Long time no blog…….

November 14, 2008

Tuesday 4th November

The only place to camp in Khartoum is the Blue Nile Sailing Club, which sounds much more romantic than it is.  It’s ‘Unique Selling Point’ is Kitchener’s gunboat, Malik, which is now beached in the car park, and in whose shade we are camping. 

British fortitude!

British fortitude!

Spend the day getting Elsie’s aircon fixed, and in fruitless pursuit of folding money.  Due to US Sanctions the only thing that works in Sudan is cash, and if you don’t have it, you can’t get at it.  Eventually gave up and borrowed a float from Piotr, one of our Polish biker chums, which should see us through until we get to Ethiopia, where normal service should just about be resumed.

For no reason at all here is a very short video clip of me having fun driving in Sand:

Wednesday 5th November.

Time for another push for another border, and we spend the day driving.  The landscape changes character completely, away from Semi Desert, to a much more agricultural environment.  On either side of the road are huge fields of cereal crops, some sort of UNHCR project, and completely unlike the small, family plots that we’re used to seeing in Africa. There are also really big herds of cattle everywhere.  The villages along the side of the road are all made up of little round mud huts with grass roofs, and it’s all much more like picture book Africa.

 By the side of the road we meet a huge herd (?) of camels, and have a total failure of a sign language conversation, so we’ll never know where they were going.

Sorry, me no speak camel driver

Sorry, me no speak camel driver

As we get closer to the border we run out of camping options so find a village and ask the head honcho if we can camp there.  He generously agrees, and I suspect he regretted it later as our presence caused a near riot, with everyone crowding round to get a look at the weird foreigners, and various people from the village made futile attempts at crowd control.  It was great fun although we were all too exhausted to stay up much past 8pm.

Curious village kids

Curious village kids

 Thursday 6th November

The racket from cockerels and donkeys ensured a very early start, and after a thank-you gift of several packets of custard creams for the chief’s wife, we were at the border by 9 ish.  Getting out and in went really smoothly, and suddenly we were in Ethiopia and seemingly, another world.  People were everywhere, and it was hard just to drive out of the throng in the ramshackle border town. 

We started climbing up into the hills on a gravel road, and at one point Sean decided to stop for some people who were flagging us down, thinking it was a checkpoint.  A guy with a gun tried to climb into the back of the car and Sean had to shove him out.  Poor bloke only wanted a lift.

It’s difficult to describe how different Ethiopia is from Sudan.  The scenery is incredible, green mountains completely covered in small fields.  Even the donkeys are different – smaller and stouter than Sudanese ones. The road is under construction and varies from smooth gravel to huge pits of mud.

Johann’s fuel pump gave up, and we stopped to keep him company while he fixed it, and people appeared from nowhere to talk to us.  One very forthright young lady demanded that we make conversation, and a couple of little kids found us hysterically funny. 

What is so funny about me?

What is so funny about me?

Ethiopians have the road sense of Pheasants, and the kids have even less, so driving through villages is like taking part in a video game of dodge the child/donkey/goat and occasional, seemingly deaf adult. 

We climbed up to about 7300 feet, and then dropped down into Gonder, the view from the road was endless, fantastic and enormous.  Last night we stayed in a hotel and made the most of their hot water.  It was cold outside last night, fleece weather, for the first time since Europe.

 7th November – 13th November

Forget everything you think you know about Ethiopia.  It is high, cold and very, very green. 

From Gonder we travelled into the Simien Mountains, famous for their huge troops of Gelada Baboons, which aren’t actually a baboon, and have hair like Tina Turner.  We stopped in Debark (worse than Debite – sorry!) to pick up our obligatory armed Scout, and we treated ourselves to a Guide as well.   He was called Doud, and he studied Tourism for a year in Chichester. 

The road into the mountains climbed up to 11000 feet, and was no more than a very steep rocky slope at times, which was great fun to drive.  The mountains were formed by an awful lot of volcanic activity, and are still very dramatic. There are huge cliffs with views over smaller hills which go on for miles and miles.  Forget the grand canyon, this is better. 

