with the candle right next to the wall. There are
pictures of animals hewn in stone. Or arrows pointing down. Pitch black
around us. Only the little candle light and the white teeth of my
volunteer guide visible in the darkness. When there was an old ancient
arrow pointing down my guide hammered against the floor with a little
rock. And it sounded hollow. What's underneath? No one knows. Again no
one bothered to check yet. But it makes you feel like an explorer. You
start checking the walls for inscriptions and actually find some. You
knock along the walls with a rock in search of a secret doorway. In Axum
you can. Nothing is shielded from you, no barriers, no ladders, no
walkways. It's all really exciting. You climb and crawl and discover
things along the way in the flickering light of a candle. As I've said,
Indiana Jones Central.
On a completely different site, a km or so away, there was the
probably most significant bit of stone for Ethiopian history. A big
rock, maybe 2m high and 1m wide, inscribed with a story of victory of
the old Aksumite Emperor. The cool thing is, this story is inscribed in
Sabean language, in Greek and in the ancient Aksumite language. So with
the help of this stone the old Aksumite language could be put up next to
the known Greek language and be decoded. Significant as this stone
might be, it is housed in a tiny ugly shed with corrugated iron roof,
there is no signpost anywhere around this shed, nothing that even
remotely makes you aware that you are at an historic site. In contrary,
once you are lucky enough to identify that this is the shed you want,
you need to walk around and find the guard to unlock it for you.
That's the thing that I don't get in Axum. Historic monuments which
would be regarded as being sensational in the western world seem to be
completely forgotten here in Ethiopia. Archeologists know there are
numerous tombs underneath a field of obelisks, tombs of rulers or other
wealthy Aksumites, probably unopened for two millenia and full of
treasures. But no one checks them out. Outside the fenced obelisk fields
you find obelisks everywhere, some standing, some leaning, some broken
on the ground. Thousands of years old. Now on some private farmland with
cows grazing around them. The more spectacular sites are almost
impossible to find. Nothing is signposted. And the official map of the
Tourist Information shows some of them in completely the wrong location.
And does not show any street names anyway, so it's just useless. On a
second thought - streets have actually no names here. Consequently you
often rely on little street kids to show you around. Or an expensive
Apart from the ancient monuments modern Axum is a very pleasant town.
People are friendly (often shouting a 'Welcome to Axum' across the
street). There are many kids who try to sell you little Amethyst rocks
or icons but they are really playful and make your walk between the
monuments very entertaining. Most tourists drive from site to site. So
someone like me, who is walking, assures the full undivided attention of
these kids. I don't know why but I really enjoyed walking with them
crowding around me, they are unbelievably inventive why I would urgently
need a $1 Amethyst right now. We ended up all laughing and they did not
seem to mind me not buying anything.
Axum is pleasant enough to hang around for a while. So I guess I'll
wait here for Martin to finish his Simian Mountains trekking and to get
here by bus. There is still no news about the parcel with Martin's new
fuel pump. We just hope it will get to Ethiopia soon.
Martin will continue by bus till then and me with my little Suzuki.
After Axum I plan to see the Tigray Rock Churches, churches hewn into
rocks not dissimilar to their famous counterparts in Lalibela. Just
older. And much more low key. They are in pretty remote locations and
will be hard to find. Something like stopping at the right place along
the road and then go bushbashing for some km. Again, the map of the
Tourist Information is pretty useless, showing neither any distances or
names on it. So it's gonna be a lucky exploration again!
08/02/2012 Axum pics
Axum is an old place and the main reason for
visiting the town is to see it's ancient monuments. So we have to go
through a couple of pics with old stuff.
An area of obelisks in Axum. Each obelisk typically
stands for a tomb underneath. Hardly any of those tombs have been
The entrance of one of the tombs you can visit.
The famous stone with inscriptions in Sabean, Greek
and Aksumite language. It's hidden in a tiny shack without any
signposting. If you find the guy with the key to the shack you can
visit the stone.
The 'Lioness of Gobedra'. This ancient picture of a
lion is hidden in a field of big rocks halfway up a mountain. There is
no chance you find it without any help. I found this friendly guy who
led me there in return for a Coca Cola and a paper copy of this picture.
The 'Palace of the Queen of Sheba'. All that is known about these ruins is that they have no connection to the Queen of Sheba.
No joke, I was surprised how many people here know
about Australia. When I ask them where they know all these bizarre
things from, they state that movie. $0.45 from the local DVD store.
Camels are just part of the streetscape in Axum.
15/02/2012 Tigrai, Ethiopia
Sometimes you get more than you bargained for. And friendliness can change your day. So it happened to me today.
Currently I am sitting in a cheap hotel in Wukro. AU$1.80 per night in a
clean room with electricity is not too bad, is it? The area I am
travelling in at the moment is in Tigray Region in North-Eastern
Ethiopia. It is an area full of churches hewn deep into the rocks. These
churches are old, almost as old as Christianity in Ethiopia. According
to unofficial counts there are 140 churches around here. The most
fascinating feature for most is their locations.
