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Loving Lake Awassa. A great location and a world away from the city. We’ve spent our time here trying to get rid of the monkeys that climb all over the Landcruiser. They like playing games with us as they run around on the top of the tent as we chase them off!

We took a boat trip to see the Hippos yesterday evening. We got sight of a group of three taking it easy in the reeds. One opened it’s mouth really wide. Just a taste of what we will see further south.

I’ve added a Twitter feed that will let you know what we are up to between blog updates. Find us on Twitter under the username konaaln.

For you map followers – we are doing a loop from here towards Arba Minch, taking in Dorzo, near Checha. Dorzo people live in unique beehive shaped dwellings that are up to six metres high. From there we head south towards Konzo. Another group known for their hilltop villages and who are highly skilled agriculturists. They are compared to the Dogan people in Mali. Then it’s back to Yabello along a gravel track where we hit the main Moyale road for us to get to Kenya.

We will cross into Kenya by Friday. We will have to leave the south Omo and it’s tribes on this trip! As we left Awassa today we met a couple from London in a Range Rover. It looked like it had just come from a showroom. They were keen to cross into Kenya at the same time. We hear various reports about the Moyale to Nairobi road; it’s known  for bandits. It normally depends on what is going on locally between the different tribes. It’s a busy overland and truck route so it is usually well guarded.

18/02/2010 – Immigration to start with to sort out our visa extensions. Thinking it would only take an hour, it turned out to take several hours. We have to go back tomorrow to pick up our passports. I got stung with a late penalty charge as my visa was two weeks beyond its expiry! Addis is the only place you can renew your visa in Ethiopia so I let it roll until we arrived in the capital to sort it out. Bun’s was issued a little later in London so she was OK. A money-making scheme for sure!

Straight to the Sheraton afterwards to meet Mark. His flight got in really early so he could have done with the few extra hours in bed whilst we were banging our heads at Immigration. We started by driving around Addis for a little tour and then had breakfast. The good thing about Addis is that most of its sights are viewable very easily by a quick bolt around town; some communist statues, Meskel Square and the football stadium to name a few. After breakfast we went to the Mercato market, the largest in Africa, for a few hours.

Later on we headed back to Mark’s hotel to relax by the swimming pool for the afternoon. It was well needed and we swam in the pool and relaxed on the sun loungers with a drink. A slightly odd experience, swimming with music playing under the water, but very nice to get in and have a swim for the first time in a while. Mark sunbathed in his cotton shawl he bought at the market!

We finished the day off by going for a meal at Castelli’s, a long established Addis institution that has been serving Italian food in the capital for 50 years. Lovely food and red wine. Get it where you can! Bun couldn’t finnish her main course and got it to take-out. We were quickly followed by two street kids when we left and the food was passed to them.

19/02/2010 – Get up and go today. We dropped the Landcruiser off at the garage. We followed a taxi there as it was 20 minutes from the centre and hard to find. Back to immigration to pick up our passports. All OK, then off to the Kenyan embassy to get our visas. It only took half an hour to get them; the quickest yet on the road and contrary to what we had read, which said it was a difficult embassy to deal with. We amused ourselves looking at the glass cabinet which had lots of items, made and sold in Kenya, on display.

Back to the garage – all seems OK. Labour charges are very cheap here. We left the vehicle for four hours and paid 400 birr/£20. They seem to have got to the bottom of the radiator issue. The fan belt was loose so they tightened that and tested the thermostat. The mechanic  ran a diagnostics test to see that everything else was OK with the engine. No problems. The front brake pads that had been making a screeching sound on the day we arrived in the capital were totally worn out. We got the spare pads out and had them changed.

Two Australian’s we met who are travelling south are keen to go via Lake Turkana into Kenya. This is ideal for us if it can happen. We’re going to meet up tomorrow to chat with them. We aim to cross into Kenya within the next few weeks.

20/02/2010 – Saturday in Addis. Spent the morning zipping around town trying to get a few things done. We passed by Wim Holland’s place. As the name suggests, it is run by a Dutch man and his Ethiopian wife.  It’s usually the first place to head to if  you are overlanding. There very helpful and assisted us in trying to fix our GPS charger cable that has broken. We might stay there tomorrow. Four nights in a hotel is enough and a bit of green space will give us time to organise ourselves before we leave on Monday. Their site is located near the old Addis to Djibouti railway station in downtown Addis. We had steak fondue at the Cottage restaurant in the evening followed by a film, then we were done.

