This 4th episode is already a little more like a routine. The challenges, however, appeared to be be tough when we started to prepare the trip. We had no clue how Ethiopia would look and feel. In Kenya the presidential elections led to killings and chaos just a few weeks before we started and the travel books say that the wild North of Kenya is still home of bandits that ambush cars with AK47s. Finally things always look different when you experience them in real life: we found out that some of the problems we prepared for, simply did not exist while others were bigger than expected...
We arrive in Khartoum in the early evening. Our friend Omer, in whose house we parked the car 5 months ago, picks us up at the airport. We take over the car which instantly starts, and drive to the well known "Blue Nile Sailing Club", our camp for the night. For dinner we walk to the city center where we find an incredibly dirty restaurant that serves incredibly tasteful chicken. Returning to the Blue Nile Sailing Club we find our camp in the neighbourhood of a few hunded people that have gathered there to celebrate a wedding. We sleep like babies.
In the supermarket that we had marked in our Garmin last October, we fill up our stocks. Changing money is only possible in the Afra Shopping Center near the airport, as banks are closed on saturdays. Then we start heading southwest to the Ethiopian border and reach Gedaref at around 6:00 PM. We chose the Amir hotel like so many transafrican tourists before us. Our double room has a shower and a balcony to the main street. Seeing the beds we decide to sleep in our sleeping bags (which does not prevent us from almost disappearing in the worn mattresses). On the street we soon realize that we are the only foreigners in town. People stare at us but the atmosphere is very peaceful. We find a nice place on the street where we have an excellent dinner consisting of falafel, chicken, fresh bread and lentile soup. Back in the hotel we conclude the day with an alcohol-free (Sudan!) beer on the balcony of our room.
We start the day with 2 cups of tee on the street. On tarmac we reach the Ethiopian border in the small village of Gallabat where the customs officer realizes that we have just 4 out of 5 documents that would be required. Soon it becomes obvious that the 5th document was already collected by the customs on the airport when we left the Sudan 5 months ago. One cup of tea later he decides to just believe our story and finishes our procedure. The whole process is very easy going: passport control at the police, customs, visa control - ready. Ethiopia starts with a very bad gravel road. After a few hours a strange noise indicates a problem. Our right front shock absorber has lost the lower fixation including plates, rubbers and nut and is now hanging loose. Even slower than before we continue our way to Gondar. We check in at the Belegez Hotel, a very clean and extremely nice place that allows for camping in a roof tent in the yard. We meet a whole bunch of nice people and have a nice dinner together.
First thing in the morning: looking out for a garage to repair our shock. Some teenagers offer us to their support. We accept under the condition that the repair job needs to be good and w/o cheating. They lead us to a garage, where the problem turns out to be bigger than anticipated. The screw thread of our shock is gone and they have to remove the entire shock in order to re-thread it. Doing this, they find out that also the upper fixation ring is rotten and neads to be re-welded. After 4 hours they are ready and we start negotiating the price. The garage asks for 5.000 Birr (330 €). We look at our "facilitator" who just nodds and says that was OK. We emphazise that this is not acceptable and say that we were ready to let the police resolve the issue. In the very same moment the garage reduces their claim to 1500 Birr (100 €). They apologize for the mistake saying that the first calculation was based upon the assumption that a new shock absorber was built in. Everybody in the room knows that this is a bloody lie (especially our facilitator) but everybody smiles. We accept the still ridiculously high price under the condition that they build in our new starter (300 Birr is the average monthly income in Ethiopia) Afterwards we have a small discussion with our teenage-facilitator who really tried to cheat us and now expects his reward. We spend a lovely afternoon in the old palace (Gemp) and have a very nice dinner in our hotel with a few beers.
Today we are heading towards Lalibela where we want to see the famous churches carved into the solid rock as huge monoliths. The first 100 km is tarmac in a fascinating mountain landscape.
We find the junction from where the 300 km long dirt road starts which we are supposed to take. After 10 km on the very rough road we stop. Instead of going 1,5 days on that road (one-way) we decide that we would rather try and fly to Lalibela from Bahir Dar, the next city on the tarmac road, located at Lake Tana. One hour later we stand in the office of Ethiopian Airlines and 15 minutes later we have boooked the flights (94 €/person). We check in at the famous Ghion Hotel (a chain operated by the state) which allows for camping in its beatiful garden that is full of flowers and humming birds.
