Ethiopia

ETHIOPIA 2016 & 2010

BORDER KENYA to OMO VALLEY

The A 2 a few years ago was one of the worst roads in Kenya but the A 2 has now gone from the worst road in Kenya to become the best road in Kenya, smooth tarmac all the way to Moyale. Crossing the border into Ethiopia from Kenya, the border was a breeze. All up 2 hours including trying to find the customs office in Ethiopia (It was moved, but no signs). We were greeted by “Hey You” and “Give Give Give” including a kid who tried to steal a plastic bag with spare parts (thinking it were lollies), WELCOME TO ETHIOPIA. We changed money at the black market (recommended by the local bank) and left Moyale (dump of a place) in a hurry to bush camp around 75KM up the road. Alternative camping was at the Kenya Wildlife Service at 30USD PP and no water or facilities. (YOU ARE KIDDING ME!!!!) Our first destination in Ethiopia is the Omo Valley. The Omo Valley is undoubtedly one of the most unique places on earth because of the wide variety of tribes that live here. The tribes that live in the lower Omo Valley are for us some of the most fascinating on the continent of Africa and maybe around the world. The Pygmies and Kalahari Bushman would be the other. Just driving and bush camping around the tracks/villages in the Omo Valley is often the way you meet the many tribes. Just to name a few: the Arbore, Ari, Daasanech, Hamer, Kara, Konso and Mursi. Over 200,000 tribal people in total  live in this area. The two main national parks in Omo Valley are the Omo National Park and the Mago National Park which are home to most of the wildlife in the valley. Mago is where most Mursi people live. For us the 2 most interesting tribes are the Mursi and the Hamer Tribe.

The Mursi people have become very aggressive and count every click on your camera to get the extra dollar out of you. The Mursi people are the most popular in the Omo Valley. They are known for their unique lip plates. The Mursi women paint their bodies and face in white. Women of the Mursi tribe may have their lips cut at the age of 15 or 16. A small clay plate is then inserted into the lip. Through the years, larger plates are inserted into the lip causing it to stretch. The larger the clay plate, the more the woman is worth before she gets married. Men of the Mursi also use white paint for their bodies and faces. Just like any other ethnic tribe in the lower valley, the men must pass a test before they can get married. A Mursi man is given a stick called a Donga and must face one opponent. The men then battle it out, beating each other with the sticks. The first fighter to submit loses and the winner is taken by a group of women to determine who he will marry. Men of the tribe also practice scarification. Like other tribes, this is the marking of an enemy killed by him. Although they are known to be aggressive and combative, the Mursi are more then happy to allow you to take pictures of them. However, they keep count of every picture taken and will charge you for each one. The tribe we like the most are the Hamer tribe, one of the most known tribes in Southern Ethiopia. They inhabit the territory east of the Omo River and have villages in Turmi and Dimeka. Very colourful bracelets and beads are worn in their hair and around their waists and arms. The practice of body modification is used by cutting themselves and packing the wound with ash and charcoal. Some of the women wear circular wedge necklaces indicating that they are married. Men paint themselves with white chalk to prepare for a ceremony. Hair ornaments worn by the men indicate a previous kill of an enemy or animal. We were hoping to see a traditional leaping ceremony (the jumping of the bulls). The traditional bull jumping is a rite of passage for men becoming an adult. The man must jump over a line of 10 to 30 bulls four times completely nude without falling. If this task is complete, the man joins the ranks of the Maza. Maza are the men that have successfully completed the bull jumping event. During this ceremony, the women of the tribe provoke the maza to whip them on their bare backs. This is extremely painful and causes severe scaring on the women. The scars are a symbol of devotion to the men and are encouraged by the tribe. Another interesting tribe are the Arbore tribe this is a small tribe that lives in the southwest region of the Omo Valley. They believe that their singing and dancing eliminates negative energy and with the negative energy gone, the tribe will prosper. Traditional dancing is practiced by the tribe and wealth is measured by the number of cattle a tribesman owns.

OMO VALLEY to WONDO GENET

From here we travelled east to Konso. On the way we visited the stone walled terraces and fortified settlements in the highlands. It is a spectacular example of a living cultural tradition stretching back 21 generations (more than 400 years) our last stop in the region was Arba Minch and the village of Dorze. The Dorze tribe were once warriors. They are famous for their cotton woven cloths and beehive huts. In their farmlands, the Dorze will grow highland cereals. They also grow spices, vegetables, fruits and tobacco within their compound. They cultivate their own food and prevent erosion by terracing along the mountainside. Women of the Dorze tribe have most of the responsibility in the family. They must take care of any children and all the house choirs. The women are also responsible for cooking, spinning cotton and collecting firewood. Male tribal members spend most of their time on the farm or building huts. The Dorze people wear colourful toga robes called shammas. A Dorze house is made up of hard wood poles, woven bamboo, and other natural materials. It can stand two stories tall and last up to 80 years. Inside the main hut, you will find a fire place, a seating area and bedrooms. Smaller huts can include guest houses, a workshop, a kitchen and even a cattle shed. When termites attack the hut, the Dorze can just remove it from its foundation and relocate it. This allows the home to last much longer, but every move shortens the height of the hut.

The unrest in Ethiopia continued and many roads are closed off, lots of army and army road blocks. We were advised that the Eastern part of Ethiopia has seen also violent demonstrations and locals blocking roads. However, the demonstrations are mainly against the government hence we decided to travel to the Bale Mountains and lucky for us no locals blocking the road.
Before leaving Arba Minch one of the biggest town in the southern region, we had to visit a place where we were told we could see some of the largest crocodiles in the world. Living in Australia I could not go past this place as I was always told we had the biggest crocodiles in the world? Another important fact about Araba Minch is that from January 2011 till Jan 2016 this was also the base for US Drones (no longer they say) and locals are proud to tell us the base was used as part of US counter-terrorism efforts in East Africa aimed at groups with links to al-Qaeda, in particular Somalia and Eritrea. The strikes have targeted many al-Shabab leaders including killing its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in September 2014.
Back to the Crocodiles. Lake Chamo is known for its huge Nile crocodile and hippo population. One of the largest of all the Nile crocodile the body of the adult Nile crocodile is a grey-olive colour, with a yellowish belly, while the juvenile is more greenish or dark olive-brown, with black cross-banding on the tail and body, which becomes fainter in adults. Nile crocodiles have a body length of up to 6 meters and weigh up to 1000Kg. Nile Crocodiles can be found in the rivers, lakes, estuaries, marshes and lagoons of Africa and western Madagascar. They feed on fish, antelope, zebras and birds.
We decided to visit Wondo Genet and its hot springs. Unfortunately, the springs feel more like a water treatment plant than a resort. And you should be paid to visit the toilets. We could camp in the hotel carpark but at a ridiculous price of 20USD for the one night. No toilets or shower facilities. The place is completely run down and filthy. Lonely planet was correct in saying it’s a contender for the most overpriced lodge in Ethiopia. This is a government run hotel and they should be ashamed of themselves. NOT WORTH A VISIT!