21/02/2010 – We’ve decided to head on to Awassa today. 275 kms from Addis, it is located in the Rift valley at altitude and has a good location on the east side of Lake Awassa. Later today we hope to take a local boat to see the hippos that live in the lake.

We are still undecided by the Lake Turkana route. Having been here for three weeks, we might see the lake from the south upwards from within Kenya. A trip to the Omo valley is still possible and we can’t leave without seeing this.

Early breakfast a the hotel while watching some live Ethiopian running on the TV before heading off. We need a full top up of fuel before leaving Addis. Were managing to get about 1200 miles from both tanks if the terrain is good. Makes a big difference when you want to cover a lot of ground without the worry of running out. Fuel is more expensive here than in Sudan but cheaper than Kenya so we will fill up here before crossing. A litre here is fifty pence.

The vanishing act that is caused by our huge off-road tyres whilst travelling on Ethiopia’s unsurfaced roads.

Eight hours after leaving Bahir Dar, we arrived in the capital. We were greeted by light rain. We reckoned it was two months or more since we last felt some.

We are drained from three heavy days of driving south. The Blue Nile Gorge road was now ashphalt. It took one hour to cross the Gorge rather than the three hours it took last time on a local bus when it was gravel.

We are staying at the Itege Tiatu hotel, the oldest hotel in Ethiopia. I know it well having been here a few times before. The floorboards still creek and the tv reception is still snowy. I got someone to sort it out before the Arsenal game!

My brother’s flight gets in early Thursday so it will be great to see him tomorrow.

http://www.taituhotel.com/

This is Ethiopian fasting food for Lent. It’s fantastic food and varied enough to keep you wanting more. Bun might disagree! You grab some of the murky brown bread called injera, then you use it to pick up a small handful of one of the dishes placed on top of the bread. In this picture all the dishes are vegetarian. Then you try a different one and so on. After three mouthfuls you are full-up! Washed down with a bottle of Mirinda (remember our friend from Axum!).

More issues with the radiator in the Landcruiser. It overheated again on the trip to Bahir Dar, just after we got the killer section from Lalibela out of the way.

We topped up the coolant with water before we left this morning at a garage. We had it looked at closer in Bahir Dar. A man at the hotel where we are camping showed us to the Toyota garage. The head mechanic came over to have a look at it. He reckoned it might be the radiator cap losing pressure and causing it to overheat.

We replaced the cap to start with and then had our friend take us to a garage to have the dust in the radiator blown out. Nothing seems to be leaking and the problem only happens on long uphills, the rest of the trip today was ok. The salt from the Danakil might be having its revenge! Clutching at straws for the time being, so we will have to keep an eye on it.

All of this is going against my ‘start the car and go’ philosophy. My mechanical skills are pretty bad to say the least. To date they haven’t been tested. Bun has got her overalls  ready just in case!

The drive today was another classic. This country keeps producing some fantastic vistas. We passed the first overlander for a while. An orange Land Rover Defender belonging to two Germans heading north to Lalibela. We stopped to exchange a few words and trip times for the day so far.

We have a fantastic setting on the shores of Lake Tana. With all the rushing around town to sort the Landcruiser out, we are taking it easy at the hotel. The mosquitoes are back. After being at altitude for so long, we are being bitten alive tonight!

Our route to Addis Ababa tomorrow will follow the long road on mainly asphalt which will take us through the Blue Nile Gorge. It will give the Landcruiser a rest from the bumps!

We listened to: George Benson – In Flight

More pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amillerphotos/

Right. On the move again and to go again. We’ve had a do very little stay at the lodge which was well needed. Were just on the outskirts of Mekele having made a move early this morning. Just a quick update of the blog before moving on.

Were heading to Lalibela via a shortcut. We follow the main asphalt Adigrat -Addis road to a town called korem, just south of a Maychew. There we head west on a gravel road taking us to Sekota where we head south towards Lalibela. It should take us six hours. We will see! We look forward to the drive.

More to come..

We made it to Lalibela in just under six hours. Our first minor problem with the Landcruiser. With more jaw aching driving on bumpy roads the vehicle then started overherating on one long uphill section. I noticed the temprature guage heading into the red. We stopped in the middle of nowhere to cool the vehicle down. We were quickly surrounded by kids. I calmed them down by giving them some water from the back.