Lake Tana is the origin of the Blue Nile which joins the White Nile in Khartoum which again is the origin of the river Nile. In the afternoon we hire a small motorboat that takes us out on a small island where we visit the Monastry of Debre Myriam built in the 14th century. The monk shows us the holy bible painted on goatskin. In the backyard of the monastry we find a field of Khat the "drug" that is very popular all around the Horn of Africa and taste a few leaves: (they say it takes 2 big handfulls to feel the first effects). Later we watch cormorans, pelicanes, and kingfishers and finally see our first hippo. In the middle of the sea, where there is no billharzia, I could even swim a bit but soon got tired maybe due to the altitude: 1.840 meters over sealevel.
19.3. Bahir Dar (66 km)
After a late breakfast we visit the Blue Nile Falls (Tis Abay) which are located a half hour drive away from the city of Bahir Dar. It is a very nice walk of appr. 2 hours that circles around the falls. We are very lucky to see the falls in full-strength as the power plant had a technical problem allowing the full water to really fall over the rocks.
Driving back to Bahir Dar we lose the shock absorber fixation once again. A very small garage fixed the problem within one hour (10 €). I ask the mechanic how long this would hold. He looks me deep in the eyes and says: "forever". Then he smiles.
Today we fly to Lalibela. The flight is delayed by 2 hours and we spend the time with Norbert and Susanne a German couple from Paderborn who are on the same flight. We arrive in Lalibela (2.600 m altitude) just around sunset which is very impressing. It is a 30 min drive from the airport to the mountain village where we stay at the Asheten Hotel, which is nice and very cheap (10 € /dr). A phenomenon is that we can hear every word spoken by Norbert and Susanne although there is even a room between us and them. Out of this room we here a nice interpretation of La Traviata (with American accent) sung under the shower on the next morning. For dinner we go out to another hotel and taste Ethiopian dishes. Injera, a kind of soaked bread made of the local Teff grains will be our companion from that day on.
Today we visit the churches which are grouped in three blocks. All are within walking distance from our hotel and we are on our feet the entire day. Monks are praying in small niches carved in the rocks surrounding the churches. In another niche we see the dead bodies of monks that are "buried" here. We see a baptism, groups of praying and singing monks, and ceremonies that we do not fully understand. All this happens in the fascinating monolithic structurures of the churches carved into the rocks some 700-800 years ago. Coming back we enjoy a fresh mango juice with a dash of lemon before we start out for another ethiopian dinner.
Our flight back to Bahir Dar is supposed to start in the early afternoon. It is saturday - market day in Lalibela. Thousands of people have come to sell their goods and the whole village is on the feet. The chili booths are a little apart from the others. Everytime there is a little wind the air is full of chili, the eyes start burning and hundreds of people start sneezing simultanously. Our flight back is delayed. When the airplane finally arrives it is already very windy. We wait for another 2 hours while the wind is increasing. Finally Ethiopian Airlines cancels the flight due to the strong winds and drives us back to town where they have booked us in in the very nice Roha hotel
The flight goes out very early and we arrive at Bahir Dar on 9:00 AM. Our car that we parked in front of the Ghion hotel is still there and so we start heading Addis Abeba at 9:30. It is a fascinating landscape and finally we arrive at the Nile valley. The road descends from 2.350 m down to 1150 m and climbs up on the other side. This is heavy duty for the cars and some have to stop on the way up with boiling coolers. We arrive in Addis at around 6:00 PM and find the hotel with some problems. It is said to be a stopover for Africa drivers in Addis but we find it to be a parking place for local taxis. Finally we camp in the middle of the fenced place where taxis drive in and out all through the night. In the small bar we have dinner which compensates the somehow missing charme of the place. The menue promises much more than the kitchen can offer. But when they finally serve what they have (Injera with Shiro and Spaghetti Bolognese) it is just excellent.
We had read in the travel book that Addis would be the first place with an ATM coming from Sudan. In Sudan there is no ATMs or credit cards business. The same is true for northern Ethiopia. So most travellers (like us) are a little low on cash when they arrive in Addis. The ATM is placed in the Hilton, another one in the new Sheraton. Both accept Visa but not our Mastercards or even EC cards. After the first shock we find out that the United Bank pays out cash on Mastercards (with a charge of 6,5%). Loaded with some money we start heading South to Lake Langano. Due to the mineral content there are neither crocodiles nor billharzia. The area has become a holiday destination and we check in in the Bekele Moya hotel.
A hang-out day with some climbing on the rocks, swimming and bird watching.
A driving day through the mountains in a very beautiful landscape. People grow mango, banana, and pineapple in this region and there are incredibly many people on the road. This makes driving difficult since people tend to realize us only when we have come as close as 10 meters and then try to cross the road just before us. In Yabello we stop for the night, camping in the backyard of the "Yabello Motel". The dinner order is a little difficult as the menue offers 12 dishes, but only 3 seem to be available. The most popular one is goat which is served at all neighbour tables. We chose the other ones (since we are no friends of goat) which was probably a mistake as this seems to be a challenge for the kitchen. After some 1,5 hours however they have managed it - a nice evening after all.