The Tigray area is basically a dry desert plateau of 2000m elevation
above sea level. Rising out of this plateau are huge red sandstone rocks
in their elevation beyond 3000m. It is not a mountain range, just some
big singular high peaks. And it is there where almost 2000 years ago
keen monks or even saints chiselled churches into the sand stone rock.
In the most remote locations high above the plateau or often right on
top of the mountains. Even today it is not easy to visit some of these
churches. They are masterfully camouflaged into the rock, often all you
see is a door on the rockface. Completely invisible from the ground.
They are also very hard to find. Far away from any road, hardly ever
signposted. Once you found the best stopping location on the road the
real adventure begins. Getting to the church involves long walks through
rough terrain, sometimes climbs up onto the cliff face or even someone
to pull you up on a rope.
While Martin is still travelling by bus (we're still waiting for his new
fuel pump to arrive) I used the freedom of having my motorcycle to
visit a few of these remote churches during the past few days. Locations
like the Debre Damo monastery, a big monastery of 150 monks living up
on a mountain top. The only access being an old weathered leather rope.
Or Maryam Biznan, one of the rock hewn churches far from any
civilisation. Maryam Biznan is a 23km ride from Hawzien, the nearest
town. A ride along a lonely sandy road. And then a more than one hour
climb up a mountain, traversing a tunnel through a rock wall up on the
mountain top and more climbing on the other side. The scenery here is
just breathtaking. The whole scale of the landscape is massive. A flat
plateau with red mountains sticking out of it. From up there you can see
the mountains around Axum and Adwa, more than 100km away. And
everything in between. What's best is that I usually book into some
cheap hotel before going to those churches. And leave all my luggage
there, all but my small backpack for camera and water. So I can ride
these awesome lonely dirtroads without luggage. That is so much fun!
Even my old enemy sand is now heaps cool to ride through. Incredible
what a difference in the fun factor it makes to have no luggage! I just
love riding here, every minute of it. And my little Suzuki seems to
enjoy this part of Ethiopia just as much. The two of us. Searching an
endless landscape for tiny churches hidden up in the mountains.
However, today was my most remarkable day in this area. As so often if
you have time for people it will change the course of the day.
I was to visit the Abuna Yemata church today, a church described as one
of the hardest to get to and one to be located in the most impressive
setting. It is pretty expensive to get there, it's usually a 100Birr
entrance fee plus a 250Birr for a compulsory guide plus tips for the
priest and the guy to watch your vehicle etc, much more money than I was
prepared to pay. My strategy in these cases is to overwhelm the others
with friendlyness and play the poor guy at the same time. Playing the
poor guy is not even that hard. Because after all this travelling
without having any job the money drains away much too easily. So when
people ask me for ridiculous amounts of money I tell them exactly this
story. That I am travelling for one year without earning anything. And I
am here to learn about THEIR country. Ethiopians are very proud of
their country and when you show interest in them and their place they
really appreciate it. And it changes the mood very quickly into them
trying to help you to get the most out of your visit without having to
pay high tourist prices. Win-win for all.
So this morning I just showed up at the end of the road to climb up
Abuna Yemata. Right there a couple of people already waiting, happy to
see a tourist. And offering me to guide me up to the church. Me telling
the usual (true) story and showing the empty pockets of my dusty pants
had an unexpected effect. These guides no longer asked for money but
explained me the way. One guy tasked to guard my little Suzuki with all
the luggage said he would be happy with whatever amount I would be happy
to give him. So I left my little Suzuki there and started making my way
up. One of the guides walking with me saying he is happy to come with
me. 'Money no problem'. Just like that. And I was happy to have some
company too, why not.
Shortly after we run into the priest of the church. Usually you give him
a 100Birr tip and he goes with you to unlock the church. The priest
looked pretty old. Later I learned he was only 55. Orthodox priests
enjoy a lot of respect from everyone here. My guide kissing his golden
cross and his hand and bowing down for him many times. The priest
apologised that he could not come with us today because he had a strong
headache. He did not speak English but in his gestures he was a very
friendly guy, calm and concious of his status in the society. At this
stage part 2 of my strategy came into effect, 'overwhelm them with
friendliness'. After respectfully greeting him I offered to give him
some painkillers. After completing more than half of my journey I still
have not used any of my Panadols. So I have heaps in my panniers. And
these are incredibly hard to come by here in rural Ethiopia. I unpacked
my old cup and filled it with fresh water for him to flush down the big
tablets. So needless to say that the priest was heaps happy, thanking me
many times and promptly halving the money to receive the key for the
church. Instead of him the dean would climb up with us. So the three of
us, the guide, the dean and me made our way up. And what a path it was.
One hour to reach the church from where my little Suzuki was happily
parked in the shade. One section, probably 10-20m high involved climbing
up a perpendicular cliff face. With a 200m drop underneath. All there
was where tiny little recesses to put your toes or fingers in. No shoes
here. So all three of us climbed up there barefeet to maximise control.