After it had cooled we then couldn’t start the engine. A few vehicles belonging to Aid agencies stopped to see if we were ok. The extra fuel tank was low on fuel and I switched tanks over and we were off again. The road got better for the last hour as we headed into Lalibela.

We had a whistlestop tour of Lalibela. Ethiopia’s Millenium which was a few years ago hiked the price of seeing the site up to 300 birr ( £15). A lot of the Ethiopian’s we’ve spoken to complain at the increase in everyday living due to a change in century. As it was late in the day, we decided to leave it. We got a great view of Bet Giyorgis, the rock hewn church in the shape of a cross from a vantage point in town.

We camped in the grounds of the Seven Olives Hotel.  We would like to have stayed longer but were pushed for time to get to Addis for Wednesday night.

The next stop is Bahir Dar on the southern tip of Lake Tana. One night there before heading to Addis Wednesday morning.

Downtime! Our early return from the Danakil Depression has given us a few days to kill before we reached the lodge. We were half deciding if we should make our way to Addis via Lalibela and Bahar Dar but we have had the lodge booked for a while so want to keep to the plan. were booked in till the morning of the 15th.

We are not in any rush now and can make up time elsewhere. We are mindful that the rains are due in Kenya and Tanzania in mid-March. The Landcruiser shouldn’t have any problems dealing with the bad roads if we hit them after the rains.

Our main idea is to enter Kenya via Lake Turkana, west of the normal crossing in Moyale.  We’ve heard great things about this route. We would need to find another vehicle to go with if we are to do this.

It will be our last few days in Tigrai, where we have been for a while. We have parted company with our fixer, Tedrosy, who has been with us for the last six days in the Danakil and helping us out along the way. It was sad to leave him. He has been entertaining and very helpful whilst he has been with us although I wont miss paying for his appetite when he chooses the most expensive item on the menu and keeping his Mirinda (a fizzy orange drink like Fanta) craving satisfied!

My brother, Mark, has decided to work in another hotspot! This time Yemen. It’s only a 45 minute flight to Addis so he is making the journey next Thursday to meet us. We put in our orders a while ago, none of which include any pork products, which we are still in search of!

With all the Ethiopian pop and traditional music driving us mad on our travels, here’s what we’ve listened to on the road.

Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here  – first album in god knows how many years.

Four Tet: There Is Love In You

(In its usual place. Our main source of world news, oh and live Priemership football at the weekend. We’ve heard that Ethiopia are sending a skier to the Winter Olympics. No sign of snow here, just an incredible amount of dust!)

Two unbelievable days in the Danakil Depression. We saw much more than we thought we would and didn’t get hit hard by the high costs of a tour operator in the process. Not only is it a hard place to travel alone, the Afar people make it even harder for you with their tribal system of dealing with things.

We completed formalities in Berahile, dealing with the permits and working out who needed to accompany us on the trip. It ended up that we required a guide and a policeman, who ended up doing absolutely nothing.

The Afar, known to be hostile, have been trading in salt  to the highlanders for thousands of years. Their nomadic lifestyle is still widely practised outside of the towns. They must deal with specialist tour operators in Addis and Mekele and tourists come here with lots of money but have no idea what they are paying for. On the ground, the system is even more complicated. Everywhere you go in the Danakil, as you move on, you cross onto another villagers land. This is the case when you see Erta Ale. We left seeing this, but I’ll be back one day to see it.

On our trip to the first camp, we followed caravans who were heading to the salt mines near Dallol. We were amazed at the numbers of them. Each caravan had at least twenty camels, tied to each other as they walked in a straight line. The donkeys walked in front, unattached, going about their own business. They would drive us mad as we tried to pass them on the track as they would scatter everywhere very, very slowly. Before long the owner would run up and hit the donkeys to move them out of the way.

The weather was a little cooler than normal so they were probably taking advantage of it. We saw hundreds of camels. They would have walked up a to a week at that point. I can’t imagine what it would be like doing this when the temperature is 40 degrees c.

We arrived at Hamid Ale, an army camp on the edge of the salt pans. We set ourself up here for the night. One other tour group was there. It was basic, but they had huts made from tall sticks where we could make food. Part of the deal when you take a guide and a policeman with you, is that you have to feed them!

That night we got a better idea of what we could see. Earlier we got excited about the idea of getting as far as Erta Ale, but as we spoke to a friend of our guide, we knew it would become costly for us t have to deal with the villagers near the base of the volcano. We would decide the next day if it was a good idea, depending if there were any tours going there.