WONDO GENET to BALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK 

Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park is in Eastern Ethiopia. This part is visited by few. Bale Mountains National Park contains a spectacularly diverse landscape. The high altitude Sanetti Plateau rises to over 4,000m and includes the highest peak in the southern Ethiopia highlands. This plateau is marked by numerous glacial lakes and swamps and surrounded by higher volcanic ridges and peaks. The southern slopes are covered by the lush and largely unexplored Harenna Forest. Here you also drive on the highest all-weather track in Africa (just over 4250 meters). Our campsite that night was at 4100 meters but without the altitude sickness tablets we had in Tibet Clary felt it with having a headache and feeling dizzy. The main reason for the visit was the Ethiopian wolf. According to others the Ethiopian wolf is Africa’s most threatened carnivore. The closest living relatives of the Ethiopian wolf are grey wolves and coyotes. The Ethiopian wolf feeds on many small mammals, particularly grass rats and mole rats. The alpine grasslands and its abundant rodents made the wolf into a specialized rodent hunter. The Ethiopian wolf has long legs and a distinctive reddish coat, with white markings and a darker tail tip. Bale Ethiopian wolves weigh between 14 and 20kg, while the weight of adult females ranges from 11 to 16 kg. The wolves live in packs of between 2 and 18 animals, which share and defend an exclusive territory. Hence once spotted you are sure to see a few others. The Ethiopian wolf is restricted to mountaintop areas of the Ethiopian highlands between 3,000 and 4,377 metres above sea level. With a total world population of between 400 to 520 individuals, it is highly endangered. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxuB6jTLRUo On the Senetti plateau stands Tulu Dimtu at 4,377m. This is the second tallest mountain in Ethiopia, and the tallest in Bale. Lots of alpine rodents such as mice, rats, and mole rats dominate the cold and seemingly barren plateau, specifically the giant mole rat. The plateau is also home to Ethiopian wolves and we were not disappointed. Interesting fact the Bale Mountains are the only area where both male and female klipspringers have horns. The upper area of the Harenna forest is wet cloud forest with an extensive bamboo belt, while the lower parts are drier mountain forest. In the lower areas of the forest, wild forest coffee grows. Because the forest is so dense, and clearings are few and far between, the elusive animals of the forest have little trouble staying hidden. As did the black-and-white Colobus monkey and  olive baboon. Except from warthogs we so none. The clearings were the places to look for lion, leopard, hyena and African wild dog but no luck for us. At night we could hear them but never spotted one.

BALE MOUNTAINS to ADDIS ABEBA

From here it was off to Lake Langano for some R&R. Lake Langano is part of a series of lakes in the area, but it is the only one you are able to swim in as the lake has no Bilharzia, crocodiles or Hippos. It was here where we met Arnold and Jacoba, 2 cattle farmers. After a great afternoon on the beach they invited us onto their farm where at the same time they offered to repair my other leaking fuel tank. This time the leak was on the top, but not the same tanks as we repaired in Nairobi. 3 perfect days followed on the farm. Arnold showed us around the farm and it was very impressive. His view was that by working together with the local Ethiopians he can create a bright future for the locals, teach them skills and most important create a thriving beef export industry for Ethiopia. Verde Beef Processing PLC is a world-class operation with current capacity to produce premium corn-fed beef for export. They are a fully integrated facility with irrigated feed production capacity and a new state of the art abattoir production facility underway. They will become the largest cattle feedlot operation in Northern Africa with a targeted capacity to feed, process and export more than 130,000 carcasses per year. Verde support the local community by purchasing young cattle, and creating jobs that teach skills vital to competing in the global marketplace. A wonderful initiative and wonderful caring people. Supporting the local economy by creating a premium product with local materials, which is then exported, generates much needed foreign currency. At present 350 locals are employed and this will increase to over 700. Foreign aid in our book is a complete waste of time and only fills the pockets of some locals and the foreign aid workers with no worthwhile results. However, companies like Verde Beef investing their own money are instead of giving aid supplying trade. Due to the continued unrest in Ethiopia we required much needed updates on the situation hence no better place than Wim Holland House in Addis Ababa. (we also stayed here in 2010) We were not disappointed, Raheel runs a great overlander and European themed establishment. (Wim passed away) Even better was the Latino night on the Saturday which attracted over 300 Dutchies living in and around Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia, means “new flower” in Amharic. Addis is the 3rd highest capital in the world, it lies at around 2600 meters high and for that reason offers bracing temperatures and plenty of fresh highland air. During our stay the days where nice but the nights were cold.

The city is very unattractive, dirty, and chaotic. The most interesting part of the city is the Mercato (Africa’s largest market), where everything under the sun is sold. Hang onto your valuables or even better leave them at home. Like in any country with lots of foreign aid workers you will find a supermarket with lots of western foods. In Addis this is Bambi, and yes, we stocked up on cheese and meat. ($$$$$$$$) we spend a 6-month Ethiopian salary here in 45 minutes. The news we received was not overly good, so we decided to try and get out of Ethiopia as soon as possible.

ADDIS ABEBA to BAHIR DAR
Our Ethiopia trip came to an end in Addis Abeba when we were told of the unrest and trouble in and around Ethiopia. Most effected the Northern part around Bahir Dar and Gondar. Like many places in Africa political unrest comes and goes.