If you ever needed an adrenalin rush, hanging on your toes and fingers
above a 200m void is a sure way to get one. No ropes, no security. All I
was assured of was 'god's blessing'. Maybe I am exaggerating here but I
am not a climber. Never was one. Never interested in being one. And
this was way out of my depth and easily the scariest thing I've done in
Ethiopia so far. And at this stage I surely was very happy for my two
helpers guiding me up that cliff wall. They patiently showed me where to
put my toes and fingers. I must say just me, by myself, I would not
have made it. But determination brings you further. Now I WANTED to see
this church. Hanging on that rock wall I really wanted to. And slowly
but steadily we achieved new hights. Up there, on a tiny V-shaped
section was the centre of this area's orthodox world. First we came past
a cave full with bones. Bones of the priests who devoted their life to
this church many centuries before we could climb up there. Since the
fourth century AD. Some white sun bleached skulls curiously watching us
from their cave. The rock walls up here had many writings and orthodox
crosses chiselled in. There was another cave used as a baptising chamber
(How the hell do they get these babies up here?). And then there was
the main church. Just a door in the rock wall which noisily swung open.
It opened a large man made cave to us. Three rockpillars left standing
to support the remaining 200m of rock above the ceiling. The floor was
covered with straw mats. And the walls were covered with incredibly
colourful paintings. These paintings were done in the fifteenth century.
But they still look as if they've been done last week. An amazing
display of colours showing saints and other important persons linked to
the long history of Abuna Yemata. The atmosphere in there was truly
intense. My guide explained every bit of painting. Slowly and calmly and
obviously with a lot of respect. This is the place where, for centuries
until now, the village would meet to pray. The priest, hidden behind a
curtain of colourful cotton would preach in the ancient language of
Geez. In front of the curtain the dean would translate to the village
people. In the dim light of a church hewn deep inside the rock. Watched
over by the colourful faces of all saints of importance, looking down
from the ceiling or the walls. A procedure unchanged for centuries.
Back then churches were built far away from villages on purpose. High up
in the mountains to make the journey to them as tiring as possible.
Because when you arrive there after a long hard journey your mind would
be clean and free for focussing on religious matters. Also these remote
locations protect from any disturbance. In fact, deep inside the rock of
Abuna Yemata it was absolutely silent. The rock shielded us from all
outside sounds. And every word we spoke inside could be spoken quitely
and calmly and was distributed through the entire church by the echoing
from the rockwalls. An atmosphere of calmness I rarely felt anywhere
else. Truly a place to relax.
Every Sunday midnight (!!!) and on many other occasions people from the
surrounding villages come up here to attend a three hour service. Old
people and young people. One apparently 85 years old. Decades of weekly
climbs kept him fit enough to continue to climb up there in the dark
midnight hours in his high age. The devotion of these people to their
church is really incredible. But it is also this belief, this church,
which keeps the village together. As I would soon learn. The village of
around 50 people sticks together like one family.
During our climb up and the even scarier climb down I could really well
connect to my guide. So once back at my little Suzuki he was happy with
the little money I could afford to give him and even invited me to his
place to eat lunch together.
Let me tell you a little side story here. In orthodox tradition, if you
marry, you celebrate for 4 months and 2 weeks. There is usually a large
room in the house of the husband's parents reserved for this. During
these 4 months and 2 weeks the husband and wife together with the five
best friends of the husband will live together in that room. Other
friends and family will occasionally drop by for some slice of this
'celebration'. 'Celebration' here means eating together, drinking
together and playing music and dancing and also playing traditional
Well, destiny had it that my guide was one of those five best friends of
one newly wed husband. So he did not live in his home but in a
'celebration room' some three km away. Unable to take passengers and
luggage on the bike we parked my little Suzuki safely at someone's house
near the church and walked through the harvested millet fields to his
temporary 'home'. A long walk through a sunburnt countryside. Once there
the celebrants started celebrating us. Ethiopians are very hospitable.
And having a guest from far far away is seen as a big honour. Which
naturally made me feel a little bit awkward. When they started thanking
me for 'sacrificing my time to visit' them I was really puzzled because
it was actually me feeling thankful for being invited to their home.
There were many people. Also the priest, now free from headache and
smiling. What followed were many hours of celebrating together. The
traditional way. Someone always explained the tradition to me and asked
if I was okay with it. Who am I to decide anyway? Of course I was okay
by default. So we ate Injera together. The traditional way. Using our
fingers to feed each other Injera into their mouth. Strange feeling to
feed the beautiful bride next to me with my hands. Then we played games.
Games involving four small carved timber sticks and hitting each other
with them. Or card games. We played the drum. And we danced around a
timber pole. Dancing around a timber pole to the beats of a goat skin
drum really hypes you up and feels good. My skills in traditional
Ethiopian dance (lots of shaking your shoulders to very repetative
music) are, quite frankly, not so awesome. But they provided good
entertainment for sure. So we really had a fun time. And I learned a
lot, really a lot, about Ethiopia in these hours. Feeling incredibly
grateful for this opportunity I couldn't believe the guide thanking me
on our way back to my little Suzuki. For showing interest and making
Cool hey? Starting with competing for my business to hire a tour guide.
Diverting through a friendly talk and walk. Ending up celebrating the
wedding of a best friend together. And all people involved getting much
more out of it than just doing business for money. These are the days I
live for here in Africa.