Breakfast with Toast and Pancake prepares us for the day. The road to the Kenyan border is paved and the landscape slowly adopts bushveld character. The border to Kenya is closed during lunchtime and we use the 2 hours to look out for a filling station and a bank. All 3 filling stations have run out of Diesel (and we are happy that our tanks are still quite full) and the bank is closed. So we decide to change our remaining Birr into Kenya Schillings at the Tourist Hotel (6 KES/1 Birr). Crossing the border is neither a problem in Ethiopia nor on the Kenyan side. We camp at the station of the Kenyan Wildlife Service just behind the border and experience the first thunderstorm of the upcoming rainy season with heavy rain in the middle of the night.
From Moyale we are supposed to take the Convoy to Marsabit. The entire region is still not regarded safe because bandits are stopping cars in the bushveld with automatic weopon. The police has not been able to stop this completely since the bandits ("shifta") keep hiding behind the Ethiopian border. The convoy is supposed to start at 8:30 but for some unclear reasons does not start. At around 10:00 we make a deal with the police. Two soldiers will go with us for the first 80 km to Turbi. So we start alone. At first it is easy going on the dirt road that consists of red sand. Then heavy rain starts and after a short time water ponds are all over the road. Sometimes when driving through the ponds, the red water that swaps over the bonnet and all over the windscreen completely blinds us completely for seconds while we keep on going. In Turbi we drop the two soldiers and give a lift for another one, who wants to go to Marsabit. The road gets extremely rocky when we pass a huge field of lava that seems to be endless. Finally we reach Marsabit and camp on the campground at the gate of the Marsabit NP. A lovely dinner with corned beaf and beer.
At around 7:30 we start at the gate of Marsabit NP. We do not know that this is going to become the hardest day of the entire trip. The weather is grey and cloudy - we had some rain at night. The track inside the park seems to be OK with some difficult rocky passages. Slowly we climb up the mountain where fog reduces the sight down to 20 m. Then we start descending the mountain on the other side and the ground gets muddy and extremely slippery. On this side of the mountain there must have been much more rain during the night. Soon it becomes clear that we will never be able to go back on the same steep and slippery track.
The road starts getting tougher...
Unfortunately the track increasingly falls to the right hand side where the water meanwhile streams downhill. Time and time again we slide parallel to the track and end up in the water. Then it happens: the Landy slides to the right hand side, stops in the deep mud and can not move ahead or back any more due to big rocks blocking the wheels in either direction. It is obvious: we will never get out of this without a second car. So we decide to walk back to the gate - a distance of 12 km. On the muddy ground walking turns out to be as difficult as driving - we need more than 3 hours. Luckily we see neither lions, nor elephants nor buffalos that are all living in the park (only steaming-fresh buffalo shit all over the ground). With 4 rangers in a Landrover we drive back into the park in the afternoon. Already on the way we get stuck severely and have to dig the Ranger Landy out of the mud two times. Unfortunately the rain has started again making the road even more slippery. With combined forces we can dig out our Landy. But now the Ranger Landy is in deep trouble. And this is how we keep on fighting: once one car can go for a few meters the other one needs to be dug out of the knee-high mud. Meanwhile it is absolutely dark and bloody cold in the pooring rain. At around 11:00 PM the Ranger Landy is so deep in trouble that we decide to give it up (until the other day) and drive out with our Landy. At midnight we arrive at the ranger station and a little later at the campground. We eat some cookies (first thing on that day) and fall asleep instantly.
A small change of plan: instead of leaving Marsabit we "decide" to stay another day and clean-up car and equipment. The entire interior is covered with a thick layer of mud. The rangers have meanwhile rescued the other Landy and come over to our place to ask us if we could take one of them and his wife to Samburu the other day (which is the least we can offer in return). We learn that during the rainy season rain often falls at night and in the early morning hours. The morning starts foggy, later the sky is grey and cloudy. At around noon the sun comes out and the rest of the day is hot and sunny with blue skys. The morning can be pretty ugly though...