One day it is fine the next day it is not. Having had our Visa for Sudan already organized in Nairobi we had a time line and could not afford to be held up at road blocks or fighting between government soldiers and freedom fighters. The decision we made was to leave Addis as soon as the roadblocks at Bahir Dar were lifted. On the way to Bahir Dar we crossed the spectacular Blue Nile Gorge. The gorge extends nearly 400km and reaches depths up to 1500m. (amazing) Bahir Dar is situated on the edge of the beautiful Lake Tana, and surrounded by cool mountain air, Bahir Dar is a great contrast to Addis and a gentle introduction to the north of Ethiopia. In 2010 we enjoyed the local markets in Bahir Dar as they sell everything from spices to prayer blankets. We also enjoyed the lake views from the Gion Hotel (no longer there) and the Palace of Haile Selassie. But this time the city had a bad vibe and lots of tension. (unknown to us the locals had just lifted a road block and reinstalled the roadblocks only hours after we left the following morning). All business were closed and only one fuel station was open. have listed on Facebook a movie as we drove through town as the demonstrations were about to start. Bahir Dar was in turmoil and completely sealed off by army.

BAHIR DAR TO GONDAR

We made the decision to leave Bahir Dar and drive to the troubled town of Gondor. The road was quiet as no busses were operating out of Gondar, lots of army but no hassles for us. Upon our arrival south of Gondar the army presence was overwhelming and we heard of shootings in town and the university and 400 small market shops were all on fire. Many deaths were reported. Gondar served as Ethiopia’s capital for almost 300 years from 1635 onwards and is today noted for its impressive 16th-century castles as well as the beautifully decorated Church of Debre Birhan Selassie. To the north of Gondar, lies the staggeringly scenic Simien Mountains National Park, and the ancient capital of Axum, which lies close to the Eritrean border at the heart of the former Axumite Empire. Unfortunately for us it was impossible to reach Gondar or the areas north as all roads were blocked and fighting occurred in and around Gondar and Dewar. Lucky, we stayed at Kim and Tim Village away from any trouble. As soon as the road blocks are lifted we will leave Tim & Kim place and head for the Sudan Border.  We left Ethiopia and despite lots of negative reports we had no issues between Lake Tana and the Sudan Border. Bush camping  at 8pm in 44 degrees heat.

Our plan to do the northern circuit which is rich in history and Simmien Mountains, including the remote World Heritage sites is something we had to skip but lucky for us during our 2010/2011 Africa overland tour we already visited the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Lake Tana’s famous island monasteries.

The Current Political Unrest is very difficult to comment on as I am not aware of the background hence below find an extract out of the newspapers.

Extract newspaper

Ethiopia is facing the most dangerous times in its history. The pressures are mounting by the second.

In a manner unheard or unseen anywhere, and in a manner uncharacteristic of world leadership that traditionally tries to quell fear while trying to send messages that express the presence of calm and stability during turbulent national times; the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn told the BBC that Ethiopia is sliding towards civil war.

Moreover, General Tsadkan Gebre Tensay top member of the ruling clique who once served as a Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed forces penned, “short of radical change of course for Ethiopia, or implosion of chaos,” will engulf Ethiopia. The situation all over Ethiopia is dire and getting worse. On Friday ESAT reported developments that showed the situation Gondar escalating to an all-out civil war. Ethiopian (TPLF) Agazi forces are shooting unarmed protestors. The pictures displayed are grotesque. Young men shot dead on the streets. Burning tires on the streets. Streets blocked with stones to stop vehicle movement etc…  are indicators of what is to come next. demonstrations triggered violent reaction by government forces that lead to killings of unarmed civilians all over Ethiopia. This is the reality in Ethiopia today and it is not unique to a specific region. The volatility is so dangerous that Ethiopians are looking to be armed in order to defend themselves from the wrath of the Agazi troops that are terrorizing the people. The approach that the minority clique takes to quell the revolt is based on desperation, out of fear and extremely dangerous. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front is using brute force to stop the movement. And these violent responses have exacerbated the situation, hardened the resolve of the people and it is forcing Ethiopians to arm in self-defense.

In Gambela, natives were forced out of their lands to clear space for agro-industrial multinational corporations and, when the people Gambela resisted it led to mass killings that forced Genocide Watch to alarm the world of the genocides the TPLF committed.

The minority TPLF regime has committed waves of killings in many villages in the Ogaden. The TPLF has torched many villages and rendered a vast area of the Ogaden inhabitable. According to Genocide Watch, “Swedish Television’s Africa correspondent Johan Ripås presented video evidence that shows that whole villages have been emptied of inhabitants through executions and mass flight from terror.”

 

ETHIOPIA  2010

 SOUTHERN ETHIOPIA

At 9am we arrived at the border in Moyale where all went quick and with no issues. Ethiopia was the same. But it is weekend and after we finalized the immigration, the officer for our Carnet does not work on Saturday and Sunday. After checking with the black-market money dealers, we found out where he lived, but he may have gone to Church we were told. Anyway, we found him in the local pub. His first reaction was to tell us to come back tomorrow. “On Monday I am in the office at 3 o’clock,” He said. (Ethiopian time is 6 hours difference with the western world i.e. 3 O`clock means 9am our time) I was dumbfounded, and I said to him, “Mate this means a whole day wait in Moyale (Ethiopia side) and the hotels double as brothels here. You have to help me out here.” A funny look and a maybe came from our Carnet man. (I was already thinking about what would the bribe may be worth). About 5 minutes later, he organized someone to drop him off at the office and yes, he filled out all the paperwork. Forty minutes later we were on our way. No money changed hands. Five road blocks in the first 20km was a bit much. But It appeared that the tribal wars had crossed the border. Anyway, at Yabello we had another road block and we were asked why the import papers were not signed. “How would I know? The carnet is signed off”, I said. “But Sir the custom man should also sign the import papers.” “Well you may want to call him because we don`t work for the custom office. And by the way the last 5 road blocks were no problem. Are you looking for the stamp on the back?” I asked. “O Yes, this is it. You may go now,” he said. “Thanks mate,” I replied. Well we needed fuel and the officer who had just held us up seemed to enjoy telling us that there was no fuel in Yabello, but there may be some tomorrow. Then he said we could try 10km up the road. We did find some fuel at 70 cents per litre (AUD). I would love to fill up, but we only got 80 litres. The rest we need to get in Konso (our overnight stop). On the way to Konso we hit a big storm and slip sliding we arrived in Konso a few hours later than expected. The campground that had been recommended had closed, so we found a nice spot 3km out of town. Obviously not unnoticed by the local guides who followed us and offered their services. First impression of Ethiopia? Well in Kenya and Tanzania only the kids yell out for sweets and beg for money. Here in Ethiopia, the mothers do too. Is this a sign of their desperation, we thought? While we crossed the border last week we instantly became 7 years younger. In Ethiopia it is only the year 2003. Also, the clock is different as 10 o’clock is 4 o’clock in Ethiopia. That night Clary and I sat down and discussed the misery Ethiopia had seen in recent years ranging from drought and famine to civil war and border disputes. It is also interesting to know that Ethiopia has never been colonized.