The next day we went to Dallol, a strange landscape of craters and hot springs. Hot yellow sulphur fields are set among sparkling white salt beds. Tremors under the earth are felt here regularly. The most recent craters were formed during an eruption in 1926. We crossed the fields, and stopped for a while in places taking it all in. The smell of sulphur was strong and we could lick the salt off our skin.

We found some vents quite open and watched and listened to the liquid bubbling away underneath. It sounded like a mad professor’s laboratory, with vivid coloured liquid boiling away. All the time we were there , we could see armed guards around on the edge of the field keeping a look out.

We drove over the salt pans to get there. It was a combination of salt and mud which made it quite tricky to drive in. It didn’t feel like we would get stuck, but when I drove off the track I noticed deep wells dug out of the salt that were quite large. It could have been the Artic; it looked very similar. We had to pick up new guards and a local guide.

The two original men stayed behind, to do nothing! We needed two guards as one would stay with the vehicle whilst the other would race ahead when we arrived to make sure if was safe to visit. One of the guards sat on the roof as we made the 20 km trip to Dallol.

After Dallol, we visited two other sites. One was a black lake (local name Ale Limbed). It wasn’t massive but it was very strange. The liquid level was as high as the surface. Our guard took a piece of metal from his rifle and placed it in the liquid. it was very hot and stripped the metal of some colour. It wasn’t water but had an oily look to it. It didn’t belong on this planet at all, and could have been something from a sci-fi movie.

Then came the salt mines (Dagde). I had left my sunglasses behind and by this time of the day, it was starting to get very hot. I could hardly open my eyes as the reflection from the salt was too much. We saw men working away digging the salt from the ground and then men carving the salt so it could be carried easily by the camels.

After the long walk, the camels sat and made alien noises while all the activity was going on around them. Salt fetches high prices in Addis and other big towns such as Mekele. The Afar trade the salt and then walk it back the one week trip to sell it. It’s a quick and productive set-up. One man we watched had chipped away one block in a few minutes so it was ready to load up. We were told they work for ten hours a day here. They move on before night and never sleep in the salt fields. As the caravans returned, others were on their way out to take over. It was very tough work. Our guide tried to make a line in the salt with an axe so it could be extracted. He was out of breath afterwards.

On our return journey there was a young man, who looked like a boy, wanting a lift back to Dallol. I said OK and he jumped on the roof with our guide. Later on he said he made 3000 birr a month (£150) extracting the salt which, by Ethiopian standards, is a lot. Our guide wanted us to buy a slab to take back after he noticed we were low on salt. Bun grabbed a few stray pieces and we tasted it on our way back to the vehicle.

Erta Ale would have been a hard two or three days extra on top of what we had already seen. We were amazed and happy at what we had seen so far and decided to make tracks back to Bare Ale to drop the guide and policeman back, after they had done nothing for two days! Once we mentioned we were not going to Erta Ale, they were happy. I was getting more annoyed with them and wanted to get rid of them.

We headed back to Wukro from there. Once we started to climb into the mountains we knew we were back in Tigrai. The Afar region only starts when we drop from the Ethiopian highlands down to sea level. The guide we’ve had since Axum said he wasn’t coming back to the Danakil. He had never seen it before, but wasn’t too keen on the Afar people.

We did have a great guide when we saw Dallo and the army were good humoured. It was very foggy and muddy on the climb through the mountains; it was like being in England. We carried on, passing camel caravans walking through the dense fog. It was going from one extreme to the other, with the temperature being in the mid-thirties, then heading through thick fog later in the day.

Over the next few days we book into the Gheralta lodge. We have to head a few hours north again, but it will be our chance to catch up on things before we head to Addis and then south to Kenya. Time for a few days taking it easy.

http://www.gheraltalodgetigrai.com

http://www.flickr.com/photos/amillerphotos/

Some recordings made at the Sulphur springs

Audio Sample 1

Audio Sample 2

Some of Buns videos. Cheers Rich for putting these videos up. More to come from now.

One of those days in Mekele. We are here to sort out our Danakil trip. Yesterday’s journey from Axum was another superb drive.

In the morning we were hanging around the hotel where we camped, waiting for our guide. A man who was staying at the hotel approached us and started questioning me about our vehicle. Just a few questions about bringing the vehicle into Ethiopia; nothing out of the ordinary. We get a lot of curious people asking about the trip were doing. When our guide turned up he started asking more questions about the vehicle. We didn’t make much of it at the time. When  hey both started arguing, more people turned up – soon there was a crowd. The argument was down to this man believing we were travelling in Ethiopia, without the right permission or paperwork. He didn’t bother ask us to see the papers we received from Customs when we entered the country.