Again it was one day full of emotions. Unsure expectation, will I struck
a deal to visit? Deep fear when nervously looking down from that rock
wall. A sense of achievment upon reaching the top filled with adrenalin.
Calm relaxation and sheer astonishment inside that beautiful church.
Forming friendship on the way back down. Happyness when sharing the fun
of the wedding celebration. And a really good feeling going to bed after
such a great day. Again, memories which will last on for a long long
time to come
I suppose this experience at Abuna Yemata church would be hard to repeat
at the other churches. Again, it's people much more than places to
provide the memorable moments. So I am very reluctant to visit other
similar churches in the area. And might just see the most impressive
ones from the outside. It's the location, the walk and climb to get
there in this huge environment, that impresses the most anyway.
15/02/2012 Tigrai pics
Maryam Bisnan, a rock hewn church high up in the mountains. It took me
more than one hour to get here from the road. All you can see from the
outside is this.
The sandstone rocks in the vicinity of Maryam Bisnan are decorated with religious symbols.
The view from Maryam Bisnan down into the endless landscape of northern Ethiopia.
Leaving tyre tracks on a typical gravel road. Near Hawzien.
15/02/2012 Abuna Yemata
The view while walking up to Abuna Yemata. We have not even reached the steep cliff face yet.
Up there we have to go. No rope. No security. God's blessing alone helped in this case.
That's me at the top, happy to be alive.
The inside of the Abuna Yemata is incredibly colourful. These paintings
are almost 600 years old, on the walls and ceiling of a 1600 year old
church. The entire church is chiselled deep inside the rock. The
cavelike flair, being surrounded by paintings of faces looking down on
you and the total silence make for a really intense atmosphere.
The dean who climbed up with us to open the church. During the hairy bit
of climbing up the rock face he helped me a lot guiding my hands and
feet and by taking my backpack.
Trust is everything. Underneath this 'bridge' is 250m of nothing.
Safely back at the bike. You can't see it but Abuna Yemata is high up
inside the right rock finger in the foreground of the big mountain.
Time is flying by and so are my km. I am still in Ethiopia, currently
in a small town called Sekota. Martin is still travelling by bus and we
should meet again in Lalibela tomorrow or the day after.
25/02/2012 More pics
There were not too many highlights to write about since leaving the area of the rock churches.
First I stayed in Wukro for three days. There was no particular reason
for staying for three days except that I really liked it there. There
was a cheap hotel, cheap but clean and good. I sort of became part of
the family who owned it. We shared our meals, they let me take part in
their coffee ceremony every evening. There was satellite TV. But for
some reason everyone in Ethiopia loves to watch Wrestling. So that's
what was shown on TV all the time. However, there were two small but
lovely dogs as well. Really playful ones. So it was fun to stay there.
When I arrived in Wukro I had no idea about the place. So when I asked
a random person for advice on a cheap hotel I met a young guy called
Alex. He showed me the beautiful hotel I quickly learned to love. And he
also showed me around town. He had no family, no mum or dad, but earned
a little money from washing cars to afford his own room (AU$1.75 rent
per month) and his own simple but happy life. We became good mates
during these three days and I met many of his friends and girlfriends as
well. And took part in the local Tshat chewing session. And shared
cheap food with them. So it were three days of a simple life but three
really cool days.
Tshat is quite interesting stuff. Strictly speaking it's a drug. But
not a powerful one. It's green leaves which you chew and chew and chew
for hours. People say it makes you happy and keeps you focussed and
awake. To be honest, I could not feel any effect apart from it making me
a bit less tired, similar to a cup of coffee.
But the procedure to consume it is pretty cool. Because it's really
social. You sit together in a group of friends. And while you're chewing
you talk about the world, the universe and everything. A typical share
of Tshat lasts for around two hours of chewing. So plenty of time to
After three good days in Wukro I moved on to new places. Going South
the road was just fantastic again. Beautiful tarmac meandering up and
down the mountains. With views that just make you stop and say 'Wow!'.
The road takes you up to elevations of beyond 3000m. Whereas my little
Suzuki seems to have no issues with this height (I thought carburator
engines have trouble at heights???) I certainly have my problems with
it. Because it's freezing up there. I mean, I'm in Africa! I don't want
to wear four layers of clothes. But I had to. Man was it cold.
That night after a happy day of great riding I stopped tired and cold
in a town called Maychew. Still at an elevation of more than 2500m it
was cold, so cold. So first priority was to find a place selling hot
coffee. And from that moment on things took their own turns.
What I did not know was that right at this time Maychew hosted the
Tigray Region Athletic Championships. So the whole town was filled up
with over 5000 young hyped up athletes from all over the state in party
mood. Before I even had a chance to order my coffee I was surrounded by a
big group of them. Three of them automatically took over my case and
before I knew I had my coffee. And a cheap room. And dinner. And
personal guides for the town. No one asked for anything in return,
people here are genuinly, honestly friendly. And that is a really cool
feeling. Funnily enough the three guys 'adopting' me are part of the
team representing Wukro. Of course they also knew Alex. So in the
evening we sat together and watched a few of my many photos. Photos from
Ethiopia, places of their country they have never seen. And photos of
After a freezing cold night I went for breakfast the next morning,
keen for something warm. At the time my three friends were competing in
the 100m sprint race. But anyway, I entered the restaurant and
immediately was invited to sit on the table of a group of maybe 5 other
athletes. Chairs shuffled aside to make room. From somehwere a clean
spoon appeared and I was invited to share all their food on the table
before I even had a chance to order my own. Man, that stuff had a lot of
carbs and protein. But hey, they were athletes. As I learned their
speciality was martial arts. Better take care with these guys. But we
had a lot of fun on this table, communicating with broken English and a
lot of excitement while drinking cheap but hot tea. One even offered me
his sister to marry! On the photo she looked really cool. But however, I
decided it was time to go. So I left Maychew, buying some black market
petrol in plastic bottles on the way out.