OMO VALLEY

We wanted to be in Turmi for the weekly market and we were also told that today, the Bull Jumping was happening. After we filled up with fuel, it was off towards Weyto, on a perfect gravel road which is being upgraded to bitumen soon. That was until we hit the rain and the perfect clay capped road became an ice skating rink. As we climbed up to 2000 meters it became a real struggle with the truck going sideways (No 4WD) very close to the edge with no railing to stop us going down a few hundred meters. On the way, we had to negotiate a few jack-knived trucks and with tyre pressures down to less than 50PSI (102 PSI is our road pressure) it made a difference, but it was still difficult to control the truck on the steep descents. Anyway, once we got to the top and then to the other side, the sun came out and it became very, very hot and the wet mushy road made way for dust. Before we knew it, we were cruising along at around 60km per hour towards Turmi.

Around 50km south of Turmi, we stopped for lunch in Arbore and it was the first time that we found ourselves cornered by the Ethiopians all wanting us to take photos (1 or 2 birrs per photo). As our truck creates a lot of Interest, the locals love to have a look inside (a house on wheels.) Well, we explained that our rate is 20 birrs or 10 Photos. It worked! Anyway, we took our photos and had lunch, I may add not the most comfortable lunch we had, and I have to say it is very hard to stay calm when you have 100 Ethiopians pushing you or asking you to take photos. We continued to Lake Stephanie, also known as Chew Bahir Turmi, for the weekly market which attracts the local Hamer tribe. Nearly 50,000 Hamer people live in the Omo Valley area between the Kenya Border, Lake Stephanie and the Dimeka area. They are known for their hairstyle, and are masters in body decorations. The number of earrings will denote how many wives the man has. The markets were colourful and very interesting. Today we heard that after the market a bull jumping ceremony would take place. But it meant we had to wait till 4pm so we relaxed near the river where the girls got all hyped up for the big event. As the girls were begging to be whipped Clary wasn`t so sure if she really wanted to see this. By this time the girls were screaming and yelling to be whipped. They were all relatives of the boy who was going to perform the bull jump. The deeper their scars the more love they show for their boy and family. The whole ceremony ends with the jumping of the bulls when the naked boy jumps over the bulls (jumps on the first bull and walks over the others). This is his right of passage into manhood. If he falls off, he gets whipped by the women. The whole ceremony is as disturbing as it is intriguing.

Clary and I have seen Voodoo magic in Togo in the 1970s, but this beats everything we have seen. We crossed the river and headed for Dimeka where we were told the local hotel would allow us to camp. The hotel was in the middle of this tiny village and as Clary got out of the car to direct me to a spot 3 meters from the entrance of the hotel; all the girls were around the truck and in the door opening. No, not wanting photos taken but they were there for a good time.

We then found out that the place doubled for a brothel. As it turned out the place had showers but no water. And the toilet well you make up your mind when you see the pictures on the photo page. The toilet was a hole in the ground with a pipe that runs into the street behind our truck. The night was a very good way to meet the locals and drink and eat on the cheap. We found that the women stay at home.

