Coming from Sudan, we crossed the border in Metema into a beautiful country, which appears very fertile, even though everybody knows about the poverty and the hunger crisis here. During our trip we already crossed a lot of borders. But every time, again there is this awkward feeling in your lower stomach area. Compared to our entry in Wadi Halfa, we fortunately had no problems entering Ethiopia, it was fairly quick and the officers were friendly. They even handed out a questionnaire in which they asked for pros and cons of their service. You had to drop it in a suggestion box! Wow!
Metema is to one half in Sudan and to the other in Ethiopia, connected with a small bridge where the inhabitants walk back and forth. Suddenly you can see people again in colorful clothes, with umbrellas, couples holding hands in public and you realize that you are not in a Muslim country anymore. Since Turkey we haven been traveling through Muslim countries and got used to the public life and the atmosphere.
On your way to the inner parts of Ethiopia, across Gonder, Lalibela and Woldia we continuously passed agricultural land, cattle and sheep herds. Even on 3500m altitude every little piece, including the streets is used and quite often you see fruit and spices lying along the street for drying.
Paved roads are quite rare in Ethiopia and especially in the northern parts hard to find – but the reason is not the lack of will to build roads in general. The problem is that the public takes away the concrete before it can even dry. What a Sisyphus work! If someone, like e.g. the European Union has managed to build a road south of Woldia – you think you are flying when you come from the awful dirt roads - you have to face another problem: the people carry home the perfect paved parts of the road to dry their fruit there. Of course, who wants to dry his food on the shoulder next to the road when he can also do it at home in his garden?!
Due to this, the roads are limited to one lane in each direction and are additionally populated with potholes and cows, who, just in that moment when you arrive, have decided to cross the road. You really feel like Super Mario III (in Africa).
The roads are multifunctional and used by everyone.
In general the roads in Ethiopia are quite bad. No, they are really bad. So far they have been the worst! They shake the car including everything in it to pieces, until you arrive in Addis Ababa and the first thing you have to do is to go to a workshop. The “roads” mainly consist of gravel, sharp stones and potholes, which mostly allow a maximum speed of 15-20 km/h. I would say it is a miracle that we haven’t had a single puncture so far. In Sudan our tires looked still like brand new. After 4 days in Ethiopia they looked like someone has cut out pieces with a knife!
Yes, this is the main road in Ethiopia!
At the point of our arrival in Addis, after two days of 12 hour driving, we felt like after a “massage”, our backs hurt and we were glad having arrived safely. The last hour we were driving in darkness which I can’t really recommend in these countries. There are no street lights, no shoulder and the meeting traffic has really bad or no lights. Suddenly I saw a dead donkey appear in my headlights. I just managed to go around it without crashing into the three cars that were coming on the other lane. Staffan was screaming in the passenger seat, already seeing his last second to come. It’s worse when you can’t influence the steering. This was the second near-death-experience after Sudan.
Even though driving is quite exhausting in Ethiopia, it was still the most beautiful country we came through so far. The view from the highlands is stunning; the country is, beside the arid parts in the east, fertile, cultivated and very idyllic. It could be a great land for tourism. eco lodges, horse riding and could bring the people more income. Sometimes it was hard to believe that Ethiopia is so poor and people have to starve. No doubt that the situation is different in the south. But in this part of the country it seems like the people can supply themselves decently. You have to ask yourself what use all the NGOs have here? Almost every second new Land Cruiser belongs to an aid organisation, which is running projects in almost every small village. Still, the people are begging in an aggressive and persistent way. I am not sure if the NGOs really support the people in their development and independence or if they make them even more dependent and used to the Faranjis who come and drop money?!
There are certainly a lot of helpful and useful projects. But this NGO presence is definitely not very good for the people’s development. Development Aid is such a complex and multilevel topic that it is difficult to make up a clear opinion about it. But in all the discussions with other travellers, who were sometimes also working for help organisations the scepticism was always bigger.
On the way to Addis you can enjoy stunning views.
The most annoying thing in Ethiopia had been the begging kids. They make it almost impossible to stop anywhere for just 10 seconds. Forget about bush camping unless you want to have 40 kids watching you preparing food or doing other private things. They came like Orcs from nowhere, screaming “you, you, you, give me money!”, running after you for their lives and then asking for a pen or some Birr at the end. In our case they never got anything. It must be a very hard business for the kids because most of the overlanders don’t stop in the villages. We often asked ourselves where this behaviour comes from. There are not so many tourists coming through.