The beautiful road continued South. Now mostly downhill into much
warmer elevations. Really cosy actually. Past Lake Ashange and into
Korem town. From there I opted for going West onto a dirtroad to
Lalibela. Lonely Planet decribed that road as 'rough and dusty'. But to
my surprise it wasn't. It was a wide and perfectly graded smooth gravel
road. Once more winding it's way through a stunning landscape of brown
mountains, high and cold mountain passroads, deep valleys and far
horizons. I just kept shouting 'wow wow wow!!!' into my helmet, really
awesome to ride along there. Every now and then I found a small village
to enjoy one of the excellent Ethiopian coffees before riding on again,
riding west towards Sekota, shouting 'wow wow WOW' at every corner that
opened a new view deep down into another valley.
Arriving in Sekota I was really surprised that out of all places it
was here that petrol was available for normal prices at a petrol
station! Quickly I had two new friends as well. Two young guys in
clothes I would describe as 'rotten'. But really friendly again. They
helped me finding a room. Although most places were booked out ('rooms
finished') we finally found one for me. Which made them almost more
happy than me.
Guest houses in Sekota don't have water. Water is a really rare
commodity here. So when my two friends decided that I need a shower (if
two people in dirty rotten clothes advise you to take a shower it surely
means something...) we tried to find water. There are 'shower houses'
in town where you can go with your soap and towel, pay two Birr ($0.30)
and take a shower. But nothing is easy in Ethiopia. Most shower houses
had 'water finished'. Soon I was frustrated enough to give up but my
friends insisted I need a shower (can't imagine it was so bad). And
finally we found a shower house with water. Finally. And I must admit
that shower felt really good.
Afterwards my friends showed me a good place for dinner. But refused
to let me buy a dinner for them. Instead, while I was eating a fantastic
Enjera they started scavanging food scraps and unfinished meals from
the other tables. But would not accept anything from me. Them being more
happy than me for finding me accommodation, shower and food we went
back to my room together and chatted for a while longer.
My two friends were 16 and 25 years old. The 25 year old going to
school in grade 9. The 16 year old never went to school. They make some
tiny amount of money by washing cars and helping out in a restaurant as
waiter to earn some food scraps.
After a while they said good bye and got ready to leave. When I asked
them how long they have to walk home they said they don't know. With
some obvious embarrassment. I soon learned they were on their way to
sleep on the footpath. Their parents are divorced and both only have a
mother to go back to. But the mothers live in a rural area far from here
and in such poverty that they can not support the family. So these two
sons went out to town to support themselves.
Quite frankly I was shocked. These guys, super friendly and helpful
all day long. Happily laughing, chatting with me while showing me around
town. Now leaving the hotel room which they organised for me. To sleep
on the cold footpath. They would not accept anything from me. No food.
No money. Not sleeping in my room. Nothing. The only thing they asked
for I did not have: exercise books for school. What can I do? What a
weird twist of things?
I decided to stay one extra day in Sekota and to spend one full day
with these kids. And there are more of them. I instantly met two more.
One badly limping. It's an injury on the sole of his right foot that
happened seven months ago. Hoping I could do something using my little
first aid skills I had alook at his foot. Removing the old bandage there
was this stench of old puss. And what a horrible picture it was. The
underside of his foot was wet, dirty, black and full of puss. It's a
miracle he could walk at all. I really felt the pain by just looking at
it. Not much we could do here apart from thoroughly washing the foot
clean and put a new bandage on.
Out of the four kids three never went to school.
Finally at least they accepted that I buy some cheap dinner and share
it with them. As bad as their state might look, these kids are really
proud people. They would not accept any food for lunch from me. And even
dinner was hard work of convincing them.
Africa keeps shocking me. In positive and negative ways. Quite often
it is a world I truly do not understand. Full of processes that make no
sense. Until someone explains the background and opens my eyes to give
the 'Oh sh...t, of course!!!' effect. I guess that is one major reason
why I still, above all else, find the most impressive thing in Africa to
be the African people. Their sense of community, of belonging, their
friendship and hospitality, their way of looking after each other. If
you make time to learn to know them you will often be shaken in your
foundations for how they live. And for how happy they are. I feel now
how learning their stories changes me. And it changes my view of life. I
don't know into what. But, I guess, this is what will be the longest
lasting heritage out of this journey.
One of my new favourite dogs guarding my little Suzuki at the guest house in Wukro.
My new friend Alex and me in Wukro.