Unfortunately, the town had 4 more other pubs all situated right next to each other and all compete on noise levels. Hence 120db was the average. As the town has no electricity, at 10pm the town`s generator stops and the music dies. In fact, the town has no water either! The well is 2km out of town. With the cows, chooks and the steel gate rattling with the rain coming down, it was an early rise. Lucky, it wasn`t long before the sun came out and Dimeka came back to life. The market starts here at 10am and it was not long before the tribes starting to arrive to sell their wares. The Arbore, Karo and Hamer people are the tribes who attend the markets. The Karo people seem to be the tribe that lost most. Only 1500 people are left in the area and they live on the eastern bank of the Omo River. They are well known for their body painting skills. The Arbore tribe is a small tribe that lives in the southwest region of the Omo Valley. They have ancestral and cultural links to the Konso people and perform many ritual dances while singing. Arbore people are pastoralists (livestock farmers). They believe that their singing and dancing eliminates negative energy and with the negative energy gone, the tribe will prosper. The women of the tribe cover their heads with a black cloth and are known to wear very colourful necklaces and earrings. Young children will wear a shell type hat that protects their heads from the sun. Body painting is done by the Arbore using natural colours made from soil and stone. Traditional dancing is practiced by the tribe and wealth is measured by the number of cattle a tribesman owns. Unfortunately for us, Saturday is the big market and Tuesday is the smaller market. It was also unfortunate that a convoy of six 4WD arrived in town from Addis Abeba with 12 tourists on board and as last night and early this morning we could take pictures freely, now it was pay-up time. We left the town and headed towards Jinka. Early afternoon we arrived in Jinka and set up camp at Jinka Resort where we were told they had good showers. (It is a week ago since we had a decent wash, so say no more). We really looked forward to the shower, but they only had cold water. I mean COLD water. But it had to do. We are running low on water in our water tanks and we did not want to use water for showering. Also, our truck needs a desperate clean as we believe we have an extra 500kg of mud under the truck. But this must wait till we get to Addis Abeba, which is at least a few weeks from now, I am told.  After we left the relative calm of Jinka resort it wasn`t long before we were amid the shouts of “You, you, you, give me money, give me money, give me money!” Today we picked up our guide and our armed scout and we travelled with a Belgium couple to Mago National Park. Luc, a photographer and Marlene. Once we had paid the fees and entrance fees for the NP it was off to the Mursi. Just as we arrived, we witnessed a fight between the Mursi men as 4 of the men were so drunk and tried to get into someone else`s hut. With this over it was back to business. One photo is 3 birr and every person in the village was fighting for a position and a photo. The whole village is in a bad way and most of the men and woman are alcoholics! More frightening was the fact that most men and younger boy`s carry guns (AK 47) and guns and alcohol are not a good mix. All this aside, the culture of this tribe is something very special and probably one of the most fascinating in the world. The Mursi or Mursu people are well known for their unique lip plates. They are settled around the Omo River and in the Mago National Park. Due to the climate, they move twice a year between the winter and summer months. They herd cattle and grow crops along the banks of the Omo River. The Mursi women paint their bodies and face in white. They are also the ones who wear the lip plates. Women of the Mursi tribe may have their lips cut at the age of 15 or 16. A small clay plate is then inserted into the lip. Through the years, larger plates are inserted into the lip causing it to stretch. The larger the clay plate, the more the woman is worth before she gets married. It is said that the clay plates were originally used to prevent capture by slave traders. Although very unique and part of their tradition, the Mursi women only wear the plates for a short time because they are so heavy and uncomfortable. Men of the Mursi also use white paint for their bodies and faces. Just like any other ethnic tribe in the lower valley, the men must pass a test before they can get married. A Mursi man is given a stick called a donga and must face one opponent. The men then battle it out, beating each other with the sticks. The first fighter to submit loses, and the winner is taken by a group of women to determine who he will marry. The men of the tribe also practice scarification. Like other tribes, this is the marking of an enemy killed by him. They are known to be aggressive and combative. After 1 hour in the village, we left as the situation became very volatile and our guide was worried that the men, who kept fighting with each other and the many drunken people, would or could turn against us.

We were loaded into the car while our armed guard and the guide stayed outside. Our driver was told to get to the main road away from the village. As we were out of the village the guide and the armed guard followed us and off we went. Enroute other people were advised not to visit the village as the situation was very volatile. A few years ago, the bridge collapsed across the river hence the 3 villages on this side see the tourists every day who venture this way. Once we got back to Jinka we relaxed, had something to eat – Lunch for 2 including drinks 5AUD or 3 Euro.

OMO VALLEY to HARAR

We left Jinka early this morning because we wanted to reach Arba Minch by tonight. We crossed the Omo Valley going up and down the mountains with spectacular views. It was a real shame the weather was hazy, and it was impossible to get some photos of the scenery. Arba Minch is the first place we were able to change some money, however the cost of meals and food in Ethiopia has been so cheap that we only need a few dollars for the next 3 weeks. In Arba Minch we camped outside the gate of Paradise Lodge and the view was spectacular. We went for dinner in the resort tonight and the entre/main/desert plus a few beers and wines, all came to just 12 AUD or 8 Euro and this is in a very nice resort. Arba Minch is located on the River Kulfo, which is used by the locals for washing cloths and farming. It is located at the base of the western side of the Great Rift Valley. Arba Minch consists of the uptown administrative centre of Shecha and 4 kilometres away, the downtown commercial and residential areas of Sikela, which are connected by a paved road. Arba Minch has 2 lakes – Lake Abaya to the north and Lake Chamo to the south. Our plan is to drive to Harar in 2 days and have a stop at Lake Langano. We didn`t leave early because we woke up to a magic view over Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya. It was a cool morning but sitting in front of the truck day dreaming away was perfect. We changed some more money, filled up with fuel and left Arba Minch for Lake Langano. Perfect scenery on the way, with picturesque villages and markets. The road was good but not all bitumen, however it was much better than the dirt roads that we were used to in Kenya. Mid-afternoon we arrived at Lake Langano where we camped right on the beach. Later we were joined by locals.

HARAR  

We had a long day ahead of us travelling to the far east of Ethiopia and the Walled City of Harar. But we were assured the road was good. What no one told us was that we were going to travel as high as 3400 meters, hence the going became very slow. However, the scenery was stunning and even at 2700 meters bananas are grown. Along the way we saw many trucks that did not make the journey (off the road) and we really wonder what all the road blocks are for because most of the trucks are in urgent need of service and repair. The majority have no brake lights or indicators. Camels are a major nuisance as they wander on the road and if you kill one then you are up for 20,000Birr or if you are unlucky, you will be killed. African people do not have the same values as we in the western world. Once again darkness was upon us and we still had a few hours to go. In Africa people must believe that lights on the car cost fuel because 70% have no lights or if they do, they only flash them every now and then. On top of this 90% of the population walk on the road, together with cows, goats, sheep and donkeys. Nobody has lights and it is mayhem. Once you arrive in a village or a town you must try and work yourself through a complete maze of people who all use the road. Anyway, the last 40km after dark took us nearly 2 hours so at 8pm we arrived in Harar. This is where we needed our sense of direction before we could find a hotel that allowed us to camp in the car park. Another problem is that there are no street signs. Anyway, tomorrow we will visit Harar known for its walled city and the Hyena Man. Harar, is a 1,000-year-old walled city in eastern Ethiopia. Harar is the Holy City of Ethiopia`s Muslim community and is believed to be the fourth holiest city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. The old City Wall of Harar is the main attraction and symbol of Islamic architecture. Harar has approximately 90 mosques, which form the largest concentration of mosques in the world. Harar remained as the spiritual City of Ethiopia`s Muslim community and the political capital of Harrarge Province until 1994 and has been a federal city-state since 1995. One of Harar’s other main attractions is the Hyena Man who feeds hyenas on the outskirts of the town every night. In Harar, hyenas roam the streets at night. Usually scavengers, hyenas have been known to attack, killing livestock and children. But locals say if the animals are treated kindly, people have nothing to fear. Locals say hyenas are their neighbours and spiritual guides. The animals rid the streets of garbage and bad spirits and tell the future. And if they are not treated well, hyenas will exact their revenge. We hired a Tuk Tuk and went to the outskirts of town to see the Hyena Man feed the hyenas. Local Harrari women with baskets on their heads glanced at the spectacle as they strolled by, but they did not stop. The Hyena man told us that he had been feeding the hyenas for more than 25 years, but he said the relationship between the Harraris and the hyenas is ancient. He also said that regardless of tourists or locals handing him money, he must feed them every day. He cares for the animals to protect his farm and his city. If they are not fed, he said, they will eat the city`s farm animals out of anger. As he convinced me that the hyenas would not attack me I tried to feed them myself. The Hyena Man slapped a strip of goat meat on a stick and six or seven hyenas snatched the meat from the stick. He then tested me by having the stick in my mouth and the hyenas took it out of my mouth! Clary also got into the act and she also let the hyena eat from the stick. The photos tell the story, but we became the hyena hunters for the night. Like the rest of the day we were the only tourists in town and it made it feel even more special. The Tuk Tuk ride is always spectacular as it weaves through the traffic and ignores every rule in the book. But we made it back to our truck. Last night we received a room with our camp spot in the hotel car park. It has a shower and a toilet, but no water. When we asked about the lack of water we were told maybe tomorrow. No worries for 6 AUD a room, who cares? Anyway, this morning we had some water (cold) but still not enough to flush the toilet. Well close the lid and open the window (In fact with no glass it was permanently open). Off to the dining room for breakfast. It was not included in the price. I had porridge plus a full hot breakfast, Clary had an omelette and we both had coffee and freshly squeezed orange Juice. Total Sum $7.00 AUD or 4 Euros. This included the tip. From here we walked to the city centre and spent the morning and afternoon around this completely walled city. We spent some time in the hotel garden drinking pots of beer for 20 cents each. (14 cents Euro)

