You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 28, 2010.

It’s good to be back in Ethiopia, having visited the country in 2004. We entered Ethiopia at the Gallabat crossing, nothing more than a mud hut where got our passports stamped. We had to disturb the customs officials to get our carnet stamped whilst they were having their lunch so we could crack on to Gondar.

We took the newly built road to Gondar. After an amazingly beautiful drive we arrived in Gondar and the first thing we did was to enjoy a well deserved Dashen beer which is brewed in the town. I think it was one of the best beers we have had in our lives!! As alcohol is illegal in Sudan we had quite a fill on a couple of days.

A big change from Sudan, life is much closer to the road here. You drive around a corner to enter a village and everyone is out in the road with their animals. Maybe because it’s a new road people seem to gravitate to it, like it’s something they’ve never seen before.

We were warned about kids throwing stones at vehicles in Ethiopia. We had been told to slow down and wave to avoid a window getting smashed. We noticed a few kids picking up stones so we waved like mad to avoid it!

Other hazards are cows, huge ones, randomly crossing the road without a care in the world. Huge herds of them sometimes and we have to come to a halt to let them pass. The road was better than we expected with only small patches to cover off-road.

We knew it was a risk. It is a three day wait in Khartoum for a permit to visit Kassala, so we headed out of Khartoum without one after hearing different stories about whether we needed one or not. We had met Ally in Khartoum, a British guy who was heading our way, so we offered him a lift and he came with us to Kassala.

We tried to enter late after a long drive from Khartoum. There are many police checkpoints along the road where we stop and chat  for a few minutes before we get going again. Having got that far, the last checkpoint into Kassala was the hardest and they refused to let us into town. It was a young kid on the gate and we knew he was just playing really hard to get. We made a call to our friends in Khartoum who have connections with the government.

After the phone call, the best they could do for us was to advise us to stay 30 miles back on the road toward Khartoum and spend the night camping in the desert. The only issue was that the paperwork ( there is endless paperwork to carry in Sudan, all of which means nothing!) we had received when we arrived in Sudan didn’t include Kassala as a possible place of visit. We could have written the name on the paper five minutes before we stopped at the checkpoint.

The next morning we tried again and entered the town, off-road, through a little village. We had a great day looking round the souk (market). We had little hassle in town and were greeted by many people in the souk. Nobody asked to see any paperwork whilst we were there. On the way out of town we  looked at the mountains which the town is famous for and drove round some of the flood plain farmland which was amazing.

We decided to avoid the checkpoint again and to drive out of town through another village. We had nearly reached the tarmac road, when we spotted a man racing towards us on a little motorbike, in what can only be described as army style pyjamas. He stopped us and started shouting at us. He then told us to go in a certain direction. I sped off causing plumes of dust to rise up into his face. If I started to go in the wrong direction he would start whistling and shouting madly at us, so I decided to slow down to let him pass.

As he whizzed by we all decided to drive in the opposite direction as him, and go to the check point. So I slowed down more and more and just as he stopped turning his head round to see if we were following I turned the car around and shot off in the other direction. We were making a great escape until we got stuck behind a local who was going very slowly and we could not pass him. Ally looked behind and he could see the man on the motorbike coming round the corner. Just as we got our chance to pass the local the motorbike he caught us up and he sped in front of the car. We then had to wait for some other men to arrive. When they arrived it started to get very heated. One of them took our passports and told Ally, who was attempting to reason with him with the little arabic he knows, to “Shut Your Mouth”. Meanwhile the other one was attempting to get in the car and in the end Ally had to sit on his knee.

We went with them and on the way we met a man who spoke english who said everything was OK and that we were safe, which was a relief. We continued our way to a hut on the outskirts of the village where we sat down. They faffed about trying to decipher our passports and write the information down on a fag packet. Eventually they asked Ally to write it down for them.

After that we went back into Kassala to the police barracks and wait before they finally let us go. We sat there watching BBC World , whilst they gave us tea and mosquito repellant! Eventually we got to speak to the captain who had called in a member of the tourist board. For some reason they refused to let us leave town that night and said we must pay $100 dollars for a hotel. More negotiating and we refused to follow this option by saying we were intending to head to Ethiopia with the intention of crossing the border the next day. After a while they seemed to give in and said we were free to go.

We got out of town and drove the 110 miles back to Gedaref. We broke our golden rule by driving at night. The day ended with us drinking fresh hot milk and a cake outside one of the tea stalls. It tasted amazing with a heapfull of sugar!

January 2010