The perfect road. Serpentine section between Wukro and Maychew.
Riding at elevations over 3000m. Bloody cold up there.
My little Suzuki being truly 'little' in this environment of giant valleys.
My two street kid friends and me in Sekota.
One of the must-do destinations in Ethiopia is undoubtedly Lalibela. A
small town high up in the mountains which is known in the world for it's
rock churches. It is only a 128km ride along a beautiful gravel road to
get to Lalibela from Sekota. At first I was a bit hesitant. After the
good times I had in the local towns during the last few weeks Lalibela
would be the Mekka for tourists.
But when I arrived there, I was surprised. Instead of the expected touts
following me around or people begging for money or inflated prices
Lalibela offered many 'Welcome to Lalibela' greetings. Most restaurants
served local food for local prices. And kids were more interested in me
playing soccer with them then in money. Who would have thought?
I arrived in Lalibela just after lunch on a beautiful sunny day. From
other travellers back in Addis Ababa we got the good advice that there
is a cool restaurant with amazing views into the valleys around and they
would accept campers. And to my surprise they did. The 'Ben Abeba' is a
real upmarket restaurant offering good quality food for a pretty
upmarket price. It's design is amazing, very modern. You could compare
it to a space station out of the Star Trek movies. And it's location
high on a hilltop (elevation 2500m) offering 360 degree views around is
even better. Ben Abeba is co-owned by an Ethiopian guy and a Scottish
lady. Both are really friendly and welcoming and allowed me to camp for
free anywhere on the property. And also for Martin who was still stuck
in Sekota waiting for transport.
To visit the famous rock churches you need to buy a rather expensive
ticket. Which is valid for five days. So I bought one straight the next
morning and started visiting some churches by myself (no bus on Sundays
for Martin between Sekota and Lalibela). There is eleven of them in
Lalibela. And they are all awesome. If you imagine you find a big rock.
Then you start from the top, digging a deep hole into it but leave a big
cube standing in the centre. So looking from the top you see a rock
cube with a deep trench around it. And then you start hollowing out that
cube. Like a cave. But inside you leave pillars, arcs, steps, walls.
Into the walls you carve doors and windows. And into the pillars and
ceiling you carve beautiful ornaments and crosses. You don't build
anything, don't add anything. Just take away the rock. And what's left
standing is a church. Made of massive rock. Which is one with the rock
around it. A church that will last forever. And this is Lalibela. Times
eleven. And one thousand years old. In short: it's awesome.
For the fact that it is number one tourist destination in Ethiopia these
churches give you heaps freedom for discoveries. There is no railings,
no prohibited signs. So you can climb up onto the roof, explore some
dark tunnels and see where some paths carved deep into the surrounding
rock will lead you. There is absolutly no signposting. And the tourist
information run out of maps long time ago. So it's all up to you and
On my first day of church exploration I found a great place to relax
during mid day. Up on the rock edge, right next to where the churches
had been carved out. And by coincidence this was also the favorite lunch
spot of one of the security guards for the churches. An 80 year old
skinny man whose main task was to check tickets of visitors. He was
joined by his 18 year old grandson and two other family members.
Ethiopians are friendly people and the old man insisted I share his
lunch with him, some Enjera with goat meat. So I had to. And we sat
there together with his family during his entire two hour lunch break
chatting. His grandson translating. We connected so well there that I
was even invited to come to their home for dinner later on.
When people invite me I usually accept. And either leave them a tip
afterwards or a little present. I find this way you can experience local
life as genuine as possible.
That evening I met a big family of uncles, aunts and many many happy
kids. We had fantastic Enjera and great coffee. The grandson then
offered me to show me another rock hewn church high up in the mountains
the next day. Which I gladly accepted.
Funnily enough Martin sent me a SMS that he managed to secure a ride in
the tray of a truck from Sekota and would also arrive in Lalibela that
evening. So after dinner I waited at the Ben Abeba restaurant. There is
literally no traffic around Lalibela at dark and from the high location
of the restaurant we could see Martin's truck slowly moving through the
night from kilometres away. Finally, for the first time since leaving
Axum we managed to see each other again!
Martin and two other traveller friends now also camped at the restaurant
and joined us to climb up to the Asheton monastry the next morning.
After one and a half hours of climbing, up at a breathtaking elevation
of 3300m, we found a church even older than the famous ones down in
Lalibela. But it was the view which was the most impressive thing. I
guess we could see for hundrets of km into the valleys. Down towards
Lalibela, the river Jordan and the mountains around us.
There is alot of history in Lalibela. But it's also the people who make
you want to stay for longer. I ended up staying for five days. While
Martin started his journey to Addis Ababa in order to pick up the parcel
containing his new fuel pump, my new back tyre and other spares for us.
During these days people literally competed against each other as to
who will invite me for coffee and who for dinner. And with whom I spend
the morning and with whom the evening. It's a really welcoming folks up
there. Consequently during these five days I drunk as much coffee as I
normally would in two years. And had a lot of good food. And made many
new friends. And we had long nights of drinking Tej (some strong local
honey wine) or ,
we tried traditional Ethiopian dancing (mainly moving your shoulders
and neck), listened to traditional music in small local bars and played a
lot of Pool.