HARAR to ADDIS ABEBA

We crossed dry and desolate Eastern Ethiopia. Initially we travelled close to the Somalia and Djibouti border. We were again surprised by the many accidents. It included a truck, which had hit a group of camels. Four or five camels were still stuck under the truck and the damage to the truck was to be seen to be believed. No driver around but many AFAR Tribesmen. All with AK 47 rifles! We also had our first sandstorm and we are assured it will not be the last one. We crossed the Ahmar Mountains, which is a long chain of mountains in East Ethiopia that runs roughly from Awash to Jijiga in the east near the border with Somalia. The scenery in this area is stunning but due to a strong hot wind and heat haze it was impossible to take some good photos, which was a real shame. Later in the afternoon we followed the Addis Ababa- Djibouti Railway line. To the north of this is the Danakil depression that is part of the Great Rift Valley and the lowest point in Ethiopia and one of the lowest points in Africa. The southern part consists of the valley of the Awash River, which empties into a string of lakes along the Ethiopian-Djibouti border. Today we travelled again as high as 3500 meters and as low as 550 meters in an area that produces some of the best coffee in the world – Ethiopian Harar Coffee. Addis Ababa is situated at 2400 meters and one of the highest capital cities in the world. The days are warm, but the nights are cold. As we drove into Addis we started looking for Wim`s Holland house. We were told It was in the middle of town close to the railway station. Traffic in Addis is very good for African standards. Lots of minibuses (taxis) and trucks but not many private vehicles except of course the UN and NGOs who are all driving the 1.1 milj birr Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol and use it from the office to the Sheraton hotel, back to the office and back home. Once they have to go out of town they use a plane, and earn danger money we are told! The Sheraton, Hilton and the Toyota and Nissan dealers do a roaring trade in one of the poorest countries in the world. Average income for the locals is 500 birr per month or around 80USD or 50 Euro. Addis is a good place to relax after a few weeks in the desert and Wim`s Holland House is a little Holland in the middle of Addis Ababa. A place we recommend for the Dutch atmosphere, food and cosy bar. Don`t be mistaken, it also attracts many other nationalities. Wim is a Dutch guy who organized food transports to Poland in the 1970s and Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s. He is married to an Ethiopian lady. We spent 3 relaxed days and had the odd beer/wine or two. It was time to leave Addis Ababa and explore Northern Ethiopia for the next week.

 

ADDIS ABEBA TO BAHIR DAR 

Addis Ababa sits at 2400 meters and as soon as we left the city we climbed up to 3300meters. Today our destination is Bahir Dar on Lake Tana. On the way we travelled through Muger River Gorge and Debra Libanos one of Ethiopia`s most holy sites. Around 180km north of Addis we started to descend into the Nile River Gorge and let me tell you this is one of the most spectacular sights we have seen for a while. Descending into the Nile Valley and climbing back up to 3300 meters again was a spectacular experience with stunning scenery. As usual, we took by far too much time everywhere and it was just on dark before we entered the city of Bahir Dar. Traffic in Ethiopia is very light (compared to other African countries) and passenger vehicles are rare except for the mini busses, and trucks. However, you must compete with cattle, sheep, goats, donkey carts, people, ox carts and bull carts. And you better give right of way otherwise you are in trouble. Tomorrow morning, we will be visiting the Blue Nile Falls. Tonight, we will camp in the garden of the Gion Hotel. Mosquitoes are a real problem and so is Malaria. In fact, it is endemic here in Bahir Dar, and we had given up on spray and have not yet taken Malaria tablets since we arrived in Africa. A full day today, first the markets in Bahir Dar, then off to the Blue Nile Falls, which are at full flow, and in the afternoon, we will take a boat trip on Lake Tana and visit a few monasteries. But first the falls. We drove for around 40 minutes to the little village of Tis Isat, where we parked our car and negotiated our way with the locals to the falls. The falls were impressive, but we are told that before the hydro-electric project was installed, it was a huge water-fall. From here it flows to Khartoum where it merges with the White Nile. It is not easy to find as in Ethiopia signs seem to be non-existent, but every local becomes a guide and for a few birr he will show you around. You must negotiate the price because some (so-called) tour guides just ask straight out for 400 birr, which is an average monthly Ethiopian salary. Clary bought potatoes for 0.30 per kg (expensive for here). And I nearly purchased a pair of shoes (sandals for $1.20) made from car tyres. Unfortunately, none would fit. In the afternoon we took a boat ride on Lake Tana. Lake Tana is Ethiopia`s largest lake and covers over 3500 sq. km and its water flows 5300km north as the Blue Nile to the Mediterranean. We were told the lake was azure blue but unfortunately for us this was not the case as the water was polluted and brown in colour. The monasteries are all from around the late 16th century. Because woman can only visit some monasteries, we visited only three. However, the one that impressed us was Maryam at the peninsula. People say that Kebran Gabriel is the most interesting but as women are not allowed in, we skipped this one and went on to the neighbouring island, the name of which escapes me. We saw two more monasteries, but we thought they were uninteresting. However, it was a nice and relaxed afternoon on the lake. We also tried to visit the palace of Haile Selassi, but this was closed and was not accessible to the public. Mozzies were a real problem again tonight. Fingers Crossed. What has become the norm here in Ethiopia, tourists are being ripped off. In fact, this time the son of the Hotel owner got into the act. A lady who organized a private tour on the lake (hired the boat and driver) invited us on the boat. We believed the cost of the private tour was around 70USD. As we left it was made clear by the driver that all was paid. Later, in the evening the owner`s son came around and demanded 150 birr each for the boat ride. We explained the situation and his response was, “No, no, no, I own the boat I have my rules.” We advised him that a boat tour only cost 100 birr and we also wanted him to call the lady. And after this, obviously nothing eventuated as not only was the normal price for a private tour only 600 birr or 35USD, he also now realized that the lady knew she was ripped off well and truly. Ethiopians just can`t help themselves and anyone with a white skin is a faranji and must be ripped off.