Our guide had no idea who he was and thought he was talking rubbish. Other men around agreed with our guide and the man must have felt outnumbered which made him more angry. Next, whilst we were sitting in the vehicle ready to drive away, he threatened to throw a stone at the vehicle if we drove away. Our guide was angry about it and wanted to call on a traffic policeman to resolve what was going on. We eventually found one and  returned to the hotel and started a dialogue with the angry man. It came to light that this man was some sort of police chief who felt we had been in the wrong by not having the right documents.

We were not sure why a police chief was picking up a stone and threatening to throw it at the vehicle, when he could have asked us for the papers in the first place. Hey , this is Africa!

After a while I decided to get out of the vehicle and produced our carnet and Customs declaration. This was passed around, starting with the Traffic policeman. I passed time by making funny faces at the small kids who were surrounding us and found it quite amusing. It never felt like it would get out of hand, even when he had the stone in his hand!

We knew we were not missing anything regarding our entry into the country. Along the way, it’s easy to research and speak to enough people to know what to expect down the line.

Eventually we  moved on and went about our mission to try to find a tour group to latch onto for our trip. A big group of vehicles already kitted out would have been fine, but there weren’t many around. The other idea was to hire a vehicle and driver to act as a guide.

We were quoted silly money to do this. It was looking bad until our guide had a call from a tour operator. It turned out that we could see certain parts of the Danakil in our own vehicle without any other support vehicles. We would need three days to see Dallol and lake Asale. We will stand on the lowest point on earth and hopefully see salt caravans coming from the depression.

We made plans to drive to Wukro, a good moving on place in the morning, so we can sort out the permits and scouts at Bere Ale. We stocked up on food and got enough water for the three days. Bun drove the 40 kms to Wukro.

Before we left town, we had the gearbox oil changed. It was due pretty soon, so we spent a hour doing that. Also the tour guide had a call for us to take an empty gas canister to Dallol. We had read about requests like this because of the remoteness of some parts of the depression. We didn’t have a problem with this and went into town to pick it up.

We are in the spiritual home of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. We drove around town seeing the obelisks that the town is known for.   We are not allowed to see the other treasure, the Ark of the Covenant. It  is a mystery if it actually exists here or not!

We are better off taking a seat outside one of the juice bars and taking it easy. I’ve got a taste for the ‘espris’; a tall glass is filled with pureed fruit to make up the colours of the Ethiopian flag. The bottom level is papaya, the middle is avocado, and the top level either orange or mango. You then squeeze some lime juice over it and mix it up with a spoon.

The Landcruiser was covered all over in red dust after our mission yesterday. After I climbed up to fix the bag on the roof-rack I got my t-shirt covered in the stuff. On arrival in Axum, we had it washed down with a jet-spray.

I managed to get a CDMA device that allows me to get internet access anywhere I have phone reception. This makes life a lot easier. The speed is much quicker and we don’t have to wait around in cafes. We can now sit in the car and check our email in the middle of nowhere.

After we arrived we bumped into two young guys who helped me out when I was here in 2004. It was very odd to see them a little older and still hanging around the Africa hotel looking for business from tourists. One of them had progressed more than the other. He had moved to Addis and then returned to  fine tune his English and start a course at Axum University.

We ended up warming to him more and we got speaking about how he could help us in Mekele to sort our trip to the Danakil. He is a young guy who knows a lot about Axum and the Tigryan region of northern Ethiopia. We arranged to meet him the next morning to come with us to Mekele. On the way we would pass through Adwa and Adigrat, possibly taking in a few of the rock-hewn churches along the way.

Later on we had arranged to meet two guys, one French who lives in London and a Hungarian  we met in the Simien mountains. They arrived in Axum that day after their 11 hour journey in a truck carrying beer from Debark to Axum. They asked us for a lift when we first met them, but we left early on the 3rd whilst they were still out in the National park away from the main track. They were exhausted when we met them. After a few beers and some food we went on a bar-crawl around Axum. We had a good night and were feeling it the next morning as we were packing away the tent. The fried eggs sorted us out!

(An old pavoni coffee machine at our hotel in Shire. The Italians left something behind aside from the spag-bol you get everywhere here. it does makes a welcome change from the national food which is blow your head off hot!)

February 2010
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