Big pointy and green

Big pointy and green

We reached the first campside in the early afternoon, at which point it started to rain, and it continued to do so until after dark.  We took shelter around a campfire under cover and shivered our way through till bedtime.

The next day we set off further up the mountains to about 13000 feet, in search of the endemic Walia Ibex, and of course, Gelada Baboons.  Once again we were confounded by the weather as the clouds dropped down over our heads & visibility was reduced to London fog levels.  On our way back down we spied some Ibex through the murk and managed to photograph this big guy:

Check out his big horns!

Check out his big horns!

After that it started to rain again with occasional hail for a bit of variety, and we were reduced to huddling in the car clutching mugs of tea for warmth. 

Eee, could be in Bognor

Eee, could be in Bognor

This time there was no campfire to warm us up, and we ended the evening playing Scrabble in the car.  Honestly, the number of times on this trip I have been reduced to acting like a pensioner on a day out at the English seaside!

We went to bed wearing nearly all our clothes and the next day awoke to find that the rain had frozen on the flysheet; there were chunks of ice on our tent! 

That white stuff is ice

That white stuff is ice

We were rewarded though when we got up and trudged over to a sunny patch to warm ourselves up and found ourselves surrounded by Gelada baboons and Ibex:

Of course I look cross, it was very early and very cold

Of course I look cross, it was very early and very cold

They're quick when riled

They are speedy when riled

In spite of their big teeth and ferocious demeanour, they are all mouth and no trousers, strictly vegetarian.  They have the most evolved non vocal communication of all primates, and actually sound quite cute.

See what I mean about the hair?

See what I mean about the hair?

and the teeth?

and the teeth?

And finally, for those of you who were certain that to venture into the Dark Continent we would need a gun, here is proof that it was, and still is, a very bad idea.

Do you really think that arming this man is sensible??
Do you really think that arming this man is sensible??

Leaving the Simiens behind, we took a couple of days to thaw out at Bahir Dar, on Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile.  Bahir Dar is Ethiopia’s second city, and as such has a really good feel about it, there are few tourists and the town is more focussed on it’s own business, rather than ours.  We really enjoyed relaxing here, and caught up with domestic chores.  Sean stayed up one night and found a bar to sample Tej, the local hooch.  It’s meant to be made from honey, so why he smelled like he’d been drinking drain cleaner, I’ll never know.

So far, I like Ethiopia much more than I thought I would. I’d let other peoples’ experience influence my thinking and was quiet apprehensive about coming here.  I was expecting stone throwing kids, and to be continually surrounded by people.  The reality has been completely different.  The kids do shout ‘you you you!’ whenever you drive past, but they usually just want to wave at us, and we have not yet experienced stone throwing.  I have however, seen kids throwing stones at everything, livestock and each other, so I’ll try not to take it too personally if it does happen.

We’re now in Addis Ababa, accessing the internet at useable speed for the first time since Khartoum.  And we’re doing it at the Sheraton!  Cripes it’s lovely in here, what possessed me to give up 5 star holidays for this crazy trip? 😉

More cheerful news, I have found a drinkable Ethiopian red wine!!  It’s called Gouder, and it has a crown cap like a beer bottle, but it tastes OK.  Or am I just getting desperate??

From here we’re going South to the Bale mountains, in search of the world’s rarest canid, the Ethiopian Wolf.  If it’s anything like as cold as the Simiens, if we do find a wolf I’ll gladly kill it and use it’s skin for warmth.  Kidding!!


3 Responses to “Long time no blog…….”

  1. mark maidment said

    hi kids.couldn,t believe i got an e.mail from Baldrick.You must have gone through an awful lot of peanuts{reward treats}.In order to train Pierre to any level of computer literacy.Though to be frank.Training one of those Baboons,may have proved somewhat easier…Anyway keep up the good stuff

  2. alan said

    After years of scurrilous rumours, Sean is photographed with a large weapon in his hands, proving all previous ‘acorn’ allusions incorrect.

  3. Janie Wanie said

    Quiet apprehensive?

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