BAHIR DAR TO LALIBELA 

After we left Bahir Dar we again climbed to 3200Meters (Peak of Mount Kosciusko is 2700 meters) and we passed mountains up to 4200 meters. What a beautiful country. No matter what height we travel, people live everywhere. The road is perfect new tar (The Chinese like everywhere else in Africa, seem to be the contractors) except for the last 50km, which was good gravel and stunning scenery. Kids are a nuisance and we have had sticks and stones thrown at us. At one stage, 3 kids lay on the road and would not move! That is till I used the 150DB air horn and put my foot on the accelerator. Mid-afternoon we arrived in Lalibela. The air was refreshingly cool (altitude Lalibela is 2600 meters). We parked our truck in the car park of Seven Olives Hotel. We visited Lalibela and then had a drink on the terrace of the hotel overlooking the town. Lalibela`s altitude is around 2600 meters hence the night was very cold. At 8am we went to the Visitors Bureau and were treated like royal guests. (We must have been the only ones there today.) All the people we spoke to told us to hire a guide via the Tourist Bureau and this is what we did. Daniel, a real professional, spoke at length about the history, he also organized a shoe carrier (you had to take you shoes off at every church) and when we returned he made sure our shoes were there and he even did up our shoe laces. Cost 1AUD for the whole tour. Lalibela is divided in to 3 sections. North West Churches, South West Churches and the pinnacle Bet Giyorgis. Daniel explained to us that nearly 1000 years ago, a man was poisoned and was taken to heaven by Angles where he was shown Rock Hewn Churches. Then God ordered him to return to Earth and rebuild another Jerusalem the same as what he was shown in Heaven. And this was to become Lalibela. Having seen many pictures and documentaries, nothing could have prepared us for the real thing. It is beyond belief that this can be done by hand and according to Daniel it took 23 years, but no-one knows how many people were involved in the building. Lalibela stands on soft red volcanic rock and was originally known as Roha. It was later renamed Lalibela when King Lalibela was credited with building the rock-hewn churches there in the twelfth century. Lalibela is now regarded as one of the greatest Ethiopian architectural wonders and is ranked the eighth most incredible historical site in the world by UNESCO. Aksum and Lalibela have in common architectural and stone works, which illustrate Ethiopian civilisation at great length. In Lalibela, there are 11 churches cut out of solid red volcanic rock, which are constructed to represent Jerusalem. The churches are divided into Northern and Eastern groups of churches by a rock-cut channel (river) called Yordannos (Jordan River) and connected by narrow and deep passages. Bieta Medhane Alem is the largest and most impressive monolithic church. Of all the churches, Bieta Giyorgis (Saint George) is particularly stunning and beautiful, and is situated apart from the other churches to the west, intricately carved into the shape of a cross. All the churches are still used as places of worship. In a nutshell this place is amazing. But UNESCO decided to make this a world historical site and built the most appalling looking frame over a few churches to protect them from the weather. Obviously, the architects in the 12th century had a lot more idea of aesthetics than those of today. It would be a good idea if God sent them back to earth to show today`s architects how this should be done. This was a superb and very tiring day. As we are not here for many days we made sure we had a few extra drinks today before we enter Sudan. Last but not the least for the first time since we arrived in Ethiopia we felt welcome and we were not bombarded by sleazy guides trying to rip us off and kids and woman begging for money, lollies and pens.