It was a fantastic time and I really loved Lalibela. For it's churches.
But even more for it's people. The old guard and his grandson. The crew
from Ben Abeba. And the people from the street who made me feel so
welcome to their town.
Now I am in Debre Tabor, a big town along the road between Lalibela and
Gondar. Still at an elevation of 2700m it is pretty cold here. Debre
Tabor is not famous for anything but seems to be a nice place to stay
for a day. On my first night I was already shown to some local
traditional music place and had a lot of fun trying to dance Ethiopian
style. And was invited to more good coffee.
Tomorrow night Martin will (hopefully with the local bus system) get to
Gondar where his Africa Twin is still parked, waiting for the new fuel
pump. We will meet there again, install all the spares from the parcel
and then continue our journey together towards Sudan. Once again two
friends on two motorcycles.
25/02/2012 Lalibela pics
One of the eleven rock churches in Lalibela. It is hard to imagine but
the whole thing is carved into a huge rock. First a hole was chisseled
into the rock with a big cube left standing. And then a church was
carved into that cube. The original rock is still there as steep walls
surrounding the curch.
Meeting people while relaxing on the rock next to the churches. The old
man works as security guard in the church compound, his grandson (on the
right side) would later be guiding us around Lalibela.
St George Church is one of the most beautiful ones. Also carved deep inside a rock.
We were very lucky to be allowed to camp at the Ben Abeba restaurant, a
pretty high standard restaurant on a hilltop. The setting is just
beautiful and the views are amazing. You can see the rather modern
building of Ben Abeba in the distance.
People in Lalibela are very friendly and we got many invites for coffee
or enjera into people's homes. This picture was taken inside the
livingroom of a family. Standards are pretty poor, walls are bare and
the floor is usually just dirt. But hospitality is rich and these people
happily welcome you to their home.
St Gabriel, another church carved out of the rock.
Inside these churches you find a pretty intense atmosphere. It is dark,
cold. You smell the burnt incense. And it is usually very quite. Except
when a big group of tourists arrive with their guide.
Me with some new friends.
Ben Abeba has a very special design. When
we arrived the restaurant was still in construction but already open for
business. It provided one of the best campgrounds we have had in
Ethiopia so far.
25/02/2012 Bad luck
Unfortunately it looks like these will be the last pics for a while.
It's hard to believe but in the security guarded campground of our hotel
in Gondar my backpack and my old motorbike pants got stolen out of the
tent. Unfortunately my camera was in the backpack. And my passport and
Visa card in the motorbike pants.
Police is confident they will find the perpetrator soon. But this
confidence might not mean much in Africa. So I might be stuck in
Ethiopia for a while longer.
I keep you posted..
On another positive note - even the thiefs here are nice persons. One
day after the theft a plastic bag mysteriously found its way back to my
tent. Inside the bag my passport, motorbike keys, credit card, driver
The camera is gone though. But I still have a small little point and shoot. So dont worry, there will be more pics!!!!
Okay, after the recent two short posts it is time to let you know the
full story about stuff disappearing and reappearing in Gondar.
As many travellers know, touring Africa can be a risky business. We were
very lucky so far, more than most people spending so much time on this
continent. Up to now the theft of my ugly old mobile phone in Rwanda was
the peak of negative experiences in Africa for me. This time in Gondar
though it was much more serious.
When I arrived here Friday night I just pitched my tent, put all my
stuff in there and was very hungry for dinner. Same as last time in
Gondar I camped at the Tarera Hotel. It is relatively cheap but has a
fenced compound and security guards. Sofia and Jordi, two overlanders we
keep meeting along the way were here and keen for dinner too. Martin
would arrive the next morning by bus from Addis Ababa with the parcel
Quickly I got out of my dirty rotten motorbike pants, grabbed all the
money out of them and put on my (rather) clean pants. And the three of
us went for dinner.
Coming back an hour later I found my tent open and pretty messy inside.
My two bike panniers stood next to the tent outside. Easy to realise
that someone has been messing around in the tent. Oh sh...t, now it has
finally happened! I guess the thief was in a hurry, all they grabbed was
my motorbike pants and my little green daypack. The big motorcycle
panniers remained unopened, just pushed aside to make room. They are
definitely too heavy to run away with.
Problem was that inside my motorbike pants was my passport with the
Ethiopia and Sudan visa, my driver licence, my motorbike keys and my
credit card. Inside my backpack was the spare keys for my little Suzuki,
my camera, my head torch, my Swiss army knife, my toilet paper and most
importantly my banana bisquits. Banana bisquits are hard to find and
they are awesome.
However, we quickly rounded up the hotel manager and the security guards
and discussed the situation. They did not seem to be much surprised and
asked why I don't keep my stuff at reception. But why? What do I pay
for? What are the security guards doing here? However, too late now.
So a big group of us including Sofia and a hotel manager went straight
to Police. On a Friday night you can't expect much from Police. But at
least they wrote down my details and a list of what's been stolen. The
list of stolen things in much less detail than the list about me.
Strange questions. Why was it important which religion I am? Or what
will the do with the name of my grandfather? Which grandfather anyway?