We pick up the ranger and his wife in the early morning and start heading Samburu NP. The road is corrugated and it takes some 6 hours for the 240 km. We drop our passengers who continue their trip to Nairobi and check in at the Communal Campground at the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River ("River of Brown Water"). We just hang out the entire afternoon and then decide to have dinner at the camp restaurant. The cook says "chicken" would be the only dish available. So we chose "chicken". Now he informs us that "chicken" would take a while since he needs to buy it in the nearby village. We accept. After 30 minutes someone lights a fire. After 60 minutes we hear the chicken die in the kitchen. After 75 mins the charcoal smell of grilled chicken is promising and after 90 minutes dinner's ready. It tastes delicious but it is almost impossible to eat: pure rubber. A very nice relaxed evening with a couple of beers anda rubber chicken.
A great day that we spend with sunny weather in the beautiful Samburu National Reseve. Actually the Park consists of 3 different parks that have been united (Buffalo Springs, Shaba, and Samburu). This northern park is despite of a high density of animals and a very attractive landscape not as popular as the central parks of Kenya. The price (we pay 100 USD per day, incl. camping) is still moderate. We start our first gamedrive in the morning. For us this is absolutely fascinating. In the National Parks we have visited so far in southern Africa, animals came to the waterholes, where we could see them. Here water is abundant everywhere and there is abundant vegetation. Still we see many animals, some of which are endemic in this area.
One nice example is the Gerenuk a long-necked antilope that often stands on two legs to get hold of the leaves.
Marens secret stars of every National Park are Zebras. In Samburu the big Grevys zebra is endemic.
Driving around for just 3 hours we see almost every species that can be seen here in Samburo: elephants, buffalos, endemic Beisa Oryx antilopes, Somali Ostriches. It is like years ago when we were in Botswana or Sambia.
When meeting these guys in the bush a high alert-level is indicated (especially when they are alone)....
....while these gentle giants are just nice as always.
Reticulated giraffes, the most beautiful we've ever seen.
We return to the our campsite inside of Samburu NP for a late breakfast. The campsite is very nicely located just at the banks of the river under big trees. A real plague, however, are the baboons which are the most aggressive ones we have ever seen in Africa. They can open car doors, tents and our alu boxes and are obviously so used to living in the neighborhood of people that it is really hard to chase them away. One approaches Maren to get hold of a slice of toast that lies directly before her on the table. Shouting does not help at all. Another one opens our alu box to get hold of a banana. Later, when we are already alerted a big fat babooon appears out of the blue and jumps in the car to steal our litter bag.
In the afternoon we go out on a second game drive. We see a lion lying on the road. It is a young female that is hunting an impala. Stopping the Landy 2 meters away we watch the impala coming closer and the lion jumping up and going after the tantalized impala.
At the end it is a question of a few centimeters: the impala escapes:
First thing in the morning: clean the tent from all the Baboon shit that they have let fallen on us during the night from their sleeping places in the tree. Baboons and us won't become friends. Then we start for a last gamedrive and leave the park heading south.
The Beisa Oryx is also typical for Samburu National Reserve. The horns are ringed in the proxymal part and can become a meter long or more.
From Samburu it is some 40 minutes to Isiolo on a very bad dirt road. Isiolo appears like the first outpost of civilization to us and we don't know if we should be happy about that. ATMs, filling stations, supermarkets and a buzz of activity on the streets.
"Where the rubber hits the street". After 600 km of dirt road our front wheels are on tarmac again. The "Great Chinese Cap-to-Kairo Road Project starts here in Isiolo. We have the impression that in 5-7 years the road from Cairo to Capetown will be paved.
Now we are happy to drive on tarmac towards the monumental silhouette of Mt. Kenya heading Nairobi. In a small village that we pass we see a hotel named "Equator Hotel". Otherwisew we would have missed the Equator that is right here, indicated by a small sign. Our Garmin shows N 00.000.00 or S 00.000.00 -fascinating! At 3:00 PM we arrive in Nairobi and have to pass the entire city because Chris' Jungle Junction is located on the opposite side. The orientation is not so difficult and driving more or less easy going. At a traffic light the black driver of the car next to me says through the open window: "I have seen your watch and when I have seen it, many others have seen it too" OK... I put off my watch and we continue with locked doors, side windows 2/3 up. Jungle Junction is a very nice place. We camp on the lawn, talk to the other guys, have a couple of cold beers, and a delicious Indian dinner in the living room.
After an extended breakfast we hang out a few hours in JJs and then go for a car wash on Ngong road. It is a really professional place and they need 3,5 hours to get our Landy clean again. We spend the time exploring the huge shopping center on the other side of the road. Later we drive into the city center and have a beer in the "Thorn Tree Cafe" a famous place which has lost a lot of it's charmes and obviously the thorn tree. Nairobi is often called "Nairobbery" and it takes a while before we feel save in the streets of downtown Nairobi. For dinner we visit the "Carnivore" a well-known all-you-can eat place with a focus on meat.