LALIBELA TO NORTHERN ETHIOPIA

Our plan was to drive to Axum today and then through the northern loop to the Simiens Mountains and back to Lake Tana. But we are told of lots of rain and hail in the Simiens Mountains at the moment with temperatures down to zero degrees overnight. We decided to give this a miss. Instead, we chose to again travel through the Ethiopian Highlands with its stunning scenery. Another reason for the decision was the fact that we now must work with deadlines to suit our Sudan Visa. We want to spend at least two or possibly three weeks in Sudan, providing we can extend our Visa. We also need a Jordan and Saudi Visa in Kharthoum and we need to confirm our ferry bookings across the Red Sea. Suddenly, we have to start working with the bureaucrats again. Oh dear, life is hard, and the pressure is on, but someone has to do it. Yes, and not to mention that the Sudan Border is closed on Fridays, so we are told. We also must finish our beers and wine because Sudan and Saudi are both dry countries. That will be another tough task! Eritrea is no option because the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea is closed at the moment. Eritrea invaded part of Ethiopia a few years back and the matter is very sensitive. We found a perfect campsite in a village called gorgora. Tim and Kim`s community camp on the Northern Shores of Lake Tana. We spent hours talking to Tim and Kym and they are both the type of people you have to admire. Both left very good positions and sold everything they had, to help the local people in Gorgora by setting up a community based tourist resort. The plan is to make this self-sufficient in a few years and in the meantime train locals to manage it. Personally, we could not do this because we are all driven too much by money and quick returns on our investments. Tim and Kym have made a life-changing decision and they are to be admired for their efforts to generate local income for the people around them. On our travels throughout Africa we realize that many people have very poor eye sight. Fred Hollows already knew this many years ago but until you have been to Africa and off the beaten track, you understand how bad this situation is. I am wondering if we could get a manufacturer of cheap glasses (those 2-dollar ones at the chemist) to donate 1000USD worth of them and we can send them to Kym and Tim in Gorgora, to hand out to people with poor eyesight. At least we know 100% of the donation gets there and does not get spent on a brand new 4WD. Bye the way Tim and Kym drive a 1979 Toyota 4WD. Clary`s Birthday today! We had home-made bread from the village bakery, enjoyed the last views of Lake Tana before we left for Gondar.

GONDAR to BORDER

We are hearing different reports re the Sudan Border. Some say it is closed on Fridays (Muslim Holy day) other say it is open. We are also desperate for some internet access and we need Sudan money. We did find an internet and after 2.5 hours we had downloaded the 70 plus emails. Yes, Ethiopia has a very, very, very slow internet. Then we needed to respond, and the power went off so only 6 or 7 emails received a response and all my photos for the web did come back. Because it is Clary`s birthday, I decided to give the rest of the emails a miss and try again when we arrive in Sudan (Khartoum) in a few days’ time. Gondar is an old historic town full of castles and it is also the gateway to the Simien Mountains. The rest of the afternoon we walked around Gondar. We also met up with a friend of Andon van der Merwe, (Neville), who advised us Andon would arrive in Gondar tomorrow night. We booked for Dinner at the best guesthouse in town. We had difficulty reading the menu, but we finished up with soup and steak (not sure if it may have been goat). The place was full of Ethiopians and we were the only Farangis so we were the centre of attention. Once they realized it was Clary birthday they donated a platter of fruit with one candle. Today was supposed to be a relaxing day as we were only planning to drive to the border of Sudan. We were told the border to Sudan is closed on Fridays (Muslim prayer day) so we felt no need to rush. We looked around town for Sudanese pounds, but we had no luck. None of the banks carry them. On the black market the rate was poor, so we decided to leave it until we reach the border. Gondar is also called the city of churches. Gondar is predominantly a Christian city. Nevertheless, there is a thriving Muslim community. The Imam again woke us up at 4.30am with his call to prayer. Gondar has a population of nearly 220,000 and lies just south of the Semien Mountains. The Semien Mountains has multiple summits of over 4000 Meters and canyons. Besides its breathtaking scenery, it is also home to the Semien red fox and the Gelada baboon. Unfortunately, we did not visit the Semien Mountains. The main reason for our decision was the bad weather. We met two Swiss guys who were caught in a hail storm and were hit by large hail stones. But the other reason we decided not to go was, to be honest, we have had enough of the Ethiopian people. The begging kids and the so-called guides. This is the first country in Africa where we did not enjoy the people. It is a real shame because the country is stunning.

BORDER CROSSING and ARRESTED!!!

When we walked around Gondar, we heard that the border is open and does not close on Friday. So, we decided to leave Ethiopia and cross into Sudan. At the border, we were confronted by mayhem because it seems that the rules have changed in Ethiopia for people entering the country with a car. Carnets were not valid, and you require a letter of guarantee from your embassy to import your car. No letter, No entry! Result – around 6 cars stuck in no- man`s land waiting for letters of guarantee from their respective embassies. As we entered the office we were also confronted with the statement of the change. “Mate, we are leaving! Isn`t the letter to ensure that we do not sell the car in Ethiopia?” The officer replied, “New rules sir!” Then the customs agent told me the stamp in the Carnet was wrong and not from Ethiopia! I responded by telling the officer that this is the stamp we were given when we entered Ethiopia. The officer gave in and stamped our Carnet. Then he wanted to inspect the truck. Checked all cabinets and gave us the okay to leave. That is not before he introduced us to his friend who could change birr into Sudanese pounds (black market). The rate was good, so we did business. Then the dealer also offered us a good rate for US dollars. Why not, I thought? Within a minute of exchanging the USD to Sudanese pounds I was arrested! They took the money and escorted me to the police station. There I was told it was a criminal offence to change USD to Sudanese pounds! I protested that I was introduced to the dealer by the policeman and the custom agent! It was clear by then that I had been set up! Then the big boss (Army Lieutenant) got involved. I explained my story and he spoke at length in Ethiopian to the two people who arrested me. It was then decided that I should change the money into birr at the bank, then with the dealer in Sudanese pounds. This would then make the transaction legal. As the deliberations continued, it was becoming clear to me that a deal was being fabricated and everyone was going to make money out of it except for me. Bloody Ethiopians! I was angry, and I must have used the four-letter word in my protest to them. This in turn offended the Lieutenant and he suddenly went from speaking no English to speaking fluent English. I refused to be part of their scheme and I told them they should also arrest the dealer. At that time other people came in to speak to the Lieutenant and all hell broke loose because they too were very upset about the changed rules. Clary by this time told the guy to hand back the money and let us go because we would not change the money back into birr. The Lieutenant agreed and let us go while he had to deal with some very, very, angry people who were not allowed into Ethiopia

As we said Ethiopia … great country pity about the people. They are happy to accept handouts from the whole world, take all the money for the visas, allow their population to stand at the roadside and throw stones at our cars and yell all day “You, you, you – give me, give me, give me”. Our visit to Ethiopia has forever changed my mind re foreign aid. In fact, we should be welcomed with open arms as a way of appreciating what we have donated to Ethiopia in the last 30 years. Bye the way Ethiopia does not recognize the Carnet de Passage, but they do use all the info on it… But this is AFRICA.

Anyway, I was again a free man. Let`s see what Sudan brings.