Or does it help to know at which grade I left school? But only
cooperation brings you further and I calmly answered all the questions.
'The next morning' they said I would meet someone from the Tourist
Police. Case finished for Friday night.
And surely the next morning at 8am two guys waited at the Tarera Hotel
for me. One from Tourist Police and one from Tourist Information. And
both were really helpful. And appeared to take the whole thing very
serious, particularly my stolen passport. They promised to do whatever
they can and said it was likely I will get my things back.
In Gondar there are a lot of dodgy people, particularly around dirty
cheap hotels like Tarera. They keep whispering to you that they can
change money for you on the black market. Or can help to find a bike
mechanic. Or can help you in whatever else.
A stolen passport is a serious thing. I had only one week left to enter
Sudan otherwise my Sudan visa would expire. No chance to make it back to
Addis Ababa in time and get a new passport from my embassy. And from
here a new Sudan visa would be much more difficult to obtain than in
Nairobi. My lost passport would be a certain split up between Martin and
me for the long term of this journey. No good. So I decided to not just
leave it to Police but also talked to two of the dodgy people, hoping
they know more dodgy people who know dodgy people and finally can find
my stuff with someone. They promised to use their dodgy connections to
help and disappeared. As dodgy people do.
Less than two hours later hotel staff found a strange plastic bag next
to the dry swimming pool. Containing my passport, my driver licence, my
motorbike key and spare key and my credit card. But no banana bisquits.
How did that happen? Of course no one knows for sure. I called my two
dodgy helpers and the helpful guy from the Tourist Police to let them
know. They all seemed to be very pleased. The Police man came straight
to the hotel to inspect the findings and was all smiles. So was I. He
told me that after we met this morning he sent out a message through
some sort of forum for bad guys (not the HUBB!!!) that the thief please
may return all the documents important for me but useless for them. No
idea if it was this message or the stirring action of my other two
helpers. But as friendly as Ethiopian thieves are they brought me back
my most important things.
All being in a good mood I also asked the Police man if he could send
out another message through the same dodgy forum. That the tourist would
be keen to get his camera back also and would pay some good dollars for
it. He liked the idea and promised to do so. And my two other helpers
started now focussing on the black markets spreading the same message.
That was Saturday morning.
The rest of Saturday we spent installing all the spare parts from
Martin's parcel from Germany. And my new Mitas E07 rear tyre. Martin's
Africa Twin is back in perfect shape now. Installing my new rear tyre
proved very stressfull though. I thought I get it done in a tyre shop.
I should have run away when they asked me if I had tools.
A shop to repair tyres??? BYO tools? However, I gave them the tools and
immediately 10 people were around my poor little Suzuki trying violently
with my tools and their big hammer to get the wheel out. Once it was
out the same violence was used to get the tyre off the rim. 10 people at
the same time manhandling their sharp edged metal bars to be abused as
When it comes to my little Suzuki I can get aggressive very quickly.
Can't remember how often I had to call stop and push people away from
the wheel. And to remind them to use our rim protection. And take care
with the tube. And to not throw everything in the dirt. And to keep the
brake disc on the top, not on the bottom. And to not step onto the brake
disc. To notice the rotation direction of the new tyre. Etc. When they
started to reinstall the rear axle with a huge hammer they finally
crossed the line. I told them to back off and I finished off myself.
Usually I'm not like that. But sorry, it was just too much to bear.
After all it's about my beautiful little Suzuki! The whole thing took 2
hours. I grew older by two years during those.
Sure enough I found my little Suzuki the next morning with a flat rear tyre...
Sunday one of my 'dodgy' helpers and me, we chombed the black market
spots for my camera. Incredible how many Ipods and mobile phones change
hands here. We also discretely searched foto studios, they would be the
most likely buyers of my camera. But no trace. There is also an
association of people who take scenic photos for and with tourists.
These guys claim they usually are approached first when a good camera
looks for a new owner. Because they can actually use it. But no trace.
My helper and me, we continued investigating and spreading the message
on Monday. It's kind of cool to be part of this and have a look into the
dodgy side of Ethiopia. I think I like the idea to become a Police
investigator, it's kind of thrilling. But all to no avail. So I guess
the camera is lost. If I was the smart thief I would wait too before
letting the camera resurface.
Tourist Police promised to keep investigating. My two dodgy helpers
promised to keep their eyes and ears open and to contact me if they find
a trace. The tourist photographers too. And also the people in the
photo studios. How serious they are in their promises, I don't know. The
reward I offered might increase their seriousness. But I guess for me
the camera is lost. And somewhere some bad guy will take good photos
while chewing on awesome banana bisquits.
Fortunately I backed up my pics just before. So not many photos are
lost. Most importantly, I have my passport and can continue to Sudan
with Martin. Which I shall do tomorrow, on Tuesday. Using my spare small
pocket camera with the broken display from now on.
The rest of today I spent with one of my dodgy but friendly helpers,
chewing some Tchat to relax and drinking some tea. To forget about the
frustrating last few days. And to enjoy Africa once more. It worked.
I also bought some Strawberry bisquits. 'Banana bisquits finished' the shopkeeper said.