Our last day. We pack our bags and than spend the afternoon in Karen Blixen's coffee shop a very nice place next to the farm that was operated by Karen Blixen between 1917 and 1931 (Out of Africa). Peter a German now living in Kenya drives us to the airport and -incredible enough- this trip is over after 3.625 km.
Teatime on the streat in Gedaref/Sudan
We break all rules, park the Landy in Bahir Dar and fly to Lalibela
In Lalibela/Ethiopia 11 churches have been carved out of the rock as huge monoliths in the 13th century. St. Georges church has the shape of a cross and is probably the best known one. Most churches are "on duty" with services taking place virtually every day. On the other hand side, the UNESCO has declared all eleven churches as a world cultural heritage and started to build big free-standing roofs in order to protect them from erosion.
Understanding the religious rituals of the Ethiopian othodox church is not always possible. When visiting the churches, however, we were just in the middle of the ceremonies that virtually surrounded us: an impressive experience, even if we did not understand everything.
Saturday - Market day in Lalibela. Teff the least efficient grains in the world is the most popular species in Ethiopia
While for the adults it is all about money....
...for the kids sugar cane is the attraction (basically that's the only sweets available)
they chew it all day long
and then again, for some kids business reality starts early
In Bahir Dar we camp in the wonderful garden of the Ghion hotel.
On a motorboat we visit the monastery of Debre Maryram on an island of Lake Tana. The bible is made of goatskin.
Bird watching us a true highlight on Lake Tana
Wood business on our way to Addis Abeba
A boy at Lake Langano offers us a very nice chameleon. Although it is very tempting, we don' buy it...
Then we enter Kenya: Welcome to Moyale
The "road" from Moyale to Marsabit is tough and leads us through huge fields of lava
In Marsabit driving becomes a challenge due to the upcoming rainy season
And again the kids are amazing:
"Uaso Nyiro" means River of Brown Water. It is easy to imagine why. Not so easy to imagine: 2 weeks ago (at the end of the dry season) the rangers had to dig wholes in the dry river bed for the animals.
The wildlife in Samburu/Buffalo Springs/Shaba is just amazing.
Watching "Elsa" hunting the Impala was a real experience for us. While most observers would hope for a "live kill" we were quite happy that the impala could escape.
Jungle Junction:Chris Handschuh's famous stop-over for overlanders. For long-term parking (which seems to increase) a separate area is available. Chris offers technical service plans for long-term customers. A very nice contact and definitely our first choice. A maintenance plan can be negotiated (email@example.com
We used visa123.de for the first time. Usually the Sudan embassy asks for a confirmed address in Sudan. Upon checking the availability of a room in any of the Khartoum hotels (e.g. Hilton) they send a non binding confirmation by mail which is sufficient for the embassy (Costs: 300 €/2 persons for Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya)
After almost one year the Carnet for our Landy needs to be renewed. This has to be initiated 6-8 weeks before the expiry date. ADAC is very cooperative and flexible again (Costs: 150 €)
Yellow Fever Vaccination needs to be arranged in the "Gesundheitsamt" 10 days before entry into the respective region (Etiopia). Costs 43 €/person; no side effects. Malaria Prophylaxis starts to be necessaray in Ethiopia. We use Malarone (expensive but efficient: 142 €/person/3 weeks). Mosquitos only seen in the very south of our trip (Nairobi)
Tarmac from Khartoum to the Ethiopian border. On the Ethiopian side the road becomes a dirt road with severe corrugation and some construction sites up to Gondar. From Gondar via Bahir Dar and Addis Abeba good tatmac until Moyale (border to Kenya). From Moyale to Isiolo very bad dirt road (500 km). The Chinese road construction project is actualy starting in Isiolo, heading north. From Isiolo to Nairobi: excellent tarmac road.
Ethiopia came to us as a surprise. Yes, there is poverty, and yes, there are millions of begging kids. But when we took a closer look we were just amazed by the beauty, friendlyness and optimism of the people that we met. Of course all kids interrupt their football game and run to our car raising their hands shouting: "You!! Money!!!" but just to return to the game a few moments later. It is of course not easy to see some of the people live in extreme poverty especially the people living in rural areas seem to be strongly effected. After all it is complex impressions leaving us with mixed emotions. We enjoyed the slow transition of North Africa into East Africa; Churches mix with Mosques, Arabs mix with Black people, deserts slowly turn into bushveld, a multitude of birds indicates the richness of the vegetations and hippos in Lake Tana are the first forerunners of the fascinating wildlife in Kenya.