The most unpleasant thing that all the other overlanders also experienced was stones and sticks thrown by the kids. After two stones on the car the third one smashed our rear mirror. Which reason should you have to stop in the villages if you have to fear stone throws? You better drive through as fast as possible.
When the first two stones hit our car we hit the brakes instantly and went out to confront the people. The trouble maker was already gone, of course. The rest of the village was just starring at us. How can you communicate that it is dangerous and a bad behaviour to throw stones at people?!
Ken, who was travelling on a bicycle, had armed himself with stones on his handle bar bag after the kids were taking off his equipment while he was driving uphill. He had bruises on his back from the sticks and stones.
In southern Ethiopia a kid threw a full 25-liter canister of diesel in front of Katie and James’ Landy while we all drove through a small village. I don’t want to think of what could have happened. James followed the kid but it could run away. The mother was shouting after him, but we don’t know if she was calling him or told him to stay away?!
In a second the whole village was on the spot and several armed men with rifles appeared. Fortunately the situation didn’t escalate and I think they understood why James got mad. It was a quite delicate situation when we were surrounded by the village and armed people and I am happy that we could end it without any major problems. Unfortunately we couldn’t make up our minds where the kid’s behaviour comes from. The only thing that was clear very quickly: even though it is a nice country, we want to leave it as soon as possible!
All along the way we are passing begging children.
Unfortunately Sally changed our plans when after 4 days in Ethiopia she was starting to smoke white and black fumes while we were on our way from Gonder to Lalibela. The streets were stony and hilly gravel roads that allowed only a average speed of 34 km/h – and we still had to go for 1000 km until Addis! Sally also lost oil and we couldn’t say how bad the problem was. We decided against the famous churches of Lalibela, where to the last 70 km of road would have been even worse. We didn’t want to stress the engine too much but instead wanted to go to Addis as soon as possible where we knew a Land Rover garage.
Addis kept us for almost two weeks. The workshops diagnosis was: worn piston rings and worn liners – this needed a complete engine overhaul! If we would have had to do this kind of repair in Germany, we would have to end the trip here. We had to pay a lot of money for this, but all in all we had to pay 1000 € and could continue our trip. Now, with the remaining budget and our first workshop visit in Turkey we can’t say if we will make it all the way down to Cape Town. We will have to see after finishing the project in Nairobi.
Sally at the Landy clinic in Addis.
Baro Hotel, Addis. Campbell and Mark are getting ready.
The only thing we could do in this situation was to make the best out of it and enjoy the time in the Baro Hotel, wait ages for our meals, get problems with our stomach, go to the internet café across the road and have a great time with the other travellers from the Baro.
At the end we had almost grown into a little family. I will keep the time at Baro in very good memory. I am looking forward to see how Amarantha will continue her travels, a backpacker, who is already travelling for one and a half years. She was currently still trying to get a Sudanese visa in order to end her trip in Egypt. Will she continue through Eritrea or will she, at the end just buy a ticket and fly back to the UK? Campbell and Marc, two bikers, who were waiting in Addis for a long time to receive spare parts from Europe and who were later joining us on the famous and most-feared Moyale-Marsabit route in northern Kenya. Sebastian will work as a volunteer at the Goethe-Institute until June and then continue his trip south with his bicycle. Goal: reaching Cape Town. I really hope he will visit us at Jungle Junction in Nairobi. Mike, actually on his way to India with his bike, will probably first look for some more off-road shoot-outs in Africa before continuing his travels.
To all of you, I send you a warm greeting and happy and safe travels!
Hitch-hiking inAddis Abeba.
Our engine got overhauled completely and should have been like new. Well, it at least looked like it because it was painted new and sounded much better. But - on the way from Addis to Moyale we lost round about 2.5 litres of oil per day and the engine made some strange noises?!?! I thought the car was repaired and the engine was in a “like new” condition. After calling the garage in Addis from Moyale they told us to visit a garage in Nairobi and have it checked. They would pay the costs. I really hope they stick to their word!
Well then, see you later in Nairobi.
The highlands of Ethiopia, play of light and shadow just before a thunderstorm.
South of Yabello. Nice to have another Landy in front.